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FROM "AN ESSAY FOR THE RECORDING OF ILLUSTRIOUS PROVIDENCES," BY INCREASE MATHER, 1684
INCREASE MATHER (1639—1723), divine, historian, college president, colonial statesman and diplomat, is a familiar figure to the student of American history. Born the youngest son of a religious leader known in Old England as well as New, and graduated from Harvard in 1656, while Puritanism was still dominant in the mother land, he had choice of two worlds for his career, and at first elected for the old, where two of his brothers were already prospering. First a student for his master's degree at Dublin, then a preacher in England and in the Channel Islands, he would gladly have remained beyond sea, but for the religious restrictions of the Restoration, which drove him home in 1661—though not until he had come into a permanent closeness of touch with British thought and feeling. In Boston he speedily became the minister of the new North Church, and he retained this pastorate throughout his life, though from 1685 to 1701 he added to its duties those of the presidency of Harvard.
But not his diligence as a student nor his devotion to his influential pulpit could blind him to the larger affairs of New England and of the Christian world. It was he who in 1679 stirred up his colleagues and the General Court to the convening of a synod of the clergy, which should consider what evils had "provoked the Lord to bring His Judgments on New-England" and what was to be done "that so these Evils may be Reformed"; and it was he who put into form the result of their deliberations. Some of the "judgments"—King Philip's war, the small-pox, the two great fires—he felt to call for lay activity as well as clerical; but the others complained of, the decay of piety and the departure from the fathers' ways, were ills for pastoral healing, and in 1681, the year that followed the final session of that "reforming synod," another general meeting of the ministers took, at his instance, that action for "the recording of illustrious providences" which is recounted in the following pages.
Such a method of arousing men to religion was nothing new in Christian history. So, a thousand years before, Pope Gregory, culling (precisely as did now the New England leader) the experiences of his fellow clerics, had compiled those Dialogues whose tales of vision and apparition served for centuries to make the invisible world as real as that of sight and touch; and from his day onward such "providences" had been to clerical historians the tissue of their story. In the later Middle Ages there multiplied collections of these exempla. Nor did the Reformation interrupt their use. Luther's own sermons and table talk were for Protestants a mine of "modern instances"; and out of such materials a Hondorff, a Lonicer, a Philip Camerarius, compiled their treasuries for the Lutheran pulpit, while their Zwinglian and Calvinistic neighbors were yet better equipped by the industry of Theodor Zwinger and Simon Goulart. Puritan England had found such purveyors in Beard and Taylor and Samuel Clarke. But it was of the nature of these attempts to keep abreast of the warnings of Heaven that they speedily went out of date. Only an enterprise like that devised by Matthew Poole for their continual registry could meet the needs of callous and forgetful man.
But the suggestion of Poole was twenty years old, and even the draft found in John Davenport's papers must for some years have been in Mather's hands: what new impulse stirred him now to action? It is not hard to guess. The group of Platonists who at Cambridge, the mother of New England Puritanism, had now inherited the spokesmanship of positive religion, laid the emphasis of their teaching on what they called "the spiritual world"; and since the Restoration they had found a notable ally. Joseph Glanvill, a young Oxford theologian, one of the keenest of English philosophic minds, and withal one of the most rational, had taken a brief for the defence, and in a brilliant essay on "the vanity of dogmatizing" had in 1661 turned the guns of the rationalists upon themselves. It was not the dogmatizing of theology, but that of the audacious rising science of things natural and human, whose premises he attacked and seemed to sweep away; and great was the applause of all committed to the "eternal verities." But he speedily discerned that the strength of his skeptical adversaries lay in their denial and ridicule of what they counted the "old wives' tales" of religion. "Atheism is begun in Sadducism. And those that dare not bluntly say, There is no God, content themselves (for a fair step, and Introduction) to deny there are Spirits, or Witches." Wherefore, with astounding boldness, he came in 1666 to the defence of ghosts and witches in an essay, oft reprinted, whose most telling title was A Blow at Modern Sadducism. He had now adopted to the full the tenets of the Cambridge Platonists, whose leader, Henry More, became his correspondent, almost his colleague, and like them he championed all old tales; but his keen sight discerned that "things remote, or long past, are either not believed, or forgotten," whereas "Modern Relations," "being fresh, and near, and attended with all the circumstances of credibility, it may be expected they should have more success upon the obstinacy of Unbelievers." To his essay he therefore now appended, and swelled with each successive edition, a "collection of modern relations," which should demonstrate from present experience "the real existence of apparitions, spirits and witches." This was indeed to carry the war into Africa, and the Africans rallied to their guns. John Wagstaffe in 1669 and 1671, the anonymous author of The Doctrine of Devils in 1676, John Webster in 1677, came to the defence of challenged incredulity. Glanvill died in 1680, leaving unfinished that enlarged edition which should be his reply; but in 1681 it was published by his friend Henry More (with additions of his own, including a mass of new "relations") under the aggressive title of Sadducismus Triumphatus.
