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John Elliot

John Elliot.—This renowned servant of Christ was born in the year 1604, and educated at Cambridge. Upon his removal from the university, he became assistant to the venerable Mr. Hooker, in his school at Chelmsford. While in this situation, he was awakened to a sense of his sins, and brought to e.\perience a work of grace on his heart. We give the account of it in his own words: "To this place I was called," says he, " through the infinite riches of God's" mercy in Christ Jesus to my poor soul. For here the Lord said unto my dead soul, live! and, through the grace of Christ, I do live, and shall live for ever. When I came to this blessed family, 1 then saw, and never before, the power of godliness in its lively vigour and efficacy."

Having continued for some time m the office of school* master, he resolved to devote himself to the'Lord in the

• Mather's Hist, of New Eng. b. iii. p. 186. 1 Backui's Hist, of Baptiib, vol. i. p. 310.

ministry of the gospel; but he was at a loss for an opportunity. He had imbibed the principles of nonconformity, and therefore could not enter upon any stated charge on the terms required of the clergy. The ruling prelates of the Laudian faction were at this time stopping the mouths of all the learned and useful ministers in the nation, who could not in conscience observe their popish and superstitious impositions. It appeared to young Elliot, that a conformity to these impositions, in the worship of God, was a direct violation of the second commandment. His conscience not permitting him to observe the unwarrantable ceremonies, he was not suffered to preach in any part of England. Great numbers of people were driven out of the nation by the arbitrary and cruel proceedings of the bishops; among whom was Mr. Elliot, who, in the year 16.31, fled to New England. On his arrival in the new colony, he joined himself to Mr. Wilson's church at Boston, where he preached occasionally for some time. But, the year following, several of his old acquaintance following him to New England, he settled with them at Roxbury, and was chosen pastor of the church, in which office he continued among them almost sixty years.

Mr. Elliot was a man of distinguished eminence. His piety was most exemplary. He lived under the habjtual influence of a praying heart. He knew, by happy experience, the utility of private prayer, and was ever urgent in promoting it among others. When he was informed of any important public news, he would say, "Brethren, let us turn all this into prayer." When he paid a visit to his intimate friends, he used to say, "Come, let us not have a visit without prayer. Let us pray down the blessing of heaven on your family before we go." And whenever he was in the company of ministers, he said, " Brethren, the Lord Jesus takes notice of what is said and done among his ministers. Come, let us pray before we part." He had an exceedingly high value for his Bible, was a close student of that sacred volume, and a constant and useful preacher. He lived, in a great measure, as if he were in heaven while upon the earth.*

Mr. Elliot was most exemplary in the duty of mortification. It could never be said, that he sought great things for himself. This world, and all things in it, were to him just what they ought to be to a dying man. He looked upon them all as mere trifles. He always rose early in the morning,

• Mather';, Hiat. of New £d*. b. iii. p. 175,176.

and was ever abstemious in eating and drinking. When the countenance of a minister at any time appeared to indicate too much indulgence, he thus addressed him: "Study mortification, brother; study mortification!" These pointed reproofs came from him with a becoming majesty and solemnity, and rarely gave offence.

His liberality was as a star of the first magnitude in the constellation of his excellent virtues. His bounty to public and private charities far exceeded his annual income. The poor esteemed him as their common father; and every object of distress found him to be a brother and a friend. He was constantly zealous in promoting family religion. But the loss of his wife made no common impression on his mind. They lived together, in the enjoyment of great happiness, upwards of half a century; but, a few years before his death, he followed her remains to the grave with great lamentation and many tears. They were usually called Zacharias and Elizabeth. Their family was a Bethel. They brought up their children " in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They commanded their children, and their household after them, that they should keep the way of the Lord."

Mr. Elliot was a considerable scholar, especially in his knowledge of the Hebrew. He was eminently qualified for the ministerial work. He took great care to distribute to all their portion in due season. It was food, not froth, with which he fed the souls of the people. His method of preaching was very plain, but remarkably powerful. His sermons contained much of Christ; and he constantly laboured to bring sinners to the Saviour. To young preachers he frequently said, " Pray let there be much of Christ in your ministry." Aud having heard a sermon which greatly savoured of Christ, he would say, "Blessed be God, that we have Christ so much and so well preached hi poor New England." He was a great friend to sermons well studied, always commending those which discovered close thought and much reading. Yet he wished to perceive something more in a sermon than mere human study. His frequent complaint was, " It is a sad thing, when a sermon wants that one tiling, the Spirit of God."

