Morris, Thomas Asbury, Dd
Morris, Thomas Asbury, D.D.
a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and for many years the senior officer of the episcopal cabinet, a man of indomitable energy and great love for the Christian cause, in which he proved a most efficient workman, was born in Kanawha County, Virginia, April 28, 1794. His parents, while he was yet a youth, removed to Charlestown, West Virginia, and it was for some time his home. The educational facilities of that period, and especially of that region, were extremely limited. It was the good fortune of the Morris family, however, to enjoy the advantages of a good grammar- school, organized by William Paine, an educated Englishman, near the homestead, when Thomas was about sixteen years of age. His oldest brother, Edmund, held the clerkship of Cabell County, in which the family resided, and Thomas, at the age of seventeen, became a deputy in the office, a position which he held until he was about twenty years of age. While discharging the duties of this office, and when greatly broken down in health, and somewhat depressed in spirits, he was drafted into a company of militia, to perform a six-months' tour in the North against the British and Indians. They met at the court-house, shouldered their muskets, and took up their line of march to join a regiment forming at Point Pleasant, to re-enforce the main army near the Canada line. The father of Young Morris was so affected by his son's frail and youthful appearance and his feeble health that after the company had started he procured a substitute, overtook the young soldiers their second day out, and procured a discharge for his slender and delicate boy. The early religious training of bishop Morris was in the Baptist Church, of which both his parents were pious and exemplary members. He grew up, however, without giving much thought to the subject of personal religion until he was about eighteen years of age. In his twentieth year he made a profession of religion, and at the same time began to ponder seriously the question whether Providence was not leading him to cast in his lot with the people called Methodists. Against this course many considerations pleaded powerfully: he had been trained in another communion, his prejudices were deeply rooted, the Methodists in that region were feeble and persecuted, but the result of a careful comparison of their doctrines and polity with the New Testament which he instituted at this time was a fixed, unalterable determination to unite with them as the people of his choice. He was shortly after admission to membership in the Church licensed to preach, and was received as a travelling preacher into the Ohio Conference in 1816. In 1818 he was ordained deacon by bishop George, and elder in 1820 by bishop Roberts. Though in a large measure self-educated, because an affliction of the eve restricted his studies in early manhood, he yet labored most acceptably in the pastoral work in various parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio till 1834, when he was deemed cultured enough to be intrusted with the literary management of a paper, and was placed in the editorial chair of the then newly-established Western Christian Advocate, a religious and literary weekly, which two years after its commencement numbered 8000 subscribers — certainly a successful enterprise for the times. In 1836 the General Conference, held that year at Cincinnati, where he resided, elected him to the episcopal office. He now really entered a field for which he was specially fitted, and gained a most enviable reputation not only in his own denomination, but throughout the Christian Church. In 1864 declining health and the infirmities of age obliged him to ask for relief, and he was less heavily taxed. In 1868, at the General Conference in Chicago, he sought and obtained permission to be withdrawn from episcopal visitation duties, and led a rather quiet life until his death, September 2, 1874. Only a few days before this he had addressed a loving missive to the members of the Cincinnati Conference (bearing date August 27), saying, among other noble Christian words, "I am no longer able to go in and out before you, to sit in your councils and take part in your deliberations, yet my heart and sympathy are with you, and for Zion's prosperity my tears shall fall and my prayers ascend until my release is signed, and I go to join the Church triumphant in the skies." Bishop Morris was a man of great uniformity and simplicity. He was noted in his Church for the quiet power and prudent skill with which he discharged the episcopal duties. His death occurring about the same time as that of the bishop of Winchester — Dr. Charles Sumner (q.v.) — the New York Methodist took occasion to institute a comparison between the two bishops, and thus concludes in favor of bishop Morris: "This man had done more in his time for the extension of Christianity than a whole bench of English prelates. He had assigned to their places of labor not less than 30,000 ministers, had traversed this country to the outer edge of its civilization over and over again; had preached sermons innumerable, and only ceased to labor when labor became physically impossible. Nor was his pen idle. He was one of the founders of a great paper, which is still in existence. He issued volumes from the press, which are models of vigorous, idiomatic English. And all this fruitful work was done in the most unpretending way. Bishop Morris never thought of himself as a great actor in the world's affairs, a great preacher, or a great writer. The beauty of his character was that he never appeared to think of himself at all; his work was before him, and he did it; and that was the end of the matter." Bishop Morris's only works of any special import are a volume of sermons, and a miscellany, consisting of essays, biographical sketches, and notes of travel. Of the former, about 15,000 copies have been sold; the latter has been but sparsely circulated. "His style was epigrammatic, clear, and forcible. His printed sermons were characterized by simplicity, pith, directness, lucid arrangement, and earnest and practical enforcement of the truth. They have been useful and popular. As a presiding officer he was the beau ideal of a Methodist bishop. He had rare practical wisdom, quick and accurate judgment, and inflexible decision. He acted no superiority, put on no prelatical airs, and never felt that his office lifted him above the fellowship and sympathy of his brethren" (Marlay). As a pulpit orator, the bishop was quite noted in the prime of his life. His delightful evangelical discourses abounded in pithy sentences, and gratified thousands of hearers as they fell from his lips. See Marlay, Life of Bishop Morris (N.Y. 1875, 12mo); Meth. Qu. Rev. July 1875, art. 3; Minutes of Annual Conferences, 1874; N.Y. Christian Advocate, September 1874; Men of the Time, s.v.; Drake, Dict. of Amer. Biog. s.v.