Edward Payson Archive

The Works of Edward Payson

Volume 1 Memoirs and Selected Thoughts


Chapter 4

Retires to Rindge, and devotes himself exclusively to his preparation for the ministry.

In the month of August, 1806, Mr. Payson relinquished his charge of the Academy in Portland; and “after settling his business, went on board a packet for Boston,” in which he remained several days, “tossed about by contrary winds, and wounded by the oaths and blasphemies of the wretches on board.” He described “a set” of his fellow passengers by two words, indicative of all that is revolting to modesty and pious feeling, and suited to “vex the righteous soul;” the bare men­tion of which would cause others to join him in the exclamation, “How dreadful to spend an eternity among such wretches!” On the fifth day from his embarkation, the vessel “arrived in Boston in a violent gale of wind, attended with some danger.” He tarried in the neighborhood, till after commencement, and, notwithstanding the “noise and confusion, found more pleasure than he had expected, in meeting his classmates.” On his way from Cambridge to Rindge, he rode as far as Groton; but whether the stage rested there over night, or took a different route, and his desire to tread again the threshold of his beloved home, alone urged him forward—so it was, that he left the stage, and “walked home from Groton after six” in the evening and was at his journey’s end “about four the next morning,” ready to receive the congratulations of his friends.” His father’s house continued, from this time, to be his hallowed and chosen retirement, till he entered on the active duties of the ministry.

“Wisdom’s self

Oft seeks to sweet retired solitude;

Where, with her best nurse, Contemplation,

She plumes her feathers, and lets grow her wings.”

This step considered in all its aspects, may justly be regarded as one of the most important in Mr. Payson’s life, and reflects the highest honor on his judgment and good sense. Four months previously to this time, as has been seen in the preceding pages, he seriously contemplated making application for license to preach the gospel. Whatever were the cause that prevented him, a gracious providence is visible in it; not that he was par­ticularly deficient in sacred learning; on the contrary, his theolog­ical knowledge was probably equal to that of most candidates. Among the works which he is known[1] to have read with care, might be named Watson’s Tracts, Witsius, Stackhouse, Jona­than Edwards, besides many works of devotion and practical divinity. Abstracts of several other treatises still exist in his handwriting, which were made before he left Portland; also a collection of “Thoughts on the Composition and Delivery of Sermons.” Still, during all this time, he was invested with a public trust of no light responsibility. His school must have mainly engrossed his time, his thoughts, and his cares. To suppose that his professional studies were allowed more than a secondary claim to his attention, were to suppose him un­faithful to an important charge, which he had voluntarily assumed. And though he could hardly have been other than a distinguished preacher, even had he entered on the sacred office without further preparation, yet he would not have been the minister he afterwards was. This season of retirement has an intimate connection with his subsequent eminence and useful­ness. To the occupations of these days of seclusion front the world, more than to any other means, may be traced his gigan­tic “growth in the knowledge of God,” and that extraordinary unction which attended his performance of official duties.

This period of his history is memorable, and highly instruc­tive to the student of theology. Having, after much delibera­tion and prayer, chosen the ministry of reconciliation as the business of his future life, he gave himself up to the work of preparation with an exclusiveness and ardor perhaps never ex­ceeded. From every study and pursuit, whatever its charms and attractions, which was not directly subsidiary to his grand design, he resolutely divorced himself,—at least till he had acquired the art—analogous to the supposed properties of the philosopher’s stone —“of turning all to gold.” He seems to have concentrated and directed all his powers to the acquisition of spiritual knowledge, and the cultivation of Christian and ministerial graces, in obedience to the apostolical precept, “give thyself wholly to them.” A decision once formed was with him usually final; and, in executing his purpose, “whatever his hand found to do he did with his might.” These, his permanent characteristics, were eminently conspicuous at this period, while learning to

negotiate between God and man;

As God’s ambassador, the grand concerns

Of judgment and of mercy.”

With the most exalted views of the holy office to which he was looking forward, and of the qualifications requisite to its com­petent and successful execution, he sought them with a propor­tionate zeal, devoting himself to the study of the sacred pages, if man ever did, “with all the heart, and soul, and strength, and mind.”

