John Leland was born of Congregational parents, in Grafton, Mass., on the 14th of May, 1754. He evinced an early fondness for learning, though he enjoyed no other advantages than were furnished by the common schools. The minister of the town urged his father to give him a collegiate education, with a view to his becoming a minister; the physician of the place was equally desirous that he should become a medical practitioner; and he himself had formed the purpose of being a lawyer; but his father designed that he should remain with him, as the support of his declining years. Though he was, by no means, free from serious reflection, and occasionally even suffered deep remorse, during his childhood and early youth, he seems to have yielded, to some extent, to vicious indulgences, until he reached the age of eighteen, when he became deeply impressed with the importance of eternal realities. For the next fifteen months, his mind was in an unsettled, and much of the time agitated, state; and the record that he has left of his exercises shows that he was disposed to deal with himself with great honesty and fidelity. It was during this period that he became acquainted with Elhanan Winchester, then a young Baptist (afterwards a Universalist) preacher, whose influence probably assisted to give a direction to his mind favourable to the distinctive views of the Baptists. On the 1st of June, 1774, he was baptized at Northbridge, with seven others, by Elder Noah Alden, of Bellingham. On the 20th of the same month, - there being no preacher at the meeting in Grafton, to which he had gone, - he felt constrained to say a few words himself; and, finding that he had an unexpected freedom of utterance, he continued to speak, with comfort to himself, and to the edification of his hearers, for half an hour. He now formed the purpose of devoting himself to the ministry, and, from that time, preached in the neighbouring towns, whenever he was requested. In the autumn of that year, he joined Bellingham Church, (for until then he had belonged to no church,) and, "about six months after," he says, "that church gave me a license to do that which I had been doing for a year before."
In October, 1775, he made a journey to Virginia, and did not return till about the beginning of the next summer. On the 30th of September, 1776, he was married to Sally Devine, of Hopkinton, Mass., and immediately started with her for Virginia, where he had previously found, as he
* Autobiography, &c.
thought, an advantageous field for labour. At Mount Poney, in Culpepper, he joined the church, and engaged to preach there every alternate Sabbath. In August, he was ordained, by request of the church, without the imposition of the hands of a Presbytery; and, as this was a departure from the usage of the Virginia churches, they generally withheld from him their fellowship. He remained in Culpepper but a short time, as difficulties, with which he was more or less connected, sprung up in the church, and he was glad to seek another field. He removed now to the County of Orange, and laboured abundantly, but, for some time, without much apparent success. He, however, very soon commenced his preaching tours in different parts of the State, and extending sometimes much beyond the State, in which his labours were instrumental often of gathering large numbers into the church. In 1784, he travelled Northward as far as Philadelphia, where he remained six weeks. As he went in company with Mr. Winchester, who, meanwhile, had become a Uuiversalist, he was suspected of holding the same views with his fellow-traveller, and, therefore, was not invited to preach in the Baptist meeting-house in Philadelphia; but he preached in the Hall of the University, and in private houses, and, as the number of his hearers increased, he appointed meetings in the street, which were very largely attended; and, as a result of his labours here, he baptized four persons in the Schuylkill.
In June, 1787, he was ordained by the laying on of hands, by means of which he was brought into fraternal relations with the Baptist ministers in the State generally. In 1788, he laboured constantly in a revival, extending through several counties, and baptized three hundred persons. In 1790, he made a journey to New England, to visit his friends, and was absent about four months, during which time he baptized thirty-two. The winter following, he made his arrangements to remove to New England for a permanent home; having baptized seven hundred persons during his residence in Virginia, and having, at that time, charge of two large churches, one in the County of Orange, the other in the County of Louisa. On the last of March, 1791, he embarked with his family at Fredericksburg, and, after a most perilous voyage, in which all hope of making land was, for a time, abandoned, the vessel arrived at New London, Conn. Having remained there a couple of months, he went with his family to Sunderland, Mass., and thence to Conway, in the same neighbourhood, where his father and some of his early acquaintance were living, and where he determined to make a temporary residence. Here his family remained about eight months, while he was himself occupied chiefly in travelling, with a view to find a place which might be their permanent home. In February, 1792, he removed his family to Cheshire, Mass., where he spent a considerable part of his remaining days.