It was for a share in this battle royal, to which his book makes many allusions, that Increase Mather now marshalled the hosts of New England orthodoxy. Their broadside, delivered in 1684, was this Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences Almost at the same time (1685) George Sinclar, professor at Glasgow, brought out in Scotland the "choice collection of modern relations" which he called Satan's Invisible World Discovered. How English Puritanism echoed we shall see betimes.
Mather's book was forthwith welcome. It went through two or three impressions in 1684—at least the title-page was thus often reprinted—and a part of the copies went to the London market, equipped with the imprint of an English bookseller. The book is best known, not by the long title of its title-page, but by its running caption of "Remarkable Providences—already his son quotes it by this name—and it was under this title, Remarkable Providences illustratiuve of the Earlier Days of American Colonisation, that a convenient little reprint, "with introductory preface by George Offor," was published at London in 1856 (as a volume in John Russell Smith's "Library of Old Authors"), and again in 1890.
AN ESSAY FOR THE RECORDING OF ILLUSTRIOUS PROVIDENCES
An Essay For the Recording of Illustrious Providences, Wherein an Account is given of many Remarkable and very Memorable Events, which have happened in this last Age; Especially in New-England.
By Increase Mather, Teacher of a Church at Boston in New-England. Psal. 107. 5. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the Children of Men. Psal. 145. 4. One Generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.
Boston in New-England, Printed by Samuel Green for Joseph Browning, And are to be sold at his Shop at the corner of the Prison Lane. 1684.
ABOUT six and twenty years ago, a Design for the Recording of illustrious Providences was under serious consideration among some eminent Ministers in England and in Ireland. That motion was principally set on foot by the Learned Mr. Matthew Pool, whose Synopsis Criticorum, and other Books by him emitted, have made him famous in the World. But before any thing was brought to effect, the Persons to have been imployed, had their thoughts diverted another way. Nevertheless, there was a MSS. (the Composer whereof is to me unknown) then written, wherein the Subjects proper for this Record, and some Rules for the better managing a design of this nature, are described. In that MSS. I find notable Stories related and attested, which elsewhere I never met with. Particularly, the Story of Mr. Earl of Colchester, and another mentioned in our subsequent Essay. And besides those, there are some very memorable Passages written, which have not as yet been published, so far as I understand. There are in that MSS. several Remarkables about Apparitions, e. g. It is there said, that Dr. Frith, (who was one of the Prebends belonging to Windsor) lying on his Bed, the Chamber Doors were thrown open, and a Corps with attending Torches brought to his Bed-side upon a Bier; The Corps representing one of his own Family: After some pause, there was such another shew, till he, the said Dr., his Wife and all his Family were brought in on the Bier in such order as they all soon after died. The Dr. was not then sick, but quickly grew Melancholly, and would rising at Midnight repair to the Graves and monuments at Eaton Colledge; saying, that he and his must shortly take up their habitation among the Dead. The Relater of this Story (a Person of great integrity) had it from Dr. Frith's Son, who also added, My Fathers Vision is already Executed upon all the Family but my self, my time is next, and near at hand.
In the mentioned MSS. there is also a marvelous Relation concerning a young Scholar in France: For, it is there affirmed, that this prophane Student, having by extravagant courses outrun his means, in his discontent walking solitarily, a Man came to him, and enquired the cause of his sadness. Which he owning to be want of Money, had presently a supply given him by the other. That being quickly consumed upon his Lusts, as soon as his Money was gone his Discontent returned; and in his former Walk, he met with his former Reliever, who again offered to supply him; but askt him to contract with him to be his, and to sign the contract with his Blood. The woful wretch consented: but not long after, considering that this contract was made with the Devil, the terrors of his Conscience became insupportable; so as that he endeavoured to kill himself to get out of them. Some Ministers, and other Christians, being informed how matters were circumstanced, kept dayes of Prayer for him and with him: and he was carefully watched that so he might be kept from Self-Murder. Still he continued under Terror, and said he should do so, as long as the Covenant which he had signed, remained in the hands of the Devil. Hereupon, the Ministers resolve to keep a day of Fasting and Prayer in that very place of the Field where the distressed creature had made the woful Bargain, setting him in the midst of them. Thus they did, and being with special actings of Faith much enlarged to pray earnestly to the Lord to make known his power over Satan, in constraining him to give up that contract, after some hours continuance in Prayer, a Cloud was seen to spread it self over them, and out of it the very contract signed with the poor creatures Blood was dropped down amongst them; which being taken up and viewed, the party concerned took it, and tore it in pieces. The Relator had this from the mouth of Mr. Beaumond, a Minister of Note at Caon in Normandy, who assured him that he had it from one of the Ministers that did assist in carrying on the Day of prayer when this memorable providence hapned. Nor is the Relation impossible to be true, for Luther speaks of a providence not unlike unto this which hapned in his Congregation.
