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“The Pulpit Being My Great Design ”: A Minister in Early 18th-Century New England.

Eighteenth-century New Englanders increasingly found themselves living within the imperial context of the European wars and Enlightenment ideas that flowed across the Atlantic. John Barnard, the long-time minister of Marblehead, Massachusetts, was influenced by those ideas. He took the traditional path toward becoming a Congregational minister by attending an English school, grammar school, and then Harvard College, the main supplier of the region’s clergy and integral to its intellectual life. While Barnard held traditional providential beliefs in God’s responsibility for events, his life history also revealed an increasing layer of newer scientific beliefs and values. Less isolated than their 17th-century predecessors, the New England ministry at the turn of the 18th century traveled to Europe and took part in the increasing English book trade that brought European ideas to them, as seen in Barnard’s autobiography.

I, John Barnard, was born at Boston, 6th Nov. 1681. descended from reputable parents, viz. John and Esther Barnard, remarkable for their piety and benevolence, who devoted me to the service of God, in the work of the ministry, from my very conception and birth, and accordingly took special care to instruct me themselves in the principles of the Christian religion, and kept me close at school to furnish my young mind with the knowledge of letters. By the time I had a little passed my sixth year, I had left my reading school, in the latter part of which my mistress made me a sort of usher, appointing me to teach some children that were older than myself, as well as smaller ones; and in which time I had read my Bible through thrice. My parents thought me to be weakly, because of my thin habit and pale countenance, and therefore sent me into the country, where I spent my seventh summer, and by the change of air and diet and exercise I grew more fleshy and hardy; and that I might not lose my reading was put to a schoolmistress, and returned home in the fall.

In the spring of my eighth year I was sent to the grammar school, under the tuition of the aged, venerable, and justly famous Mr. Ezekiel Cheever... From the grammar school I was admitted into the college, in Cambridge, in New England, in July, 1696, under the Presidentship of the very reverend and excellent Dr. Increase Mather, (who gave me for a thesis, Habenti dabitur,) and the tutorage of those two great men, Mr. John Leverett, (afterwards President,) and Mr. William Brattle, (afterwards the worthy minister of Cambridge.) Mr. Leverett became my special tutor for about a year and a half, to whom succeeded Mr. Jabez Fitch, (afterwards the minister of Ipswich with Mr. John Rogers, who at the invitation of the church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, removed to them.) Upon my entering into college, I became chambermate, the first year, to a senior and a junior sophister; which might have been greatly to my advantage, had they been of a studious disposition, and made any considerable progress in literature. But, alas! they were an idle pack, who knew but little and took no pains to increase their knowledge. When, therefore, according to my disposition, which was ambitious to excel, I applied myself close to books and began to look forward into the next year’s exercises, this unhappy pair greatly discouraged me and beat me off from my studies, so that by their persuasions I foolishly threw by my books, and soon became as idle as they were. Oh! how baneful it is to be linked with bad company! and what a vile heart had I to hearken to their wretched persuasions! I never, after this, recovered a good studious disposition while I was at college. Having a ready, quick memory, which rendered the common exercises of the college easy to me, and being an active youth, I was hurried almost continually into one diversion or another, and gave myself to no particular studies, and therefore made no great proficiency in any part of solid learning….

In July, 1700 I took my first degree, Dr. Increase Mather being President; after which I returned to my honored father’s house, where I betook myself to close studying, and humbling myself before God with fasting and prayer, imploring the pardon of all my sins, through the mediation of Christ; begging the divine Spirit to sanctify me throughout, in spirit, soul, and body, and fit me for, and use me in the service of the sanctuary, and direct and bless all my studies to that end. I joined to the North Church in Boston, under the pastoral care of the two Mathers. Some time in November, 1702 I was visited with a fever and sore throat; but, through the mercy of God to a poor sinful creature, in a few days I recovered a good state of health; and from that time to this, November, 1766, I have never had any sickness that has confined me to my bed.

