“The Life of Mr. Nathanael Rogers” by Cotton Mather
Nathaniel Rogers (abt1598–1655), the second son of Rev. John Rogers of Dedham, Essex, England, immigrated to New England in 1636, arriving at Boston in November of that year, and settling in Ipswich. He is my ninth-great-grandfather. The following account of Nathaniel’s life is quoted in full from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, Book III, pp. 104–09 (London, 1701). In the transcription that follows, [square brackets] are original to Mather’s text, while items in are my editorial insertions.
Eulogius. The LIFE of Mr. NATHANAEL ROGERS.
In JESU mea Vita meo, mea Clausula Vitæ
Est, & in hoc JESU Vita perennis erit.
§ 1. IT is a Reflection, carrying in it somewhat of Curiosity, that as in the Old Testament, God saw the First Sinners under a Tree, so in the New Testament, Christ saw one of the First Believers under a Tree, with a particular Observation. The Sinner hid himself among the Trees of the Garden, assisted with Fig-Leaves, but it was a false Covert and Shelter whereto he trusted; the most High discovered him. The Believer also hid himself under a Fig-Tree, where nevertheless, the Shady Leaves hindered not our Lord from Seeing him. The Sinner when he was discovered, expressed his Fear, saying, I heard thy Voice, and I was afraid. The Believer seen by our Lord, expressed his Faith, saying, Master, Thou art the Son of God. The Name of this Believer was Nathanael. At the Beginning of the Law under the Old Testament, you have Nature in an Adam under a Tree; at the beginning of the Gospel, under the New Testament, you have Grace under a tree in a Nathanael. Truly, at the Beginning of New-England also, among the First Believers, that formed a Church for our God in the Country, there was a Famous Nathanael, who retired into these American Woods, that he might serve the King of Israel: This was our Nathanael Rogers. One of the First English Arch-bishops assumed the Name of Deus dedit, and the Historian says, he answered the Name that he assumed. Our Nathanael was not in the Rank of Arch-bishops, but as was his Name, A GIFT OF GOD, so was he!
§ 2. Cornelius Tacitus, who is by the Great Budaeus called, The Wickedest of all Writers, reports of the Jews, That they adored an Ass’s Head; Because by a Direction from a Company of Asses, errorem sitimque depeclerant; and this Report, received by him from a Railing Egyptian, became so received, that no Defence against it would be allowed. That Excellent Company of Divines, which led the People of God unto the sweet Waters of his Institutions, in the Wilderness of New-England, whereinto they were driven, have been esteemed no better than a Company of Asses, by the Romishly affected Writers of this Age. But those Heads, which are justly admired (tho’ not adored) among that People, had more of Angels, than of Asses in them: The English Nation had few better Christians than most, and it had not many better Scholars than some, who then retired into these Ends of the Earth. Now among all those Great Men who submitted themselves unto all the Littlenesses of a Wilderness, there is a very high Rank to be assigned unto one, who is now to be described.
He was the Second Son of that famous Man, Mr. John Rogers of Dedham; and born while his Father was Minister of Haveril, about the Year 1598. He was educated at the Grammar School in Dedham, till he was near Fourteen Years old, and then he was admitted to Emanuel College in Cambridge. There he became a remarkable and incomperable Proficient in all Academick Learning; but some Circumstances of his Father would not permit him to wait for Preferments, after he was become capable of Employments in other places. His usual manner there, was to be an early and an exact Student; by which means he was quickly laid in with a good Stock of Learning; but onto all his other Learning, there was that Glory added, The Fear of God, for the Crown of all; the Principles whereof were instilled into his young Soul, with the Counsels of his pious Mother, while he yet sat on her Knees, as well as his holy Father, when he came to riper Years. From his very Childhood he was exemplary for the Success which God gave unto the Cares of his Parents, to principle him with such things, as rendered him wise unto Salvation.