Elder Leland made a visit to his old friends in Virginia, in the summer of 1797, and was absent from home about six months. In 1800, he made a tour of four months, travelling Southward as far as Bedford, N. Y., and Eastward into Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In November, 1801, occurred the event of his life, which perhaps has contributed as much to his celebrity as any other, - the affair of the Mammoth Cheese. He went to Washington City to present an immense cheese to Mr. Jefferson, as a
present from his people at Cheshire, and a testimony of their approbation of his politics. It was made from curds, furnished, on a particular day, by the dairy-women of the town, and weighed fourteen hundred and fifty pounds. The Elder presented it in behalf of his people, as a "peppercorn " of their esteem for the Democratic President. Referring to this event, he says, - "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."
In March, 1804, he removed into Dutchess County, N. Y.; but returned to Cheshire in 1806. At the close of 1813 and the beginning of 1814, he made another visit to Virginia, and remained in the State eighty days, during which time he travelled seven hundred miles, and preached more than seventy times. In the autumn, after his return home, he sold his place in Cheshire with a view to removing into the Western part of New York, where his children were settled, but his object was defeated by the breaking of his leg shortly after; and he purchased a place at New Ashford, where he lived for more than sixteen years; but, in November, 1831, he returned to Cheshire.
In 1819, Elder Leland wrote a brief narrative of his life, from which the following is an extract: -"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 whom I have baptized 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.On the 10th of November, 1831, he writes thus: -
"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. 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 errors 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 gray-headed sinner; in the languague of the Publican, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'""My age and decays admonish me that the time of my departure is not far distant. When I die, I neither desire nor deserve any funeral pomp. If my friends think best to rear a little monument over my body, 'Here lies the body of John Leland, who laboured to promote piety, and vindicate the civil and religious rights of all men,' is the sentence which I wish to be engraved upon it."Elder Leland continued to prosecute his ministerial labours till near the close of his life. On the 5th of October, 1837, he was afflicted by the death of his wife, in whom he had found a most efficient and admirable helper, during a large part of his pilgrimage. Shortly after her death, he removed to the house of his son-in-law, Mr. James Greene, in Lanesborough, where he resided most of the time till his death. In the summer of 1838, he made a journey to Utica, and its vicinity, (the residence of his eldest son,) and was absent several weeks. In the winter of 1840-41, he was induced, by some considerations, to remove back, for a few weeks, to Cheshire, to the house of Mr. Chapman. His last sermon was preached at North Adams, on the evening of the 8th of January, 1841, from I John
ii. 20, 27. After the service, he went to the house of a Mr. Darling, and appeared as well and cheerful as usual. Soon after he retired to his chamber, the family were alarmed by an unusual noise, and Mr. D., on going to the room, found him prostrate on the floor. It was apparent, at once, that he was seriously ill; but, being placed in a bed, he was able, daring the night, to get a little rest. He continued until the evening of the 14th, suffering little, except from laborious breathing, but making many strikingly characteristic demonstrations, - and then passed away so quietly that it was impossible to fix the moment of his departure. His remains were conveyed to Cheshire for interment; and a Funeral Discourse was delivered by the Rev. John Alden, from Rev. xiv, 13.
Elder Leland was among the most prolific writers of his denomination in this country, at least during the period in which he lived. His productions, which consist of Occasional Sermons and Addresses, and Essays on a great variety of subjects, moral, religious, and political, were published, in a large octavo volume, together with his Autobiography, and additional notices of his life by Miss L. F. Greene, of Lanesborough, in 1845.
FROM THE HON. G. N. BRIGGS, LL. D.
Governor or The State or Massachusetts.
Pittsfield, Mass., April 15, 1857.
Dear Sir: The first personal recollection I have of Elder John Leland dates back to 1803 or 1804; when he lodged a night at the house of my father in Manchester, Vt. He had started on a missionary tour to Canada, on horseback. In the morning, after he left, he called at a house about a mile on his way, to deliver a message to the family from their brother in Cheshire. The woman of the house came to the door, and, on learning who she was, he said, - "Madam, your brother in Cheshire wished me to call and tell you that his family are well." As he was turning his horse, she inquired his name - "You may call me Mr. John," said he, "and I stayed at Capt. B.'s last night;" and rode on. Some of the family were very soon at Capt. B.'s to ask who the odd stranger was. On hearing, they were much disappointed and surprised that so noted a man had dodged them so successfully. On his return from Canada, he preached in the neighbourhood, to the great delight of the people. I was a small boy, but I distinctly remember his person and manner.