While I continued at my good father’s I prosecuted my studies; and looked something into the mathematics, though I gained but little; our advantages therefore being no ways equal to what they have, who now have the great Sir Isaac Newton, and Dr. Halley, and some other mathematicians, for their guides. About this time I made a visit to the college, as I generally did once or twice a year, where I remember, the conversation turning upon the mathematics, one of the company, who was a considerable proficient in them, observing my ignorance, said to me he would give me a question, which, if I answered in a month’s close application, he should account me an apt scholar. He gave me the question. I, who was ashamed of the reproach cast upon me, set myself hard to work, and in a fortnight’s time returned him a solution of the question, both by trigonometry and geometry, with a canon by which to resolve all questions of the like nature. When I showed it to him, he was surprised, said it was right, and owned he knew no way of resolving it but by algebra, which I was an utter stranger to. I also gave myself to the study of the Biblical Hebrew, turned the Lord’s Prayer, the creed, and part of the Assembly’s Catechism into Hebrew, (for which I had Dr. Cotton Mather for my corrector,) and entered on the task of finding the radix of every Hebrew word in the Bible, with design to form a Hebrew Concordance; but when I had proceeded through a few chapters in Genesis, I found the work was done to my hand by one of the Buxtorfs. So I laid it by.

The pulpit being my great design, and divinity my chief study, I read all sorts of authors, and, as I read, compared their sentiments with the sacred writings, and formed my judgment of the doctrines of Christianity by that only and infallible standard of truth; which led me insensibly into what is called the Calvinistical scheme, (though I never to this day have read Calvin’s works, and cannot call him master,) which sentiments, by the most plausible arguments to the contrary, that have fallen in my way, (and I have read the most of them,) I have never yet seen cause to depart from.

Through the importunity of my friends, I preached my first sermon, from Proverbs viii, 17, to a society of young men, meeting on Lord’s day evening for the exercises of religion, (to which I belonged,) in the August twelvemonth after I took my first degree; and some months after preached publicly at Gloucester. By August, 1702, I became almost a constant preacher, both on week days and on the Lord’s day, privately and publicly, insomuch as that I have sometimes preached every day of the week but Saturday, and both parts of the Sabbath, before and after; and, as my fond friends who heard me said, to good acceptance. At this time I preached for the Rev. Mr. John Danforth, of Dorchester, who was pleased to compliment me upon it in such strains of commendation. as would not be modest in me to mention. This constant preaching took me off from all other studies. About two months before I took my second degree, the reverend and deservedly famous Mr. Samuel Willard, then Vice President, called upon me, (though I lived in Boston.) to give a commonplace in the college hall; which I did, the latter end of June, from 2 Peter i, 20,21, endeavoring to prove the divine inspiration and authority of the holy Scriptures. When I had concluded, the President was so good as to say openly in the hall, "Bene fecisti, Barnarde, et gratias ego tibi." Under him I took my second degree in July, 1703.

Here suffer me to take occasion to show you the manner of my studying my sermons, which I generally pursued when I had time for it, and which upon some special occasions I made use of even in my advanced years. Having, in a proper manner, fixed upon the subject I designed to preach upon, I sought a text of Scripture most naturally including it; then I read such practical discourses as treated upon the subject; I read also such polemical authors, on both sides of the question, as I had by me, sometimes having ten or a dozen folios and other books lying open around me, and compared them one with another, and endeavored to make their best thoughts my own. After having spent some time (perhaps two or three days) in thus reading and meditating upon my subject, I then applied myself to my Bible, the only standard of truth, and examined how far my authors agreed or disagreed with it. Having settled my mind as to the truth of the doctrine I had under consideration, I then set myself to the closest meditation upon the most plain and natural method I could think of for the handling of the subject. Sometimes, not always, I penned the heads of the discourse. Then I took the first head, and thought over what appeared to me most proper to confirm and illustrate it, laying it up in my mind; so I went through the several heads; and when I had thus gone over the whole in its several parts, then I went over all in my meditation, generally walking in my study or in my father’s garden. When I thought myself ripe for it, I sat down to writing, and being a swift penman, I could finish an hour and a quarter’s discourse, with rapid speaking, in about four hours‘ time. This manner of studying sermons cost me, ’tis true, a great deal of time, perhaps a week or fortnight for a sermon, and sometimes more; but I had this advantage by it, that there was a greater stock laid up in my memory for future use, and I found it easy to deliver my discourses memoriter; and by the full and clear view I had of my subject, I could correct the phraseology in my delivery. I kept indeed my notes open, and turned over the leaves as though I had read them, yet rarely casting my eye upon my notes, unless for the chapter and verse of a text which I quoted. When I was settled in the ministry, I found this method too operose, yet when called to special public services, if I had time, I practiced it; only penning head by head as I meditated on them. Observing also that the aged Mr. Samuel Cheever, with whom I settled, very much failed in his memory, (for he was wholly a memoriter preacher), I thought I might be reduced to his circumstances if I lived to old age, and therefore betook myself to reading my notes; and I find the advantage of it, since it hath pleased God to spare me to a great old age.

