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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. I. The Transplanting of Culture: 1607–1650

Thomas Shepard

THOMAS SHEPARD, a distinguished Puritan divine and “soul-melting preacher,” was born in Colchester, England, in 1605, and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1649. A university graduate, like most of his fellows, he was ordained priest in the English Church, and silenced in 1630 by Laud. He remained in England till 1635, emigrated then to America, was settled in Boston, and soon after succeeded Hooker at Cambridge, taking an active part in the Antinomian controversy and in the founding of Harvard University. He was thrice married. The grief which he expresses in the extract here given was for his second spouse, a daughter of his predecessor at Cambridge. It is a uniquely naïve tribute to mutual ministration. Shepard was a voluminous writer, intoxicated with the thought of the immanent presence of God, and distilling the essence of Calvinism for the most cultured congregation in New England. Grim as was his theology, he seems to have been personally most affable, though he reveals himself in his autobiography as somewhat morbid. As a writer he shows the simpler virtues and some of the artifices of style. As a theologian his repute endured longer than that of most of his fellow Brahmins. An edition of his writings, for use and not for curiosity, was issued, with a memoir by Rev. John A. Albro, in 1853.

From the Autobiography.

With whom I leave these records of God’s great
kindness to him, not knowing that I shall live
to tell them myselfe with my own mouth,
that so he may learne to know and
love the great & most high


[From the Introduction.]

AND thus after about eleven weeks’ sail from Old England, we came to New England shore: where the mother fell sick of a consumption and you, my child, were put to nurse to one Goodwife Hopkins, who was very tender of thee; and after we had been here divers weeks, on the 7th of February or thereabout, God gave thee the ordinance of baptism, whereby God is become thy God, and is beforehand with thee, that whenever you shall return to God, he will undoubtedly receive you; and this is a most high and happy privilege; and therefore bless God for it. And now after this had been done, thy dear mother died in the Lord, departing out of this world to another, who did lose her life by being careful to preserve thine; for in the ship thou wert so feeble and froward both in the day and night, that hereby she lost her strength, and at last her life. She hath made also many a prayer and shed many a tear in secret for thee; and this hath been often her request that if the Lord did not intend to glorify Himself by thee, that He would cut thee oft by death rather than to live to dishonor Him by sin; and therefore know it that if you shall turn rebel against God and forsake God, and care not for the knowledge of Him nor to believe in His Son the Lord will make all these mercies, woes; and all thy mother’s prayers, tears, and death to be a swift witness against thee at the great day.

Thus the Lord taking away thy dear mother’s life, the Lord takes care for thee and preserved thee in health until the Spring, May 1, 1636. And now the hand of the Lord was stretched out against my child; so that he had for divers weeks a sore mouth, both within and without; cheeks and lips full of blisters, so as that he could eat no meat, only suck the breast, by which only he lived a long time, which I did think would have been its death again; but the Lord being sought unto recovered him again, and then the humor fell into his eyes,… which was such a misery that methought now I had rather that the Lord would take away my child by death than let it lead a blind and a miserable life; but the Lord saw my sorrows, my tears, my poor prayers which were in bitterness for him; and after that I had concluded I must have a blind child to be a constant sorrow to me till my death, and was made to be contented to bear the indignation of the Lord because I had sinned, resolving now to fear, nor care nor grieve no more but to be thankful, nay to love the Lord, presently I say upon this by a poor weak means, vizt. the oil of white paper, the Lord restored my child to his sight suddenly and strangely, I may almost say miraculously again, which was no small joy to me and no little encouragement to do the Lord’s work that took so much care for me and mine. Now consider, my son, and remember to lift up thy eyes to heaven, to God in everlasting praises of him and dependence upon him; and rake heed thou dost not make thy eyes windows of lust, but give thy eyes, nay thy heart and whole soul and body to him that hath been so careful of thee when thou couldst not care for thyself.

Heretics and Pequots.

