Friday, July 27, 2007

Reverend John M. Mason to William Coleman

The following letter is extremely rare. It has not been reprinted in many decades (perhaps because it contains Hamilton's ardent profession of belief in the Gospel).
It is now given by itself for the first time on the Internet.

New-York, July 18th, 1804

To the Editor of the Commercial Advertiser:
    Having read, in your paper of the 16th, a very imperfect account of my conversation with General Hamilton, the day previous to his decease, I judge it my duty to lay the following narrative before the public.
    On the morning of Wednesday, the 11th inst. shortly after the rumor of the General’s injury had created an alarm in the city, a note from Dr. Post informed me that “that he was extremely ill at Mr. Wm. Bayard’s, and expressed a particular desire to see me as soon as possible.” I went immediately. The exchange of melancholy salutation, on entering the General’s apartment, was succeeded by a silence which he broke by saying, that he “had been anxious to see me, and have the sacrament administered to him; and that this was still his wish.” I replied, that “it gave me unutterable pain to receive from him any request to which I could not accede: that, in the present instance, a compliance was incompatible with all my obligations; as it is a principle in our churches never to administer the Lord’s supper privately to any person under any circumstances.” He urged me no further. I then remarked to him, that “the holy communion is an exhibition and pledge of the mercies which the Son of God has purchased; that the absence of the sign does not exclude from the mercies signified; which were accessible to him by faith in their gracious Author.” “I am aware,” said he, “of that. It is only as a sign that I wanted it.” A short pause ensued. I resumed the discourse, by observing that “I had nothing to address him in his affliction, but that same gospel of the grace of God, which it is my office to preach to the most obscure and illiterate: that in the sight of God all men are on a level, as all men have sinned and come short of his glory; and that they must apply to him for pardon and life, as sinners, whose only refuge is in his grace by righteousness through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “I perceive it to be so,” said he; “I am a sinner: I look to his mercy.” I then adverted to “the infinite merit of the Redeemer, as the propitiation for sin, the sole ground of our acceptance with God; the sole channel of his favor to us; and cited the following passages of scripture: There is no name given under heaven among men, whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus. He is able to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” This last passage introduced the affair of the duel, on which I reminded the General, that he was not to be instructed as to its moral aspect, that the precious blood of Christ was as effectual and as necessary to wash away the transgression which had involved him in suffering, as any other transgression; and that he must there, and there alone, seek peace for his conscience, and a hope that should “not make him ashamed.” He assented, with strong emotions, to these representations, and declared his abhorrence of the whole transaction. “It was always,” added he, “against my principles. I used every expedient to avoid the interview; but I have found, for some time past, that my life must be exposed to that man. I went to the field determined not to take his life.” He repeated his disavowal of all intention to hurt Mr. Burr; the anguish of his mind in recollecting what had passed; and his humble hope of forgiveness from his God. I recurred to the topic of the divine compassions; the freedom of pardon in the Redeemer Jesus to perishing sinners. “That grace, my dear General, which brings salvation is rich, rich.” – “Yes,” interrupted he, “it is rich grace.” – “And on that grace,” continued I, “a sinner has the highest encouragement to repose his confidence, because it is tendered to him upon the surest foundation; the scripture testifying that “we have redemption through the blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace.” Here the General, letting go my hand, which he had held from the moment I sat down at his bedside, clasped his hands together, and, looking up towards heaven, said, with emphasis, “I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He replaced his hand in mine, and appearing somewhat spent, closed his eyes. A little after, he fastened them on me, and I proceeded. “The simple truths of the Gospel, my dear sir, which require no abstruse investigation, but faith in the veracity of God who cannot lie, are best suited to your present condition, and they are full of consolation.” – “I feel them to be so,” replied he. I then repeated these texts of scripture: It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and of sinners the chief. I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” “This,” said he, “ is my support. Pray for me.” – “Shall I pray with you?” – “Yes.” I prayed with him, and heard him whisper as I went along, which I supposed to be his concurrence with the petitions. At the conclusion, he said, “Amen. God grant it.”
    Being about to part with him, I told him, “I had one request to make.” He asked “what it was!” I answered “that whatever might be the issue of his affliction, he would give his testimony against the practice of dueling.” “I will,” said he. “I have done it. If that,” evidently anticipating the event [ie., his death], “if that be the issue, you will find it in writing. If it please God that I recover, I shall do it in a manner which will effectually put me out of its reach in the future.” I mentioned, once more, the importance of renouncing every other dependence for the eternal world but the mercy of God in Christ Jesus; with a particular reference to the catastrophe of the morning. The General was affected, and said, “Let us not pursue the subject any further, it agitates me.” He laid his hands upon his breast, with symptoms of uneasiness, which indicated an increased difficulty of speaking. I then took my leave. He pressed my hand affectionately, and desired to see me again at a proper interval. As I was retiring, he lifted up his hands in the attitude of prayer, and said feebly, “God be merciful to--” His voice sunk, so that I heard not the rest distinctly, but understood him to quote the words of the publican in the Gospel, and to end with “me a sinner.”
    I saw him a second time, on the morning of Thursday [ie., July 12, 1804]; but from his appearance, and what I had heard, supposing that he could not speak without severe effort, I had no conversation with him. I prayed for a moment at his bedside, in company with his overwhelmed family and friends; and for the rest, was one of the spectators of his composure and dignity in suffering. His mind remained in its former state, and he viewed with calmness the approaching dissolution. I left him between twelve and one, and at two, as the public know, he breathed his last.
I am sir,
With much respect,

