IT is much to be regretted that Mr. Leland has not left us a more full and minute history of his eventful life. Rich as it was in interesting and instructive incidents, he has compressed the whole in the space of a few pages, remarking, with his characteristic modesty and humility, that “this was all that was worth preserving;” while, had he registered them all with as much minuteness as is usually found in biographies, the narrative must have extended to volumes.
The difficulty of authenticating incidents, as well as the narrow limits to which the further notices must be confined, render it impossible to add more than a brief continuation of his history to the time of his death, together with slight sketches of some important circumstances, which he has deemed proper entirely to omit, or slightly to mention.
The intervening period, between the year 1835, (at which time his narrative closes) and the death of his wife, October 5th, 1837, was spent in Cheshire, Massachusetts, to which place he had removed in 1831. Here he occupied the leisure left him by his ministerial labors, in the care of the little spot of ground he had chosen, where he probably expected to end his days; while Mrs. Leland, who had been emphatically a “helpmate” for him through many years, attended, alone, to the management of his domestic affairs, and gave considerable attention to the cultivation of a small garden. Here they exercised that cordial hospitality for which they were always remarkable, in the entertainment of the many friends who visited them from time to time, setting examples of piety and of the Christian virtues which will not soon be forgotten by those whose good fortune it was to be their neighbors.
The afflictive stroke which at length deprived him of the companion who had trodden with him so great a share of the rough path of life, was rendered doubly painful by the nature of the disease, which left to her friends not even the sad consolation of alleviating the distress they could not remove. A difficulty in her throat, which had been a long time increasing, at length reached such a height, that some months before her death, she could swallow nothing but liquids. The ability to do even this, continued to decrease from day to day, her strength wasting for want of nourishment, till life could no longer retain its feeble hold, and she literally starved to death.
A more than passing notice is due to the character of this extraordinary woman. She was not less remarkable in her sphere, than her husband in his. Her eulogy has been written by the pen of inspiration. No one who knew her and was acquainted with her history, can fail to observe that in the whole of the admirable discription of the virtuous woman, (Prov. 31.,) there is scarcely a circumstance named, that did not meet in her, a literal fulfilment.
Liberality, and kindness to the needy, formed a prominent feature in her character; none that appealed to her for aid that it was in her power to bestow, were ever sent empty away. This liberalality, joined with that love of independence, which was always a predominant and cherished peculiarity of both Mr. and Mrs. Leland, forbade her ever forgetting an act of kindness shown to herself, or failing to cancel the obligation by bestowing a much greater in return. In strength of mind, firmness of purpose, courage and self possession in danger, fortitude in circumstances of trial and suffering, indeed, in all those qualities that combine to produce energy of character, she has probably had few superiors, in any age; yet, in the exercise of these manly virtues as they are sometimes called, she never acquired that masculine bearing that is too apt to accompany the possession of these qualities in the female sex. Though far removed from the softness and weakness which unfits a woman for enduring hardship, privation, and suffering, she was equally so from the opposite extreme; sustaining as well the delicacy as the dignity of the female sex.
An example of that habitual presence of mind as well as courage, which never failed her in any emergency, is found in the instance in which, like a guardian angel, she saved her husband from the murderer’s sword. A similar illustration of these, and other strongly marked traits, is presented in the fact, that when one of her children, a little girl of four years old, had her head crushed under the wheels of a loaded cart which passed directly over it, she sat through tire long hours of night with the child in her arms, pressing with her fingers a divided artery, to prevent the effusion of blood which would have caused immediate death. The child, almost miraculously saved, “rose Up to call her blessed,” and still lives to receive the same tribute of gratitude from a numerous posterity.
Constant, active industry was a distinguishing characteristic of Mrs. Leland. From its beginning to its close, her life was one of unceasing toil. Even in age, when necessity no longer required such exertion, the habit of active employment had become so much a part of her being, and her natural independence of feeling was so strong, that she could not be prevailed upon to desist from her accustomed round of domestic labors, till her exhausted strength compelled her to relinquish them into other hands. Neither was her industry of that noisy, bustling kind, whose results are usually in inverse proportion to the amount of effort employed. To her might be applied, with peculiar propriety, the encomium bestowed upon another. “She was always busy, and always quiet.”
The guiding hand of Providence was never perhaps more evident, than in directing Elder Leland’s choice to so suitable a companion for the stormy times of the revolution. Her training had been emphatically in the school of adversity; and her history is a striking exemplification of the sentiment which one of her own sex has no less truly than beautifully expressed.
Strength is born
In the deep silence of long suffering heard;
Not amidst joy.”
At the age of two years she lost a fond and somewhat affluent father, and was driven from a good home by a brutal step-father, when a little more than four years old. Her feet were partly frozen off by exposure; soon after the canker attacked her throat, eat out her palate, and for a long time her life was despaired of. At length, he, who in the midst of wrath even remembereth mercy, bound up her broken constitution, and gave her grace to see how great things she must suffer for his name’s sake. When she recovered her health, she found that others had taken possession of all the property, and nothing lay before her but a life of dependence and servitude. But the God in whom she trusted fortified her heart and strengthened her hands, and when he, to whom her faith was plighted, said, “I go to proclaim a Savour’s love in a land overrun with Brittish soldiers and American tories, and trodden down by a dominant established clergy,” she replied like Rebecca, “I will go.” Her faith was firm in him who had said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”
The “poor man’s blessings” were his. She had a numerous family, but scanty means, and through the revolution which had begun when she married, her trials were many and severe. Often was she left alone with her little ones, far from neighbors, her husband gone, with very little prospect of pecuniary reward, while runaway blacks who had neither courage to join the British army, nor patriotism to join the American, were horded together around her for plunder and sometimes murder. Many a long hour she plied her needle by moonlight, to prepare clothing for her little ones, fearful lest the ray of a lamp from her window might attract a bloody foe. Often, too, the famished soldier came to her for food and shelter through the stormy night. Her God had said, “feed the hungry,” and she obeyed; but when she had given till naught was left, the sleepless hours were spent in watchfulness and prayer – for oh! if the assassin’s knife should be concealed beneath the soldier’s garb, she could not fly and leave her little ones behind. How often she prayed that God would preserve the children he had graciously given, and all were preserved to lament the best of mothers.
This sketch, given by one of her family, who had often heard from her own lips, the story of those “troublous times,” leeway serve to give some idea of the strength of character and depth of piety which sustained her in the midst of trials such as few women are called to endure.
The following circumstance is introduced as illustrating her capability of endurance, not only of physical, but of mental suffering. Incredible as it may seem, and inexplicable as it certainly is, the fact itself is unquestionable, as it rests on the testimony of Elder Leland himself.
One afternoon, they were startled by a sound somewhat similar to that made by a large fly when suddenly confined, apparently proceeding from within the wall of the house. After an unsuccessful effort to discover the cause, he left home and was absent six weeks without thinking again of the circumstance. On the evening of his return, however, he was reminded of it by a groan so sudden and piercing as to make him start up in amazement; his surprise was not lessened, when, upon inquiry he learned that the same had been heard every night of his absence, recurring each night a few minutes later than the preceding, and continuing about ten minutes at a time. It continued to be heard in the same manner, eight months, becoming at every return louder and more terrible. As this was at the period (spoken of in the autobiography) of an extensive revival in York and the adjacent counties, he was, consequently, absent considerable part of the time, and Mrs. Leland was left alone with two little children, the eldest less than three years old, who, when the sound began to be heard, would cling around her in terror, exclaiming “the groaner has come.” As often as any examination was made of the spot whence the noise seemed to issue, with the view of discovering whether it proceeded from some animal confined within the wall, it removed to another place, and thus defied all attempts at investigation. Wearied at length by unsuccessful efforts to discover a natural cause, Elder Leland resolved to try the effect of prayer; accordingly, when in the darkness of midnight, the dreadful moanings again commenced, he betook himself to the all conquering weapon. Said he, in relating it to a friend, “if ever I prayed in my life, it was then.” He prayed, that if it was a messenger of good, he might be emboldened to speak to it, and learn its errand, but if it was a spirit of evil, that it might be commanded to depart, and suffered to trouble them no more. During the prayer, the sound grew louder and more terrific, till at the conclusion, in a piercing shriek it departed, and never returned again. Those who have heard Elder Leland relate the incident, describe the sound he made in imitation of it, as unearthly and frightful to the last degree. It may be left to the imagination of the reader to picture to itself the amount and intensity of mental suffering which this event alone must have produced.
