Edward Payson Archive

The Works of Edward Payson

Volume 1 Memoirs and Selected Thoughts


Chapter 5

His State of Mind in the Immediate Prospect of the Ministry

The time now drew near, when Mr. Payson was to receive license, agreeably to Congregational usage, to preach the gospel. His spirituality appears to have increased as that interesting era of his life approached. Most sensibly did he feel that he “was no longer his own, but bought with a price,” and “called by grace to serve God in the gospel of his Son.” “The world was crucified to him, and he to the world.” His piety was dis­tinguished by more frequent acts of self-dedication to God, not by short ejaculations and a general surrender merely, but with great deliberation, attended by a minute survey of the relations of the creature to the Creator, and of the obligations recognized and assumed by such a consecration. Happily, one specimen of the manner in which he gave himself up is preserved; and, though it describes the secret dealings of the soul with its God, it is hoped that it will not be desecrated by being brought out to the light. If, however, the reader never felt the awe which is created by a consciousness of the divine presence—if he never experienced the emotions of an ancient pilgrim, when, pre­paring for a similar transaction, he exclaimed, “How dreadful is this place!” —he is urgently requested to pause. If he is conscious of any other feelings than those of profound solemni­ty, let him leave this chapter unread. In it he will find nothing with which a mind given to levity, or vanity, or pride, can pos­sibly sympathize. If he ventures to proceed, he will be met at the threshold, if not by “a drawn sword in the hand of the Captain of the Lord’s host,” by that which is scarcely less ap­palling to an earthly mind, and which will render almost equally appropriate the order addressed to Israel’s leader —“Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy.”

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.

“May 1, 1807: Having set apart this day for fasting and prayer, preparatory to the celebration of the Lord’s supper, I rose early, and sought the divine presence and blessing, in which I was favored with fervency and freedom. My petition was, that I might be enabled to see my own character, contrasted with the purity of God, and his holy, just, and good law; that I might be assisted in renewing covenant with God, and in giv­ing myself up to him, and that I might be favored with minis­terial qualifications. After this, I drew up the following
Conversion and Form of Covenant
“O thou High and Holy One, that inhabitest eternity, whose name alone is Jehovah,—who art the one, great, eternal, ever-blessed God, before whom angels bow and devils tremble, and in whose sight all the nations of the earth are less than nothing and vanity!— wilt thou graciously condescend, in thy sovereign and infinite goodness, to look down from thy throne of glory on me, the most unworthy of thy creatures, a poor, weak, sinful, vile, and polluted wretch, to behold me with mercy and compas­sion, and permit me, lying prostrate in the dust before thee, to address thee as my God, my Father, my Creator, my Benefac­tor, my Friend and Redeemer!
“O Lord, I would come with a heart broken and contrite for sin, acknowledging myself unworthy of the least of all thy mercies, and deserving nothing at thine hand but everlasting banishment from thee and happiness. Encouraged by thine own gracious promises, I would come, and with humble confi­dence, take hold on the hope set before me, even thine everlast­ing covenant, which is ordered in all things and sure. But, O God, what am I, that I should be called thy son, that I should call thee my Father, or that thou shouldst enter into covenant with me? I blush, and am ashamed even to lift up my face unto thee, O my Father; for I have sinned against thee, and am exceeding vile; vile beyond what language can describe or thought conceive. My iniquities are gone over my head; they are increased even to the heavens; they are infinite in number, in degree and aggravation, and can be equaled only by thy mercies, which have been new every moment. Thou, O God, hast given me life, and dost still preserve me in existence. Thou hast given me faculties which render me capable of knowing, serving, loving, worshipping and enjoying thee. Thou hast placed me in this Christian land, and given me the knowledge of thee, myself; and my duty, while thousands of my fellow creatures are left in darkness. Thou hast placed me in that sit­uation in life which is most favorable to virtue, contentment„ and happiness, and hast given me parents tender and affection­ate, who early devoted me to thee, and taught me to lisp thy name, and to know thy precepts. Through their means thou hast given me opportunities of improving those faculties I have received from thee, and thus rendering myself more fit to serve thee. But above all, O my God, thou hast given me an interest in thy Son, and in all the blessings he has purchased. Thou hast given me the Spirit of adoption, whereby I am enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Thou hast given me thy precious grace in this world as an earnest of glory in the next. Thou hast also loaded me with daily and hourly mercies, more than I can num­ber. Thou hast kept me with more than paternal care. Thou hast preserved me in sickness, protected me from dangers, shield­ed me while awake, watched over me in sleep, supported me in trials, strengthened me in weakness, succored me in tempta­tions, comforted me in afflictions, and defended me against mighty and numberless enemies. Thou hast overwhelmed me with thy mercies; my cup runneth over. Thy goodness and thy mercy have followed me all the days of my life.”
