Thanksgiving With Cotton Mather

I’ve just finished two biographies on Cotton Mather and purchased a third.

Cotton Mather is likely one of the greatest men you’ve never heard of, or if you have heard of him he is probably one of the worst men you never heard of.

If you have heard of Cotton Mather (1663-1728) you have probably heard him portrayed as the instigator behind the Salem witch trials, which means you have really never heard of him. But such false and defamatory portrayals draw clicks on the internet around Halloween, so the characterization remains.

Mather was a Puritan. He was a pastor, a prolific writer, as well as a scientist who first promoted inoculation in America to prevent smallpox. Mather’s writings and influence helped lay the groundwork for the Great Awakening, America’s first great revival.

But to the point of this post, Mather was also a husband and father, and his first two wives died young. The first, Abigail, died following giving birth, and the second, Elizabeth, died of the measles, along with two of their new born twins. Another son was born without an anus, and all Cotton and his wife could do was watch him die. Mather had fifteen children, but only two would outlive him. In other words, Cotton Mather would bury thirteen of his fifteen children.

Yet, though having suffered through the death of thirteen of his children and two wives, Mather continued to praise, worship, and be thankful to God. This must seem crazy to those who do not know God, but Mather stands in a long tradition of lovers of God.

Job declared, “though He slay me, still I will trust in Him.” David wrote, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26. And the Apostle Paul told the Corinthian church, “Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake…” 2 Cor. 12:10.

Such responses to the tragic turns of life may not seem rational but that does not mean they are not real. If all Christianity had to offer was the rational, we should never have pushed aside the Stoics. But as Mather, Job, David, and Paul knew, Christianity is much more than a philosophy; it is a relationship with Creator of the universe.

So, today, whatever may be going on in your life, take a lesson from the Puritan, Cotton Mather, and give thanks to the Lord. GS

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