THE LAST DAYS OF DR. PAYSON
Dr. Payson, in his last illness, endured excruciating agonies of body, yet he was enabled to triumph in Christ:Â—”O what a blessed thing it is to lose one’s will! Since I have lost my will, I have found happiness. There can be no such thing as disappointment to me, for I have no desires but that God’s will may be accomplished.”
The perfections of God were to him a well-spring of joy, and the promises were breasts of consolation, whence his soul drew its comfort. Oh! exclaimed he, the lovingkindness of GodÂ—his loving-kindness! This afternoon while I was meditating on it, the Lord seemed to pass by and proclaim himself, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious! Oh how gracious! Try to conceive of that, his lovingkindness, as if it were not enough to say kindness, but lovingkindness. What must be the lovingkindness of God, who is himself infinite love?
On another occasion he said,Â—”I find no satisfaction in looking at anything I have done; I want to leave all this behind, it is nothing, and fly to Christ to be clothed in his righteousness. I have done nothing myself. 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.”
A friend with whom he had been conversing on his extreme bodily sufferings, and his high spiritual joys, remarked, “I presume it is no longer incredible to you, if ever it was, that martyrs should rejoice and praise God in the flames and on the rack?” “NO,” he said, “I can easily believe it. I have suffered twenty times, yes, to speak within bounds, 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 that shall be revealed.”
To some young men who gathered round his bed, he said, “I feel desirous that you might see that the religion I have preached can support me in death. You know that I have many ties which bind me to earth; a family to whom I am strongly attached, and the people whom I love almost as well; but the other world acts
like a much stronger magnet, and draws my heart away from this. Death comes every night and stands by my bed-side in the form of terrible convulsions, every one of which threatens to separate the soul from the body. These continue to grow worse and worse, until every bone is almost dislocated with pain, leaving me with the certainty that I shall have it all to endure again, the next night. Yet while my body is thus tortured, the soul is perfectly, perfectly happy and peacefulÂ—more happy than I can possibly express to you. I lie here, and feel these convulsions extending higher and higher, without the least uneasiness; but my soul is filled with joy unspeakable. I seem to swim in a flood of glory which God pours down upon me. And I know, I know that my happiness is but begun; I cannot doubt that it will last for ever. And now is this all a delusion? Is it a delusion which can fill the soul to overflowing with joy in such circumstances? If so, it is surely a delusion better than any reality; but no, it is not a delusion; I feel that it is not.”
“My dear young friends, were I master of the whole world, what could it do for me like this? Were all its wealth at my feet, and all its inhabitants striving to make me happy, what could they do for me? Nothing! nothing. Now all this happiness I trace back to the religion which I have preached, and to the time when that great change took place in my heart, which I have often told you is necessary to salvation; and now I tell you again, that without this change, you cannot, no, you cannot see the kingdom of God. A young man just about to leave this world, exclaimed. The battle’s fought! the battle’s fought! the battle’s fought! but the victory is lost for ever. But I can say. The battle’s fought, and the victory is won! the victory is won for ever. I am going to bathe in an ocean of purity and benevolence and happiness to all eternity. And now, let me bless you; not with the blessing of a poor feeble dying man but with the blessing of the infinite God. The grace of God, and the Love of Christ, and the Communion of the Holy Ghost, be with all, and each one of you, for ever and ever. Amen.”
While speaking of the rapturous views he had of the heavenly world, he was asked if it did not seem almost like the clear light of vision, rather than that of faith. “Oh” he replied, “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 the rays to those around me.”
To his wife, while ministering to him, he said, “My dear, I should think it might encourage and strengthen you, under whatever trials you may be called to endure, to remember me. Oh! you must believe that it will be great peace at last.”
His last agony began on the Sabbath Day. This holy man, who had habitually said of his racking pains, “These are God’s arrows, but they are all sharpened with love,” and who, in the extremity of suffering, had been accustomed to repeat as a favourite expression, “I will bless the Lord at all times,” had yet the ‘dying strife’
to encounter. It commenced with the same difficulty of respiration, though in an aggravated degree, which had caused him great distress at intervals during his sickness. His daughter, who had gone to the Sabbath School, without any apprehensions of so sudden a change, was called home. Though labouring for breath, and with a rattling in the throat similar to that which immediately precedes dissolution, he smiled upon her, kissed her affectionately, and said, “God bless you, my daughter!” Several of the church were soon collected at his bedside; he smiled on them all, but said little, as his power of utterance had nearly failed. Once he exclaimed, “Peace! peace! victory! victory!” He looked on his wife and children, and said, almost in the words of dying Joseph to his brethrenÂ—words which he had before spoken of as having a peculiar sweetness, and which he now wished to recall to their mindsÂ—”I am going, but God will surely be with you.” His friends watched him, expecting every moment to see him expire, till near noon, when his distress partially left him; and he said to the physician who was feeling his pulse, that he found he was not to be released yet; and though he had suffered the pangs of death, and got almost within the gates of Paradise, yet, if it were God’s will that he should come back and suffer still more, he was resigned. He passed through a similar scene in the afternoon, and, to the surprise of everyone, was again relieved. The night following he suffered less than he had the two preceding. Friday night had been one of inexpressible suffering. That and the last night of his pilgrimage were the only nights in which he had watchers. The friend who attended him through his last night read to him, at his request, the 12th chapter of the second Epistle to the Corinthians, parts of which must have been peculiarly applicable to his case.
On Monday morning his dying agonies returned in all their extremity. For three hours every breath was a groan. On being asked if his sufferings were greater than on the preceding Friday night, he answered, “Incomparably greater.” He said that the greatest temporal blessing of which he could conceive, would be one breath of air. His wife, fearing from the expression of suffering in his countenance, that he was in mental as well as in bodily anguish, questioned him on the subject. With extreme difficulty he was enabled to articulate the words, “Faith and patience hold out.” About mid-day the pain of respiration abated, and a partial stupor succeeded. Still, however, he continued intelligent, and evidently able to recognise all who were present. His eyes spoke after his tongue became motionless. He looked on Mrs. Payson, and then his eye, glancing over the others who surrounded his bed, rested on Edward, his eldest son, with an expression which said, and which was interpreted by all present to say, as plainly as if he had uttered the words, “Behold thy mother!” There was no visible indication of the return of his sufferings. Then about the going down of the sun, his happy spirit was set at liberty.