“Yet against all this goodness I have rebelled, have reward­ed thee evil for good; thy mercies have only aggravated my guilt. O, my God, what have I done! What madness, what obstinacy, what ingratitude has possessed me! My sins have run parallel with thy mercies. I have struck and wounded the hand that made me, fed me, preserved me. I have wasted in sin and folly the life thou gayest me. I have perverted those faculties I received from thy goodness in dishonoring thee, and in disobeying thy commands. I was shapen in sin, and brought forth in iniquity. My understanding is darkened and alienated from the truth; my will is stubborn and perverse; my affec­tions are corrupted and depraved; and every imagination of the thoughts of my heart has been evil, only and continually evil. My carnal mind has been enmity against thee, and has not been in subjection to thy righteous and holy law. From this corrupt and bitter fountain have proceeded innumerable bitter, polluting streams. Though I was early taught thy will, I neglected to perform it. I have broken all thy commands, times without number. My words, thoughts, and actions, have been sinful. I have gone astray from my youth up.”
“And even after thou didst take pity upon me, when I was cast out, polluted, to perish in my blood—after thou didst re­ceive me, a poor, wretched prodigal, and didst cause thy wondrous goodness and mercy to pass before me, I have still continued to weary thee with my sins, and cause thee to serve with mine iniquities. I have broken that solemn covenant by which I bound myself to be thine. I have indulged an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God, and have in all things dealt very treacherously. How often have I mocked thee with solemn words on a thoughtless tongue! How have I neglected thy word, profaned thine ordinances, broken thy law, and resisted thy grace! How little of a filial temper have I felt to thee, my Father! How little gratitude to thee, blessed Saviour! How often have I grieved thee, O Holy Spirit, by whom I am sealed to the day of redemption! When thou liftest upon me the light of thy countenance, I grow proud, carnal, and secure; and when thou leavest me in darkness, when my own foolishness perverteth my way, then my proud heart fretteth against thee, the Lord. All my duties are pollu­ted with innumerable sins, and are as a leprous garment before thee. And, after all thou hast done for me, I am still encompassed about with innumerable evils. Pride, unbelief, selfish­ness, lust, anger, hatred, malice, revenge, bitterness, slothfulness, vanity, love of the world, ignorance, formality, hypocrisy, and with all these, self-conceit, are still the inhabitants, if not the lords, of my heart. And, as thou, O Lord, knowest, these are not the ten thousandth part of my sins and iniquities; so that I am the chief of sinners, and least of all saints. *  *  *
“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Vain, O Lord, thou knowest, are my endeavors, and vain is the help of man. I have ruined myself, and in thee alone, and in thy mercy, is my hope.”
“To this mercy, against which I have so often sinned, would I flee for refuge, and, laying my hand on my mouth, and my mouth in the dust, cry, Unclean! unclean! True, Lord, I have sinned; but with thee there is mercy, with thee there is plenteous redemption. Thou, thou, art he, who blottest out our iniquities for thine own sake, and wilt not remember our sins against us. The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin, and to this would I flee for refuge. In him do I put my trust; O let me not be ashamed. Let me plead before thee the merits of thy Son, and put thee in mind of thy gracious promises, that I may be justified. In his name, and as an unworthy member of his mystical body, would I come, and renew before thee that covenant which I have broken, and bind myself to be thine for­ever. And do thou, for his sake, O God, assist me; for in thee is my strength.”
