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SOME REFLECTIONS AND OBSERVATIONS
ON THE PRECEDING
REV. DAVID BRAINERD.
We have here opportunity, as I apprehend, in a very lively instance, to see the nature of true religion; and the manner of its operation when exemplified in a high degree and powerful exercise. Particularly it may be worthy to be observed,
How greatly Mr. Brainerd’s religion differed from that of some pretenders to the experience of a clear work of saving conversion wrought on their hearts; who depending and living on that, settle in a cold, careless, and carnal frame of mind, and in a neglect of thorough, earnest religion, in the stated practices of it! Although his convictions and conversion were in all respects exceeding clear, and very remarkable; yet how far was he from acting as though he thought he had got through his work, when once he had obtained comfort, and satisfaction of his interest in Christ, and title to heaven! On the contrary, that work on his heart, by which he was brought to this, was with him evidently but the beginning of his work, his first entering on the great business of religion and the service of God, his first setting out in his race. His obtaining rest of soul in Christ, after earnest striving to enter in at the strait gate, and being violent to take the kingdom of heaven, he did not look upon as putting an end to any further occasion for striving in religion; but these were continued still, and maintained constantly, through all changes, to the very end of life. His work was not finished, nor his race ended, till life was ended; agreeable to frequent scripture representations of the Christian life. He continued pressing forward in a constant manner, forgetting the things that were behind, and reaching forth towards the things that were before. His pains and earnestness in the business of religion were rather increased, than diminished, after he had received comfort and satisfaction concerning the safety of his state. Those divine principles, by which after this he was actuated, love to God, longings and thirstings after holiness, seem to be more effectual to engage him to pains and activity in religion, than fear of hell had been before.
And as his conversion was not the end of his work, or of the course of his diligence and strivings in religion; so neither was it the end of the work of the Spirit of God on his heart: but on the contrary, the beginning of the work; the beginning of his spiritual discoveries, and holy views; the first dawning of the light, which thenceforth increased more and more; the beginning of his holy affections, his sorrow for sin, his love to God, his rejoicing in Christ Jesus, his longing after holiness. And the powerful operations of the Spirit of God in these things, were carried on from the day of his conversion, in a continued course, to his dying day. His religious experiences, his admiration, his joy, praise, and flowing affections, did not only hold up to a considerable height for a few days, weeks, or months, at first, while hope and comfort were new things with him; and then gradually dwindle and die away, till they came to almost nothing, and so leave him without any sensible or remarkable experience of spiritual discoveries, or holy and divine affections, for months together; as it is with many, who after the newness of things is over, soon come to that pass, that it is again with them very much as it used to be before their supposed conversion, with respect to any present views of God’s glory, of Christ’s excellency, or of the beauty of divine things; and with respect to any present thirstings for God, or ardent outgoings of their souls after divine objects: but only now and then they have a comfortable reflection on past things, and are somewhat affected with them: and so rest easy, thinking all things are well; they have had a good clear work, and their state is safe, and they doubt not but they shall go to heaven when they die. How far otherwise was it with Mr. Brainerd, than it is with such persons! His experiences, instead of dying away, were evidently of an increasing nature. His first love, and other holy affections, even at the beginning were very great; but after months and years, became much greater, and more remarkable; and the spiritual exercises of his mind continued exceeding great, (though not equally so at all times, yet usually so,) without indulged remissness, and without habitual dwindling and dying away, even till his decease. They began in a time of general deadness all over the land, and were greatly increased in a time of general reviving of religion. And when religion decayed again, and a general deadness returned, his experiences were still kept up in their height, and his holy exercises maintained in their life and vigour; and so continued to be, in a general course, wherever he was, and whatever his circumstances were, among English and Indians, in company and alone, in towns and cities, and in the howling wilderness, in sickness and in health, living and dying. This is agreeable to scripture descriptions of true and right religion, and of the Christian life. The change wrought in him at his conversion, was agreeable to scripture representations of that change which is wrought in true conversion; a great change, and an abiding change, rendering him a new man, a new creature: not only a change as to hope and comfort, and an apprehension of his own good estate; and a transient change, consisting in high flights of passing affection; but a change of nature, a change of the abiding habit and temper of his mind. Not a partial change, merely in point of opinion, or outward reformation; much less a change from one error to another, or from one sin to another: but an universal change, both internal and external; as from corrupt and dangerous principles in religion, unto the belief of the truth, so from both the habits and the ways of sin, unto universal holiness of heart and practice; from the power and service of Satan unto God.
His religion did apparently and greatly differ from that of many high pretenders to religion, who are frequently actuated by vehement emotions of mind, and are carried on in a course of sudden and strong impressions, and supposed high illuminations and immediate discoveries, and at the same time are persons of a virulent “zeal, not according to knowledge.”
His convictions, preceding his conversion, did not arise from any frightful impressions of his imagination, or any external images and ideas of fire and brimstone, a sword of vengeance drawn, a dark pit open, devils in terrible shapes, &c. strongly fixed on his mind. His sight of his own sinfulness did not consist in any imagination of a heap of loathsome material filthiness within him; nor did his sense of the hardness of his heart consist in any bodily feeling in his breast of something hard and heavy like a stone, nor in any imaginations whatever of such a nature.
His first discovery of God or Christ, at his conversion, was not any strong idea of any external glory or brightness, or majesty and beauty of countenance, or pleasant voice; nor was it any supposed immediate manifestation of God’s love to him in particular; nor any imagination of Christ’s smiling face, arms open, or words immediately spoken to him, as by name, revealing Christ’s love to him; either words of Scripture, or any other. But it was a manifestation of God’s glory, and the beauty of his nature, as supremely excellent in itself; powerfully drawing, and sweetly captivating his heart; bringing him to a hearty desire to exalt God, set him on the throne, and give him supreme honour and glory, as the King and Sovereign of the universe: and also a new sense of the infinite wisdom, suitableness, and excellency of the way of salvation by Christ; powerfully engaging his whole soul to embrace this way of salvation, and to delight in it. His first faith did not consist in believing that Christ loved him, and died for him, in particular. His first comfort was not from any secret suggestion of God’s eternal love to him, or that God was reconciled to him, or intended great mercy for him; by any such texts as these, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee. Fear not, I am thy God,” &c. or in any such way. On the contrary, when God’s glory was first discovered to him, it was without any thought of salvation as his own. His first experience of the sanctifying and comforting power of God’s Spirit did not begin in some bodily sensation, any pleasant warm feeling in his breast, that some would have called the feeling the love of Christ in him, and being full of the Spirit. How exceeding far were his experiences at his first conversion from all things of such a nature!
And if we look through the whole series of his experiences, from his conversion to his death, we shall find none of this kind. I have had occasion to read his diary over and over, and very particularly and critically to review every passage in it; and I find no one instance of a strong impression on his imagination, through his whole life; no instance of a strongly impressed idea of any external glory and brightness, of any bodily form or shape, any beautiful majestic countenance. There is no imaginary sight of Christ hanging on the cross with his blood streaming from his wounds; or seated in heaven on a bright throne, with angels and saints bowing before him; or with a countenance smiling on him; or arms open to embrace him: no sight of heaven, in his imagination, with gates of pearl, and golden streets, and vast multitudes of glorious inhabitants, with shining garments. There is no sight of the book of life opened, with his name written in it; no hearing of the sweet music made by the songs of heavenly hosts: no hearing God or Christ immediately speaking to him; nor any sudden suggestions of words or sentences, either of Scripture or any other, as then immediately spoken or sent to him: no new objective revelations, no sudden strong suggestions of secret facts. Nor do I find any one instance in all the records he has left of his own life, from beginning to end, of joy excited from a supposed immediate witness of the Spirit; or inward immediate suggestion, that his state was surely good, that God loved him with an everlasting love, that Christ died for him in particular, and that heaven was his; either with or without a text of Scripture. There is no instance of comfort by a sudden bearing in upon his mind, as though at that very time directed by God to him in particular, any such kind of texts as these; “Fear not, I am with thee; It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom; You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine; Before thou wast formed in the belly, I knew thee,” &c. There is no supposed communion and conversation with God carried on in this way; nor any such supposed tasting of the love of Christ. But the way he was satisfied of his own good estate, even to the entire abolishing of fear, was by feeling within himself the lively actings of a holy temper and heavenly disposition, the vigorous exercises of that divine love which casteth out fear. This was the way he had full satisfaction soon after his conversion; (see his diary on October 18, and 19, 1740;) and we find no other way of satisfaction through his whole life afterwards: and this he abundantly declared to be the way, the only way, that he had complete satisfaction, when he looked death in the face, in its near approaches.