For “Systems of Divinity,” as drawn up by men, Mr. Payson seems to have felt but little reverence. It was not his habit to decry them as useless; but he regarded them with a watchful jealousy, and felt it unsafe to trust to them, as his practice evi­dently demonstrates. He found “a more excellent way” to the knowledge of his Master’s will, by consulting directly “the law and the testimony.” Thus to honor the “lively oracles” is the Wisest and safest course for every man; for to embrace a system, with the intention of retaining or rejecting it, either wholly or in part, as it shall afterwards be found to agree, or not, with Scrip­ture, is to incur the hazard of perpetuating error—since a man’s theory is more likely to modify his views of the Scriptures, than the Scriptures are to correct the mistakes of his theory. This every one may have observed in regard to those whose senti­ments differ from [their] own. Before this time, indeed, the works of the most eminent divines of our own and other countries, which were then accessible, and which he is known to have read, had doubtless exerted some influence in forming his relig­ious opinions; but he was obviously wedded to none. To none did he feel the attachment of a partisan; he had not arrived to that state of mind which made him feel interested to defend an opinion because any human master had said it. The polluting and disorganizing tendency of loose opinions on the one hand, and the scarcely less deplorable effects of dogmatism on the other, which could not have escaped his observation, not less than the spirit of religion and his constitutional indepen­dence of mind, conspired to lead him to a just estimate of the value of human authority in matters of religious belief, and to consummate his reverence for the “sure word of prophecy,” and his confidence in Revelation, as an adequate foundation for his faith, and an infallible guide in duty.

“Here is firm footing—all is sea beside.”

Most men, however discordant their principles, profess to have derived them from the Scriptures; but, with Mr. P., this was something more than pretence. The Bible was with him the subject of close, critical, persevering, and, for a time, almost exclusive attention, his reading being principally confined to such writings as would assist in its elucidation, and unfold its literal meaning. In this manner he studied the whole of the Inspired volume, from beginning to end, so that there was not averse on which he had not formed an opinion. This is not asserted at random. It is but a few years since, that, in con­versation with a candidate for the ministry, he earnestly recom­mended very particular and daily attention to the study of the Scriptures, and enforced his counsel by his own experience of the advantages which would accrue from the practice. He ob­served that before he commenced preaching, he made it his great object to know what the Bible taught on every subject, and, with this purpose, investigated every sentence in it so far as to be able “to give an answer to every man who should ask a reason for it.”[2]

In this way he acquired his unparalleled readiness to meet every question, on every occasion, whether proposed by a caviler or a conscientious inquirer, which, it is well known, he usually did in a manner as satisfactory as it often was unex­pected. The advantages hence derived were, in his view, beyond all computation. It secured for him the unlimited confidence of people in the common walks of life, as a “man mighty in the Scriptures.” It gave him great influence with Christians of other denominations. It enabled him to confound and silence gainsayers, when they could not be convinced, as well as to build up the elect of God on their most holy faith. It furnished him, too, with ten thousand forms of illustration, or modes of conveying to ordinary minds the less obvious truths, with which he was conversant in the exercise of his ministry. He believed “all Scripture to be given by inspiration of God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness;” and he was himself a striking exemplification of its competency to render “the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work.”

Of Mr. Payson’s devotion to the Scriptures there is evidence of a different nature from that which has just been given. Among his papers has been found a small manuscript volume containing “Notes,” on most of the books of Scripture. It is among the few interesting relics of this period of his life. The manuscript ends with remarks on 1 John. 5:8. Whether they were continued, in another volume, to the end of Revelation, does not appear. These notes are short in themselves, and much abbreviated in the form of expression, but bear marks of a kind and extent of investigation highly creditable to his learning[3] and judgment, as well as to his diligence and fidelity. Discrep­ancies are accounted for and reconciled; figures are explained; chronology, philosophy, topography, natural history, [and] ancient languages, are made to contribute to the elucidation of Scrip­ture. Against prophecies, which have received their completion, are found references to the historical characters and events by which they are supposed to have been fulfilled. It is difficult to characterize these notes by any general term, except that they are exegetical, in distinction from practical and experimen­tal. Those on the New Testament are professedly collated, in part; and, though the same should, on examination, be found true of the rest, the manuscript is evidence of his careful study of the Scriptures; and for this purpose it was introduced to notice.

To learn more fully Mr. Payson’s estimate of the Scriptures, the reader should peruse, in this connection, his sermon, entitled “The Bible above all Price.” In that discourse the preacher is much at home; he treads on ground where he delighted to linger. He explores a field with whose riches and beauties he was famil­iar. He clusters together its excellencies with a dexterous and bountiful hand, and describes its efficacy like one who “spoke that which he knew, and testified that which he had seen.” His familiarity with the Scriptures was strikingly apparent in his pulpit addresses generally; not so much by long quotations as by their general spirit, and the sacred associations he was continually awakening. They bore prominent traces of the divine model he so faithfully studied, not in matter only, but in the manner of exhibiting it, —so plain, that his hearers could not but see it,— enforced by considerations so reasonable and moving, that they must feel self-condemned for rejecting it. They were not the cold abstractions of a speculative mind, but the doctrines which are according to godliness, clothed in the fervid language which affection dictates. They were not truths merely; but truths uttered by one who had felt their power, and experienced their consolations, under the influence of that Spirit, who, to use his own expressive language, “lives and speaks in every line.”

