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spiritual interests, as far back as May 20, 1804,* the time when his letter was dated, and it more than intimates that the subject with him was not new.
"My dear Mother's fears respecting my attention to religious concerns were, alas! but too well founded. Infatuated by the pleasures and amusements, which this place affords, and which took the more powerful hold on my senses from being adorned with a refinement to which I had before been a stranger, I gradually grew cold and indifferent to religion; and, though I still made attempts to reform, they were too transient to be effectual.
"From this careless frame, nothing but a shock like that I have received, could have roused me; and though my deceitful heart will, I fear, draw me back again into the snare, as soon as the first impression is worn off, yet I hope, by the assistance of divine grace, that this dispensation will prove of eternal benefit. This is my most earnest prayer, and I know it will be yours.
"In reflecting on the ends of divine Providence in this event, I am greatly distressed. To you, my dear Parents, it could not be necessary. My sister, as you sometime since informed me, has turned her attention to religion; the other children are too young to receive benefit from it. It remains, then, that I am the Achan, who has drawn down this punishment, and occasioned this distress to my friends. My careless, obdurate heart rendered it necessary, to punish and humble it: and, O, that the punishment had fallen where it was due. But I can pursue the subject no further."
* This date is given, as it appears in Dr. Payson's hand writing. A correspondent, however, places it a year later. If the date of the brother's death has been preserved on the Family Record, which is altogether probable, to that date this change in his feelings should be referred. It is possible something may have faded from the last of the figures denoting the year.
It has been stated on credible authority, that Dr. Payson was so much affected by this bereavement, that he confined himself to his chamber for three days; and that, previously to this period, he had purposed to devote himself to the profession of the law. If so, the affliction was no less a mercy to the church, than to himself.
"God is his own Interpreter."
Here is the subdued tone of the penitent, come to himself, and returning to his Father.' Of his progress in piety for the next six months, nothing is known except what may be inferred from a letter, dated Dec. 12th, of the same year. An extract will show that he was not inattentive to what passed in his own heart, nor without experience in the Christian conflict.
"I have nothing but complaints of myself to make, nothing but the same old story of erring and repenting, but never reforming. I fear I am in a sad way. I attend public worship, and think of every subject but the proper one; or if, by strong exertions, I fix my attention, for a few minutes, I feel an irresistible propensity to criticise the preacher, instead of attending to the instructions; and, notwithstanding a full conviction that this conduct is wrong, I persist in it still. Hence it happens, that the Sabbath, which is so admirably calculated to keep alive a sense of religion, becomes a stumbling-block. The thought of my sinful neglect and inattention, so shames and distresses me, that I am unable to approach the throne of grace, through shame. As this, I know, is the fruit of a self-righteous spirit, I strive against it; and, after two or three days, perhaps, am enabled to trust in Christ for the pardon of that and other sins. But, another Sabbath, the same round is repeated. Thus I go on, sinning and humbling myself after long seeking for a proper sense of my sin, then confessing it with contrition and remorse; and, the next moment, even while the joy of obtained pardon, and gratitude for divine favor is thrilling in my heart, plunging, on the most trivial temptation into the same error, whose bitter consequences I had so lately felt. Shame and remorse for the ungrate ful returns I have made for the blessings bestowed, prevent secret prayer, frequently for two or three days together, until I can no longer support it; and though I have so often experienced forgiving love, I am too proud to ask for it.".
A few weeks afterwards he writes thus :— "I feel convinced by experience, that if I relax my exertions for ever so short a time, it will require additional exertions to repair
it, and perhaps occasion a week's gloom and despondency; yet the least temptation leads me to do, what I feel conscious at the time, I shall severely smart for. In the impracticable attempt to reconcile God and the world, I spend my time very unhappily, neither enjoying the comforts of this world, nor of religion. But I have at last determined to renounce the false pleasures for which I pay so dear, and this I should have done long ago, but for the advice and example of some whose judgment I respected."