It has been remarked of Mrs. Leland, that her faith was strong. Indeed, on some occasions, it seemed to rest on grounds that partook of the character of revelations. An instance of this kind occurred in the storm by which they were overtaken on their passage from Virginia to New England, in 1791 After twelve hours of incessant watching and agonizing prayer, expecting momentarily to go to the bottom, she appeared to sink into a slumber; but presently turning to her husband, she exclaimed, “We shall not be lost.” She had received this assurance from a figure in white which seemed to stand before her, measuring off piece after piece of a long white cord, and which said to her, “The vessel cannot sink, I have undergirded it.”
In her last illness, she exhibited the utmost patience and resignation under all her sufferings. She spoke with great warmth and animation of the Divine goodness to her, and especially found cause of thankfulness in the circumstance, that for many weeks before her death, she did not feel the sensation of hunger. She had very humiliating views of herself; and desires proportionably great to exalt and magnify the riches of that grace which had proved sufficient in every scene of trial hitherto, and which she trusted would not fail her in the last; and truly it did not; for when the hour of release arrived, so gently did the hand of death loosen the bonds of her captivity, that not a groan was heard by those who stood around her bed, and a long life of eminent usefulness was crownd by a death of “perfect peace.”
On the 12th October, 1837, a few days after the death of his wife, Elder Leland removed to the house of his son-in-law, Mr. James Greene, in Lanesborough, where he resided most of the tinge until his death. Thence he made frequent preaching excursions to the neighboring towns, and sometimes took journeys of considerable length. In the summer of 1838, he visited Utica and its vicinity, (the residence of his eldest son,) and was absent several weeks. The following letter, to his daughter, was written during his absence.
August 8, 1838.
* * I am now at Deerfield, and hare made it a call-by home for about ten days past. The crops of the earth, and the heat of the sir, are great in all places where I have been. I have calls enough to preach, and have hitherto had strength to answer those calls, though in a poor, imperfect manner. My health and appetite are as good as common. All is uncertain when, or whistler ever I shall return to Berkshire again. My life is not in my own hands, but I commit it, and all that I have, to the care of that Gracious Being who has fed and preserved me through an unprofitable life. I hope you will indulge no unnecessary anxiety about me; for I deserve but small favors from men, and less from the Creator. Farewell, my Fanny. Shun all the errors you have seen in me: be faithful unto death, and you will receive a crown of life.
His health, after his return, was such as for some days seriously to alarm his friends. He, however, soon recovered.
In the fall of 1839, his daughter, with whom he resided, was attacked by an illness, which, after two years and a half of intense suffering, re. leased her from the world and its cares; not, however, till she had seen her father, whose anxious solicitude in her behalf she fully reciprocated, removed to a better world. During the winter of 1840-41, he thought best, in consideration of her health, and some other circumstances, to remove, for a few weeks, to the house of Mr. Chapman, in Cheshire. He continued to “do the work of an evangelist;” and at the time of his last call at his daughter’s, was on his way to North Adams, where he was soon to end his days.
On the evening of the 8th January, he preached, for the last time, to the people of that village. It is matter of regret, that this discourse, interesting not only in itself, but especially so from the circumstances of its delivery, cannot be presented entire to the public. But, as it is well known that he never wrote even the heads of his sermons, the memories of his hearers are the only source from which we can draw, for even these. A friend has kindly furnished a sketch from recollection, which is here subjoined.
“The text was from the 20th and 27th verses of the 2d chapter of the First Epistle of John. – ‘But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. But the annointing which ye have received of him, abideth in you; and you need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and ‘is truth, and is no lie, and even as it bath taught you, ye shall abide in him.’
“He first spoke of the nature and character of the Holy Spirit, the unction referred to, from whence it came, &c., and remarked that the same that is sometimes compared to fire and water, is here likened to oil. He spoke of the properties of oil; its being used to lubricate the wheels of machinery; and when ignited, to give light and heat; and when applied to an abraded surface, or painful limb, to mitigate pain and suffering, and to heal the injury or wound; in all which uses it resembled the unction spoken of in the text. True Christians are anointed ones; anointed with gifts and spiritual endowments by the Spirit of Grace which comes from the Holy One, enlightening and strengthening the eyes of the understanding, and enabling those who receive it, to ‘know all things’ concerning Christ and his religion. Those who know the truth, are by it prepared to discern what is contrary thereto. It will preserve those in whom it abides, and teaches them to abide in Christ. He spoke of the resurection – of the new birth – said no one could experience it while believing in the doctrine of universal salvation. He could extend hope and charity to those who believed that sentiment, after a change of heart, but not before.
“It is pleasant and mournful to my soul, at this moment, to recollect with what benignity of countenance he pronounced his last benediction.”
After the services were closed, he went to the house of Mr. Darling. A number of friends calling, he conversed freely and cheerfully, and attend. ed prayers before retiring to bed, which he did at a rather late hour. An unusual noise being soon after heard in his chamber, Mr. D. went immediately to the room, where he found him prostrate on the floor. Feeling unwell, and a disposition to vomit, he had attempted to rise, and, as he said, “his limbs would not obey him.” He was placed in bed, and means used to restore warmth to his stiffened limbs. They were partially successful, and he obtained a little rest. He had chills, however, through the night, followed by heat and thirst. He arose and dressed himself in the morning; but, being very feeble, a medical friend in the village was called in. He was pronounced very ill; and, when asked whether he thought he should recover, said “he had not the token.” In his former illnesses, though he had been, to human appearance, on the very verge of the grave, he had received some token which impressed him with the conviction that he should recover. But as, in this instance, he gained no such evidence, he seemed to think it useless to make much effort for his recovery. “In this,” says the physician who attended him, “I was not much disappointed, having known before that he had little confidence in medicine, unless well mixed with prayer. He freely consented, however, to use whatever remedies I thought best to administer. Not wishing to burthen his mind with even the small quantity of medicine I thought proper to give him, I directed the watchers, during the night, to mingle it with his drinks. This plan succeeded only until the next morning, when he said, ‘take it away, and give me some clean water.’ On the morning of the 10th, he was apparently better – rather talkative – related a story, or drew a comparison at every change in the conversation. At evening he was worse. He complained that he could neither stop thinking, nor direct his thoughts. His cough was becoming harder, and his breathing more laborious. He spoke with difficulty – said his tongue would not obey him. He had now most of the distinguishing symptoms of peripneumonia notha.
“11th. In the morning, easier – at evening, worse than the preceding. He had so little command of his tongue, that it was difficult to understand him. I continued the use of some medicine, though I now despaired of his recovery. On the morning of the 12th, we thought him somewhat better. He conversed pleasantly, and his eyes sparkled with much of that brilliancy of intellect which they- were accustomed to exhibit when in health. In the evening, he was again worse; and while I was sitting by his bed, supposing him asleep, he said, (addressing himself,) ‘well, I have nothing more to do, but die.’
“13th. Failing. He suffered apparently little, except his laborious breathing. Indeed, during his sickness, there was but a solitary instance in which he mentioned having any pain – it was in his left side, and continued but a few minutes. His dissolution was now almost hourly expected.
“On the 14th, Mr. and Mrs. Chapman, with whom he had been boarding in Cheshire, visited him. He seemed much gratified, and, to our surprise, immediately began to make arrangements to return with them. In this, a little aberration of mind was apparent. With some assistance he clothed himself, called for his satchel, into which he put his Bible, then for his bills for board and medical attendance, all which being adjusted, he expressed a desire to set out for home. He was, however, prevailed on to lie down and rest a while after the fatigue he had undergone, and was assisted to the bed, from which I do not recollect that he ever again rose.”
To those members of his family who could not be with him, it was a consoling reflection, even in the midst of their grief, that the hand of Providence had cast him into a family of kind friends, where nothing conducive to his comfort or recovery, would be left untried. One daughter alone was permitted the privilege of watching his pillow of sickness, and standing by his dying couch. Sneaking of some of his exercises, and of the closing scene, she thus remarks: – “In the beginning of his sickness he seemed conscious of his approaching dissolution – said he was ready when called, and calmly gave orders respecting his funeral. The day on which he died, he said to his physician – ‘Yesterday, doctor, a dark cloud came over – I did not know but I should fail in my expectations above,’ Choked with the bitter remembrance, ho paused, but soon added – ‘It’s not so to-day.’
“His thoughts would frequently run back to her who had so often bent over his wasting form in previous sicknesses, and he would speak of the good things she used to do for him.
“Early in the evening, a young preacher (Rev. Mr. Alden) came in, and said to him – ‘Well, Father Leland, we are going to hold a prayer-meeting this evening. Have you any advice to give?’ ‘If you feel it in your hearts. I am glad. Forms are nothing.’ These were nearly his last words; but his arm was not paralyzed, neither was his heart chilled. With his own hand he gave his own tobacco to his friends present, and indicated by signs that they should smoke. About 11 o’clock, he beckoned me to him, and tried to say ‘go to bed.’ I found his limbs were stiffening, and his senses lulling, and anxious to be near him till all was over, I hesitated, but finally, at the the solicitation of one of the watchers, left the room. The man soon followed, and said, ‘you had better come back.’ I came. Not a finger had moved. His spirit had taken rest in the bosom of its God."