Some of the pretenders to an immediate witness by suggestion, and defenders of it, with an assuming confidence would bear us in hand, that there is no full assurance without it; and that the way of being satisfied by signs, and arguing an interest in Christ from sanctification, if it will keep men quiet in life and health, yet will never do when they come to die. Then, they say, men must have immediate witness, or else be in a dreadful uncertainty. But Mr. Brainerd’s experience is a confutation of this; for in him we have an instance of one that possessed as constant, as unshaken an assurance, through the course of his life, after conversion, as perhaps can be produced in this age; which yet he obtained and enjoyed without any such sort of testimony, and without all manner of appearance of it, or pretence to it; yea, while utterly disclaiming any such thing, and declaring against it. His assurance, we need not scruple to affirm, has as fair a claim, and as just a pretension to truth and genuineness, as any that the pretenders to immediate witness can produce. And he is not only an instance of one that had such assurance in life, but had it in a constant manner in his last illness; and particularly in the latter stages of it, through those last months of his life wherein death was more sensibly approaching, without the least hope of life. He had it too in its fulness, and in the height of its exercise, under repeated trials, in this space of time; when brought from time to time to the very brink of the grave, expecting in a few minutes to be in eternity. He had “the full assurance of hope unto the end.” When on the verge of eternity, he then declared his assurance to be such as perfectly excluded all fear. And not only so, but it manifestly filled his soul with exceeding joy; he declaring at the same time, that this his consolation and good hope through grace, arose wholly from the evidence he had of his good estate, by what he found of his sanctification, or the exercise of a holy heavenly temper of mind, supreme love to God, &c. and not in the least from any immediate witness by suggestion. Yea, he declares that at these very times he saw the awful delusion of that confidence which is built on such a foundation, as well as of the whole of that religion which it usually springs from, or at least is the attendant of; and that his soul abhorred those delusions: and he continued in this mind, often expressing it with much solemnity, even till death.
Mr. Brainerd’s religion was not selfish and mercenary: his love to God was primarily and principally for the supreme excellency of his own nature, and not built on a preconceived notion that God loved him, had received him into favour, and had done great things for him, or promised great things to him. His joy was joy in God, and not in himself. We see by his diary how, from time to time, through the course of his life, his soul was filled with ineffable sweetness and comfort. But what was the spring of this strong and abiding consolation? Not so much the consideration of the sure grounds he had to think that his state was good, that God had delivered him from hell, and that heaven was his; or any thoughts concerning his own distinguished happy and exalted circumstances, as a high favourite of Heaven: but the sweet meditations and entertaining views he had of divine things without himself; the affecting considerations and lively ideas of God’s infinite glory, his unchangeable blessedness, his sovereignty and universal dominion; together with the sweet exercises of love to God, giving himself up to him, abasing himself before him, denying himself for him, depending upon him, acting for his glory, diligently serving him; and the pleasing prospects or hopes he had of a future advancement of the kingdom of Christ, &c.
It appears plainly and abundantly all along, from his conversion to his death, that the beauty, that sort of good, which was the great object of the new sense of his mind, the new relish and appetite given him in conversion, and thenceforward maintained and increased in his heart, was holiness, conformity to God, living to God, and glorifying him. This was what drew his heart; this was the centre of his soul; this was the ocean to which all the streams of his religious affections tended; this was the object that engaged his eager thirsting desires and earnest pursuits. He knew no true excellency, or happiness, but this; this was what he longed for most vehemently and constantly on earth; and this was with him the beauty and blessedness of heaven. This made him so much and so often to long for that world of glory: it was to be perfectly holy, and perfectly exercised in the holy employments of heaven; thus, “to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever.”
His religious illuminations, affections, and comfort, seemed, to a great degree, to be attended with evangelical humiliation; consisting in a sense of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness; with an answerable disposition and frame of heart. How deeply affected was he almost continually with his great defects in religion; with his vast distance from that spirituality and holy frame of mind that became him; with his ignorance, pride, deadness, unsteadiness, barrenness! He was not only affected with the remembrance of his former sinfulness, before his conversion, but with the sense of his present vileness and pollution. He was not only disposed to think meanly of himself as before God, and in comparison of him; but amongst men, and as compared with them. He was apt to think other saints better than he; yea, to look on himself as the meanest and least of saints; yea, very often, as the vilest and worst of mankind. And notwithstanding his great attainments in spiritual knowledge, yet we find there is scarce any thing, with a sense of which he is more frequently affected and abased, than his ignorance.
How eminently did he appear to be of a meek and quiet spirit, resembling the lamb-like, dove-like Spirit of Jesus Christ! How full of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness, and mercy! His love was not merely a fondness and zeal for a party, but an universal benevolence; very often exercised in the most sensible and ardent love to his greatest opposers and enemies. His love and meekness were not a mere pretence, and outward profession and show; but they were effectual things, manifested in expensive and painful deeds of love and kindness; and in a meek behaviour; readily confessing faults under the greatest trials, and humbling himself even at the feet of those from whom he supposed he had suffered most; and from time to time very frequently praying for his enemies, abhorring the thoughts of bitterness or resentment towards them. I scarcely know where to look for any parallel instance of self-denial, in these respects, in the present age. He was a person of great zeal; but how did he abhor a bitter zeal, and lament it where he saw it! And though he was once drawn into some degrees of it, by the force of prevailing example, as it were in his childhood; yet how did he go about with a heart bruised and broken in pieces for it all his life after!
Of how soft and tender a spirit was he! How far were his experiences, hopes, and joys, from a tendency finally to stupify and harden him, to lessen convictions and tenderness of conscience, to cause him to be less affected with present and past sins, and less conscientious with respect to future sins! How far were they from making him more easy, in neglect of duties that are troublesome and inconvenient, more slow and partial in complying with difficult commands, less apt to be alarmed at the appearance of his own defects and transgressions, more easily induced to a compliance with carnal appetites! On the contrary, how tender was his conscience! how apt was his heart to smite him! how easily and greatly was he alarmed at the appearance of moral evil! how great and constant was his jealousy over his own heart! how strict his care and watchfulness against sin! how deep and sensible were the wounds that sin made in his conscience! Those evils that are generally accounted small, were almost an insupportable burden to him; such as his inward deficiencies, his having no more love to God, finding within himself any slackness or dulness in religion, any unsteadiness, or wandering frame of mind, &c. how did the consideration of such things as these oppress and abase him, and fill him with inward shame and confusion! His love and hope, though they were such as cast out a servile fear of hell, yet were attended with, and abundantly cherished and promoted, a reverential filial fear of God, a dread of sin and of God’s holy displeasure. His joy seemed truly to be a rejoicing with trembling. His assurance and comfort differed greatly from a false enthusiastic confidence and joy, in that it promoted and maintained mourning for sin. Holy mourning, with him, was not only the work of an hour or a day, at his first conversion; but sorrow for sin was like a wound constantly running; he was a mourner for sin all his days. He did not, after he received comfort and full satisfaction of the forgiveness of all his sins, and the safety of his state, forget his past sins, the sins of his youth, committed before his conversion; but the remembrance of them, from time to time, revived in his heart, with renewed grief. That passage (Ezek. xvi. 63..) was evidently fulfilled in him, “That thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame; when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done.” And how lastingly did the sins he committed after his conversion affect and break his heart! If he did any thing whereby he thought he had in any respect dishonoured God, and wounded the interest of religion, he had never done with calling it to mind with sorrow and bitterness; though he was assured that God had forgiven it, yet he never forgave himself: his past sorrows and fears made no satisfaction, with him; but still the wound renews and bleeds afresh, again and again. And his present sins, those he daily found in himself, were an occasion of daily sensible and deep sorrow of heart.
His religion did hot consist in unaccountable flights and vehement pangs; suddenly rising, and suddenly falling; at times exalted almost to the third heavens, and then negligent, vain, carnal, and swallowed up with the world, for days and weeks, if not months together. His religion was not like a blazing meteor, or like a flaming comet, (or a wandering star, as the apostle Jude calls it, ver. 13..) flying through the firmament with a bright train, and then quickly departing into perfect darkness; but more like the steady lights of heaven, constant principles of light, though sometimes hid with clouds. Nor like a land-flood, which flows far and wide with a rapid stream, bearing down all before it, and then dries up; but more like a stream fed by living springs; which though sometimes increased by showers, and at other times diminished by drought, yet is a constant stream.
His religious affections and joys were not like those of some, who have rapture and mighty emotions from time to time in company; but have very little affection in retirement and secret places. Though he was of a very sociable temper, and loved the company of saints, and delighted very much in religious conversation, and in social worship; yet his warmest affections, and their greatest effects on animal nature, and his sweetest joys, were in his closet devotions, and solitary transactions between God and his own soul: as is very observable through his whole course, from his conversion to his death. He delighted greatly in sacred retirements; and loved to get quite away from all the world, to converse with God alone, in secret duties.
Mr. Brainerd’s experiences and comforts were very far from being like those of some persons, which are attended with a spiritual satiety, and which put an end to their religious desires and longings, at least to the edge and ardency of them; resting satisfied in their own attainments and comforts, as having obtained their chief end, which is to extinguish their fears of hell, and give them confidence of the favour of God. How far were his religious affections, refreshments, and satisfactions, from such an operation and influence! On the contrary, how were they always attended with longings and thirstings after greater degrees of conformity to God! And the greater and sweeter his comforts were, the more vehement were his desires after holiness. For it is to be observed, that his longings were not so much after joyful discoveries of God’s love, and clear views of his title to future advancement and eternal honours in heaven; as after more of present holiness, greater spirituality, a heart more engaged for God, to love, and exalt, and depend on him. His longings were for ability to serve God better, to do more for his glory, and to do all that he did with more of a regard to Christ as his righteousness and strength; and after the enlargement and advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the earth. And his desires were not idle wishings, but such as were powerful and effectual, to animate him to the earnest, eager pursuit of these things, with utmost diligence and unfainting labour and self-denial. His comforts never put an end to his seeking after God, and striving to obtain his grace; but, on the contrary, greatly engaged him therein.