§ 3. Having from his Youth been used unto the most Religious Exercises, not only Social, but also Secret, nevertheless the Hurries of Avocation carried him abroad one Morning before he had attended his usual Devotions in his Retirements; but his Horse happening to stumble in a plain Road, it gave him a bruising, bloody, dangerous Fall; which awakened him so to consider of his Omission in the Morning, that for the rest of his Life, he was wondrous careful to omit nothing of his Daily Duties: Wherein at length he so abounded, that as Carthusian speaks, Dulcissimo Deo totus immergi cupis, & inviscerari.
§ 4. Tho’ he were of a pleasant and cheerful Behaviour, yet he was therewithal sometimes inclined unto Melancholy; which was attended with, and perhaps productive of some Dejections in his own Mind, about his Interest in the Favour of God. Whence even after he had been a Preacher of some standing, he had sometimes very sore Despondencies and Objections in his own Soul, about the Evidences of his own Regeneration; he would conclude, that no Grace of God had ever been wrought in him. Whereupon a Minister, that was his near Friend, gave him once that Advice, To let all go for lost, and begin again upon a new Foundation; but upon recollecting himself, he found that he could not forego, he might not renounce all his former blessed Experience. And so his Doubts expired.
§ 5. The first Specimen that he gave of his Ministerial Abilities, was as a Chaplain in the House of a Person of Quality; whence after a Year or two thus fledged, he adventured a Flight unto a great Congregation at Bocking, in Essex, under Dr. Barkam; not without the wonder of many, how the Son of the most noted Puritan in England, should come to be employed under an Episcopal Doctor, so gracious with Bishop Laud; but this Dr. Barkam was a good Preacher himself, and he was also willing to gratifie his Parishoners, who were many of them Religiously disposed: Hence, tho’ the Doctor would not spare a Tenth-part of his Revenues, which from his divers Livings, amounted to near a Thousand a Year, to one who did above Three Quarters of his Work, yet he was otherwise very Courteous and Civil to our Mr. Rogers, whom his Parishoners handsomely maintained out of their own Purses, and shew’d what a room he had in their Hearts, by their doing so.
§ 6. All this while, Mr. Rogers had, like his Father, applied his Thoughts only to the main Points of Repentance from dead Works, and Faith towards God; and he had never yet look’d into the controverted Points of Discipline. Indeed the Disposition of his famous Father towards those things, I am willing to relate on this occasion; and I will relate it in his own words, which I will faithfully transcribe, from a MSS. of his now in my Hands: ‘If ever I come into Trouble, [he writes] for want of Conformity, I resolve with myself, by God’s Assistance, to come away with a clear Conscience, and yield to nothing in present, until I have prayed and fasted, and conferred: And tho’ the Liberty of my Ministry be precious, yet buy it not with a guilty Conscience. I am somewhat troubled sometimes at my Subscription, but I saw sundry Men of good Gifts, and good Hearts, as I thought, that did so. And I could not prove that there was any thing contrary to the Word of God: Tho’ I misliked them much, and I knew them unprofitable Burthens to the Church of God. But if I be urged unto the Use of them, I am rather resolved never to yield thereto. They are to me very irksome Things; yet feeling I was not able to prove them flatly unlawful, or contrary to God’s Word, I therefore thought better to save my Liberty with Subscribing, (seeing I did it not against my Conscience) than to lose it, for not yielding so far. Yet this was some small trouble to me, that I did it, when I was in no special Peril of any present Trouble; which yet I thought I were as good do of my self , as when I should be urged to it. But it may be, I might not have been urged of a long time, or not at all; but might have escaped by Friends and Money, as before; which yet I feared: But it was my Weakness, as I now conceive it; which I beseech God to pardon unto me. Written 1627. This I smarted for 1631. If I had read this, it may be, I had not done what I did.
Reader, In this one Passage, thou has a large History, of the Thoughts and Fears, and Cares, with which the Puritans of those Times were exercised.
But Mr. Hooker, now Lecturer at Chelmsford, understanding that this young Preacher was the Son of a Father, whom he most highly respected, he communicated to him the Grounds of his own Dissatisfaction, at the Ceremonies then imposed. Quickly after this, the Doctor of Bocking, being present at the Funeral of some eminent Person there, he observed that Mr. Rogers forbore to put on the Surplice, in the Exercise of his Ministry on that occasion; which inspired him with as much Disgust against his Curate, as his Curate had against the Surplice itself. Whereupon, tho’ the Doctor were so much a Gentleman, as to put no Publick Affront upon Mr. Rogers, yet he gave him his private Advice to provide for himself, in some other place.