Thus died JOHN LELAND – a man eminent above many for piety and usefulness, whose name is connected with all that is pure in patriotism, lovely in the social and domestic virtues, philanthropic in feeling and action, arduous, disinterested, and self-denying in the labors of the ministerial calling; one whose place in society, in the church, and in the ranks of the ministry, will not soon be filled – in the hearts of those who knew him – never.
He died, as he had lined, a witness for the truth, testifying, with his last breath, the value of that religion, and that only, which has its seat in the heart. His life had been unostentatious; his aspirations after worldly honors, ever low and feeble; his humility and sense of dependence on God, deep felt and abiding – and thus he died. “Being with him in his last illness,” (Mr. Alden remarks in his funeral sermon,) “more or less every day, I think I may say, I never saw a Christian feel more deeply his own unworthiness. ‘Bury me,’ said he, ‘in an humble manner. I want no encomiums; I deserve none. I feel myself a poor, miserable sinner, and Christ is my only hope.’ Being asked. very near his end. what were his views of the future, he exclaimed, with both hands extended upward, and a smile I can never forget, ‘My prospects of heaven are clear.’ He seemed already to feel the everlasting rest laying its sweet influences over his soul, and bearing it up, taking away the sting of death.”
His remains were conveyed to Cheshire for interment, where, on the 17th, a funeral discourse was pronounced over them by Rev. John Alden, from Rev. 14th and 13th. The weather was extremely unpropitious, yet the concourse, assembled from that and the adjacent towns, was large, and many a tearful eye testified that no common occasion had called them together. Though but one child, “according to the flesh,” was permitted to follow his relics to the grave, yet many, from the youth to the gray-haired man, who mingled their tears over his coffin, felt that they were gazing for the last time upon the countenance of a beloved “father in the Lord.”
He was laid beside his wife, and a simple obelisk of blue marble, commemorative of both, marks their common resting-place. On its west side is inscribed the epitaph prepared by himself some years before his death: “Here lies the body of the Rev. JOHN LELAND, of Cheshire, who labored 67 years to promote piety and vindicate the civil and religious rights of all men. He died January, 14,1841, aged 83 years and 8 months.” On the north side is the following: “Sarah, consort of Rev. John Leland. She died October 5, 1837, aged 84 years.” On the south: “This monument was erected by the children of the deceased, to point out the resting-place of their revered parents.”
Having followed him to the end of his course, it remains for us to glance, in a brief retrospect, at some circumstances which he has omitted. It is doubtless the case that many of these, could they be collected, and their authenticity proved, would add greatly to the interest of the narrative; but the fact, that it has been found impossible to obtain them, will sufficiently account for the omission of any that may be deemed important.
To understand and appreciate the character of Elder Leland, it is only necessary to read his writings, and to trace the operation of the principles and sentiments they contain, in the actions of his life. That his writings were a transcript of his mind and heart, none will deny, who knew him. The candor and openness with which he ever avowed his sentiments, even when they subjected him to reproach and censure, are well known. Conversing with a friend on one occasion, he remarked – “Though I have secrets which I would not reveal to you, or any one else, I have not a religious secret in the world.” The same frankness marked the expression of his political opinions. That his independence of mind aided materially in supporting this character, will be evident when we consider how many individuals there are who dare not be honest – who have not the moral courage to sustain them in a course which they feel to be right, and in the expression of sentiments which they inwardly approve. A remark of Elder Leland, on this subject, is suggested by these reflections. “Though in a religious point of view,” said he, “self dependence (by which he meant the opposite of the Christian’s trust in God) is most pernicious and fatal in its tendency, yet, in worldly matters, it is one of the best qualities a man can possess.”
Through a long life, Elder Leland sustained, with uniform consistency, the two-fold character of the Patriot and the Christian. For his religious creed he acknowledged no directory but the Bible. He loved the pure, unadulterated word of truth; and, as a minister of that word, zealous and faithful, he preached it, as far as he was able, unmixed with the doctrines and commandments of men, “not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.” He was clear in exposition, happy in illustration, often powerful and eloquent in appeals to the conscience and heart. He insisted, in absolute and unqualified terms, on the great fundamental truths of the gospel, the necessity of regeneration, faith and repentance; but, on points not essential to salvation, though his opinions were no less firmly established, and he never shrunk from advocating them on proper occasions, yet he did not censure or denounce those who differed from him, nor exclude from fellowship, as Christians, any who gave evidence of a gracious change, whatever might be their peculiar doctrinal views. He never engaged in controversy; and when any of his published opinions were disputed, or commented upon, as was sometimes the case, with severity, he preferred to “let the matter rest a little, and then give another thrust,” as he expressed it, to the waste of time, repetitions, and tediousness of reviews and replies.
His political creed was based upon those “sufficient truths” of equality, and of inherent and inalienable rights, recognised by the master spirits of the revolution as the principles for the support of which they pledged “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.” As a politician, he was above the influence of any but sincere and patriotic motives. He was a statesman, rather than a politician. He studied the fundamental principles of government, and drew his conclusions directly from them, without any intervening medium of self or party interest. He judged men by their measures, and measures by their adaptedness to secure that result which he deemed the legitimate object of government – the greatest good of the greatest number. In his attachment to the administrations of Jefferson, Madison, Jackson and Van Buren, he felt that he was contending for the same principles of democracy that nerved the arms and strengthened the hearts of the whigs of ’76. His sentiments, on particular measures, it is unnecessary to comment upon, as they are clearly expressed in his writings. His feelings on the subject of slavery may be gathered from the fact that, during his fourteen years’ residence in Virginia he never owned a slave, as well as from his remarks in in the Virginia Chronicle, and from the resolution offered by him, when a member of the Baptist General Committee, and passed by them, in 1789, in the following words: –
“RESOLVED – That slavery is a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconstant with a republican government; and we, therefore, recommend it to our brethren, to make use of every legal measure to extirpate this horrid evil from the land, and pray Almighty God that our honorable legislature may have it in their power to proclaim the great Jubilee, consistent with the principles of good policy.”
His late writings on this subject, though expressing disapprobation of the measures of abolitionists, we apprehend, will not be found, upon examination, materially different in sentiment. In all, while he recognizes the supremacy of law, he pleads for individual right.
The great object, (next in importance to his mission as a preacher of Christ,) for which he seems to have been raised up by a special Providence, was to promote the establishment of religious liberty in the United States. His efforts, perhaps, contributed as much as those of any other man, to the overthrow of ecclesiastical tyranny in Virginia, the state of his adoption, and exerted a beneficial influence, though less successful, towards the promotion of the same end in that of his nativity. In the former, in the years 1786-7-8, we find his name in the doings of the Baptist General Committee, with which he stood connected, as messenger to the General Assembly, appointed to draft and present memorials respecting the Incorporating act, the application of the glebe lands to public use, etc. Though the cause of religious freedom was the common cause of all dissenters, yet the Baptists, as a sect, took the lead in those active, energetic, and persevering measures, which at length pervailed in its establishment. Many individuals of other denominations took an active part, and aided materially in bringing about the glorious result; nay, that even many of the more conscientious and patriotic among the members of the established church, made praiseworthy exertions in its favor, is a fact too honorable to themselves, and to the state that produced them, to be passed unnoticed. Enrolled among the ardent champions of religious liberty, are the names of Virginia’s most illustrious sons – of Washington, Henry, Jefferson, Madison. To particularize, in regard to the efforts made, and the good accomplished by each, is unnecessary in this place; the following Address and Reply, which are inserted entire, will serve to exhibit the enlarged views and the unselfish spirit of the patriots of that day, as well as the harmony, one might almost say identity, of sentiment that prevailed among them.
Address of the Committee of the United Baptist Churches of Virginia, assembled in the city of Richmond, Ah August, 1789, to the President of the United States of America.
SIR: – Among the many shouts of congratulation that you receive from cities, societies, states, and the whole world, we wish to take an active part in the universal chorus, in expressing our great satisfaction in your appointment to the first office in the nation. When America, on a former occasion, was reduced to the necessity of appealing to arms, to defend her natural and civil rights, a Washington was found fully adequate to the exigencies of the dangerous attempt; who, by the philanthropy of his heart, and the prudence of his head, led forth her untutored troops into the field of battle, and by the skilfulness of his hands, baffled the projects of the insulting foe, and pointed out the road to independence, even at a time when the energy of the cabinet was not sufficient to bring into action the natural aid of the confederation, from its respective sources.