In his views of church discipline, Mr. Elliot was a thorough puritan, but peaceable in his separation from all usurpations over men's consciences. He was a modest and humble nonconformist to the unwarrantable inventions and impositions of men; and was deeply afflicted to see that the work of reformation was opposed, particularly by the bishops, in the church of England. It was a settled principle with him, that, in promoting the reformation of churches, every thing ought to be reduced to the primitive and apostolic institution. He was persuaded that a church, according to the New Testament, "is a congregation of professed believers, with officers of divine appointment, agreeing to meet together for the celebration of divine ordinances, and their mutual edification." After the closest examination, it was his settled opinion, "that no approved writers, for the space of two hundred years after Christ, make any mention of any other organized, professing christian church, than that only which is congregational." He could not conceive how a church could arise from any other formal, cause than the voluntary consent and confederation of the several parties concerned, by first giving themselves to the Lord, and then to one another.

This great man could not be satisfied with his regular ministerial exercises among his own people: his soul longed for the conversion of the wild Indians. After much consideration, and earnest prayer for the direction and blessing of God, he entered upon the arduous work. His design was no sooner made known than several favourable circumstances concurred to afford him encouragement. The enterprize was, indeed, laborious; but all the good people in the country rejoiced in his undertaking, and neighbouring ministers kindly supplied his pulpit while he laboured abroad. Also the Lord inclined great numbers of religious persons in England to make liberal contributions for its encouragement and support. Oliver Cromwell warmly espoused the cause, and commanded collections to be made in all the parishes throughout England for this important object. The sum collected was very considerable. For, in addition to other stock, lands were purchased to the amount of seven or eight hundred pounds a year; and a corporation was appointed to employ tin; rents for promoting the conversion of the Indians.'

Mr. Elliot's first business was to obtain a correct acquaintance with the Indian language, a work of immense difficulty, on account of the excessive length of the words, and the little affinity with any other language. Many of the words are so prodigiously long, that one would think, says Dr. Mather, they had been growing in length ever since the confusion of

• Sylv«(er"s Life of Baxter, part ii. p. 290.

Babel.* But Mr. Elliot's zeal surmounted all these difficulties. He hired a native Indian, who understood English, to assist hiin; and after some time, by his own indefatigable

f>ains and industry, he became a complete master of the anguage. He afterwards reduced it to a method, and published a grammar, entitled, " The Indian Grammar." At the end of this laborious production he thus wrote: " Prayers and pains, through faith in Christ Jesus, will do any thing." In addition to this grammar, he compiled two catechisms in the Indian language; and translated into that language Baxter's " Call to the Unconverted," " The Practice of Piety," and the whole Bible. The translation of the Bible, a work of immense labour, says our author, he wrote with one pen. It was printed at Cambridge in New England, and was the first Bible that was ever printed in America.t

When he was properly furnished for the wori, he entered upon it in the year 1646. Having called together a number of the Indians, at a fixed time and place, he paid them a visit, accompanied by several of his friends. After offering up fervent prayers to God, he preached to them about a quarter of an hour, from Ezek. xxxvii. Q, 10. That bij propliesyins, to the wind, the teind came, and the dry bones lived. H e introduced into his sermon a short account of the principal articles of the christian faith, and applied the whole to the Indians before him. Having finished his discourse, he inquired whether they understood; when they said they understood all. He then desired, as was his usual method afterwards, that they would ask him whatever questions thev pleased. These questions generally referred to the sermon they had heard, and discovered what advantage they had derived.

It is almost incredible what hardships he endured in the prosecution of this great work; how many wearisome days and nights went over his head; how many tiresome journies he travelled; and how many terrible dangers he encountered. Some idea of the trials he endured, and of the supports he experienced, may be gathered from the following extract of his letter to Governor Winslow:—" I have not been dry, "night nor day," says he, " from the third day of the week "to the sixth, hut so travelled; and at night pull off my "boots, wring my stockings, and on with them again, and so

• The two following words may serve as a specimen of tbeir length. NummatchekoritaniamonoDganunnonash, signifies, Our luttt. Kummogkodonattoottnmmuoeti(caonganunnonaih,siguifice,Our question,Mather's Htm England, b. iii. p. 193.' + Ibid. p. 197.

