Thomas Rankin was seven years older than Francis Asbury. His ministry as a traveling preacher for John Wesley began in 1761. It wasn’t long before John Wesley realized what he had in Thomas Rankin. Thomas was a lover of strict religious discipline. Where did Thomas Rankin gain this religious fervor? Many people credit Rankin’s love of discipline to two key factors.
Rankin’s military-like approach to religion is a clear reflection of his father, a blameless and devoutly religious man who early on surrounded the child with a rigorous philosophy of religious habits and practices. The death of his father when he was seventeen brought Rankin a yearning for spiritual significance. Fortunately for him, the Wesleyan society in his Scottish village of Dunbar boasted of men much like his father—ex-military men who applied their disciplined manner to their faith. Growing up in the presence of these retired soldiers, Rankin gained further affirmation of his style of faith.
Thomas Rankin Martinet
It wasn’t long before Thomas Rankin became John Wesley’s martinet. On numerous journeys to the more troubled Wesleyan societies did John Wesley send him. In time, these missions would include special trips to monitor the young Francis Asbury.
Thomas Rankin and Francis Asbury
The first meeting of this kind occurred when Francis Asbury was traveling the Portsmouth and Salisbury circuit in southern England. At the time, the venerable, George Whitefield had just passed away. Asbury returns to the mainland from the Isle of Wight only to his shocking discovery that Whitefield has passed. At this vulnerable moment arrives Thomas Rankin. Rankin was sent by John Wesley on account of rumors that Francis Asbury’s colaborer, James Cattermole had departed the circuit. This actually happened and left the young Francis Asbury with handling the large circuit.
God’s timing for the rescue of Francis Asbury from Thomas Rankin was evident, for Rankin was sent to force Asbury to abandon the circuit. The death of Whitefield sent Rankin back to London to inform John Wesley of the death of his friend, George Whitefield.
The second time that Rankin is sent to check up on the young Francis Asbury is when Francis is leading the effort in America. The Methodist movement in America at that time was in its infancy. Word had gotten back to John Wesley in England that some things were awry with the movement in the colonies.
Thomas Rankin’s 1773 arrival in the colonies clearly marked a demotion for Francis Asbury. Thomas Rankin took away Francis Asbury’s leadership role and managed the American effort until his departure for England in 1778. This departure left the young Francis Asbury on his own in a land at war with his homeland. In some ways, this was clearly a benefit for many of the societies that were not happy with Rankin. However, these same societies in New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were not too thrilled to have Francis Asbury. Although a strict disciplinarian when it came to the band and class meetings, Francis Asbury was not nearly as strict as John Wesley’s martinet, Thomas Rankin.