But there is another part of his example more difficult to imi­tate than the one just sketched. He prayed without ceasing. Aware of the aberrations to which the human mind is liable, he most earnestly sought the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit. He felt safe nowhere but near the throne of grace. He may be said to have studied theology on his knees. Much of his time he spent literally prostrated, with the Bible open before him, pleading the promises—“I will send the Comforter—and when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” He was especially jealous of his own heart, and to con­quer its evil propensities, subjected his body as well as his mind to the severest discipline. No man ever strove harder to “mor­tify the flesh, with the affections and lusts.” It is almost in­credible, what abstinence and self-denial he voluntarily under­went, and what tasks he imposed on himself, that he might “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” He allowed himself only a small part of the twenty-four hours for sleep; [4] and his seasons of fasting were injuriously fre­quent. So far did he carry his abstinence from food, that his family was alarmed for his safety. Often has his mother, whom he most tenderly loved and reverenced, and whose wishes were law to him, in everything besides his religious principles, and intercourse with his Maker—in everything, in short, which did not bind the conscience—often has his mother, or a favorite sister, stood at the door of his chamber with a little milk, or some other refreshment equally simple, pleading in vain for admission.

The expediency or duty of such severe mortification turns on the question of its necessity to the attainment of the object, for which, in this instance, it was practiced. If the subjection of the heart and mind, with all their powers, to Christ, could not otherwise be effected, he was unquestionably right; for no sacri­fice or suffering, which is requisite to this, can be too great. “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off; if thine eye cause thee to offend, pluck it out.” It is moreover true, that the most eminent saints of ancient and later times have devoted frequent seasons to private fasting and prayer; and the practice may, therefore, be ranked among the essential means of rapid and ex­tensive growth in grace. It were well for individuals, it were well for the church, if the practice should revive, and become common.[5] So far from weakening the charities of life, or diminishing the amount of active, social duties, it would greatly enhance them. We should witness a more vigorous and determined piety, a more diffusive and efficient benevolence.

Still the religion of Christ enjoins no needless austerities. It has at times called, and may again call, for the sacrifice of health, and life, and treasure; for the renunciation of friends, and home, and all its endearments. But in ordinary circum­stances, “Godliness is profitable unto all things—to the life that now is, as well as that which is to come.” It did not require injurious excess of abstinence and mortification in one situated as Mr. Payson was. He afterwards saw his error—not in fasting, but in fasting so long—and lamented it. In this matter, his mother was the wiser counselor. What she feared came upon him; the unhappy consequences to his health were felt, it is believed, to his dying day.

The truth is, Mr. Payson never did anything by halves. Whatever were the objects immediately before him, he was totes in illis[absorbed in those], wholly engrossed with them. He was therefore particularly liable, at this stage of his experience, glowing, as he did, with all the ardors of a first love, and panting for the honor of winning souls to Jesus, to give an undue intensity to the meaning of those passages which prescribed his personal duty. When he read the strong language of Paul—“mortify your members, that are upon the earth;” and contemplated his example —“I keep under my body, and bring it into subjec­tion;” and desired above all things to be another such champion of the cross; his susceptible and ardent mind might have imbibed views of duty, which needed to be corrected by another remark of the same apostle —“bodily exercise profiteth little.” When attended with the expectation, however latent, that it will purchase immunities, or merit heaven, so far from “profit­ing” at all, it vitiates the act, rendering it not only useless, but abominable. Such an expectation, however, was totally ab­horrent to all Dr. Payson’s views; and its existence in the faintest degree is not to be supposed on any other principles than those which are common to men, whose deceitful hearts practice innumerable impositions, unsuspected by their pos­sessors.

