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A Letter from John Leland to Stephen H. Cone, Pastor
First Baptist Church, New York City
Previously Unpublished

The Baptist Memorial, 1842

For the Baptist Memorial.
     To the Editor, -
      DEAR BRETHREN: In the May No. of the "Memorial," you have given a brief sketch of the life and labors of the late Jobn Leland, one of our Baptist worthies. The following letter has never been published; but there is so much of the character of this extraordinary man enstamped upon it, that I feel constrained to solicit for it a place in your valuable periodical. Its perusal, I think, will gratify your readers.and make them better acquainted with one "who labored sixty-eight years to promote piety, and, vindicate the civil and religious rights of all men."
Yours, truly,

Cheshire, Dec. 10, 1826,
     I, John, who also am your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the city of Albany last August, where I formed a momentary acquaintance with yourself and brother Maclay. The Christian kindness which you and your elect lady expressed at our parting, fixed a soft affection in my heart, which I wish to indulge in a letter of friendship.

      From a septennarian, whose sun is declining on the western hills, you will not expect energy of mind, logical argument, coherent reasoning, nor pomp of diction; but contrary-wise, a sickening dose of egotism.

      You will judge best of my health, by hearing that I breathe, in common, twenty-four times each minute, and my pulses beat three times as often: which health and strength I have employed, the summer past, in travelling and preaching; which, by the bye, has been my constant practice for more than fifty-two years, with a few small exceptions. Since the first of June last, I have attended three associations, seen eighty-six Baptist preachers, and tried to preach eighty-one times. In retrospecting my life, I do not much reproach myself for not giving myself to the work, as far as domestic duties admitted; but the lack of divine love - little care for the souls of men - weakness in handling the word of life - mangling heavenly truths with an unhallowed tongue - a proud desire to make God's stream turn my own mill, &c., sink me in the dust, and fill my soul with shame before God and man.

      It has, in the course of my ministry, been a question of no small magnitude, to know how to address a congregation of sinners, as such, in gospel style. When I turn my eyes to the upper book, (the eternal designs of God,) I there read that God's work is before him, and that he works all things according to the counsel of his own will; that neither a sparrow, nor a hair of the head, can fall without our Heavenly Father; that providence and grace are the agents to execute his purposes. But when I look into the lower book, (the freedom of the human will,) I find that condemnation is conditional: "Oh that thou hadst hearkened unto me, then had your peace been as a river; - seeing ye judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo! we turn to the Gentiles," &c. If I do not read and believe the upper book, I impeach the omniscience and wisdom of Jehovah. And if do not likewise read and believe the lower book, I deny the possibility of guilt or blame. I must, therefore, believe both; and where I cannot comprehend, I will adore; where I cannot read, I will spell; and what I cannot spell out, I must skip. If the human mind should be so enlarged that it could solve every difficulty that has hitherto appeared, that same enlargement of thought would unfold a thousand difficulties more, so subtile and minute, that it never felt their weight before; so that there would be no getting through!

     The truth is, sin has ruined men so entirely, than any plan that human wisdom could devise or comprehend, would be incompetent to save. A scheme founded in infinite wisdom is necessary; and if founded in infinite wisdom, the wisdom of finite creatures cannot comprehend it in all its parts.

"Tho' of exact perfection we despair.
Yet ev'ry step to virtue's worth our care."

      Let the man of God read, study, meditate, consider, pray, and seek after wisdom as for hidden treasure; but when he comes to water too deep for his length, let him adore and be humble. Paul undertook to unfold the knotty question,which ever puzzles the world, in the ninth and eleventh chapter of Romans; but before he got through, he found the waters so high that he cried out, "O the depth - how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Let it be my lot to be a little child at the feet of my Master, ever learning of him who was meek and lowly of heart; then shall I find rest for my soul, and know enough to make me happy.

      When I was young, I noticed that old preachers never knew when to leave the work; and I confess I am at a loss about it myself. I yet carry my eyes in my head, but my sight in my pocket; but if some monitor was to give me a friendly hint, that I was run down in decay, it is probable that (like Milton) I should reproach him as an upstart. I yet flatter myself that my performances have a little in them which is valuable. So Solomon's triennial cargo consisted partly of the precious articles of gold, silver, and ivory, and partly of apes and peacocks.

      It has been rather trying times for Baptist preachers, who have travelled and labored day and night for the good of souls: like the rnules which Agelastus saw, they have been loaded with figs, and feeding upon thistles. What the new order of missionary funds and exertions will do, I cannot say; whether there is goodness enough in men to be pampered without growing indolent and haughty, is a question. One thing, however, is certain, viz: the captive children who lived upon pulse (Indian peas) were fresher, fatter, and ten times better in counsel, than the regular bred priest?, in the realm ol Babylon, who lived on a royal portion of meat and wine.

      I have some drawings of mind to visit your city and see my father's children who reside there; but to carry a dim candle among so many radiant suns would be rather absurd. Could I, like Paul, visit you in the fulness of the gospel of Christ, and impart unto you some spiritual gift, I should not hesitate. But ah! my leanness, my leanness! Call me not Naomi, but call me Mara. The prayer that I have been making for more than half a century, is expressive of my present state, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!"

      I wish, my brother, that a gracious God may bless you in soul and body - for time and eternity. And may your dear partner in life have the courage of Deborah - the piety of Hannah - the humility of Mary - the intelligence of Priscilla, and the benevolence of Phebe. Adieu!


     Rev. Spencer H. Cone, living in the city of regeneration, Grace Street - Penitent Alley - at the Sign of the Cross, next door to glory.


[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, September, 1842, pp. 287-288. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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