His religion did not consist in experience without practice. All his inward illuminations, affections, and comforts, seemed to have a direct tendency to practice, and to issue in it: and this, not merely a practice negatively good, free from gross acts of irreligion and immorality; but a practice positively holy and Christian, in a serious, devout, humble, meek, merciful, charitable, and beneficent conversation; making the service of God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the great business of life, to which he was devoted, and which he pursued with the greatest earnestness and diligence to the end of his days, through all trials. In him was to be seen the right way of being lively in religion. His liveliness in religion did not consist merely, or mainly, in his being lively with the tongue, but in deed; not in being forward in profession and outward show, and abundant in declaring his own experiences; but chiefly in being active and abundant in the labours and duties of religion; “not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, and serving his generation, according to the will of God.”
By these things, many high pretenders to religion, and professors of extraordinary spiritual experience, may be sensible, that Mr. Brainerd did greatly condemn their kind of religion; and that not only in word, but by example, both living and dying; as the whole series of his Christian experience and practice, from his conversion to his death, appears a constant condemnation of it.
It cannot be objected, that the reason why he so much disliked the religion of these pretenders, and why his own so much differed from it, was, that his experiences were not clear. There is no room to say, they were otherwise, in any respect, in which clearness of experience has been wont to be insisted on; whether it be the clearness of their nature or of their order, and the method his soul was at first brought to rest and comfort in his conversion. I am far from thinking, and so was he, that clearness of the order of experiences is, in any measure, of equal importance with the clearness of their nature. I have sufficiently declared in my discourse on Religious Affections, (which he expressly approved of and recommended,) that I do not suppose a sensible distinctness of the steps of the Spirit’s operation and method of successive convictions and illuminations, is a necessary requisite to persons being received in full charity, as true saints; provided the nature of the things they profess be right, and their practice agreeable. Nevertheless, it is observable, (which cuts off all objection from such as would be most unreasonably disposed to object and cavil in the present case,) that Mr. Brainerd’s experiences were not only clear in the latter respect, but remarkably so in the former: so that there is not perhaps one instance in five hundred true converts, that on this account can be paralleled with him.
It cannot be pretended, that the reason why he so much abhorred and condemned the notions and experiences of those whose first faith consists in believing that Christ is theirs, and that Christ died for them; without any previous experience of union of heart to him, for his excellency, as he is in himself, and not for his supposed love to them and who judge of their interest in Christ, their justification, and God’s love to them, not by their sanctification, and the exercises and fruits of grace, but by a supposed immediate witness of the Spirit, by inward suggestion was, that he was of a too legal spirit; either that he never was dead to the law, never experienced a thorough work of conviction, was never fully brought off from his own righteousness, and weaned from the old covenant, by a thorough legal humiliation; or that afterwards, he had no great degree of evangelical humiliation, not living in a deep sense of his own emptiness, wretchedness, poverty, and absolute dependence on the mere grace of God through Christ. For his convictions of sin, preceding his first consolations in Christ, were exceeding deep and thorough; his trouble and exercise of mind, by a sense of sin and misery, very great, and long continued; and the light let into his mind at his conversion, and in progressive sanctification, appears to have had its genuine humbling influence upon him, to have kept him low in his own eyes, not confiding in himself, but in Christ, “living by the faith of the Son of God, and looking for the mercy of the Lord Jesus to eternal life.”
Nor can it be pretended, that the reason why he condemned these and other things, which this sort of people call the very height of vital religion and the power of godliness, was, that he was a dead Christian, and lived in the dark (as they express themselves); that his experiences, though they might be true, were not great; that he did not live near to God, had but a small acquaintance with him, and had but a dim sight of spiritual things. If any, after they have read the preceding account of Mr. Brainerd’s life, will venture to pretend thus, they will only show that they themselves are in the dark, and do indeed “put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”
It is common with this sort of people, if there are any whom they cannot deny to exhibit good evidences of true godliness who yet appear to dislike their notions and who condemn those things wherein they place the height of religion to insinuate, that they are afraid of the cross, and have a mind to curry favour with the world, and the like. But I presume this will not be pretended concerning Mr. Brainerd, by any one person that has read the preceding account of his life. It must needs appear a thing notorious to such, that he was an extraordinary, and almost unparalleled, instance (in these times, and these parts of the world) of the contrary disposition; and that, whether we consider what he has recorded of his inward experience, from time to time; or his practice, how he in fact took up and embraced the cross, and bore it constantly, in his great self-denials, labours, and sufferings for the name of Jesus, and went on without fainting, without repining, to his dying illness: how he did not only, from time to time, relinquish and renounce the world secretly, in his heart, with the full and fervent consent of all the powers of his soul; but openly and actually forsook the world, with its possessions, delights, and common comforts, to dwell as it were with wild beasts, in a howling wilderness; with constant cheerfulness complying with the numerous hardships of a life of toil and travel there, to promote the kingdom of his dear Redeemer. Besides, it appears by the preceding history, that he never did more condemn the things forementioned, never had a greater sense of their delusion, pernicious nature, and ill tendency, and never was more full of pity to those that are led away with them, than in his last illness, and at times when he had the nearest prospect of death, supposed himself to be on the very brink of eternity. Surely he did not condemn those things at these seasons, only to curry favour with the world.
Besides what has been already related of Mr. Brainerd’s sentiments in his dying state concerning true and false religion, we have his deliberate and solemn thoughts on this subject, further appearing by his preface to Mr. Shepard’s diary, before mentioned; which, when he wrote it, he supposed to be (as it proved) one of the last things he should ever write. I shall here insert a part of that preface, as follows:
“How much stress is laid by many upon some things as being effects and evidences of exalted degrees of religion, when they are so far from being of any importance in it, that they are really irreligious, a mixture of self-love, imagination, and spiritual pride, or perhaps the influence of Satan transformed into an angel of light; I say, how much stress is laid on these things by many, I shall not determine: but it is much to be feared, that while God was carrying on a glorious work of grace, and undoubtedly gathering a harvest of souls to himself, (which we should always remember with thankfulness,) numbers of others have at the same time been fatally deluded by the devices of the devil, and their own corrupt hearts. It is to be feared, that the conversions of some have no better foundation than this; viz. that after they have been under some concern for their souls for a while, and, it may be, manifested some very great and uncommon distress and agonies, they have on a sudden imagined they saw Christ, in some posture or other, perhaps on the cross, bleeding and dying for their sins; or it may be, smiling on them, and thereby signifying his love to them: and that these and the like things, though mere imaginations, which have nothing spiritual in them, have instantly removed all their fears and distresses, filled them with raptures of joy, and made them imagine, that they loved Christ with all their hearts; when the bottom of all was nothing but self-love. For when they imagined that Christ had been so good to them as to save them, and as it were to single them out of all the world, they could not but feel some kind of natural gratitude to him; although they never had any spiritual view of his divine glory, excellency, and beauty, and consequently never had any love to him for himself. Or that instead of having some such imaginary view of Christ as has been mentioned, in order to remove their distress, and give them joy, some having had a passage, or perhaps many passages, of Scripture brought to their minds with power, (as they express it,) such as that, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee,” and the like, they have immediately applied these passages to themselves, supposing that God hereby manifested his peculiar favour to them, as if mentioned by name; never considering, that they are now giving heed to new revelations, there being no such thing revealed in the word of God, as that this or that particular person has, or ever shall have, his sins forgiven; nor yet remembering, that Satan can, with a great deal of seeming pertinency, (and perhaps also with considerable power,) bring Scripture to the minds of men, as he did to Christ himself. And thus these rejoice upon having some scripture suddenly suggested to them, or impressed upon their minds, supposing they are now the children of God, just as did the other upon their imaginary views of Christ. And it is said that some speak of seeing a great light which filled all the place where they were, and dispelled all their darkness, fears, and distresses, and almost ravished their souls. While others have had it warmly suggested to their minds, not by any passage of Scripture, but as it were by a whisper or voice from heaven, “That God loves them, that Christ is theirs,” &c. which groundless imaginations and suggestions of Satan have had the same effect upon them, that the delusions before mentioned had on the others. And as is the conversion of this sort of persons, so are their after experiences; the whole being built upon imagination, strong impressions, and sudden suggestions made to their minds; whence they are usually extremely confident (as if immediately informed from God) not only of the goodness of their own state, but of their infallible knowledge, and absolute certainty, of the truth of every thing they pretend to, under the notion of religion; and thus all reasoning with some of them is utterly excluded.
“But it is remarkable of these, that they are extremely deficient in regard of true poverty of spirit, a sense of exceeding vileness in themselves, such as frequently makes truly gracious souls to groan, being burdened; as also in regard of meekness, love, gentleness towards mankind, and tenderness of conscience in their ordinary affairs and dealings in the world. And it is rare to see them deeply concerned about the principles and ends of their actions, and under fears lest they should not eye the glory of God chiefly, but live to themselves; or this at least is the case in their ordinary conduct, whether civil or religious. But if any one of their particular notions, which their zeal has espoused, be attacked, they are then so conscientious, they must burn, if called to it, for its defence. Yet at the same time, when they are so extremely deficient in regard of these precious divine tempers which have been mentioned, they are usually full of zeal, concern, and fervency in the things of religion, and often discourse of them with much warmth and engagement: and to those who do not know, or do not consider, wherein the essence of true religion consists viz. in being conformed to the image of Christ, not in point of zeal and fervency only, but in all divine tempers and practices they often appear like the best of men.”