§ 7. See the Providence of our Lord! About that very time, Assington, in Suffolk, being void by the Death of the former Incumbent, the Patron thereof was willing to bestow it upon the Son of his honoured Friend in Dedham; whither he now removed, after that Bocking had for four or five Years enjoyed his Labours. The Inhabitants of Bromley, near Colchester, where at the same time extreamly discontented at their missing of him. However, see again the Providence of our Lord; the Bishop of Norwich let him live quietly five Years at Assington, which the Bishop of London would not have done at Bromley. This was the Charge now betrusted with our Rogers; concerning whom, I find an eminent Person publishing unto the World, this Account: Mr. Nathanael Rogers, a Man so able and so judicious, in Soul work, that I would have betrusted my Soul with him, as soon as with any Man in the Church of Christ.
§ 8. Here his Ministry was both highly respected, and greatly prospered, among Persons of all Qualities, not only in the Town it self, but in the Neighbourhood. He was a lively, curious, florid Preacher; and by his Holy Living, he so farther preached, as to give much Life unto all his other preaching. He had usually, every Lord’s Day, a greater Number of Hearers than could croud into the Church; and of these many Ignorant Ones were instructed, many Ungodly Ones were Converted, and many Sorrowful Ones were comforted. Tho’ he had not his Father’s notable Voice, yet he had several Ministerial Qualifications, as was judged, beyond his Father; and he was one prepared unto every good Work; tho’ he was also exercised with Bodily Infirmities, which his Labours brought upon him. ’Tis a thing I find observ’d by Mr. Firmin, John Rogers was not John Chrysostom; and yet God honoured no Man in those Parts of England with the Conversion of Souls more than him. And good Bishop Brownrig would say, John Rogers will do more good with his Wild Notes, than we shall do with our Set Musick. But our Nathanael Rogers, was a Fisher of Men, who came with a Silken Line, and a Golden Hook, and God prospered him also. He was an Apollo, who had his Harp and his Arrows; and the Arrows his charming and piercing Eloquence, which had ὕψας ϗ̀ Βάρος, in it were Arrows in the Hand of a mighty Man. He not only knew how to build the Temple, but also how to carve it: And he could say with Lactantius, (his very Names-sake) Vellem mihi dari Eloquentiam, vel quia magis credunt Homines Veritati ornate vel ut ipsi suis Armis vincantur.
§ 9. But a Course was taken to extinguish these Lights, as fast as any Notice could be taken of them. It was the Resolution of the Hierarchy, that the Ministers who would not conform to their Impositions, must be silenced all over the Kingdom. Our Mr. Rogers perceiving the Approaches of the Storm towards himself, did out of a particular Circumspection in his own Temper, choose rather to prevent than to receive the Censures of the Ecclesiastical Courts; and therefore he resigned his place to the Patron, that so some Godly and Learned Conformist, might be invested with it: Nevertheless, not being free in his Conscience, wholly to lay down the Exercise of his Ministry, he designed a Removal into New-England; whereunto he was the rather moved, by his Respect unto Mr. Hooker, for whom his Value was extraordinary. Reader, In all this, there is no Reproach cast upon this excellent Rogers. Κατηγορία τοιάυτη ἐγκώμιον ἔςτιν·
§ 10. He had married the Daughter of one Mr. Crane of Cogeshal, a Gentleman of a very considerable Estate, who would gladly have mentioned this his worthy Son-in-Law, with his Family, if he would have tarried in England; but observing the strong Inclination of his Mind unto a New-English Voyage, he durst not oppose it. Now, tho Mr. Rogers were a Person very unable to bear the Hardships of Travel, yet the Impression which God had made upon his Heart, like what he then made upon the Hearts of many Hundreds more, perhaps as wealky and feeble as he, carried him through the Enterprize with an unwearied Resolution; which Resolution was tried, indeed, unto the utmost. For whereas the Voyage from Gravessend unto Boston, uses to be dispatched in about Nine or Ten Weeks, the Ships which came with Mr. Rogers, where fully Twenty four Weeks in the Voyage; and yet in this tedious Passage, not one Person did miscarry. After they had come Two Thirds of their way, having reached the length of Newfound-land, their Wants were so multiplied, and their Winds were so contrary, that they entred into a serious Debate, about returning back to England: But upon their setting apart a Day for solemn Fasting and Prayer, the Weather cleared up; and in a little time they arrived at their desired Port; namely, a-bout the middle of November, in the year 1636.
