Cotton Mather: June, 1701

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"The Sins of Sodom"

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A sermon by the Reverend Cotton Mather, "A Christian in his Personal Calling," a classic Puritan statement, nicely demonstrates the connection between the Puritan work ethic appropriate to this period of primitive capital accumulation, and the Puritan attitude toward sin, specifically, "the Sins of Sodom."[1]

Although the passing reference to Sodorn's sins is brief, Mather's remarks indicate intimate associations between religious ideology, morals, sex, the value of work, family, neighborhood, and commonwealth.

A Christian's "General Calling," said Mather, was "to Serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and Save his own Soul.. ." A Christian's "Personal Calling," was

a Certain Particular Employment, by which his Usefulness in his Neighborhood is distinguished, God has made man a Sociable Creature. We expect Benefits from Human Society. It is but equal, that Human Society should Receive Benefits from Us. We are Beneficial to Human Society by the Works of that Special Occupation in which we are to be employ'd, according to the Order of God.

A Christian in his Personal and his General Calling, was said to be "a man in a Boat, Rowing for Heaven." If he mind but one calling and not the other he "will make but a poor dispatch to the Shore of Eternal Blessedness."[2]

So that a man may give a "Good Account" of himself, said Mather, there should be some

Settled Business, wherein a Christian should ... spend the most of his Time; and this, that so he may Glorify God, by doing Good for others, and getting Good for himself. It is enjoined upon Christians ... Do your own Business. . . . Indeed, a man cannot live without the Help of other men. But how can a man Reasonably look for the Help of other men, if he be not in some Calling Helpful to other men?

For example, God put Adam into the Garden of Eden to tend it. One of Adam's Sons was a "Husbandman;” another a shepherd Jesus in his "private Life" was a carpenter, in his "public life" a minister. There was a law among the Corinthians, said Mather, that if a "man could not prove that he lived by some good Labour, such a man should suffer as a Thief."[3] To be without a calling was unlawful. A man

is Impious towards God, if he be without a Calling, for he is Unrighteous towards his Family, towards his Neighborhood, towards the Commonwealth. . . .[4]

"Yea, A Calling is not only our Duty," exclaimed Mather,

but also our Safety. Men will ordinarily fall into horrible Snares, and infinite Sins, if they have not a Calling, to be their preservative. . . . They who Learn to be Idle, (a thing soon Learnt!) will soon Learn the things which they ought not. Tho' it were part of the Curse brought in by Sin, In the Sweat of thy Face thou shall eat Bread, the Curse is become a Blessing, and our Sweat has a tendency to keep us from abundance of Sin. . . . The Temptations of the Devil, are best Resisted, by those that are least at Leisure to Receive them. An Occupation is an Ordinance of God for our safeguard against the Temptations of the Devil. A Bird on the Wing is not so soon catch'd by the Hellish Fowler. A man is upon the Wing, when he is at the Work, which God hath set him to do.[5]

"There are Gentlemen, 'tis true," admitted Mather, "who Live upon their Means." But the "Best Gentlemen" will find "some way of living Serviceable in the world." He added:

Idle Gentlemen have done as much Hurt in the world, as Idle Beggars. And pardon me, if I say, any Honest Mechanicks really are more Honourable than Idle and Useless men of Honour.[6]

Mather concluded:

God hath placed us, as in a common Hive; Let there be no Drone in the Hive. . . . The Sin of 'Sodom was, Abundance of Idleness. All the Sins of Sodom will abound, where Idleness is countenanced . . . .[7]

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  1. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), pp. 123-25, citing, Cotton Mather, A Christian at his Calling. Two Brief Discourses. One Directing a Christian in his General Calling; Another Directing him in his Personal Calling (Boston: Printed by B. Green & J. Allen, for S. Sewall, June 1701). Discussed by Richard Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee; Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 (New York: Norton, 1970), pp. 23, 322.
  2. Mather, 37-38
  3. Mather, 38-39, 40
  4. Mather, 41
  5. Mather, 41-42
  6. Mather, 42.
  7. Mather, 42-43

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