The following is a continuation of this post. The material below is drawn from a biography of John Eliot (1604-1690), missionary to the Native Americans of Massachusetts.
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In the second visit which Mr. Eliot made to the Indians at Nonantum, he began to catechise the younger children. He framed three questions only, that their memories might not be overloaded. The questions and answers were these :
1. Who made you and all the world. Ans. God.
2. Who do you think should save you and redeem you from sin and hell ? Ans. Jesus Christ.
3. How many commandments hath God given you to keep. Ans. Ten.
By the time that the questions reached the smaller children, they had learned the answers perfectly, from hearing the others repeat them, and the parents had become familiar with them, and they were requested to use this Shorter Catechism of three questions, in teaching their children, against the next visit.
An old man rose up after Mr. Eliot had finished his sermon, and asked whether it was not too late for such an old man as he, who was near death, to repent or seek after God.
This question affected Mr. Eliot and his companions with compassion. They told him what is said in the Bible about those who were hired at the eleventh hour, and drew a parallel to his case by describing a son who had for very many years been disobedient, and afterwards penitent, and the feelings of his father towards him.
Question. How came the English to differ so much from the Indians in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, seeing they all had at first one father?
Question. How may we come to serve God?
Question. How comes it to pass that the sea water is salt and the land water fresh?
Answer. This is one of the wonderful works of God. As strawberries are sweet and cranberries sour, by the appointment of God, so was it in this case. To this was added some account of natural causes and effects in connection with this subject, which they less understood, yet did understand somewhat, as appeared by their usual signs of approving what they understand.”
Question. If the water is higher than the earth, how comes it to pass that it doth not overflow all the earth?
The missionary took an apple and illustrated the shape of the earth, the motion on its axis, and round the sun; then showed them how God made a great hollow ditch for the waters, which was so deep as to hold the waters by the attraction of gravitation, so that notwithstanding their convexity, they could not overflow the earth.
During a recess in this interview, the Indians were busily employed in discussing these several subjects among themselves, their minds being evidently excited by them, through the effect of new ideas upon subjects which were new or had always been incomprehensible to them. Being afterwards asked if they wished to propose any further questions, one asked,
If a man has committed some great sins, (stolen goods, &c.,) and the Sachem does not punish him, and he is not punished, but he restores the goods, what then? is not all well now? meaning to ask whether restoration made sufficient amends to the law of God.
He was told that though men be not offended at such sins, yet God is angry. The holiness of God was here illustrated. Such a sinner should seek forgiveness as much as any other sinner through the blood of Christ.
Upon hearing this answer, the Indian who proposed the question drew back and hung down his head, with an appearance of great sorrow and confusion, and finally broke out saying, “Me little know Jesus Christ, or me should seek him better.” Mr. Eliot comforted him by telling him that as it is early dawn at first when there is but little light, but the sun rises to perfect day, so it would be with him and his people with regard to a knowledge of the favor of God if they would seek Him.
One of the Indians who had received religious impressions in his acquaintance with the colonists, said he would propose this question. A little while since he said he was praying in his wigwam to God and Jesus Christ, that God would give him a good heart; that in his prayer another Indian interrupted him and told him that he prayed in vain, because that Jesus Christ could not understand what Indians speak in prayer; he had been used to hear Englishmen pray, and so could well enough understand them, but Indian language in prayer he was not acquainted with. His question therefore was, “Whether God and Jesus Christ did understand Indian prayers?”
At the close of one interview, Mr. Eliot prayed for above fifteen minutes in the Indian tongue, that they might feel that Christ understood such prayers. The Indians stood about him in grotesque figures, some of them lifting up their eyes and their hands to accompany the prayer, and one of them holding a rag to his eyes and weeping violently, and after prayer retiring to a corner of the wigwam to weep in secret; which one of Mr. Eliot’s companions observed and spoke with him, and found him to be deeply affected with a sense of his guilt.
…. At the fourth meeting with the Indians, the children having been catechised, and the vision of the dry bones, which seems to have impressed Mr. Eliot from the first in speaking to the Indians, being explained, they offered all their children to the English to be educated by them.
At this time one of them being asked, What is sin? he answered, A naughty heart. He did not seem to feel that sin consists only in outward acts.
… The son of a sachem, 14 or 15 years old, had been intoxicated; and being reproved by his father and mother for disobedient and rebellious conduct, he despised their admonition. Before Mr. E. heard of it, he had observed that on being catechised, the fifth commandment being required of him, he reluctantly said, “Honor thy father,” but left out “mother.”
George, the Indian, who asked, in a public meeting, “Who made sack?” killed a cow, and sold it at the college for a moose. President Dunster was unwilling that he should be directly charged with it, but wished Mr. Eliot to inquire of him as to the crime. But being brought before the assembly, he freely confessed his sin.