“Relying on this strength for support, and confessing myself guilty of all these and innumerable other offences, and that I deserve, in justice, nothing but the lowest hell, and renouncing the destructive ways of sin, —I do with my whole heart and soul, in a most serious, solemn, and deliberate manner, choose and take the Lord Jehovah to be my God and Father, cheer­fully and joyfully renewing all my past engagements; and, in humble dependence on his grace, I engage to fear him, and cleave to him in love. And I do, most freely, give up myself, my interests, for time and for eternity, my soul and body, my friends and possessions, and all that I have, to his wise, just, and sovereign disposal. Especially do I devote myself to him in the service of the ministry, beseeching him to place me in that situation in which I shall most glorify him. And wilt thou, O most gracious and condescending God, accept this offering of thy creature, who can give thee nothing but what he has first received.”
“With equal joy and readiness, and in the same serious and solemn manner, do I choose and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ to be my only Saviour. I take him in all his offices—as my Priest, to make atonement for all my offences—as my Prophet, to guide, teach, enlighten and instruct me—as my King, to rule in and reign over me. I take him as the great Head of influences, from whom alone I can receive all needed supplies of grace and assistance.”
“I do also take the Holy Spirit of all grace and consolation to be my Sanctifier, and promise not to grieve him, or to slight his warnings.”
“And, O my God, what shall I more say? what can I ask, since I am thine, and thou art mine; mine, for time; mine, for eternity? O my God, I want nothing but to be wholly thine. I would plead thy promise for a new heart and a right spirit. O write this covenant on my heart, and put thy fear there, that I may not depart from thee. May I be made an able, faithful, and successful minister of the New Testament. May the life and concerns, which I have now devoted to thee, be employed in thy service; and may I, at length, be brought to the full enjoyment of thee in glory, through infinite riches of redeeming love.”
“As a testimony of my sincere and hearty consent to this covenant, of my hope and desire to receive the blessings of it, and as a swift witness against me if I depart from it; I do now, before God and the holy angels, subscribe with my hand unto the Lord.”
“And may this covenant be ratified in heaven. And do thou remember, O my soul that the vows of God are upon thee.”
“Having drawn up the above covenant, I spread it before the Lord; and after confession of sins, and seeking pardon through the blood of Christ, I did solemnly accept it before him, as my free act and deed; and embraced Christ in it, as the only ground of my hope. I then pleaded for all covenant­ed blessings, and was favored with great fervency and enlarge­ment in prayer. An indisposition, which attended me through the day, rendered it less profitable than usual; yet I have abundant reason to bless God for the measure of assistance I received. I felt the most longing, intense, and insatiable desires after holiness, and to be employed in promoting the divine glory. The world, with its applause, seemed nothing in com­parison with the approbation of God. Existence seemed worth possessing only as it could be employed in praising him.”
Before the reader sits in judgment on the transaction now recorded, and especially on the manner in which it was con­ducted; before he censures the vows, by which the covenanter bound his soul, as too strong, the surrender as too complete and exclusive, or the terms in which it is done as extravagant, —let him inquire of his own heart, whether he has duly considered the claims of the great Jehovah, and treated these claims as a real servant of God, a true disciple of Christ. Even under his “easy yoke,” the terms of the relation are, “Except ye forsake all, ye cannot be my disciples.” And if “no man can serve two masters,” we have no alternative, but to give up ourselves to God without reserve, or be disowned by him. However solemn the act, that can be neither unreasonable nor improper, which our Father in heaven requires. When we enter upon an enumeration of all that is comprised in dedicating one’s self to God, we may well be filled with awe and tremblingly alive to the danger of failing to perform our vows; but to withhold the offering, savors more of unbelief, of a selfish and rebellious heart, than of a wise caution, or a filial temper.
There is a class of persons, to whom the confessions in the above instrument will appear revolting, and by whom they will be stigmatized as religious affectation. He speaks of his sins as “infinite in number, degree and aggravation.” The Chris­tian, whose “sins have been set in order before him,” sees no hyperbole in such language; and if it should meet the eyes of others, they are referred for an explanation, so far as it can be appreciated without Christian experience, to the sermon num­bered seven of his published discourses. Even “the natural man” may there “discern” enough to acquit the author of in­consistency; and it is no more than an act of common justice to allow him to be his own expositor.