NO sooner were we thus set down and entered into Church fellowship; but the Lord exercised us and the whole country with the opinions of Familists begun by Mrs. Hutchinson, raised up to a great height by Mr. Vane, too suddenly chosen Governor, and maintained too obscurely by Mr. Cotton, and propagated too boldly by the members of Boston, and some in other churches, by means of which divisions by those opinions, the ancient received truth came to be darkened, God’s name to be blasphemed, the church’s glory diminished, many godly grieved, many wretches hardened, deceiving and being deceived, growing worse and worse;… At this time I cannot omit the goodness of God as to myself so to all the country in delivering us from the Pekoat furies…. those upon the river first gathered about seventy men and sent them into the Pekoat country to make that the seat of war and to revenge the death of those innocents whom they barbarously and most unnaturally slew…. they intended to assault Sasukus Fort, but falling short of it the second night the providence of God guided them to another nearer, full of stout men and there brought soldiers, being, as it were, cooped up there, to the number of three or four hundred in all for the Divine slaughter by the hand of the English…. Until the Lord had utterly consumed the whole company except four or five girls they took prisoners and dealt with them at Seabrooke as they dealt with ours at Wethersfield, and it is verily thought scarce one man escaped….

The Founding of Harvard College.

THUS the Lord having delivered the country from war with Indians and Familists (who arose and fell together), he was pleased to direct the hearts of the magistrates … to think of erecting a school or college and that speedily to be a nursery of knowledge in these deserts and supply for posterity, and because this town (then called Newtown) was hereto [by] God’s great care and goodness kept spotless from the contagion of the opinions, therefore at the desire of some of our town the deputies of the Court having got Mr. Eaton to attend the school, the Court for that and sundry other reasons determined to erect the college here, which was no sooner done but the chief of the magistrates and elders sent to England to desire help to forward this work, but they all neglecting us (in a manner) the Lord put it into the heart of one Mr. Harvard, who died worth £1600, to give half of his estate to the erecting of the school. This man was a scholar and pious in his life and enlarged toward the country and the good of it in life and death, but no sooner was this given but Mr. Eaton (professing valiantly yet falsely and most deceitfully the fear of God) did lavish out a great part of it, and being for his cruelty to his scholars, especially to one Briscoe, as also for some other wantonness in life not so notoriously known, driven the country; the Lord about a year after graciously made up the breach by one Mr. Dunstar, a man pious, painful, and fit to teach and very fit to lay the foundations of the domestical affairs of the college; whom God hath much honored and blest…. But thus the Lord hath been very good unto me in planting the place I lived in with such a mercy to myself, such a blessing to my children and the country, such an opportunity of doing good to many by doing good to students, as the school is.

A Domestic Obituary, October, 1637.

THE YEAR after those wars in the country God having taken away my first wife, the Lord gave me a second, the eldest daughter of Mr. Hooker, a blessed store; and the Lord hath made her a great blessing to me to carry on matters in the family with much care and wisdom and to seek the Lord God of her father….

