He was a Cambridge-educated pastor of a Congregationalist church near Boston for more than 50 years. But he is remembered primarily for his cross-cultural missions.
John Eliot (1604–1690) ventured “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13) to minister among the Algonquin and other tribes of the colonial eastern seaboard and helped produce the first complete Bible in an American language. Besides the publication of catechisms and language learning tools in the Algonquin tongue, Eliot also translated three Puritan devotional classics for use by Native Christians. His longest extant original composition in English is titled The Harmony of the Gospels, in the Holy History of the Humiliation and Sufferings of Jesus Christ, from His Incarnation to His Death and Burial (1678). It was Eliot’s contribution to the growing body of Lord’s Supper preparation literature that was a popular genre of the day in New England.
Fetch Grace at the Table, Among the Body
The septuagenarian pastor believed passionately that the ideal way to “go forth” unto Jesus and “fetch grace” from him in order “to enable us unto any Service in doing or suffering the good pleasure of the Lord, whatever it be” was to engage in the Lord’s Supper with faith and joy.
For Eliot, that meant participation in the Lord’s Supper with the other members of a congregation with whom one had entered into a covenant commitment to live in harmonious fellowship. It meant the taking of the bread and wine, in a thoughtful way, with a body of brothers and sisters who were pursuing faithfulness to Jesus together, who were “truthing it in love” when the need arose and were carrying one another’s burdens in tangible ways that bore witness to the Spirit’s presence among them. Eliot writes,
When we celebrate the death and sufferings of Jesus Christ in our Sacramental Communion with God, it doth revive our damped and discouraged Faith, it seals our inseparable union to Jesus Christ, enabling us to say what shall separate me? It doth also quicken, animate and encourage Faith to venture upon the greatest, most difficult and dangerous enterprise, when called thereunto; it enables the Soul to say, my life is not dear to me, so I may but finish the Lord’s work, unto which he hath called me, whatever Sufferings, sorrows, Trials, Temptations I am thereby exposed unto. When Faith is strengthened, all grace is on the thriving hand. (65)
Eliot had pastoral words of instruction and encouragement for readers facing sufferings, sorrows, trials or temptations—four separate categories of what Christ has endured for us and what believers each must also encounter. He considered the successful withstanding of temptations to be an important part of growing in Christian maturity.
He writes, “A right walking with God in Temptations is an eminent practical point of Religion: It renders a man to be a true follower of Jesus Christ, and very acceptable unto him” (63). He teaches that “a stone hewed by the Axe and Hammer of Temptations, is fit to be built into a Gospel Church, and to enjoy full Communion at the Lord’s Table, and voting in the Church, and one fitted and humbled by Temptations, is fit to undertake the Gospel Ministry in a Gospel Church” (58). He also says, “It is an experimental saying of holy men, that prayer, meditation and Temptation make a good Christian, a good Minister, a good Magistrate, it fitteth a soul for any service that the Lord shall call him unto” (64).