The grand object being obtained, the independence of the States acknowledged; free from ambititon, devoid of sanguine thirst of blood, our hero returned, with those he commanded, and laid down the sword at the feet of those who gave it him. ‘Such an example to the world is new.’ Like other nations, we experience that it requires as great valor and wisdom to make an advantage of a conquest, as to gain one.
The want of efficacy in the confederation, the redundancy of laws, and their partial administration in the States, called aloud for a new arrangement of our systems. The wisdom of the States, for that purpose, was collected in a grand convention – over which, you, sir, had the honor to preside. A national government, in all its parts, was recommended, as the only preservation of the Union, which plan of government is now in actual operation.
When the Constitution first made its appearance in Virginia, we, as a society, had unusual strugglings of mind, fearing that the liberty of conscience, dearer to us than property or life, was not sufficiently secured. Perhaps our jealousies were heightened, by the usage we received in Virginia, under the regal government, when mobs, fines, bonds and prisons were our frequent repast.
Convinced, on the one hands that without an effective National Government, the States would fall into disunion and all the consequent evils; and, on the other hand, fearing that we should be accessary to some religious oppression, should any one society in the Union preponderate over the rest; yet, amidst all these inquietudes of mind, our consolation arose from this consideration, – the plan must be good, for it has the signature of a tried, trusty friend, and if religious liberty is rather insecure in the Constitution, ‘the Administration will certainly prevent all oppression, for a WASHINGTON will preside.’ According to our wishes, the unanimous voice of the Union has called you, sir, from your beloved retreat, to launch forth again into the faithless seas of human affairs, to guide the helm of the States. May that Divine munificence, which covered your head in battle, make you a yet greater blessing to your admiring country in time of peace. Should the horrid evils that have been so pestiferous in Asia and Europe, faction, ambition, war, perfidy, fraud, and persecution for conscience sake, ever approach the borders of our happy nation, may the name and administration of our beloved President, like the radiant source of day, scatter all those dark clouds fiord the American hemispheres.
And while we speak freely the language of our hearts, we are satisfied that we express the sentiments of our brethren, whom we represent. The very mime of Washington is music in our ears; and although the great evil in the States is the want of mutual confidence between rulers and people, yet we have all the utmost confidence in the President of the States; and it is our fervent prayer to Almighty God, that the federal government, and the governments of the respective States, without rivalship, may so co-operate together, as lo make the numerous people over whom you preside, the happiest nation on earth, and you, sir, the happiest man, in seeing the people, whom, by the smiles of Providence, you saved from vassalage by your valor, and made wise by your maxims, sitting securely under their vines and fig trees, enjoying the perfection of human felicity. May God long preserve your life and health for a blessing to the world in general, and the United States in particular; and, when, like the sun, you have finished your course of great and unparalleled services, and go the way of all the earth, may the Divine Being who will reward every man according to his works, grant unto you a glorious admission into his everlasting kingdom, through Jesus Christ. This, sir, is the prayer of your happy admirers.
By order of the Committee,
SAMUEL HARRISS, Chairman.
REUBEN FORD, Clerk.
To the General Committee, representing the United Baptist Churches in Virgnia.
GENTLEMEN, – I request that you will accept Easy best acknowledgments for your congratulation on my appointment to the first office in the nation. The kind manner in which you mention my past conduct, equally claims the expression of my gratitude
After we had, by the smiles of divine Providence on our exertions, obtained the object for which we contended, I retired, at the conclusion of the war, with an idea, that my country could have no farther occasion for my services, and with the intention of never entering again into public life. But when the exigencies of my country seemed to require me once more to engage in public affairs, an honest conviction of duty superseded my former resolution, and became my apology for deviating from the happy plan which I had adopted.
If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed by the Convention where I had the honor to preside, might possibly. endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general government might even be so administered, as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself, to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution. For you, doubtless, remember, I have often expressed my sentiments, that any man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.
While I recollect with satisfaction, that the religious society of which you are members, have been, throughout America, uniformly, and almost unanimously the firm friends to civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious revolution; I cannot hesitate to believe, that they will be the faithful supporters of a free, yet efficient general government. Under thin pleasing expectation, I rejoice to assure them, that they may rely upon my best wishes and endeavors to advance their prosperity.
In the meantime, be assured, gentlemen, that I entertain a proper sense of your fervent supplications to God for my temporal and eternal happiness.
I am, gentlemen, your most obedient servant,
Elder Leland’s removal to New-England took place in 1791. As soon as he landed again on its shores, he commenced anew the warfare against religious intolerance, and the defence of the cause that had so signally triumphed in Virginia. During his stay in New London, he published his “Rights of Conscience Inalienable,” and afterwards, from time to time, other works of the same character; some of which will be found in these volumes, and others it has been impossible to obtain.
Our limits do not allow us to enter upon the history and progress of religious liberty in Massachusetts. This may be found elsewhere. It had struggled for existence, and found some advocates from the first settlement of the state, but was kept constantly shackled by certificate laws, and other expedients of ecclesiastical tyranny. At length, in the beginning of 1811, a decision by Judge Parsons, that no society, not incorporated by law, could claim even the pitiful privilege of drawing back money, awakened the fears of the dissenters, and a circular Address, accompanied by a petition to the legislature, praying for a revision of the laws respecting public worship, was circulated through the state. At the solicitation of the people of Cheshire, Mr. Leland accepted a seat in the legislature, for the special purpose of aiding the measures petitioned for. His speech, delivered during the debate on the subject, may be found in another part of this work.
A law was finally passed that gave some relief, but not complete satisfaction. The “stump” of the tree of ecclesiastical oppression, so carefully preserved “with a band of iron and brass,” continued, therefore, to furnish a subject for his animadversion, in various essays, addresses, etc., and he improved such opportunities as were offered him, as a matter of duty, and in fulfilment of the public pledge he had given, that “as long as he could speak with his tongue, wield a pen, or heave a cry to heaven, whenever the rights of men, the liberty of conscience, or the good of his country were invaded by fraud or force, his feeble efforts should not lie dormant.” His letters, etc., on the Sunday Mail question, have the same bearing, and breathe the same spirit. To neutralize the effect of these, and to destroy the confidence reposed in him, reports were industriously circulated in some newspapers, that “he had renounced the Christian faith, and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and been excommunicated from the church.” The reader is requested to turn to his reply to a letter from Rev. O. B. Brown, on this subject, where he will find a sufficient refutation of this calumny. To show its probable foundation, however, it will be necessary to return to the period of his removal to Cheshire, and give a connected narrative of a series of events, which misrepresentation and falsehood have so distorted to his prejudice, as to render a true statement of them an act of indispensable justice to his memory. As the professed object of this work is to exhibit fully his character and sentiments, facts which have so important a bearing upon that object, cannot, with propriety, be withheld.
Soon after Elder Leland came to reside in Berkshire, the town of Cheshire was organized. There was, at that time, within its bounds, a large and flourishing church, called New Providence Grant, whose pastor was Elder Werden. There was also, another, called the Six Principle Church, making the laying on of hands a pre-requisite to communion. The church, with which Elder Leland united, and of which he continued a member until his death, had dissented from the Six Principle Church, and contained about seventy members. This was usually called the Second Baptist Church.
Considerable additions were soon made, and in 1793, it was determined to build a meeting-house Elder Leland drafted a Constitution which was unanimously adopted, and the house was built during the succeeding year. The Constitution reserved the control of the pulpit to the Baptist church, giving any proprietor, not a member, the liberty of inviting any man, “in character,” to occupy it his pastorial part of the time, and if, at any time, the church should fall away, or be unable to support a meeting, or a minister, it secured the property to the original proprietors, and their heirs at law.
The inhabitants of Cheshire, were, at that time, principally thriving farmers, who had removed there when the country was yet a wilderness, and by untiring industry had cleared their lands, built comfortable houses, school houses, etc., and were training up large families of very intelligent children. The wealthier portion of the church seemed ever ready to help the poor, and encourage the weak. Their records furnish numerous instances of their watchfulness and promptness in providing for the wants of their needy members.
This church, with all others in Berkshire, belonged to the Shaftsbury Association; a very respectable body, but containing a number of talented men, who were every way aristocratic, in their views of the powers of Associations over churches, and of churches over their respective members. As Elder Leland, and his brethren in Virginia, had just thrown off the yoke of the established clergy, and built up their institutions upon the most liberal plan, it will not be thought strange if his feelings and views were not relished by the more narrow-minded, and his increasing popularity looked upon with other than friendly feelings.
