Biographies of William Cooper and His Son Samuel Cooper
[From: William Allen, American Biographical and Historical Dictionary [...] and a Summary of the History of the Several Colonies and the United States (William Hilliard, 1809), pp. 223-226 (slightly edited and abridged).]
COOPER (WILLIAM), minister in Boston, was a native of that town, and being early impressed by the truths of religion and delighting in the study of the scriptures, he passed through the temptations of youth without a blemish upon his character. He was grave, but not gloomy nor austere; discreet, but not precise; and cheerful, with innocence. While a member of Harvard college, where he was graduated in 1712, he ardently cultivated those branches of science, which were most useful and important. Every literary pursuit was sanctified by prayer, and every human acquisition rendered subservient to the knowledge of God and religion. Soon after he began to preach, the eminence of his qualifications as a minister attracted the attention of the church in Brattle street, Boston, and he was invited to be colleague pastor with the reverend Mr. [Benjamin] Colman. At his own request his ordination was delayed for a year, until May 23, 1716, when he was inducted into the sacred office. From this period to that of his death his ministerial gifts, graces, and usefulness seemed constantly to increase, and the more he was known, the more he was esteemed, loved, and honored. In the year 1737 he was chosen president of Harvard college, but he declined the honorable trust. He died December 13, 1743, in the fiftieth year of his age.
He was an eminent preacher, being an able and zealous advocate of the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel. Jesus Christ was ever the prominent object in his discourses. He insisted much on the doctrines of grace; considering them as not only constituting the sole foundation of a sinner's hope, but as exhibiting the capital aids and incentives to holiness of heart and life. Hence his preaching was practical as well as evangelical. He inculcated obedience upon Christian principles and by Christian arguments. His sermons were easy and natural in method; rich in important truth; plain, but not groveling in style; solid and argumentative, yet animated with the spirit of devotion; calculated at once to enlighten the mind, to impress the conscience, and to warm the heart. In explaining the profound and sublime truths of the gospel he had the singular felicity to be intelligible to the ignorant, instructive to the well informed, and edifying to the serious. In prayer he remarkably excelled. He had a voice at once strong and pleasant, an elocution grave and dignified; while a deep impression of God, whose mercy he implored, and whose messages he delivered, was visible in his countenance and demeanor, and added an indescribable solemnity to all his performances. His benevolent labors were not in vain. He was an eminent instrument and promoter of the great revival of religion, which took place toward the close of his life. With a heart overflowing with joy he declared, that "since the year 1740 more people had sometimes come to him in concern about their souls in one week, than in the preceding twenty-four years of his ministry." To these applicants he was a most judicious and affectionate counselor and guide. Though the general attention to the things of another world was pronounced by many to be enthusiasm and fanaticism, yet Mr. Cooper, while he withstood the irregularities, which prevailed, was persuaded, that there was a remarkable work of divine grace. The numerous instances at his own parish of persons affected either with pungent and distressing convictions of sin, with deep humiliation and self abhorrence, with ardent love to God and man, or with inexpressible consolation in religion perfectly satisfied him, that the presence and power of the divine Reprover, Sanctifier, and Comforter was among them. In the private walks of life he displayed the combined excellencies of the gentleman and Christian. He had but little warning of the approach of death, but in the lucid intervals of his disease, he was enabled to declare, that he rejoiced in God his Savior.
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COOPER (SAMUEL), minister in Boston, was the son of the reverend William Cooper, and was born March 28, 1725. He exhibited early marks of a masterly genius. As his mind was deeply impressed by religious truth, soon after he was graduated at Harvard college in 1743, he devoted himself to the study of divinity, preferring the office of a minister of the gospel to the temporal advantages, which his talents might have procured him. When he first appeared in the pulpit, his performances were so acceptable, and raised such expectations that at the age of twenty years he was invited by the congregation in Brattle street, Boston, to succeed his father as colleague with the reverend Dr. Colman. In this office he was ordained May 21, 1746, just thirty years after the ordination of his father. He did not disappoint the hopes of his friends. His reputation increased, and he soon became one of the most popular preachers in the country. After a ministry of near thirty seven years, he died December 29, 1783, in the fifty ninth year of his age.
