And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee. – MOSES.
Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Paul.
I WAS born in Grafton, about 40 miles west of Boston, in the year of our Lord 1754, on the 14th of May.
The earliest public events which I can remember, are the death of George the Second, and the coronation of George the Third, together with some melancholy accounts of the French and Indian war. But a number of juvenile incidents are fresh in memory, which took place when I was two, three, and four years old; some of which I will here relate.
When my father was a young man, he was convinced, (as he has told me,) by reading the Bible, that believers were the only proper subjects of baptism, and immersion the only gospel mode; but when he broke his mind to his mother, she gave him an alarming warning against heresy; and as there was no preachers thereabout but pedobaptists, he sunk from his conviction, and concluded that his mother and the ministers were right. Accordingly, after he was married, and had a son born unto him, he presented his child for baptism: but after the rite was performed, his mind was solemnly arrested with the text, “Who hath required this at your hands?” that it was with difficulty he held his son from falling out of his arms; nor did he get over the shock until he had six more children born. He then got his scruples so far removed, that he invited the minister of the town to come to his house on a certain Sunday, after public service was over, and baptize all of them. At this time I was something more than three years old. When I found out what the object of the meeting was, I was greatly terrified, and betook myself to flight. As I was running fast down a little hill, I fell upon my nose, which made the blood flow freely. My flight was in vain; I was pursued, overtaken, picked up and had the blood scrubbed off my face, and so was prepared for the baptismal water.
All the merit of this transaction, I must give to the maid who caught me, my father and the minister; for I was not a voluntary candidate, but a reluctant subject, forced against my will.
In early life I had a thirst for learning. At five years old, by the instruction of a school dame, I could read the Bible currently, and afterwards, in the branches of learning, taught in common schools, I made as good proficiency as common. But what proficiency soever I made in learning (owing to a stiffness of nature and rusticity of manners) I could never gain the good will of my masters, nor was I a favorite among the scholars.
The character which one of my masters gave me, seems to have been the opinion that all of them formed of me. Said he, “John has more knowledge than good manners.”
The minister of the town was importunate with my father to give me a collegiate education for the ministry. The doctor of the place was equally solicitous to make me a physician. My father designed me to live with him, to support his declining years. My own intention was to be a lawyer, if possible; but in our designs and wishes, we have all been disappointed.
As my father had no library, and I was fond of reading, the Bible was my best companion.
Deism and Universalism I never heard of, and of course was what is called a believer in revelation.
I had no thought that I myself was right, but believed that some great thing must be done for me (I did not know what) or I could not be saved.
At times I had awful horrors of conscience, when death, judgment and the world to come arrested my attention; but these horrors did not reform me from vice nor turn me to the Lord.
I was almost in all evil, full of vanity, exceedingly attached to frolicking and foolish wickedness. When I reflect on the follies of my youth, the question of Paul involuntarily rises in my heart; “What fruits had you then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” In this course I continued until I was eighteen years old.
In the summer of 1772, I met with one thing singular. When I was returning from my frolicks or evening diversions, the following words Could sound from the skies, “You are not about the work which you have got to do.” The last time I heard those sounds, I stood amazed; and turning my eyes up to the heavens, it seemed that there was a work of more weight than a mountain, which I had yet to perform.
Soon after this, I cannot tell how or why, a conviction took place in my mind, that all below the sun could not satisfy or tranquilize the mind. The world and all that was in it appeared of small consequence. And without any unusual horror of mind or dread of damnation, the charms of those youthful diversions, which had been sweeter to me than the honeycomb, lost all their sweetness, nor could I conceive how there could be any pleasure in them.
About this time, there was an evening frolic in the neighborhood, and I concluded to go to see whether there was delight in it or not; and if not, to find out the cause of its death in my mind. Accordingly I went, but found nothing to please, but everything to disgust. After I had tried the experiment, I asked a young man if he would return home with me, which he agreed to do. On our return, I introduced the subject of religion for conversation on the road The next day he reported, that he believed John would soon be a preacher, for he would talk on no subject but religion.
At this time, a young preacher (Elhanan Winchester) came into Grafton, and preached and prayed to the astonishment of the people; and a young woman, it was said, was converted. When I heard the report, it greatly effected me, for I had been at many dances with her. The result with me was, now the waters are troubled, and it is time for me to step in.
Reading the Bible and meditating on the shortness of time, and the importance of being prepared for death and judgment, occupied the chiefest of my time.
After a few weeks, in the month of September, Mr. Winchester came to Grafton again. I heard of it on Saturday evening, and concluded that I would read the Bible that evening, and attend meeting the following Sunday, and be converted like Priscilla, (for that was the name of the young woman.) When I went to meeting, I heard the man preach, and while he was preaching, something kept answering in my breast, yes, yes, yes, it is so. After he had done, I question whether all the men in the world could have convinced me that it was not the truth. After public service was over, the people retired to the water, where Priscilla was baptized. What I saw and heard at the water, greatly effected me. There I stood upon a rock, and made my vows to God to forsake all sinful courses and seek the Lord, if he would direct me how.
From this, I began to pray, but was hard put to it to find a place secret enough. I was afraid some one would hear me, and was confounded to hear my own voice. How often did the words of Jesus sound like thunder in my ears: “He that is ashamed to own me before men, I will be ashamed to own him before my Father and before his angels.”
From this time down, fifteen months, a volume might be written on the views, exercises and conflicts of my mind.
As the work of God broke out in Grafton, Northbridge and Upton, I heard much preaching and conversation about the change which is essential to salvation; on which I formed the followings conclusions:
1st. That I must be deeply convicted of sin, greatly borne down under the weight of it, and heartily repent of it. This led me to pray much for conviction, read the threatenings of God to alarm myself, and study to make sin look horrid.
2dly. That if ever I was converted, I should know it as distinctly as if a surgeon should cut open my breast with his knife, take out my heart and wash it, put it back again and close up the flesh. This caused me to think light of any pleasing views, which sometimes would break into my mind, how God could pardon sinners for the sake of the Mediator. All was nothing to me, without I could be converted in the way which I laid out, and know for certain that I was born of God.
3dly. That whenever I should be enabled to believe in Jesus, I should see him as plainly as I could see an object of sense. While waiting and hoping for these things, (some of which I have never yet seen or felt,) my mind was led to the following views and exercises:
First. To see the extent and purity of the holy law: That it was the perfect rule of eternal right, which arose from the relations that exist between God and man, and between man and man; that it will remain unalterable while the perfections of God and the faculties of men exist, and that the least deviation from this rule is sin.
Secondly. By looking into the law, as a clear glass, to see my own weakness and wickedness. Here, I found myself as incompetent to repent and believe in Jesus, as I was to keep the whole law. Never was a poor creature more perplexed with a hard, unyielding heart, and a corrupt nature, than I was. I often compared my heart to a spring of water, rising up against God and godliness.
Thirdly. To view the justice of God in my condemnation. Never did the benevolence of God appear more pleasant to me than justice did. I was not willing to be damned; but thought, if damnation must be my lot, it would be some relief to my mind that God would be just.
Fourthly. To discover the sufficiency of a Mediator. For a number of months before I had a settled hope of my interest in Christ, the plan of atonement, by the blood of the Lamb, appeared to me as plain as ever it has since. Once, I remember to have broke out thus, when walking in the road: “O what a complete Saviour is Jesus, every way suited to my needs: I can be saved no other way – I do hot wish to be saved any other way – but fear I shall never be saved in that way.”
There were a number of young people converted in the place, who assembled together for religious worship, with whom my heart was greatly united. While thinking of them, at a certain time, the words of John came into my mind: “We know we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren;” which gave me a small hope, for a few minutes, that perhaps I was born of God.
One morning, about day-break, as I was musing on my bed, upon this text, “After ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” it struck my mind that souls first believed before they were sealed; on which conclusion, the following words rushed into my mind, as if they had been spoken by some other, “Ye are already sealed unto the day of redemption.” If so, said I to myself, then surely I am converted. But as I had never passed through stages of distress equal to some others, nor equal to what I supposed an essential pre-requisite to conversion, I could not believe for myself. And yet the words continued to run in my mind, “Ye are already sealed unto the day of redemption.”
One morning, my father was reading a chapter, when the following text arrested my attention with irresistible force: “If ye will not believe, ye shall not be established.” At another time my thoughts ran thus: “If it is possible that I am a Christian, it is certain that I am the least of all.” On which the words of the Prophet came into my mind with great force: “Peace, peace to him that is near, and to him that is far off, saith the Lord, and I will heal him.”
