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The Dying Experience of Rev. Edward Payson as found in Thoughts on Religious Experience by J.A. Alexander (1809-1860)
No man in our country has left behind him a higher character for eminent piety than the Rev. Edward Payson, 1783-1827….When this faithful pastor found that his end was approaching, he felt a strong desire to address some advice to his flock. He therefore had it announced from the pulpit, that he would be pleased to see as many of them as could make it convenient to come to his house, and appointed them a time. To them, when assembled, he spoke nearly as follows: 'It has often been remarked that people who have gone to the other world cannot come back to tell us what they have seen; but I am so near the eternal world, that I can see almost as clearly as if I were there; and I see enough to satisfy myself, at least, of the truth of the doctrines which I have preached. I do not know that I should feel at all surer had I been there. It is always interesting to see others in a situation in which we know we must shortly be placed ourselves; and we all know that we must die. And to see a poor creature, when, after an alternation of hopes and fears, he finds that his disease is mortal, and death comes to tear him away from everything he loves, and crowds him to the very verge of the precipice of destruction, and then thrusts him down headlong;—there he is, cast into an unknown world! no friend, no Saviour to receive him! —O! how different is this from the state of a man who is prepared to die! He is not obliged to be crowded along, but the other world comes like a great magnet to draw him away from this; and he knows that he is going to enjoy—and not only knows but begins to taste it— perfect happiness, for ever, for ever, and ever. And now God is in this room. I see Him! and O! how unspeakably lovely and glorious does He appear! worthy of ten thousand hearts, if we had so many. He is here, and hears me pleading with the creatures that He has made, whom He preserves and loads with blessings, to love Him. And how terrible does it appear to me to sin against this God—to set up our wills in opposition to His! It makes my blood run cold to think how miserable I should now be without religion. To lie here and see myself tottering on the verge of destruction—O! I should be distracted. And when I see my fellow creatures in this situation, I am in an agony for them, that they may escape the danger before it be too late. Suppose we should hear the sound of some one pleading earnestly with another, and we should inquire, What is that man pleading for so earnestly? O! He is only pleading with a fellow creature to love his God, his Saviour, his Preserver, his Benefactor. He is only pleading with him not to throw away his immortal soul; not to pull down everlasting wretchedness on his own head. He is only persuading him to avoid eternal misery and accept eternal happiness. "Is it possible," we should exclaim, "that any persuasion can be necessary for this?" And yet it is necessary. 0! my friends! do, do love this glorious Being. Do seek the salvation of your immortal souls. Hear the voice of your dying minister, while he entreats you to care for your souls.'
On another occasion he said, 'I find satisfaction in looking at nothing that I have done. I have not fought, but Christ has fought for me. I have not run, but Christ has carried me. I have not worked, but Christ has wrought in me. Christ has done all.' The perfections of God were to him a well-spring of joy, and the promises were breasts of consolation, whence his soul drew aliment and comfort. 'O!' exclaimed he, 'the loving kindness of God! His loving kindness! This afternoon, while I was meditating, the Lord seemed to pass by and proclaim Himself, 'THE LORD GOD, MERCIFUL AND GRACIOUS ! O how gracious! Try to conceive of that—"his loving kindness", as if it were not enough to say kindness, but loving kindness! What must be the loving kindness of the Lord who is Himself infinite in love? It seemed as if Christ had said to me, "You have often wandered, and been impatient of the way by which I have led you; but what do you think of it now?" And I was cut to the heart, when I looked hack and saw the goodness by which I had been guided, that I could ever for a moment distrust His love.'
To a minister who called upon him, he said that the point in which he believed ministers failed most, and in which he had certainly failed most, was in doing duty professionally, and not from the heart. He said also, 'I have never valued as I ought the doctrines which I have preached. The system is great and glorious, and is worthy of our utmost efforts to promote it. The interests depending will justify us in our strongest measures. In every respect we may embark our all upon it; it will sustain us.' 'I was never fit to say a word to a sinner, except when I had a broken heart myself; when I was subdued and melted into penitence, and felt just as if I had received pardon to my own soul; and when my heart was full of tenderness and pity.' He seemed to be greatly affected with a view of the grace of God in saving lost men, and especially, that it should be bestowed on one so ill-deserving as himself. 'O how sovereign! O how sovereign! Grace is the only thing that can make us like God. I might be dragged through heaven, earth, and hell, and I should still be the same sinful, polluted wretch, unless God Himself should renew and cleanse me.'