"I have lately been severely tried with doubts and difficulties respecting many parts of Scripture. Reading the other day, I met with this passage, "for his great name's sake." It was immediately suggested to my mind, that, as the Deity bestowed all his favor on us, for his great
name's sake," we were under no obligations to feel grateful for them. And though my heart assented to the propriety of gratitude, my head would not. In hearing my scholars recite the Greek Testament, I am disturbed by numberless seeming inconsistencies and doubts, which, though they do not shake my belief, render me for a time extremely miserable. I find no relief in these trials from the treatises which have been written in proof of the truth of revelation. It is from a different source that assistance is received."
"MY DEAREST Mother,
April 20, 1805.
I have just been perusing something excessively interesting to my feelings. It is a short extract from your journal in my sister's letter. Surely it is my own fault, that I do not resemble Samuel in more instances than one. What a disgrace to me, that, with such rare and inestimable advantages, I have made no greater progress. However, thanks to the fervent, effectual prayers of my righteous parents, and the tender mercies of my God upon me, I have reason to hope, that the pious wishes, breathed over my infant head, are in some measure fulfilled; nor would I exchange the benefits which I have derived from my parents for the inheritance of any monarch* in the universe.
*The admirers of Cowper-between whom and the subject of this
"I feel inclined to hope that I am progressing, though by slow and imperceptible degrees, in the knowledge of divine things. On comparing my former and present views, I find that the latter are much less confused and perplexed, that I have clearer conceptions of my utter inability to take a single step in religion, without divine assistance, of the consequent necessity of a Saviour, and of the way of salvation by him. Yet I cannot find that my conduct, my heart or disposition is made better. On the contrary, I fear they are worse than ever.
"I was, a few evenings since, at Mr. K's, and was favored by him with the perusal of a letter from a member of his church, a girl in the lowest situation in life, destitute of every opportunity of improvement. Yet her letter not only evinced the deepest humility, and the most intimate knowledge of religion, but such understanding in the scriptures, and such clearness of conception, as convinced me that the Spirit of God is the most effectual teacher, and that without it, in vain can any one hope to arrive at that degree of acquaintance with divine things, which is necessary."
"June 12, 1805.
"I find I have been trying to establish a righteousness of my own, though till lately I thought myself free from any such design. Hence arose all that unwillingness to perform the public and private exercises of devotion, which I felt after any neglect of duty. I wanted, forsooth, to be encouraged to hope for an answer of peace, by some merits of my own, and so felt unwilling to approach the throne of grace, when I had been guilty of any thing, which lessened my stock of goodness. In short, it was the same kind of reluctance which I should feel to approach a fellow being whom I had injured. And this, which I now see arose from pride, I fondly thought was
me noir, there are several strong points of resemblance-will be reminded, at once, of those beautiful lines:
"My boast is not that I deduce my birth
From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth;
The son of parents passed into the skies."
the effect of great humility. Finding myself so deceived here, and in numberless other instances, I am utterly at a loss what to do. If I attempt to perform any duty, I am afraid it is only an attempt to build up a fabric of my own; and if I neglect it, the case is still worse,
"Since the period of my leaving home for Cambridge, it has appeared the most discouraging circumstance attending the spread of religion, that many, who undertake to preach it, are so shamefully negligent. Of this, my dear mother, you can form no just idea, unless you have heard them. While their hearers are wishing and longing for spiritual food, they are obliged to rest content with cold, dry lectures on morality, enforced by any motives rather than evangelical. These ministers content themselves, generally, with pruning off some of the most prominent excrescences of vice; they leave the root untouched, and cut off only the leaves. The more I think of it, the more difficult does the duty appear, and I tremble at the thought of incurring such a responsibility. I fear, however, that part of my reluctance arises from an indolent disposition, from an unwillingness to encounter the fatigues, the difficulties, and dangers attending the performance of a clergyman's duty. I am afraid of conferring too much with flesh and blood."
The next notices which he has left of himself are found in a manuscrpit volume, written in characters, which it has been a long and difficult work to decypher. The following are the first two paragraphs:
"JULY 25, 1805.-This day, being my twenty second birth day, I have determined to commence a diary, as a check on the misemployment of time.”
Same date." Having resolved this day to dedicate myself to my Creator, in a serious and solemn manner, by a written covenant, I took a review of my past life, and of the numerous mercies by which it has been distinguished. Then with sincerity, as I humbly hope, I took the Lord to be my God, and engaged to love, serve, and obey