It is common with this sort of people to say, that “God is amongst them, his Spirit accompanies their exhortations, and other administrations, and they are sealed by the Holy Ghost,” in the remarkable success they have, in the great affections that are stirred up in God’s people, &c. but to insinuate, on the contrary, that “he is not with their opponents;” and particularly, “that God has forsaken the standing ministry; and that the time is come, when it is the will of God that they should be put down, and that God’s people should forsake them; and that no more success is to be expected to attend their administrations.” But where can they find an instance among all their most flaming exhorters, who has been sealed with so incontestable and wonderful success of his labours, as Mr. Brainerd, not only in quickening and comforting God’s children, but also in a work of conviction and conversion, (which they own has in a great measure ceased for a long time among themselves,) with a most visible and astonishing manifestation of God’s power? And this was on subjects extremely unprepared, and who had been brought up and lived, some of them to old age, in the deepest prejudices against the very first principles of Christianity; and yet we find the divine power accompanying his labours, producing the most remarkable and abiding change, turning the wilderness into a fruitful field, and causing that which was a desert indeed to bud and blossom as the rose! And this, although he was not only one of their greatest opponents in their errors; but also one of those they call the standing ministry; first examined and licensed to preach by such ministers, and sent forth among the heathen by such ministers; and afterwards ordained by such ministers; always directed by them, and united with them in their consistories and administrations: and even abhorring the practice of those who give out, that they ought to be renounced, and separated from, and that teachers may be ordained by laymen.
It cannot be pretended by these men that Mr. Brainerd condemned their religion, only because he was not acquainted with them, and had not opportunity for full observation of the nature, operation, and tendency of their experiences; for he had abundant and peculiar opportunities of such observation and acquaintance. He lived through the late extraordinary time of religious commotion, and saw the beginning and end, the good and the bad of it. He had opportunity to see the various operations and effects that were wrought in this season, more extensively than any person I know of. His native place was about the middle of Connecticut; and he was much conversant in all parts of that colony. He was conversant in the eastern parts of it, after the religion which he condemned began much to prevail there. He was conversant with the zealous people on Long Island, from one end of the island to the other; and also in New Jersey and Pennsylvania; with people of various nations. He had special opportunities in some places in this province, (Massachusetts Bay,) where there has been very much of this sort of religion, and at a time when it greatly prevailed. He had conversed and disputed with abundance of this kind of people in various parts, as he told me; and also informed me, that he had seen something of the same appearances in some of the Indians, to whom he had preached, and had opportunity to see the beginning and end of them. Besides, Mr. Brainerd could speak more feelingly concerning these things, because there was once a time when he was drawn away into an esteem of them, and for a short season had united himself to this kind of people, and partook, in some respects, of their spirit and behaviour. But I proceed to another observation on the foregoing Memoirs.
This history of Mr. Brainerd’s may help us to make distinctions among the high religious affections, and remarkable impressions made on the minds of persons, in a time of great awakening, and revival of religion; and may convince us, that there are not only distinctions in theory, invented to save the credit of pretended revivals of religion, and what is called the experience of the operations of the Spirit; but distinctions that do actually take place in the course of events, and have a real and evident foundation in fact.
Many do and will confound things, blend all together, and say, “It is all alike; it is all of the same sort.” So there are many that say concerning the religion most generally prevailing among the Separatists, and the affections they manifest, “It is the same that was all over the land seven years ago.” And some that have read Mr. Brainerd’s Journal, giving an account of the extraordinary things that have come to pass among the Indians in New Jersey, say, “It is evidently the same thing that appeared in many places amongst the English, which has now proved naught, and come to that which is worse than nothing.” And all the reason they have thus to determine all to be the same work, and the same spirit, is, that the one manifested high affections, and so do the other; the great affections of the one had some influence on their bodies, and so have the other; the one use the terms conviction, conversion, humiliation, corning to Christ, discoveries, experiences, &c. and so do the other; the impressions on the one are attended with a great deal of zeal, and so it is with the other; the affections of the one dispose them to speak much about things of religion, and so do the other; the one delight much in religious meetings, and so do the other. The agreement that appears in these, and such like things, make them conclude, that surely all is alike, all is the same work. Whereas, on a closer inspection and critical examination, it would appear, that notwithstanding an agreement in such circumstances, yet indeed there is a vast difference, both in essence and fruits. A considerable part of the religious operations that were six or seven years ago, especially towards the latter part of that extraordinary season, was doubtless of the same sort with the religion of the Separatists; but not all: there were many, whose experiences were, like Mr. Brainerd’s, in a judgment of charity, genuine and incontestable.
Not only do the opposers of all religion consisting in powerful operations and affections, thus confound things; but many of the pretenders to such religion do so. They who have been the subjects of some sort of vehement, but vain operations on their mind, when they hear the relation of the experiences of some real and eminent Christians, say, that their experiences are of the same sort: and that they are just like the experiences of eminent Christians in former times, of which we have printed accounts. So, I doubt not, but there are many deluded people, if they should read the preceding account of Mr. Brainerd’s life, who, reading without much understanding, or careful observation, would say, without hesitation, that some things which they have met with, are of the very same kind with what he expresses: when the agreement is only in some general circumstances, or some particular things that are superficial, and belonging as it were to the profession and outside of religion; but the inward temper of mind, and the fruits in practice, are as opposite and distant as east and west.
Many honest, good people also, and true Christians, do not very well know how to make a difference. The glistering appearance of false religion dazzles their eyes; and they sometimes are so deluded by it, that they look on some of these impressions, which hypocrites tell of, as the brightest experiences. And though they have experienced no such things themselves, they think, it is because they are vastly lower in attainments, and but babes, in comparison of these flaming Christians. Yea, sometimes from their differing so much from those who make so great a show, they doubt whether they have any grace at all. And it is a hard thing, to bring many well-meaning people to make proper distinctions in this case; and especially to maintain and stand by them. Through a certain weakness under which they unhappily labour, they are liable to be overcome with the glare of outward appearances. Thus, if in a sedate hour they are by reasoning brought to allow such and such distinctions, yet the next time they come in the way of the great show of false religion, the dazzling appearance swallows them up, and they are carried away. Thus the devil by his cunning artifices, easily dazzles the feeble sight of men, and puts them beyond a capacity of a proper exercise of consideration, or hearkening to the dictates of calm thought, and cool understanding. When they perceive the great affection, earnest talk, strong voice, assured looks, vast confidence, and bold assertions, of these empty assuming pretenders, they are overborne, lose the possession of their judgment, and say, “Surely these men are in the right, God is with them of a truth:” and so they are carried away, not with light and reason, but, like children, as it were with a strong wind.
This confounding of all things together, that have a fair show, is but acting the part of a child, that going into a shop, where a variety of wares are exposed to sale all of a shining appearance; vessels of gold and silver; diamonds and other precious stones; toys of little value, which are of some base metal gilt; glass polished and painted with curious colours, or cut like diamonds, &c. should esteem all alike, and give as great a price for the vile as for the precious. Or it is like the conduct of some unskilful, rash person, who, finding himself deceived by some of the wares he had bought at that shop, should at once conclude all he there saw was of no value; and pursuant to such a conclusion, when afterwards he has true gold and diamonds offered him, enough to enrich him and enable him to live like a prince all his days, he should throw it all into the sea.
But we must get into another way. The want of distinguishing in things that appertain to experimental religion, is one of the chief miseries of the professing world. It is attended with very many most dismal consequences: multitudes of souls are fatally deluded about themselves, and their own state; and thus are eternally undone. Hypocrites are confirmed in their delusions, and exceedingly puffed up with pride; many sincere Christians are dreadfully perplexed, darkened, tempted, and drawn aside from the way of duty; and sometimes sadly tainted with false religion, to the great dishonour of Christianity, and hurt of their own souls. Some of the most dangerous and pernicious enemies of religion in the world (though called bright Christians) are encouraged and honoured; who ought to be discountenanced and shunned by every body: and prejudices are begotten and confirmed in vast multitudes, against every thing wherein the power and essence of godliness consists; and in the end deism and atheism are promoted.
The foregoing account of Mr. Brainerd’s life may afford matter of conviction, that there is indeed such a thing as true experimental religion, arising from immediate divine influences, supernaturally enlightening and convincing the mind, and powerfully impressing, quickening, sanctifying, and governing the heart; which religion is indeed an amiable thing, of happy tendency, and of no hurtful consequence to human society; notwithstanding there having been so many pretences and appearances of what is called experimental, vital religion, that have proved to be nothing but vain, pernicious enthusiasm.