If “he who ruleth his spirit is greater than he who taketh a city,” the rigid discipline and government, to which Mr. Pay­son subjected the passions of the mind, and the appetites of the body, afford the most conclusive proof of his real greatness, as well as of his decision and energy of character, and of his unshaken adherence to his purposes. Ignorance and preju­dice, under a show of superior discernment, will see in this conduct the future “pope;” for prejudice, like malice, will remain blind to one important fact, which should never be lost sight of in estimating Mr. Payson’s character. Except in things expressly enjoined in the Scriptures, he never, at this time or afterwards, made his own practice a law for others. If he “bound heavy burdens and grievous to be borne,” he did not “lay them on other men’s shoulders,” but made his own bear their oppressive weight. He urged self-denial, prayer, and fasting, indeed, as he was obliged by the authority under which he acted; but left the measure and degree to the decision of each man’s conscience. He knew more than others of the strength of depravity in his own heart, and supposed he had need of severe measures to subdue it; that it was of a kind,” of which he could not be dispossessed “but by prayer and fasting.” He rightly judged, too, that a minister of the meek and self-denying Jesus needed a more than ordinary share of humility and self-government, to be separated farther from the contaminations of the world than other men, and to have the habitual state of his affections more heavenly. Moreover, he had an overwhelming sense of ministerial respon­sibility, and looked forward to the office, not without hope indeed, but yet trembling for the results. Why then should he not learn to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ?” And yet thousands of nominal Christians will cen­sure this severe regimen, as criminal, by whom he would have been suffered to escape without animadversion, had he indulged in an occasional surfeit, and mingled in parties of pleasure.

But who can say, that he was not moved by an influence which it would have been sinful to resist, at least till he had reached that limit, beyond which perseverance was excess ? That God, who sees the end from the beginning, fits his instruments for the peculiar service which he is preparing for them. A great and arduous work was appointed for Mr. Payson, as the event proved. And for that kind of prepara­tion, which consists in fasting and communion with God, he had the high example of the Jewish lawgiver, and of One greater than Moses. Thus did Christ, our Exemplar, previous to entering on his public ministry; and also when from among his disciples he “chose twelve, whom he named apostles.” Thus did the apostles, after Christ’s ascension, whenever they were called to set apart a brother to the work of the ministry.

In this, however, and other duties, the time, manner, and ex­tent of which are left undetermined by the express statutes of Christ’s kingdom, it is safer to act according to our convictions of duty, for the time being, than to make these convictions our unchangeable rule of conduct for future time. It is a wise di­rection, “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God.” In binding ourselves by vows to any course of conduct, regard should be had to our cir­cumstances, as social beings, dependent on one another, as well as on the Author of our existence. No man, perhaps, ever reached any high degree of eminence, who did not form pur­poses and resolutions, and adhere to them, when formed, with some degree of constancy. There are obvious advantages in having our general course marked out before us—in prosecut­ing our various duties by system, and not at random. But when we descend to details, and assign, beforehand, to every hour of the day its employment, or oblige ourselves to fill up a given number of hours with a particular pursuit, we should not over­look the limits of human ability, nor the thousand changes which may take place in our circumstances, and in our relations with those beings, among whom God has placed us. In conse­quence of such changes, other duties may have a paramount claim to those very hours; and if our resolutions are formed without an eye to such contingencies, they may prove a snare to us. Disappointments will be unavoidable; vexation and discouragement will ensue. It is not to be presumed that Mr. Payson formed his purposes without reference to the vicissitudes of the human condition. Still, his chagrin on failing sometimes to accomplish them, affords reason to think that he might have been too sanguine. It is a little remarkable, that the next day after he had sketched the plan for his future daily employment, unforeseen events necessarily prevented his executing it:—

Editors Note:

Many of the month/day dates listed do not have a corresponding year. Although one may interpolate an approximate year, this has not been attempted.

“October 6: In great confusion this morning—sister sick—father going a journey—little time for prayer. Was so much hindered in various ways, that I did not fulfill my twelve hours “

From causes equally beyond his control, he often failed of accomplishing all that he prescribed to himself. Such were, nevertheless, his most laborious days. When hindered and diverted from his object, he would goad himself onward to ex­traordinary exertion; and when successful in executing his plan, his satisfaction was exquisite.

The influence of habitual prayer upon his studies, was so certain, and so operative, that the strength of his devotion seems, for the most part to have been the measure of his pro­gress. By his very near approaches to the Father of lights, his mind received, as it were, the direct beams of the Eternal Fountain of illumination. In the light of these beams, the truths of religion were distinctly perceived, and their relations readily traced. These irradiations from the throne of God not only contributed to the clearness of his perceptions, but imparted a kind of seraphic energy and quickness to his mental opera­tions. From them he derived, not light only, but heat. Few requests were urged by him more constantly and earnestly, than his petitions for assistance in study; and not infrequently he records results similar to the following—“Was much assisted in my studies this evening, so that, notwithstanding I was inter­rupted, I was enabled to write twelve pages of my sermon. It was the more precious, because it seemed to be in answer to prayer.” Those, who would esteem such an “evening’s work” as too insignificant to be noticed with special gratitude, should know, that he had now been only part of a month in his retire­ment. Three days later he writes—“Was most remarkably assisted in study, so that I wrote three fourths of a sermon.” And on the other hand, there are entries of a different character. One may serve as a specimen:—

“September 23: Was quite dull and lifeless in prayer, and, in consequence, had no success in study.”