But the Lord hath not been wont to let me live long without some affliction or other; and yet ever mixed with some mercy. And therefore, April the 2d, 1646, as he gave me another son, John, so he took away my most dear, precious, meek, and loving wife; having left behind her two hopeful branches, my dear children, Samuel and John. This affliction was very heavy to me; for in it the Lord seemed to withdraw his tender care for me and mine, which he graciously manifested by my dear wife; also refused to hear prayer, when I did think he would have hearkened and let me see his beauty in the land of the living, in restoring of her to health again; also, in taking her away in the prime time of her life, when she might have lived to have glorified the Lord long; also, in threatening me to proceed in rooting out my family, and that he would not stop, having begun here, as in Eli, for not being zealous enough against the sins of his son, and I saw that if I had profited by former afflictions of this nature, I should not have had this scourge; but I am the Lord’s, and he may do with me what he will; he did teach me to prize a little grace, gained by a cross, as a sufficient recompense for all outward losses; but this loss was very great; she was a woman of incomparable meekness of spirit, toward myself especially, and very loving; of great prudence to take care for and order my family affairs, being neither too lavish nor sordid in any thing, so that I knew not what was under her hands: She had an excellency to reprove for sin, and discern the evils of men. She loved God’s people dearly, and [was] studious to profit by their fellowship, and therefore loved their company. She loved God’s word exceedingly, and hence was glad she could read my notes, which she had to muse on every week. She had a spirit of prayer beyond ordinary of her time and experience. She was fit to die long before she did die, even after the death of her first-born, which was a great affliction to her. But her work not being done then, she lived almost nine years with me, and was the comfort of my life to me; and the last sacrament before her lying-in seemed to be full of Christ, and thereby fitted for heaven. She did oft say she should not outlive this child; and when her fever first began (by taking some cold) she told me so, that we should love exceedingly together, because we should not live long together. Her fever took away her sleep; want of sleep wrought much distemper in her head, and filled it with fantasies and distractions, but without raging. The night before she died, she had about six hours’ unquiet sleep. But that so cooled and settled her head, that when she knew none else, so as to speak to them, yet she knew Jesus Christ, and could speak to him; and therefore, as soon as she awakened out of sleep, she brake out into a most heavenly, heart-breaking prayer, after Christ, her dear Redeemer, for the spirit of life, and so continued praying until the last hour of her death, “Lord, though I [am] unworthy, Lord, one word, one word,” etc.; and so gave up the ghost: thus God hath visited and scourged me for my sins, and sought to wean me from this world. But I have ever found it a difficult thing to profit even but a little by the sorest and sharpest afflictions.

Selections from the “Meditations and Spiritual Experiences.”

JANUARY 9 [1640].As I was walking in my study, musing on my sermon in Q, 10. That God’s mercy was himself, as his justice also was; the one to the men that come to Christ; and to those that are out of Christ, the other. Hence I considered, when I come to Christ there is no wrath or justice to devour, but sweet love. Wrath there is for refusing him, not else. It was then objected, But it is to the Elect only. The Lord let me then see I had nothing to do with that but to look on his truth, which is to them that come to him, that he would stand as a rock between the scorching sun and their souls. Hence my heart was sweetly ravished, and began to long to die, and think of being with him. And my heart said, Remember to comfort yourself thus, when you come to lie on your sick bed, to lie under this rock, as in a hot day. If one saw a rock in a hot day, should he say, that rock will cool me if I be elected to it, and God has purposed it; so keep off in fears? No, God has purposed thus to be a rock to all that come to him, and are drawn by his love….

January 19.I saw my loose walking without God; and so was put to a stand, what to say of myself. I saw that hypocrites are far from humbling, because far from conviction: they hope something there is in them. But I brought my heart to consider thus, If my state is good, then there is cause of deeper mourning for abusing the Lord, so good; or my state is not good, and then there is cause of breaking because I am so wretched still; and so I went to prayer….

March 17.I began to question, whether Christians generally were so good as they seemed to be? I thought, [1] They were not so good as the Lord would have them to be, from two arguments. (1) From the want of assurance generally among men. Which argues God is angry, when he doth not appear according as he doth use to do to them who love his name. (2) Because men are better generally under the rod, than under mercy. We see what an admirable Spirit there is under sore afflictions, which men cannot attain to, or keep, but then. Now [2dly] I thought that men were not so good as they appeared to be, (1) Because very few are recovered to that frame before death, which God will bring them to, that get assurance. Few recover holiness by mercy, or feel the eternal good of sore afflictions. (2) Because many eminent professors fall off and fall away. If they continue long, by some trial or other they are made transparent. (3) Because, though others of less holiness may be upright; yet for us that have more means, not to be more holy and humble, nay not so humble and holy as those that want means, cannot stand with uprightness, generally. My counsel therefore is, Let all take heed of being led by example of men, and thinking, We are good because we are like them that be so….