Dr. Cooper was very distinguished in the sacred office, [....] His sermons were evangelical and perspicuous, and unequaled in America for elegance and taste. Delivering them with energy and pathos, his eloquence arrested attention and warmed the heart. In his prayers, which were uttered with humility and reverence, there was a grateful variety, and as they were pertinent, scriptural, and animated with the spirit of devotion, they were admirably calculated to raise the souls of his fellow worshippers to God. His presence in the chambers of the sick was peculiarly acceptable, for he knew how to address the conscience without offense, to impart instruction, to soothe, and to comfort. His religious sentiments were rational and catholic [tolerant]. His attention was not confined to theology; but he made himself acquainted with other branches of science, and was one of the most finished classical scholars of his day. His friendship to literature induced him, after the destruction of the library of Harvard college by fire, to exert himself to procure subscriptions to repair the loss. In 1767 he was elected a member of the corporation, in which office he continued until his death. He was an active member of the society for propagating the gospel among the aborigines of America. To his other acquisitions he added a just knowledge of the nature and design of government, and the rights of mankind. Most sincerely attached to the cause of civil and religious liberty, he was among the first of those patriots, who took a decided part in opposition to the arbitrary exactions of Great Britain. [...] by his pen he endeavored to arouse and strengthen the spirit of resistance. Such were his abilities and firmness, that he was esteemed and consulted by some of the principal men, who were the means of effecting our revolution. He did much towards procuring foreign alliances. His letters were read with great satisfaction in the court of Versailles, while men of the most distinguished characters in Europe became his correspondents. The friendship, which he maintained with Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams, was the means of introducing to his acquaintance many gentlemen from France, to whom he rendered himself peculiarly agreeable by his literary attainments, by an engaging address, and by the ease and politeness of his manners. When his country had asserted her right to independence, believing that knowledge is necessary to the support of a free government, he was anxious to render our liberties perpetual by promoting literary establishments. He was therefore one of the foremost in laying the foundation of the American academy of arts and sciences, and was chosen its first vice president in the year 1780. In his last illness he expressed his great satisfaction in seeing his country in peace, and in the possession of freedom and independence, and his hopes, that the virtue and public spirit of his countrymen would prove to the world, that they were not unworthy of these inestimable blessings. In the intervals of reason, he informed his friends, that he was perfectly resigned to the will of heaven; that his hopes and consolations sprang from a belief of those truths, which he had preached to others; and that he wished not to be detained any longer from that state of perfection and felicity, which the gospel had opened to his view.
Besides his political writings, which appeared in the journals of the day, he published the following discourses; on the artillery election, 1751; before the society for encouraging industry, 1753; at the general election, 1756; on the reduction of Quebec, 1759; at the ordination of the reverend Joseph Jackson, 1760; on the death of George II, 1761; at the Dudleian lecture in Harvard college, 1775; on the commencement of the new constitution of Massachusetts, October 25, 1780. This last discourse, with others of his productions, have been published in several languages, and being written in a polished and elegant manner were well calculated for the lips of an eloquent speaker, such as he himself was. Clark's fun. sermon; American herald, January 19, 1784; Continental journal, Jan. 22; Holmes' annals, 2:469; Thacher's century discourse.
(A Biography of William Cooper) (1744)
by Dr. Benjamin Colman
[A biography of William Cooper, author of the church and state sermon, The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate (1740), by his friend and co-pastor in the Brattle Street Church in Boston, Dr. Benjamin Colman. Full title: Jesus Weeping Over His Dead Friend, and with His Friends in Their Mourning. A Sermon Preached the Lord's Day after the Funeral of the Reverend Mr. William Cooper, One of the Pastors of the Church in Brattle Street, Boston. Who Died December 13, 1743. [Aged] 50. By Dr. Colman, Senior Pastor of said Church (Boston: Rogers and Fowle, for J. Edwards in Cornhill, 1744). (This sermon has been slightly edited and abridged.)
William Cooper was a close friend and supporter of Jonathan Edwards. Cooper wrote the preface to Edwards' famous work in defense of the Great Awakening, The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, in 1741, the year after Cooper preached The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate. Thus, Cooper deserves a significant place in the roster of Great Awakening leaders.
Cooper was also a friend of Christian Governor Jonathan Belcher of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, a supporter of the Great Awakening. Dr. Benjamin Colman was another friend of Governor Belcher's. See Colman's works: Government the Pillar of the Earth (1730) (a discourse concerning church and state) and Christ Standing for an Ensign of the People (1738). Colman, incidentally, had known Cooper ever since Cooper's childhood.
Incidentally, the action of Cooper's mother to prevent a miscarriage of him before he was born (she so restricted her physical activity that she stayed in her room for at least six months "to preserve him") showed what a high regard for pre-born life that this godly woman had.
William Cooper himself later became the father of American patriot preacher Samuel Cooper (the "SON of the family" mentioned below in Colman's discourse). Samuel did indeed follow in his father's footsteps and became even more famous than him, due to Samuel's writings during the American Revolution. -- ED.]
[JESUS WEEPING FOR HIS DEAD FRIEND,
by Dr. Benjamin Colman]
To the Honorable
JACOB WENDELL, Esq;
With the Honored Brethren the Committee of the Congregation meeting in Brattle Street, Boston:
As you have chosen to print the following sermon, and to distribute copies of it to the families of the poor of the flock at your own charge, I think myself obliged to thank you in their name, and to do it in this public manner.
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But ministers are only vessels, and but brittle mean [ordinary] and earthen ones; by whom it pleases the LORD JESUS in whom all FULLNESS dwells, to distribute unto His churches: They are made what they are; they differ a little in form and capacities, smaller and greater, for more or less use; but all are for communication to others. Even on spiritual accounts, both intellectual and moral, your best ministers are too much earthen; and well may they feel themselves to be but dross souls, when the blessed St. Paul, with all his treasures of knowledge, faith, love, zeal, devotion, called himself carnal; while he contemplated the spirituality of the Divine Law which he was called to preach: "The Law is spiritual, but I am carnal."
