Story for the Week

24 March 1816 • Francis Asbury Preached His Last Sermon

Because he was cruelly treated at school, Francis Asbury dropped out at eleven and became a servant in a rich but godless home near Birmingham in England. Although his parents were Christians and took him to Church of England services, it was not until he heard Methodist preaching that Christianity captivated his heart. The devotion, prayer, singing, and religious assurance of these Methodists impressed him as the real thing. Praying with another young man in a barn, he was converted at around the age of fifteen. 

Francis Asbury
Asbury ordained as bishop

Immediately he began to read the Bible, pray, and share the gospel with other young men in the neighborhood. Even before the Methodists licensed him as a preacher at seventeen, he would preach several times a week in neighboring towns. As soon as he turned 21, he gave up all other work and devoted himself entirely to preaching, riding a circuit around England. Like Methodist leader John Wesley, he also developed methodical habits to make the most of his time, including reading at least a hundred pages a day, much of it while on horseback. He gained the respect of fellow Methodists. 

When Asbury was twenty-six, he attended a Methodist Conference in Bristol. John Wesley asked for volunteers to go to America and several men stepped forward. Wesley selected Asbury. 

A better choice could not have been made. Asbury arrived in a land of small, widely scattered Methodist congregations. Imitating the pattern he had learned in England, he developed circuits and rode five thousand miles a year preaching. He distributed thousands of pieces of literature, preached seventeen thousand sermons, ordained three thousand preachers, and founded five colleges, becoming America’s first Methodist bishop. Under his leadership, the Methodist Episcopal Church saw enormous growth. Beginning as the smallest denomination in the American colonies, it became the largest in the new American nation in his lifetime. 

Asbury kept up his hard work even into old age. On this day, 24 March 1816, he delivered his last sermon. Although he was so weak that he had to lie on a table in the Richmond, Virginia, church that was hosting him, he spoke for an hour, taking as his text, “For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth” (Romans 9:28). The seventy-one year old bishop died a week later.

Dan Graves


  1. Asbury, Francis. The Heart of Asbury’s Journal. New York: Eaton & Mains, 1904.
  2. “Asbury, Francis.” Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography.
  3. Asbury, Herbert. A Methodist Saint: The Life of Bishop Asbury. New York: Knopf, 1927. [This strange book, half panegyric, half sneer, seems to have fabricated some of its “facts” such as the vision of Asbury’s mother]
  4. Christian History 45 (1995).
  5. Christian History 114 (2015).
  6. DuBose, Horace M. Francis Asbury.
  7. Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity. Editor Tim Dowley. Berkhamsted, Herts, England: Lion Publishing, 1977.
  8. Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of the Expansion of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  9. Mains, George P. Francis Asbury. New York: Eaton and Mains; Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1909.
  10. Nygaard, Norman Eugene. Bishop on Horseback: the story of Francis Asbury. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1962.
  11. Smith, George G. Life and Labors of Francis Asbury. Nashville, TN: Publishing House of M. E. Church, South, 1896.

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