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sulted not only from the character of his mind, but from
his mental habits, formed early in life. He could never be
satisfied with partial views of any subject. " In boyhood,"
says his biographer, "whether the subject of inquiry was
the pronunciation of a word, or a question of science or
religion, he could not be content with conjecture, when
certainty might be attained." And, in after life, he studied
thoroughly whatever he undertook to examine at all, and
in setting forth the result of his labours, he surrounded his
subject with an atmosphere of light. He had the clearness
of Guizot, though without his eloquence. Indeed, the most
prominent feature of his mind, it seems to us, was its
method. "When he spoke, you saw that every sentence
was thought out, and present to his mind as a whole, before
he uttered a syllable. In writing, too, he always took care
to see the end from the beginning. Good logic was natural
to him ; a sophism grated on his mind very much as dis-
cord annoys a musical ear. A difficult question fell to
pieces before his power of analysis just as a compound sub-
stance is decomposed by chemical agents. Nor was his
method mere arrangement, that empty counterfeit which
cheats some men into the belief that they have well-ordered
minds, as if to build up a science were the same thing as to
make a dictionary. It consisted, first, in the natural clear-
ness of his understanding, and, secondly, in his habitual
reference of the species to the genus the subordination of
the parts to the whole the contemplation of the relations
of things as well as of the things themselves. His associa-


tions were principally made under the law of cause and
effect ; the principle involved in any phenomenon, and not
the mere attendant circumstances of time and place, took
root in his mind, so that his memory was eminently phil-
osophical. Add to this his methodical industry, and you
have the secret of his extensive knowledge, his readiness in
debate, his admirable self-possession as a presiding officer,
and even the versatility which enabled him to excel in all
that he undertook. He understood most thoroughly the
value of the old maxim, everything in its place, a maxim
for which genius itself can find no substitute. Coleridge
says truly, that " where this charm is wanting, every other
merit either loses its name, or becomes an additional ground
of accusation and regret. The man of methodical industry
organizes the hours and gives them a soul; and that, the
very essence of which is to fleet away, and evermore to
ha/ve been, he takes up into his own permanence, and
communicates to it the imperishableness of a spiritual
nature. Of the good and faithful servant, whose ener-
gies are thus methodized, it is less truly affirmed, that he
lives in time, than that time lives in him." Bishop
Emory was, to a remarkable degree, this good and faithful

We do not hesitate, therefore, to say that he was a man
of great talent. But he was not a man of genius. Every
subject had to be brought within the scope of his under-
standing, and when there, he was perfectly master of it ;
but in the outer region of the imagination he was compara-
tively a stranger. No poetry has been foimd among his
remains, and for a, very good reason; he did not possess
" the vision and the faculty divine." It was not for him to
clothe his thoughts in


" The light that never was on sea or land,
The consecration, and the poet's dream ;"

for the light that was in him, and which he poured forth
in a flood of radiance upon every subject properly within
his sphere, was the light of the understanding, and not of
the imagination. That he would have been a greater man
if more richly endowed with this highest of human gifts,
we cannot doubt. His preaching would have been more
attractive, his writings more fervent and glowing, and his
whole character more ardent. The powers that he pos-
sessed qualified him admirably, however, to discharge the
duties that devolved upon him, and he worked better, per-
haps, with his diversified talents, than a man of genius
could have done in the same circumstances. What we
have said of him, thus far, amounts to this: that he was
eminently a practical man. "Without knowing the extent
of his studies in modern philosophy, we can easily imagine
the contempt in which he would have held transcendental-
ism. German metaphysics must have been all cloudland
to him. He would have placed Kant and Schelling upon
the same shelf with Jacob Behmen and Baron Sweden-
borg. Even Cousin could have found no favour with him.
To some this will seem high praise ; to others, just the
reverse ; but, at all events, we believe it to be true.

Dr. Emory was a deeply pious man, in the highest sense
of the word. Religion, with him, was not merely a matter
of principle and habit, but had its root deep in his heart,
and gave worth and dignity to his entire being. He
was not much given to talk about his personal religion
the stream was too deep for that; but his communion
with God was, we doubt not, uniform and abundant.
Equally removed from formality and enthusiasm, his


piety purified his affections, elevated his intellect, and con-
trolled his life.

