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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 is it 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.
There were two accidents which happened while I was an undergraduate, that somewhat startled and awakened me; the one in the winter of my freshmanship, when a number of us went a skating upon what is called Fresh Pond, in Watertown. Two lovely young gentlemen, John Eyre, of our class, son of Justice Eyre of Boston, and Maxwell, the class above me, a West Indian, (which two only of all the compapy had asked leave of the Tutors to go out of town upon the diversion,) being both good skaters, joined hand in hand, and flew away to the farther end of the pond; and as they were in like manner returning, they ran upon a small spot, in the middle of the pond, called the boiling hole, because rarely frozen over, which was open the day before, but now had a skim of ice upon it, about half an inch thick, and both of them broke the thin ice and plunged into the water. Maxwell rose not again, it being supposed he rose under the ice; Eyre rose in the hole they had broken, attempted to get upon the ice, but it gave way under him, and plunged him anew. I, who happened to be nearest to them, ran towards the hole, called io Eyre only to keep his head above water, by bearing his arms upon the thin ice, and we would help him with boards, which the rest of the company ran to fetch from a new house building by the edge of the pond, not twenty rods off; but he kept on his striving to get up, till it so worried him he sunk and rose no more; and thus were both drowned. It threw me into grievous anguish of mind to think I was so near my dear friend, within two rods, and yet it was impossible for me to help him. I went to the utmost edge of the thick ice, and raised my foot to take another step, but saw I must fall in as they had done. The boards arrived to the place within five minutes of Eyre's last sinking. The sight was truly shocking to me, and I plainly saw how soon and suddenly the providence of God might, by one means or another, snatch me out of the world, and what need I had to be always ready; and lifted up my heart in thankfulness to God, who had spared me, whose turn it might have been instead of theirs. Thought I, if God had taken me away instead of them, oh, what would have become of me! But since God had mercifully spared me, I would endeavor for the future to live devoted to his service. But, alas! how soon did such serious thoughts and purposes die away! Eyre was taken up that afternoon, but Maxwell could not be found until the next day,
The other instance happened the summer following, when a great number of the scholars went to bathe and cool themselves in the river, upon a very hot day. George Curwin, a freshman, who could not swim, went up to his waist near the foot of the bridge, ducking and trying to learn to swim. It being near high water, the tide came round the foot of the bridge with a strong current, and, ere he was aware, carried him past his depth, and soon hurried him into the current of the arch, which threw him a great way into the river, where he was dabbling and drowning. One of the tallest and stoutest young men immediately swam off to his relief, bid him get upon his back, and he would carry him ashore. He got upon the back of the young man, but unhappily, instead of taking him round the neck, he embraced both the arms of the young man so strongly, that he could not extend them to swim; who became now as much in danger of drowning as Curwin. He tried to shake him off, but could not, and both were now tumbling in the water. I happened to be upon a pier of the bridge, and called to the company, now on shore, (who cared not to go off to their help lest they should be alike entangled) to wade, the tallest up to his chin, and make a string to the shore, and I would try to save them. Upon which I immediately swam away to the helpless couple, kept myself from their laying hold on me, and continually pushing them forward, till they were got within the reach of the outmost man, and were recovered, seemingly at the last gasp; and thus, through divine goodness, they were both preserved. This filled we with thankfulness to God in sparing the young men, and making me instrumental in their preservation, and awakened in me many serious thoughts and resolutions; but ah! soon did I sin them away. Mr. Curwin afterwards was fixed in the church at Salem, from whence he sprung, a co-pastor with the aged Rev. Mr. Nicholas Noyes ; and, after serving them about three years and a half, died Nov. 23, 1717, aged 35, an excellent young man, leaving the aged Mr. Noyes to bewail his death. I was called, and even compelled, to preach his funeral sermon, upon a public Thanksgiving; a printed copy whereof I herewith send you.
In the last year of my being at college, it pleased God, in righteous judgment, so far to deliver me up to the corrupt workings of my own heart, that I fell into a scandalous sin, in which some of my classmates were concerned. This roused me more seriously to bethink myself of the wickedness of my heart and life; and though I had kept up some little show of religion, yet now I saw what a terrible punishment it was to be left of God, and exposed to his wrath and vengeance, and set myself upon seeking an interest in the favor of God, through the blessed Mediator ; and resolved, through the grace of God assisting of me, to lead a sober, a righteous, and a godly life, and improve my time and talents in the service of my Maker and Redeemer, and applied myself more closely to my studies : but I found I could not recover what I had lost hy my negligence.
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 sor, 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 Buston, 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
gained but little ; our advantages therefor being noways 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
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 common-place 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 ago 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 upon some special occasions I made use of even in my advanced years.
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 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