Cotton Mather


To my SON

Nullus fidelior tibi ad consulendum esse potest, quait qui non tua sed te diligit, quales profecto sunt parentes. Gregor.

God, who hath given you to me, requires and expects, my endeavours, that on the most peculiar accounts, you may be his.

What have been my prayers for you, both before and after my Receiving of you from the Lord, and which Hopes I have had concerning you, perhaps you may somewhat inform yourself, if you should Live to Read, the passages of my Life, Recorded from time to time, as they occurr'd, in Reserved Memorials, which I leave behind me.

From those memorials, I am now going to extract certain passages, that may be particularly instructive to you; because to do so, I thought would be one Reasonable Essay, that all my prayers, and Hopes about you, may not be defeated.

This Instruction of a Father, carries much of Authority and Efficacy with it; It seems intimated in the Divine Oracles, that if the Servants of God WILL command their children, they SHALL keep the way of the Lord: And some famous orators going to write Advice unto Young persons, have Ingeniously introduced, with a most Agreeable Fiction, the Dead Parents of those persons as thus Advising of them. Tho' I shall quickly be Dead, yet I am still Alive; and because the Example of a Father added unto his Instruction, may render it singularly efficacious, I have chosen to give you, without the least Fiction in the world, a Number of those Experiences and contrivances, which I have had, in my own poor walk with God.

I will not here mention, for my Vindication in this Action, the Names of those gentlemen, who since Josephus, have written their own Lives, or, have written ["Their own books about themselves"*]. For I am going to write no more of my own, than what may just serve as a Direction to yours. And, because I know not what Hands, besides yours, this work may fall into, I will be careful to Insert not one word, that shall discover unto any one man Living, who I am (as the Author of, The Private Christian Witness to Christianity, Lately exemplified that caution to me.) It may be, that Things, which the Lord has helped me to see, and to Do, are some of those Talents, which I should Improve unto His Glory. And I know not, how to make a better Improvement of them, than to Leave with you, my dear son, such of them, as may be your perpetual Monitors. but tho' I may relate such things as may dispose you, to have a Good opinion of me, (which tis not amiss for a son to have of his Father, so far as it may be had,) yett I Would not have you conclude, that my Life has been free from those Failings and Follies, which if they were all Related, would sufficiently Abase me; nor shall I where I may see it useful for you, forbear to touch upon them.

The First part

The First Three LUSTRES, of a Fathers Life

Being desirious to discover myself unto None, but you, My SON, I must here leave unmentioned, when and where (as well as, of whom) I was born, lest that mention thereof should afford some Light unto the Discovery, against which I would be cautious. Wherefore, I Begin with observing to you, that I desire to bewayl unto the very end of my Life, the early ebullitions of Original Sin, which appeared at the very Beginning of it. Indeed, your Grandfather, tho' he were a wise and strict parent, would from ye observation of some dispositions in me, comfort himself with an opinion of my being sanctified by ye Holy Spirit of God, in my very Infancy. But he knew not how vile I was; he saw not the instances of my going astray, even while I was yett and Infant.

However, there were some Good things in my Childhood, in which I wish you, my child, may do better than I. I began to pray, even when I began to speak. I learned myself to write, before my going to school for it. I used secret prayer, not confining myself to Forms in it; And yett I composed Forms of Prayer, for my school-mates, (I suppose, when I was about seven or eight years old) and obliged them to pray. Before I could write sermons, in ye public Assemblies, I commonly wrote what I remembered, when I came home. I rebuked my play-mates, for their wicked words and wayes; and sometimes I suffered from them, the persecution of not only scoffs, but Blowes also, for my rebukes, which, when some-body told your grand-father, I remember, he seem'd very glad, yea, almost proud, of my Affronts, and I then wondred at it, tho afterwards, I never understood his heavenly principle.

One special fault of my childhood, (against which, I would have you, my son, be cautioun'd) was, Idleness, and one thing that occasion'd me much Idle Time, was the Distance of my Fathers Habitation form the school; which caused him, out of compassion unto my Tender and Weakly constitution, to keep me at home for the Winter. However, I then much employ'd myself in Church History; and when summer arrived, I so plied my Business, that thro' ye Blessing of God upon my Endeavours, at that Age of little more than Eleven years, I had composed many Latin Exercises, both in prose, and verse, and could speak Latin so readily, that I could write notes of sermons after the English preacher, in it. I had conversed with Cato, Corderius, Terence, Tully, Ovid, and Virgil. I had made Epistles, and Themes; presenting my first Theme to my Master, without his requiring or expecting as yett any such thing of me; where upon he complemented me, Laudabilis Diligentia tua! I had gone thro' a great part of the New Testament in Greek: I had read considerably in Isocrates and Homer; and I had made some entrance in my Hebrew grammar. And, I think, before I came to Fourteen, I composed Hebrew exercises, and Ran thro' the other sciences, than Academical Studies ordinarily fall upon. I composed Systems, both of Logick, and physick, in Catechisms of my own, which have since been used by many others. I went over the use of the globes, and proceeded in Arithmetic, as far as was ordinary. I made Thesis and Antitheses, and also disputed the main Questions that lay before us. For my Declamations, I ordinarily took some Article of Natural philosophy, for my subject; by which contrivance I did kill Two Birds with one Stone. Hundreds of Books I read over; & I kept a Diary of my Studies.

My Son, I would not have mentioned these things, but that I may provoke your emulation.