Revivals of religion in Cheshire, and the adjacent towns, for some time kept up large congregations in their new meeting-houses, and scarcely a covenant-day passed, without the addition of one or more to their number. Under date of December, 1795, the following entry is found upon the records: “Elder Leland appears to stand in the power and demonstration of the spirit of God, in the administration of the word and ordinances of the gospel.” But when religion began to decline, and a worldly spirit Crept in, he was exceedingly pained to see leading members of the church, (of which he then had the care,) indulging in harsh language towards each other; yet ever ready to give a word of exhortation, to draw the reins of discipline closely with their neighbors, and virtually to say, by coming to the communion, “we are one.” This became very trying to his feelings, and as he had never enjoyed the Lord’s supper, as he had preaching and baptizing, he felt no little embarrassment in constantly administering it under such circumstances. But as these members were respectable, stood high in church and society, were warm friends to him, and not complained of by others, he thought it more prudent to smother his feelings, and seeing his own imperfections to be great, to exercise forbearance towards the faults of others.
At length, however, he manifested his feelings to the church, who, being unable to remove them, consented, according to his request, to “have patience to wait on him a little longer.” It is not certain at what time he left the pastoral charge, but it is probable he had not filled that office for some time previous to 1799, when he was requested to resume it, but declined. He spent considerable portions of every year in travailing and preaching from place to place, but when at borne, (as may be seen by reference to the auto-biography,) he was never idle.
In August, 1799, the peaceful work of grace, called, by way of eminence, “the great Reformation,” commenced in Cheshire, and its vicinity. His labors and successes during that interesting season, are recorded by his own hand. One of the members of the church, who had, during the ingathering, not only absented himself from public worship, and church meetings, but “spoken lightly of the work of God among the people,” professed to be aggrieved that Elder Leland should not break bread to the church, “let the embarrassments be what they might in his own mind,” and also found fault with the church “for not forbidding him to pray and preach, inasmuch as he had neglected a known precept.” The church sustained Elder Leland in his course, and contended that they had no right to forbid him to pray and preach, “inasmuch as he had been guilty of no immoral conduct.” After a series of unsuccessful efforts to convince the refractory member of his errors, and to bring him back to duty, the church withdrew from him the hand of fellowship.
Thus it appears, that the church both knew and respected his feelings, and did not feel disposed to urge him forward in the performance of that which he could not look upon as duty, nor to impute to him the omission, as a crime; and it is believed, that, when he removed to Dutchess county, he left no enemies in Cheshire.
Not long after his removal, Elder Lemuel Novell, a young, talented, and highly esteemed minister, passing through Cheshire, preached so much to the edification of the church, that they immediately appointed a committee to visit him, with a view to obtain his services as pastor. They found him rather disposed to come; but as he had been unfortunate in his outward concerns, had become involved, and the church at Pittstown had paid the demands against him, (amounting to nearly seven hundred dollars,) on the condition, “that he should never leave them to become the pastor of any other people, unless that people would refund the money to them; an obstacle was presented apparently difficult to be overcome. The trial which followed, would, but for its consequences, have found no place in these pages.
The committee, who waited on Mr. Covell, were disposed to engage him, but on submitting it to the church, a number of the members in good standing, and somewhat wealthy, objected, and by their arguments, nearly dissuaded others. The committee took the alarm – insisted strongly upon the powers of the church – and, though their reasoning did not convince, their perseverance conquered – and perhaps it will not be uncharitable to say, that Elder Covell’s debts were paid, and his family removed to Cheshire, rather in a spirit of defiance. The terms of settlement were the same as at Pittstown, with the additional promise, that if the church failed in affording him a decent maintenance, the seven hundred dollars were not to be refunded, though he should leave the place.
About this time, a mortgage being closed on the farm where Elder Leland resided, his friends in Cheshire gave him a pressing invitation to come and reside with them; to preach-whenever he felt disposed, and duty seemed to call him. Having children residing there, and being still a member of the church, he complied with the solicitation. He and Mr. Covell had always been warm friends, and their intimacy continued uninterrupted till the lamented death of the latter, while on a mission to Canada, October 19, 1806, less than six months from the time of his removal to Cheshire.
Mr. Covell viewed the proceedings of the church in the same light with the majority of the people of Cheshire. In a conversation with Elder Leland, he said, “had I foreseen the troubles that would ensue in consequence of my coming here, I would sooner have begged my bread from door to door.”
The shock produced by Mr. Covell’s death, was succeeded by a calm. fess, which lasted a considerable time, and gave the friends of peace, reason to hope that the breach in the church would soon be healed. Both church and society seemed seriously to regret the hurrying spirit that had set them at variance. Not so with a few leaders of the opposite party. “Recantation or excommunication,” were their terms, and strange as it may seem, acquainted as they were with Elder Leland, they applied to him for help to carry out their plans. Owing no ill will to either party, his answer was such as might have been anticipated. He thought a little forbearance, on their part, might have saved all the trouble, and hinted, that by some recantation from them, the church might still be kept together.
Disappointed in their favorite plans, smarting under the loss of property, their fond hopes in the grave, they were not a little chagrined at receiving a slight rebuke where they had expected much assistance. They did not however proceed immediately to extremities, but, after conversing with members of the Shaftsbury Association, unfriendly in their views to Elder Leland, (of whom mention has already been made,) they determined to apply to him as friends, and pretending ignorance on the subject, to draw from him an expression of his views respecting church discipline, communion, etc. He freely made a statement, and at their request committed it to writing. This paper has long been before the religious world, but as there may be many, who have never seen it, and who have but vague and indefinite, if not incorrect ideas of what Elder Leland’s views were, a copy of it is here subjoined, taken from the original on file:
1. I have no doubt about the necessity of internal religion, nor of the great advantage of social worship, to preach, pray, and praise.
2. Some doubts have ever been in my mind, whether the advantage of what is called church order, more than compensates for the disadvantages. It is uppermost in my mind, however, that good church order is scriptural.
3. I lodge no complaint against communing with bread and wine, but for myself, for more than thirty years experiment, I have had no evidence that the bread and wine ever assisted my faith to discern the Lord’s body. I have never felt guilty for not communing, but often for doing it. I have known no instance that God evidently blessed the ordinance for the conversion of sinners, which often attends preaching, praying, singing and baptizing.
4. Putting all together, the best conclusion that I can form, is, that church labor and breaking bread is what the Lord does not place on me, any more than he did baptizing on Paul.
5. If the church can bear with me, while I possess these feelings, and let me do what I have faith and confidence in, (which will be but a little while, for there is nothing left but a stump,) I shall be glad. Whenever I think I can do good, or get good, I will attend church meeting. and whenever the doubts of my mind are removed, I will commune.
6. If the church cannot bear thus with me, I wish them to give me a letter of dismission – such a letter as they can.
7. If such a letter cannot be given, consistently with the order and dignity of the church, I suppose excommunication must follow of course.
Cheshire, August 22, 1811.
This is a compendium of what I stated last church-meeting, and is here written on your request. Let no man follow me where I do not follow Christ. J. L.
It will probably appear evident to all, that more of the cunning of the serpent than of the harmlessness of the dove was displayed in this manœuvre of false friends. Most of the church agreed to forbear according to his request. A motion (made at the same meeting) to call a council, was negatived. A similar attempt at a subsequent meeting also failed.
They therefore called an ex parte council; but being defeated in this attempt, by the refusal of the church to attend, etc., they applied to the Association for aid. A committee of fifteen were appointed, who came and made an effort to convince the people of their error, in holding in fellow. ship a man who entertained sentiments so heretical. The committee met with no better success than the council.
Previous to the sitting of the committee, Elder Hull, of Berlin, had endeavored to mediate a peace between the parties, and a vote had been passed mutually “to bury all passed difficulties, never again to call them up”. As subsequent events showed this to be a false peace, and it becalms evident to all, that real and permanent harmony could not now be restored, the ten dissenting members at length consented to accept letters of dismission, of which the following is a copy: “Whereas, there has been a difficulty subsisting among the members of this church, and a general agreement cannot as yet be obtained, we have thought it advisable to part. Accordingly, the ten dissenting members are dismissed from Us, and we will not now fellowship any church that may receive them into their communion.”
The result of another council, convened about a year after, to which the church deputed a committee, and submitted a written statement of facts, may be sufficiently gathered from the following allegory, written by Elder Leland:
In the year 1811, a small, diminutive vessel, with American colors, was seen sailing on the coast near the place, supposed to have on board contraband goods. A number of gun-boats called “Aggrieved Brethren,” formed a line and bore down upon the little vessel to sink her; but as the wind shifted they could not succeed. Their failure only fired them with resolution.