Let it not surprise us then to see the earthen vessel which once held great treasures, broken and turning into common clay: And while we mourn the breach let it be in faith, that CHRIST will one day repair and raise it a spiritual body, like to his own most glorious.
When you bury your ministers, you have the unsearchable riches of CHRIST to live on. With Him is the residue of the SPIRIT, and His treasures are inexhaustible: He raises up other pastors after His own heart, and puts like riches into them, for the supply of His church from one generation to another; and "instead of the Fathers are the Children whom he makes Princes in all the Earth: HE is the same, and his Years have no End; the Children of his Servants shall continue, and their Seed be established before Him."
Alas! What a vain institution may the preached Gospel seem, where it is not attended with a convincing, regenerating, converting, sanctifying, comforting power and efficacy! How vain in this case the preaching, and the faith professed, vain! What go we then forth to see and hear? A reed shaken with the wind! Even though the Baptist himself were to preach! But how happy the minister by whom, and happy the people to whom, it pleases the LORD to speak with a strong hand! The EXCELLENCY of the POWER presently appears in a Divine EMPIRE of the Holy Law over the minds, hearts, consciences, and affections of men! Over their thoughts, imaginations, desires, wills, purposes and resolutions! This is the kingdom of GOD within men! Souls are conscious to it within themselves! A POWER which they neither can, nor desire any longer to resist; but yield to the constraint with thankfulness and joy! "Thy People are willing in the Day of thy Power, in the Beauties of Holiness"! This forms all the beauties of holiness at once in the renewed, subdued soul! It is the life of GOD restored; even the image and life of the SON OF GOD incarnate; "I delight to do thy Will, O GOD, yea thy Law is within me!"
Men may force one another to do things against their will; a cruel power this and unnatural; but to make a soul willing to every thing that is holy, wise, and good, this is the excellency of power! So the SON makes souls free, and they are free indeed! They choose the things that please GOD, they lay hold on His covenant, they subscribe with heart and hand to the LORD! They love His Word because it is very pure! They delight in the Law of GOD after the inward man! They love HIM with all their understanding, heart, and strength! They love their own and others' souls with a like earnest and solicitous regard; for in conjunction with the eternal glory of GOD from them, is their eternal blessedness in the vision of Him! NOW THIS is the empire of GOD in and over holy spirits forever and ever! The excellency of this POWER shows it to be of GOD, and not of man.
If you have seen or felt anything of it under our ministry, look not at us, either the living or the dead! But worship GOD! And own the excellency of the Gospel, as a means in the hand of the SPIRIT!
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Accept, my beloved BRETHREN, the DEACONS and COMMUNICANTS, with the HEADS and members of every family in the congregation; the greater and the less together; this affectionate address and farewell salutation of your aged, dying pastor; who asks your daily remembrance of him at the throne of grace, and is in all the bonds of grace and gratitude the servant of your faith and helper of your joy.
Boston, January 5, 1743/4.
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But I know you are expecting now, that I go into a more special application of my subject to the great and general mourning of the town, as well as of this church and congregation through the week past, on the sudden death of your most dear and honored PASTOR, the Reverend Mr. COOPER: [....]
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I am a witness to his early, serious, and steady inclinations to serve GOD and his generation, by His holy will, in the work of the ministry; and that in his childhood he was in this a Timothy, that he knew the Holy Scriptures and studied his Bible, that he might be made wise to salvation. All the while he passed his school-learning, and afterward at the college, his soul appeared fixed on this, as the needle to its pole; even (as I may say) without a tremor or variation.
He was young when GOD took away his father, on his voyage to London, but it surprised his dear mother and me, and many others, to see how religiously as well as tenderly he ministered then to her consolation, through the weeks and months of her unspeakable grief. He was indeed a Barnabas already, a son of consolation to her, through those dark hours. Not a Samuel could have been more to Hannah on a like bereavement, than our child Cooper then was to his lovely mother; the woman (of whom I said to you on her death) that one would have wished to be born of.
She saw with unknown pleasure his progress in learning and Scripture knowledge; and gladly gave him his chosen way, lent him to the LORD, gave him to serve at the door of the tabernacle all the days of his life. She could have said with truth and fervency, "for this Child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my Petition"! For she kept [to] her chamber (I have heard) for six or more months [before his birth] to preserve him.
His profiting at school and college was remarkable, like his diligent study: it was his pleasure and recreation to increase in useful knowledge, while the less necessary parts of learning seemed of little account with him: He was always solid and grave, never the dull heavy or sour, but ever cheery, pleasant, and innocent.
He passed his youth without a spot that I ever heard of; he affected none of the gaieties of childhood though enough in the way of them; they seemed no temptation to him, and he put away childish things while a child.
He came out at once, to a very great degree, a perfect preacher, when he first appeared in the pulpit at Cambridge, as Mr. President LEVERETT at the time observed to me; and equally to the esteem and even admiration of the ministers of Boston, the Dr. MATHERS, Mr. PEMBERTON, etc.
On the day that he heard the first sermon that was preached in this house, being then but seven years old, he set himself to read like me as soon as he came home; and I ought to thank GOD if I have served [in] any way to the forming him for his since eminent pulpit services, and in particular his method of preaching CHRIST and Scripture: So a torch may be light at a farthing-candle.
