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help you along." And she sought wool
and flax, ** and laid her hand to the spin-
dle/' thus nobly redeeming her pledge.

The sturdy, oak-like characteristics of
the father were finely blended in the son,
with the vine-like nature of the mother.
He was. not one of those prodigies that
come to their maturity in the cradle, or
soon after leaving it, though he early dis- ,
covered a love for books, and for those
especially which led him to think. He
was often attracted from the sports com-
mon to children of lus own age, by the
conversations and philosophical discussions
of his father with the neighbors. When
mx or seven, he conunenced the study of

Digitized by



Leonard Woacb.


Aiitihmetic, hj copyiDg examples on birch-
bark, as he heard them given to a class of
large boys at school ; and he obtained the
answer as soon as they, and sometimes
sooner. At home, his father gave him
more difficult problems, letting him study
several days till he had solved them, rath-
er than assist him. To this early disci-
pline, he felt himself indebted for much of
that patience and perseverance in inves-
tigation which characterized hb after life.
If be had fewer books to read, like other
children of that generation, they were not
mere tinctures or phantoms of knowledge,
but, for the most part, solid and useful.
And they were also better read, and oflen,
from sheer necessity, re-read and pon-
dered, until the facts and principles which
they contained were digested, and incor-
porated into the mind's life and activities.
In this way the thouglitful boy made hid
entrance early into the Mathematics, His-
•tory, Philosophy and Christian Doctrine,
not by forcing processes, but gladsomely,
as into the familiar apartments of his own
Other's house.

The father intended him fbr a farmer,
— to take the homestead and be the staff
of his oM age. But his noother, under the
Irvine guidance, had other plans, in the
unfolding of which, the father gradually
gave way. The son, too, seems early to
have leaned to his mother's side. He
wished for a thorough education, when as
yet there was no prospect c^such a boon,
and he had a thought not clearly defined,
that he might, — perhaps an expectation
that he should be, a minister. A sickness,
occasioned by what we usually term an
accident, but which was really a provi-
dence, was prolonged till the father's de-
ngn respecting his son was weakened,
• and the mother's had grown into sove-
reignty. By such means, God brought his
purpose to the inception, and it was de-
cided that Leonard should immediately
begin the study of Latin, which he did
with the parish minister. This was a de*
terminative peisod, which gave direction
to the whole covfie of his subeequeBt

His preparation Anr college was mostly
a matter of self-culture. Three months
were all the regular academical tuitioa
his circumstances would allow. These
were spent at Leicester, under the excel-
lent training of Mr. Adams, afterwards
professor of Mathematics in Dartmouth

He entered at Harvard in 1792. His
college life drew him from the salutary
influences of h<Hne, and brought him into
new trials of his principles, and new
temptations to swerve from them. It
was, too, at the darkest period, morally,
in the history of our country. The
infidelity which had made France a seeth-
ing caldron of malignant passions, had
stretched across the ocean, and was set-
tiing thick as night on all the land. It
entered the institutions of learning, and
the lights of piety went out During a
part of young Woods' college course, the
late Dr. John H. Church was the only
professor of religion in the four claasea
In Yale, tiie state of things was but little
better. It was the fashion to laugh at
Christianity, after the manner of Voltaire
and Paine, and it was deemed a mark of
superior intellect and wisdom to pity, or
to scorn a believer in its doctrines. The
discourses of Dr. Dwight arrested this
evil in Yale College, though it continued
in Harvard. He punctured the baliooo
on which the stripling philosophers had
. soared so high, and with the collapse, the
theological seronauts suddenly descended
to a sobriety in which they saw that it ie
the fool and not the wise man that says,
'* There is no God."

Mr. Woods was better prepared by his
early religious training to withstand such
pernicious influences, thaa most of his cook-
panions. His associations and his con vie*
tiOns were on the side of faith in tha
Christian Doctrines. He therefore re-*
pelted the open and gross assaults upon
them, while in the subtler and more se-
ductive forms of the Prie^ian specula*
tions, the poison took effect Ha wae
atliacied to tikis maleckfistio philoeophy,

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LeoMord Woods.