In this and other places, he descends to specifications of sins in terms which may be thought applicable to none but a mon­ster of wickedness; and yet they are the judgment passed on himself by a man always and universally respected for the correctness and purity of his morals. His “pride” never look­ed with disdain upon the meanest fellow-creature; his “malice” and “revenge” never inflicted actual injury; and of any out-­breakings of the baser and more degrading passions, he stands unindicted by all except himself. Nor were these humiliating confessions, this extraordinary self-abasement, made to attract notice, and give himself importance in the eyes of others—one of the very worst and most odious forms in which pride operates—for to them no mortal was ever privy. They were not known to a fellow-creature, till since he dropped the clods of mortality. They describe what he appeared to himself to be in the immediate presence of the perfectly holy and heart searching God. Still, many will repeat the question—If he alludes to no crimes, with which every man might not with equal propriety charge himself, whence the justice or truth of the charges? Here again he shall be his own interpreter. Let those who are oppressed with this difficulty carefully read his sermon, entitled, “Sins Estimated by the Light of Heaven,” and they will find a full and satisfactory solution. This, and the sermon just alluded to, will furnish a key to the true import of much of the language which he employs, in describing the darker and more distressing parts of his experience.
The effects of his severe regimen and night vigils on his health had already begun to appear, and were somewhat aggra­vated by a bodily injury which he received about this time. The circumstances are said to have been these: He had accom­panied his father and another clergyman to an ordination. On their return, as he was feasting his mind with such meditations as the scenery and the occasion suggested, they out-rode him. His horse, being left principally to his own guidance, by sud­denly leaping a brook, brought his rider to the ground, whose right shoulder was dislocated by the shock. A partial faintness succeeded, from which he was recovered by bathing his temples with water from the stream. Attempting, in this disabled con­dition, to regain the saddle, by leaping from a neighboring fence, he was precipitated over the horse to the ground, and the bone was restored to its place by the fall. In after life, it was often displaced, and sometimes in circumstances not a little embar­rassing and distressing; and for many months before his death, and even before he ceased to appear in the pulpit, that arm hung useless by his side. From this time, the state of his health is the subject of frequent allusion, as may be seen from his journal, parts of which, for several successive days, are subjoined, bringing down his history to the date of his license to preach the gospel:—
“May 2: Was exceedingly weak through the day, both in body and mind, and was enabled to do little or nothing. Could only wish and sigh.”
“May 3: Sacrament. Had considerable flow of affections, but seemed to want clearness and spirituality. In the afternoon, was more dead and trifling. So far as I can judge from my feelings, have got little good by this opportunity. Felt deeply oppressed with guilt after meeting, but could not mourn over my sin, as I would fain have done, nor could I obtain any sense of divine love. But after a short time, my compassionate Saviour was pleased to melt my soul with a look of love, and I felt sweetly humbled and contrite for sin. Although I had care­lessly let down my watch, yet in the evening he was pleased to return, and give me the sweetest humbling season I ever en­joyed. I never felt so vile, so insignificant, so like nothing, so emptied of self. And when I was thus empty, he was pleased to fill me with himself; so that I was burnt up1 with most intense love, and pantings after holiness. Never before had I such faith and fervency in prayer. I was as happy as nature could sustain, and could only say—Blessed Jesus! this is thy work. See my happiness. It proceeds from thee! This is the fruit of thy travail of soul. Renewed my covenant, and gave up my whole soul, with all its powers, to God as my Father, Christ as my Saviour, and the Holy Spirit as my Sanctifier. Had another sweet season in prayer; but was assaulted by spiritual pride. I see frowns are necessary for me.”
“May 4: Was less favored this morning than last evening; but had some assistance. Was aided in writing, but greatly op­pressed with pride and vanity, which made their attacks upon me in inexpressible shapes, while I could do nothing.”
“May 5: Spent this day in the woods, in fasting and prayer, with a view to obtain mortification of my abominable pride and selfishness. Was favored with much fervency and enlargement the former part of the day, but was afterward much deserted; seemed to make no advances in holiness; to be of no advantage to the world, and unfit to live.”
‘‘May 6: Had some freedom in prayer. Felt very feeble, and unfit for study; but, praying that Christ’s strength might be made perfect in my weakness, I was helped to write more usual.”
“May 7: Out of order both in body and mind. Did little in my study, and had little freedom in prayer.”
