Alexander Mather Early Life
Any account of the life of Francis Asbury would be significantly incomplete without the inclusion of the bulky Scottish preacher with the broad smile, Alexander Mather.
The twenty-seven-year-old Wesleyan itinerant who was born in Brechin, Scotland, has a unique religious history. Alexander Mather grew up in a God-fearing family. From childhood, his parents did their best to keep him away from bad company, however, his father was a strict disciplinarian. The father of Alexander Mather was a rigid and severe man. So much so that when Alexander Mather was a child of twelve years, Alexander Mather made a foolish decision and ran off with Scottish rebels. Financed by the French King, Alexander Mather, and his deserters were to fight the English. Alexander Mather planned to engage for a year. In that short period of time, Alexander Mather saw many mighty ones fall on Culloden Heath and Inverness. On every side they fell, yet Alexander Mather was mercifully preserved. When Alexander Mather came near to his senses and returned to the house of his father, the father of Alexander Mather refused to receive his son. At the time, Alexander Mather failed to realize that his father was a wise man. The father of Alexander Mather realized that the English King would hunt for rebels like Alexander Mather, a Jacobite rebel. In love for family and his son, the father of Alexander Mather refused him shelter. However stressful this was to Alexander Mather, divine providence looked down upon the young man.
In time, Alexander Mather labored with a baker in London, a man who feared God. The man providentially led Alexander Mather to John Wesley’s, Foundry Church in London. The building which was once a foundry casting guns for the king was purchased by John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley, turning it into the cradle of Methodism in London. Before his entrance into the ministry, the conversion experience of Alexander Mather prompted the young man to convince his boss and the other bakers of London to refuse to bake on Sundays. The effort met with much success; only two of the numerous bakers refused the request. Over time, his boss became wealthy; Alexander Mather and many others were convinced that it was the decision to honor the Sabbath that contributed to his boss’s success.
Another account from the life of Alexander Mather tells of an incident where he nearly loses his life. This accident, along with his near death experiences as a Jacobite rebel led him to conversion. The story goes that one day as Alexander Mather was hastily walking along a crowded London street, he noticed a loaded cart which stood in the path. It was nearly filled up. In spite of the large load in front of him, Alexander Mather decided that he could squeeze by the cart which placed near to the wall of the structure which sat adjacent to the loaded cart. Just as Alexander Mather placed himself between the cart and the building, the cart began to move. The moving load caught the basket which he held several baked items. Immediately, the cart crushed Alexander Mather against the wall and dragged him. According to the scene in Black Country, “The draggin’ seemed to go on very long, so long that Ah’ feared for my life.”
Eventually, the dragging cart arrived at a shop window. Providentially, the window gave way. Through the window, Alexander Mather tumbled into the cobbler’s shop and was released of the devilish hold of the cart. Everyone who saw it supposed Alexander Mather should have been crushed to death, or at least that his arms and legs would be broken. However, Alexander Mather received no hurt at all, other than a few bumps and bruises on the back of his hand. This rescue from certain death was the second time in the life of Alexander Mather that the Lord made an attempt to gain his undivided attention.
Alexander Mather Call to Ministry
Alexander Mather was known as a hard worker. As a baker, Alexander Mather once spent a three-year period working nearly twenty hours each day; the grueling schedule eventually came to an end when he perceived a call to preach. It was this love for hard work which seemed to prepare Alexander Mather for the arduous task of becoming a traveling preacher for John Wesley. In time, drawn to the movement started by John Wesley, Alexander Mather entered the traveling ministry.
The entrance into ministry by Alexander Mather was originally proposed by John Wesley in the year, 1756. Working as a baker and also married at the time, Alexander Mather was approached by John Wesley. The issue at hand was that Alexander Mather requested a slight addition to the normal itinerant salary. This was to support his wife while he was away preaching. John Wesley had invited Alexander Mather to preach in Ireland. Alexander Mather naturally worried for the provision of his wife. An itinerant’s salary was barely enough to keep an itinerant alive. Most of the traveling preachers were not married. This case with Alexander Mather was something new.
Alexander Mather informed John Wesley that he needed an additional four shillings per week to support his wife. In the year, 1756, John Wesley refused the request of Alexander Mather. The Scottish preacher informed John Wesley that if payment could not be arranged, then he would need to remain in London and continue to work as a baker while attempting to enter the ministry. The Methodist Conference, along with John Wesley, refused the request of Alexander Mather.
