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Robert R. Roberts,
LATE A BISHOP OF THE METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH.
"THE 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 intelligible 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 grace.
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 Revolution, 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 people marvelled, knowing them to be ignorant and uneducated 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 Pennsylvania, 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. Something 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 classpaper.
"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 occasions, 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,—esteeming nothing too degrading or too menial,-that roughlooking 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 preside 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 Hedding. 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, penitent, and anxiously seeking to know and to do the will of God, light dawned upon him from the Sun of righteous