In June, 1704, the church at Yarmouth sent for me to assist their pastor, the Rev. Mr. John Cotton, who was taken off from public service by a paralytic disorder; and having spent two months with them, I returned home. They fetched me again to them in July, 1705, where I preached to them some time..... I returned to Yarmouth again, according to my promise, at their desire, in November. The February following, Mr. Cotton died, and then the church and people proceeded to invite me to a settlement among them. There was but one man who withheld his vote from me; and even the Quakers in the town, of which there were several, were approving of it; the reverend ministers also in the neighborhood seemed to be pleased with it. I wrote to my honored father about it, and he seemed to be backward in consenting to the motion, partly because of the distance of about 85 miles, and partly, (what he saw into further than I did,) that it would not be a comfortable settlement to me. So I put a stop to their proceedings, and returned home the latter end of March following, 1705.

My constant preaching went on as usual....In the spring of 1707 I was appointed by Governor Dudley one of the chaplains to the army, which was sent to Port Royal, (now Annapolis,) to reduce that fort, and with it Acadia, or Nova Scotia, to obedience to the crown of England….

[After a trip to Great Britain] The pulpits in Boston, and round about the country were soon open to me, so that between the public and private preaching I had constant employment. And it gave me some diversion to hear (as I passed along the streets,) people in their shops saying to one another, “How much better he preaches now than before he went to England;” though I often preached the sermons I had made before.

In the summer of 1711 there was a fair prospect, from the generality of the people being fond of it, that I should have settled at Reading. But a very worthy gentleman accidentally traveling through the town, they invited him to preach to them the next Sabbath. He did so; and a wise Providence so ordered it, that when they came to a choice, the vote turned out for him. In the latter end of 1711 it was concluded by my friends, from the affection the people had for me, that I should have been fixed at Jamaica, a parish in Roxbury. I confess it pleased me because it was within five miles of Boston. But happening to attend a lecture at Roxbury, Governor Dudley, who saw me come in, threw open his pew door to me. Some of the chief persons of Jamaica were present, and, observing the respect the Governor showed me, concluded I should be a Governor’s man, as they called it; and though they were particularly set for me before, yet, from some disgust they had to the Governor, altered their minds and threw me off. The latter end of 1712, the people of Newton had a great inclination to settle me among them; but one of their chiefs made a visit to ——, to consult him about it, he only answered with a forbidding shrug, and so put an end to it. There were the prospects of my settling in several other places; but a good and wise Providence overruled it for the best....

After so many disappointments, and being now turned of my thirty-second year, I began to be discouraged and think whether Providence designed me for the work of the ministry; whether I was not called upon to lay aside my own inclination, and betake myself to some other business. But I considered my parents' and my own solemn dedication to this service; and hearing from several parts of the country that many had been greatly profited by my preaching, and ministers informing m, that this and the other person had given them an account that my preaching such or such a sermon was the means of their being first awakened, and turning into the path of religion and virtue, I was encouraged to keep to my studies, and go on in the work of the gospel, as I had opportunity, and to commit my case to God, and wait His pleasure. I often thought, if my father’s circumstances would have afforded it, (which they could not,) I would live all my days at Cambridge, near the College, and preach to any people who needed help, but never come under the awful charge of a church, but give myself wholly up to studying.