Though very far from being satisfied with myself, yet with a very feeble hope which I began to have, on the solicitation of others, I did sometimes attempt to pray in small circles. And here I will relate a strange event, which I know to be true, but can never account for it. In the month of February, 1774, in the time of great snow, a very respectable preacher, Rev. Samuel Dennis, came into Grafton and preached one afternoon at a Mr. Wheeler’s. I attended; and notwithstanding his talents, he appeared muddy in his mind about salvation freely by grace. After he had done, the people all took their seats, and strange to tell, that I, naturally bashful, with hardly any hope that I was converted, should rise and state my objections against the discourse, and give another interpretation to the texts which the preacher had quoted to support his doctrine: after which I retired into another room; but very soon a messenger came and told me I must return and dispute the point with Mr. Dennis. I returned, but who can describe what I felt? I said thus to myself: “I am not converted myself, and it must be the Devil that has instigated me to harrass the people of God.” Mr. Dennis addressed me like a gentleman and Christian. Said he, “Mr. Leland, you have lodged your objections against my doctrine; I wish to discourse with you on the subject, for the cause is not mine but God’s.” Upon which the battle began between a venerable preacher, clothed in black, with a large white wig on his head, and a beardless boy, not twenty years old, coarsely clad, and wearing a leather apron. The people all stuck to see and hear. After about three-quarters of an hour, there was a cessation of arms. At any rate, as I was the querist, and he the defendant, such questions were flung in his way that he could not well solve; and concluded by saying, “The Lord have mercy on us, for we are poor ignorant creatures.” On this, there sprang up immediately in my heart a strong desire to pray. Indeed, I felt as if I must pray or burst; but the preacher, the whole congregation, and my father among the rest, were all present, and I had never attempted the like before. At this crisis, one of the young converts came to me, and said, “John, won’t you pray?” I durst not refuse, lest I should quench the Spirit. I proposed it, and the congregation united by rising. I had not spoken many words, before the preacher, my father, and all others were out of the way. I felt strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Prayer being closed, I felt impelled to give the people a word of exhortation, which was the first address of the kind that ever I made. After this a psalm was sung; when the line came forward, “We tremble and rejoice,” I felt confident in myself that I did tremble before the greatness, and rejoice in the goodness of God; and spake within myself thus: “I am converted, and will not believe Satan any more when he tells me otherwise.” This frame of mind continued a few minutes, and then the vision closed, and I returned home full of heaviness, reproaching myself for my forwardness and presumption. The next day, I went around and told some who heard me the day before, that they need not mind any thing that I had said, for I was a poor unconverted sinner.
My desire was to be searched and not deceived. I spent nearly a whole day, as I was going a little journey, praying in David’s words, “Search me, O God, and try me, and know if there be any evil in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The night following, I dreamed that I must read Psalm xxxii. 8, which I did as soon as I awoke. The words are, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go. I will guide thee with mine eye.”
My heart was greatly attached to the Holy Scripture. I have not yet forgot the burning desire – the soul-longings that I had to know what was the mind of God, contained in his word. I would read – then pray – then read and pray again, &c. that I might know the truth as it is in Jesus.
One evening, as I was walking the road alone, I was greatly cast down, and expressed myself thus: “I am not a Christian; I have never been convicted and converted like others, who are true saints. The Devil shall deceive me with false hopes no longer. I will never pretend to religion, until I know that I am born of God!” These words I spoke aloud, but immediately the words of Peter rushed into my mind, with great energy, “I know not the man.” These words dashed my conclusion and resolution to atoms in a moment. It was a shock to the centre of my heart. From that day to this minute, which is a term of forty-six years, amidst all the doubts, darkness, troubles and temptations that I have had, I have never said that I knew not Christ, or that I was unconverted.
Soon after this, I received great comfort from Proverbs xxx. 5. Every word of God, both precept and promise, seemed pure. I felt my soul yield up to Christ and trust in him, and believed he would be my shield and defence.
A young man, about my age, in the neighborhood, professed to be converted. The word was short with him, and he came out strong and bold. He and myself set up evening meetings, to sing, pray, and speak according to our proportion of faith, as the Spirit gave us utterance. A number of men opened their houses, and many came in to hear the boys. It was common for each of us in turn to preach two or three of our sort of sermons at each meeting. When I was going to these meetings, I often had such fears that I was not converted, but only deceived – that I had learned these things of men and not of Christ; and viewing the greatness of the work of manifesting truth to the consciences of men in the sight of God; all to gather would nearly take away my strength, so that I could not walk. At such times, I would resolve to appoint no more meetings. But when I got to the meeting, the gloom and horror of my mind would subside, which emboldened me to appoint another; but when I had left the meeting and was returning home, the same load would fall upon me. In this course I continued from February to June.
The work of ingathering, which prevailed the year before, seemed to be over; and I know not that any new cases of conversion took place at these little meetings.
Within the time that I have been treating of, I visited one of the young converts, who told me his dream. Said he, “I dreamed I was down by the burying-ground in Grafton, and saw a large company of people coming from the north-east, and you were in the midst of them, riding in a horse-cart. The procession came to the place where a gallows was erected. The hangman drove his cart under the gallows, and fastened the halter which was around your neck to the transverse of the gallows. You then arose, and, with hands and eyes towards heaven, said, ‘Lord Jesus, for thy cause I am brought to this end.’ The hangman then led off the horse and cart – you swung, and I awoke. Soon I slept and dreamed again, that I was in Worcester, where was a vast concourse of people, and Captain G. among the rest: said the Captain to me ‘Do you know John Leland?’ I answered, ‘ yes.’ ‘Well,’ said he, ‘John is to be hanged today, for preaching heresy.’ The procession then moved into the burying-ground, in Worcester, with you in the cart, where the same tragedy was repeated that was done in Grafton.”
This dream, told to me with great solemnity, when I was so weak and fearful, made me more ready to halt than I was before.
Two things greatly perplexed me at this time. One was, that I felt more moral evil in myself, than I could see or believe there was in the young converts. When I saw them with their lamb like faces and dove. like eyes, and heard them play and praise, they appeared to me seraphical; and I had formed the conclusion, that if I should ever be converted, I should be so too; but now, (notwithstanding the little hope which I entertained for myself, and durst not deny it,) I found more corruption in me than can be described. The other was, the want of will. At times, I would I feel as if my whole soul was absorbed in the fountain of love, and devout prayer was the breath of my heart; at other times, I would feel such amazing languor and want of will, that if I might have had all the glories of heaven for asking, I could not have sincerely done it. This gave me a very poor opinion of myself. Indeed, from that time to the present, I have had a constant falling out with myself; which leads me to cry out, O, wretched man that I am!
To these two perplexities, I may add another, which was a constant worry in my mind about preaching. No sooner was my mind exercised about the salvation of my soul, than it was agitated about preaching. The number of sermons (such as they were) that I preached, when alone by myself, was very great. Both saints and sinners said, “John will be a preacher.” My mother professed that she had the same impressions about me when I was a sucking child; but my fears were, that the Devil was at the bottom of it, seeking to deceive me, and cheat me out of my soul. Text after text would crowd into my mind to urge me on; but I could not tell whether they were the voice of God or the voice of Eli – whether the Devil suggested them to me – whether they were accidental, or whether they came from the good spirit of God.
Strange to relate, one hour I would entertain a comfortable hope that my-sins were pardoned; the next hour, nearly give up all hope; fearing that all my exercises were self learned, and that I had not been taught of God; the third hour, be impelled that I must preach or perish. This conflict wore off my flesh, and made me irresolved about anything.
My faith was firm in this: that no man should undertake to preach until he was born of God: that no man born of God was, by that change, prepared to preach; that Christ called unto him whom he would, for the work of preaching, either fishermen, herdsman, or men of science; and when he called and ordained them, if they neglected the work, and conferred with flesh and blood, they would be disobedient to the heavenly vision.
The first of June, 1774, Elder Noah Alden, of Bellingham, came to Northbridge, and baptized seven others and myself. Four of them were men, and the others women. I was extremely dark in my mind; but when I gave a relation of my exercises, I had this hope, that if I was deceived, the preacher would discern it and reject me: and that if he rejected me, it would strike such conviction into my heart that would lead me on to a sure conversion. The preacher, however, only asked me if I believed in the Calvinistical doctrine? I replied, I did not know what it was, but I believed in free grace.
As he received me, dark as my mind was, I would not give back. The preacher was a short man, and, therefore, requested me to go into the water with him, to assist him in raising and leading the women, which I consented to. After it was over, the people said, “John has begun and he will keep on.” The day afterwards, on reflection of what was pant, I felt strengthened, and could say, “Thus it is written, and thus it behooved me.”
