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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A City Helped of the Lord

By Cotton Mather (1663–1728)

[From Magnalia Christi Americana. 1703.]

LET us thankfully, and agreeably, and particularly acknowledge what help we have received from the God of heaven, in the years that have rolled over us. While the blessed Apostle Paul was, as it should seem, yet short of being threescore years old, how affectionately did he set up an Ebenezer, with an acknowledgment in Acts xxvi. 22: “Having obtained help of God, I continue to this day!” Our town is now threescore and eight years old; and certainly ’tis time for us, with all possible affection, to set up our Ebenezer, saying, “Having obtained help from God, the town is continued until almost the age of man is passed over it!” The town hath indeed three elder sisters in this colony, but it hath wonderfully outgrown them all; and her mother, Old Boston, in England also; yea, within a few years after the first settlement, it grew to be the metropolis of the whole English America. Little was this expected by them that first settled the town, when for a while Boston was proverbially called Lost-town, for the mean and sad circumstances of it. But, O Boston! it is because thou hast obtained help from God, even from the Lord Jesus Christ, who for the sake of his gospel, preached and once prized here, undertook thy patronage. When the world and the church of God had seen twenty-six generations, a psalm was composed, wherein that note occurs with twenty-six repetitions: “His mercy endureth for ever.” Truly there has not one year passed over this town, ab urbe condita, upon the story whereof we might not make that note our Ebenezer: “His mercy endureth forever.” It has been a town of great experiences. There have been several years wherein the terrible famine hath terribly stared the town in the face; we have been brought sometimes unto the last meal in the barrel; we have cried out with the disciples, “We have not loaves enough to feed a tenth part of us!” but the feared famine has always been kept off; always we have had seasonable and sufficient supplies after a surprizing manner sent in unto us: let the three last years in this thing most eminently proclaim the goodness of our heavenly Shepherd and Feeder. This has been the help of our God; because “his mercy endureth for ever!” The angels of death have often shot the arrows of death into the midst of the town; the small-pox has especially four times been a great plague upon us: how often have there been bills desiring prayers for more than an hundred sick on one day in one of our assemblies? in one twelve-month, about one thousand of our neighbours have one way or other been carried unto their long home; and yet we are, after all, many more than seven thousand souls of us at this hour living on the spot. Why is not a “Lord, have mercy upon us,” written on the doors of our abandoned habitations? This hath been the help of our God, because “his mercy endureth for ever.”

Never was any town under the cope of heaven more liable to be laid in ashes, either through the carelessness or through the wickedness of them that sleep in it. That such a combustible heap of contiguous houses yet stands, it may be called a standing miracle; it is not because “the watchman keeps the city;” perhaps there may be too much cause of reflection in that thing, and of inspection, too; no, “it is from thy watchful protection, O thou keeper of Boston, who neither slumbers nor sleeps.” Ten times has the fire made notable ruins among us, and our good servant been almost our master; but the ruins have mostly and quickly been rebuilt. I suppose that many more than a thousand houses are to be seen on this little piece of ground, all filled with the undeserved favours of God. Whence this preservation? This hath been the help of our God; because “his mercy endureth for ever!” But if ever this town saw a year of salvations, transcendently such was the last year unto us. A formidable French squadron hath not shot one bomb into the midst of thee, O thou munition of rocks! our streets have not run with blood and gore, and horrible devouring flames have not raged upon our substance; those are ignorant, and unthinking, and unthankful men, who do not own that we have narrowly escaped as dreadful things as Carthagena, or Newfoundland, have suffered. I am sure our more considerate friends beyond sea were very suspicious, and well nigh despairing, that victorious enemies had swallowed up the town. But “thy soul is escaped, O Boston, as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers.” Or, if ye will be insensible of this, ye vain men, yet be sensible that an English squadron hath not brought among us the tremendous pestilence, under which a neighbouring plantation hath undergone prodigious desolations. Boston, ’tis a marvellous thing a plague has not laid thee desolate!