Sometimes even his “lively,” fervent prayers were not fol­lowed by immediate returns; but when the answer was granted, it brought with it a rich compensation for the extreme per­plexity and distress, which the delay occasioned him:—

“March 4 1806: Was entirely discouraged respecting my studies, and almost determined to give up in despair. But see the goodness of God! He enabled me to write a whole sermon, besides reading a great deal; and in the evening, was pleased to lift up the light of his countenance upon me. O, how refreshing, strengthening, and animating are his smiles! How ravishing the contemplation of his holiness, love, wis­dom, power and goodness! He seemed to be a boundless ocean of love; and the sight caused my heart to expand with love to him and all his creatures. O, how trifling do earthly beauties appear, when he is pleased to unveil his face, and give a glimpse of heaven! His holiness is the chief glory of his nature.”

But in nothing was his progress more rapid, than in self-knowledge. Here—whether success or disappointment crowned his other pursuits—he was continually extending his discoveries. To those who are ignorant of “the plague of their own heart,” his confessions of sin must appear extravagant, and his description of his heart; a picture having no original save in an apostate spirit. He calls it “a compound of everything bad.” He likens it to the “bottomless pit; out of it, as soon as the door, with which the Holy Spirit covers it, is opened by his absence— a thick, noisome smoke arises, with a tribe of hellish locusts, that devour the tender plants of grace, and bring on a darkness which may be felt.” Now, he is “crushed into the very dust by a recollection of the sins of his youth;” —now, “filled with distressing feelings, and loses all hope, that he shall ever be fit to preach;” while these very feelings he attributes to a criminal cause, as, “disappointed pride, and a conscious inferiority to others.” At another time, he is “brought into temptations, which show his inward cor­ruptions, against which he had been praying,” or which he had not before suspected in himself. Again, if he “attempts to ap­proach the throne of grace, whole floods of evil imaginations carry him away! so that he is fain to have recourse to un­thought-of methods to get rid of them.” And, not to prolong the enumeration, he is oppressed with “such a sense of his insignificance and vileness that it seemed as if he should never open his mouth any more, to boast, complain, or censure.”

Still, his religion differed as widely from that of the mere ascetic, as Christian charity differs from selfishness. Its fruits demonstrate the genuineness of the stock. His first care was, indeed, to have his own “heart right with God;” but he was, at the same time, fertile in good devices, and prompt to execute them. To his mother, under domestic trials, the nature of which, though not indicated, appears to have caused her bitterness of soul, he was eminently “a son of consolation.” To other members of the family he strove to be useful. The eye, that could penetrate the walls of his chamber, might have seen him conducting a younger brother to the throne of grace, kneeling with him before the mercy-seat, and interceding with God for his salvation. He encountered a journey for the ex­press purpose of visiting an early friend, of whose piety he had once some hope, but who, he feared, had now become indiffer­ent to the one thing needful—that he might know his state, and encourage him to seek that good part, which could not be taken from him. And so much were his benevolent feelings drawn forth towards the inhabitants of his native town, that he spared no suitable exertions for their spiritual good. A revival of religion among them was the subject of fervent prayer; and in the same object he endeavored to enlist other Christians. He procured, through the agency of his mother, the institution of a weekly meeting of female members of the church, for united prayer that the work of God might be revived. In short, so far was he from being bound up in self; that he exerted himself for the good of others in such ways as were proper for one in a state of pupilage.

Even in the most distressing parts of his experience, there are discoverable those characteristics, which distinguish it from the torturing convictions of the unrenewed soul. If he is in “a sullen, stupid frame,” it is not without “some melting desires after God.” If he is well-nigh “overcome by tempta­tion,” it is that he may “rejoice the more at his deliverance, when God gives him the victory.” If he is “discouraged be­cause of the difficulties of the way, and the small progress which he makes,” just as “all hope seems departing, the fire burns within him.” Uniformly, his war is with himself; and not with his God. And if to prevent the night-watches, that he might meditate on God’s word; if to love the habitation of his house, and the place where his honor dwelleth; if to ac­count himself and all things else as nothing for Christ’s sake; if to know in whom he has believed, and to draw near to him in full assurance of faith; if to be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, while remembering God and meditating on him in the night-watches; if to prevent the dawning of the morning by the cries of prayer; if to prefer Jerusalem above one’s chief joy—are scriptural marks of piety; then is his placed beyond suspicion. All these, and more, will be recognized in the extracts from his journal, with which this chapter con­cludes:—

“September 29: Had a most transporting view of God’s glory as consisting in pure holiness. I rejoiced greatly that he reigned, and could exalt his own glory. Henceforth, I will not doubt of my character; for I know, yea, assuredly know, that I love God, my Saviour, and holiness.”