On Sunday, the 20th of June, I went to meeting at Grafton, where there was no preacher. My mind was greatly embarrassed about preaching, and my prayer was, that I might know my duty. The words of the Prophet occurred to my mind, “There is none to guide her of all the sons she has brought forth.” Having the Bible in my pocket, I drew it out, and, without design, opened to Mal. ix. chap. “—this commandment is for you. If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the Lord of Hosts, I will even send a curse upon you—.” Whatever the original design of the text was, at that time it arrested my conscience thus: Thou art the man. Attempts to evade the force of it were all in vain. I must either Jay it to heart, open my mouth and give glory to the name of God, or his curse would fall upon me. Fearing the hot displeasure of the Lord, I rose in great distress, and, having read Mal. iii. 16, 17, I told the people, if there was no objection, I would attempt to speak a little from the text. Being answered with silence, as custom led the way, I divided my text into several heads of doctrine. At the beginning, my mind was somewhat bewildered, and my words sounded very disagreeable to myself; so much so, that I partly resolved to quit; but continuing, my ideas brightened, and after a while I enjoyed such freedom of thought and utterance of words as I had never before. I spake about half an hour and then closed. One of the old Christians made a prayer, and thanked God for what he had discovered in the young man. At noontime, I was all delight; my burden of soul, which had borne me down so long and so low, was all gone, and I concluded I should never have it any more. But when the people collected for afternoon worship, my spirits sunk within me. I retired into a lot, and fell down upon my face, by a fence, full of dismay; but suddenly the words which God spake to Joshua, “Why liest thou upon thy face? – up,” gave me to understand that there was no peace for me in indolence. I therefore went to the meeting-house, and tried to preach again, but made miserable work of it. I continued, however, to try to preach, as doors opened; but I tried it more than ten times before I equalled the first, in my own feeling. A question rose in my mind, whether I should be received if I gave myself wholly to the work; which was answered by Solomon thus: “A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” From a sense of my insufficiency, I trembled at the attempt; but what was said to a king in another case, was now spoken to a feeble youth: “Be ye strong, therefore, and let not your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”
I finally surrendered, and devoted my time and talents to the work of the ministry, without any condition, evasion or mental reservation. In myself, I have seen a rustic youth – unacquainted with men, manners and books; without the smallest prospects, or even the thought of gain or applause, turn out a volunteer for Christ, to contest with all the powers of darkness. It is possible, however, that I have been deceived in the affair, (for thousands are,) but if I have been deceived, it was an error in my judgment. A hypocrite, I was not; for, at that time, nothing could have tempted me to engage in the work, until I was moved by the Holy Ghost. The greatest obstruction that I had, when undertaking the work, was this: I did not believe that I had the longing desire and holy zeal for the salvation of sinners, that some preachers had; indeed, this was my heaviest trial for the first five years of my ministry. I had, however, a love for the gospel and the gospel worship, and was pleased when I saw people turning to the Lord.
From this beginning, I preached in the towns around where I was requested.
The first preaching tour that I made, was a small one, about forty miles in length: preaching to little congregations on the way. My mind was dark when first setting out, but grew darker and darker all the way, till, at length, I concluded that I had run before I was sent, and, therefore, returned home with precipitance, resolving to attempt the work no more.
Before I went on this journey, I had appointed a meeting to attend after my return; had it not been for this circumstance, I know not what would have brought me into action. But attending that appointment, I obtained great comfort, and resolution to persevere.
At one of these little meetings, a young woman received a gracious change, and gave good evidence of it. This encouraged me, that my labor was not in vain. About thirty years afterwards I saw her. She had joined with the Presbyterians, and blamed me for being a close communicant. I asked her, if her ministers and church would let me preach in their meeting house; she said, she believed not. Why then, said I, should I be blamed for not communing with those who have no fellowship with me?
The autumn of this year, I joined Bellingham church, (for till then, I belonged to no church,) and after about six months, that church gave me a license to do that which I had been doing for a year before.
In October, 1775, I took a journey to Virginia, and was gone eight months. One person in New Jersey, one in Connecticut, and two in Virginia, professed to receive some impression, under my improvement, which turned them to the Lord.
September 30, 1776, I was married to Sally Devine, of Hopkinton; and immediately started with her to Virginia. As we made a stay of six weeks at Philadelphia, and a longer stay in Fairfax, Virginia, we did not reach Culpepper until March. At Mount Poney, in Culpepper, I joined the church, and undertook to preach among them half the Sundays. In August, I was ordained by the choice of the church, without the imposition of the hands of a Presbytery. As this was a departure from the usage of the churches in Virginia, I was not generally fellowshipped by them. I spent all my time travailing and preaching, and had large congregations. The first person that I baptized, was Betsey Tillery. I saw her in 1814. She had then supported a Christian character for thirty-eight years. In the close of the year 1777, I travailed as far south as Pee Dee river, in South Carolina, and returned to Culpepper early in 1778. Soon after this, I removed into Orange county, where I acquired me a residence, and where I continued all the time of my stay in Virginia. My stay in Culpepper was not a blessing to the people. I was too young and roving to be looked up to as a pastor. Difficulties arose, the church split, and I just obtained a dismission and recommendation. God had another man for Mount Poney church. William Mason became their pastor, and he has done wonders in the name of Jesus. Having moved to Orange, I commenced my labors with ardor. Twelve and fourteen times a week I frequently preached. But, notwithstanding the constancy of my preaching, and the multitudes that attended, there was but small appearance of the work of God’s spirit. I said before, I knew my heart did not burn with the holy fire as it ought to.
In the spring of 1779, I appointed a string of meetings, about one hundred and twenty miles, as far down as York county. As I had sold my horse to pay for my house and lot, I concluded to go on foot: accordingly I started; but, as I had a pair of new shoes that pinched my feet, I found I must either desist – go barefoot, like the old Apostles, or purchase a horse. I chose the last, and promised the Lord if he would aid me to pay for the horse, I would spend it in his service. I gave my note for the beast, and pursued my journey. It so happened, in the event, that when I returned home, I had more than money enough to pay for my mare; and many thousands of miles she carried me about to preach. But though she was good, she was not invulnerable; for, on the 8th of June, as I was re. turning from Bedford county, I called at a friend’s house, and found, bar the badness of the saddle, her back was so swelled that I could not ride her. A man, twenty miles distant, had fallen from a fence and broken his neck, and this day I had appointed to preach his funeral sermon commemorative. My friend could not help me, and, therefore, I arose at day-break and travelled twenty miles, preached to the people, and then re. turned on foot to my friend’s, where my beast was.
In September, this year, I was likewise returning from Bedford, and had an evening meeting at a place called the North Garden. After preaching was over, a Mrs. Baily informed me that she had a desire to be baptized, but her husband had told her, if she was ever baptized he would whip her within an inch of her life, and kill the man that should baptize her. That he had once seen me, and liked me so well, that he said if Leland should come that way he might baptize her; and now she wished to embrace the opportunity. I asked her if she was willing to suffer, on supposition her husband should revolt to his first resolution. “Yes,” said she, “if I am whipped, my Saviour had long furrows ploughed upon his back.” “Well,” said I, “if you will venture your back, I will venture my head.” Accordingly, the candles were lighted – we went to the water, and she was baptized. My engagements called me to start very early next morning. I heard afterwards that he whipped her, but the head of John the Baptist is not taken off yet.
I now come to a period, which was very interesting to me, and, possibly, on account of the incidents of this period, may be profitable to others.
In the month of October, my mind was graciously impressed with eternal realities. Souls appeared very precious to me, and my heart was drawn out in prayer for their salvation. Now, for the first time, I knew what it was to travail in birth for the conversion of sinners. The words of Rachel to Jacob were the words of my heart to God: “Give me children or else I die.” One night, as I lay on my bed weeping and praying, I thought if it was spring instead of autumn, I would spend all my time at the feet of Jesus in prayer, and at the feet of sinners, praying them to be reconciled to God; but winter was coming on, the summer was ended, and the opportunity past. On which reflection, the following words burst into my mind with surprising effect: “The shepherds rejoiced on a winter’s day.” These words awakened all the latent energies of my soul. I resolved to double my vigor, and had faith to believe that I should see souls return to the Lord, and that I should rejoice at it that winter. For eight months after this, I had the spirit of prayer to a degree beyond what I ever had it in my life; and, if I mistake not, my preaching savored a little of the same spirit. My field of preaching was from Orange down to York, about one hundred and twenty miles. From November, 1779, to July, 1780, I baptized one hundred and thirty, the chiefest of whom professed to be the seals of my ministry. As this was the first time that ever such a work attended my ministry, it was refreshing indeed; nor can I think of it now, without soft emotions of heart. The chiefest of my success was in York, where Lord Cornwallis and the British army were made prisoners, in October, 1781. Matthew Wood, Robert Stacy and Thomas Cheesman, (all preachers afterwards,) were the children of this revival.