In this sketch the writer has endeavoured to set forth the
character of John Emory with all the impartiality which is
compatible with the deepest reverence and the tenderest
love ; at the close he may be allowed one breathing of his
own personal feelings. Little did he think, when at the
Troy Conference of 1835, the bishop, at the close of an
interview in which he had imparted some of the rich treas-
ures of his experience in kind advice, folded him affec-
tionately in his arms and bade him farewell, that it was a
farewell forever ! Earnest was his last gaze upon that form
beloved, but O, how earnest would it have been had he
known that it was the last. Carefully did he record in his
memory the words of manly wisdom that fell from those
honoured lips how would each precious syllable have
been treasured, had he known that these were the last
accents of that almost father's voice that should fall upon
his ear ! To the writer, the name of EMOKY is fragrant
with a thousand blessed recollections. And many hearts,
throughout this continent, will throb in unison with his
own, when he declares, that for him, that name is the very
synonyme of nobleness and honour, associated, as it is,
with all that is elevated in intellect, all that is magnani-
mous in self-devotion, all that is pure in virtue, and all that
is sublime in piety.



"TuE grandfather of all the missionaries!" Such was the
expressive designation by which the red men of the Far
West were wont to speak of him whose benignant features
beam upon the reader from the opposite page. For many
years the senior superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal
Church, an apostolic bishop, deriving his title and his
authority from the highest source, and ever exercising his
functions with gentleness and diligence, with meekness and
yet with firmness and decision, he was esteemed and beloved
by the clergy and the laity honoured in life and lamented
in death by the refined and the wealthy no less than by
the poor and the uneducated. Simple in his manners, and
yet gracefully dignified, unobtrusive and diffident, but
never forgetful of the responsibilities devolving upon
him, eloquent, and of course always plain and intelligi-
ble in his public ministrations, he was equally at home
in the wigwam of the savage, on the rough stand of
the camp-meeting, or when proclaiming the unsearchable
riches of Christ from the pulpits of metropolitan cities.
His memory is precious, and it is a pleasant thing to trace
the successive steps of a life so simple and so honoured,
and to mark therein the all-sufficiency of the Saviour's


He was a native of Maryland, the son of a poor farmer,
who, at the call of his country, shouldered his musket in
the war of the Kevolution, and was engaged in the battle
of the Brandywine with Lafayette, and at Germantown
and "White Plains with "Washington. The patriot-farmer
was enabled to give his children but little education, and
he left them no patrimony save the legacy of his good
name. Robert's early training devolved mainly upon his
mother. By her he was taught to read the Scriptures, to
say his prayers night and morning, and to recite from the
Catechism of the English Church. Some six or eight
months schooling from an Irish pedagogue, by whom he
was instructed in penmanship, the rudiments of English
grammar, and the first rules of arithmetic, completed his
scholastic course. As in the case of the two most eminent
disciples of the Saviour, at whose bold eloquence the peo-
ple marvelled, knowing them to be ignorant and unedu-
cated men, so, frequently, after listening to words of power
from the lips of the farmer's boy, men were wont to
account for the marvel by taking knowledge of him that
he " had been with Jesus." His whole ministerial life was
an illustration of the glorious verity, that God hath chosen
the weak things of the world to confound the things which
are mighty.

When about ten years of age he removed with his
parents into "Westmoreland County, in the State of Penn-
sylvania, and here, with his mother, he went soon after to
hear one of the pioneer heralds of the sect everywhere
spoken against. The Methodist preacher brought certain
strange things to their ears. His word was with power.
The little boy, for the first time, felt himself to be a sinner.
He wept and trembled. His father had indeed denounced


the whole sect, and the lad had been taught to regard this
messenger of Christ as a false prophet. But this did not
soothe his pain, nor extract the rankling arrow. Some-
thing within whispered that the words to which he had
listened were God's own truth ; and he felt the necessity
of changing his course of life, that, if possible, he might
avert impending wrath. Now he began to aim at leading
a new life. He resolved to be obedient and dutiful to his
parents, to shun bad company, to be watchful over his lips,
and to read with more care the Bible, and such religious
books as fell in his way.