If any insist, that Mr. Brainerd’s religion was enthusiasm, and nothing but a strange heat and blind fervour of mind, arising from strong fancies, &c. I would ask, What were the fruits of his enthusiasm? In him we behold a great degree of honesty and simplicity, sincere and earnest desires and endeavours to know and do whatever is right, and to avoid every thing that is wrong; a high degree of love to God, delight in the perfections of his nature, placing the happiness of life in him; not only in contemplating him, but in being active in pleasing and serving him; a firm and undoubting belief in the Messiah, as the Saviour of the world, the great Prophet of God, and King of God’s church; together with great love to him, delight and complacence in the way of salvation by him, and longing for the enlargement of his kingdom; earnest desires that God may be glorified and the Messiah’s kingdom advanced, whatever instruments are employed; uncommon resignation to the will of God, and that under vast trials; great and universal benevolence to mankind, reaching all sorts of persons without distinction, manifested in sweetness of speech and behaviour, kind treatment, mercy, liberality, and earnest seeking the good of the souls and bodies of men. And all this we behold attended with extraordinary humility, meekness, forgiveness of injuries, and love to enemies; and a great abhorrence of a contrary spirit and practice; not only as appearing in others, but whereinsoever it had appeared in himself; causing the most bitter repentance, and brokenness of heart on account of any past instances of such a conduct. In him we see a modest, discreet, and decent deportment, among superiors, inferiors, and equals; a most diligent improvement of time, and earnest care to lose no part of it; great watchfulness against all sorts of sin, of heart, speech, and action. And this example and these endeavours we see attended with most happy fruits, and blessed effects on others, in humanizing, civilizing, and wonderfully reforming and transforming some of the most brutish savages; idle, immoral, drunkards, murderers, gross idolaters, and wizards; bringing them to permanent sobriety, diligence, devotion, honesty, conscientiousness, and charity. And the foregoing amiable virtues and successful labours, all end at last in a marvellous peace, unmovable stability, calmness, and resignation, in the sensible approaches of death; with longing for the heavenly state; not only for the honours and circumstantial advantages of it, but above all for the moral perfection, and holy and blessed employments of it. And these things are seen in a person indisputably of good understanding and judgment. I therefore say, if all these things are the fruits of enthusiasm, why should not enthusiasm be thought a desirable and excellent thing? For what can true religion, what can the best philosophy, do more? If vapours and whimsy will bring men to the most thorough virtue, to the most benign and fruitful morality; and will maintain it through a course of life attended with many trials, without affectation or self-exaltation, and with an earnest, constant testimony against the wildness, the extravagances, the bitter zeal, assuming behaviour, and separating spirit of enthusiasts; and will do all this more effectually, than any thing else has ever done in any plain known instance that can be produced; what cause then has the world to prize and pray for this blessed whimsicalness, and these benign vapours?
It would perhaps be a prejudice with some against the whole of Mr. Brainerd’s religion, if it had begun in the time of the late religious commotion; being ready to conclude, however unreasonable, that nothing good could take its rise from those times. But it was not so; his conversion was before those times, in a time of general deadness; and therefore at a season when it was impossible that he should receive a taint from any corrupt notions, examples, or customs, that had birth in those times.
And whereas there are many who are not professed opposers of what is called experimental religion, who yet doubt of the reality of it, from the bad lives of some professors; and are ready to determine that there is nothing in all the talk about being born again, being emptied of self, brought to a saving close with Christ, &c. because many that pretend to these things, and are thought by others to have been the subjects of them, manifest no abiding alteration in their moral disposition and behaviour; are as careless, carnal, covetous, &c. as ever; yea, some much worse than ever: it is to be acknowledged and lamented, that this is the case with some; but by the preceding account they may be sensible, that it is not so with all. There are some indisputable instances of such a change, as the Scripture speaks of; an abiding great change, a “renovation of the spirit of the mind,” and a “walking in newness of life.” In the foregoing instance particularly, they may see the abiding influence of such a work of conversion, as they have heard of from the word of God; the fruits of such experiences through a course of years; under a great variety of circumstances, many changes of state, place, and company; and may see the blessed issue and event of it in life and death.
The preceding history serves to confirm those doctrine usually called the doctrine of grace. For if it be allowed that there is truth, substance, or value in the main of Mr. Brainerd’s religion, it will undoubtedly follow, that those doctrine are divine: since it is evident, that the whole of it, from beginning to end, is according to that scheme of things; all built on those apprehensions, notions, and views, that are produced and established in the mind by those doctrine. He was brought by doctrine of this kind to his awakening, and deep concern about things of a spiritual and eternal nature; and by these doctrine his convictions were maintained and carried on; and his conversion was evidently altogether agreeable to this scheme, but by no means agreeing with the contrary, and utterly inconsistent with the Arminian notion of conversion or repentance. His conversion was plainly founded in a clear strong conviction, and undoubting persuasion of the truth of those things appertaining to these doctrine, against which Arminians most object, and about which his own mind had contended most. His conversion was no confirming and perfecting of moral principles and habits, by use and practice, and industrious discipline, together with the concurring suggestions and conspiring aids of God’s Spirit; but entirely a supernatural work, at once turning him from darkness to marvellous light, and from the power of sin to the dominion of divine and holy principles. It was an effect, in no regard produced by his strength or labour, or obtained by his virtue; and not accomplished till he was first brought to a full conviction, that all his own virtue, strength, labours, and endeavours, could never avail any thing towards producing or procuring this effect.
A very little while before, his mind was full of the same cavils against the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace, which are made by Arminians; and his heart full even of opposition to them. And God was pleased to perform this good work in him, just after a full end had been put to this cavilling and opposition; after he was entirely convinced, that he was dead in sin, and was in the hands of God, as the absolutely sovereign, unobliged, sole disposer and author of true holiness. God showing him mercy at such a time, is a confirmation, that this was a preparation for mercy; and consequently, that these things which he was convinced of, were true. While he opposed, he was the subject of no such mercy; though he so earnestly sought it, and prayed for it with so much care, and strictness in religion: but when once his opposition is fully subdued, and he is brought to submit to the truths, which he before had opposed, with full conviction, then the mercy he sought for is granted, with abundant light, great evidence, and exceeding joy; and he reaps the sweet fruit of it all his life after, and in the valley of the shadow of death.
In his conversion, he was brought to see the glory of that way of salvation by Christ, that is taught in what are called the doctrine of grace; and thenceforward, with unspeakable joy and complacence, to embrace and acquiesce in that way of salvation. He was, in his conversion, in all respects, brought to those views, and that state of mind, which these doctrine show to be necessary. And if his conversion was any real conversion, or any thing besides a mere whim, and if the religion of his life was any thing else but a series of freaks of a whimsical mind, then this one grand principle, on which depends the whole difference between Calvinists and Arminians, is undeniable, viz. that the grace or virtue of truly good men not only differs from the virtue of others in degree, but even in nature and kind. If ever Mr. Brainerd was truly turned from sin to God at all, or ever became truly religious, none can reasonably doubt but that his conversion was at the time when he supposed it to be: the change he then experienced, was evidently the greatest moral change that ever he passed under; and he was then apparently first brought to that kind of religion, that remarkable new habit and temper of mind, which he held all his life after. The narration shows it to be different, in nature and kind, from all that ever he was the subject of before. It was evidently wrought at once, without fitting and preparing his mind, by gradually convincing it more and more of the same truths, and bringing it nearer and nearer to such a temper. For it was soon after his mind had been remarkably full of blasphemy, and a vehement exercise of sensible enmity against God, and great opposition to those truths which he was now brought with his whole soul to embrace, and rest in as divine and glorious; truths, in the contemplation and improvement of which, he placed his happiness. And he himself (who was surely best able to judge) declares, that the dispositions and affections which were then given him, and thenceforward maintained in him, were, most sensibly and certainly, perfectly different in their nature from all that ever he was the subject of before, or of which he had ever had any conception. In this he was peremptory, even to his death. He must be looked upon as capable of judging; he had opportunity to know: he had practised a great deal of religion before, was exceeding strict and conscientious, and had continued so for a long time; had various religious affections, with which he often flattered himself, and sometimes pleased himself as being now in a good estate. And after he had those new experiences, that began in his conversion, they were continued to the end of his life; long enough for him thoroughly to observe their nature, and compare them with what had been before. Doubtless he was compos mentis; and was at least one of so good an understanding and judgment, as to be pretty well capable of discerning and comparing the things that passed in his own mind.
It is further observable, that his religion all along operated in such a manner as tended to confirm his mind in the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty, man’s universal and entire dependence on God’s power and grace, &c. The more his religion prevailed in his heart, and the fuller he was of divine love, and of clear and delightful views of spiritual things, and the more his heart was engaged in God’s service; the more sensible he was of the certainty and the excellency and importance of these truths, and the more he was affected with them, and rejoiced in them. And he declares particularly, that when he lay for a long while on the verge of the eternal world, often expecting to be in that world in a few minutes, yet at the same time enjoying great serenity of mind, and clearness of thought, and being most apparently in a peculiar manner at a distance from an enthusiastical frame, he “at that time saw clearly the truth of those great doctrine of the gospel, which are justly styled the doctrine of grace, and never felt himself so capable of demonstrating the truth of them.”
