Item of the Day: Memoirs of the Rev. David Brainerd (1822)

Full Title: Memoirs of the Rev. David Brainerd; Missionary to the Indians on the Borders of New-York, New-Jersey, and Pennsylvania: Chiefly taken from his own Diary. By Rev. Jonathan Edwards, of Northampton. By Sereno Edwards Dwight. New-Haven: Printed and published by S. Converse, 1822.

PREFACE.

THERE are two ways of recommending true religion and virtue to the world; the one, by doctine and precept; the other by history and example. Both are abundantly used in the holy scriptures. Not only are the grounds, nature, design, and importance of religion clearly exhibited in the doctrines of scripture–its exercise and practice plainly delineated, and abundantly enforeced, in its commands and counsels–but there we have many excellent examples of religion, in its power and practice, set before us, in the histories both of the Old and New Testament.

JESUS CHRIST, the great Prophet of God, when he came to be “the light of the world,” –to teach and enforce true religion, in a greater degree than ever had been done before–made use of both these methods. In his doctrines, he not only declared more fully the mind and will of God–the nature and properties of that virtue, which becomes creatures of our constitution, and in our circumstances, and more powerfully enforced it by exhibiting the obligations and inducements to holiness; but he also in his own practice gave a most perfect example of the virtue which he taught. He exhibited to the world such an illustrious pattern of humility, divine love, descreet zeal, self-denial, obedience, patience, resignation, fortitude, meekness, forgiveness, compassion, benevolence, and universal holiness, as neither men nor angels ever saw before.

God also in his providence, has been wont to make use of both these methods to hold forth light to mankind, and inducements, to their duty, in all ages. He has from time to time raised up eminent teachers, to exhibit and bear testimony to the truth by their doctrine, and to oppose the errors, darkness, and wickedness of thw world; and he has also raised up some eminent persons who have set bright examples of that religion which is taught and prescribed in the word of God; whose examples have, in the course of divine providence, been set forth to public view. These have a great tendency both to engage the attention of men to the doctrines and rules taught, and also to confirm and enforce them; especially when these bright examples have been exhibited in the same persons who have been eminent teachers. Hereby the world has had opportunity to see a confirmation of the truth, efficacy, and amiableness of the religion taught, in the practice of these same persons who have most clearly and forcibly taught it; and above all, when these bright examples have been set by eminent teachers, in a variety of unusual circumstances of remarkable trial; and when God has withal, remarkably distinguished them with a wonderful success of their instructions and labours.

Such an instance we have in the excellent person whose life is published in the following pages. His example is attended with a great variety of circumstances calculated to engage the attention of religious people, especially in America. He was a man of distinguished talents, as all are sensible, who knew him. As a minister of the gospel, he was called to unusual services in that work; and his ministry was attended with very remarkable and unusual events. His course of religion began before the late times of extraordinary religious commotion; yet he was not an idle spectator, but had a near concern in many things that passed at that time. He had a very extensive acquaintance with those who have been the subjects of the late religious operations, in places far distant, in  people of different nations, education, manners and customs. He had a peculiar opportunity of acquaintance with the false appearances and counterfeits of religion; was the instrument of a most remarkable awakening, a wonderful and abiding alteration and moral transformation of subjects, who peculiarly render the change rare and astonishing.

In the following account, the reader will have an opportunity to see, not only what were the external circumstances and remarkable incidents of the life of this person, and how he spent his time from day to day, as to his external behaviour but also what passed in his own heart. Here he will see the wonderful change he experienced in his mind and dispostion; the manner in which that change was brought to pass; how it continued; and what were its consequences in his inward frames, thoughts, affections, and secret exercises, through many vicissitudes and trials, for more than eight years.

He will also see his sentiments, frame, and behaviour, during a long season of the gradual and sensible approach of death; and what were the effects of his religion in the last stages of his illness. The account being written, the reader may have opportunity at his leisure to compare the various parts of the story, and deliberately to view and weigh the whole, and consider how far what is related, is agreeable to the dictates of reason, and the Word of God.

I am far from supposing that Brainerd’s inward exercises or his extenal conduct, were free from all imperfections. The example of Jesus Christ, is the only perfect example that ever existed in human nature. It is, therefore, a rule by which to try all other examples, and the dispositions, frames, and practices of others, must be commended and followed no further, than they were followers of Christ.

There is one thing in Brainerd, easily discernible by the following account of his life, which may be called an imperfection in him, which though not properly an imperfection of a moral nature, yet, may possibly be made an objection against the extraordinary appearances of religion and devotion in him by such as seek for objections against every thing that can be produced in favour of true, vital religon; I refer to the fact, that he was, by constitution and natural temper, so prone to melancholy, and dejection of spirit. There are some, who think that all religon is a melancholy thing; and what is called Christian experience is little else besides melancholy vapours, disturbing the brain, and exciting enthusiastic imaginations. But that Brainerd’s temper, or constitution inclined him to despondency, is no just ground to suspect his extraordinary devotion to have been only the fruit of a warm imagination. All who have well observed mankind, will readily grant that many of those who by their ntural constitution or temper, are most disposed to dejection are not the most susceptive of liveley and strong impressions on their imagination, or the most subject to those vehement affections, which are the fruits of such impressions. Many, who are of a very gay and sanguine natual temper are vastly more so; and if their affections are turned into a religious channel, are much more exposed to enthsiasm, than many of the former. As to Brainerd notwithstanding his inclination to despondency, he was evidently one of those who usually are the fatherst from a teeming imagination; being of a penetrating genius, of clear thought, of close reasoning, and a very exact judgment; as all know who knew him. As he had a great insight into human nature, and was very discerning and judicious in genral; so he excelled in his judgment and knowledge in divinity, but especially in experimental religion.  . . .

JONATHAN EDWARDS

 

 

 

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Filed under 1700's, American Indians, Colonial America, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Religion

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