Some of the inhabitants provided a number of armed schooners called a Party Council, commanded by Captain H – , and made a second attack upon the little vessel, in March, 1812, but could not bring her to action. They next obtained two brigs, M – and T – , to join the squadron, and in May, following, attacked the little vessel with all their force; but when they had spent all their powder in raking her, they retreated without sinking the worthless vessel. They then applied to my Lord Shaftsbury for a squadron of armed brigs called a Committee, with Admiral W – the commander; but before this squadron arrived, there came. a Hull of a vessel from Berlin, with a white flag, and the captain, in behalf of his government, tendered his services to mediate a peace between the enraged inhabitants and the little vessel: but did not effect his wish. The July following, the line of armed brigs arrived; but with all their manœuvring they could not bring the little vessel to action, nor get near enough to cut down the rigging. The inhabitants again applied to Lord Shaftsbury for a squadron of frigates to blow the little vessel from the ocean. His Lord ship granted them five more frigates, to be commanded by the bold Admiral W – , which formidable force hove in sight August 25th, 1813. The little vessel came up to the fleet, and showed her papers, colors, and cargo, at sight of which the squadron divided. Two of the frigates veered off, and said the little vessel was not a picaroon, but was pursuing lawful commerce, and there were not contraband goods on board sufficient to condemn her according to the law of nations. The other frigates said they had no orders from Lord Shaftsbury as yet to sink her to the bottom; but unless the inhabitants would join and destroy the little vessel, they would inform his Lordship of it next June, who would send a force that would distroy every individual that gave aid to the little vessel, or allowed her to sail on the face of the deep.
Early in 1814, a vote was passed that the dismissed members should have the use of the meeting-house so much of the time as they were entitled to it, by the share they held in the property, and they were requested to appoint their days of worship.
At the meeting of the Shaftsbury Association in June, 1817, at the request of the messengers of the church, they were dropped from their connection with the Association. In the afternoon of the same day on which this was done, “A certain schedule of articles of belief, dated at Cheshire, August 22, 1811, signed John Leland, being presented by the messengers of the Leyden Association, who desired to know if we held in our fellow ship a public character or church that embraced such sentiments:
Voted, unanimously, that this Association hold fellowship with no man or church, embracing, or countenancing such sentiments as contained in the paper then presented.”
Possessed of that charity which “hopeth and endureth all things,” and neither wishes nor works ill to its neighbor, Elder Leland was employed, during this long period of persecution, in the pursuit of his domestic concerns, and the duties of his calling. His friends, surprised at the extraordinary and unconstitutional proceedings of the “aggrieved party,” sought, by every means, for many years, to set the party and the public right. On the other hand, the wicked, seeing themselves backed by so many zealous professors, and ever ready to take advantage of such dis. sessions, spared no pains to invent and circulate the most unblushing false. hoods respecting his opinions and practices. No good ever resulted from the whole course of proceeding; nothing was gained by any one; but a bad impression was left upon the minds of the people generally, who seemed to doubt the purity of purpose that actuated to such a course of conduct as had been pursued, nor could ever be brought to see how any blame could justly fall upon Elder Leland.
Years passed on, the particular circumstances of which it is unnecessary to detail. At length, in 1824, a new church was formed, consisting, in part, of the surviving members of the aggrieved party, and partly of such as withdrew at that time from the Second Church, or had never united with any. Each church occupied the meeting-house half the time.
A revival in 1827, produced some accessions to both, and also to Methodist society which had been constituted in 1823.
As many of the dissenting members had, in years previous to church difficulties, been warmly attached to Elder Leland, none but his God and nearest friends knew how trying to his heart was the loss of their society and friendship. At the darkest hour of the contest, no uncharitable expression escaped his lips, nor could he ever be induced to occupy the desk, when he thought it belonged, of right to them.
In 1831, another revival occurred. Numbers were baptized, and united with the churches to which their friends respectively belonged. Others were deterred from uniting with either, by the consideration that the existence of two churches of the same faith and order, in one place, necessarily involved the certainty that a wrong existed somewhere; and, as they could not determine satisfactorily to themselves where it existed, they judged it better to remain neutral. Indeed, for the most part, the younger portion of the community knew not why they should stand aloof from their neighbors in religious concerns, when they were all of one faith, and friendly in every other respect. The lapse of years had thinned the number of those whose grievances had first occasioned the division, and those living, seemed to feel deeply their estrangement from their brethren, and manifested, by suitable acknowledgments to Elder Leland and others, or by their friendly conduct, that they retained no longer any hostile feeling. Time had smothered the disputes that had once risen like mountains between them and their brethren, and the Holy Spirit’s influence, which, as has justly been remarked. “can accomplish more in one hour, in bringing Christians together, than years spent in disputes and discipline,” was doing its perfect work, and fostering a growing spirit of charity in all hearts.
In the winter and spring of 1833-4, Elder Leland and his wife had some rather unusual exercises of mind respecting the churches, which left upon them the impression that a union might be effected. Prompt in executing what his feelings of duty led him to undertake, he immediately visited several members of his own church, told his feelings and wishes, and proposed, if possible, to bring about a reconciliation by meeting their brethren of the other church, on the broad basis of universal forgiveness, and mutual oblivion of the past. Some did not readily concur: but he presented to their minds the powerful motives on which their common Master had urged the duty of forgiveness, and reminded them that every Christian must have a forgiving spirit. At length their scruples gave way to the reflection, that if he, who had suffered most, could heartily forgive, they ought to throw no obstacle in the way of the accomplishment of his wishes.
A meeting was accordingly appointed, and the churches came together. Many spectators were also present; some, no doubt, drawn by curiosity, and expecting to hear the grounds of the long trouble laid open and dis cussed; and others, truly rejoicing at the prospect of a speedy end of those troubles. The plan proposed by Elder Leland was characteristically libeleral. The following is a copy of it, as written by him on the first page of the “new church book.”
Cheshire, March 6, 1834.
This day the Second and Third Baptist Churches in Cheshire united together, to be called hereafter the Second Church, upon the following plan of agreement, viz.: –
All former differences shall be buried in the sea of universal forgiveness; and all the members of both churches, whether present or absent, shall be considered in the union, under the following provisions: –
Any member here present, who, from local situation, or any other cause, may decline the union, shall be subject to no censure therefor. Those members who are not present, shall have the same indulgence, when they make their requests known. In both cases, the non unionists shall be under no obligation to tell their reasons why.
A clerk shall be chosen, in whose office the books and papers of both the former churches shall be deposited, merely for information, but shall not be appealed to for rules of proceeding.
A new book shall be procured, in which the proceedings of the church hereafter shall be registered.
As soon as the plan was laid before the meeting, a spirit of union seemed to run from heart to heart; and, to the great joy of all present, not an opposing voice was raised. The union was elected without a discussion of difficulties, without a surrender of private judgment – upon the only ground on which it is believed it could ever have taken place. It was a source of great consolation to Elder Leland, to have his early friends take him so cordially by the hand; and from this time until his death, it is believed no member of either church bore him any ill will; such, at least, was the appearance. The approving smile of Heaven seemed to ratify the act; for though but few additions to their number have since taken place, a spirit of harmony has prevailed in all their deliberations, and brotherly love has continued uninterrupted among the members of the united church.
In this brief sketch of events, we have endeavored to perform with candor the task which duty imposed Its object has been, not to call up painful remembrances from the oblivion where they were buried, but to do justice to the memory of the man to whose prejudice those events have been perverted, and to exhibit his character, course, and principles in their true light. No apology is, therefore, deemed necessary for an act so clearly and imperatively demanded by truth and justice. That which goes down to later generations as matter of history, should be sober fact, divested of all the false coloring which prejudice, ignorance, or party spirit may have thrown around it. Such, it is hoped, this narrative may be found. Great care has been taken to ascertain truth, and few assertions have been made that are not sustained by documentary evidence of undoubted authenticity. A few observations of a miscellaneous character, will close these sketches.
The following extract, from Semple’s Virginia Baptists, published in 1810, will serve to show the estimation in which Mr. Leland was held in that state.
“Mr. Leland, as a preacher, was probably the most popular of any that ever resided in this state. He is, unquestionably, a man of fertile genius. His opportunities for school learning were not great; but the enegetic vigor of his mind quickly surmounted this deficiency. His memory was so retentive, that by a single reading he stored up more of the contents of a book, than many would by a dozen careful perusals. It is probable that his knowledge, derived from books, at this day, taken in the aggregate, is surpassed by few. His preaching, though immethodical and eccentric, is generally wise, warm and evangelical. There are not many preachers, who have so great command of the attention and of the feelings of their auditory. In effecting this, his manner has been thought, by some, to approach too near to the theatrical. Cowper, the poet, says:
‘He that negotiates between God and man,
As God’s ambassador, the grand concerns
Of judgment and of mercy, must beware
Of lightness in his speech.’