In conversation with his eldest daughter, being asked whether self-examination was not a very difficult duty for young Christians, 'Yes,' he replied, 'and for old ones, too; because it is displeasing to the pride of the heart, because wandering thoughts are then most apt to intrude, and because of the deceitfulness of the heart. When a Christian first looks into his heart, he sees nothing but confusion—a heap of sins, and very little good, mixed up together; and he knows not how to separate them, or how to begin self-examination. But let him persevere in his efforts, and order will arise out of confusion.' She mentioned to him a passage in the life of Joseph Alleine, 1634-68, which led him to say, 'We never confess any faults that we really think disgraceful. We complain of our hardness of heart, stupidity, etc., but we never confess envy, covetousness, and revenge, or anything that we suppose will lower us in the opinion of others; and this proves that we do not feel ashamed of coldness and stupidity. In short, when young Christians make confessions, unless there is an obvious call for it, it commonly proceeds from one of the following motives: either they wish to be thought very humble, and to possess great knowledge of their own hearts; or they think it is a fault which the other has perceived, and they are willing to have the credit of having discovered and striven against it; or they confess some fault from which they are remarkably free, in order to elicit a compliment.'
Payson's solicitude for the welfare of his people was so great, that though he had given them one solemn address, he was not contented with that, but sent for particular classes of them. On one day, he had the young men of the congregation assembled around him, wheq he delivered to them a peculiarly solemn, tender, and appropriate exhortation. He also sent an affectionate valedictory address to the Association of ministers with whom he had been connected. The substance of it was, 'A hearty assurance of the ardent love with which he remembered them even in death—an exhortation to love one another with a pure heart fervently—to love their work—to be diligent in it—to expect success, and to bear up under discouragements—to be faithful unto death, and to look for their reward in heaven.'
While speaking of the rapturous views which he had of heaven, he was asked if it did not appear like the clear light of vision, rather than that of faith. He said, 'I don't know—it is too much for the poor eyes of my soul to bear—they are almost blinded with the excessive brightness. All I want is to be a mirror, to reflect some of those rays to those around me.'—'My soul, instead of growing weaker and more languishing, as my body does, seems to be endued with an angel's energies, and to be ready to break from the body, and join those around the throne.' When asked whether it was now incredible to him that the martyrs should rejoice in the flames and on the rack, 'No,' said he, 'I can easily believe it. I have suffered twenty times as much as I could in being burnt at the stake, while my joy in God so abounded, as to render my sufferings not only tolerable, but welcome. The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.' At another time he said. 'God is now literally my all in all. While He is present with me, no event can in the least diminish my happiness; and were the whole world at my feet, trying to minister to my comfort, they could not add one drop to the cup.' 'It seems as if the promise to wipe away all tears is already accomplished, as it relates to tears of sorrow. I have no tears to shed now but tears of love and joy and thankfulness.' Shortly before his decease, he was heard to break forth in a soliloquy, of which the following is a specimen: —'What an assemblage of motives to holiness does the gospel present! I am a Christian; what then? I am a redeemed sinner—a pardoned rebel—all through grace, and by the most wonderful means which infinite wisdom could devise. I am a Christian; what then? Why, I am a temple of God, and surely I ought to be pure and holy! I am a Christian; what then? Why, I am a child of God, and ought to be filled with filial love and reverence and joy and gratitude. I am a Christian; what then? Why, I am a disciple of Christ, and must imitate Him who was meek and lowly of heart, and pleased not Himself. I am a Christian—what then? Why, I am an heir of heaven, and hastening on to the abodes of the blessed.' 'It seems as if my soul had found a pair of new wings, and was so eager to try them, that in her fluttering she would rend the fine network of the body to pieces.' He had the choir to come in and sing for him, and chose the hymn, 'Rise, my soul', etc. Soon afterwards he expired, October 21, 1827.
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