On the evening of this day [July 9] before the sacrament, I saw it my duty to sequester myself from all other things for the Lord the next day. And (1) I saw, I was to pitch on the right end, (2) on the means, all things to lead me to that end. I saw mine own ends were, to procure honor, pleasure, gain to myself and not the Lord: and I saw how impossible it was for me to attain those ends I should attain, viz., To seek the Lord for himself, to lay up all my honor, pleasure, etc., in him. Or if I did, it was for myself, because good unto me. So the Lord helped me thus. To see,

(1) If honor, pleasure was good; Oh, how good was he who gave them, and could have cut me short of them? And so my heart was raised up a little unto God.

(2) I saw my blessedness did not chiefly lie in receiving good and comfort from God, and in God; but in holding forth the glory of God and his virtues. For ’tis, I saw, an amazing, glorious object, to see God in a creature; God speak, God act; the Deity not being the creature and turned into it, but filling of it, shining through it; to be covered with God, as with a cloud; or as a glass lantern, to have his beams penetrate through it. Nothing is good but God; and I am no further good, than as I hold forth God. The Devil overcame Eve to damn herself by telling her she should be like God. O that’s a glorious thing! And should not I be holy, and so be like him indeed?

Hereupon I found my heart more sweetly drawn to close with God, thus as my end, and to place my happiness in it. And also I saw, it was my misery to hold forth sin and Satan and self in my course. And I saw one of those two things I must do. Now because my soul wanted pleasure, I purposed thus to hold forth God, and did hope it should be my pleasure so to do, as it would be my pain to do otherwise….

November 14.On the Sabbath day, at night, after sermon, I saw I had preached to others, and had not fed myself. And I seeing it did arise from weakness of faith and light, the Lord suggested the one hundred and third Psalm to me, “He heals all thine infirmities,” which quieted my soul somewhat.

December 18.I saw it my duty so to lament my sin, as that my sorrow should swallow up all the joy I took in anything in this world. And here I remembered what it was to afflict one’s soul, viz. to make sin as bitter as affliction, and to make it my affliction.

The Fate of the Evil Soul.
[From The Sincere Convert, 1641, Chap. III.]

WHAT will become of thine immortal soul when thou art dead? Thou sayest: “I know not, I hope well.” I tell thee therefore that which may send thee mourning to thy house, and quaking to thy grave; if thou diest in this estate, thou shalt not die like a dog, nor yet like a toad; but after death comes judgment; then farewell friends when dying; and farewell God forever when thou art dead….

Then shall God surrender up thy forsaken soul into the hands of devils, who being thy jailors, must keep thee till the great day of account; so that as thy friends are scrambling for thy goods, and worms for thy body, so devils shall scramble for thy soul. For as soon as ever a wicked man is dead, he is either in Heaven or in Hell. Not in Heaven, for no unclean thing comes there; if in Hell then amongst devils; there shall be thine eternal lodging, and hence thy forlorn soul shall lie mourning for the time past, now, ’t is too late to recall again; groaning under the intolerable torments of the wrath of God present, and amazed at the eternity of misery and sorrow that is to come, waiting for that fearful hour when the last trump shall blow, and then body and soul meet to bear that wrath, that fire that shall never go out. Oh, therefore suspect and fear the worst of thyself now!…

… In regard of the fearful sentence that then shall be passed upon thee: “Depart, thou cursed creature, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his Angels!” Thou shalt then cry out: “O mercy Lord! O a little mercy!” “No,” will the Lord Jesus say, “I did indeed once offer it you, but you refused; therefore Depart!”

Then thou shalt plead again: “Lord, if I must depart, yet bless me before I go!”

“No, no, Depart, thou cursed!”

“O, but Lord, if I must depart cursed let me go to some good place!”

“No! Depart, thou cursed, into hell fire!”

“O Lord, that’s a torment I cannot bear; but if it must be so, Lord, let me come out again quickly!”

“No, Depart, thou cursed, into everlasting fire!”

“O Lord, if this be thy pleasure that here I must abide let me have good company with me!”

“No! Depart, thou cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his Angels!”

This shall be thy sentence, the hearing of which may make the rocks to rent….