The plan of salvation by faith was as yet unknown to
him ; nor, as it seems, had he any other idea of prayer
than as the repetition of forms laid down in the Catechism
and repeated from memory. Returning homeward one
evening from the labours of the day, (for he was now
engaged in assisting his father on the farm,) he overheard
in the woods near the house the voice of his sister, some
years older than himself, uttering the language apparently
of heartfelt trouble and grief. He drew nearer to the
spot, and ascertained to his surprise that she was pleading
with God for the pardon of her sins. Awe-struck, the lad
listened to her supplications. What had Elizabeth done
that she, so amiable, so much better than himself, should
be in such deep distress, such apparent agony ? He retired
without being observed, and said nothing of the strange
scene he had witnessed. But he pondered it in his heart,
and soon after found his own way to the throne of grace,
where, in secret, he also called upon his God.

Several years elapsed, however, before he found peace
in believing. His sisters, then his mother and two of his
brothers, and afterwards his father, united with the Meth-


odists, and their dwelling became a regular preaching
place for the itinerant ministry. But Robert, industrious
in his field-labours, attentive to all the means of grace
within his reach, and an earnest seeker of salvation, did
not venture to have his name enrolled upon the class-

" What rough-looking boy is that in the hunter's shirt ?"
Such was the not unfrequent inquiry of those who came to
his father's house, especially on quarterly-meeting occa-
sions, when it was used, a rude log-cabin though it was, as
a temple for the solemn worship of the Most High. That
rough-looking lad, so busily employed in waiting upon
those who came from a distance, in preparing for their
accommodation and taking care of their horses, esteem-
ing nothing too degrading or too menial, that rough-
looking boy in the hunter's shirt is he who is destined to
preach Christ to listening thousands from one end of the
continent to the other; to superintend the affairs of the
most numerous religious denomination in the land; to pre-
side over conferences of learned ecclesiastics; to fill the
seat of the sainted Asbury as the colleague of the mild
M'Kendree, the fervent George, and the sagacious Hed-
ding. Scarcely less improbable was it to the eye of human
reason, that he who held the murderers' clothes at the
martyrdom of Stephen should finish his course with joy,
" not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles."

Robert was now in his fourteenth year, tall and stout
for his age, with a body inured to toil, and, his brothers
having left the paternal home, the chief dependence of his
father in the cultivation of his farm. Still serious, peni-
tent, and anxiously seeking to know and to do the will of
God, light dawned upon him from the Sun of righteous-


ness while engaged in secret prayer. His own account, as
given in after years, is characteristic of the man. " One
day," he says, " about sunrise, in the month of May, I was
in a corner of the fence praying, when, I humbly trust,
my sins were pardoned, and God, for Christ's sake,
accepted me. Before that time I had frequently had
sweet intimations of the goodness and mercy of the Lord.
My heart was tender, and I felt as if I could love God and
his people ; but yet, until that morning, my mind was
not at rest. Then everything seemed changed. Nature
wore a new aspect as I arose and went with cheerfulness
to my work, although I did not then know whether I had
received all that I should look for in conversion. I never
had such alarming views of my condition as some have
experienced. My mind was gradually opened, and although
I had led a moral life, I firmly believed that my heart must
be changed. I do not remember the precise day of my
conversion, though the scene, as it occurred that morning,
has ever been deeply printed on my memory."