So that it is very evident, Mr. Brainerd’s religion was wholly correspondent to what is called the Calvinistical scheme, and was the effect of those doctrine applied to his heart: and certainly it cannot be denied, that the effect was good, unless we turn atheists, or deists. I would ask, whether there be any such thing, in reality, as Christian devotion? If there be, what is it? what is its nature? and what its just measure? should it not be in a great degree? We read abundantly in Scripture of ”loving God with all the heart, with all the soul, with all the mind, and with all the strength; of delighting in God, of rejoicing in the Lord, rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory; the soul magnifying the Lord, thirsting for God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness; the soul breaking for the longing it hath to God’s judgments, praying to God with groanings that cannot be uttered, mourning for sin with a broken heart and contrite spirit,” &c. How full is the book of Psalms, and other parts of Scripture, of such things as these! Now wherein do these things, as expressed by and appearing in Mr. Brainerd, either the things themselves, or their effects and fruits, differ from the scripture representations? These things he was brought to by that strange and wonderful transformation of the man, which he called his conversion. And do not these well agree with what is so often said in the Old Testament and the New, concerning the “giving of a new heart, creating a right spirit, a being renewed in the spirit of the mind, a being sanctified throughout, becoming a new creature?” &c. Now where is there to be found an Arminian conversion or repentance, consisting in so great and admirable a change? Can the Arminians produce an instance, within this age, and so plainly within our reach and view, of such a reformation, such a transformation of a man, to scriptural devotion, heavenly-mindedness, and true Christian morality, in one that before lived without these things, on the foot of their principles, and through the influence of their doctrine?
And here is worthy to be considered the effect of Calvinistical doctrine (as they are called) not only on Mr. Brainerd himself, but also on others, whom he taught. It is abundantly pretended and asserted of late, that these doctrine tend to undermine the very foundations of all religion and morality, and to enervate and vacate all reasonable motives to the exercise and practice of them, and lay invincible stumbling-blocks before infidels, to hinder their embracing Christianity; and that the contrary doctrine are the fruitful principles of virtue and goodness, set religion on its right basis, represent it in an amiable light, give its motives their full force, and recommend it to the reason and common sense of mankind. But where can they find an instance of so great and signal an effect of their doctrine, in bringing infidels, who were at such a distance from all that is civil, sober, rational, and Christian, and so full of inveterate prejudices against these things, to such a degree of humanity, civility, exercise of reason, self-denial, and Christian virtue? Arminians place religion in morality: let them bring an instance of their doctrine producing such a transformation of a people in point of morality. It is strange, if the all-wise God so orders things in his providence, that reasonable and proper means, and his own means, which he himself has appointed, should in no known remarkable instance be instrumental to produce so good an effect; an effect so agreeable to his own word and mind, and that very effect for which he appointed these excellent means; that they should not be so successful, as those means which are not his own, but very contrary to them, and of a contrary tendency; means that are in themselves very absurd, and tend to root all religion and virtue out of the world, to promote and establish infidelity, and to lay an insuperable stumbling-block before pagans, to hinder their embracing the gospel: I say, if this be the true state of the case, it is certainly wonderful, and an event worthy of some attention.
I know, that many will be ready to say, “It is too soon yet to glory in the work, that has been wrought among Mr. Brainerd’s Indians; it is best to wait and see the final event; it may be, all will come to nothing by and by.” To which I answer, (not to insist, that it will not follow, according to Arminian principles, they are not now true Christians, really pious and godly, though they should fall away and come to nothing,) that I never supposed every one of those Indians, who in profession renounced their heathenism and visibly embraced Christianity, and have had some appearance of piety, will finally prove true converts. If two thirds, or indeed one half of them (as great a proportion as there is in the parable of the ten virgins) should persevere; it will be sufficient to show the work wrought among them to have been truly admirable and glorious. But so much of permanence of their religion has already appeared, as shows it to be something else besides an Indian humour or good mood, or any transient effect in the conceits, notions, and affections of these ignorant people, excited at a particular turn, by artful management. For it is now more than three years ago, that this work began among them, and a remarkable change appeared in many of them; since which time the number of visible converts has greatly increased: and by repeated accounts, from several hands, they still generally persevere in diligent religion and strict virtue. I think a letter from a young gentleman, a candidate for the ministry, one of those before mentioned, appointed by the honourable commissioners in Boston, as missionaries to the heathen of the Six Nations, so called, worthy of insertion here. He, by their order, dwelt with Mr. John Brainerd among these Christian Indians, in order to their being prepared for the business of their mission. The letter was written from thence, to his parents here in Northampton, and is as follows:
bethel, in New Jersey, Jan. 14, 1748.
Honoured and dear Parents,
“After a long and uncomfortable journey, by reason of bad weather, I arrived at Mr. Brainerd’s the sixth instant; where I design to stay this winter: and as yet, upon many accounts, am well satisfied with my coming hither. The state and circumstances of the Indians, spiritual and temporal, much exceed what I expected. I have endeavoured to acquaint myself with the state of the Indians in general, with particular persons, and with the school, as much as the short time I have been here would admit of. And notwithstanding my expectations were very much raised, from Mr. David Brainerd’s Journal, and from particular informations from him; yet I must confess, that in many respects they are not equal to that which now appears to me to be true, concerning the glorious work of divine grace amongst the Indians.
“The evening after I came to town, I had opportunity to see the Indians together, whilst the Reverend Mr. Arthur preached to them: at which time there appeared a very general and uncommon seriousness and solemnity in the congregation: and this appeared to me to be the effect of an inward sense of the importance of divine truths, and not because they were hearing a stranger; which was abundantly confirmed to me the next sabbath, when there was the same devout attendance on divine service, and a surprising solemnity appearing in the performance of each part of divine worship. And some, who are hopefully true Christians, appear to have been at that time much enlivened and comforted; not from any observable commotions then, but from conversation afterwards: and others seemed to be under pressing concern for their souls. I have endeavoured to acquaint myself with particular persons; many of whom seem to be very humble and growing Christians; although some of them (as I am informed) were before their conversion most monstrously wicked.
“Religious conversation seems to be very pleasing and delightful to many, and especially that which relates to the exercises of the heart. And many here do not seem to be real Christians only, but growing Christians also; as well in doctrinal as experimental knowledge. Besides my conversation with particular persons, I have had opportunity to attend upon one of Mr. Brainerd’s catechetical lectures; where I was surprised at their readiness in answering questions to which they had not been used; although Mr. Brainerd complained much of their uncommon deficiency. It is surprising to see this people, who not long since were led captive by Satan at his will, and living in the practice of all manner of abominations, without the least sense even of moral honesty, yet now living soberly and regularly, and not seeking every man his own, but every man, in some sense, his neighbour’s good; and to see those, who but a little while past knew nothing of the true God, now worshipping him in a solemn and devout manner; not only in public, but in their families and in secret; which is manifestly the case, it being a difficult thing to walk out in the woods in the morning, without disturbing persons at their secret devotion. And it seems wonderful, that this should be the case, not only with adult persons, but with children also. It is observable here, that many children (if not the children in general) retire into secret places to pray. And, as far as at present I can judge, this is not the effect of custom and fashion, but of real seriousness and thoughtfulness about their souls.
“I have frequently gone into the school, and have spent considerable time there amongst the children; and nave been surprised to see, not only their diligent attendance upon the business of the school, but also the proficiency they have made in it, in reading and writing and in their catechisms of divers sorts. It seems to be as pleasing and as natural to these children, to have their books in their hands, as it does for many others to be at play. I have gone into a house where there has been a number of children accidentally gathered together; and observed, that every one had his book in his hand, and was diligently studying it About thirty of these children can answer to all the questions in the Assembly’s Catechism; and the greater part of them are able to do it with the proofs, to the fourth commandment. I wish there were many such schools; I confess, that I never was acquainted with such an one, in many respects. Oh that what God has done here, may prove to be the beginning of a far more glorious and extensive work of grace among the heathen!
“ I am your obedient and dutiful son,
“P. S. Since the date of this, I have had opportunity to attend upon another of Mr. Brainerd’s catechetical lectures: and truly I was convinced, that Mr. Brainerd did not complain before of his people’s defects in answering to questions proposed, without reason: for although their answers at that time exceeded my expectations very much; yet their performances at this lecture very much exceeded them.”
Since this we have had accounts from time to time, and some very late, which show that religion still continues in prosperous and most desirable circumstances among these Indians.
Is there not much in the preceding memoirs of Mr. Brainerd to teach, and excite to duty, us who are called to the work of the ministry, and all that are candidates for that great work? What a deep sense did he seem to have of the greatness and importance of that work, and with what weight did it lie on his mind! How sensible was he of his own insufficiency for this work; and how great was his dependence on God’s sufficiency! How solicitous, that he might be fitted for it! and to this end, how much time did he spend in prayer and fasting, as well as reading and meditation; giving himself to these things! How did he dedicate his whole life, all his powers and talents, to God; and forsake and renounce the world, with all its pleasing and insnaring enjoyments, that he might be wholly at liberty to serve Christ in this work; and to “please him who had chosen him to be a soldier, under the Captain of our salvation!” With what solicitude, solemnity, and diligence did he devote himself to God our Saviour, and seek his presence and blessing in secret, at the time of his ordination! and how did his whole heart appear to be constantly engaged, his whole time employed, and his whole strength spent, in the business he then solemnly undertook, and to which he was publicly set apart! And his history shows us the right way to success in the work of the ministry. He sought it as a resolute soldier seeks victory in a siege or battle; or as a man that runs a race, for a great prize. Animated with love to Christ and souls, how did he “labour always fervently,” not only in word and doctrine, in public and private, but in prayers day and night, “wrestling with God” in secret, and “travailing in birth,” with unutterable groans and agonies, “until Christ were formed” in the hearts of the people to whom he was sent! how did he thirst for a blessing on his ministry; and “watch for souls, as one that must give account!” how did he “go forth in the strength of the Lord God;” seeking and depending on a special influence of the Spirit to assist and succeed him! And what was the happy fruit at last, though after long waiting, and many dark and discouraging appearances? Like a true son of Jacob, he persevered in wrestling, through all the darkness of the night, until the breaking of the day.