You all know that CHRIST has been the Alpha and Omega to him in all his sermons; for he found HIM to be the first and the last through the Oracles of GOD, the Beginning and the End of Scripture: [***]
As he had been a child of this church from seven years old, so the brethren with a general consent concurred with me in my desire of calling him to the pastoral office among us: And his natural inclination to them and me, rather than to any other settlement, was easy to be discerned. Accordingly, he had nearly a unanimous call, and with what solemnity he gave himself to us by the will of GOD, may be read in the printed account of his ordination.
With what light and power (by the help of GOD) he has since continued to preach the doctrines of grace, with the laws and motives of the Gospel, is known to you all; and he has finished his course as he began it, desiring to know nothing among you save JESUS CHRIST and Him crucified.
I early led him into all the families of the flock, the poorer and the rich, even before he was ordained; and how he has visited them in their sicknesses, received their visits, directed your consciences, warned the unruly, comforted the feeble-minded, supported the weak, is known to many of you, who have flocked to him for counsel in the late months of conviction and spiritual distress, which have come upon us through the power and mercy of the most HIGH.
He has indeed appeared to me strong in the grace that is in CHRIST JESUS; as he was exhorted in the day of his ordination; and from year to year waxing stronger and stronger, even to the day of his death! Very much a pastor after GOD's own heart; from love to JESUS CHRIST feeding His sheep and lambs: This you have all seen in his abounding labors for the good of souls both public and private.
His sermons were well-studied, smelt of the lamp, and told us how well his head and heart had been laboring for us from week to week; and how intent his mind and desire was, so to speak to us in the name of GOD, and from His Oracles, as might best inform our minds, strike our affections, and enter into our consciences.
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In the pulpit and out of it he was like Phinehas, "Zealous for his GOD, a faithful Reprover of Sin and earnest to make Atonement for it; and if in any particular point I could not act with him, yet he evidently appeared to me to act, as he professed"--as of sincerity, in the sight of God, and as his conscience commanded him.
He neither sought glory of men, nor feared the faces of a multitude, nor did the contempt of families terrify him: He was endowed and formed to lead, advise and execute, and indeed was not easily turned [aside]. He thought, judged, and fixed, and then it was hard to move him.
GOD pleased greatly to own [acknowledge] his ministry, public and private, for saving good to souls, and gave him many seals [proofs] of it, more especially (as he judged) of late years; in whom he had much joy, and they a vast honor and reverence for him: And may they be his crown in the day of CHRIST.
He has been an honor and blessing to his country, and his name will remain in high esteem to future times; more especially with this church and to his own house, for whom his abundant and fervent prayers have been ascending daily, which I pray GOD may be returning on us, like the dew and rain on the tender and on the mown grass.
You have known his doctrine and manner of life, whose faith follow, considering the end of his conversation (as the Apostle speaks, Heb. 13:7, 8, 9) "JESUS CHRIST the same Yesterday to Day and for ever! and be not carried about with diverse and strange Doctrines; for it is a good thing that the Heart be established with Grace, not with Meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein." (There were in the Apostle's days, and so there are in ours, "things of an unsettling and distracting nature, by which the hearts of Christians are kept fluctuating, as the strong winds toss the ships, and sometimes drive 'em from their anchors, and split 'em on the rocks." ([Matthew] Henry in loc). As the Apostle warns the Hebrews here, "not to seek Establishment and Peace in their Profession of the Gospel, by joining the Observation of the Ceremonial Law with their Faith in Christ, in order to their Justification, Sanctification, and Peace of Conscience;" so let us equally be on our guard against the errors on the antinomian side, which by the subtlety of Satan are insinuating themselves in too many places through our provinces, and in some parts are threatening to break in like a flood and inundation: As Mr. [Gilbert] Tennent has given faithful warning to the churches. (The Necessity of holding fast the Truth)
Mr. Cooper was fixed and firm against the spirit of separation from the churches of New England, which he judged to be strongly settled on the platform of Scripture; as any rock on our coasts is unshaken by the furious waves that only break themselves into foam by dashing against it: And had he lived he would have been a most strenuous opposer of this defection: But at the same time he was immovably determined, as we all know, that there has been a remarkable work of GOD going on among us, by what he had seen with his yes, had looked upon, [...] in the resort to him (and some other ministers of the town) of a multitude of persons, younger and older, under strong convictions, humiliation, illuminations, godly fear, with strong crying and tears; faith, hope, trust, joy, with strong reliance on the righteousness of CHRIST for justification, and on the ALMIGHTY SPIRIT of grace in a sovereign manner to enable them unto all the duties of a sober, righteous, and godly life; to work in them both to will and to do, to begin and carry on his good work in their souls; and to keep them by His almighty power through faith to salvation. [* * *]
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Mr. COOPER'S fame for piety and learning, zeal for GOD and care for souls, was just spreading abroad, and bringing him into a large correspondence with persons of like character, not only through our American provinces, but also in Great Britain: And the tidings of his death will be an unknown grief to many worthy persons abroad, as well as unto us who knew his face, and have sat under his ministry.