… Thus (I say) thou shalt lie blaspheming, with God’s wrath like a pile of fire on thy soul burning, and floods, nay seas, nay more, seas of tears (for thou shalt forever lie weeping) shall never quench it. And here, which way soever thou lookest, thou shalt see matter of everlasting grief. Look up to heaven, and there thou shalt see (Oh!) that God is forever gone. Look about thee, thou shalt see devils quaking, cursing God; and thousands, nay, millions of sinful damned creatures crying and roaring out with doleful shriekings: “O the day that ever I was born!” Look within thee, there is a guilty conscience gnawing. Look to time past; O those golden days of grace and sweet seasons of mercy are quite lost and gone! Look to time to come; there thou shalt behold evils, troops and swarms of sorrows, and woes and raging waves and billows of wrath coming roaring upon thee. Look to time present; oh, not an hour or moment of ease or refreshing, but all curses meet together, and feeding upon one poor, lost, immortal Soul, that never can be recovered again! No God, no Christ, no Spirit to comfort thee, no minister to preach unto thee; no friend to wipe away thy continual tears, no sun to shine upon thee, not a bit of bread, not one drop of water to cool thy tongue!

Nine Easy Ways to Hell.
[From the Same, Chap. V.]

THE GATE is strait, and therefore a man must sweat and strive to enter; both the entrance is difficult and the progress of salvation too. Jesus Christ is not got with a wet finger. It is not wishing and desiring to be saved will bring men to Heaven; Hell’s mouth is full of good wishes. It is not shedding a tear at a sermon, or blubbering now and then in a corner, and saying over thy prayers, and crying God’s mercy for thy sins, will save thee. It is not a “Lord, have mercy upon us,” will do thee good. It is not coming constantly to church; these are easy matters. But it is a tough work, a wonderful hard matter to be saved. Hence the way to heaven is compared to a race, where a man must put forth all his strength and stretch every limb and all to get forward. Hence a Christian’s life is compared to wrestling, Eph. vi. 12. All the policy and power of Hell buckle together against a Christian, therefore he must look to himself, or else he falls. Hence it is compared to fighting, 2 Tim. iv. 7, as man must fight against the Devil, the world, himself, who shoot poisoned bullets in the soul, where a man must kill or be killed. God hath not lined the way to heaven with velvet, nor strewed it with rushes. He will never feed a slothful humor in man, who will be saved if Christ and Heaven will drop into their mouths, and if any would bear their charges thither. If Christ might be bought for a few cold wishes and lazy desires, he would be of small reckoning among men, who would say: “Lightly come, lightly go.” Indeed Christ’s yoke is easy in itself, and when a man is got into Christ, nothing is so sweet; but for a carnal, dull heart, it is hard to draw in it….

Now there are nine easy Ways to Heaven (as men think) all of which lead to Hell.

1. The common broad Way, wherein a whole parish may all go abreadth in it; tell these people they shall be damned; their answer is, “Then woe to many more besides me.”

2. The Way of Civil Education; whereby many wild natures are by little and little tamed, and like wolves are chained up easily while they are young.

3. Balaam’s Way of good Wishes; whereby many people will confess their ignorance, forgetfulness, and that they can not make such shows as others do, but they thank God their hearts are as good, and God for his part accepts (say they) the will for the deed. And, “My son, give me thine heart;” the heart is all in all, and so long they hope to do well enough. Poor deluded creatures, thus to think to break through armies of sins, devils, temptations, and to break open the very gates of heaven with a few good wishes! They think to come to their journey’s end without legs, because their hearts are good to God.

4. The Way of Formality; whereby men rest in the performance of most or of all external duties without inward life. Every man must have some religion, some fig-leaves to hide their nakedness. Now this religion must be either true religion, or the false one; if the true he must either take up the power of it, but that he will not, because it is burdensome; or the form of it, and this being easy, men embrace it as their God, and will rather lose their lives than their religion thus taken up….

5. The Way of Presumption; whereby men having seen their sins, catch hold easily upon God’s mercy, and snatch comforts before they are reached out unto them. There is no word of comfort in the Book of God intended for such as regard iniquity in their hearts, though they do not act it in their lives. Their only comfort is that the sentence of damnation is not yet executed upon them.

