True Religion in the Life of David Brainerd
Key Thought: "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 work was not finished, nor his race ended, till life was ended."
True Religion in the Life of David Brainerd
In the life of David Brainerd we may see, as I apprehend, the nature of true religion, and the manner of its operation, when exemplified in a high degree and in powerful exercise. Particularly it may be worthy to be observed,
It was Earnest and Thorough
1. How greatly 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 a thorough, earnest religion, in the stated practice of it Although his convictions and conversion were in all respects exceedingly 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 a 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 work was not finished, nor his race ended, till life was ended.
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. On the contrary, it was 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 Jesus Christ, his longing after holiness. There are many who, after the effect of novelty is over, soon find their situation and feelings very much the same as before their supposed conversion, with respect to any present thirsting for God, or ardent outgoings of their souls after divine objects. Far otherwise was it with Brainerd. 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 the lapse of months and years, became much greater and more remarkable.
It was Calm
2. His religion apparently and greatly differed from that of many high pretenders to religion, who are frequently actuated by vehement emotions of mind, and are carried on 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." As we look through the whole series of his experience, from his conversion to his death, we shall find none of this kind—no imaginary sight of Christ hanging on the cross with his blood streaming from his wounds, or with a countenance smiling on him, or arms open to embrace him; no sight of the book of life opened, with his name written in it; no hearing God or Christ 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 revelations; no sudden strong suggestions of secret facts. Nor do I find any one instance in all the records which 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. But the way in which 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."
The Great Object was Holiness and Conformity to God
3. The great object of Brainerd's religion 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 which 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 long for that world of glory. It was to be perfectly holy, and perfectly exercised in the holy employments of heaven; and 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 among men, and as compared with them. He was apt to think other saints better than himself; 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 scarcely 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 lamblike, dovelike 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 a universal benevolence, very often exercised in the most sensible and ardent love to his greatest opposers and enemies.
Of how soft and tender a spirit was he! How great and constant 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 which 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 dullness in religion, any unsteadiness or wandering frame of mind. How did the consideration of such things as these oppress and abase him, and fill him with inward shame and confusion. His joy seemed truly to be a rejoicing with trembling.
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 his animal nature, and his sweetest joys, were in his closet devotions, in transactions between God and his own soul.
It was Practical
4. 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.
Published by the American Tract Society