And his example of labouring, praying, denying himself, and enduring hardness, with unfainting resolution and patience, and his faithful, vigilant, and prudent conduct in many other respects, (which it would be too long now particularly to recite,) may afford instruction to missionaries in particular.
The foregoing account of Mr. Brainerd’s life may afford instruction to Christians in general; as it shows, in many respects, the right way of practising religion, in order to obtain the ends and receive the benefits of it; or how Christians should “run the race set before them,” if they would not “run in vain, or run as uncertainly,” but would honour God in the world, adorn their profession, be serviceable to mankind, have the comforts of religion while they live, be free from disquieting doubts and dark apprehensions about the state of their souls, enjoy peace in the approaches of death, and “finish their course with joy.” In general, he much recommended, for this purpose, the redemption of time, great diligence in the business of the Christian life, watchfulness, &c. And he very remarkably exemplified these things.
But particularly, his example and success with regard to one duty, in an especial manner, may be of great use to both ministers and private Christians; I mean the duty of secret fasting. The reader has seen, how much Mr. Brainerd recommends this duty, and how frequently he exercised himself in it; nor can it well have escaped observation, how much he was owned and blessed in it, and of what great benefit it evidently was to his soul. Among all the many days he spent in secret fasting and prayer, that he gives an account of in his diary, there is scarce an instance of one, but what was either attended or soon followed with apparent success, and a remarkable blessing, in special incomes and consolations of God’s Spirit: and very often, before the day was ended. But it must be observed, that when he set about this duty, he did it in good earnest; “stirring up himself to take hold of God,” and “continuing instant in prayer,” with much of the spirit of Jacob, who said to the angel, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”
There is much in the preceding account to excite and encourage God’s people to earnest prayers and endeavours for the advancement and enlargement of the kingdom of Christ in the world. Mr. Brainerd set us an excellent example in this respect; he sought the prosperity of Zion with all his might; he preferred Jerusalem above his chief joy. How did his soul long for it, and pant after it! and how earnestly and often did he wrestle with God for it! and how far did he, in these desires and prayers, seem to be carried beyond all private and selfish views! being animated by a pure love to Christ, an earnest desire of his glory, and a disinterested affection to the souls of mankind.
The consideration of this not only ought to be an incitement to the people of God, but may also be a just encouragement to them to be much in seeking and praying for a general outpouring of the Spirit of God, and extensive revival of religion. I confess that God giving so much of a spirit of prayer for this mercy to so eminent a servant of his, and exciting him in so extraordinary a manner, and with such vehement thirstings of soul, to agonize in prayer for it from time to time, through the course of his life, is one thing, among others, which gives me great hope, that God has a design of accomplishing something very glorious for the interest of his church before long. One such instance as this, I conceive, gives more encouragement, than the common, cold, formal prayers of thousands. As Mr. Brainerd’s desires and prayers for the coming of Christ’s kingdom, were very special and extraordinary; so, I think, we may reasonably hope, that the God who excited those desires and prayers, will answer them with something special and extraordinary. And in a particular manner do I think it worthy of notice for our encouragement, that he had his heart (as he declared) unusually drawn out in longings and prayers for the flourishing of Christ’s kingdom on earth, when he was in the approaches of death; and that with his dying breath he breathed out his departing soul into the bosom of his Redeemer, in prayers and pantings after this glorious event; expiring in very great hope, that it would soon begin to be fulfilled. And I wish, that the thoughts which he in his dying state expressed of that explicit agreement, and visible union of God’s people, in extraordinary prayer for a general revival of religion, lately proposed in a memorial from Scotland, which has been dispersed among us, may be well considered by those that hitherto have not seen fit to fall in with that proposal. But I forbear to say any more on this head, having already largely published my thoughts upon it, in a discourse written on purpose to promote that affair; which, I confess, I wish that every one of my readers might be supplied with; not that my honour, but that this excellent design, might be promoted.
As there is much in Mr. Brainerd’s life to encourage Christians to seek the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, in general; so there is, in particular, to pray for the conversion of the Indians on this continent, and to exert themselves in the use of proper means for its accomplishment. For it appears, that he in his unutterable longings and wrestlings of soul for the flourishing of religion, had his mind peculiarly intent on the conversion and salvation of these people, and his heart more especially engaged in prayer for them. And if we consider the degree and manner in which he, from time to time, sought and hoped for an extensive work of grace among them, I think we have reason to hope, that the wonderful things which God wrought among them by him, are but a forerunner of something yet much more glorious and extensive of that kind; and this may justly be an encouragement to well-disposed, charitable persons, to “honour the Lord with their substance,” by contributing, as they are able, to promote the spreading of the gospel among them; and this also may incite and encourage gentlemen who are incorporated, and intrusted with the care and disposal of those liberal benefactions, which have already been made by pious persons, to that end; and likewise the missionaries themselves, that are or may be employed; and it may be of direction unto both, as to the proper qualifications of missionaries, and the proper measures to be taken in order to their success.
One thing, in particular, I would take occasion from the foregoing history to mention and propose to the consideration of such as have the care of providing and sending missionaries among savages; viz. Whether it would not ordinarily be best to send two together? It is pretty manifest, that Mr. Brainerd’s going, as he did, alone into the howling wilderness, was one great occasion of a prevailing melancholy on his mind; which was his greatest disadvantage. He spoke much of it himself, when he was here in his dying state; and expressed himself to this purpose, that none could conceive of the disadvantage a missionary in such circumstances was under, by being alone; especially as it exposed him to discouragement and melancholy: and spoke of the wisdom of Christ in sending forth his disciples by two and two; and left it as his dying advice to his brother, never to go to Susquehannah, to travel about in that remote wilderness, to preach to the Indians there, as he had often done, without the company of a fellow-missionary.
One thing more may not be unprofitably observed in the preceding account of Mr. Brainerd; and that is, the special and remarkable disposal of Divine Providence, with regard to the circumstances of his last sickness and death.
Though he had been long infirm, his constitution being much broken by his fatigues and hardships; and though he was often brought very low by illness, before he left Kaunaumeek, and also while he lived at the Forks of Delaware: yet his life was preserved, till he had seen that which he had so long and greatly desired and sought, a glorious work of grace among the Indians, and had received the wished-for blessing of God on his labours. Though as it were “in deaths oft,” yet he lived to behold the happy fruits of the long-continued travail of his soul and labour of his body, in the wonderful conversion of many of the heathen, and the happy effect of it in the great change of their conversation, with many circumstances which afforded a fair prospect of the continuance of God’s blessing upon them; as may appear by what I shall presently further observe. Thus he did not “depart, till his eyes had seen God’s salvation.”
Though it was the pleasure of God, that he should be taken off from his labours among that people to whom God had made him a spiritual father, who were so dear to him, and for whose spiritual welfare he was so greatly concerned; yet this was not before they were well initiated and instructed in the Christian religion, thoroughly weaned from their old heathenish and brutish notions and practices, and all their prejudices and jealousies, which tended to keep their minds unsettled, were fully removed. They were confirmed and fixed in the Christian faith and manners, were formed into a church, had ecclesiastical ordinances and discipline introduced and settled; were brought into a good way with respect to the education of children, had a schoolmaster excellently qualified for the business, and had a school set up and established, in good order, among them. They had been well brought off from their former idle, strolling, sottish way of living; had removed from their former scattered, uncertain habitations; and were collected in a town by themselves, on a good piece of land of their own; were introduced into the way of living by husbandry, and begun to experience the benefits of it, &c. These things were but just brought to pass by his indefatigable application and care, and then he was taken off from his work by illness. If this had been but a little sooner, they would by no means have been so well prepared for such a dispensation; and it probably would have been unspeakably more to the hurt of their spiritual interest, and of the cause of Christianity among them.
The time and circumstances of his illness were so ordered, that he had just opportunity to finish his Journal, and prepare it for the press; giving an account of the marvellous display of divine power and grace among the Indians in New Jersey, and at the Forks of Delaware. His doing this was of great consequence, and therefore urged upon him by the correspondents, who have honoured his Journal with a preface. The world being particularly and justly informed of that affair by Mr. Brainerd, before his death, a foundation was hereby laid for a concern in others for that cause, and proper care and measures to be taken for maintaining it after his death. As it has actually proved to be of great influence and benefit in this respect; for it has excited and engaged many in those parts, and also more distant parts of America, to exert themselves for upholding and promoting the good and glorious work, remarkably opening their hearts and hands to that end: and not only in America, but in Great Britain, where that Journal (which I have earnestly recommended to my readers) has been an occasion of some large benefactions, made for the promoting the interest of Christianity among the Indians. If Mr. Brainerd had been taken ill but a little sooner, he had not been able to complete his Journal, and prepare a copy for the press.
He was not taken off from the work of the ministry among his people, till his brother was in a capacity and circumstances to succeed him in his care of them: who succeeds him in the like spirit, and under whose prudent and faithful care his congregation has flourished, and been very happy, since he left them; and probably could not have been so well provided for otherwise. If Mr. Brainerd had been disabled sooner, his brother would by no means have been ready to stand up in his place; having taken his first degree at college but about that very time that he was seized with his fatal consumption.