This MSS. doth also mention some most Remarkable Judgments of God upon Sinners, as worthy to be Recorded for Posterity to take notice of. It is there said, that when Mr. Richard Juxon was a Fellow of Kings Colledge in Cambridge, he led a most vicious life: and whereas such of the Students as were serious in matters of Religion, did endeavour by solemn Fasting and Prayer to prepare themselves for the Communion which was then (this was about the year 1636) on Easter-Day, This Juxon spent all the time of preparation in Drunken wild Meetings, and was up late and Drunk on the Saturday night. Nevertheless, on the Lords day, he came with others to the Communion, and sat next to the Relator, who knowing his Disorder the night before, was much troubled: but had no remedy; Church-Discipline not being then so practised as ought to have been. The Communion being ended, such of the Scholars as had the fear of God in their hearts, repaired to their Closets. But this Juxon went immediately to a Drunken-meeting, and there to a Cockfight, where he fell to his accustomed madness, and pouring out a volley of Oaths and Curses; while these were between his Lips, God smote him dead in the twinkle of an eye. And though Juxon were but young, and of a comely person, his Carcase was immediately so corrupted as that the stench of it was insufferable, insomuch that no house would receive it; and his Friends were forced to hire some base Fellows to watch the Carcase till night; and then with Pitch and such like Gums covered him in a Coffin, and so made a shift to endure his Interment. There stood by a Scholar, whose name was George Hall, and who acted his part with Juxon in his prophaneness: but he was so astonished with this amazing Providence of God, as that he fell down upon his knees, begging pardoning mercy from Heaven, and vowing a Reformation; which vow the Lord enabled him to keep, so as that afterwards he became an able and famous Minister of the Gospel.
One strange passage more I shall here relate out of the MSS. which we have thus far made mention of. Therein I find part of a Letter transcribed; which is as followeth:
Lismore, Octob. 2. 1658. In another part of this Countrey, a poor man being suspected to have stollen a Sheep was questioned for it; he forswore the thing, and wished that if he had stollen it, God would cause the Horns of the Sheep to grow upon him. This man was seen within these few dayes by a Minister of great repute for Piety, who saith, that the Man has an Horn growing out of one corner of his Mouth, just like that of a sheep: from which be hath cut seventeen Inches, and is forced to keep it tyed by a string to his Ear, to prevent its growing up to his eye: This Minister not only saw but felt this Horn, and reported it in this Family this week, as also a Gentleman formerly did, who was himself an eye-witness thereof. Surely such passages are a Demonstrative evidence that there is a God, who judgeth in the Earth, and who though he stay long, will not be mocked alwayes.
I shall say no more concerning the MSS. only that it was sent over to Reverend Mr. Davenport, by (as I suppose) Mr. Hartlib. How it came to lie dormient in his hands I know not: though I had the happiness of special Intimacy with that worthy Man, I do not remember that ever I heard him speak any thing of it. But since his Death, looking over his MSS's I met with this, and communicated it to other Ministers, who highly approved of the noble design aimed at therein. Soon after which, some Proposals in order to the reviving of this work were drawn up, and presented at a general Meeting of the Ministers in this Colony, May 12, 1681, which .it may not be unsuitable here to recite.
Some Proposals concerning the Recording of Illustrious Providence.
I. In Order to the promoving of a design of this Nature, so as shall be indeed for Gods Glory, and the good of Posterity, it is necessary that utmost care shall be taken that All, and Only Remarkable Providences be Recorded and Published.
II. Such Divine Judgements, Tempests, Floods, Earth-quakes, Thunders as are unusual, strange Apparitions, or what ever else shall happen that is Prodigious, Witchcrafts, Diabolical Possessions, Remarkable Judgements upon noted Sinners, eminent Deliverances, and Answers of Prayer, are to be reckoned among Illustrious Providences.
III. Inasmuch as we find in Scripture, as well as in Ecclesiastical History, that the Ministers of God have been improved in the Recording and Declaring the works of the Lord; and since they are in divers respects under peculiar Advantages thereunto: It is proposed, that each one in that capacity may diligently enquire into, and Record such Illustrious Providences as have hapned, or from time to time shall happen, in the places whereunto they do belong: and that the Witnesses of such notable Occurrents be likewise set down in Writing.
Excerpted from Narratives of the New England Witchcraft Cases by George Lincoln Burr. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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