tUs phOoflophic aatntalidn, is tnaay othen
liave been, by what be took to be a firmer
btaU in the atteated properties of matter,
than could be found for the doctrines of
grace in the realm of mind and of supema-
tnraliiBm. But he did not reflect that the
eTidence on which he accepted the existr
ence and ptoperties of matter came to him
through the cognitions of his own mind, and
that therefore the material philosophy must
he logically baseless, except as it rests on
something firiner in what is mental and spi-
ritual. Another attractive point in this di-
rection which gave force to his rationalistic
tendencies, was, that these speculations
exalt the human reason into an arbiter,
and give it jurisdiction over all God's
works and his Word, adjusting the pur>
poses and wisdom of the infallible Creator
to the judgment of the fallen and fallible
creature. It makes no allowance for the
dubious and defaulted character of the
general reason, nor for the endless varia-
tions and contradictions and absurdities of
the individual reasoners. This line of
thought, was new to him, and it seemed
original and profound. It chimed with
that pride of opinion, and self-reliant ad-
venture, so common in the heat of youth-
fal and immature scholarship, which, as
Dagald Stewart says, "* grasps at general
principles, vrithout submitting to the pre-
vious study of particular facts." It is
what Lord Bacon terms the sole cause
and root of almost every defect in the
sciences — that " while we falsely admire
and extol the powers of the human mind,
we do not search for its real helps." It is
tiie philosophy of abetraction, not of pa-
tient investigation and induction. It
opened to htm a new way of adjusting,
Batisfactorily to his conscience, his own
state and relations to his Maker, and one
apparently so simple and easy, as to cast
mspicion upon ^ the old paths " in which
the fathers had walked with God.

This was the state of Mr. Woods' mind
in relation to these great problems, when
he was graduated in 1796, bearing with
him the first awards of scholarship. Says

his friend and classmate, the Bey. Samuel
Dana, of Marblehead, *' He was decidedly
the first member of the class for intellee-
tual attainment, among such competitors
as John Pickering, and James Jackson.
He had the highest assignment at com-
mencement, and delivered an oration
which was much admired for its literaiy

On leaving College, he marked out fer
himself a plan of study in Philosophy,
History, and Belles Lettres, and of general
reding, which was to occupy the two fol-
lowing years. Betiring to his father's, in
Princeton, he entered upon this plan widi
the greatest enthusiasm. The excellent
library of Bev. Thomas Prince, the dis-
tinguished chronologer, to whose memory
a worthy tribute was paid in the first
number of thb Journal, had been taken
to Princeton, by Lieut Gov. Gill. He
was the son-in-law of Mr. Prince, and, in-
herititig the estate of his wife's father, she
being the only child that survived his
death, this valuable library came into his
possession. To this storehouse of learn-
ing, free access was given to Mr. Woods,
as it had been while in college, and to bis
father before him. He resumed his study
of Priestly, and commenced Justinian's
Institutes, preparatory to a thorough
course of Koman History. , This more
solid study was diversified with Mannon-
tel, Ossian, or Thompson's Seasons, a
novel of Bichardson, Don Quixote, or
some of the standard English Dramas.

The Bev. Joseph Bussel had just been
ordained Pastor of the Church in Prince-
ton, and still lives in Ellington, Ct.^ a
rich repository of useful information,
bringing forth fruit in a ripe and venera-
ble old age. Speaking of Mr. Woods at
this period, he says :

«> On his return to Princeton, after
Commencement, he attended our meet-
ings regularly on the Sabbath, and
appeared, I thought, an attentive hearer.
In the teries of discourses from the desk,
during that period, the doctrines of grace
were considered, proved from Scripture,

Digitized by



Leonard Woodi.

explained and applied These doc-
trines were prettj certain to come np in
conversation, as he visited me from time
to time. His feelings, as I had abundant
evidence, set strongly against manv of
them. His reading and associations had
made a deep impression npon his mind,
unfavorable to these doctrines, and to
those ministers then on the stage, most
distinguished for preaching the Calvinis-
tic system in its parity and power. As
he made objections, I endeavored to
obviate them. And, though his mind
appeared to yield in some degree, his pre-
possessions were too strong and deep-
rooted to be removed at once. But
throughout there was evidently great
candor, and an honest desire to come to
the truth, and a willingness to gain in-
struction, come from what source it

