The Reverend JONATHAN MITCHEL was born at Halifax, in Yorkshire, in Great Britain, in 1624. His parents were exemplary Christians, who, by the impositions and persecutions of the English hierarchy, were constrained to seek an asylum in New-England, in 1635; at which time they brought over their son Jonathan, then eleven years of age. Their first settlement was at Concord, in Massachusetts; whence, a year after, they removed to Saybrook, in Connecticut; and, not long after, to Wethersfield. Their next removal was to Stamford; where Mr. Mitchel, the father, died in 1645, aetat. LV.
The classical studies of his son Jonathan were suspended for several years, after his arrival in America; but, “on the earnest advice of some that had observed his great capacity,” they were, at length, resumed, in 1642. (94)
In 1645, at the age of twenty-one, he entered Harvard College. Here, he became religiously impressed, under Mr. Shepard’s ministry, which he so highly estimated as, afterward, to observe, “Unless it had been four years living in heaven, I know not how I could have more cause to bless God with wonder, than for those four years,” spent at the University. He was an indefatigable student, and made great acquirements in knowledge and virtue. His extraordinary learning, wisdom, gravity, and piety, occasioned an early application of several of the most considerable churches, for his services in the ministry. The church at Hartford, in particular, sent for him with the intention of his becoming successor to the famous Mr. Hooker. He preached his first sermon at Hartford, June 24, 1649; and, on the day following, was invited to a settlement in the ministry, in that respectable town. Having, however, been previously importuned by Mr. Shepard, and the principal members of his society, to return to Cambridge, free from any engagement, with a view to a settlement there; he declined an acceptance of the invitation at Hartford, and returned to Cambridge, where he preached for the first time August 12, 1649. Here a providential opening was soon made for his induction into the ministry. Mr. Shepard died on the 25th of the same month; and, by the unanimous desire of the people of Cambridge, Mr. Mitchel was now invited to become his successor. He accepted the invitation; and was ordained August 21, 1650.
Soon after his settlement, he was called to a peculiar trial. President Dunster, who had formerly been his tutor, about this time imbibed the principle of antipedobaptism; and preached some sermons against the administration of baptism to any infant whatever. Mr. Mitchel, young as he then was, felt it incumbent on him openly to combat this principle; and conducted, in this delicate and difficult case, with such judgment, moderation, and meekness of wisdom, as would have well become the experience and improvement of advanced age. Although this controversy occasioned the President’s removal from Cambridge; yet Mr. Mitchel continued to cultivate an esteem for him, and, after his decease, paid a respectful tribute to his memory, in an elegy, replete with expressions of that noble and catholic spirit, which characterized its author. (95)
Such were his literary acquirements, and so respectable his character, that, so early as the year 1650, he was chosen a Tutor and a Fellow of Harvard College. (96)
He was a very influential member of the Synod, which met at Boston in 1662, to discuss and settle an interesting question concerning church-membership and church discipline, and chiefly composed the Result of that Synod. “The determination of the question at last,” says Dr. Mather, “was more owing to him than to any man in the world.” The divine Head of the church “made this great man, even while he was yet a young man, one of the greatest instruments we ever had of explaining and maintaining the truths relating to the church-state of the posterity in our churches, and of the church-care which our churches owe to their posterity.”+ He was a man of singular acuteness, prudence, and moderation; and was, therefore, eminently qualified to discern the truth, in difficult and perplexing cases, and to adjust the differences of disputants. (97) Hence in ecclesiastical Councils, to which he was frequently invited, and in weighty cases, where the General Court frequently consulted the minister, “the sense and hand of no man was relied more upon than his, for the exact result of all.” The great President Chauncey, though much older than he, and though openly opposed to him at the Synod, said, at the very height of the controversy: “I know no man in this world that I could envy so much as worthy Mr. Mitchel, for the great holiness, learning, wisdom, and meekness, and other qualities of an excellent spirit, with which the Lord Jesus Christ hath adorned him.”
