The Preachers of Brooklyn: No. 4 The Rev. Abel STevens, LL.B.

The Methodists, are the largest religious body in the United States. The history of this powerful denomination has a charm equal to romance from its first germ in the soul of John Wesley at Oxford to its active mission when he and Whitefield preached the gospel on these shores, and then on through its progressive record to the present day. Its introduction into America about a hundred years ago happened curiously. Wesley visited Ireland in 1752 and became acquainted with a German Irishman, one of a Colony of Germans whose fathers had emigrated from the Rhine, in the reign of Queen Anne. This young man, Philip Embury by name, converted by Wesley's teaching, became a local preacher, and nine years later quitted Ireland and settled with a small company of his countrymen in New York. After a period of indifference to religion, consequent on the deprivation of the religious ordinances they had clung to in Ireland, they were aroused to renewed life by a devout woman, Barbara Heck, at whose entreaty the preacher held services in his own house, a humble one-story building, and thus inaugurated the first Methodist Society in America. In two years more he dedicated the First American Methodist Chapel.

On the 2d of September, 1784, John Wesley believing, to quote his own words, that he was "a Scriptural episcopos as much as any man in England" and had therefore the right to ordain and consecrate others, ordained at Bristol the Rev. Thomas Coke, LL.D., of Jesus College, Oxford, and a presbyter of the Established Church of England, as Superintendent or Bishop of the Methodist Societies in America. At the same time he ordained Richard Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey, presbyters, and the three devoted missionaries set off on a longer journey than was ever thought of by Paul or Barnabas, arriving in America on the 3d of November. Eighteen times did good Bishop Coke cross the Atlantic at his own expense. If the consecration by Wesley (who was assisted by the Rev. James Creighton, also a Priest of the Church of England) is allowed to be valid, then Methodism may boast of having given the first Protestant Bishop to this continent and of having founded the first Protestant Episcopal Church of the New World. Upon the "If" with which our last sentence commenced depend some weighty ecclesiastical questions, affecting the ultimate prospects of a reunion of Christendom.

It was illustrated not long since in England, when the warm-hearted and learned Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, the much talked of Dr. Pusey, made overtures to the Wesleyan clergy in the hope of inducing their conformity to the Church of England. His well meant appeal was not reciprocated with much affection, this question of the validity of Wesleyan ordinations being one of the points at issue. The office of a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church differs considerably from that of the Episcopalian and Roman Catholic Churches. In the two latter a bishop has jurisdiction over the clergy and churches of one particular diocese, but the Methodist bishops divide among themselves the superintendence of the churches, clergy, missions, &C., without limit as to locality, so that a bishop may be one year engaged on some specific department of work in America, and the next year on quite another branch in Europe. In the old world the name of the denomination is "Wesleyan Methodists," which is synonymous with "Methodist Episcopal" in t his country. In the matter of doctrine, there is no material difference between the Methodists and the Established Church of England. Like that church, Methodism which so directly emanated from it, has had and still has contending parties within its pale. George Whitefield, it will be remembered, was a strong Calvinist, and he had a large number of followers who adopted similar views. The two Wesleys, on the other hand, were Arminian in their teaching and rejected the notion of a limited salvation. John Wesley sent the Methodists of America a printed liturgy or "Sunday Service" as well as a bishop (who was to ordain ministers). This liturgy contained, besides the usual prayers, forms for "ordaining superintendents, elders and deacons, "the "Articles of Religion" (omitting that bulwark of Calvinism the Seventeenth "Of Predestination and Election") and "A collection of Psalms and Hymns." His brother Charles, who was of higher church views than himself, was the author of some very beautiful ones. His famous hymn commencing "Lo, on this narrow neck of land" composed at the Land's End, Cornwall, is familiar to all hymn lovers.

The Methodist Episcopal Church in Brooklyn

As early as the year 1784 the Methodist itinerant preachers found their way into Brooklyn. At first they preached in the open air and private dwellings; and it was not until the year 1794 that the first Methodist meeting house was erected on the site of the present Sands street M.E. Church. A preliminary meeting, for the election of six persons to act as Trustees of the first Methodist Church in Brooklyn, had been previously held at Peter Cannon's near the Fulton Ferry, and on the 1st of September the Trustees so selected purchased the site in Sands street from Joshua and Comfort A. Sands. This place of worship was dedicated June 1st, 1794, by the Rev. Joseph Totten, who, in 1797, became the first Methodist Episcopal minister regularly located in Brooklyn. Some thirty churches are the offspring of that little company of worshipers. They continued to assemble in that church until 1810, when they built a larger one, and again in 1843 this was removed, and a brick edifice was erected.