Three or four years before he died, Mrs. Briggs and myself spent an afternoon with him, and his aged and worthy wife. They had then lived together more than sixty years. They lived entirely by themselves. "As to numbers and family," said he, "we are just where we started in life." They had ten children, and I think he told me they were all then living; and what was most remarkable, he said they had never had a death in their house. Their house was an humble, but convenient, dwelling, a mile from the village of Cheshire. The inside was a beautiful specimen of the antique, of convenience, neatness and taste, - a model from which modern and more fashionable houses could have taken useful lessons. He was then eighty-five, and she eighty-three, years old. To me it was an afternoon of rare interest, enjoyment, and instruction. When the tea hour approached, the good old mother went about getting tea, in the style and manner of her own time. She kneaded and baked her nice short cake, and cooked her steak in the same room where we sat. When supper was on the table, nothing about her person indicated that she had been cook, and nothing in the room showed that that simple and tasteful
repast had been prepared there. In due time, the venerable form of that aged minister bent over the table, as he implored the blessing of Heaven, and we sat down. In the fulness of my heart, I said to him, - "Sir, I never sat down to a table with more pleasure than I do to this." With patriarchal dignity and simplicity, he instantly replied, - "You never sat down to a table where you were more welcome."
In the course of the afternoon, he spoke of many of the incidents of his long life. When he was twenty-one years of age, the only books in his father's house, and that he had ever read, were the Bible, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and Doddridge's Rise and Progress of Religion in the soul. He said he had been charged with being an enemy to education; but it was not so - he was a friend to education, and always had been. "Education," said he, "has but one enemy in the world; and that is ignorance." He believed the history of the Christian world would show that learning with clergymen had too often been made to take the place of piety, and those spiritual gifts and qualifications, which he deemed essential to one who entered upon the sacred duties of the Gospel ministry. A clergyman could not have too much learning, if it was made subordinate, and especially auxiliary, to those higher spiritual endowments which he considered indispensable, and without which no man had a right to assume to be a minister of the Gospel. From the time he began to feel the need of education, he had had a strong desire to read, and he had read every thing that came within his reach. "Once," said he, "I had a discussion with a Jew as to a passage in the Hebrew Bible; and I went on foot four miles through a wilderness to get a Hebrew Bible to settle the question."
Soon after his conversion, the minister of the parish to which his father belonged preached at his father's house. He was a pious and excellent man. After he had finished his sermon, and taken his seat, he observed that if anyone present wished to make any remarks on the subject of the sermon, or any other religious topic, there was then an opportunity, and he should be very happy to hear him. He said that, through the sermon, he had been impressed with the idea that the minister had mistaken the import of the text, and that he ought to give his own views of its true meaning. But it seemed that it would be presumption in a mere boy, in his tow frock and trowsers, with his leather apron on, and in his own father's house, - the neighbours all there, and in the presence of the venerable clergyman, with his great wig on, to call in question the correctness of the minister's interpretation of the Scripture. After waiting some time, — no one else rising, and the invitation being repeated in a kind and familiar manner, he found himself on his feet, and, in the best and most respectful way he could, gave his views as to the true meaning of the text, and resumed his seat. During the few moments of silence which followed, he said he was exceedingly depressed, and felt as though ho had been guilty of inexcusable presumption.
Very soon the minister rose, and expressed his satisfaction that the young man had so clearly and properly stated his views of the text upon which he had been commenting; and, though they differed materially from his own, he was not then prepared to say that the young man was not right. He should endeavour carefully to review his own construction of the passage, and try to find out the truth. The friendly and paternal manner of his minister somewhat quieted the perturhation of his own mind, but for a good while he was oppressed with the idea that he had been quite too forward for one of his years.
In the course of the afternoon, I told him that I had recently seen in the public prints an extract from an Eulogy delivered by J. S. Barbour, of Virginia, upon the character of James Madison; that Barbour had said that
the credit of adopting the Constitution of the United States properly belonged to a Baptist clergyman, formerly of Virginia, by the name of Leland; and he reached his conclusion in this way - he said that if Madison had not been in the Virginia Convention, the Constitution would not have been ratified by that State; and, as the approval of nine States was required to give effect to this instrument, and as Virginia was the ninth State, if it had been rejected by her, the Constitution would have failed; and that it was by Elder Leland's influence that Madison was elected to that Convention.