§ 11. It was an extream Discouragement unto him, at his Arrival, to find the Country thrown into an horrible Combustion, by the Familistical Opinions, which had newly made such a Disturbance, as to engage all Persons, on one side or t’other of the Controversies, all the Country over. But God blessed the Prayers and Pains of his People, for the speedy stopping of that Gangreen; and setled the Country in a comfortable Peace, by a Synod convened at Cambridge the next Year; whereto our Mr. Rogers, and Mr. Patridge, who came in the same Ship with him, contributed not a little by their Judicious Discourses and Collations.
§ 12. His first Invitation was to Dorchester; but the Number of Good Men who came hither, desirous of a Settlement under his Ministry, could not be there accommodated; which caused him to accept rather of an Invitation to Ipswich, where he was Ordained Pastor of the Church, on Feb. 20. 1638. At his Ordination preaching on 2 Cor. 2. 16. Who is sufficient for these things: A Sermon so Copious, Judicious, Accurate, and Elegant, that it struck the Hearers with admiration. Here was a Renowned Church consisting mostly of such illuminated Christians, that their Pastors in the Exercise of their Ministry, might (as Jerom said of that brave Woman Marcella) Sentire se non tam Discipulos habere quam Judices. His Collegue here, was the Celebrious Norton; and glorious was the Church of Ipswich now, in two such extraordinary Persons, with their different Gifts; but united Hearts, carrying on the Concerns of the Lord’s Kingdom in it. While our humble Rogers was none of those, who do, Τὰς τῶν ἀδελφῶν λαμπρότητας, ἐαυτῶν ἀμαυρώσεις νομίζειν, Think the Brightness of their Brethren to shadow and obscure themselves. But if Norton were excellent, there are Persons of good Judgment, who think themselves bound in Justice to say, That Rogers came not short of Norton, in his greatest Excellencies.
§ 13. While he lived in Ipswich, he went over the Five last Chapters of the Epistle to the Ephesians, in his Ministry; the Twelfth Chapter to the Hebrews; the Fourteenth Chapter of Hosea; the Doctrine of Self-denial, and walking with God; and the Fifty third Chapter of Isaiah; to the great Satisfaction of all his Hearers, with many other Subjects more occasionally handled. It was counted pity that the Publick should not enjoy some of his Discourses, in all which he was, οὔ τῶν ἐμούντων ἀλλα τῶν ἀκριβούντων: But his Physician told him, That if he went upon transcribing any of his Composures, his Disposition to Accuracy would so deeply engage him in it, as to endanger his Life: Wherefore he left few Monuments of his Ministry, but in the Hearts of his People, which were many. But tho’ they were so many, that he did justly reckon that well-instructed, and well-inclined People, his Crown, yet in the Paroxism of Temptation among them, upon Mr. Norton’s Removal, the melancholy Heart of Mr. Rogers, thought for a while, they were too much a Crown of Thorns unto him.