He is gone from us in the prime of life and usefulness, while his strength was firm, promising many more years of service: Yet twenty years past, and more, he was wont to tell me, that he expected to die before forty or fifty, as the house of his father generally had done before him: And but a few weeks past he said to several persons in the town, and to some here present, that Dr. Colman would live to bury him! How far from your heart or mine was any such thought! For with him I had deposited my will, in hopes he might have lived to be a father unto mine after my decease! And as to my trusts from abroad, I had informed the kind donors years ago, in how good and faithful and wise a hand I should leave their bounties, by the will of GOD!--but how are my purposes broken. Even the thoughts of my heart! The wisest and best of them! [* * *] [...] had I the like confidence of my own actual readiness to be offered, I had much rather for your sake and the churches through the land, have chosen to die in his stead; might he have lived to my years and served on to the glory of GOD.
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The Residue of the Spirit is with HIM! He can yet revive us and make us to live in his Sight! He can renew our days as of old, and give you such another pastor after His own heart! To feed you with knowledge and understanding!
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In a special manner may that SON of the family, who has devoted himself to the work of the ministry by the will of GOD, and is pursuing his evangelical studies for that end, be graciously accepted of GOD, and assisted in them; have his heart fixed and settled on right principles and on right ends; to minister unto the LORD as long as he lives, like a devoted Samuel; that he may both save himself and the souls of others. May he ever have the example of his father before his eyes day and night: May he and the other children never forget his counsels, charges and prayers for them: May he improve the singular advantages he has above others, to come eminently furnished for service to the church of CHRIST, by his being heir to the sacred treasure of his father's writings; and ever piously remember of whom he has received them! And the LORD GOD of his father bless him, and make him humble, serious, and a blessing.
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[WILLIAM COOPER'S PREFACE TO
JONATHAN EDWARDS' WORK,
THE DISTINGUISHING MARKS OF A WORK OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD]
MR. COOPER'S PREFACE TO THE READER.
There are several dispensations, or days of grace, which the church of God has been under from the beginning of time. There is that under the ancient Patriarchs; that under the Law of Moses; and there is that of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, under which we now are. This is the brightest day that ever shone, and exceeds the other, for peculiar advantages. To us who are so happy as to live under the Evangelical Dispensation, may those words of our Savior be directed, which He spoke to His disciples, when He was first setting up the Messiah's kingdom in the world, and Gospel light and power began to spread abroad: "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see. For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them." (Luke 10:23, 24.)
The Mosaic Dispensation, though darkened with types and figures, yet far exceeded the former; but the Gospel Dispensation so much exceeds in glory, that it eclipses the glory of the Legal, as the stars disappear when the sun arises, and goes forth in his strength. And the chief thing that renders the Gospel so glorious is, that it is the ministration of the Spirit. Under the preaching of it, the Holy Spirit was to be poured out in more plentiful measures; not only in miraculous gifts, as in the first times of the Gospel, but in His internal saving operations, accompanying the outward ministry, to produce numerous conversions to Christ, and give spiritual life to souls that were before dead in trespasses and sins, and so prepare them for eternal life. Thus the apostle speaks, when he runs a comparison between the Old Testament and the New, the Law of Moses, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ: "For the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses, for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away; how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious." (2 Cor. 3:6, 7, 8.)
This blessed time of the Gospel, has several other denominations, which may raise our esteem and value for it. It is called by the evangelical prophet, "The acceptable year of the Lord." (Isa. 61:2). Or, as it may be read, the year of liking, or of benevolence, or of the good will of the Lord; because it would be the special period in which He would display His grace and favor, in an extraordinary manner, and deal out spiritual blessings with a full and liberal hand. It is also styled by our Savior, the Regeneration, (Matt. 19:28) which may refer not only to that glorious restitution of all things, which is looked for at the close of the Christian Dispensation, but to the renewing work of grace in particular souls, carried on from the beginning to the end of it. But few were renewed and sanctified under the former dispensations, compared with the instances of the grace of God in Gospel times. Such numbers were brought into the Gospel church when it was first set up, as to give occasion for that pleasing admiring question, which was indeed a prophecy of it, "Who are these that fly as a cloud? And as the doves to their windows?" (Isa. 60). Then the power of the Divine Spirit so accompanied the ministry of the Word, as that thousands were converted under one sermon. But notwithstanding this large effusion of the Spirit, when Gospel light first dawned upon the world--that pleasant Spring of religion which then appeared on the face of the earth--there was a gradual withdrawing of his saving light and influences; and so the Gospel came to be less successful, and the state of Christianity withered in one place and another.
Indeed, at the time of the Reformation from Popery, when Gospel light broke in upon the church, and dispelled the clouds of anti-Christian darkness that covered it, the power of divine grace so accompanied the preaching of the Word, as that it had admirable success in the conversion and edification of souls; and the blessed fruits thereof appeared in the hearts and lives of its professors. That was one of "the days of the Son of man," on which the exalted Redeemer rode forth, in His glory and majesty, on the white horse of the pure Gospel, "conquering and to conquer"; and the bow in His hand, like that of Jonathan, returned not empty. But what a dead and barren time has it now been, for a great while, with all the churches of the Reformation! The golden showers have been restrained; the influences of the Spirit suspended; and the consequence has been, that the Gospel has not had any eminent success. Conversions have been rare and dubious; few sons and daughters have been born to God; and the hearts of Christians not so quickened, warmed and refreshed under the ordinances, as they have been.