“October 19: Sabbath. Rose with thoughts of God on my mind. Was exceedingly assisted in secret and in family prayer. Never had my desires and affections so much drawn out after God and holiness. Was filled with the gracious influences of the Spirit, so that I rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Never did earth appear so small, heaven so desirable, the Saviour so precious, holiness so lovely, God so glorious, as now. In reading the Scriptures, they seemed to open with a clearness and force which delighted and astonished me. Such a sweet, calm, soul-satisfying joy I never felt before in so great a degree. Nothing on earth seemed worth a serious thought, but to glorify God. Had much of the same temper through the day. Was more assisted at meeting than ever before. In the evening, had a clearer sense of the evil of sin, a greater hatred of it, and more fixed resolutions against it than ever. This has been by far the most profitable and blessed day to my soul, that I ever experienced. God be praised!”

“October 25: Was much depressed with a view of the numer­ous enemies which oppose my journey heavenward. Had a faint glimpse of Christ, as able to carry me through in spite of all. Never before had such a clear idea of the passage—If the righteous scarcely are saved. Seemed to be plunged in a bot­tomless ocean of sin and corruption, from which no efforts of my own could free me.”

“November 2: Sacramental Sabbath. Blessed be God, who has caused his loving kindness to appear. Enjoyed much assistance in family and secret prayer. Was enabled to drag my sins to Christ, beseeching him to slay them for me. Afterwards, en­joyed great sweetness in meditation. Was preserved, in some measure, from wandering thoughts at meeting. Had a profit­able, though not a very happy time at communion. After meet­ing, was favored with considerable liberty in family and secret devotions.”

“November 10: Had petitioned, last night, that I might awake at a given hour; my petition was granted, and I was assisted in prayer.[6] Felt my dependence on God for strength. Was surprisingly favored all day. Was in a sweet, humble frame. I admired and loved the work, which Christ had wrought in my heart by his Spirit, just as I should have admired it in any other. My faith seemed to be unusually strong, able to grapple with anything. I felt all day, that I depended entirely on Christ for the continuance of my strength.”

“November 18. After retiring to rest last night, was favored with an extraordinary display of divine grace. I rejoiced that the Lord reigned, that Jesus was exalted far above principalities and powers. I was permitted to approach very near him, and to plead with much confidence and earnestness for myself and others. Waked several times in the night in the same frame. In the morning was favored with still clearer views, and more near access to my Saviour, and rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Could not find words to utter my praises for such goodness. Had, too, a most humiliating view of my own vile and odious nature.”

“November 19: My gracious God is still loading me with his un­merited goodness. His mercies follow each other, as wave follows wave, and the last seems ever the greatest. This morning, I seem to enjoy the happiness of heaven.”

“November 21: Resolved to spend this day in fasting and prayer for greater measures of grace, and assistance to render me more humble and concerned for God’s glory; for more love to God and his people, and for ministerial qualifications. After seeking the divine presence, for which I was enabled to plead with great earnestness, and a feeling sense that I could do nothing without it, I endeavored to recollect and confess my sins. I saw myself exceedingly vile, seemed the chief of sinners, to be worse than the evil spirits, and thought that the lowest place in hell was my due. * * * * I felt the most ardent desire for God’s glory, and was willing to be a stepping stone, or anything, however mean, to promote it. To be a fellow-laborer with Christ, in the glorious work of bringing souls to him, seemed to be the most delightful and honorable of all offices; and in this service, I felt willing to spend and be spent; to suffer pain, contempt, and death itself. Felt a most intense love for Christ’s people, and was willing to be below them all.”

“November 26: As soon as I awoke, felt my soul go forth in longing after more holiness, and promised myself much comfort in prayer. But my Lord withdrew himself; and I could do nothing. Felt convinced that it was a dispensation of love for my good.”

>“November 29: Never was enabled to plead with such earnest­ness and submission before. My mouth was filled with argu­ments, and I seemed to have both my Saviour and the blessed Spirit go with me, and plead for me at the throne of grace. Was favored with a clear view of my Saviour’s beauty and ho­liness, and of the scheme of salvation by him. What a glorious design, and how worthy of its Author!”

“December 1: Favored with an uncommon spirit of prayer. Saw that, as a member of Christ, I might pray with as much certainty of being heard as Christ himself. Was enabled to plead his merits, sufferings, death, God’s gracious promises, what he has already done for me, the operations of his own Spirit, and his own conduct in hearing others—as reasons why he should hear me. * * * Was graciously assisted in pleading, till I received an answer of peace. Was most sweetly melted with a view of the love of the blessed Trinity, dis­played in the work of redemption, and the vile, ungrateful returns I had made.”

