Payson, Edward

Payson, Edward D.D., a noted American divine, one of the most illustrious of the orthodox Congregational body, was the son of the succeeding, and was born at Rindge, N. H., July 25, 1783, where his father was then pastor. Both the intellectual and moral powers of young Payson were developed at an unusually early age. He was often known to weep under preaching when three years old, and was a good reader at four. He entered Harvard College in 1800, and graduated in 1803. It was said of him while there, by his fellowstudents, that he had left off taking books from the alcoves of the library because he had read all that were there. His religious awakenings seem to have come powerfully after the death of his brother in 1804; and, when finally resolved to live for God and his cause altogether, he consecrated himself fully to the service in a written covenant. After three years spent as principal of a school in Portland, feeling that he was called to the work of the ministry, he began his theological studies under the direction of his father. His great aim and purpose was to be a thorough Biblical scholar — not so much to acquaint himself with systems of divinity, or to learn about the Bible, but to know the truth. Having completed his theological studies, he was called and ordained colleague of Mr. Kellogg, Dec. 16, 1807, and afterwards the sole pastor of the Congregational Church of Portland, Maine. This was his first and only pastoral charge, and he remained in it for a period of twenty years, though his pulpit utterances were of the most startling and uncompromising character. It may be truly said of Edward Payson that he labored not to please men, but God; and his pulpit thundered and lightened like another Sinai against every form of ungodliness and iniquity. Nor must it be supposed that his pastorate was lengthened in one charge because his labors were not appreciated elsewhere. Calls came to him from Boston and New York, but he persistently declined them. So conscientiously devoted was Payson to his work that he refused to receive an increase of his salary, although it was generously offered him by his people. Over seven hundred persons were received by him under his ministrations, and many happy souls in other places will rise up in the final day to bless the name of Edward Payson. These vast labors heavily taxed his physical strength, and the impaired condition of his health, due to sedentary habits, soon exhausted him when sickness finally came. He died Oct. 22, 1827. In his distressing sickness he displayed, in the most interesting and impressive manner, the power of Christian faith. Smitten down in the midst of his days and usefulness, he was entirely resigned to the divine will; for he perceived distinctly that the infinite wisdom of God could not err in the direction of events, and it was his joy that God reigneth. His mind rose over bodily pain, and in the strong visions of eternity he seemed almost to lose the sense of suffering. In a letter to his sister, Sept. 19, 1827, he says:

"Were I to adopt the figurative language of Bunyan, I might date this letter from the land of Beulah, of which I have been for some weeks a happy inhabitant. The celestial city is fill in my view. Its glories beam upon me, its odors are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ears, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step whenever God shall give permission. The Son of Righteousness has gradually been drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as he approached, and now he fills the whole hemisphere, pouring forth a flood of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun; exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wondering, with unutterable wonder, why God should deign thus to shine upon a silful worm. A single heart and a single tongue seem altogether inadequate to my wants. I want a whole heart for every separate emotion, and a whole tongue to express that emotion." Among his uncommon intellectual powers, a rich, philosophical, and consecrated imagination was the most conspicuous. Without any of the graces of the orator. his preaching had the most vivid eloquence of truth and feeling. In his prayers especially there was a solemnity, fullness, originality, variety, pathos, and sublimity seldom equaled. His eloquent address to the Bible Society has been published as one of the tracts of the American Tract Society. He published a discourse on the Worth of the Bible, an Address to Seamen, and a Thanksgiving Sermon. A memoir of his Life, by Dr. Asa Cummings, was published (2d ed. 1830); also a volume of Sermons (1828, 8vo); another volume (1831. 12mo); another, to families (1833). In 1859 Dr. Payson's Complete Works were brought out at Philadelphia. with the memoir by Cummings (3 vols. 8vo). The North British Review (Nov. 1859), in noticing this edition, takes occasion to say of Dr. Payson: "To a close and familiar acquaintance with the Scriptures, he added great breadth of intellect and varied literary attainments. Intimate knowledge of the human conscience was joined to massiveness of thought vouching the ways of God to man. In several of the sermons we have again and again had suggested to us one in whom these features found an almost perfect expression-the late Edward Irving... We are not acquainted with any recent work in practical theology which better deserves a place in the library of every Christian gentleman and minister than this edition of the memoir and works of Dr. Payson." We regret to say that the edition of Dr. Payson's life and works is now exhausted. They should certainly be reissued in a more popular and abridged form, so as to have a wide circulation among ministers and Christians of all denominations. The Rev. E. L. Janes, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, has done a good work in extracting from the volumes referred to some of their choice gems, and giving a very concise view of the salient points of his character and ministry. In the absence of the large volumes, this book (N.Y. 1872, 8vo) may be read with great profit. See also Sprague. Annals of the Amer. Pulpit, 2:503; Allen, Dict. of Amer. Biog. s.v.; Dr. Levi R. Dunn, in Christian Advocate, 1872; Our Pastor, or Reminiscences of Rev. E. Payson, D.D., by one of his flock (Boston, 1855, 12mo); Sketches of Eloquent Preachers (1864, 12mo); Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, vol. 2 s.v.

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