That this has been the sad state of religion among us in this land, for many years (except one or two distinguished places, which have at times been visited with a shower of mercy, while other towns and churches have not been rained upon), will be acknowledged by all who have spiritual senses exercised, as it has been lamented by faithful ministers and serious Christians. Accordingly it has been a constant petition in our public prayers, from Sabbath to Sabbath, "That God would pour out His Spirit upon us, and revive His work in the midst of the years." And besides our annual fast days appointed by government, most of the churches have set apart days, wherein to seek the Lord by prayer and fasting, that He would "come and rain down righteousness upon us."
And now--"Behold! the Lord whom we have sought, has suddenly come to his temple." The dispensation of grace we are now under, is certainly such as neither we nor our fathers have seen; and in some circumstances so wonderful, that I believe there has not been the like since the extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit immediately after our Lord's ascension. The Apostolical times seem to have returned upon us: such a display has there been of the power and grace of the Divine Spirit in the assemblies of His people, and such testimonies has He given to the Word of the Gospel.
I remember a remarkable passage of the late Reverend and learned Mr. HOWE, which I think it may be worthwhile to transcribe here. It is in his discourse concerning the "prosperous state of the Christian church before the end of time, by a plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit," page 80. "In such a time," says he,
"when the Spirit shall be poured forth plentifully, surely ministers shall have their proportionate share. And when such a time as that shall come, I believe you will hear much other kind of sermons (or they will who shall live to such a time) than you are wont to do now-a-days; souls will surely be dealt with at another rate. It is plain, (says he), too sadly plain, there is a great retraction of the Spirit of God even from us. We know not how to speak living sense into souls; how to get within you; our words die in our mouths, or drop and die between you and us. We even faint when we speak; long-experienced unsuccessfulness makes us despondent. We speak not as persons that hope to prevail, that expect to make you serious, heavenly, mindful of God, and to walk more like Christians. The methods of alluring and convincing souls, even that some of us have known, are lost from among us in a great part. There have been other ways taken, than we can tell now how to fall upon, for the mollifying of the obdurate, and the awakening of the secure, and the convincing and persuading of the obstinate, and the winning of the disaffected. Surely there will be a large share, that will come even to the part of ministers, when such an effusion of the Spirit shall be, as it is expected; that they shall know how to speak to better purpose, with more compassion, with more seriousness, with more authority and allurement than we now find we can."
Agreeable to the past expectation of this great and excellent man, we have found it in this remarkable day. A number of preachers have appeared among us, to whom God has given such a large measure of His Spirit, that we are ready sometimes to apply to them the character given of Barnabas, that "he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith." (Acts 11:24). They preach the Gospel of the grace of God from place to place, with uncommon zeal and assiduity. The doctrines they insist on are the doctrines of the Reformation, under the influence whereof the power of godliness so flourished in the last century. The points on which their preaching mainly turns, are those important ones of man's guilt; corruption and importance; supernatural regeneration by the Spirit of God; and free justification by faith in the righteousness of Christ; and the marks of the new birth. The manner of their preaching is not with the enticing words of man's wisdom; how be it, they speak wisdom among them that are perfect. An ardent love to Christ and souls, warms their breasts, and animates their labors. God has made those His ministers active spirits, a flame of fire in His service; and His Word in their mouths has been "as a fire; and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces." In most places where they have labored, God has evidently wrought with them, and "confirmed the word by signs following." Such a power and presence of God in religious assemblies, has not been known since God set up His sanctuary among us. He has indeed "glorified the house of his glory."
This work is truly extraordinary, in respect of its extent. It is more or less in the several provinces that measure many hundred miles on this continent. "He sendeth forth his commandment on earth; his word runneth very swiftly." It has entered and spread in some of the most populous towns, the chief places of concourse and business. And--blessed be God!--it has visited the seats of learning, both here, and in a neighboring colony. O may the Holy Spirit constantly reside in them both, seize our devoted youth, and form them as polished shafts successfully to fight the Lord's battles against the powers of darkness, when they shall be called out to service! It is extraordinary also with respect to the numbers that have been the subjects of this operation. Stupid sinners have been awakened by hundreds; and the inquiry has been general in some places. "What must I do to be saved?" I verily believe, that in this our metropolis, there were the last winter some thousands under such religious impressions as they never felt before.
