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NATHANAEL EMMONS, D. D.
WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.
I was born April 20, 1745, O. S., in the town of East Haddam, county of Hartford, and colony of Connecticut. My father's name was Samuel Emmons, and my mother's maiden name was Ruth Cone. I was the sixth son, and the twelfth and youngest child of my parents. My mother died when I was about twelve years
age. She was a very sincere, humble, heavenly christian. Indeed, both of my parents were professors of religion, and exemplary in the general course of their conduct. They gave me much good instruction in piety and virtue, and restrained me from all outward acts of vice and immorality. I was naturally inclined to learning, and took peculiar pleasure in improving my mind, by reading, and by hearing others converse upon instructive subjects. Having such an inquisitive disposition, and being the youngest child in the family, my parents early entertained thoughts of giving me a public education. But while a schoolboy I manifested such a volatile, trifling spirit, that they altered their purpose of sending me to college, and determined to make me a farmer. This deeply wounded my feelings; for I never loved labor, but my heart was set upon study. I revolved in my mind a great many schemes to attain the object of my wishes. I pur
chased a Latin Accidence and Grammar with my own property, several years before I was permitted to attend a grammar school. At length, I prevailed upon my father to give me leave to study the languages, if I could find an instructer. I went directly to a Latin master, who engaged to fit me for college by the next Commencement. This was in the year 1762, and as late as the month of November. I applied myself closely to my studies through the winter. In the spring, a fellow student left me to study alone under a very negligent teacher. But notwithstanding all my disadvantages, I made so much proficiency as to enter Yale College the next September. I was now in the nineteenth year of
and enjoyed a good degree of health, which enabled me to pursue my studies without interruption, until I took my first degree, in the year 1767. But though I was pretty studious during my residence at college, yet I could by no means equal a number of my class. My father died about three months before I graduated, and left me not the least patrimony, only directing in his will that the expenses of my education should be paid out of his estate. . Accordingly, when I left college, I found myself in a state of entire poverty. I had nothing I could call my own, except a very few clothes and a very few books. My parents being both dead, I was totally destitute of any place which I could call my home. My brothers, however, were kind to me, especially my youngest brother, who in a good measure supplied the place and showed the kindness of a father. I was never given to idleness, but always disposed to improve my time in some employment. My natural inclination, in this case, coïncided with my situation, and I soon engaged to teach an English school. Having continued in this business seven or eight months, I applied to a clergyman, Rev. Mr. Strong, of Coventry, Connecticut, to instruct me in theology. I lived in his family, and taught his children several months. After this, I spent a year with another noted divine; and in October, 1769, I was examined before the South Association in Hartford county, who gave me a license to preach the gospel.
Having given this sketch of my education and of my preparations for the ministry, it may be proper to look back and survey my moral and religious character, during this period of
As my godly parents gave me much pious instruction, my mind was early the subject of religious impressions; which always preserved me from gross vices, and even from many smaller irregularities, to which, like other children and youth, I was naturally exposed. I was never noted for falsehood, profaneness, Sabbath breaking, or a great fondness for vain com
pany. I sustained, while a child, while preparing for college, and while I resided there, a pretty fair inoral character. Nor was this all. When I was quite young, I had many serious thoughts. I remember well that, by reading the life of a pious youth, I was sensibly struck with a conviction of my great guilt
, and the awful thought of dying unprepared, which led me for a while to secret devotions. Though I did not continue long in this state of mind, yet I entertained reverential thoughts of religion, and fully resolved to become, some time or other, truly pious. These resolutions were cherished and strengthened, by a strong desire to be a preacher of the gospel. I felt a peculiar respect for ministers, and thought I should be extremely happy if I could be properly qualified to be one myself. When one of my sisters died of the consumption, my fears about myself were again alarmed; and I had some lively apprehensions of the state of the damned, especially of the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. I used to be much terrified with the prospect of the day of judgment; and my fears constrained me to cry to God in secret to save me from the wrath to come. But when my fears abated, I soon fell into the neglect of this duty. Such was the general state of my mind, till I turned my attention more directly towards divinity, and began my theological studies. I now had a rational and serious conviction of the great importance of becoming truly religious. It had always been my settled opinion, that saving grace was a necessary qualification for a church member, and much more for a minister of the gospel. Accordingly, when I began to read divinity, I began a constant practice of daily reading the Bible, and of praying to God in secret. With such resolutions, I entertained a hope that God would very soon grant me his special grace, and give me satisfactory evidence of this qualification for the ministry. Nor did I ever indulge a thought of preaching, unless I had some good reason to believe I was the subject of a saving change; for I viewed a graceless minister as a most inconsistent, criminal, and odious character. All this time, however, I had no sense of the total corruption of my heart, and its perfect opposition to God. But one night there came up a terrible thunder storm, which gave me such an awful sense of God's displeasure, and of my going into a miserable eternity, as I never had before. I durst not close my eyes in sleep during the whole night, but lay crying for mercy with great anxiety and distress. This impression continued day after day, and week after week, and put me upon the serious and diligent use of what I supposed to be the appointed means of grace. In this state of mind I went to Mr. Smalley's, to pursue my theological studies. There I was favored with his plain and instructive preaching; which increased my concern, and gave me a more sensible conviction of the plague of my own heart, and of my real opposition to the way of salvation revealed in the gospel. My heart rose against the doctrine of divine sovereignty, and I felt greatly embarrassed with respect to the use of means. I read certain books, which convinced me that the best desires and prayers of sinners were altogether selfish, criminal and displeasing to God. I knew not what to do, nor where to go for relief. A deep sense of my total depravity of heart, and of the sovereignty of God in having mercy on whom he will have mercy, destroyed my dependence on men and means, and made me almost despair of ever attaining salvation, or becoming fit for any thing but the damnation of hell. But one afternoon, when my hopes were gone, I had a peculiar discovery of the divine perfections, and of the way of salvation by Jesus Christ, which filled my mind with a joy and serenity to which I had ever before been a perfect stranger. This was followed by a peculiar spirit of benevolence to all my fellow men, whether friends or foes. And I was transported with the thought of the unspeakable blessedness of the day when universal benevolence should prevail among all mankind. I felt a peculiar complacence in good men, but thought they were extremely stupid, because they did not appear to be more delighted with the gospel, and more engaged to promote the cause of Christ. I pitied the deplorable condition of ignorant, stupid sinners, and thought I could preach so plainly as to convince every body of the glory and importance of the gospel. These were my views and feelings about eight months before I became a candidate for the ministry. I continued a candidate from October, 1769, to April, 1773, when I was ordained to the pastoral care of the second church in Wrentham,* Massachusetts.
I entered on the ministerial work with a great deal of diffidence in my abilities to perform it, on account of the difficul. ties which I expected to encounter. Several things concurred to awaken this apprehension. Though I had a large portion of pride, yet it served to produce timidity rather than confidence. I was conscious of many and great defects, which depressed my mind, and rendered me incapable of exercising those talents I possessed, to the best advantage. I was destitute of an easy address, of a strong voice, of a good style, and of a graceful delivery. Despairing of being a popular, I was solicitous only to become an instructive preacher. With this view, I determined to give myself wholly to the ministry, and
* Franklin was set off from Wrentham.