"continue. But God steps in and helps. I have con"sidered those words: Endure hardness, as the good soldier of Jesus Christ."*

These labours of love were not in vain, but crowned with abundant success. The natives, who felt the impression of the word of God on their hearts, were soon distinguished by the name of Praying Indians. Those who had wandered continually from place to place soon became inclined to a fixed life. Instead of living like wild beasts in a wilderness, they formed small settlements and built themselves little towns. They also formed for themselves a civil government, in which Mr. Elliot assisted them, taking the word of God for his model. Of these little settlements Natick was the principal. So early as the year 1648, this laborious servant of Christ could see the happy fruit of his ministry; and, said he, " I could find at least twenty men and women with whom I durst freely join in church fellowship."t In the year 1651 the first Indian church was formed. The natives, having abandoned polygamy, fornication, drunkenness, and sabbath-breaking, confessed their sins with tears, and professed their faith in Jesus Christ. And giving satisfactory evidence of their conversion to God, they and their children were baptized. They were then solemnly united into a church covenant, and Mr. Elliot administered to them the Lord's supper.j For many years he had'the unspeakable felicity of seeing the abundant fruit of his holy and arduous labours. He was so much engaged in the work of converting these wild pagans, that he was usually styled, the Apostle Of The Indians.^

As this eminent man of God approached towards his end, his conversation became still more holy, savoury, and divine. He was desirous of doing something for the Lord to the very last. When he looked upon his talents as too far gone for any further usefulness to the English, he desired to be employed in catechizing the negroes. At the very close of life he undertook to teach a poor blind boy the knowledge of the scriptures. He discovered much concern for the poor Indians to the very last. "There is a cloud," said he, " a dark cloud upon the work of the gospel among the poor Indians. The Lord revive and prosper that work, and grant it may live when I am dead.. It is a work about which I have been doing much and long. What was the word I spoke last I I recall that word, my doings. Alas! they have been poor and small, and lean domgs; and I will be the man who will cast the first stone at them."

• Mather's New England, b. iii. p. 196.

t Thorowgood's Jews in America, p. 121. Edit. 1650.

X Mather's New England, b. iii. p. 197.

§ For a full account of Mr. Elliot's zeal, labours, and success, together with others who were inspired by his example to prosecute the same work, see Mather'i Hist, of ATEngland, b. iii. p. 190—206.

Mr. Elliot often told his friends that he should shortly go to heaven, and that he would carry much good news with him. He said, he would carry tidings to the old founders of New England, who were gone to glory, that church-work was still carried on in the country: that the number of churches was continually increasing: and that the churches were still as large as ever by the daily addition of those who should be saved. As the hour of his departure approached, the coining of the Lord Jesus was the principal subject of his serious contemplation. While he was thus retreating from the world, he used to say, " Come, Lord, I have been a great while ready for thy coming." He said to his friends, " Pray, pray, pray;" and, before his departure, he said to Mr. Walter, his successor, "Brother, thou art welcome to my very soul. Retire to thy study to pray for me, and give me leave to be gone." He then exclaimed, welcome joy, and so departed, in the year 1690, and in the eighty-sixth of his age. He had six children, all apparently converted to God, four of whom were preachers of the gospel.

Mr. Elliot was remarkable for resignation in all circumstances to the will of God. Having been one day out to sea in a boat, the boat was overset by a larger vessel, when he immediately sunk, without the most distant expectation of rising any more. In this situation he was perfectly collective and resigned to his heavenly Father's will. He could say within himself, " The will of the Lord be done." His life, however, was spared. But the following circumstance, as closely connected with it, was rather remarkable. Many

f)iofane persons were exceedingly enraged against him for abouring among the Indians; and one of this description hearing of his narrow escape, anxiously and profanely wished he had been drowned. But within a few days that very man was drowned in the \tiry place where Mr. Elliot found deliverance.

He possessed the happy talent of raising profitable observations from common occurrences, with such a mixture of pleasantry and gravity, as rendered his company exceedingly desirable. Being once ou a visit at the house of a merchant, and finding only books of business ou the table, and all his books of devotion on the shelf, he thus addressed him : " Sir," said he, " here is earth on the table, and heaven on the shelf; pray do not sit so much at the table as to forget the shelf. Let not earth by any means thrust heaven out of your mind."

Mr. Elliot was an avowed enemy to all contention, and a great composer of differences. His advice was often sought in difficult cases; and when any minister complained of such cases among his people, he used to say, " Brother, compass them. Brother, learn the meaning of those three little words: bear; forbear ,• forgive."*

He was a man of great piety, uncommon zeal in the cause of Christ, and almost unbounded charity. When he was quite sunk with age and hard labour, being asked how he did, he replied, " Alas! I have lost almost every thing; my understanding leaves me, my memory fails me, my utterance fails me; but, I thank God, my charity holds out still: I find that rather grows than fails."

He lived till he was quite worn out, and used pleasantly to eay, " My old acquaintance are gone to heaven so long before me, that I am afraid they will think I am gone the wrong way, because 1 stay so long behind."t In addition to the articles already mentioned, he was author of "The Harmony of the Gospels, in the Holy History of Jesus Christ;" and "The Divine Management of Gospel Churches."