An entry in Mr. Woods' Journal, after
one of these interviews, shows that he was
deeply impressed with the prudence,
modesty and gentleness of his reverend
friend, and that he considered him greatly
superior to himself in true wisdom and
goodness. ** Some painful reflections," he
continues, '* were forced upon me on my
way home. I felt my want of real virtue
and piety, while my reason declared their
indispensable importance." During this
period of doubt, darkening into unbelief,
the Lord Jesus was his ideal of virtue.
Before the excellence of his character, he
bowed in the most profound reverence.
^ Whether he be man, angel, or God,"
he says, ** there is something in the char-
acter of Jesus Christ which attracts and
warms the soul. I would rather follow
him, or be like him, than to excel the
most illustrious name in the history of the

At the commencement of the next term
in College, he visited Cambridge. His
friend, Mr. Church, just entering on his
Senior year, saw the drifl of his mind,
and true then as ever after, to his evan-
gelical principles, suggested that he had
better read something on Theology. Mr.


Woods replied that he meant to proceed
methodically, and to read Theology afrer
he had completed such studies as he
thought should precede it This did not
satisfy his friend, for he meant, not dog-
matic, but practical Theolo<Fy, and he did
not part with Mr. Woods till he promised
to procure the life of Dr. Doddridge, and
read it without delay. After his return
from Cambridge, this promise proved a
burden to him. But, although he return-
ed to his literary projects with redoubled
ardor, he determined to fulfil it. He
therefore, set apart a short time, night and
morning for the perusal of the Bible, the
life of Doddridge, and other religions
books, " supposing," as he says, " that he
could thus infuse a leaven of piety into
all his studies and conduct" In Dr.
Doddridge's Life, he discovered principles
of action and traits of character to which
he felt himself a stranger. This led to
self-knowledge, and made him anxious in
regard to his own moral state. From the
Life of Doddridge, he proceeded to his
** Rise and Progress," dwelling particii-
larly on the devotional exercises at the
end of each chapter. In this connection,
he carefully read, or rather studied, at the
suggestion of his pastor, the first nine
chapters of the Epistle to the Romans,
the Epistles to the Galatians and the
£phe8ians,and the third chapter of John's
Gospel. This he did amidst many per-
plexities, and with distressing trials of
spirit Here, on this ground, the two
antagonistic tendencies in him met, and
tried their strength. Philosophy was
arrayed against faith, and reason against
revelation. He saw distinctly the mo-
mentous conclusions that hung on the
issue. If Paul and Jesus are reliable
expounders of the doctrines of faith and
of salvation. Priestly and all others who
set aside those doctrines, must be held as
sciolists and teachers of error. On this
there was a hard struggle. The skepti-
cal philosophy had drawn him to this
class of writers by a mesmeric spell which
was not easily broken. And furtheri as

Digitized by



Leonard Wootb.


he went on prajeiihlly stadjing the
Scriptures, this altematiTe graduallj pre-
sented itself. He must place upon the
kttgnage of the apostles and the Saviour,
a construction which his conscience would
not allow in the interpretation of other
writers, or accept what had come to be
the repulsive system of John Calvin and
the Catechism. This, as we might well
suppose, staggered him still more. He
could not ignore the alternative, and he
Goold no more go round it than Balsam
could go round the confronting angel.
And, when he reflected what was at stake,
he did not wish to turn back from it. As
he advanced in his inquiries, his interest
increased. His literary pursuits were
first intermitted, and then wholly sus-
pended. From the disclosures thus made
to him of his own condition as a sinner^
all other questions were, for a time merged
in the momentous one propounded to the
apostles in Acts ii : 87. He had read his
character in the Word of God as in a
mirror, and he was confounded. And he
read so much more than he knew before,
or even suspected, and which his con-
sciousness now authenticated as true, that
he was certain that the revelation was
divine, even to the minima of its aver-
ments. He questioned and re-questioned,
first his own heart, and then the in-
spired picture, and found both ever
returning the same answer. The main
points of the controversy were now dis-
tioctly before him, and all converged to
the alternative of acceptance of salvation
on the Gospel terms, or its deliberate re-
jection. In describing this part of the
mental conflict, no words can be so ex-
pressive as his own, in a letter to his
friend, Mr. Church.