He replied that Barbour had given him too much credit; but he supposed he knew to what he referred. He then gave this history of the matter: — Soon after the Convention, which framed the Constitution of the United States, had finished their work, and submitted it to the people for their action, two strong and active parties were formed in the State of Virginia, on the subject of its adoption. The State was nearly equally divided. One party was opposed to its adoption, unless certain amendments, which they maintained that the safety of the people required, should be incorporated into it, before it was ratified by them. At the head of this great party stood Patrick Henry, the Orator of the Revolution, and one of Virginia's favourite sons. The other party agreed with what their opponents said as to the character and necessity of the amendments proposed; but they contended that the people would have the power, and could as well incorporate those amendments into their Constitution after its adoption as before; that it was a great crisis in the affairs of the country, and if the Constitution, then presented to the people by the Convention, should be rejected by them, such would be the state of the public mind, that there was little or no reason to believe that another would be agreed upon by a future Convention; and, in such an event, — so much to be dreaded, — the hopes of constitutional liberty and a confederated and free Republic would be lost. At the head of this party stood James Madison. The strength of the two parties was to be tested by the election of County Delegates to the State Convention. That Convention would have to adopt or reject the Constitution. Mr. Madison was named as the candidate in favour of its adoption for the County of Orange, in which he resided. Elder Leland, also, at that time, lived in the County of Orange, and his sympathies, he said, were with Henry and his party. He was named as the candidate opposed to the adoption, and in opposition to Mr. Madison. Orange was a strong Baptist County; and his friends had an undoubting confidence in his election. Though reluctant to be a candidate, he yielded to the solicitations of the opponents of the Constitution, and accepted the nomination.
For three months after the members of the Convention at Philadelphia had completed their labours, and returned to their homes, Mr. Madison, with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, had remained in that city for the purpose of preparing those political articles that now constitute The Federalist. This gave the party opposed to Madison, with Henry at their head, the start of him, in canvassing the State in his absence. At length, when Mr. Madison was about ready to return to Virginia, a public meeting was appointed in the County of Orange, at which the candidates for the Convention, - Madison on the one side, and Leland on the other, - were to address the people from the stump. Up to that time he had but a partial personal acquaintance with Mr. Madison, but he had a high respect for his talents, his candour, and the uprightness and purity of his private character. On his way home from Philadelphia, Mr. Madison went some distance out of his direct road to call upon him. After the ordinary salutations, Mr. Madison began to apologize for troubling him with a call at that time; but he assured Mr. M. that no apology was necessary — "I know your errand here," said he, "it is to talk with me about the Constitution. I am glad to see you, and to have an opportunity of
learning your views on the subject." Mr. Madison spent half a day with him, and fully and unreservedly communicated to him his opinions upon the great matters which were then agitating the people of the State and the Confederacy.
They then separated to meet again very soon, as opposing candidates before the electors, on the stump. The day came, and they met, and with them nearly all the voters in the County of Orange, to hear their candidates respectively discuss the important questions upon which the people of Virginia were so soon to act. "Mr. Madison," said the venerable man, "first took the stump, which was a hogshead of tohacco, standing on one end. For two hours, he addressed his fellow-citizens in a calm, candid and statesman-like manner, arguing his side of the case, and fairly meeting and replying to the arguments, which had been put forth by his opponents, in the general canvass of the State. Though Mr. Madison was not particularly a pleasing or eloquent speaker, the people listened with respectful attention. He left the hogshead, and my friends called for me. I took it and went in for Mr. Madison; and he was elected without difficulty. This," said he, "is, I suppose, what Mr. Barbour alluded to." A noble Christian Patriot! That single act, with the motives which prompted it, and the consequences which followed it, entitle him to the respect of mankind.
After Elder Leland came to Massachusetts, he kept up a correspondence with Mr. Madison for many years. He said he had given to his friends all Mr. Madison's letters, except one, and that he showed to me. One opinion, I remember, was expressed in it, which seems singular enough to those acquainted with the present condition of the revenues of this Government, and shows how very limited and incorrect were the views of the public men of that day, as to the future sources of revenue for the United States. He said it was not probable that the duties derived from imports would ever be sufficient to defray the expenses of the Government.