The work has been remarkable also for the various sorts of persons that have been under its influence. These have been of all ages. Some elderly persons have been snatched as brands out of the burning, made monuments of divine mercy, and born to God, though out of due time: as the Apostle speaks in his own case (1 Cor. 15). But here, with us, it has lain mostly among the young. Sprightly youth have been made to bow like willows to the Redeemer's scepter, and willingly to subscribe with their own hands to the Lord. And out of the mouths of babies, some little children, has God ordained to Himself praise, to still the enemy and the avenger. They have also been of all ranks and degrees. Some of the great and rich; but more of the low and poor. Of other countries and nations. Ethiopia has stretched out her hand: Some poor Negroes have, I trust, been brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Of all qualities and conditions. The most ignorant; the foolish things of the world, babies in knowledge, have been made wise unto salvation, and taught those heavenly truths, which have been hid from the wise and prudent. Some of the learned and knowing among men, have had those things revealed to them of the Father in heaven, which flesh and blood do not teach: And of these, some who had gone into the modern notions, and had no other than the polite religion of the present times, have had their prejudices conquered, their carnal reasonings overcome, and their understandings made to bow to Gospel mysteries; they now receive the truth as it is in Jesus, and their faith no longer "stands in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God." Some of the most rude and disorderly are become regular in their behavior, and sober in all things. The gay and airy are become grave and serious.
Some of the greatest sinners have appeared to be turned into real saints: Drunkards have become temperate; fornicators and adulterers of a chaste conversation; swearers and profane persons have learned to fear that glorious and fearful Name, THE LORD THEIR GOD; and carnal worldlings have been made to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Yes, deriders and scoffers at this work and its instruments, have come under its conquering power. Some of this stamp, who have gone to hear the preacher (as some did Paul--"What will this babbler say?")--have not been able to resist the power and the Spirit with which he spoke; have sat trembling under the Word, and gone away from it weeping; and afterward did cleave unto the preacher, as Dionysius the Areopagite did unto Paul (Acts 17:18, 34). Divers instances of this kind have fallen under my knowledge.
The virtuous and civil have been convinced that morality is not to be relied on for life; and so excited to seek after the new birth, and a vital union to Jesus Christ by faith. The formal professor likewise has been awakened out of his dead formalities, brought under the power of godliness; taken off from his false rests, and brought to build his hope only on the Mediator's righteousness. At the same time, many of the children of God have been greatly quickened and refreshed; have been awakened out of the sleeping frames they were fallen into, and excited to give diligence to make their calling and election sure; and have had precious, reviving, and sealing times. Thus, extensive and general the divine influence has been at this glorious season.
One thing more is worthy of remark; and this is the uniformity of the work. By the accounts I have received in letters,and conversation with ministers and others, who live in different parts of the land where this work is going on, it is the same work that is carried on in one place and another: The method of the Spirit's operation on the minds of the people is the same; though with some variety of circumstances, as is usual at other times: And the particular appearances with which this work is attended, that have not been so common at other times, are also much the same. These are indeed objected by many against the work: But though conversion is the same work, in the main strokes of it, wherever it is wrought; yet it seems reasonable to suppose that at an extraordinary season wherein God is pleased to carry on a work of His grace in a more observable and glorious manner, in a way which He would have to be taken notice of by the world; at such a time, I say, it seems reasonable to suppose, that there may be some particular appearances in the work of conversion, which are not common at other times--when yet there are true conversions wrought--or some circumstances attending the work may be carried to an unusual degree and height. If it were not thus, the work of the Lord would not be so much regarded and spoken of; and so God would not have so much of the glory of it. Nor would the work itself be like to spread so fast; for God has evidently made use of example and discourse in the carrying of it on.
And as to the fruits of this work (which we have been bid so often to wait for), blessed be God! so far as there has been time for observation, they appear to be abiding. I do not mean that none have lost their impressions, or that there are no instances of hypocrisy and apostasy. Scripture and experience lead us to expect these, at such a season. It is to me matter of surprise and thankfulness that as yet there have been no more. But I mean, that a great number of those who have been awakened are still seeking and striving to enter in at the straight gate. The most of those who have been thought to be converted, continue to give evidence of their being new creatures, and seem to cleave to the Lord with full purpose of heart. To be sure, a new face of things continues in this town: though many circumstances concur to render such a work not so observable here (Boston, in New England), as in smaller and distant places. Many things not becoming the profession of the Gospel are in a measure reformed. Taverns, dancing schools, and such meetings as have been called assemblies, which have always proved unfriendly to serious godliness, are much less frequented. Many have reduced their dress and apparel, so as to make them look more like the followers of the humble Jesus. And it has been both surprising and pleasant to see how some younger people, and of that sex too which is most fond of such vanities, have put off the "bravery of their ornaments," as the effect and indication of their seeking the inward glories of "the King's Daughter." Religion is now much more the subject of conversation at friends' houses, than ever I knew it. The doctrines of grace are espoused and relished. Private religious meetings are greatly multiplied. The public assemblies (especially lectures) are much better attended; and our auditors were never so attentive and serious. There is indeed an extraordinary appetite after "the sincere milk of the Word".
It is more than a twelve-month since an evening lecture was set up in this town: there are now several; two constantly on Tuesday and Friday evenings: when some of our most capacious houses are well filled with hearers, who by their looks and deportment seem to come to hear that their souls might live. An evening in God's courts is now esteemed better than many elsewhere. There is also great resort to ministers in private. Our hands continue full of work: and many times we have more than we can discourse with distinctly and separately. I have been thus large and particular, that persons at a distance, who are desirous to know the present state of religion here, into whose hands these papers will come, may receive some satisfaction.
