The example of a life like that delineated on the following pages is too precious to be allowed to fade into oblivion; and, in recalling attention to it in this new narrative, the curators of the Methodist press believe that they are fulfilling a duty to the church and to the world.
It is true the present volume is not the first or only biography of Doctor Coke. A servant of God so distinguished would not need, in an age like ours, a heart or a hand to record his virtues; but it is believed that this last essay will be found more complete than its predecessors, and will be on that account not unwelcome even to those who have already learned to understand and revere his character.
The first attempt at a biography of Dr. Coke was made by the Rev. Jonathan Crowther, Sen., in a volume in which, amidst a large amount of useful information on ecclesiastical and missionary subjects, there is too little found about the personal subject of the memoir itself to give satisfaction to the reader. This book was followed by a short but elegant Sketch from the pen of the Rev. Joseph Sutcliffe, M.A., which is prefixed to a volume of the Doctor's works; and will always be read with pleasure and profit by the few who may meet with it. But a more authentic life of the great missionary was undertaken, at the request of his executors, by the late Samuel Drew, M.A., a man every way qualified for the task, not only by his own eminent abilities, but by those habits of intercourse with Dr. Coke himself which had given him an intimate acquaintance with his "doctrine, manner of life, faith, purpose, and charity." Yet even the respectable production of Mr. Drew, which has now been long years out of print, has defects and blemishes which, were a new edition of it contemplated, it would be desirable to repair. The writer of the present pages has had the advantage of Mr. Drew, and of each of the former biographers, in having access to documentary and other means of information to them unattainable or unknown; and the volume is humbly offered to the Christian public with the confidence that, though the manner of execution be imperfect enough, the materials unfolded will not be found unworthy their regard.
In the department of religious biography we may. certainly claim for Methodist literature a very high consideration. The Magazine alone has chronicled, for a century of years, a multitude of memorials illustrative of the power of religion to beautify our life, and turn death itself into gain; while the more elaborate histories of the saints and evangelists of our communion have taken a standard and classic rank in the literature of the church at large. Such are, the Lives of the Wesleys and Whitefield; the sanctified Fletcher; the fervid Benson; the erudite Adam Clarke; Richard Watson, of lofty genius, but lowly, reverential piety; Robert Newton, eloquent as Apollos; and Jabez Bunting, the Aristides of modern Methodism.
It is with these servants of the Most High God, who showed to millions the way of salvation, that Coke has taken his abiding place. The rank he holds among them will be determined by a survey of the actions of his life.
In looking heavenward toward constellations like these, one is reminded of the angel's word: "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." May He from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed, increase such men in all churches, till their line shall have gone out through all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world!