For candour, integrity, and intelligence, he placed Mr. Madison before any of our statesmen whom he had ever known. As a public dehater, he said he had one trait which he had never witnessed in any other man - after stating, in the clearest manner, the positions and arguments of his opponent, if that opponent had omitted any thing that would strengthen his side of the case, he would add it, and then proceed to meet and answer the whole.
When in Virginia, he was in the habit, occasionally, of preaching at the house of a widow lady, who had a son who had been an officer in the Revolutionary War. After the War closed, he came home, and became both a drunkard and an infidel. He was displeased at the meetings being held at his mother's house, and gave out threats that if Leland came there again to preach, he would kill him. His threats, however, were disregarded; and, after that, when another meeting was being held, this Captain came home drunk, and during sermon time. He made his way through the people in one of the rooms, and seized his sword, which hung on the wall, drew it from the scabbard, and rushed towards the preacher. No one interposed to arrest him, until he got almost within reach of the object of his malice, "when, instantly," said the old gentleman, "a pair of arms were thrown around him from behind, and they held him as firm as a vice, until he was disarmed by others, and secured." Turning his bright blue eye, and pointing his finger, towards his aged wife, whose arms hung down by her side, he said, — "Those Are the arms which arrested and held the madman. The men present seemed to be stupified by the daring act of the desperado."
While I was at his house, I inquired of him about a remarkable noise, which I had, when a boy, heard that he and his family had been annoyed by, when they lived in Virginia. He gave this account of it: - His family, at the
time, consisted of himself, wife, and four children. One evening, all the family being together, their attention was attracted by a noise, which very much resembled the faint groans of a person in pain. It was distinct, and repeated at intervals of a few seconds. It seemed to be under the sill of the window, and between the clap-boards and the ceiling. They paid very little attention to it, and in a short time it ceased. But, afterwards, it returned in the same way - sometimes every night, and sometimes not so frequently, and always in the same place, and of the same character. It continued for some months. He said it excited their curiosity, and annoyed them, but they were not alarmed by it. During its continuance, they had the siding and casing removed from the place where it appeared to be, but found nothing to account for it; and the sound continued the same. He consulted his friends, especially some of his ministerial brethren, about it. I think he said it was never heard by any except himself and his family; but it was heard by them when he was absent from home. Mrs. Leland said that often, when she was alone with the children, and while they were playing about the room, and nothing being said, it would come, and they would leave their play, and gather about her person. They had a place fifty or sixty rods from the house, by the side of a brook, where the family did their washing. One day, while she was at that place, it met her there precisely as it had in the house.
After the noise had been heard at brief intervals for, I think, six or eight months, they removed their lodgings to quite an opposite and distant part of the house; but it continued as usual, for some time, in its old locality. One night, after they had retired, they observed, by the sound, that it had left the spot from which it had previously proceeded, and seemed to be advancing, in a direct line, towards their bed, and was becoming constantly louder and more distinct. At each interval, it advanced towards them, and gathered strength and fulness, until it entered the room where they were, and approached the bed, and came along on the front side of the bed, when the groan became deep and appalling. "Then," said he, "for the first time since it began I felt the emotion of fear; I turned upon my face, and if I ever prayed in my life, I prayed then. I asked the Lord to deliver me and my family from that annoyance, and that, if it were a message from Heaven, it might be explained to us, and depart; that if it were an evil spirit, permitted to disturb and disquiet me and my family, it might be rebuked, and sent away; or if there was any thing for me to do, to make it depart, I might be instructed what it was, so that I could do it." This exercise restored his tranquillity of mind, and he resumed his usual position in the bed. Then, he said, it uttered a groan too loud and startling to be imitated by the human voice. The next groan was not so loud, and it had receded a step or two from the front of the bed, near his face. It continued to recede in the direction from which it came, and grew less and less, until it reached its old station, when it died away to the faintest sound, and entirely and forever ceased.
No explanation was ever found. "I have given you," said he, "a simple and true history of the facts, and you can form your own opinion. I give none." His wife confirmed all he said. I think I can say that I never knew a person less given to the marvellous than Elder Leland.