And now, can any be at a loss to what spirit to ascribe this work? To attribute it as some do, to the Devil, is to make the old serpent, like the foolish woman, "who plucked down her house with her hands" (Prov. 14:1). Our Savior has taught us to argue otherwise in such a case as this. "Every kingdom divided against itself, shall not stand. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself: How then shall his kingdom stand?" (Matth. 12:25, 26).
That some entertain prejudices against this work, and others revile and reproach it, does not make it look less like a work of God: It would else want one mark of its being so; for the spirit of this world, and the spirit which is of God, are contrary the one to the other. I do not wonder that Satan rages, and shows his rage in some that are under his influence, when his kingdom is so shaken, and his subjects desert him by hundreds. I hope by thousands. The prejudices of some, I make no doubt, are owing to the want of opportunity to be rightly informed, and their having received misrepresentations from abroad. Others may be offended, because they have not experienced any thing like such a work in themselves; and if these things be so, they must begin again, and get another foundation laid than that on which they have built; and this is what men are hardly brought to. And others, perhaps, may dislike the present work, because it supports and confirms some principles which they have not yet embraced, and against which such prejudices hang about their minds, as they cannot easily shake off. [* * *] I hope none dislike the work, because they have not been used as instruments in it. For if we love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, we shall rejoice to see him increase, though we should decrease. If any are resolutely set to disbelieve this work, to reproach and oppose it, they must be left to the free sovereign power and mercy of God to enlighten and rescue them. These, if they have had opportunity to be rightly informed, I am ready to think, would have been disbelievers, and opposers of the miracles and mission of our Savior, had they lived in His days. The malignity which some of them have discovered, to me approaches near to the unpardonable sin; and they had need beware, lest they indeed sin the sin which is unto death: For as I believe it can be committed in these days, as well as in the days of the Apostles, so I think persons are now in more danger of committing it than at other times. At least, let them come under the awe of that word, Psal. 28:5. "Because they regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and not build them up."
But if any are disposed to receive conviction, have a mind open to light, and are really willing to know of the present work whether it be of God, it is with great satisfaction and pleasure I can recommend to them the following sheets; in which they will find the "distinguishing marks" of such a work, as they are to be found in the Holy Scriptures, applied to the uncommon operation that has been on the minds of many in this land. Here the matter is tried by the infallible touchstone of the Holy Scriptures, and is weighed in the balance of the Sanctuary, with great judgment and impartiality.
A performance of this kind is seasonable and necessary; and I desire heartily to bless God, who inclined this His servant to undertake it, and has graciously assisted him in it. The reverend author [Jonathan Edwards] is known to be "a scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven"; the place where he has been called to exercise his ministry has been famous for experimental religion; and he has had opportunities to observe this work in many places where it has powerfully appeared, and to converse with numbers that have been the subjects of it. These things qualify him for this undertaking above most. His arguments in favor of the work, are strongly drawn from Scripture, reason, and experience: And I shall believe every candid, judicious reader will say, he writes very free from an enthusiastic or a party spirit. The use of human learning is asserted; a methodical way of preaching, the fruit of study as well as prayer, is recommended; and the exercise of charity in judging others pressed and urged: And those things which are esteemed the blemishes, and are like to be the hindrances of the work, are with great faithfulness cautioned and warned against. Many, I believe, will be thankful for this publication. Those who have already entertained favorable thoughts of this work, will be confirmed by it; and the doubting may be convinced and satisfied. But if there are any who cannot after all see the signatures of a divine hand on the work, it is to be hoped they will be prevailed on to spare their censures, and stop their oppositions, lest "haply they should be found even to fight against God."
I had yet several things to say, which I see I must suppress, or I shall go much beyond the limits of a preface: And I fear I need to ask pardon both of the reader and the publishers for the length I have run already. Only I cannot help expressing my wish, that those who have been conversant in this work, in one place and another, would transmit accounts of it to such a hand as the reverend author of this discourse, to be compiled into a narrative, like that of the conversions at Northampton, which was published a few years ago: that so the world may know this surprising dispensation, in the beginning, progress, and various circumstances of it. This, I apprehend, would be for the honor of the Holy Spirit, whose work and office has been treated so reproachfully in the Christian world. It would be an open attestation to the divinity of a despised Gospel: And it might have a happy effect on other places, where the sound of this marvelous work would by this means be heard. I cannot but think it would be one of the most useful pieces of church history the people of God are blessed with. Perhaps it would come the nearest to the Acts of the Apostles of any thing extant; and all the histories in the world do not come up to that: There we have something as surprising as in the book of Genesis: And a new creation, of another kind, seems to open to our view. But I must forbear.
I will only add my prayer, that the worthy author of this discourse, may long be continued a burning and shining light in the golden candlestick where Christ has placed him, and from thence diffuse his light through these provinces! That the Divine Spirit, whose cause is here espoused, would accompany this and the other valuable publications of his servant, with his powerful influences; that they may promote the Redeemer's interest, serve the ends of vital religion, and so add to the author's present joy, and future crown!
Boston, Nov. 20, 1741.
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