“Here Mr. Leland and the poet are at variance; he does, sometimes, and, indeed, not unfrequently,
‘Court the skittish fancy with facetious tales.’
“If Cowper says, ‘So did not Paul,’ Leland can say, So did George Whitfield, Rowland Hill, etc., and they have been the most successful of modern preachers. Mr. Leland’s free and jocund manners have excited the suspicions of some, that he wanted serious piety. His intimate friends are confident that these are groundless suspicions. They believe that, among his other singularities, he is singularly pious.”
It is true, there was nothing of superstitious austerity in the tone of his piety; it corresponded with his own description of the feelings of the heaven-born soul – “lively as angels, yet solemn as the grave.” Deep solemnity characterized his public ministrations. In prayer, he seemed to have an overwhelming sense of the perfections of the Being he addressed; and his manner, his words, and the tones of his voice, were expressive of the most reverential awe, the deepest self-abasement, and the humblest adoration. He was in the habit of confessing the immense distance of men, as creatures, below the infinite Jehovah, and the immeasurable increase of that distance by reason of sin. “Supremely great, infinitely glorious, highly exalted, everywhere present, all-wise and eternal God,” was often, either wholly, or in part, the introduction of his prayer. His audience felt themselves-carried directly into the presence of Him who is “fearful in praises,” and it was impossible to listen with an irreverent or trifling spirit. In the administration of the sacrament, few, if any, were ever more deeply solemn and impressive. In his preaching, he sometimes, by a single sentence, presented before the mind a view of eternal things, which left an indelible impression on the memory. Such was the manner in which he was accustomed to speak of death. “It is,” he would say, “a solemn thing to die; to go – we know not where; to be – we know not what.” His manner, however, was far from being affected or theatrical; and he did not deem it inconsistent, either with real solemnity, or with the spirit of true piety, to mingle, not only in his writings and conversation, but in his preaching, occasional strokes of humor or of satire. But the “facetious tales” had always a higher object in view than to excite a smile, or “court the skittish fancy.” They were brought in illustration of some important truth, which he wished to exhibit in the clearest light, and to impress forcibly upon the mind; effects which their aptness was well calculated to produce. The shafts of satire, too, pointed though they might be, were not dipped in the gall of malice or ill will, nor aimed at anything which he esteemed valuable or sacred. Instances illustrative of this part of his character may be found among his writings, and will be recollected by all who ever heard him preach or converse. The following is one example, and will serve to show his manner of treating those circumstances, which, to many persons of different temperament, or of less elevated views and aims, would seem to afford sufficient ground for resentment, and which not unfrequently result in irreconcilable animosity.
As the annual races of Cheshire drew nigh, about the first of April, 1823, the hippodrome was prepared for the contest. As the speed, wind, and bottom of the horses were to be tested, the hippodrome included hills, levels, lanes and hedges, reaching from Savoy to Hancock. The prize to be run for, was
The horses brought on the ground were, first, the Duke of Marlborough; a fine, high-bred horse, in fine style; supposed by some, who judge of horses, to be the best racer ever seen on Cheshire race ground. The second, was Little Jolly sired by the imported Jolly Rogers, the famous courser. Little Jolly had never run but a few races; but his make, nimbleness and wind, raised the confidence of many. The third horse, was Old Dray, the sight of whom made some laugh, and others sneer. Old Dray had often been on the ground; but was never formed for speed, and rarely won the prize; had now grown old, and unfit to contend with young steeds in high perfection; in short, he had nothing to commend him, except his being of the fear-not blood. On this condition alone could he be admitted, that he should carry an extra burden of a plough and pitchfork on his back, during the race.
The distance stake was stuck forty feet short of the goal, and all things were made ready for the start. At the beat of the drum, the halters were slipped, and, by some unknown cause, Old Dray got four feet in front; but this advance was very short, for the Marlborough came up, and went by him, with great facility; and, had it not been for two causes, there was every reason to believe that the Marlborough would have distanced all the rest. The first cause was, he made a violent kick and bite at Old Dray, and some affirm that he spake, (like the beast that Balaam rode,) and said, “If Old Dray can be kicked out of the path, it will be the most glorious race that ever was run,” which rather crippled him in the stifle joint. His friends, however, say that there was neither kick nor bite; that although he is all activity to run the race, yet he has no venom in him. The second cause was, that when he came to Savoy Heights, far ahead, there was a certain berry on the hills, called Woodberry, which had so strong a scent, that it rather paralyzed his limbs.
Little Jolly started with great alertness, and the bets in his favor were greater than for any of the horses on the ground; but, making a bite at Old Dray, he incautiously stepped over the line, and crossed the path, in doing which he received a wound; but his friends produced a medicine, made of fabrication, and administered by offset, which proved a catholicon. They said that Old Dray had done as bad as Jolly, and one must be offset against the other. This medicine they had tried on a former occasion, and knew its efficacy. This treaty, made with their consciences, healed the wound of Jolly, and they declared him to be the soundest and swiftest horse in the race. And truly, in that part of the race ground called lanes and hedges, he performed wonders. Being acquainted with such kind of ground, he jumped with all the agility of a rabbit! In going over the flat ground of Hancock, Old Dray made considerable advances on Marlborough, but could not come up with him. In coming out at the goal, the Marlborough was seventeen feet in advance of Old Dray, and Old Dray seven. teen feet before the Jolly. The judges seemed somewhat divided; but the decision was, that the Marlborough should have the majority, the Little Jolly have the meeting-house, and that Old Dray should carry the plough and pitchfork upon his back as long as he lived, and never be allowed to enter the race ground again.
It will be admitted, perhaps, by all whose freedom from educational bias, and habits of close and independent thought, prepared them fully to appreciate the preaching of Elder Leland, that he was more than usually successful in reconciling those apparently conflicting portions of the system of gospel truth, which have been the theme of so much controversy in all ages of the Church. This was mainly owing to the care he took, never to “mix law and grace together;” or, in other words, never to confound the “system of God’s moral government,” with the “scheme of grace through a Mediator.” He viewed the line of distinction, as commencing at the “covenant of peace,” formed in the counsels of eternity, and continuing for ever. He did not, therefore, apply to the unregenerate, the promises and precepts addressed to the penitent and believer, nor hold forth the terrors of the law to “them who are in Christ Jesus.” Yet that he did not pretend to understand the whole mystery of the gospel, may be distinctly seen in the following detached paragraphs, from which, with other of his writings, may be gathered the fundamental points of his belief.
“The gospel is so internally profound, and the minds of men so limited, the obstructions to science so many and great, that it is but a little of the gospel that men understand; and yet, no scheme, fraught with fewer incomprehensibles, could have brought relief to fallen man. The unsearchable riches of Christ, which pass knowledge, will be continually unfolding themselves to the saints in light.”
“To reconcile the eternal designs of God with the freedom of the human will, is a question that puzzles all men. That both are true, admits of no reasonable doubt; but there is a great doubt whether the mind of man is large enough to reconcile the question: if it is, why is not the matter settled long ago? It appears to be one of the deep things of God, which we are to believe without comprehension. Should the Lord use ever so many words to elucidate the subject, still, the mind of man is so limited, that the matter would remain in the profound. That God is good, and that men are rebellious; that salvation is of the Lord, and damnation of ourselves, are truths revealed as plain as a sunbeam.”
“The preceptive part of the gospel addresses men as able to do, and commands them to do; but the gracious part considers men as weak and polluted, and reveals what God does for them. The former shows holy authority, the latter gracious benevolence.”
“Repentance for bad works, and the practice of good works, I strive to preach; but, as repentance will not expiate crimes, and the deeds of the law will not justify, redemption by Christ is essential. The salvation of God includes three things: first, something done for us, without us; second, something done for us, within us; third, something done by us.”
“The moral insolvency of man, has not destroyed the equity of God’ law, nor cancelled the demand.”
“The sinner, until he is changed by grace. never feels guilty because he has not the holy unction, but for the sins he has committed. The prayer of his heart is not for internal holiness, but for deliverance from punishment.”
“Adam, in innocency, with his life of natural purity, was happy on earth, but not fit for heaven. Had he never sinned, he must, nevertheless, have been born of the Spirit, (received the holy unction,) to have prepared him for heaven.”