Forty years ago, a very intelligent physician in this county became pious. He had long known Elder Leland. One day he met him on the highway, leisurely driving along a horse that he called Billy. They both stopped, and, after some conversation, the Doctor told him that he should be glad to have his views upon two or three points of religious doctrine. First, as to the Sovereignty of God. This was with Elder Leland a favourite theme, and one in which his head and his heart had been engaged for sixty years. He proceeded, and occupied several minutes in repeating appropriate passages of Scripture, and commenting
upon them in a most lucid and able manner, until the Doctor said that he was entirely satisfied with those views. "Now," said he, "please let me know what you think of the free agency of man." With no less authority from Scripture, and no less potency of reason, he made this point equally satisfactory. "Now, Elder," said the Doctor, - "one more solution, and I shall be entirely satisfied - will you tell me how you reconcile these two great and important truths." "Doctor," said he, "there was once a mother, who, while busy with her needle, was teaching her little daughter to read. The child at length came to a hard word, and asked her mother what it was. 'Spell it, my child,' said she. The child made an effort, but did not succeed. 'Mother,' said she, 'I can't spell it.' 'Let me see it then.' She handed her the book, and the mother, after puzzling over it for some time, returned it to the child, and said, - 'Skip it then.'" "Get up, Billy," said the Elder, and drove along, leaving the Doctor to skip the word, or ponder over it, as he pleased.
I once heard him say in a sermon that, in the course of his life, he had not unfrequently heard preachers, - generally young men, propose to prove the sovereignty of God, and the free agency of man, and then to show the harmony between them. "At the last point," said he, "I always dropped my head; for, though they always did it to their own satisfaction, they rarely satisfied any of their hearers. And what is more remarkable, - no two of them ever came out in the same place with their demonstrations."
He said he had some ten or twelve sermons that were quite distinct, and did not run into each other. When he had preached them, he took new texts, relied on the bad memories of his hearers, and got along in the best way he could. "But," said he, "if I take my text in Genesis, my conclusion carries me forward to the third chapter of John: if I start in Revelations, I must go back, and end my sermon in the same third chapter of John." I do not think I ever heard him preach a sermon in which this remark was not illustrated and verified - when the great truth uttered by the Saviour to Nicodemus, was not, in terms, proclaimed to and enforced upon his hearers.
When in Virginia, he had an appointment to preach at the house of a planter, in a distant part of the State. Not being able to reach the place on Saturday night, early on Sunday morning he rose and pursued his journey. Coming to a plantation, which he judged to be near his destination, he rode up to the door, and inquired of a lady how far it was to Mr. such a one's. "This is his plantation," said she. "Then," replied the Elder, "I have an appointment here to-day." "Why," said the lady, "then you are the great Elder Leland, are you?" "Instantly," said he, "the Devil patted me on the back, and said, "you are the great Leland, are ye?" That, he said, was the first time the idea of being a great preacher ever entered his mind. He had always wished and striven to be a powerful and a useful preacher, but never before had the thought beset him of being a great preacher.
More than forty years ago, I heard him preach one evening from this text, - "I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned." It was a discourse of great power and impressiveness. Nearly every word was made a distinct head. I - Religion is a personal matter. Will - The will is involved, and must be active and decided. Now - Its importance demands immediate attention, and precedence of all things else. Turn aside - The business and cares of life must be laid by, and the whole attention, for the time, be given to the one thing needful. And see - It demands inquiry and investigation — consequences of vast importance depend on a right decision. This great sight, why the bush is not burnt - The burning, yet unconsumed, bush, represented the union of the Divine and human natures in the person of the Saviour; and the great fact of the incarnation
involving the destiny of tho soul, and of the race, demands the profoundest investigation of man. He spoke an hour and three-quarters; but there was no flagging of interest in the hearers, and their silent and breathless attention continued till the sound of the last word died upon his lips. He preached some of his most interesting discourses, when, as he said, he took an Old Testament text, and preached a New Testament Sermon. This was emphatically one of that class.
His preaching had none of the charms either of a refined oratory or a cultivated rhetoric; but there were times when, his great Christian heart being filled with his all-inspiring theme, I have heard him appeal to an audience with a pathos and power that I have never known to be exceeded in the desk. He had a gesture of great significance and effect, when he was deeply interested. It was that of swinging his hand, half closed, from his mouth the whole length of his arm; and it had the appearance of throwing his words broadcast over the congregation. I have rarely heard a person speak of hearing him preach, who has not alluded to that remarkable and impressive gesture. He used no swelling or high-sounding words, but spoke plain, good, John Buuyan Saxon. His prayers were all and always prayers, - direct, earnest and short. Sometimes, after a sermon in which he had been greatly moved himself, he literally agonized in prayer.