Such is his own simple narrative of that most important
event in his history. And. now the Spirit whispered, " Go
thou and preach the kingdom of God;" but his natural
diffidence, no less than what he deemed his totally inade-
quate education, prevented him from making known to
the Church his impressions upon the subject. But he
preached, nevertheless. Following the plough or feeding
cattle, clearing the land or gathering in the harvest, his
mind was intently occupied with subjects for the pulpit.
The farm was his theological seminary. There he mused
and meditated upon what he had heard on the preceding
Sabbath, or read in the intervals of his toil. He made
skeletons of sermons, and accustomed himself to the sound


of his own voice by proclaiming to the trees of the forest
the glad tidings of salvation. He was appointed leader
of a class, and by slow degrees, and after many struggles,
acquired sufficient confidence to speak to the members a
few words of exhortation. The little flock there in the
wilderness were edified, and seconded the motion of the
Spirit that the pulpit was the appropriate place for their
youthful leader. He was himself satisfied of the fact, and
devoted all his leisure to the diligent perusal of the Bible
and the writings of "Wesley and Fletcher; but he could
not bring himself to ask for a license to preach. He
shrunk from the fearful responsibility. The preachers
who visited that region invited him again and again to
exhort publicly, and to commence the exercise of those
gifts with which they knew him to be endowed, but
in vain.

" How ready is the man to go

Whom God has never sent ;
How backward, timorous, and slow

God's chosen instrument !"

On reaching his twentieth year, as if to hedge up his
way completely from what he nevertheless felt to be the
path of duty, he married. This event, it is thought, was
hastened, with a view of relieving himself from the pros-
pect of the itinerant ministry ; for very few of those who
thus sought the lost sheep of the house of Israel were
encumbered with families, and the reception into an Annual
Conference of a married preacher was in those days an
event almost unprecedented. But, his marriage brought
no rest to his mind. The impression of duty was not to
be shaken off. Mental darkness and dejection of spirits
overwhelmed him. He became unfitted for business, and


was signally unsuccessful in the management of his worldly
affairs. Unasked for, a license to exhort was put into his
hands, with the hope that it would induce him to go for-
ward in the path of duty ; but he made no use of it, and
it served only to increase his distress by silently reminding
him of what the Church expected and of his own delin-
quency. After a sermon on the ensuing Christmas-day,
the preacher publicly requested him to come forward and
conclude the service with an exhortation. Mr. Roberts
declined, and ran out of the house. A few days after, the
preacher he was a local preacher, holding an office some-
what similar to that of Ananias, who was sent to open the
eyes of Saul of Tarsus sent to him, in writing, what he
called a vision of the night. "I thought," said he, "I
had got free from this region of misery and woe, and was
admitted into the world of spirits. I beheld there bright
thrones, and one in an exalted station, on which was
placed a crown dazzling with brightness. It was fixed
near those of the prophets, apostles, martyrs, and eminent
ministers of the gospel. I drew nigh to behold it, and was
informed it was for you.

"I thought the Saviour commanded that you should be
brought forward to see what was here in reservation for
you. In a short time a seraph fulfilled the high command,
and you were placed in presence of the great King. The
Saviour fixed his eyes upon you, which kindled in your
heart a burning love to him, causing you to neglect every-
thing else. Overcome by the divine presence, you fell at
the glorious feet of the javiour and poured out a flood of
gratitude. He said to you, ' Son, thou art ever with me.
All this glory shall be thine, yet the way thereto is not
only difficult, but contrary to flesh and blood.' I thought



you replied, 'Make known to me the way, and in thy
strength will I walk therein.' He then said, ' Go quickly
forth among the crowds of earth, and let love and pity
raise thy voice aloud to inform them that I am willing to
save the chief of sinners from hell and from a dreadful
eternity.' "

In the course of the dream various objections are made
by him for whom this bright throne was prepared: his
unfitness for so great a work, his lack of gifts, his unholi-
ness, his dread of criticism, his pride. By the ingenious
dreamer these are all overruled, and shown to be mere
delusions of the enemy ; and the conclusion is the utter-
ance, by the hitherto disobedient prophet, of Paul's mem-
orable words " Woe is me if I preach not the gospel !"