“Grace and effort. Some preachers fix their eyes so steadfastly upon the unchangeable nature of God, his immutable decrees, his personal and unconditional election of some unto eternal life, that they leave themselves but little liberty to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ – ‘Repent, and believe the gospel’ – ‘Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out’ – ‘Labor not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto eternal life’ – ‘While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be children of the light,’ etc. Others place their minds on the rebellion of man, the necessity of repentance, and the willingness of Christ to save sinners, so strongly, that they overlook such passages as these: ‘As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed’ – ‘The election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded’ – ‘No man can come unto me, except the Father draw him’ – ‘Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes’—‘Then shall ye seek me and shall not find me’ – ‘Not according to our own righteousness, but according to his own mercy he saved us,’ etc.”
Though his sermons, conversation and writings, were characterized by perspicuity and simplicity, it must be supposed that he was sometimes misunderstood; for he was claimed, by some sectarians, as the advocate of doctrines which he considered fundamentally opposed to the truth. He incurred, also, the censure of many, by carrying farther than they thought necessary the Protestant sentiment, of the sufficiency of the Scriptures as a guide to Christian faith and practice, and by questioning the propriety of measures for which Scripture authority could not be adduced. Some of this class of individuals, however, while they could not but acknowledge the sincerity of his desires to be “made right,” and of his fervent prayers to be enabled to discern the truth, sought for other motives than love of truth, to which they might attribute his dissent from their own views. This was entirely uncalled for; for if ever there was a man, who, in his search after truth, was honest, unbiassed by sectarian partialities, unshackled by previously formed opinions, uninfluenced by any selfish considerations, none who knew him well, will hesitate to aver, that John Leland was that man. There is evidently a wide difference between searching the Scriptures to find a system of truth, and searching them for evidence to support one already adopted. That the latter was not the course pursued by him, the candor evinced in all his researches fully proves. His object being not so much to convince others, as to discover truth for himself, he avoided those sophistical methods of reasoning which too many employ to bring the unwary and unreflecting to their own views, nor did he resort to denunciation and fiery zeal, or to quibbling and evasion, to cover the weak part of an argument. He did not undervalue the importance of the objections that might be urged against his opinions; but giving them their full weight, he advanced his own arguments to meet them; following, in this respect, the example of Madison, whom he often quoted as a model of candor and fairness in debate.
With regard to his writings, it may be well to remark, that he never re-wrote his pieces; whatever they are, they were in the original draught. This consideration, while it accounts for many inaccuracies in language, both historical and grammatical, shows, at the same time, the systematic order in which his thoughts naturally arranged themselves, following one upon another with such method, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find an instance where any important proposition was assumed without proof, or a succeeding one in a series taken as proof of a preceding.
His views, in relation to the office and work of the ministry, are contained in various parts of his writings. It was never either his principle or practice to set a price upon his labors, nor to demand or receive a fixed salary. But though he never solicited, or made money a condition of preaching, he never refused what any chose to give him; and he received it, not as alms, but as a gospel debt. It was his counsel to one who was about to engage in the work of the ministry, never to make any dependence upon what he expected to receive for preaching; “if you get anything,” said he, “you can work it in afterwards.” Such was his own practice. His own hands, and those of his family, who were all trained to habits of active industry, supplied their wants, and he had the pleasure of knowing that whatever he did receive, was given “not grudgingly, but with free will, and of a ready mind.”
His practice with regard to baptism was in accordance with the views expressed in the letter found on page _____ of volume ____. He considered baptism a duty plainly enjoined on all the followers of Christ, by an ex. press command; but connection with a church to be a matter of choice and expediency. Accordingly ho always baptized such as gave evidence of piety, if they desired it, and left them to connect themselves with what. ever church they pleased or with none, if such was their preference. He thought the First Epistle of Peter, to the “strangers scattered” through various places, was, probably, addressed to such as, from local situation, or other causes, were not numbered with any of the churches.
His preaching, in latter years of his life, was almost entirely of the expository kind. He would frequently, after naming his text, go back a number of verses, or to the beginning of the chapter, and comment upon each clause in succession, and sometimes the close of the sermon would come without his having reached his text at all. But “it is no matter,” he would say, “so long as I keep within the lids of the Bible. Indeed, it makes but little difference what text I take, I must come to the third of John before I close. If I take an Old Testament text, I must preach a New Testament sermon.
It was equally true of him as of Mr. Haynes, that “though he seldom held a congregation long without exciting a smile, yet the predominant influence of his preaching divas to produce solemnity of feeling, and deep conviction of truth. His eccentricities would have been faults in any other man, but in him they were so inherent and essential to his character, and his wit was so spontaneous, and came, as it were, without his bidding, that they neither interrupted the current of his own piety, nor often weakened the religious influence of his discourses upon others.”
Many anecdotes and amusing incidents have been related of him, some, probably, without foundation in truth. Want of space forbids the introduction of more than two or three in this place. The following, cut from a newspaper, is judged to be authentic, from the fact that it is characteristic of him. Riding one day in company with Elder Hull, they were overtaken by a slight shower. Elder Leland was for seeking a shelter, but the other remarked, “Brother, I am ashamed of you – a Baptist minister, and afraid of a little water!” “Ah! Brother Hull,” replied he, “I never like these sprinklings.”
Calling one day on a Baptist minister, to whom he was not personally known, said the latter, after the first salutations, “by what name shall I call you?” He replied, “Why askest thou thus after my name, seeing it is secret?” “Well,” said the other, “is this all the answer I am to have?” “It is the answer of an angel, what better can you wish for?” “If you are an angel, doubtless you are a fallen one.”
On another and similar occasion, being asked the same question, he replied, “call me Leland.” “Ah!” replied the minister, “there are many who come along, wishing to be called by that name. I have been tricked in that way several times.” But after looking steadily at him a few moments, his doubts seemed to yield to the conviction that he was indeed no other than he pretended, and he exclaimed, “Is it possible that the Almighty has placed such a soul as Leland’s in such an insignificant body!”
Should this expression convey the idea that he was small of stature, the impression will be incorrect His height was not far from six feet, though as he advanced in years, his form became more stooping, and his stature, consequently, somewhat less. In flesh, he was rather thin and spare. Of his personal appearance, generally, the accompanying portrait will furnish a more correct and definite idea than any language can convey.
Perhaps these sketches cannot be more appropriately closed, than by the following brief extracts from the concluding part of the funeral sermon: “Great and good man, he is gone! The tender and affectionate father, the kind husband – the wise counsellor – emphatically the peace-maker – the social, warm-hearted friend – the sage – patriot – the lover of sound doctrine – the eloquent and unusually successful minister of Christ, is no more! Is no more? He still lives, we doubt not, where his intellect has found congenial spirits, and a wider range in the upper empire of Jehovah. He lives below in the affections of thousands, and ‘his works do follow him.’” “To live live like him, is to mourn over the sins of earth, and hold up God’s everlasting truth to a dying world. To die like him, is to stand on the confines of earth, looking off into eternity, and depart with the ‘prospect of heaven clear.’ To rest, at last, like him, is, we doubt not, to rest forever in the Paradise of God.”
The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland
Pages 41 – 72
1 In consequence of this misfortune, her speech was so much impaired, that through life it was difficult for persons not well acquainted with her, to understand her.
2 He has been heard to express the same opinion on other occasions, drawing his conclusions from the fact, that persons, in being made partakers of the grace of life, are brought to view themselves utterly loot without that grace – a conviction which they cannot feel, while they imagine themselves in no danger of receiving the “wages of sin, which is death.”
3 This discourse is already before the public, which circumstance, together with our limited space will sufficiently account for the omission of any further extracts.
4 See quotation from the speech of a Presbyterian, Vol.—, page—.
5 Drafted by Elder Leland.
6 It may be proper to mention, in this place, that while a member of the General Committee, he was appointed one of a committee to collect materials for a history of the Baptists in Virginia; and had made considerable progress towards it, when his removal caused him to relinquish the trust into other hands.
7 For the sake of brevity, details are omitted, and only a sketch of the important facts given.
8 This was done at the July meeting, 1812.
9 Soon after this, Elder Leland removed to New Ashford. See autobiography for circumstances. He continued to preach from time to time in Cheshire.
10 See minutes for that year.
11 Though only a small minority, they had at one time assumed to be the church, and as such, had sent a letter and messengers to the Association in addition to that sent regularly by the church.
12 To those acquainted with the circumstances, any attempt at an explanation of this allegory would be superfluous; to others, perhaps, impossible, as well as unprofitable. It will be sufficient to remind the reader that a revival occurred in 1823 – that the same year a Reformed Methodist Society was formed in Cheshire, and early in 1824, the Third Baptist Church was constituted. Among the ministers represented by three horses, no one, it is presumed, can fail to recognize the features of “Old Dray.”
13 Reminiscences of Rev. Samuel Haynes.