In the first of my preaching in York, I had a meeting in the edge of Warwick. Just as I had read my text, Col. Harwood, with six others, entered the house. “Sir,” said the Colonel, “I am come to stop you from preaching here to-day.” Without any time to think, I gave a heavy stamp on the floor, and told him in the name of God to forbear. He replied, “I did not come to fight, but to stop you from preaching.” A Mr. Cole Diggs, son of a counsellor, was there, and said, “Col. Harwood, you are a representative in the General Assembly, and the Assembly has just made a law to secure the religious rights of all, and now you come to prevent them. What does that look like?” Said the Colonel, “Mr. Diggs, I only came to prevent an unlawful conventicle, for this meeting draws away the people from the church!” Mrs. Russell, the mistress of the house, replied, “Hah! Colonel, I think it is a pity that people cannot do as they please, in their own house.” “Madam,” said the Colonel, “I did not come to dispute with ladies.” And here the fracas ended. The Colonel and Co. went off, and the meeting was continued. When he returned home, his mother said unto him, “Well, Neddy, what did the man say unto you?” “What?” said the Colonel, “He stamped at me, and made no more of me than if I had been a dog. I shall trouble them no more.” Some of his servants I baptized afterwards.
Captain Robert Howard, of York, had a beautiful and pious wife whom he adored. She wished to be baptized, but as he was a vestryman in the church, he opposed it. At a time, however, she came forward and was baptized. When he heard of it, he called for his carriage, and took his cow-skin, and said he would lash me out of the county. His sister replied, “Brother Bobby, Mr. Leland is a large man, and will be too much for you.” “I know it,” said the Captain, “but he will not fight.” His wife made answer, “Perhaps he may – he goes well armed; and if he should wound you in the heart, you would fall before him.” “Ah!” said the Captain, “I know nothing about this heart work.” “I wish you may, my dear,” said his wife. He finally declined the contest, and afterwards became serious, penitent, believing, and was baptized. After his reform, as he was riding in company with me to meeting, one of his uncles met him in the road, and accosted him thus: “Nephew Bobby, I pity you in my Heart, to see you following that deluded people, and wasting your time so much, that you will raise no corn this year.” “My uncle,” said the Captain, “I wish you had pitied me as much two years ago, when you cheated me out of my mill.”
About the same time, a gentlewoman, in James City, was convinced that it was her duty to be baptized, but neglected it until she could evade it no longer. She came to my quarters on Saturday, and made known her desire; accordingly the neighbors were collected, and she was baptized: when she returned and told her husband of it, he would not sleep with her that night, nor eat breakfast with her in the morning. She came to meeting on Sunday and informed me of what had taken place, and asked my advice in the affair. I knew the lady to be an excellent cook, and her husband was fond of good dinners. My answer was, “My sister, give yourself no uneasiness; his appetite will bring him to his reason by dinner time;” which accordingly came to pass.
At the close of the eight months, which I am now treating of, as I was taking leave of the young disciples in York, to return home to Orange, and was preaching to them, from “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” I was taken with a pain in my head, and an ague, followed by a bilious fever, and preached not again for eighteen weeks. Reports reach. ed my home that I was dead, and a kind of funeral sermon was preached on the occasion. Notwithstanding this, I was carried home in a carriage, after six weeks sickness, but did not preach until twelve weeks more had elapsed. In this sickness, my mind was greatly depressed. The spirit of prayer left me. My hope for heaven was shaken to the centre. The truth of what I had been preaching was doubted. The fear that I had been governed by an ambitious spirit, like Jehu, was great. In short, I was a poor, forlorn, sick worm of the dust.
One thing, however, stuck by me, because I felt it, viz: “That a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness, was absolutely necessary to constitute a man either safe or happy.” When my sickness abated, my spirit was so peevish that I was out of all esteem of myself.
When my health was so far recovered that I could preach, I resumed the work again, but ah! my hair was shaven, my strength was gone. Through the mercy of God, however, I was holpen with a little help; add after I was tried I saw brighter days.
From this time to the year 1785, by the siege of Lord Cornwallis, the refunding of paper money, and removals to Kentucky, religion ran low in Virginia. A few events that took place in those four years, connected with the narative which I Am here giving, I shall nevertheless notice.
One day, I went from home about eight miles. On my return, there arose a heavy thunder storm. Being in summer dress, I stopped under the large branches of a lofty oak, to shelter me from the rain. The rain, however, continuing, I started for home. I had gone but a little distance before the lightning struck. The next time I passed the road, I found the lightning had struck the oak, and split off one of the huge limbs, which had fallen on the very spot where I had stood about three minutes before.
In the bend of Pamunky river, a little below New Castle, there is an Indian town. By the circle of the river, and a cross creek, a gate, with two lengths of fence, enclose it around. There was at that time about seventy-five proprietors. The name of their king was John Tohon. His royal majesty gave me an invitation to visit the town, and preach among them. Accordingly I went, and preached at the royal pavilion. After preaching, I baptized two persons. and then heard the king preach; for, like Melchizedeck, he was priest as well as king. His majesty did not seem to be possessed with much regal power, and by the text which he preached from, one would think that he did not seek after hierarchal authority. His text was, “Be ye not called Rabbi, for one is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” I ate a good dinner with the king, slept in his apartment the following night, and left the town in the morning. Soon after this he died.
Funeral sermons in Virginia are seldom preached at the time of the interment, but sometime afterwards. I was invited to preach a sermon, on the death of a small child, long after it was dead. This was in the county of Louisa, about eighteen miles from home. The text was Isaiah lvii. 2. At this meeting, three persons were first awakened, who became and lived shining Christians. This was the first fruits of my labor in Louisa, where, afterwards, the Lord gave me a rich harvest.
An inn-holder in Pagestown strongly importuned me to preach at his house. When I went there, he did not open his own doors for worship, but provided another place. There was some appearance that he wished the people to collect, more to purchase his drink and dinner, than to have their souls converted. After some time, he pressed me again to come and preach; when I went, he would not open his house, nor could he get any other; we, therefore, repaired to a tobacco house for worship. In this instance, I felt as if my master was mocked; and if I had felt gracious enough, I should have shaken off the dust of my feet against him; but as I was a poor imperfect creature myself, I peaceably pursued my course, after the meeting was over. Some weeks afterwards, as I was travelling the road a little distance from the place, I saw the landlord’s chimney standing, but the house was consumed by fire. When I saw it, my heart burst out in sacred language, “Righteous art thou, Lord God Almighty, because thou hast judged thus.”
In the year 1784, I travelled northward as far as Philadelphia, where I tarried six weeks. As I went in company with Mr. Winchester, the Baptists in Philadelphia were so fearful that I was a Universalist, that I was not invited by them to preach in their meeting-house. I therefore preached Sundays and almost every night in the Hall of the University, and in private houses. But when I saw the many thousands of people in the city, and those who attended at the Hall did not exceed 200, I was resolved to try the street. Accordingly, I appointed a meeting to preach one afternoon at five o’clock, at the sign of the Blue Bell. When I went, but few appeared. I stepped upon a stick of ship timber and began by singing: on which the people came running from every lane, and continued to increase until preaching was over, when I judged there was about three hundred people. I then appointed to preach there again, when there were about twice as many. During my stay in the city, I baptized four persons in Schuylkill river, and returned home to Virginia by water. Six years afterwards I was in Philadelphia, and having preached one evening in the Baptist meeting-house, a man took me by the hand and invited me to take lodgings with him that night, which I accepted of. As we were walking to his house, he gave the following account of himself: “Sir, formerly I attended meeting nowhere, but when you was here six years ago, as I was at work in my shop, I heard the voice of singing as if it came down from heaven. I left my shop and ran out to see what was coming, and beheld you, sir, upon a stick of ship timber at prayer. After prayer, I attended to your preaching, which sunk so deeply into my heart, that I have never lost it; and am now a member in the Baptist church.”
Late in the year 1784, I travelled to the south east about one hundred and fifty miles, near the Dismal Swamp, and returned in six weeks.
In the spring of 1785, I went to the same district, and ranged and preached much more than I did in my first visit.
I now come to a period when religious appearance began to assume a more pleasing face than it had done for many years. In Powhattan county the work first broke out, and many became the subjects of victorious grace. Some old professors, on the other side of James River, about Chickahominy, went to see what was going on, who caught the spirit, and returning home, were instrumental of a similar work in their neighborhood, and round about in Goochland.
The last of this year I took a preaching tour into the lower part of North Carolina. Preached eighteen times in that state, in a circular course, then came into Virginia and steered home.
There was a place for preaching on the line between Louisa and Goochland, called Hodger’s Seats, where I sometimes preached. In the spring of 1786, I appointed a long and circular string of meetings And as I had a strong impression that God would work at that place, I reserved five days in my tour to spend among that people. After the Association at Boar Swamp was over, I travelled through Goochland, where many people seemed to be on the alert for heaven, and came to Mr. Hodger’s, where a large number of people were waiting for me. I introduced worship by repeating a hymn,
“O that my load of sin were gone,” &c.
All of a sudden, it seemed as if something fell from heaven upon the people. I could not speak for weeping, for some time. I am but a poor preacher, at best, and the sermon which I then preached was hardly middling, but the effect on the people was amazing. Some were crying out, some on their knees, and others prostrate on the floor. In the course of a few weeks about forty were baptized; and I believe that a majority of them dated their first awakenings at the meeting at Mr. Hodger’s.
