Part 12: The Brethren
This is a reprint of The Haystack Prayer Meeting. It was written by Edward Warren Capen, PH.D. president of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, now Global Ministries, and published as one of the 1906 Envelope Series. Subscribers paid 10 cents per year for the series.
PLEASE NOTE: This piece was written in 1906 and therefore reflects the language of that time.
Had Mills and his friends stopped at this point, there would have been no haystack monument. They not only prayed that the way might he opened for service abroad, but they proceeded to answer their own prayers. The next step was not taken until two years later, when, after months of prayerful discussion, five young men, Samuel J. Mills, Ezra Fiske, James Richards, John Seward, and Luther Rice, met September 7, 1808, in the northwest lower room of old East College, and signed the constitution of The Brethren. This was a secret organization, the purpose of which was “to effect in the persons of its members a mission or missions to the heathen.” Each member pledged himself not only “to keep inviolably secret the existence of this society,” but also to “keep absolutely free from any engagement, which, after his careful attention and after consultation with The Brethren, shall be deemed incompatible with the object of this society,” and to “hold himself in readiness to go on a mission when and where duty may call.”
This little society proved one of the influential organizations of history, and furnished for years a large number of missionaries to the American Board. While its very existence was long unknown, its story, as yet unpublished, would reveal mighty achievements. From Mills to Neesima, its membership included many of the great American missionaries. Attempts were made to form similar organizations in other institutions, but with only partial success. The constitution of The Brethren was transferred to Andover in 1810 and the first names added there were those of Adoniram Judson, Jr., Samuel Newell, and Samuel Nott, Jr. Judson, with his commanding, even imperious nature, soon took the lead, while Mills, modest and willing to efface himself so long as the work was done, kept in the background.
From the beginning, Mills and friends at Williams sought to enlist others in the cause, for they believed that many missionary candidates would impress the church with the need of devising generous things, more than would a few. They found that they were not the only ones desirous of attempting great things for God. Nettleton, the great evangelist, was then a student at Yale, and in him Mills found a kindred spirit, thought he was unable to go abroad. Samuel Nott became impressed with the need of missionary work while studying with his father at his Connecticut home, and he entered Andover in this spirit. Judson, who was not even a Christian when he entered Andover, was soon converted, and before long became zealous in the new cause. Whether his decision was due in part to the influence of The Brethren then in Andover, will never be known. His thoughts were all directed towards the East, while Mills, with a truly statesmanlike view, then and later had in mind, not only India and the East, but also Africa, South America, the Hawaiian Islands, the Indian tribes, and the unchurched regions of the south and west. The divine ferment having leavened young men from various colleges and Andover Seminary having brought them together, so that they could confer and plan, the problem of men was in a fair way towards solution.