The Indians were never weary of asking questions in the public meetings. An old Powaw once demanded, Why, seeing the English had been in the land twenty-seven years, they had never taught the Indians to know God till now? He added, many of us have grown old in sin, whereas had you begun with us earlier, we might have been good.
The answer was that the English did repent that they were not more earnest at the first to seek their salvation, but the Indians were never willing to hear till now, and as God has now inclined their hearts to hear, the English were striving to redeem the time.
Another question was of deep interest. One of them said, That before he knew God, he thought he was well, but since, he had found his heart to be full of sin, and more sinful than it ever was before; and that this had been a great trouble to him; that at that day his heart was but little better than it was at first, and he was afraid it would be as bad as it was before, and therefore he sometimes wished that he might die before he should be so bad again! Now, said he, my question is, Is this wish a sin? Mr. E. says this question was evidently the result of his own experience and seemed to be sincere.
Another question was this:
Whither do our little children go when they die, seeing they have not sinned?
This led to an exposition of the depravity of man’s nature, and of the part which it is hoped dying infants have in the redemption made by Christ, and the covenant relation of the children of believers, which last doctrine Mr. Eliot says, “was exceedingly grateful unto them.”
The whole assembly at one time united and sent a question to Mr. Eliot by his man, as their united question, viz:
“Whether any of them should go to heaven, seeing they found their hearts full of sin, and especially full of the sin of lust?” At the next lecture held at “Dorchester mill,” occasion was taken to preach to them from Matt. 11: 28, 29, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” &c., when the justifying grace of Christ to all who are weary and sick of sin was fully and earnestly set forth. But at this time they repeated their fearful apprehension that “none of them would go to heaven.”
A question which uniformly troubled all who began to think of embracing religion was this:
“If we leave off Powawing and pray to God, what shall we do when we are sick?” For though they had some knowledge of the medicinal qualities in certain roots and herbs, they of course had no knowledge of the human system, and hence no skill in applying their remedies, but relied on the antics and unearthly gestures and incantations of their Powaws to make the medicines take effect. Mr. Eliot expressed the desire that the Lord would stir up the hearts of some people in England to give some maintenance towards a school or academy, wherein there should be “Anatomies, and other instructions that way.” Mr. E. had himself showed them an anatomy, the only one he says the English had ever had in the country. By a course of instruction in medicine Mr. E. believed that he could most effectually, and perhaps, in the only way, “root out their Powaws.”
The Indians proposed this question to Mr. Eliot:
“What shall we say to some Indians who say to us, What do you get by praying to God, and believing in Jesus Christ? You go naked still, and are as poor as we. Our corn is as good as yours; and we take more pleasure than you; if we saw that you got any thing by praying to God, we would do so.”
Mr. E. answered to them on this point as follows : “First, God gives two sorts of good things; 1. little things, which he showed by his little finger, (‘for they use and delight in demonstrations ;’) 2. great things, (holding up his thumb). The little mercies he said are riches, clothes, food, sack, houses, cattle, and pleasures, all which serve the body for a little while, and in this life only. The great mercies are wisdom, the knowledge of God, Christ, eternal life, repentance and faith; these are for the soul, and eternity. Though God did not give them so many little things, through the knowledge of the Gospel, he gave them the greater things which are better. This he proved by an illustration: when Foxun, the Mohegan Counselor, who is counted the wisest Indian in the country, was in the Bay, I did on purpose bring him unto you; and when he was here, you saw he was a fool in comparison of you, for you could speak of God, and Christ, and heaven, &c.; but he sat and had not one word to say unless you talked of such poor things as hunting, wars, &c.”
He also told them that they had some more clothes than the wicked Indians; and the reason why they had so few, was because they had so little wisdom; but if they were wise to obey God’s commands, for example, “Six days shall thou labor,” they would have clothes, houses, cattle, and riches, as the English have.
Many questions and cases of dispute arose out of their old practice of gaming, to which they were greatly addicted. The irreligious Indians demanded the old stakes of some who had been convinced of the sin of gaming, and had declined to pay their forfeits. The winners however, insisted on being payed. Mr. Eliot had no little trouble in settling the matters of casuistry and conscience which thus occurred. But he took this method in many cases. He prevailed on the creditor to accept one half of his demand, having first showed him the sinfulness of gaming. He then told the debtor in private that God requires us to fulfill our promises though to our hurt, and then asked him if he would pay half. In this way such cases were many of them settled, for the creditors refused Mr. Eliot’s proposition, that whoever challenged a debt incurred by gaming should go before the Governor with his demand.