Morton, who was contemporary with Mr. Mitchel, says: “He was a person that held very near communion with God; eminent in wisdom, piety, humility, love, self-denial, and of a compassionate and tender heart; (98) surpassing in public spiritedness; a mighty man in prayer, and eminent at standing in the gap; he was zealous for order, and faithful in asserting the truth against all oppugners of it.” (99)
Dr. Increase Mather, who was personally and intimately acquainted with him, says: “He was blessed with admirable natural as well as acquired parts. His judgment was solid, deep, and penetrating; his memory was strong, and vastly capacious. He wrote his sermons very largely; and then used, with enlargements, to commit all to his memory, without once looking into his bible, after he had named his text; and yet his sermons were scriptural.”
As a preacher, he was distinguished for “an extraordinary invention, curious disposition, and copious application” His voice was melodious, and his delivery is said to have been “inimitable.” He spoke with “a transcendent majesty and liveliness,” and toward the close of his discourses, his fervency rose to “a marvellous measure of energy.”
He was pastor of the church of Cambridge about eighteen years; and “was most intense and faithful” in his work. “He went through a great part of the body of divinity; made a very excellent exposition of the book of Genesis, and part of Exodus, and delivered many fruitful and profitable sermons on the four first chapters of John.” He held, also, a monthly Lecture, which was “abundantly frequented,” by the people of neighbouring towns, as well as by his own society. “His race was but short, but the work he did was very much. Just after he had been preaching on these words, I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and unto the house appointed for all the living, as he came out of the pulpit, he was seized with a fever, which terminated his life July 9, 1668, in the forty-third year of his age, and eighteenth of his ministry.
Dr. I. Mather says, he “never knew any death that caused so great a mourning and lamentation generally. He was greatly loved and honoured throughout all the churches, as well as in Cambridge, and admired by the most competent judges of real worth.”
Very few of his writings were ever published, I can obtain notice of the following only:
A Letter of counsel to his brother, written while he resided at the University;
An Election Sermon, on Nehem. ii. 10, entitled “Nehemiah upon the wall;” preached May 15, 1667; and printed at Cambridge;
A Letter concerning the subject of Baptisme, printed at Cambridge, 1675;
“A Discourse of the Glory to which God hath called Believers by Jesus Christ,” printed at London, after his death, with the Letter to his brother affixed; and reprinted at Boston, in a duodecimo volume, in 1721.
94 ^ C. Mather. Dr. Increase Mather ascribes this measure to his father’s influence. “After Mr. Mitchel was arrived in New-England he employed his son Jonathan in secular affairs; but the spirit of the child was strongly set for learning, and he prayed my father to persuade his father that he might have a learned education. My father’s persuasions happily prevailed.”
95 ^ The conduct of both parties, on this occasion, does them singular honour; and furnishes an example worthy of imitation in the present age, an age which is frequently censuring the bigotry of the pious ancestors of New-England, in contrast with its own catholicism. President Dunster “died in such harmony of affection with the good men, who had been the authors of his removal from Cambridge, that he, by his Will, ordered his body to be carried to Cambridge for its burial, and bequeathed legacies to those very persons.” Magnalia, III. 100. IV. 158.
96 ^ Mr. Samuel Mather and Mr. Mitchel were the first that were elected Fellows in this seminary. In the infancy of the institution, a Tutor was, ex officio, a Fellow of the college.
+ ^ Magnalia.
97 ^ The celebrated Mr. Baxter said of him, “If an Ecumenical Council could be obtained, Mr. Mitchel were worthy to be its Moderator.” C. Mather
98 ^ Colonel Whalley and Colonel Goffe, two of the judges of king Charles I. on the day of their arrival in New-England, July 1660, came to Cambridge, where they resided till February following, and were treated with the kindest hospitality and friendship by Mr. Mitchel, who admitted them to the sacrament, and to private meetings for devotion. Hutchinson’s Hist. of Massachusetts I. 215. President Stiles’s Hist. of Three of the Judges of Charles I. 28.
99 ^ New-England’s Memorial, 201.