In August, the same year, I attended a meeting of the General Committee, at Buckingham; after which I travelled southward to Pittsylvania, to visit that great man of God, Rev. Samuel Harris; and on my return, preached on a Sunday in Prince Edward. In the midst of the meeting, a Mr. Owen Smith was brought out, and by his shouting, and praising, and exhorting, he set the whole assembly in motion. I have never seen him since, but have received a number of letters from him. His last letter was in 1816. He was then well, and reminded me of the meeting in Prince Edward, and wrote that nine of his family belong to the church.
I had met Mr. Harris on the banks of James river, and accompanied him at his meetings through Goochland, Fluvanna and Louisa to Orange. At a meeting in Goochland, after preaching was over, Mr. Harris went into the yard. and sat down in the shade, while the people were weeping in the meeting house, and telling what God had done for them, in order to be baptized. A gentlewoman addressed Mr. Harris as follows: “Mr. Harris, what do you think all this weeping is for? Are not all those tears like the tears of a crocodile? I believe I could cry as well as any of them, if I chose to act the hypocrite.” On this address, Mr. Harris drew a dollar out of his pocket and replied, “Good woman, I will give you this dollar for a tear, and repeat it ten times;” but the woman shed no tears.
Among the seven that were baptized at that time, was a Mrs. Johnson, daughter of Col. James Dabney, of whom take the following account: Col. Johnson’s son Christopher paid attention to the young lady, and gained her good will, but could not obtain the consent of her father; on which Miss Betsey agreed to elope with young Johnson; and from her chamber window, on a ladder, she descended in the night, and was conducted by her lover to the house of his father. In the morning Col. Dabney missed his daughter, and suspecting where she was gone, he armed himself with sword and pistol, and steered his course to Col. Johnson’s. When he got within call, he demanded if his daughter Betsey was there? Being answered in the affirmative, he gave orders for her to meet him on the risk of her life. Betsey’s affections no ways accorded with the demand of her father, and seeing him thus armed, she was greatly distressed. Col. Anderson being at the house, seeing what was passing, said, “Come Betsey, don’t be discouraged, I’ll eject a reconciliation.” With that, he armed himself with sword and pistol, and marched into the field to meet Dabney, with his arm stretched out, holding his glittering sword, and Betsey walking under it. When he got near Dabney, he exclaimed, “Col. Dabney, here is your daughter, Betsey, who wishes for a reconciliation; I have undertaken to protect her, and shall defend her with the last drop of my blood.” Betsey fell upon her knees – Dabney softened reconciliation was ejected – the young couple were married; and, at the meeting just spoken of, she Was baptized: nor was it long before her husband followed her example.
This event has often led my mind to reflect on an incident, infinitely more important. The guilty runaway sinner is pursued by the holy, fiery law, and threatened with eternal death; but the Mediator appears to inter. pose, and when the sinner is humbled by grace, a reconciliation is obtained.
In June, 1787, I was ordained by laying on of hands. The ministers that officiated, were Nathaniel Saunders, John Waller and John Price. By this, not only a union took place between myself and others, but it was a small link in the chain of events, which produced a union among all the Baptists in Virginia, not long afterwards.
In 1787, old Col. Harris made me a visit, whose coming called out a vast crowd of ministers and people. His eyes – his every motion was preaching; but after he had read his text, his mind was so dark that he could not preach; and of course the lot fell on me.
From my house, Col. Harris went down to Spottsylvania, where the work of the Lord, like a mighty torrent, broke out under his ministry. A few weeks afterwards, I went down through Spottsylvania and Caroline, and was glad to see the grace of God, but was extremely mortified to find myself so far behind the work of God. In this visit, however, I caught the spirit of prayer, which lasted me home. Indeed, before I got home, I gained an evidence that God would work in Orange. Having such confidence, I addressed myself to the work of the ministry with fresh courage. There was a dancing school set up in the vicinity, which was much in my way On Sunday, after service, I told the people that I had opened a dancing school, which I would attend one quarter gratis: that I would fiddle the tune which the angels sung, if they would dance repentance on their knees. The project succeeded; the dancing school gave way, and my meetings were thronged. Solemnity, sobs, sighs and tears soon appeared. The last Sunday in October I began to baptize those that were brought out, and the work prevailed greatly. The tract of land which I occupied in this revival was more than twenty miles square, including the corners of Orange, Culpepper, Spottsylvania and Louisa.
When the work seemed to languish in one neighborhood, it would break out in another, and consequently, there was a continual fall of heavenly rain from October, 1787, until March, 1789, during which time I baptized about 400. Precisely 300 of them were baptized in 1788 – more than I have ever baptized in any other year. During the ingathering, the following events took place. In the south part of Orange, a man took his gun, with the professed intention of killing me. He had given his consent for his wife to be baptized, and the meeting was appointed for that purpose; but when we got to the water, and I had taken her by the hand to lead her into the water, there was an alarm that the man was coming with his gun. While a detachment of the congregation went to meet the man and pacify aim, I thought, “now or never,” and baptised her. No mischief ensued.
In another part of Orange, a woman, who was in the habit of intimacy with myself and wife, invited me to preach at her house on a certain evening. When we got at the gate, her son, who was a Captain, (having been reproved by his mother, and taken opulence at it,) met us, and said I should not preach there. I asked him if he thought he was right. “No,” said he, “I know I am wrong, and I expect to be damned for it; but I have said it and shall abide by my word.” The man of the house came also to the gate, and desired us to go into the house, and said the house was his own and not his son’s. The woman was at a loss what was best. I hesitated, but finally went in. As the people began to collect, the Captain withdrew with threatenings. After I arose to open the meeting by singing, he came rushing into the house, like a bear bereaved of her whelps – sprang upon the bed – took his sword and drew it out of the scabbard – and stepping off the bed with his arm extended and sword glittering, exclaimed, “let me kill the damned rascal!” As he made a stroke towards me, the point of the sword hit the joists, and he behaved like an awkward soldier. The case was this: my wife, who was seated near the head of the bed, when she saw the Captain step from the bed with his sword drawn, and draw back his arm to give the thrust, like a female angel, sprang like the lightning of heaven, clasped her arms within his elbow, around his body, licked her hands together, and held him like a vice, till the men took away his sword. We then took a lantern and went into the road and carried on our meeting. As God would have it, a young man and a young woman dated their change of heart at this meeting.
As I was returning from Fredericksburg, in the lower part of Orange, a young man had married and brought his bride to his father’s, where there was music and dancing. I stopped in the road, and the groom came out and wished me to drink sling with him. I asked him what noise it was that I heard in the house? He answered it was a fiddle. As he was going to the house, I requested him to bring the fiddle to me. But as this was not done, I lighted off my horse and went into the house. By the time I got in, the fiddle was hidden, and all was still. I told them, if fiddling and dancing was serving God, to proceed on, and if I could gain conviction of it, I would join them. As they did not proceed, I told them I would attempt to serve God in my way. I then prayed among them and took my leave. The next week I was sent for to come and preach at the same house. The power of the Lord was present to heal. In the course of a few weeks, numbers were converted and turned to the Lord, whom I baptized in a stream of water near the house.
At another time, I had a meeting at John Lea’s, in Louisa, when something seemed to descend on the people, like that which took place at Mr. Hodgers’s, (mentioned before,) but the effects were not so great. The next day there were five to be baptized. The day was very cold.
While Mr. Bowles was preaching to the people, I composed the hymn:
Christians, if your hearts be warm,
Ice and snow can do no harm;
If by Jesus you are prz’d,
Rise, believe, and be baptiz’d.
Jesus drank the gall for you,
Bore the Cross for sinners due;
Children, prove your love to him,
Never fear the frozen stream.
Never shun the Saviour’s Cross,
All on earth is worthless dross;
If the Saviour’s love you feel,
Let the world behold your zeal.
At an Association in Caroline, two others with myself were chosen to preach on Sunday. When my turn came, I felt every way unprepared. I was hoarse with a cold, and exceedingly barren in spirit. I therefore declined, and one of the others preached. While he was preaching, I doubted whether I was right in declining, and resolved that as soon as he had finished, I would do what I could. Accordingly I did. My voice improved; my ideas brightened so much that I preached about forty minutes. The people were greatly affected. On account of a similitude used, together with the shortness of the discourse, it was called the GINGER-CAKE sermon. Mr. Waller, who was the stated minister at that place, told me afterwards, that in the relations which the people gave before baptism, not less than fifteen persons had reference to the GINGER-BREAD sermon.
In the year 1789, nothing of importance turned up.
In 1790, I travelled into New England, to see my father and relations. I preached on the way, going and coming. The term of my absence from home was four months. The number baptized thirty-two.