6. The Way of Sloth; whereby men lie still and say “God must do all.” If the Lord would set up a pulpit at the ale-house door, it may be they would hear oftener. If God will always thunder, they will always pray; if he strike them now and then with sickness, God shall be paid with good words and promises enough, that they will be better if they live; but as long as peace lasts they will run to Hell as fast as they can; and if God will not catch them they care not, they will not return….

7. The Way of Carelessness, when men feeling many difficulties, pass through some of them, but not all, and what they can not get now, they feed themselves with a false hope they shall hereafter. They are content to be called precisians and fools, and crazy brains, but they want brokenness of heart, and they will pray (it may be) for it, and pass by that difficulty; but to keep the wound always open, this they will not do, to be always sighing for help, and never to give themselves rest till their hearts are humbled; that they will not. These have a name to live, yet are dead.

8. The Way of Moderation or honest Discretion, which indeed is nothing but luke-warmness of the soul, and that is when a man contrives and cuts out such a way to Heaven, as he may be hated of none, but please all, and so do any thing for a quiet life and so sleep in a whole skin….

9. And lastly, the Way of Self-Love; whereby a man fearing terribly he shall be damned, useth diligently all means whereby he shall be saved. Here is the strongest difficulty of all, to row against the stream, and to hate a man’s self, and then to follow Christ fully….

Judgment and Mercy.
[From “The Parable of the Ten Virgins Opened and Applied,” Part II. XIX. Section xiii. 1659.]

Motive 1. Consider the lamentable end of one who dies unready; some (not all) the Lord leaves for terrors to the secure world, who are as good as men risen from the dead, to tell men of the vanity of their sinful courses, who looking upon time past, they see that it is irrevocably lost and passed, away as a dream, and lost as a shadow; look upon time present, they felt their souls left naked, their accounts not made, an end come to all their hopes and comforts here, their body sick, their conscience trembling, if not tearing their hearts hard, God departed, the grave opened for their filthy carcasses, and devils waiting for their secure souls. And now, say such, what profit have I for all my vanity under the sun? Look to time to come; there they see the throne set, the Lord Jesus on it, their souls standing naked before him, whose grace was great toward them whiles they lived, but whose face is now a consuming fire; and they behold eternity, even that eternal black gulf between them and the Lord; and here they lie wishing they had taken their time, professing now their time is lost, beseeching others to take warning by them, desiring the prayers of others, yet thinking, though Noah and Samuel should stand before the Lord for them, there is no hope. Come and see them. Do not cast away mercy, cast not away that blood, which is worthy to be gathered up by blessed angels in vessels of gold; lament and return, and the Lord will to you:…

Motive 2. Consider thou hast but a short time to prepare in, and the time will be then, when thou dost least think of it, Luke xii, 46. The Lord’s arrows are now flying abroad; if you did think you should be next smitten down dead, you would prepare; but you think the Lord delays his coming; O, remember that time thou dost least think of, Christ will come….

“All Shall Be in Vain.”
[From the Same, Part II. XIX. Section xvi.]

—AND hence exceeding wrath is shown, in denying for a time to hear prayer many times; now look upon the condition of poor sinners dying without Christ; they shall then cry, and cry earnestly, and yet not prevail; if the wrath of God did break out at this time, and lie heavy, and the Lord say, Now cry, and I will deliver; it was no such sorrow, though bitter enough, to lie under wrath one moment; but to cry, and cry vehemently, Lord, Lord, and never be heard, O, who can bear this? then torments are intolerable; hath the Lord no pity? then cries are many, and hearts are faint; hath Christ no bowels? hath this Lamb no more meekness, gentleness? Yes, that there is; but such is his terror now, they are shut up from you; and so shall ever be, though you shall cry, and weep as many tears, and more too than the sea hath drops; and when you cannot come before his face, the gate being shut, you shall cry, that the rocks and mountains may fall upon you to hide you from this wrath of the Lamb; and you shall then cry, Behold, and see, if ever sorrow were like mine! but all shall be in vain!