§ 14. It belongs to his Character, that he feared God above many, and walked with God, at a great Rate of Holiness: Tho’ such was his Reservedness, that none but his intimate Friends knew the Particularities of his Walk, yet such as were indeed intimate with him could observe, that he was much in Fasting and Prayer, and Meditation, and those Duties wherein the Power of Godliness is most maintained: And as the Graces of a Christian, so the Gifts of a Minister, in him, were beyond the ordinary Attainments of good Men. Yea, I shall do a wrong unto his Name, if I do not freely say, That he was one of the greatest Men, that ever set foot on the American Strand. Indeed, when the Apostle Paul makes that just Boast, I was not a whit behind the very chiefest Apostles: He does not speak (as we commonly take it) in respect of such as were true Apostles, but in reference to those false Apostles, who had nothing to set them out, but their own lofty Words, with an unjust flight of him. Whereas our blessed Rogers, I may say without Injury, or Odium, venture to compare with the best of the true Ministers, which made the best Days of New-England, and say, He came little, if at all behind the very chiefest of them all.
§ 15. He was much troubled with Spitting of Blood; wherein he would comfort himself with the Saying of one Mr. Price, upon such an Occasion, That tho’ he should spit out his own Blood, by which his Life was to be maintained, yet he should never, Expuere Sanguinem Christi, or lose the Benefits of Christ’s Blood, by which he was redeemed. He was also subject unto the Flatus Hypocondriacus, even from his Youth; wherewith he was first surprized, he thought himself a dying Man; but a good Physician, and a long Experience, convinced him, that it was a more Chronical Distemper. And while he was under the early Discouragements of this Distemper, I find the famous Mr. Cotton, in a Letter dated March 9. 1631. thus encouraging of him:
I bless the Lord with you, who supporteth your feeble Body, to do him Service, and mean while perfecteth the Power of his Grace in your Weakness. You know who said it, Unmortified Strength posteth hard to Hell, but sanctified Weakness creepeth fast to Heaven. Let not your Spirit faint, tho’ your Body do. Your Soul is precious in God’s sight; your Hairs are numbred, and the number and measure of your fainting Fits, and wearisome Nights, are weighed and limited by his Hand, who hath given you his Lord Jesus Christ, to take upon him your Infirmities, and bear your Sicknesses.
Nor was it this Distemper which at last ended his Days; but it was a Flood of Rheum, occasioned partly by his disuse of Tobacco, whereto he had formerly accustomed himself, but now left it off, because he found himself in Danger of being Enslaved unto it; which he thought a thing below a Christian, and much more a Minister. He had often been seized with Fits of Sickness in the Course of his Life: and his last seemed no more threatening than the former, till the last Morning of it. An Epidemical sort of Cough had arrested most of the Families of the Country; which proved most particularly Fatal to Bodies, before labouring with Rheumatic Indispositions. This he felt; but in the whole time of his Illness, he was full of Heavenly Discourse and Counsel, to those that came to visit him. One of the last things he did, was to Bless the Three Children of his only Daughter, who had purchased his Blessing by her singular Dutifulness unto him. It is a notable Passage in the Talmuds, That the Inhabitants of Tsippor expressing an extreme Unwillingness to have the Death of R. Judah (whom they Surnamed, The Holy,) reported unto them, that he brought the Report, thus expressed himself, Holy Men and Angels took hold of the Tables of the Covenant, and the Hand of the Angels prevailed, so that they took away the Tables! And the People then perceived the meaning of the Parabolizer to be, That Holy Men would fain have detained R. Judah still in this World; but the Angels took him away. Reader, I am as lothe to tell the Death of Rogers the Holy; and the Inhabitants of Ipswich were as lothe to hear it: But I must say, The Hand of the Angels prevailed, on July 3. 1655. in the Afternoon, when he had uttered those for his last Words, My Times are in thy hands.
§ 16. He was known to keep a Diary; but he kept it with so much Reservation, that it is not known, that ever any one but himself did read one Word of it: And he determined that none ever should; so he ordered a couple of his Intimate Friends to cast it all into the Fire, without ever looking into the Contents of it.
Surely, with the Loss of so Incomparable a Person, the Survivors must lament the Loss of those Experiences, which might in these Rich Papers, have kept him, after a sort, still Alive unto us! But as they would have prov’d him, An Incarnate Seraphim, so the other Seraphim, who carried him away with them, were no Strangers to the Methods, by which he had ripened and Winged himself, to become one of their Society.