Your obedient servant,
J. M. Mason

SOURCE: Memoirs of John M. Mason, D. D., S. T. P., with Portions of His Correspondence, by Jacob Van Vetchen, pp. 182-185


Jonathan Rowe said...

Not meaning to bug you. But this is the type of evidence I'm looking for. (And it's evidence I'm familiar with.) As far as I've seen, Hamilton talked like this only towards the end of his life after his son had been killed in a duel.

Hamilton was such a newbie Christian when he died that a minister refused to give him communion.

Hercules Mulligan said...

There is no written record of Hamilton's creed spelled out in detail, except in this letter, and in a letter by Rev. Benjamin Moore (which I have presented on this blog, and I am sure you have read). But Hamilton did make statements before and during the 1800s that strongly imply that he believed in Christianity and the Bible (here).

"Hamilton was such a newbie Christian when he died that a minister refused to give him communion."

Whether or not this is true is only speculative. If you read the letter of Moore carefully, Moore only says that he was hesitant to administer the communion because Hamilton had participated in a duel, and so the minister wasn't completely sure of whether Hamilton was merely trying to "patch up" his relationship with God at the last minute, or because Hamilton was truly sincere. If one continues to read the letter, particularly the closing paragraph, the minister became persuaded that Hamilton's faith was sincere.

Hercules Mulligan said...

To continue what I said, in order to make myself clear, on the minister, Hamilton, and communion:

Moore was called in first, and initially hesitated to give Hamilton communion, for the reasons I already mentioned.

Mason (who had been a life-long friend of Hamilton -- Hamilton, who had been close to Mason's father, had even intentioned to have Mason collaborate with Hamilton in an immense study of human govt. and society, and Mason and Chancellor Kent would write an "ecclesiastical history") did not give Hamilton the communion, not because Hamilton was ignorant of Christianity (as his letter obviously shows*), but because it was "a principle in our churches [Scottish Presbyterian] never to administer the Lord’s supper privately to any person under any circumstances.”

*BTW, John Church Hamilton recollected that when Hamilton's son Philip was dying, Hamilton and his son conversed "in undertone ... on religious topics, from which the dying sufferer [Philip] seemed to derive much consolation, while a radiance spread over [Alexander] Hamilton's face at the assured conviction of his son's resignation and his faith."

No, Hamilton was no "newbie" to Christianity when he died. He gave his son the same spiritual instruction to his son that Mason and Moore gave to him at his own death.

Jonathan Rowe said...

But what about the other minister who refused to give Hamilton communion because he hadn't yet joined a Christian Church? And what about Hamilton not joining a Christian Church?

Hercules Mulligan said...

As for him not joining a church and all, he may have not done that for many reasons, but it is a lame argument in opposition to his Christianity (according to his sons, they had "church" at home on Sundays, and Hamilton even wanted to build a chapel on his property).

I link to the Rev. Moore's letter on this blog, in case you haven't seen it already, which shows that Moore began to doubt Hamilton's sincere faith, but was convinced of Hamilton's sincerity the next day, and administered the communion then. In this letter is also recorded Hamilton's statement saying that he had long desired to join the church, however, Hamilton did not state why he had not been able to do so. But someone's membership or lack of membership in a church does not prove or disprove someone's belief in the Bible.

P.S. Jesus never joined a Christian church, and His disciples never celebrated the Eucharist (they just had a common meal together, "in remembrance of Him," according to the Book of Acts and Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians)!

Hercules Mulligan said...

I link to the above-mentioned letter here.

Thanks for Reading!