Many years ago, I heard him preach in Pittsfield, to a large congregation, when his text was from that chapter of the Acts in which the history of Philip and the Eunuch is given. His subject included that narrative, and involved the question of Baptism. He read on till he came to the question, put by the Eunuch to Philip, - "See here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized." And Philip said, "if thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." And then read, "Philip and the Eunuch went up the broad alley of the meeting-house, and Philip put his hand in a basin of water, and laid it on the Eunuch's head, and baptized him, and they caine out of the meetinghouse, and the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing." "Stop, Leland," said he, "you don't read right;" and beginning again, - "And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the Eunuch. Ah, that's it," and went on with the narrative; and he finished his sermon with no other allusion to the subject.
On another occasion, he gave an account of his own Baptism, when he was a child. The minister came to his father's house to baptize him. When he learned the fact, he fled, and resolved not to be taken back. But the hired girl pursued, overtook, and recaptured him. He, however, had fallen on his face, and his nose bled, so that it was some time before he was in a condition to receive the baptismal water; and he reluctantly submitted at last. And to show that children had no voluntary part in their Baptism, he said he believed the little saints very generally showed all the resistance in their power. In the course of about thirty of the last years of his life, I heard him preach a great many times, and I believe these were the only two occasions, except at Baptisms, where it was his custom to repeat appropriate passages of Scripture, when going into and coming out of the water, that I ever heard him speak about the subjects or mode of Baptism. In the pulpit he declared his own doctrines and opinions boldly and fearlessly, and sustained them with ability; but he never denounced those who differed from him, or treated their opinions with disrespect. Quite early in life, he eschewed polemic discussions with those who differed with him on the doctrines of religion, as being altogether unprofitable.
He had a pleasant and often amusing humour, sometimes highly satirical, but never acrid.
In his person, Elder Leland was tall, muscular and commanding. Age had slightly bent him, in the later years of his life, but that added to his patriarchal venerableness. He had a noble head; a high, expanded and slightly retreating forehead; a nose a little aquiline, and a bright, beautiful, sparkling blue eye, which eighty-seven years had not dimmed. The expression of his eye, especially in the pulpit, was electrical.
In his manners and personal intercourse he was plain, courteous and dignified. Without the outward polish and veneering of the artificial, he had all the elements and bearing of the real, gentleman. He was bland and kind to all. No man could approach him with a rude familiarity.
Politically, he belonged to the old Republican party. And when this party, in 1824, split into four parts, each supporting its own candidate for the Presidency, he fell in with the Jackson party. Many thought he intermeddled too much in politics for a clergyman; though it is prohable that that opinion prevailed most among those who did not belong to the same party with himself. That he was a real friend to the religious and political rights of man, I am sure, no one who ever knew him, can doubt for a moment. It is a fact in respect to him worthy of record, that he discouraged the efforts of his friends to secure his political advancement, or invest him, in any way, with civil authority. Once indeed, in 1811, he consented to be a member of the Legislature, from the town of Cheshire, but it was in the hope that he might be instrumental in securing their legitimate rights to the religious sects of Massachusetts, who did not belong to what was then called "the Standing Order" in the State. He hoped to abate the rigour of existing laws, and lived to see the great principle of what Roger Williams aptly called " Soul Liberty," firmly and forever established in the Commonwealth which gave him birth.
The last time I saw him was in November, 1840, a few days after the election of General Harrison to the Presidency of the United States. I drove up to the public house in Cheshire, just as he had entered his carriage to drive away. After the compliments of the day, he said pleasantly, "Well, you have beat us in the Presidential election - General Harrison is chosen by the people. I yield to the will of the majority constitutionally expressed. It is the duty of all good citizens to do so. I hope his administration will be a good one, and that it will promote the best interests of the country. We are all alike interested to have it so." He then bid me good bye, and I looked upon his venerable person for the last time. His last words to me were those of a true patriot. Such he was.
Respectfully yours, G. N. Briggs
[From William Buell Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit: Baptist, 1860, pp. 174-184. Document from Google Books. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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