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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
D.D., an eminent minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was born May 2, 1778, near Bridgeport, Conn. When he was about thirteen, the family removed to Stamford, Delaware Co., N. Y., and here, on the home farm, the boy grew up, receiving the common school education of the time, by which he profited so well that at eighteen he was capable of teaching such a school himself. In 1799 he went to Canada, and spent three years there in teaching and in surveying land. In 1800 he was converted, and in 1802 was admitted into the New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which then embraced Canada. The next six years he spent in arduous labors in Canada, going from village to village as an itinerant minister, often through virgin forests, guided only by the ‘‘ marks" of the wood-cutter or the hunter. In 1808 he was returned to the state of New York, being appointed by the bishop to Delaware Circuit. Such had been his rapid rise in influence that his brethren sent him to the General Conference of this year, and so commanding were his subsequent services that he was a delegate in every session after, except that of 1848, down to 1856, when his advanced years justified his release from such responsibilities. In 1810 he was sent to New York City, which was ever after the headquarters of his labors and influence for his denomination. Methodism here was then still in its youthful struggles; it consisted of one circuit, with five preaching-places. The city population was below one hundred thousand. The city and its suburbs now (1865) comprise a million of people, and more than twice as many Methodist preachers as the whole Conference then reported, though it swept over much of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and over Eastern New York, up the Hudson into Canada to even Montreal and Quebec! What a history for one life! In 1813 he was appointed presiding elder of the Rhinebeck District; from 1817 to 1820 he was pastor in New York; and in 1820 he was elected "Book Agent," and assumed the charge of the Methodist Book Concern, then a small business, and deeply involved in debt. Under his skillful management (from 1820 to 1828) the Concern rapidly recovered from its embarrassments, and its business was immensely extended. In 1826 the "Christian Advocate" was established, and the editorial matter from 1826 to 1828 was chiefly furnished by Dr. Bangs, though he was still discharging the arduous duties of senior book-agent. During the whole period of his agency (1820-1828) he was also editor of the Methodist Magazine. Such an amount of labor would have worn out any man not endowed with great intellectual and bodily vigor-qualities which, in Dr. Bangs, were supplemented by indomitable industry and perseverance. In 1828 he was appointed editor of the Advocate, including, also, the editorial labors of the Magazine. In 1832 the General Conference appointed him editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review, a new form of the Methodist Magazine. His office comprised also the editorial charge of the books of the general catalogue. He had no paid assistance in the labors of the two periodicals, no appropriation being made for contributions; but the variety and vigor of his own articles imparted continued freshness and power to their pages.
His services to the missionary cause were perhaps the most important of all his vast and varied labors. He was one of the founders of the Methodist Missionary Society; he framed its original Constitution; he wrote its first "Circular Address" to the church. During sixteen years prior to the organization of the secretary-ship as a special and salaried function, he labored indefatigably and gratuitously for the society as its vice-president, secretary, or treasurer. He wrote in these years all its annual reports. In 1836 he was appointed "Missionary Secretary." He now devoted his entire energies to the Missionary Society, conducting its correspondence, seeking missionaries for it, planning its mission-fields, pleading for it in the pulpits, and representing it in the Conferences until 1841, when he accepted the presidency of the Wesleyan University at Middletown, Conn. In 1842 he returned to pastoral work in New York. and remained in active service until 1852. The remainder of his life was passed in quiet literary labor, with occasional preaching as his health served. Much of the literary labor of his later years was devoted to the exposition of the doctrine of entire sanctification. In his eightieth year he preached with vigor, and his writings of that period are luminous and powerful. His last sermon was on the certain triumph of the Gospel. He died in great peace May 3, 1862. Dr. Bangs was a man of vigor and force — a fighter, when need be, to the last. "No man could show a nobler indignation against anything unrighteous or mean; no man could speak more unflinchingly or directly to the very face and teeth of a pretentious, an evasive, or disingenuous disputant, but no man ever had a more genial heart, a more instinctive sympathy with whatever is generous, heroic, or tender. His friendships were as steadfast as adamant. Unlike most old men, he was, to the last, progressive in his views. He sympathized with all well-considered measures for the improvement of his church, but its old honor was dearer to him than life, and woe to the man that dare impeach it in his presence. To him its history was all providential, and the very necessity of changes was the gracious summons of Providence for it to arise and shine still brighter. This hearty, resolute love of his friends and his cause, was one of the strongest, noblest traits of the war-worn old hero. It made him lovable as he was loving. His old age seemed to mellow rather than wither his generous dispositions. He was always deeply devout, but with advanced years he seemed to attain advanced heights of Christian experience and consolation. The Pauline doctrine of sanctification, as defined by Wesley, became his habitual theme of interest and conversation. He delighted to attend social gatherings for prayer on this subject, and during several late years he presided over one of the most frequented assemblies of this kind in New York. He seemed to take increasingly cheerful views of life, and of the prospects of the kingdom of God in the world, as he approached the end of his career. There was no querulousness in his temper, no repining in his conversation, at the changes which were displacing him from public view."
His writings alone would have made him an historical character of his church. His editorial productions in the Advocate, the Magazine, and the Quarterly Review would fill scores of volumes. His Annual Missionary Reports would make no small library of missionary literature. His more substantial publications are more numerous than those of any other American Methodist. As early as 1809 he began his career as an author by a volume against "Christianism," an heretical sect of New England. Three years later the General Conference appointed him chairman of a committee to collect the historical materials of the denomination, and thus began the researches which resulted in his History of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Before the appearance of this, his most important production, he published Errors of Hopkinsianism (1815, 12mo); Predestination examined (1817, 12mo); Reformer Reformed (1818, 12mo); Methodist Episcopacy (1820, 12mo); Life of the Rev. Freeborn Garrettson, one of the best of our biographies, and an essential collection of data for the history of the church. In 1832 appeared his Authentic History of the Missions under the care of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a volume which has aided much the missionary enterprise of the denomination. In 1835 he published Letters to a Young Preacher, full of excellent counsels on ministerial habits, on books, study, preaching, etc.; and in 1836, The Original Church of Christ (12mo). In 1839 appeared the first volume of his History of the M. E. Church. In three years the remaining three volumes were issued. It was a book for the times, if not for all time. His other publications are an Essay on Emancipation (1848, 8vo); State and Responsibilities of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1850, 12mo); Letters on Sanctification (1851, 12mo); Life of Arminius (18mo); and numerous occasional sermons. His scheme of "Emancipation" is substantially that recommended in the message of the President of the United States to Congress, 1862. "Let Congress," he says, "make a proposition to the 1 several slave states that so much per head shall be allowed for every slave that shall be emancipated, leaving it to the state Legislatures respectively to adopt their own measures to effect the object." Thus did this sagacious old man anticipate by several years the best suggestion which our national leaders were able to utter on our greatest national problem before its final solution by the sword. It is elaborated with skillful and intrepid ability, and fortified by decisive proofs from facts and figures. It has been said of his concluding "array of motives to emancipation," that they "are strong enough, one would think, to rouse all but the dead to the importance of the task." See Stevens, Life and Times of Nathan Bangs, D.D. (N. Y. 1863, 12mo); Ladies' Repository, June, 1859; The Methodist, May 10,1862; Methodist Quarterly, January, 1864, p. 172.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Bangs, Nathan'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/bangs-nathan.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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