Before I was quite arrived unto this Age, I Apostasised from God, in diverse miscarriages, which made me suspect, that I had never yet experienced any more than some common works of His Holy Spirit, and I was yett but a Refined Hypocrite. At Length, upon occasion of Bodily Indisposition, which I fear'd would End in Death, my suspicion of my Interior & Eternal State, was terribly Awakened. I trembled, when I thought that after I had Hop'd Well of myself & many servants of God had spoke well of me, I should be a castaway after all, and I remember, God sett home that consideration upon me, with a very particular pungency, How Shall I doubt to Look my own father in the face, at the Day of Judgment! While I was under my Distresses, I heard some sermons, on Luk. 7.47. Her sins, which were many, are forgiven; and on Rev. 22.17. Whosoever will, let him take of the water of Life freely. The Grace of God in ye Lord Jesus Christ, and the Gracious offer of the Lord Jesus Christ wonderfully affected me; my heart was exceedingly Broken & melted in it; and it embolden'd me to come, and Lay Hold upon Him, who is able to Save unto the uttermost all that come unto Him. I had Frequent Returns of Doubts and Fears; but I frequently Renewed my closures with ye Lord Jesus Christ, as my only Relief against them. Once Labouring & Even Languishing, under a Sense of my own horrible Vileness, and thinking Will the Lord Jesus Christ Accept the Vile Wretch, that hath been & hath done as I have! I had some Discourse with your grandfather about it. He told me, That as for that matter, there was no Returning Sinner, but the Lord Jesus Christ would most freely Accept of him. For (said he) observe it even among men: There's a vile sinner, an Holy man Beholds him and Abhors him: yet if this vile Sinner ever comes to be converted, that same Holy person, can & will, notwithstanding his former Loathesome vileness, embrace him in his very Bosome; and this (he said) is an emblem & Effect of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. I shall never forget, how much those words did Quicken me! In my Addresses to Heaven under ye Exercises of my mind, about my Reconciliation to God, I now sometimes received Strange, and Strong, and sweet Intimations, that I was Accepted of the Lord. Once Especially, having heard a sermon, on Isa. 44. 3. I will pour my Spirit on thy Seed, & my Blessing on thy Offspring; I pleaded that promise before ye Lord, and in my pleading of it, ye Spirit of ye Lord, wonderfully dissolved my Heart, with Assurances, that it should be fulfilled upon me.

I can't certainly Remember, (having by an unhappy casualty lost some of my Records,) when it was, that I began to keep Dayes of prayer with Fasting, alone by myself: but, I think, it was when I was about Fourteen years old: And I remember well, that I made Mr. Scudders, Christians Walk, my Directory in those Duties.

Moreover, I may mention it unto You, that when I was about this Age, I fell under the power of melancholy, to such a Degree, that I Exceedingly Wonder, And studying physick at this hour, I was unhappily Led away with Fancies, that I was myself Troubled, with almost every Distempter that I read of, in my studies; which caused me sometimes, not only Needlessly, but also Hurtfully to use medicines upon myself, that I might cure my Imaginary Maladies. But ye Troubles of Sin accompanied those my confusions, which horribly overwhelmed me; Until once crying to the Lord in prayer, and casting my Burdens on ye care of the Lord Jesus Christ, I sensibly felt an unaccountable Cloud and Load go off my Spirit, and from that minute I was as much altered, by a New Light, and Life, and Ease arriving to me, as ye sunrise does change this world, from the condition of Midnight.

I will further inform you, my son, that one singular Advantage to me while I was thus a Lad, was my Acquaintance with, and Relation to, a society of young men in ye town almost every Evening after ye Lord-day for ye services of Religion. There we constantly pray'd, both before and after the repetition of a Sermon and sang a psalm; taking of Turns in such Devotions. We then had a Devout Question, proposed a week before, whereto any one present gave what Answer he pleased, and I still concluded the Answer. As ye Lord made poor me, to be a little useful unto those (and other) meetings of young people, in my youth, so He made those meetings very useful unto me. Their Love to me, their prayers for me, and my probationary Essays, among these, had a more than ordinary Influence upon my After-Improvements.

I will bring you out of my childhood at last, by telling you, my Son, that while I was yet a child, I was much affected with Reading Dr. Halls Treatise of Meditation, and with his proposals of proceeding methodically in that notable way of Christianity. Here upon I Read several other Books about that Subject and I wrote many Essayes, at a Logical and Regular Method, for daily MEDITATION. Yea, I went so far, that I wrote a discourse on that subject, which found some consideration among several Ingenious persons. The Result of all was, that I finally pitched upon this Method. My Meditation was to consist of Two parts. In the First part, I proceeded more Doctrinally, To Instruct myself; either with Answering of a Question, or with Explaining of a Scripture, or with Considering (upon an Head) the Causes, the Effects, the Subjects, the Adjuncts, the Opposites, and the Resemblances of the Thing, which I made my Themes. In the Second part, I proceeded more practically; to Affect myself; in three several steps: First, the Examination of myself; Next, An Expostulation with myself: Lastly, A Resolution, on that strength of the grace of the New Covenant: All relating to what had gone before. This happy way of preaching to myself the Lord began betimes to acquaint me withal. But I mourn before ye Lord Exceedingly, for my not affecting it with such constancy & Frequency, as I should have done.

*Translated from the Greek by Bosco, 371.

[from Mather's Paterna, Ms. 3860, housed at the University of Virginia Special Collections Library; with reference made to Bosco's edition for clarification when Mather's manuscript proved too difficult to decipher.]

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