The winter following, I made my arrangements to move into New England. Having baptized precisely seven hundred while I lived there, and leaving two churches, one in Orange, and the other in Louisa; the first containing three hundred and the other two hundred members. On the last of March, I started, with my family of a wife and eight children, and a small quantum of elects, and travelled by land to Fredericksburg, where I took ship for New England. We fell down the Rappahannock river, crossed the Chesapeake, and entered the sea between the Capes of Henry and Charles. The day after we entered the Atlantic, we were attacked by a thunder gust and heavy gale of wind, which lasted fifteen hours. The boat was crippled, the oars swept off, the quadrant injured, and some of my goods were swept from the quarter-deck. That passengers should be affrighted, is not to be wondered at; but here, the sailors all turned pale. In the midst of the gale, the wind shifted, and flung the vessel into the trough of the sea, on which the Captain stepped to the cabin door and said, “We shall not weather it many minutes.” This he said, (as I judged,) not to terrify the sailors, but for my sake. The sense of it, to me, was this: “Leland, if you have got a God, now call upon him.” But there was no need of this admonition, for I had begun the work before; and can now say, that that night is the only one of my life that I spent wholly in prayer. That I prayed in faith, is more than I can say; but that I prayed in distress, is certain. About day light, April 15th, the wind abated, but we knew not where we were for five days; for the quadrant was injured. The distress which I had at that time, so affected my nervous system, that I did not entirely recover from it for more than ten years. In time, however, we gained the port of New London, on a certain Saturday night. I did not intend to make any stay at that place, save only to get some refreshments, but the Captain had written from Fredericksburgh, to his friends in New London, that he had turned his vessel into a meeting-house, and was bringing a preacher and his family with him. On Sunday morning early it was known that the vessel lay by the wharf, and before I was up the brethren in New London came down to the vessel, to see what, for a cargo, the Captain had brought into port. The Captain told them that he intended to go to the insurance office, and demand the sum that was insured on the vessel; for if it had not been for my prayers he was sure the vessel would have been lost. The brethren invited me to go ashore, and preach to them in the state-house, which I acceded to. Finding myself courteously received, I tarried there about two months. Here I met with some success in winning souls; and here my wife was sick nigh unto death; but she had more faith in prayer than she had in physic. The godly old Elder. Z. Darrow, came to visit us, whose prayer for my wife seemed to be answered, and she recovered. The people were very kind and liberal to me; but the expenses of my family, and the sickness of my wife, cost me about twenty dollars more than I received. But this thought came to my mind: “Jesus gave his life and blood for sinners, and shall I begrudge a few dollars for their salvation!” After preaching around in the towns about New London, on the 1st of July we left the place, and, in boats and scows, went up Connecticut river to Sunderland, and then by land to Conway, where my father and old acquaintance were living. In Conway, I purchased a house and small lot, for a temporary residence until I gained more acquaintance in the country. At this place, my family abode eight months. My travels in the meantime in the country were considerable my success some.
The last day of February, 1792, I moved into Cheshire, which has been my home the chiefest of the time since. For two or three years there was a sprinkling of blessings on the people in Cheshire, Lanesborough and Adams, so that about seventy were baptized. And in Philip’s town, Canaan and the Gore, I had good success. In the year 1795, the work of God appeared in Conway. A messenger came and desired me to visit them; I went and preached twelve times among them, and baptized twelve persons at that time, and more afterwards. Here my heart caught a little heavenly fire, and I returned home to Cheshire, longing and praying that God would pour out his spirit on the people in Cheshire. I set up evening meetings, and preach about as often as once a day, for seventy days running. I have never known a time like this, when I had so much of the spirit of praying and preaching, and met with so small success. No more than seven came forward as the reward of my painful labor. In the com. pass of these seventy days, I had a night meeting at Deacon Wood’s, in Cheshire. Going to the meeting, my mind was so solemnly impressed, that I could hardly walk. When I arose to speak, I could scarcely stand. Of the many thousands of sermons that I have preached in my life, (for solemnity of mind, discovery of heavenly things, and flow of words,) I give that the preference, and yet but small effects followed. An individual young woman only was divinely wrought upon. Christ’s time was not yet come to work miraculously in Cheshire.
I continued my travels in the New England states, and state of New York, until 1797. In August, that year, I made a tour to Virginia, and was gone six months. I preached all the way there, and travailed and preached among my old friends three months, and then returned home, having travelled more than two thousand miles, and preached more than one hundred and seventy tines. My friends through the whole received me kindly; but I saw no great revivals of religion anywhere, save only at Scotch Plains, among Mr. Vanhorn’s people. After my return, I was busily employed in domestic concerns for about eighteen months, preparing to go to Virginia again, in August, 1799. To this end, I had sent on appointments for meetings, about one hundred miles on my way, as far as Carmel meeting-house. Having finished my domestic affairs a fortnight before my appointments began, I told the people in Cheshire, that I would preach for them every day or night until I started. At this time, a heavenly visitant came to my house – my heart, with the salutation of “Peace be to you – peace on earth and good will to men.” When I sat in my house, it would seem as if the room was white-washed with love. When I went into the field, a circle of heavenly mildness would seem to surround me, and the following words would be injected into my heart again, again and again: “The Lord will work.” My meetings, during this feast of tabernacles, (as I called the fortnight,) were crowded. At the meeting. house, such silence reigned as I had never seen before. My struggle of mind was great, whether I should go to Virginia and leave these hopeful appearances, or stay at home and strive to fan the sparks. And as the time drew on, my struggles increased. I prepared for my journey, and preached my last sermon a few miles on the way. The people followed in droves, and, in time of meeting, wept bitterly. I finally went on my journey, and attended my appointments, which I before had made, the distance of one hundred miles, and then returned back. I was gone about twenty days, and preached about the same number of sermons, and baptized thirteen persons. On my return, I found the work had broken out like the mighty rushing waters. This induced me to preach every day or night until the March following, in which time more than two hundred were baptized.
Before the work made a visible appearance, and for three months afterwards, there was not a day but what I had the spirit of prayer, and a travail for souls; and often felt as if I should sink under the weight of my burden if souls mere no delivered. Sometimes, individuals would lay in my heart; at other times, the longing desire would be more general. After three months I felt that spirit of prayer abate but the spirit of preaching continued for three months afterwards, until the ingathering was over, and then the peculiar impression which I had, subsided.
In 1800, I made a tour of four months, travailing southward as far as Bedford, N. Y. Then eastward through Connecticut to New-London. Then pursued my course through Rhode Island, (visiting Providence and Newport,) into Bristol county. Then returning through Worcester and Hampshire counties, reached home the last of October. I was somewhat debilitated when I left home, and the summer was unusually hot, but I was preserved and enabled to preach about as many times as there were days. In this journey, I saw eight old preachers, whose ages in average, exceeded eighty years. The venerable Backus was one of them. There was a revival in his congregation, and on his request I baptized a few in the place. I have never seen him since, nor either of the eight; nor shall I ever see them in mortal bodies, for they are all dead. My journey was not altogether lost. By letters and verbal accounts, I was afterwards informed that in several places a divine blessing attended the preaching, which proved effectual unto salvation.
In November, 1801, I journeyed to the south, as far as Washington, in charge of a cheese, sent to President Jefferson. Notwithstanding my trust, I preached all the way there and on my return. I had large congregations; led in part by curiosity to hear the Mammoth Priest, as I was called.
After this, I lived several years in great barrenness of soul, and had but little, if any success.
In March, 1804, I removed into Dutchess County, N. Y., where I continued two years, which, (as it respects my ministry,) was a gap of lost time. Just before I left the place, a revival took place about ten miles off, where brother Luman Birch, an unordained preacher, improved, which called me there to baptize a few.
In 1806, I removed back to Cheshire. The day before the total eclipse, brother Birch was ordained. It was my lot to preach the sermon, which seemed to be blessed among the people. The substnace of that sermon was offered to the public, in a pamphlet, afterwards entitled “The Flying Seraphim.” The following winter, I sunk into great distress of mind. It has always been a question with me of great importance, to know how
to address a congregation of sinners, as such, in gospel style. And this winter it attacked my mind with great force. Neither Gill, Hopkins, Fuller nor Wesley, could remove my difficulties. My fear were, that I did not preach right, which was the cause why I was so barren in myself and useless to others. This burden lay heavy upon me a long time. At length, at an evening meeting at a school house in Cheshire, my heart waxed a little warm with holy zeal, and I gave my spirit vent to the youth and school children, regardless of all authors and systems, which had a good effect. Four of the school children and a young man besides, came forward for baptism in a few weeks, who dated the beginning of their religious impressions at that meeting. This little success, obtained at that trying time, gave me both relief and courage.
The year 1808 was a memorable year in Pownal. Religion had a great triumph in that place at that time. A man by the name of John Williams was their preacher; but he was not ordained; of course I preached and baptized,through the cold winter. The number baptized was more than sixty. Williams did not behave like a wolf, seeking to destroy, but like a goat, as if he was ignorant of what was going on. He finally turned out an abandoned character. In this revival some little boys set up a conference meeting; and as they were poor, they would meet in cow-sheds and on the mountains. This was in the winter, and some of them had no shoes. When it was known, the neighbors gladly opened their houses for their accommodation.