The aged and Rev. Mr. Samuel Cheever, pastor of the church in Marblehead, needing assistance, the church and town nominated Mr. Edward Holyoke, (now President,) Mr. Amos Cheever, and myself, to preach to them, upon probation for three months, alternately. The committee came to me in August, 1714, to acquaint me with their design, and desire my compliance with it. I went and preached to them August 11, and took my turn with the others, until the church in January, came to a choice, and the vote finally came out for me; and the town concurred in it, voting a salary. The committee brought me the votes, both of choice and maintenance, and desired my acceptance of them. I thanked them for their respects to me, and their generous provision for my support; but knowing there were two of the church and some chief men of the town who swayed many others, were very fond of settling Mr. Holyoke with them, which would occasion a controversy among them, I deferred complying with their request, and told them I would take some time to consider it. Some months after, they came to me again to receive my answer. I told them I had heard there was a considerable strife in the town for the settling of Mr. Holyoke, which was very discouraging to me; and asked them if they thought the town was large enough to require another house. They answered me, they believed there were people enough to fill another house. I then asked them, if they had anything against Mr. Holyoke’s settling among them. They said, no; if the vote of the church had turned out for him, they should have been entirely satisfied. Then said I to them, “Why may not Mr. Holyoke’s friends in Marblehead be allowed to build a house for him, as well as the church enjoy their inclination to settle me with them?” They said if it could be done peaceably, they had nothing against it. Upon which I asked if any of Mr. Holyoke’s Marblehead friends were in town. They informed me such and such were come to treat with him. I then desired they would seek them out, and appoint a meeting with them, either at Mr. Holyoke’s or at my father’s, and I would wait upon them in the evening, and try if we could compromise matters. Accordingly all met at Mr. Holyoke’s father’s. I told them what I had proposed; and after some discourse upon it among themselves, I said to them, “Gentlemen, if you can amicably agree that Mr. Holyoke shall settle among his friends, I will accept the offer of the church to settle with them; otherwise I know not how to comply with your request; for I do not care to fix in a town under the disadvantage of strife and contention.” Mr. Holyoke then said, “If Mr. Barnard will go to Marblehead, I will go also; else not.” They presently fell into an agreement to build a new house for Mr. Holyoke, and my friends promised to use their influence with the town to consent to it; and so they parted good friends.

Upon the 9th of November, 1715, I removed, upon the people’s desire, to Marblehead; the day before, Mr. Holyoke’s people first opened their new house, in which several neighboring ministers kept a day of prayer for the divine direction and blessing upon their intended settlement. In January following, Mr. Holyoke left his tutorship at the college, and came to live in Marblehead, and was ordained the next April. I carried on part of the labors of the Sabbath with my venerable father Cheever, till I was ordained July 18, 1716. When we returned from the public to his house, the good man broke out, before all the ministers, “Now, Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace;” and having obtained help from God, I am continued to this day, ministering unto my people in much weakness, fear, and trembling, preaching none other things than what the Law and the Prophets, Jesus Christ and his Apostles, have made known; testifying, both to Jew and Gentile, repentance towards God and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ.

The 18th of September, 1718, I married Miss Anna Woodbury, from Ipswich, an only child, whose parents were both dead; a young gentlewoman of comely personage and good fortune, but above all strictly virtuous, and of admirable economy; who is yet living, though now crippled by paralytic or rheumatic disorders in her right leg. It has pleased God to deny children to us; and we are satisfied with the divine allotment, which is always wisest and best. . . .

Source: John Barnard, “Autobiography of the Rev. John Barnard,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, V (Boston, 1836), pp. 178–189, 214–219.