“May 8: Had some life and fervency this morning; but was exercised with wandering thoughts. Could do little all day.”
“May 9: Was much perplexed with some business with* * *, so that I could neither read nor pray, any more than I could remove a mountain. This was made useful to me. I saw by it the weakness of my graces, and learned to judge more favorably of those Christians who are exposed to the temptations of the world. It showed me also my need of divine help more clearly than ever. Were I exposed to the same temptations I should lose all sense of divine things without greater supports than I ever had.”
“May 10: Was very unwell, and could neither eat, read, nor pray. Was excessively melancholy.”
“May 11: Was still more oppressed with melancholy, and felt even more miserable. * * * * * Was ashamed of my selfishness and ingratitude in despising the blessings God had given me. Remained very wretched, and unable to do anything. In the evening, had some relief.”
“May 12: Was, if possible, still more gloomy and depressed than yesterday. Seemed unfit to preach, and even to do anything. Could only wander about from place to place, seek­ing rest, and finding none. In the evening, a person arrived from Marlborough, inviting me to come and preach four Sabbaths. After putting up a short but sincere petition, that I might not be left to my own guidance, and asking the advice of my father, I promised to go. Retired, and cast myself upon the Lord for support, with a deep sense of my own utter insufficiency.”
“May 13: Having set apart this day for fasting and prayer, with reference to entering on the work of the ministry, I sought the divine presence and blessing, in which I was much assisted. Renewed covenant with God, and gave myself up to him for the work of the ministry. Was helped to plead with far more earnestness than ever before, and, indeed, with as much as my nature could support, or was capable of, and this repeatedly during the day.”
“May 14: Was very unwell, and apprehensive of a nervous fever. Could not read the most amusing books without weari­ness and distraction; and my body was so weak, that I could exercise but very little. Yet, by divine goodness, was preserved in a quiet, submissive frame.”
“May 15: Was better, and had some sweetness in secret de­votion. Went to see an old man who has been converted in his old age. Found him full of affection, and possessing remarka­bly clear views of God and divine things, though in other respects weak and illiterate. Was somewhat refreshed with his conversation.—P.M. Forced to make a visit, but helped to introduce religious conversation.”
“May 16: Felt very lifeless in the morning; but in secret prayer, it pleased God to enliven me. In the evening, was favored with equal or greater degrees of fervency. My soul was sud­denly humbled and broken for sin. I seemed to be much the least of all saints; and my very soul panted for God and holi­ness, as the hunted hart for the water-brook. Blessed be God for this day.”
“May 17: Sabbath, A.M. Very dull and lifeless; but in secret prayer, the cloud was removed, and I found unspeakable delight in drawing near to God, and casting myself upon him. Christ appeared inconceivably precious, and I longed, with most intense desire, to devote myself to him, and to be like him. I could not but rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, to think that God in Christ was, and would be, infinitely and unchangeably glorious and happy. In Christ I beheld such fullness and sufficiency, that all my late tormenting fears respecting being qualified for the ministry, and assisted in it, vanished. In the evening, was overwhelmed with a view of my remaining corruptions, and especially of my pride; so that I was in a perfect agony, and could scarcely support it. I was just ready to despair, and give up all future striving as vain; but I fled to Christ, and poured out all my sorrows into his bosom, and he graciously pitied me, and strengthened me with might in my soul. I found unspeakable relief in telling him all my sorrows and difficulties. O, he is wonderfully, inconceiva­bly gracious!”
“May 18: Had very little freedom or fervency. Was perplexed with the scene before me, and could affect but little.”
“May 19: Went with my father to the Association, for the purpose of receiving their approbation to preach the gospel. Was exceedingly fatigued.”
“May 20: Was examined and approbated. Was so weak that I could scarcely stand; but was helped in some measure.”
1 This expression may at first glance strike the reader as extravagant; and yet, by consulting John 2:17, he will find an almost exact parallel—The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. So inwrought into Mr. Payson’s mental habits were the Scriptures of truth, that he thought, breathed, and spoke, in their manner. Those, however, will, or ought to be, the last to complain, who can resolve all the characteristic expressions and peculiar doctrines of the Bible into “strong eastern figures. (Back to text)

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