“December 5: Felt a full persuasion that my present dark, com­fortless state is only designed for good, to teach me humility, dependence, and weanedness from the world; and if it has this effect, I welcome it with joy.”

“December 6: All my proud and selfish feelings seemed to be annihilated. I saw and rejoiced that Jesus had no need of me! and that he would be praised by others, if not by me, to all eternity; and, provided he could be glorified, I cared not how, or by whom. How sweet to have pride and self subdued!”

“December 9: Determined to spend this day in fasting and prayer for myself and the advancement of religion in this place. Had great and special assistance last evening, and note, in pleading for the outpouring of the Spirit here, and for help in the duties before me. After thinking over my manifold transgressions, my sins against light and love, and confessing them, —I attempted to plead my Saviour’s death and righteousness, for pardon and reconciliation. I could not obtain it, but was for three hours in great perplexity and distress, and was more than once on the point of giving up in despair. However, I was enabled to con­tinue reading the Scriptures and praying till afternoon, when the cloud dispersed, and my Saviour shone out brighter than ever before. How did my soul rejoice, and plead for sanctifying grace! Was exhausted and worn out, but continued praying, or trying to pray, till night.”

“December 16: “Was enabled to realize, for the first time in my life, what Christ suffered, and for what a wretch he suffered. Was so overwhelmed with the view, that I could not, for some time, shed a tear. O how hateful did sin appear.”

“December 17: Was much assisted in writing on Christ’s passion.”

“January 4, 1807: Was favored with a spirit of prayer beyond all my former experience. I was in great agony, and wrestled both for myself and others with great power. God seemed to bow the heavens and come down, and open all his treasures, bidding me take what I would.”

“January 6: Was not favored with that sweet sense of pardon, which I usually find on occasions of fasting; but I had a quiet, peaceful, resigned frame, and felt none of those repining thoughts, which the absence of sensible comforts is apt to excite.”

“January 20: Was amazingly assisted in prayer for myself, pa­rents, friends, and a revival of religion.”

“January 21: Was favored with the clearest views of the glory of heaven, as consisting in holiness, that I ever had.”

“January 29: Never felt such longings after God, or such a desire to depart and be with Christ. My soul thirsted for more full communion with my God and Saviour. I do not now feel satisfied, as I used to, with the manifestations of the divine presence, but still feel hungry and craving.”

“February 2: Was amazingly given up to wandering imagina­tions. If I attempted to pray, in a moment my thoughts were in the ends of the earth. If I attempted to read the Bible, every verse, almost, afforded ground of doubt and caviling. This fully convinced me that Satan is able to make me doubt even the existence of God.”

“February 18: Was enabled to lie at Jesus’ feet, and to wash them with the tears of contrition. No pleasure I have ever found in religion superior to this.”

“February 20: Resolved to spend the day in fasting, and had considerable assistance. Had clearer views of the majesty, pu­rity, and holiness of God, than usual, and this made me abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

“February 28: Was favored with great enlargement in prayer. Seemed to be carried out of myself into the presence of God.”

“March 2: Seem to be declining; am less grateful, less fer­vent, than I was, and have less tenderness of spirit. Yet I am less apt to think much of myself than I was, and hope I am growing in humility. This seems the most lovely grace, and most becoming sinners.”

“March 7: Were it not for the promised help of my Sa­viour, I would think no more of preaching, but rather labor for daily bread.”

“March 12: Never appeared so exceedingly vile and loath­some to myself as I did this day. It seemed as if I could not endure to be near myself. No words could express anything like the sense I had of my unworthiness. It seemed as if I could not, for shame, ask God to save me. I felt like sinking into the dust, in the idea that his pure eye was fixed upon me, and that saints and angels saw how vile I was.”

“March 15: Sabbath. Rose very early, and was favored with sweet fervency and communion with God in prayer. Went to bed, and lay till morning. Enjoyed great liberty in prayer several times before meeting.”

“March 17: Was favored with a peculiar experience this morning. I thought I knew that I could never heal myself be­fore; but I was made to know it in a different manner now. I saw, with most convincing clearness, that neither I, nor all created beings, could do the least thing towards delivering me from my sinful nature. I saw that I depended entirely on the free mercy of God; and that there was no reason but his own good pleasure, why he should ever afford me that assistance. Felt, for the first time in my life, what the apostle meant by “groanings which cannot be uttered;” and my desires after holiness were so strong, that I was in bodily pain, and my soul seemed as if it would burst the bands which confined it to the body.”

“March 19: [At the close of a day of fasting and prayer.] I find that, even when the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. No days are so fatiguing as those which are spent in fervent and continual exercises of religion. It will not be so in heaven.”

