"Death waits for you. There is now a Mortal and Contagious Disease in many houses; the Sword of the Lord is drawn, and young men fall down apace slain under it; do you not see the Arrows of Death come flying over your heads? Why then Awake, Awake, and turn to God in Jesus Christ whilst it is called today, and know for certain that if you dy in your sins, you will be the most miserable of any poor creatures in the bottom of hell."

Born in 1639 in Dorchester, Massachusettes (Puritan New England) of the minister Richard Mathers, Increase was educated at Harvard University, of which he was subsequently president (1685-1701), and was the pre-eminent minister, politician, and scholar of his day in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was also the father of Cotton Mather.

His first sermon, delivered in 1674 was entitled "The Day of Trouble is Near", which is a demonstration of the Puritan's fixation with the Second Coming. His sermons (of which over 200 have been saved) are quite readable to this day, mostly owing to their powerful Gothic imagery of a world full of pestilence and evil.

Mather also played a signifigant role in the Salem Witch Trials, although he only attended one trial (that of a personal enemy, George Burroughs who he was probably happy to see hanged in 1692). Due to his connections with the church heirarchy, he never openly refuted the trials, but he did write a paper entitled Cases of Conscience that refuted spectral evidence -- i.e, testing witches by making them recite The Lord's Prayer, throwing them in water to see if they could swim, and crying (witches, it was thought, could do none of these things). He stated, "that it would be better that ten witches go free than the blood of a single innocent be shed."

Many of Increase's sermons were aimed at the Puritan youth. One of which goes:

I must sadly tell you, You are in a fair way to be the Death of your poor parents, if you will give yourselves up, unto the Pherensis of Ungodliness: I tell you'l make Them dy before their time: and what are you then but Wicked Overmuch. Unworthy Creatures; How can you find in your Hearts to shorten the Lives of those, through whom you yourselves have derived your lives?"

Increase died in 1723 at the ripe old age of 84.

Sources: The Puritan Way of Death, David E. Stannard


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