Frequently in after life was the good bishop wont to
advert to the dream of the local preacher; and, now that
he is seated upon that throne, and wears that dazzling
crown, is it unlawful to suppose that this reminiscence of
the past may form an ingredient in his cup of perfect

Soon after, at a watch-night, he gave his first public
exhortation, having journeyed some six or seven miles on
foot for the purpose of being present. He was clad
in the garb of a backwoodsman; but his discourse, says
one who was privileged to hear it, " was worthy of gray
hairs and broadcloth." In fact, the whole congregation
were perfectly amazed at the eloquence of his appeal
its propriety of language and its force of argument. He
preached his trial sermon from the words of the prophet,
" O Lord, revive thy work," and was recommended to the
Baltimore Conference as a suitable person to be received
as a travelling preacher. He did not attend the meeting


of that body, having, as he conceived, done his duty by
consenting that his application should be forwarded, and,
with a mind at rest, he awaited the result. The responsi-
bility was now thrown from his own shoulders ; and if the
Conference had declined to receive him, he would have
taken their decision as the voice of God and rejoiced, for,
as yet, he dreaded the sacrifices, the trials, and the toils of
an itinerant life. Such, indeed, had nearly been the result.
On the presentation of his name, objections were made to
his reception. Most of the leading members of the body
were single men, and young Roberts had a wife. The
few who were acquainted with him stated his qualifica-
tions and eulogized his talents. They knew Mrs. Roberts
also, and were satisfied that she would be no hindrance to
her husband in the work of the ministry ; but the preju-
dice against receiving married preachers was so strong that
but a bare majority voted for his reception, and he was
appointed as junior preacher on the Carlisle Circuit.

As is the case with regard to most of the early Methodist
preachers, there are but few memorials of the labours of
this young itinerant. "He was powerful and popular
from the beginning," is the brief but comprehensive testi-
mony of one who knew him well. At the various appoint-
ments on his circuit, he was, as a preacher, exceedingly
popular. The more intelligent portions of the people of all
denominations attended upon his ministry. As a singular
peculiarity, it is stated that this tended rather to intimidate
than to encourage him ; and, at one of his Sabbath appoint-
ments, seeing the multitudes flocking to the house where
he was expected to preach, his heart failed him, and he hid
himself away until long after the time for commencing
worship. He then dragged himself into the church, where


lie hoped to find some local preacher in the pulpit. He
was disappointed, entered the sacred desk, and, after a few
minutes spent in secret prayer, conducted the service with
unusual liberty. " His performance on that occasion," says
his biographer, " was spoken of with enthusiasm by the
elite of the town, and served as a new reason for the
increase of his congregation in future." His unaffected
modesty won the hearts of his hearers; his solid good
sense instructed the most intelligent; and the deep vein
of piety and the holy unction which imbued his discourse,
" became wine and fat things to the religious part of his

With some of his own people, however, he was not so
popular. His love of order and decorum, and his natural
good taste, revolted from practices which, to some extent,
were common in those regions at that day, and which were
deemed, by the more enthusiastic, as sure evidences of the
divine presence. Loud shouting, jumping, clapping of
hands, and falling prostrate upon the floor, embarrassed
the young man exceedingly. " We like him," said they,
"well enough as a preacher; but when our meetings
become lively he stops, and has nothing to say." So it
was all through life. As junior preacher, when in charge
of a circuit or station, as presiding elder of a district, and
when in the office of bishop, he stopped and said nothing
during these occasional paroxysms of excited feeling ; but
that was all. He uttered no language of rebuke, lest he
might thereby cause Christ's little ones to stumble. He
stood still, and resumed not his discourse' until the storm
had passed away. The result was, that when Roberts was
in the pulpit, while there was always deep feeling, mingled
at times with the half-stifled sobs of the penitent, the


people controlled these boisterous manifestations, and all
things pertaining to divine worship were done in accord-
ance with the apostolic direction, decently and in order.

While he was upon Montgomery Circuit, to which he
was transferred at the close of his first year's labour, he
was invited to attend a camp-meeting in the neighbour-
hood of Baltimore, the first ever held east of the Alleghany
Mountains. This was in the summer of 1803. It was a
time of great power. Sinners fell in every direction. The
noise and confusion unfavourably affected the mind of

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Online LibraryJohn McClintockSketches of eminent Methodist ministers → online text (page 10 of 26)