“March 26. Spent the day in fasting and prayer. Was fa­vored with near access to my heavenly Father, and a realizing sense of his perfections. O how sweetly was I enabled to praise and admire his love and goodness in his works!

“March 31: Spent this day fasting, but not in prayer; for I could not put up a single petition. Was entirely deserted, and was ready to say, Surely it is in vain to seek after God. I could not see that I had advanced one step in holiness, and was ready to think I never should; yet could think of nothing else worth pursuing or living for. Doubted whether it were possible that I should know anything of true religion, and yet be so en­tirely barren.”

“April 7: In fasting and prayer, was favored with much of a spirit of supplication. I now seem to be lifted above those dis­couraging, desponding doubts, which have for some time clogged my soul. No good comes of doubting, or brooding over our sins.”

“April 14: Spent this day in fasting and prayer. Was wholly deserted, except that I saw more of my natural depravity, and the consequent pollution of all my duties, than ever be­fore. Saw more, too, of the glory and greatness of the work of redemption, than I had previously.”

“April 22. Spent this day in fasting and prayer. At first was stupid; but soon God was pleased to lift up the light of his countenance upon me, and visit me with his free Spirit. O how infinitely glorious and lovely did God in Christ appear! I saw, 1 felt, that God was mine, and I his, and was unspeaka­bly happy. Now, if ever, I enjoyed communion with God. He shone sweetly upon me, and I reflected back his beams in fer­vent, admiring, adoring love. Had a most ravishing view of the glories of heaven, of the ineffable delight with which the Lord Jesus beholds the happiness which he has purchased with his own blood.”


[1] His progress in some of them is noted in his diary, near the “hiatus” already spoken of, which probably contained more notices of the same kind. The diary, which was “commenced as a check upon the misemployment of time,” and which did at first record the occupations of every hour, ere long became almost exclusively a record of his religious exercises and expe­rience. (Back to text)

[2] It is not here alleged that Dr. Payson comprehended all that is contained in the Scriptures, much less that he arrogated to himself such knowledge; for though “the word of Christ dwelt richly” in him, he doubtless continued to “increase in the knowledge of God” by every perusal of it, how often so-ever repeated, till the last, and even then saw as through a glass, darkly, compared with the visions of heaven. Some truths cannot be fully compre­hended, and may have various relations which never will be known on earth. Many things respecting unfulfilled predictions can be known by no man till after their accomplishment. But he had made every passage a distinct object of attention, and, if “hard to be understood,” he could state to the inquirer the causes of the obscurity, and in the very fact find a powerful motive to humility, diligence, and prayer for divine illumination, thus rendering the darkest texts profitable. (Back to text)

[3] To what extent Dr. Payson was familiar with the original language of the Old Testament, the writer is not informed. That it was among the objects of his attention at this time, there is evidence in his own hand-writing; but none very conclusive that his acquaintance with Hebrew was minute and critical. (Back to text)

[4] The following division and appropriation of his time was entered in his diary about five weeks after his return to his father’s: October  5: “Resolved to devote, in future, twelve hours to study; two to de­votion; two to relaxation; two to meals and family devotions; and six to sleep.” But this did not long satisfy him. His rigid notions of duty led him to subtract two hours from the six devoted to sleep, and to multiply his sea­sons of fasting to a degree which the human system could not long have sustained. A weekly fast, however, was habitual with him, from this time till his last sickness. (Back to text)

[5] There are some distinguished laborers in the vineyard of our Lord, who practice the essential duty here recommended, not so much by totally ab­staining from food beyond the accustomed intervals, as by “denying them­selves” at every meal, and using a spare and simple diet at all times,—a course well adapted to preserve both mind and body in the best condition for biblical research and devotional exercises. This modification of the duty was much practiced by Mr. Payson, and strongly recommended by him to the members of his church. He would have them, when fasting on their own private account, not “appear unto men to fast;” but to come to the table, which was spread for their families, with a cheerful countenance, and partake sparingly of its provisions. (Back to text)

[6] Referring to an alternative, which might affect his temporal comfort merely, and not his usefulness, Mr. Payson somewhere says—“I would not degrade prayer so much as to make it the subject of a petition.” Those who think he here forgets his own maxim should know that the loss of his morn­ing hours was followed by a day of comparative uselessness and misery. It is, however, our shame, that the standard of personal piety should now ren­der necessary an apology for such childlike simplicity in the devotions of a man of his acknowledged magnanimity. In nothing does he appear more worthy of imitation, than in his constant recognition of a Superintending Providence, and in literally acknowledging God in all his ways. (Back to text)

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