In his book “John Wesley,” John Pollock describes Coke as “a little Welshman with a boyish grin but handsome face and a pleasing smile. He was energetic and able: while serving as a young curate in Somerset, he was made a Doctor of Laws of Oxford and already had been bailiff or mayor of his native Brecon.”
Wesley called Coke “the Flea” because he seemed to be everywhere. Coke preached in Paris, started missions at Gibraltar and Sierra Leone, and ministered in the West Indies. He sailed for Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the East Indies but died in early 1814 at sea before reaching Ceylon.
Coke made nine trips to the New World. In his first visit, he had been commissioned by John Wesley to be a superintendent, along with Francis Asbury, over the American Methodists. On his voyage, he read with satisfaction the journal of David Brainerd, a missionary to the American Indians.
Coke and Asbury met with other Methodist preachers at a 1784 Christmas conference in Baltimore. The two men were made superintendents and later were called bishops.
Asbury became the principal Methodist evangelist in America. Coke roamed the world in his mission work. Coke had a balanced leadership style with emphasis on the personal and the social. He told his new converts it was not enough to know they were justified by God’s grace. He encouraged them to press toward sanctification and fulfill Jesus’ command: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Coke also had a social passion. He was one of the first religious leaders to speak out against American slavery and the slave trade. By his balanced leadership, Coke prepared the Methodists to lead the way in evangelizing the western frontier.
Richard A. Hasler is a retired pastor with a doctorate in church history.