^ You wish to hear of the health of my
soal- After I wrote to you, I grew lower
and lower. The exercises of my mind
were very violent I feared a relapse
into carelessness and unconcern. I could
Qot obtain an answer to my prayers. I
was clamorous in my address to God, but
I coold not find him. I sank, I sank I

O the depths of despair I Terror, i
ment, cold chills of body and mind, some-
times a flood of sorrow, hard thoughts of
God, dreadfid conceptions of faia charac-
ter, — I have no words to express my state,
for about a week. I felt my health de-
clining. I wandered about I tried to
run from myself. I awoke in the morn-
ing and read my sentence for having
committed the unpardonable sin. I should
have preferred millions of millions of
millions of centuries of the most exquudte
misery to my chance."

Six weeks later, when the opposition
of his heart had been overcome, and the
rising light was beginning to shine, he
writes to the same friend :

** I am a poor tempest-beaten creature.
One day I feel quite easy ; the next I
chide my foolish hopes. One time I give
myself to Christ; another I fear I did not
do what I thought I did. When I get a
little joy by supposing that Christ will
accept me, then I begin to think 1 am a
litUe less sinful. That thought makes me
more so. Alas, what snares I have been

But the tempest gradually subsided into
the calmness of perfect peace, and the
light continued to shine more and more
unto the perfect day. His schemes of lit-
erary ambition were entirely abandoned,
and he devoted himself thenceforward to
the Christian ministry.

In this mlirked character of his early
Christian experience, we find a key to
Mr. Woods' views of Christian doctrine
and life, as subsequently matured. He
was ever afler impressed with an abiding
sense of sin, as the great evil, with the
necessity of the renewal of the whole man,
and of forgiveness of sins through faith in
the righteousness of Christ And the
greater his advancement in personal holi-
ness, the more visibly appeared the turpi-
tude of his transgressions, and the nearer
was he drawn to Christ, in humble and
loving obedience. ** The sight of a thou-
sandth part of my sinfulness of heart and
life has filled me with amazement and

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Leonard Wboeb.


diame. Bat O ! " he adds, "^ there ii
Teiy plenteous redemptioii, sufficient even
for met and if for dm, for anj one on

Such a work of the Holy Spirit carries
the mind deeper than the surface, down
to the very center of the Pauline doctrine
of sin. It also interprets that moral an-
tagonism in the progress of the Christian
life, so graphically portrayed by the Apos-
tle from the double stand-point of inspi-
ration and the Christian consciousness.
«♦ For the good that I would," he says, " I
do not; but the evil which I would not,
that I do. For I delight in the law of
God after the inward man. But I see
another law in my members, warring
against the law of my mind." Augustine,
by a similar experience, was brought to
the same view. " To/e, lege / /o/e, Uge I "
fell from a child's voice upon his ear, in
the beating of his agonized soul against its
prison-bars. He rose, opened the epistles
of Paul, and read, *' Put ye on the Lord
Jesus." They were like living words
from the lips of the great Helper, and
the captive was made free. Of his far-
ther conflict, he says, ** The spirit orders
the body and it obeys instantly ; the spirit
orders itself, and it refuses. Whence this
monstrosity ? It is a disease of the spirit
that prevents it from rising up; the will
is split and divided, thus there are two
wills in conflict with each other, one good
and one evil, and / myself it was who
willed^ and who did not will,"* Martin
Luther obtained a clew to the same philo-
sophy of sin in his convent struggles at
Erfurth, when he cried out in bitterest
grief, ** O ! my sin, my sin, my sin ! It is
in vain that I make promises to God, sin
is always too strong for me." ** Cast your-
self into the arms of the Redeemer,"
said Staupitz. " Trust in him, in the
righteousness of his life, in the expiating
sacrifice of his death." And when the
Augustine monk applied his anxious mind
to those same epistles to the Romans and
Ephesians on which our aspiring, but
tempest-toesed New England student re-

flected so deeply, and frand written Aere,
'' The just shall five by faith," from that
hour he went forth in the exuberance of
the new life of love and faith, joyfully sing-
ing, ^ 1 believe, I believe in the forgiee"
ntss of sins." ^ His struggle of spirit,*
says the historian, ^ had prepared him to
nnderstand the meaning of the inspired
Word. The sml had been deeply
ploughed, and the incorruptible seed took
deep root" No otiier than Luther's type
of theology could grow out of Luther's
experience, nor any other than Augus-
tine's out of Augustine's experience.