In the year 1811, while I was in the General Court at Boston, a time of refreshing came in Cheshire. After my return I baptized forty. There was a division among the people. Other ministers baptized about tent In the height of this revival, I was taken sick of the typhus fever. What I passed through in that sickness has been published in a pamphlet.
In December, 1813, I started again for Virginia; and preaching on the way to Washington, I crossed the Potomac into Virginia the last day of January, 1814. I was in the state eighty days, in which time I travelled seven hundred miles, and preached more than seventy times. I never had before – I never have since – nor do I ever expect to preach to as many people in so short a time. The kindness of the people to their old friend, whom they had not seen for sixteen years, was unbounded. I shall never forget it while my memory remains. I reached Richmond on Saturday, March 5th. The Sunday before that, Elder Courtney had baptized seventy five persons in the basin on the canal. He descended into the water and took his stand, from which he did not remove until all were baptized. He had assistants who led the candidates to and from him; and he performed the whole in seventeen minutes, notwithstanding he was seventy years old. The chiefest of the candidates were people of color. As I returned home, I preached in Dr. Staughton’s meeting-house in Philadelphia, on the evening preceding the meeting of the great Convention which formed the plan of the missionary society. I arrived at home in June, after an absence of six months; having travelled in that time eighteen hundred miles, and preached about one hundred and fifty times.
After my return home, I went into the Genessee country to see my children, and late in the fall I sold my residence in Cheshire, with a view to move westward; but before I had made any purchase, as I was travelling for that purpose, about eighty miles from home, the beast on which I rode, like Balaam’s ass, not only crushed my feet, but threw me to the ground and fell upon me, which broke my leg. After nearly a fortnight, I was carried home in a sleigh. The old bone was a long while growing and strengthening, and I was reduced very low. As this disaster happened, I was entirely defeated in my object of moving to the westward. My family advised me to purchase the place where I now live, which, with great reluctance I consented to, and was drawn in a sleigh, on bare ground, to my new home. After my leg got well enough, and my strength sufficient, I began to preach again, leaning on my staff.
Late in the fall of 1817, there was a precious, though not a verb extensive revival in Hancock, where I attended as preacher, and baptized thirty one, who (excepting three others) were the first that I baptized after my leg was broken.
In March, 1819, a like work began in the north part of Adams, which progressed several months. The people in that place had no settled minister, but were visited by ministers who lived around them; of the seventy who united with the church, I baptized twenty-seven.
Since I began to preach in 1774, I have travelled distances, which, together, would form a girdle nearly sufficient to go round the terraqueous globe three times. The number of sermons which I have preached, Is not far from eight thousand. The number of persons that I have baptised is one thousand two hundred and seventy-eight. The number of Baptist ministers whom I have personally known is nine hundred and sixty-two. Those of them whom I have heard preach, in number, make three hundred and three. Those who have died, (whose deaths I have heard of,) amount to three hundred. The number that have visited me at my house is two hundred and seven. The pamphlets which I have written, that have been published, are about thirty.
I am now in the decline of life, having lived nearly two-thirds of a century. When Jacob had lived twice as long, his days had been few and evil. I have spent my years like a tale that is told. Looking over the foregoing narrative, there is proof enough of imperfection; and yet what I have written is the best part of my life. A history seven times as large might be written of my error in judgment, incorrectness of behaviour, and baseness of heart. My only hope of acceptance with God, is in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. And when I come to Christ for pardon, I come as an old grey-headed sinner; in the language of the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
How long I have to stay on earth I know not. What labors or sufferings I have yet to sustain below, I cannot tell. O, that the God of all grace would keep me in his holy care, and never suffer me to make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, but make me faithful unto death, that I might finish my course with joy and receive a crown at last.
June 15, 1824. – It is now more than four years since I closed the foregoing narrative of events. My life and health have been preserved until the present time. In several places within the district of my ministration, there have been times of refreshing, so that I have baptized seventy-four persons in the four years.
The 14th of May past was my birth day: I preached on the occasion a septennarian sermon.
January 14, 1825. – I have preached in four hundred and thirty-six meeting-houses, thirty-seven court houses, several capitols, many academies and school-houses; barns, tobacco-houses and dwelling-houses: and many hundreds of times on stages in the open air. Not the place, but the presence of Christ, and a right temper of mind, makes preaching solemnly easy and profitable. My congregations have consisted of from five hearers to ten thousand.
December 12, 1826. – Faint yet pursuing. The summer past I have spent chiefly in travelling and preaching. I have attended three Associations – the jubilee and funeral of three Presidents – as also a general meeting which lasted four days- preached eighty one times, and seen eighty-six Baptist preachers since the first of June.
Two remarkable events have taken place the present year. Two old patriots, both of them Ex-Presidents, died on the 4th of July; just fifty years after they signed the Declaration of Independence – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The first aged ninety-one, the other eighty-three. Mr. Jefferson drew the Declaration of Independence; and by his writings and administration, he has justly acquired the title of the Apostle of Liberty.
In the state of Vermont, the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor are both Baptist preachers – Ezra Butler and Aaron Leland. This is a new thing in the world.
March 25, 1827. – Baptized ten candidates, which males my baptismal number one thousand three hundred and sixty-two. It is not probable that I ever shall baptize many (if any) more.
From pretty correct information, I find I have now living eighty-two descendants, including children, grand children, and great grand-children. A few of my posterity have died at their respective homes; but I leave never had a coffin or a death at my house.
If a conscious sinner may apply words to himself which were spoken of Abraham, they are as follows: “For I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.”
May 6. – Beyond my expectation, this day I baptized fifteen, making up the number ................................. 1,377
May 27. – Wondering still: preached this day to a large concourse, and baptized eleven, making ............ 1,388
Baptized ................................. 4
July 4. – Preached to nearly 1,000 people, and baptized six, two of whom were my grand-children,
making. ................................ 1,398
July 15. – Baptized another of my grand-children and four others, ................................................................. 5
Baptized. ................................. 3
July 29. – Baptized .............................................. ............................................. .................................... ......... 6
Aug. 12. – Baptized five in Cheshire and three in Lanesborough, ............................................. ..................... 8
Making ................................. 1,420
I have a great grand-child, (Helen Maria Brown,) who has now living ten direct, and great grand-fathers and grand-mothers.
Aug. 26. – Baptized 5
Oct. 21. – Baptized 4
Nov. 4. – Baptized 2
Sept.9. – Baptized 5
Nov. 5. – Baptized 2
Oct. 7. – Baptized 10
One of these last was Eunice Baxter, whose grand and great grand-mothers I baptized more than thirty years past.
Nov. 11, – Baptized. .......................... .................................. ......................... ................. ........................... ..... 2.
One of these was seventy seven years old, which added to the age of the administrator, (seventy-three,) would make one hundred and fifty years.
Nov. 30. – Baptized 1
Dec. 30. – Baptized 2
Dec. 9. – Baptized 2
Feb. 1, 1838. – Baptized 1
Dec. 17. – Baptized 1
The father and mother of this candidate have fourteen children now living; ELEVEN of whom I have baptized.
Baptized five more, making ....................... ........................... ............................ ....................... .............. 1,465.
May 14, 1828. – I am this day seventy-four years old, able to travel and preach as doors open; and labor with my hands as duty calls.
The sins of childhood – the vices of youth – the improprieties, pride and arrogance of riper years; with the presumptuous and blasphemous suggestions of my mind, up till the present time, lie heavy on my mind, and sink my spirits very low. It is true, I have had a hope for more than fifty yearn that my sins were attoned for by the blood of Christ, and forgiven for his name’s sake; but still I find them attached to my character, and must forever, for truth cannot decease.
When the saints in heaven look On the blessed Jesus and remember the doleful sorrow and pain which their sins cost him, what kind of feeling must they have? To calf their feeling sorrow, tears or mourning, would be unscriptural; but a remembrance of their sins, a view of their Redeemer, and a sense of his bloody agony, must give them a surprising _________ ________, fill them with an exquisite hatred to sin, and raise their songs of praise to him who has redeemed them.
December 7, 1828. – This day, for the first time, I baptized a man in a font, near the pulpit, in Albany. During my stay in Albany, which was four days, I was introduced to three governors. My rusticity of manners, and the humble rank I fill, make such interviews more painful than flatter. 1ng.
May 14, 1829. – This day I am seventy-five years old. Nothing singular with respect to myself has occurred in the course of the last year.
My greatest afflictions in life have been of that character that I have had to bear them all alone; a communication of them to others, (if indeed I could have done it,) would only have added to their weight.
I noticed, in a former page, that in the year 1795, I had the most solemn meeting at Deacon Nathan Wood’s, that I had ever experienced, which was attended with but pinball success. I have now to add, that in the lapse of something more than thirty years, I have baptized fifty-seven grand and great-grandchildren of the said Deacon Wood; all of whom, except one, are now living, as is believed.