I cannot find any Composures of this Worthy Man’s offered by the Press unto the World; except one, and that is only a Letter which he wrote from New England, unto a Member of the Honourable House of Commons, at Westminster, in the Year 1643. Wherein observing, That Ecclesiam ad Mundi Normam Regnorum & statuum componere, est mere Domum Tapetibus accommodare; he pathetically urged, That the Parliament would confess the Guilt of Neglecting, yea, Rejecting Motions of Reformation in former Parliaments, and proceed now more fully to answer the just Expectations of Heaven. But I have in my Hands, a brief Manuscript, written in a Neat Latin Style, whereof he was an Incomparable Master. ’Tis a Vindication of the Congregational Church-Government; and there is one Passage in it, by Transcribing whereof, I will take the Leave to address the present Age.
Non raro Reformationem impedit Difficultas Reformandi, & Ecclesias veræ Disciplinæ Conformes reddendi. Jehoshaphat excelsa non amoverbat quia Populus non Comparaverat Animum Deo. ‘Non defuerunt (inquit Bucerus) intra hos Triginta Annos, qui Videri voluerint Justam Evangelii Prædicationem plane amplecti, atq; Religionis Christi rite Constituendæ præcipuam Curiam suscipere, propter quam etiam non parum periclitari sunt. Verum perpauci adhuc reperti sunt, qui se Christi Evangelio & Regno omnio subjecissent. Multo vero minus permissum fuit fides, probatisq; Ecclesiarum Ministris, nec adeo multi Ministrorum voluissent id sibi concedi, ut qui Privatis Admonitionibus non acquievissent, atq; a manifestis peccatis suis recipere se noluissent, eos una cum Ecclesiæ Senioribus, ad hoc electis, nomine totius Ecclesiæ ad Pænitentiam Vocassent & Ligassent; eosq; qui & hoc Salutis suæ Remedium respuissent, cum assensu Ecclesiæ pro Ethnicis & Publicanis habendos Publice pronunciassent. Cujus Rationemetiam posuit Peter Martyr; ‘Videntur aliqui subvereri Tumultus, & Turbas, quod suæ Tranquilitati consulant, sibiq; fingant atq; somnient quandam Tranquilitatem in Ecclesia, quam impossibile est ut habeant, st Gregem Christi recte pasci voluerint. Hinc Regula Prudentiæ pro Regula Præcepti proponitur; & Quæriter potius quid fieri convenienter possit, quam quid debeat. Fallit hæc Regula; cum multa Deus efficiat per Zelotas (quos vocant) quæ Politicis Impossibilia Visa fuerint; Puta Hezekiam, Josiam, & Edvardum Sextum, Angliæ Regem. Cum videas unum Ezram Cinere & Cilicio, fletu & Jejunio, tam Spissum & Arduum Opus superasse, quo Carissimas Conjuges, & liberos desiderarissimos, e Maritorum Gremio, & Paternis Genibus, revulsit & ablegavit; eorumq; non tantum infimæ Plebis; etiam Manus ipsorum Principum & Antistitum, prima fuit in Prævaricatione ista: Quis inquam, fidelis Minister adeo ὀλιγόπιςος est, ut in repurganda Ecclesia, nihil non audeat, cum Bono Deo? Magna quidem est Veritatis & Sanctitatis, Vis & Majestas: Fidelis & Efficax est Assistentia Spiritus, iis qui Zelo accensi Gloriæ Dei sedulo incumbunt. Tempori quidem aliquando est cedendum; sed Operi Dei non est supersedendum,
God will one Day cause these words to be Translated into English!
In the mean Time, Go thy way, NATHANAEL, until the End; for thou shalt Rest.— and on thy Resting Place I will inscribe the Words of Luther upon his Nesenus, for thy
O NATHANAEL, Si mihi datum esset Donum
Miraculosum Excitandi Mortuous,
Et si ullum unquam Excitassem,
TE nunc Excitorem.
And for the same Use borrow the Words, in the Epitaph of Brentius, the Younger.
Morte Pia rapitur, Cœliq; sit Incola: Semper
Audiet, O magno digna propago Patre.
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