In the year, 1757, the Methodist Conference in London, specifically at John Wesley’s Foundry Church, approved the additional monies for the wife of Alexander Mather. This practice began the tradition of providing for the wife of a traveling preacher. The tradition continues to this day. Officially, the year 1757 marks the beginning of the itinerancy of Alexander Mather. John Wesley sent him to Ireland.
Alexander Mather Early Circuits
The records of the Methodist Conference records do not give much detail in these years. Started sometime in 1749 out of necessity to organize a growing movement, the Methodist Conference gatherings did not take on a formal structure until the year, 1765.
Despite the lack of details, there are a few references to Alexander Mather. In the year, 1758, John Wesley assigned Alexander Mather closer to London on the Newcastle Circuit. There is one reference which puts Alexander Mather in the York Circuit in early 1759. The York Circuit at that time included Yarm, Scarborough, and Hull Circuits. In this year, Alexander Mather experienced the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Whitby. There is also an indication that during these undocumented years, Alexander Mather eventually made it to the Staffordshire Circuit. The Staffordshire Circuit was comprised of several towns. In the early years, the Staffordshire Circuit was centered around the Black Country, West Midlands of England, the towns of Darlaston, Wednesbury, Wolverhampton, and Birmingham. Very quickly, the Staffordshire Circuit grew to the south, along the Severn River, including the towns of Worcester, Tewkesbury, and Gloucester.
Alexander Mather and Francis Asbury
According to the book, Black Country, Alexander Mather entered the Staffordshire Circuit, the circuit in which Francis Asbury resided, sometime in the year, 1759. Another account from Thomas Jackson’s book, The Early Methodist Preachers, Volume 2, gives the following account. The account from the book can be found at this website: “The next year (1759) I was in Staffordshire, where it pleased God to work in a very eminent manner; at Darlaston in particular, where there was a small but steady society of long standing. Several of these had borne much persecution and took joyfully the spoiling of their goods. Ever since, their behavior has been unblameable: and yet none of them could say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth!” Some of these coming over to the prayer-meetings at Wednesbury, and hearing (what they thought they had never heard before) that they were to believe now; that they might come to Christ now, without any other qualification than a sense of their own sinfulness and helplessness; they were utterly astonished, and began to be amazed at their slowness of heart. Presently a prayer-meeting was set up at Darlaston. And in a little time many souls were set at liberty. The oldest stood out longest. After all they had done and suffered, they found it hard to come, as having done nothing. And when they were urged to it in a class or prayer meeting, they were ready to gnash their teeth. But whether they would hear or forbear, God continued to add more and more souls to His genuine Gospel. Nothing stood before it. Many of the servants and children of these old professors cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” Being pointed to the Lamb of God, they believed, and rejoiced in God their Saviour, to the utter astonishment of their unbelieving masters and parents. In one night it was common to see five or six (and sometimes more) praising God for His pardoning mercy. And not a few in Birmingham, Dudley, and Wolverhampton, as well as in “Wednesbury and Darlaston, clearly testified, that the blood of Jesus Christ had cleansed them from all sin.“
The earliest accounts of the interaction of Francis Asbury and Alexander Mather are few. The notations are there. In the book, Black Country, Alexander Mather runs into Francis Asbury at the Forge where Francis Asbury is apprenticing as an iron worker pounding out nails on an anvil placed next to an iron-burning furnace. The meeting is simple enough, a push for Francis Asbury to attend the Sabbath worship service which occurs weekly at the Foxall Forge. Eventually, Francis Asbury attends and is mentored by Alexander Mather.
In the story, Alexander Mather continues on the Staffordshire circuit for some time. He is placed in the ideal location to mentor a young Francis Asbury, a Francis Asbury who is sure of his faith and is intent on growing in the Lord. In time, Alexander Mather perceives this yearning for more in the young man. He eventually advises Francis Asbury to organize a band of his closest friends. This leading of the band is one of the key aspects which will lead Alexander Mather to eventually recommend Francis Asbury to lead the entire class meeting at West Bromwich.
In addition to the above appointments, Alexander Mather is portrayed in Black Country as the individual who invites Francis Asbury to become a local preacher. Alexander Mather also delivers the news to Francis Asbury that he is received on trial as a traveling itinerant.