May 14, 1830. – Another year of mar unprofitable life is gone. Nothing worth recording has taken place with me In the yearn Of the fourteen hundred and seventy-one that I have baptized, but very few of them had the seal of the covenant put upon them in infancy, and but one or two ever attended Sunday Schools.
May 14, 1831. – I am yet living and enjoying good health. The year past I have had a large epistolary correspondence with distant friends; and have been advertised in the newspapers, through the states, as an infidel and an outcast. May the Lord increase my faith and make me more holy, which will be the best refutation of the libel. From the uttermost parts of the earth have we heard songs; even glory to the righteous: but I said, my leanness, my leanness. It is now said that there is a great ingathering into the fold of Christ in all the country around; but according to appearances, I am left behind. Well, let me, like John the Baptist, be full of joy, that others increase while I decrease. I have had my day, and must now give way to the young. The unchangeable God has one class of servants after another to work in his vineyard.
July 11. – Why art thou cast down, O my soul! The morning cometh as well as the night. Since writing the above note, God has graciously poured out his spirit in Hancock.
Yesterday I baptized ten, which, together with three scattering ones, raises my baptismal list to fourteen hundred and eighty-four.
Baptism does not put away the filth of the flesh; it is the answer of a good conscience towards God, and only figures out the salvation of the soul; which is by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead: who died for our sins and rose again for our justification.
July 17. – Baptized ...................... 4
“ 24. – Baptized ...................... 2
“ 31. – Baptized ...................... 4
One of these four was eighty-two years old. In the winter of 1800, I baptized one who was ninety years of age. The youngest that I ever baptized was nine years old, in 1783. I have ever found water a harmless element, and baptism a pleasing work.
Aug. 22. – Baptized 1
Oct. 16. – Baptized 3
Sept. 4. – Baptized 1
“ 23. – Baptized 7
“ 18. – Baptized 2
“ 30. – Baptized 3
Oct. 2. – Baptized 4
Nov. 10. – After living in New-Ashford more than sixteen years, this day I removed into Cheshire again. My age and decays admonish me that the time of my departure is not far distant. When I die, I neither deserve nor desire any funeral pomp. If my friends think best to rear a little monument over my body, “Here lies the body of JOHN LELAND, who labored –  to promote piety, and vindicate the civil and religious rights of all men,” is the sentence which I wish to be engraved upon it.
May 14, 1834. – I am this day fourscore years old; have just returned from Chatham, (30 miles off,) where I preached three times, at the opening of a new meeting-house, and this day at Cheshire, to 600 people by estimation. I have now several little preaching tours appointed; but my Maker only knows whether life and strength will be given me to fill them.
It is now sixty years since I began to preach. But ah! how little I have done! and how imperfect that little!
May 15. – Last night fell the largest snow that I ever knew so late in the season.
Many changes in the mechanical, political and religious world have taken place in the course of my life. Most of the changes among us in factories and machines are trans-Atlantic. The steam machines are original Americans. The plea for religious liberty has been long and powerful; but it has been left for the United States to acknowledge it a right inherent, and not a favor granted: to exclude religious opinions from the list of objects of legislation. Sunday schools and missionary societies are of long standing; but camp-meetings and protracted meetings (in their present mode of operation) are novel. What changes may hereafter take place, to me is uncertain. None, however, that will change the character of God, destroy the kingdom of Christ, or assure any of heaven without repentance towards God, and faith towards the Lord Jesus.
I have never labored hard to support the CREED of any religious society; but have felt greatly interested that all of them should hake their RIGHTS secured to them beyond the reach of tyrants.
Brevity is the soul of wit, the nerve of argument and the bone of good sense, but loquacity palsies attention, massacres time, and darkens counsel.
August 17, 1834. – This day I baptized five, which are the first that I have baptized since was eighty years old. My baptismal list is now fifteen hundred and twenty-four.
January 28, 1835. – I have been preaching sixty years to convince men that human powers were too degenerate to elect a change of heart by self-exertion; and all the revivals of religion that I have seen have substantially accorded with that sentiment. But now a host of preachers and people have risen up, who ground salvation on the foundation that I have sought to demolish. The world is gone after them, and their converts increase abundantly. How much error there has been in the doctrine and measures that I have advocated, I cannot say; no doubt some, for I claim not infallible inspiration. But I have not yet been convinced of any mistake so radical as to justify a renunciation of what I have believed, and adopt the new measures. I am waiting to see what the event will be; praying for light; open to conviction; willing to retract, and ready to confess when convicted.
July 4,1835. – It is now fifty-nine years since the independence of the United States was declared. In this length of time the inhabitants have increased from three to fourteen millions. The changes that have taken place are innumerable. Sixty-five years ago I was old enough to observe the face of things, and see what was going on: had I been in a dead sleep the sixty-five years, and were now to awake, such a change has taken place-in the face of the earth, in architecture, in all the arts, in costume and regimen, and in the forms of religion, that I should doubt whether I had awakened in the same world. The love of money, sexual correspondence, diseases and death, however, remain stationary.
Elder John Leland
The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland
Pages 9 – 40
1 To quote and transcribe all the texts, with the peculiar bearings each had on my mind, would swell the narrative to large.
2 From a manuscript, written mostly in 1800, the following extract is taken:—
“Volumes might be written upon the wanderings, darkness and errors of my life, which would afford no pleasure to others in hearing thereof, and which would be of no advantage to myself to relate; and, therefore I shall pass them by, and attend only to a few of God’s gracious and notable dealings with me, a great sinner, in my ministerial labors. Under all the trials and temptations that I have passed through for twenty-six years, I have never felt guilty for undertaking to preach at the time when I began. I cannot reproach myself with undertaking the work from any other motive than a real belief that it was my indispensable duty I might have been deceived; but a hypocrite I was not, so far as I have ever yet seen. Yet, from the 20th June, 1774, until November, 1779, I had one general trial in my mind. It was this: I did not possess that strong desire for the conversion of sinners, that many others evidently had. This made me fear that all was not right with me.”
3 In June, this year, the first Camp Meeting was attended in Caroline county, that I ever heard of. By arrangement, eight or ten Baptist preachers held the meeting three days and nights; but, as nothing extraordinary followed, it was not repeated; and it was a number of years before those meetings arose in the West, and have spread all oven the United States.
4 “On my return through Caroline county, after I had been preaching, I sat in the door-yard of a friend’s house conversing as usual; but here a strange solemnity seized my mind, and a strong drawing of soul to God inspired my breast, such as I had not enjoyed for some years. I soon lost sight of my company, and was conversant at the throne of grace. This frame of mind continued, with some abatements, until I reached home, which was two days afterwards. About three miles before I reached home, I obtained great comfort in believing that God would work among the people in Orange. – MS.
5 In August, 1799, my soul was again visited with the same peace and holy longings after God and the salvation of men as at former times. My preaching then, through grace, was not coasting around the shallow shores of doubt and uncertainty, but launching out into the deep for a draught. Attention and solemnity followed.” – MS.
6 At the close of the original MS., before referred to, he writes, “I have experienced seven instances in my life in praying for the sick and maimed, when there appeared to be such an immediate relief granted, that I should be unbelieving and ungrateful not to mention them among the signal favors of God to me. I have passed through many fatigues in travel, several perils occasioned by mobs and furious men, many wants and pinches in life, and many tokens of providential relief; but after all, remain an unholy, helpless creature, and if the Lord does not keep me, I shall fall, disgrace myself, bring the ministry under blame, and be ashamed to read what I have now written. Amen.”
7 “At the close of the year 1806, I got amazingly distressed on account of my preaching, fearing that my barrenness in the ministry was owing to improper addressee. The Methodism were amazing successful and zealous, and the addressee of their ministers were general and undaunted. I visited them – I conversed with them; they were all for heaven, and assured they were in the way; but their zeal and confidence appeared to me like the mighty wind and fire in Elija’s vision, and I could not discover that any with whom I conversed had any knowledge of themselves, of the law of God, or of the way of pardon.
The Gillite mode of addressing sinners, seemed a little different from the New Testatement mode. The Hopkinsian method appeared as if it took all the wisdom of God to devise a way for an honorable pretence to damn men. Dr. Fuller only cast another bundle of straw on the fire. So that the great query which has agitated my mind for more than thirty years, ‘How is a congregation of sinners to be addressed?’ at the time I am speaking of, fell with such distress upon my mind, that I could hardly contain myself. But in the midst of my difficulties, I had a meeting at a school house; in the time of service my soul got into the trade winds, and without consulting Gill, Hopkins, Fuller, or Wealey, without comparing our translation with the Septuagint, Chaldee, or the King of Spain’s Bible, I addressed the scholars and young people in a way I never can without God helps me. The spirit of the Lord fell upon them. Very soon after this, five of them came forward and confessed Christ.” Continuation of MS. 1807.
8 Five Hours Conflict.
9 It is now (1831) 57 years.