Though in that winter that he lay sick at Mr. Dickinson’s in Elizabeth-town, he continued for a long time in an extremely low state, so that his life was almost despaired of, and his state was sometimes such that it was hardly expected he would live a day; yet his life was spared a while longer: he lived to see his brother arrived in New Jersey, being come to succeed him in the care of his Indians; and he himself had opportunity to assist in his examination and introduction into his business; and to commit the conduct of his dear people to one whom he well knew, and could put confidence in, and use freedom with, in giving him particular instructions and charges, and under whose care he could leave his congregation with great cheerfulness.
The providence of God was remarkable in so ordering it, that before his death he should take a journey into New England, and go to Boston; which was, in many respects, of very great and happy consequence to the interest of religion, and especially among his own people. By this means, as before observed, he was brought into acquaintance with many persons of note and influence, ministers and others, belonging both to the town and various parts of the country; and had opportunity, under the best advantages, to bear a testimony for God and true religion, and against those false appearances of it that have proved most pernicious to the interest of Christ’s kingdom in the land. And the providence of God is particularly observable in this circumstance of the testimony he there bore for true religion, viz. that he there was brought so near the grave, and continued for so long a time on the very brink of eternity; and from time to time, looked on himself, and was looked on by others, as just leaving the world; and that in these circumstances he should be so particularly directed and assisted in his thoughts and views of religion, to distinguish between the true and the false, with such clearness and evidence; and that after this he should be unexpectedly and surprisingly restored and strengthened, so far as to be able to converse freely. Then he had an opportunity, and special occasions, to declare the sentiments he had in these, which, to human apprehension, were his dying circumstances; and to bear his testimony concerning the nature of true religion, and concerning the mischievous tendency of its most prevalent counterfeits and false appearances; as things he had a special, clear, distinct view of at that time, when he expected in a few minutes to be in eternity; and the certainty and importance of which were then, in a peculiar manner, impressed on his mind.
Among the happy consequences of his going to Boston, were those liberal benefactions that have been mentioned, which were made by piously disposed persons, for maintaining and promoting the interest of religion among his people: and also the meeting of a number of gentlemen in Boston, of note and ability, to consult upon measures for that purpose; who were excited by their acquaintance and conversation with Mr. Brainerd, and by the account of the great things God had wrought by his ministry, to unite themselves, that by their joint endeavours and contributions they might promote the kingdom of Christ, and the spiritual good of their fellow-creatures, among the Indians in New Jersey, and elsewhere.
It was also remarkable, that Mr. Brainerd should go to Boston at that time, after the honourable commissioners there, of the corporation in London for propagating the Gospel in New England and parts adjacent, had received Dr. Williams’s legacy for maintaining two missionaries among the heathen; and at a time when they, having concluded on a mission to the Indians of the Six Nations, (so called,) were looking out for fit persons to be employed in that important service. This proved an occasion of their committing to him the affair of finding and recommending suitable persons: which has proved a successful means of two persons being found and actually appointed to that business; who seem to be well qualified for it, and to have their hearts greatly engaged in it; one of which has been solemnly ordained to that work in Boston, and is now gone forth to one of those tribes, who have appeared well disposed to receive him; it being judged not convenient for the other to go till the next spring, by reason of his bodily infirmity. 438438 The appointment of these gentlemen to this mission has been hitherto much smiled on by Providence; as in other respects, so particularly in wonderfully opening the hearts of many to contribute liberally to so excellent a design. Besides the benefactions in Boston, a number of persons at Northampton with much cheerfulness have given about 160l. (old tenor); and a particular person in Springfield has devoted a considerable part of his estate to this interest.
These happy consequences of Mr. Brainerd’s journey to Boston would have been prevented, in case he had died when he was brought so near to death in New Jersey. Or if, after he came first to Northampton, (where he was much at a loss and long deliberating which way to bend his course,) he had determined not to go to Boston.
The providence of God was observable in his going to Boston at a time when not only the honourable commissioners were seeking missionaries to the Six Nations, but also just after his Journal, which gives an account of his labours and success among the Indians, had been received and spread in Boston; whereby his name was known, and the minds of serious people were well prepared to receive his person, and the testimony he there gave for God; to exert themselves for the upholding and promoting the interest of religion in his congregation, and amongst the Indians elsewhere; and to regard his judgment concerning the qualifications of missionaries, &c. If he had gone there the fall before, (when he had intended to have made his journey into New England, but was prevented by a sudden great increase of his illness,) it would not probably have been, in any measure, to so good effect: and also if he had not been unexpectedly detained at Boston; for when he went from my house, he intended to make but a very short stay there; but Divine Providence, by his being brought so low there, detained him long; thereby to make way for the fulfilling its own gracious designs.
The providence of God was remarkable in so ordering, that although he was brought so very near the grave in Boston, that it was not in the least expected he would ever come alive out of his chamber; yet he was wonderfully revived, and preserved several months longer: so that he had opportunity to see, and fully to converse with, both his younger brothers before he died; which he greatly desired; and especially to see his brother John, with whom was left the care of his congregation; that he might by him be fully informed of their state, and might leave with him such instructions and directions as were requisite in order to their spiritual welfare, and to send to them his dying charges and counsels. And he had also opportunity, by means of this suspension of his death, to find and recommend a couple of persons fit to be employed as missionaries to the Six Nations, as had been desired of him.
Thus, although it was the pleasure of a sovereign God, that he should be taken away from his congregation, the people that he had begotten through the gospel, who were so dear to him; yet it was granted him, that before he died he should see them well provided for every way. He saw them provided for, with one to instruct them, and to take care of their souls; his own brother, whom he could confide in. He saw a good foundation laid for the support of the school among them; those things that before were wanting in order to it, being supplied. He had the prospect of a charitable society being established, of able and well-disposed persons, who seem to make the spiritual interest of his congregation their own; whereby he had a comfortable view of their being well provided for, for the future: and he had also opportunity to leave all his dying charges with his successor in the pastoral care of his people, and by him to send his dying counsels to them. Thus God granted him to see all things happily settled, or in a hopeful way of being so, before his death, with respect to his dear people. And whereas not only his own congregation, but the souls of the Indians in North America in general, were very dear to him, and he had greatly set his heart on the propagating and extending the kingdom of Christ among them; God was pleased to grant him though not to be the immediate instrument of their instruction and conversion, yet that before his death he should see unexpected extraordinary provision made for this also. And it is remarkable that God not only allowed him to see such provision made for maintaining the interest of religion among his own people and the propagation of it elsewhere; but honoured him by making him the means or occasion of it. So that it is very probable, however Mr. Brainerd during the last four months of his life, was ordinarily in an extremely weak and low state, very often scarcely able to speak; yet that he was made the instrument or means of much more good in that space of time, than he would have been if well and in full strength of body. Thus God’s power was manifested in his weakness, and the life of Christ was manifested in his mortal flesh.
Another thing wherein appears the merciful disposal of Providence with respect to his death, was that he did not die in the wilderness among the savages at Kaunaumeek, or the Forks of Delaware, or at Susquehannah; but in a place where his dying behaviour and speeches might be observed and remembered, and some account given of them for the benefit of survivors: and also where care might be taken of him in his sickness, and proper honours done him at his death.
The providence of God is also worthy of remark in so overruling and ordering the matter, that he did not finally leave absolute orders for the entire suppressing of his private papers; as he had intended and fully resolved, insomuch that all the importunity of his friends could scarce restrain him from doing it when sick at Boston. And one thing relating to this is peculiarly remarkable, viz. that his brother a little before his death should come from the Jerseys unexpected, and bring his diary to him, though he had received no such order. So that he had opportunity of access to these his reserved papers, and for reviewing the same; without which, it appears, he would at last have ordered them to be wholly suppressed: but after this he the more readily yielded to the desires of his friends, and was willing to leave them in their hands to be disposed of as they thought might be most for God’s glory. By which means, “he being dead, yet speaketh,” in these memoirs of his life taken from those private writings: whereby it is to be hoped he may still be as it were the instrument of promoting the interest of religion in this world; the advancement of which he so much desired, and hoped would be accomplished after his death.
If these circumstances of Mr. Brainerd’s death be duly considered, I doubt not but they will be acknowledged as a notable instance of God’s fatherly care, and covenant-faithfulness towards them that are devoted to him, and faithfully serve him while they live; whereby “he never fails nor forsakes them, but is with them living and dying: so that whether they live they live to the Lord; or whether they die, they die to the Lord;” and both in life and death they are owned and taken care of as his. Mr. Brainerd himself, as was before observed, was much in taking notice (when near his end) of the merciful circumstances of his death; and said from time to time, that “God had granted him all his desire.”
I would not conclude my observations on the merciful circumstances of Mr. Brainerd’s death, without acknowledging with thankfulness, the gracious dispensation of Providence to me and my family, in so ordering that he (though the ordinary place of his abode was more than two hundred miles distant) should be brought to my house, in his last sickness, and should die here. So that we had opportunity for much acquaintance and conversation with him, to show him kindness in such circumstances, to see his dying behaviour, to hear his dying speeches, to receive his dying counsels, and to have the benefit of his dying prayers. May God in infinite mercy grant that we may ever retain a proper remembrance of these things, and make a due improvement of the advantages we have had in these respects! The Lord grant also that the foregoing account of Mr. Brainerd’s life and death may be for the great spiritual benefit of all that shall read it, and prove a happy means of promoting the revival of true religion! Amen
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