WHEN the persecution of the Methodists in England was at its height, the Rev. Thomas Coke, curate of the parish of South Petherton, Somerset.. shire, began to speak boldly for this new religion which purified mens souls and made them participants of their Makers joys here on earth. The Church was shaken to its very center. Never had these good (?) people been so outraged! That they should be shown their duty by this stripling It was too much! and they were not long in complaining to the rector. He, in turn, sharply admonished the rather too ardent curate.
But the ardor of this young advocate was not to be easily cooled He continued to preach as he felt-a sort of preaching so unusual in that spiritually stagnant community that crowds of eager, interested outsiders flocked to hear him. Often the building would not hold the half of them. At his own expense he enlarged it by adding a gallery. Then lo! a great change took place in the members of the church. Many of them heard and believed. It was not the people, now who complained to the rector, but the rector to the people. The thing must be stopped, he declared. Finally he dismissed the curate, and when the intrepid young man again attempted to preach he stirred up a mob against him, and at length had him chimed out of the church.
With his zeal not one whit quenched, young Coke did what the true Methodistic fire had led other such bold spirits to do before him-he took to field-preaching. But let us learn something more of the life of this man, who in after years was to become "the father of the missions of the great Wesleyan Church," the "prince of modern missionaries," and the first bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States.
Thomas Coke was born the only child of wealthy parents, at Brecon, Wales, in 1747. We shall see how this "quick-kindling Welsh blood" became an enlivening vein in Methodism and awakened many a stagnant energy into warm life. His father was not only wealthy but a man of prominence, being mayor of the place. Young Coke had had every advantage for culture. At sixteen he entered Oxford, from whence he graduated with distinction. He was a remarkably handsome young man, with regular features, soft dark hair that clustered in curls about his shoulders, a complexion as fair and beautiful as a girls, and large liquid brown eyes that could melt with tenderness or flash with spirit. Even up to the day of his death, when the snows of many winters had whitened his once dark hair, the serene beauty and sweetness of Dr. Cokes face were remarked by all. When an old man, with Times relentless finger-prints showing deeply upon his once smooth countenance, Dr. Coke passed several weeks at the home of the maternal great-grandfather of this writer, in Charleston, S. C.-in which home he wrote the most of two volumes of his now famous commentaries. He was the idol of every child and servant on the place, not so much for the kind, soft voice and gentle ways as for the serenely beautiful face that mirrored itself in their hearts as only the faces of the truly good can be mirrored. "Him face the face of a angel, missus!" the childrens nurse often said with a look in her eyes which plainly indicated that the tribute came from the depths of her heart.
Young Coke, as we have seen, took to street-preaching when dismissed from his church. He soon afterward showed the true manly grit that was in him by boldly taking his stand on the steps of the church to preach the farewell sermon he had been forbidden to deliver from its pulpit. It was one of the most stirring of all the scenes in Methodism; for though the young preacher had not yet formally united himself with the Methodists, still he was one at heart. Instigated by those who hated him, simply because they had injured him, rude men had gathered baskets of stones with which to pelt him. Many of these did fall about him, as well as a shower of rotten eggs and other missiles, but God mercifully preserved him. He put it into the hearts of the young ministers friends to bravely stand by him. They declared that he should preach if they had to cover him with their bodies and fight the mob hand to hand. It was an impressive scene as Coke, surrounded by the scowling faces of defeated enemies, earnestly warned them to "flee from the wrath to come." He now entered upon a remarkable period mouths spent in the arduous yet exciting task of field-preaching. What a picture was this! Here was a young man, wealthy, gifted, moving in the best circles, and with a brilliant career ready at his choice, yet leaving all, resolutely turning his back upon every earthly allurement, to become an humble itinerant of Methodism.
When Coke was twenty-nine years of age he met with Wesley. The great organizer of Methodism saw the promise and the power in this little ex-curate who had been dismissed from his church for boldly speaking out on the side of truth. There was a difference of forty-four years in their ages, yet they became the closest, the most confidential of friends. Coke was now thoroughly identified with Methodism. No man brought to the work a more unyielding faith, a more tireless energy than he. He was here, there, and everywhere. He seemed to have pinions, so quickly did he go from place to place. Once a year regularly he visited Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and the other countries where Methodism had become such a quickening power. Eighteen times he crossed the Atlantic, whose leaping waves seemed so fit an emblem of his untiring spirit. Like his predecessors in the Methodist itinerant ranks, he met with many indignities. He was pelted with sticks and stones, even bruised and beaten, and once he was nearly drowned with the slops from a fire-engine.