In 1816 the first Sabbath School in Brooklyn was opened in Mr. Kirk's printing office on Adams street, it being considered indecorous to hold in the Church. One of the Methodist Episcopal Churches in Brooklyn the most costly and attractive is:

The Pacific Street M.E. Church

It is built in the Romanesque style, of brown stone. its history may be thus epitomized;

It is built in the Romanesque style, of brown stone. Its history may be thus epitomized;

On Tuesday evening, October the 1st, 1854, a few persons belonging to the denomination met at the house of Aaron B. Marvin, corner of Court and Livingston streets, to deliberate as to the purchase of the property formerly occupied by the South Presbyterian Church, on Pacific street, between Court and Clinton, as a place of worship for the Methodists in South Brooklyn. A Committee was appointed which lost no time in effecting the proposed purchase for the sum of $6,500.

The Rev. George Peck, D.D., then editor of the Quarterly Review, having been appointed to take charge of the movement, preached the first sermon on Sunday, Oct. 13, 1844.

On the Sunday following, October 20th, the Church was formally organized under its present charter, as the fifth separate Methodist station in the City of Brooklyn, forty persons connecting themselves by certificate with the new society. It is a singular circumstance that not one of the original official members is now in connection with this church. Most of them have "fallen on sleep," and others have removed to other places or churches.

The Society continued to worship in this place till the 18th of may, 1851, when they removed to their present beautiful edifice, on the corner of Conton and Pacific streets. The corner stone of the present church was laid by their Pastor, the Rev. J. Kennedy, D.D., assisted by the Rev. Waters Burrows, of the New Jersey Conference, on the 18th of June, 1850.

The Rev. Abel Stevens, LL.D.

As the Reverend Doctor has taken a house in Brooklyn and purposes to remain here he takes his place among the distinguished theologians and preachers of "the City of Churches," and it is a pleasure to welcome one so distinguished in the world of letters to the confraternity of our eminent scholars and divines. Dr. Stevens was born at Philadelphia in the year 1815, and as if that memorable time, so important in the history of Europe and America, had rendered warfare his natural vocation, he buckled on from earliest manhood the sword, the breastplate, the helmet, not indeed of the Arthur Wesley (or Wellesley, for the names are originally one) who beat Napoleon at Waterloo, but of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, a spiritual armor in which to do battle with force of many able books for a militant and triumphant Church. He received his education at the Wesleyan University of Middletown, Conn., and was for twenty years afterwards Editor of various periodicals connected with the Methodist body. From 1834 to 1836 he preached and labored in Boston; in 1837 and 1838 at Providence, R.I.; in 1839 he was in Texas; in 1861 and 1862 in New York; then from 1863 to 1866 he was Methodist Episcopal Minister of Mamaroneck, N.Y.; and in 1866 and 1867 was a Superintendent of the Methodist Church. Our readers are probably aware that ministers of Methodist Churches only remain pastors of one congregation for a term of three years, so that they are necessarily moving often from one sphere of labor to another.

As a Historian and Editor the work of Dr. Stevens has been incessant and and has been most valuable in its results to the Church of which he is a distinguished ornament. He has at various times been editor of Zion's Herald, the National Magazine, the Christian Advocate and Journal, and other periodicals. But his clear and indisputable title to "a name to live" rests more particularly on his great historical works, "The History of the Religious Movement of the Eighteenth Century, called Methodism, considered in its different Denominational Forms and its Relations to British and American Protestantism," in three large volumes; his separate "History of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America," and "The Centenary of American Methodism; A Sketch of Its History, Theology, Practical System, and Success." In the last mentioned work Dr. Stevens says: "Aggregately there are now in the United States and Canada, as the results of the Methodism of 1768, 1,972,770 church members, 13,650 traveling preachers, 15,000 local preachers, nearly 200 colleges and academies, and more than 30 periodical publications; 1,986,420 communicants, and nearly 8,000,000 people." In this aggregate no British North American Province is included except Canada, as their Methodism did not originate with the denomination in the United States. The Primitive Methodists are also omitted.

His Pulpit Ministrations

Dr. Stevens deals usually with argumentative subjects. He is skilful in dialectics, and possesses the quality, so rare among preachers and orators, of never misstating or coloring the opinions of his opponents. We were much struck by this candor of statement on Sunday last, when he delivered two able and logical discourses in answer to the rationalistic objections to prayer. If any Neologian were present he must have confessed that his position in antagonism to orthodoxy could not have been more fairly and dispassionately set forth. Dr. Stevens preaches without notes. He is fluent in his language, logical in his arrangement of thoughts, earnest, sometimes to vehemence, in pressing practical truths upon his hearers, and has a vivacity and intelligence which compels attention. He is a gentleman and a scholar, as well as a divine; does not think it a deadly sin to laugh or feel happy on the Sabbath day, and as well in church as out of it, is wholly devoid of insincerity or affectation.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Preachers of Brooklyn: No.4, The Rev. Abel Stevens, LL.B.
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle  February 4, 1869
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