This view of the inner life of Mr. Woods,
during his eariy conflicts, ^Uscloees the
secret of that clear conception of the
fundamental Christian doctrines, which
marked his subsequent history, and of the
iron grasp with which he ever held them.
The processes of his mind, in which he
was transferred from a dead and deaden-
ing philosophy, to a living and loving
faith, were not produced by the heat of
an excited assembly, or the rhetorical
appliances of professional revivalists.
They were carried on, for the most part,
in the solitary walk, in the quiet of his
own room, and in the sleepless hours of
night It was not a time of God's gra-
cious visitation to His Church, in which
some minds are in danger of being moved
only by human sympathy ; but just the
opposite. Doddridge, prayer, and the
Bible, were the instruments, and God the
agent Hence his faith in the historical
doctrines of Christianity was not a hered-
itary, or a blind faith. His skeptical read-
ing and reasonings had, in a great degree,
effaced the teachings of his godly parents,
but these had been effectually replaced
and made vital by the Spirit of God,
through his own independent examina-
tions. He clearly perceived that these
foundation doctrines of the Church are
supported by the still deeper underlying
facts of history. His creed, therefore,
was never obliged to offer apologies to
his understanding. It asked no conces-
sion from philosophy, as if conciliation

Digitized by



eoold be Mcnred 00I7 by dishonoring
eompromise. But his individual reason,
•alightened and rectified by the pnre and
nniveml Reason, demanded that creed as
necessary to its completeness and comfort
Careful reading, and more of it, led him
to qoestion, not only the correctness, but
the originality of what had attracted him
ss subversive of the faith of the fathers,
and as new. Careful reflection also soon
showed that to be essentially contracted
and shallow, which, nnder the lead of a
peculiar class of minds, and from intent
looking only in one direction, he had
taken to be catholic and profound. It
was a little knowledge that made him
ikepticaL A wider range of thought,
with deep experience, made him most
devoutly believing. Infidelity u always
and everywhere ^* a vain deceit." Such
the experience of Mr. Woods found it ;
and he did not parley, but parted with it
at once, entirely and forever. And he
paned over into the center of the faith-
doctrine freely, from the spontaneous affin-
ities of the new birth. As was said of
Dr. Chalmers, he did not force himself
into it, but walked into it He did not
igbt his way, but found it open. And, once
entered, the clearness of his perceptions,
and the grasp of his faith, kept him fixedly
remote from those laxities of doctrine
and attenuating negations, which, like an
isthmus, attempt to conjoin the opposing
eoQtments of belief and unbelief. Nevei^
theleas, his experience o£ the skeptical
philosophy was of no small service to him
as a teacher of theology in later years.
It enabled him to judge more correctly
of the strength of the infidel side, to
look full in the face every rationalistic
objection, and caimly strip it of all its
lophistriea and guises of truth.

While under the lingering influence of
former associations, he consulted with
some of his CoUef^ friends in reference
to Btodying theology with them, under
the direction of Dr. Tappan, of Cam-
bridge, Rev. Mc. Robbins, of Plymoath,
« some Qlhar modorate Calviniit Baft

Leonard Wood^


more mature thought, with the influence
of his parents and pastor, induced him to
place himself, in company with Mr. Church,
under the care of Dr. Backus, of Somers,
Ct., whose reputation as a sound and
successful teacher, drew to him some of
the most promising students in New Eng-

He was licen5ed to preach in the
Spring of 1798, bylhe Cambridge Asso-
ciation ; and in the following summer, was
called to the Church in Newbury, as its
Pastor. There were serious difficulties in
deciding the question of settlement It
was a lai^e and influential Society. But
the Church, with many others in New
England, had adopted the Half Way
Covenant— an expedient resorted to by
the early settlers — to make amends for
their error in limiting the rights of free-
men to Church membership. Those who
were aggrieved by this limitation, demand-
ed either the right of suffrage, or exemp-
tion from taxation. The State refused
the latter, then^fore the Church opened
its door and admitted them, though unre-
generate, thus granting them sufi'rage in
the Church, as well as in the State. To
defend itself against this error, or to make
the evil tree bring forth good fruit, a
regenerating efficacy came to be ascribed
to the Lord's Supper, by which the unre-
newed members of the Church might be
converted. A third evil soon followed in
this lapsing logic, and as the outgrowth of
the former two ; namely, that the impeni-

Online LibraryCongregational FederationCongregational quarterly, Volume 1 → online text (page 19 of 73)