But that which has given to the name of Coke its true glory forever, to his memory an ever-enduring hold on the heart of Methodism, was his love for missions. It has been said of him that he was not only a missionary but "a whole missionary society in himself." He gave his prayers, his energy, his money, his all to the cause, and then wept because there was no more to give. In 1778, when the word "mission" first sprung into use it fell upon his ears as the call of the bugle sets aquiver every nerve in the steed chafing for battle. He now saw where the work lay, the work that God had specially for him to do. "The world is my parish! "-that had been Wesleys motto, the grand trumpet-call of Methodism, the true germ and spirit of Christian love of every purely missionary enterprise from that day to this. "0!" cried Coke from the depths of the heart where the pure missionary fire burned with the whirlwinds sweep, "I want the wings of an angel and the voice of a trumpet that I may proclaim the gospel through the east, the west, the north, the south!" God gave him the wings in the strength that seemed to be an ever-springing fount within, while his voice, made trumpet-like by the mighty force of his own zeal, did pierce the "locked darkness" of two continents, and swept on even to the distant isles of the sea.
From that time onward there was no plan too great or too difficult for his mighty energy to under.. take. When others held back irresolute, weakly predicting failure, he acted, and brought from the action the rich consummation of success. He not only gave almost his entire patrimony to the cause of missions, but he was constantly entreating others to give. Thousands of pounds thus found their way to the work through him. It is told of him that once he was at a certain sea-port, begging for missions. His manner and his words were such that it was almost impossible for any one to resist them. The captains of two vessels then lying in port chanced to meet. In the conversation that ensued one said to the other: "Did a man run to you this morning for money for what he called a mission?" "Yes," replied the other. "Ah, but he is a heavenly-minded little d--l," continued the first speaker; "he got my last penny." His zeal for the cause, which glowed as a perpetual fire within his heart, led him at nearly seventy years of age to offer himself as a missionary to India. No such example of utter consecration, of sublime zeal, had ever had record since to a lost and sin-blinded world came One to die for all. "India cleaves to my heart," declared Coke with the tears streaming down his face. And truly the state of affairs there was enough to make it cleave to any mans heart in which the least spark of humanity remained.
Thirty years before Coke had begun to plan this mission to India in 1780, the great British soldier, Lord Clive, had opened to the eyes of civilization this wonderful heathen land, while to-day hundreds of Christian chapels dot its surface, and the name of God is breathed in fervent prayer from thousands of dusky lips. But then what a picture it presented, this land of spice-groves and perfumed breezes, where every prospect ''gave pleasure to the eyes" and ''only man was vile!" Heathenism in its most revolting form, that of Buddhism, reigned supreme. Millions of human souls sat in the horrors of darkness, and this darkness was intensified by the East India Company s persistent refusal to allow missionaries to enter the country.
For years Coke battled with these prejudices and these harsh, inhuman decrees, hoping to break them down. But one island remained free from this Company s control, that of "balmy Ceylon," the very island of which the imperishable song above quoted from was written-Ceylon "the threshold of India." At sixty years of age Coke began to study the language, that he might go if others failed. When he offered himself to the Conference for work in India many objections were raised: first the question of his age, many regarding it as almost suicidal for a man of his years to attempt such a mission; and then the question as to means. It was utterly impossible at that time, they declared, for the body to undertake so expensive a work. But standing before them with the tears welling in his eyes, he announced it as his intention to furnish his own means even to the extent of thirty thousand pounds. Abashed and ashamed, they could say no more. What could be said, in the face of such sublime devotion as this? And not only did he offer to pay his own expenses, but those of six helpers.
On the last day of the year 1814 the good ship that bore these consecrated missionaries sailed from England. But alas! the author of this heroic movement was never to know its glorious consummation. Dying on the voyage, his body found a grave at the bottom of the ocean, "where pearls lie deep," while from out the crown of Methodism no gems shine with a more brilliant luster than the noble deeds of this peerless man who laid his all, even life itself, upon the altar of missionary consecration. Although his great heart had ceased to beat, and the coral-beds of the Indian Ocean forever entombed from the sight of men the tireless frame that had at last found the silence of Deaths eternal seal, still his spirit lived, and, caught by others, knew no respite till the glad light of the gospel had spread to the remotest corners of those far-off isles of the sea.
This story was adapted from the book "Scenes in Pioneer Methodism", Annie Maria Barns, published in 1891. It was produced by the Sunday School Department and printed by the Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. More stories from this book will appear on IMARC in the future.