As the lives of men are written down in human history and estimated by the world, the life of David Brainerd was singularly uneventful and insignificant—an infinitesimal factor in human existence. Born in a little hamlet in New England, living in the period of our dependence and obscurity, modest and humble in disposition, educated in a very quiet fashion, without worldly ambition, devoting his brief life to the welfare of a few Indians scattered over the wilderness districts of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and dying in his thirtieth year—there was nothing in the outward events of his life to attract attention, or make his life in any respect noteworthy in the eyes of mankind.
He was not a genius, nor an orator. His scholarship was not very remarkable. He laid no foundations of empire. He made no discoveries. He achieved no literary fame. And yet young Brainerd had that in him of which heroes and martyrs are made. He was a representative man of the truest and noblest type. His is a character of such saintliness, of such lofty aims and principles, of such intense loyalty to "Christ and him crucified," and of such all-absorbing love for souls and desire for God's glory, that it has left a lasting impression on the Christian Church, and his name will travel down the centuries, hallowed in the memory of the good, and regarded as one of the brightest stars in the constellation of Christian worthies.
David Brainerd is a household name to-day wherever exalted piety is revered, or moral worth is cherished, or a heroic and self-sacrificing spirit is honored. Although his life was brief, it was long enough to take on an immortal impress; to develop a character, a purpose, a richness of experience, a fervor of spirit, and a longing after holiness and usefulness, as grand and majestic, as rare and glorious. The gift he laid upon Christ's altar was a priceless gift; and the Divine Master has honored and blessed it, to enrich the faith, and stimulate the zeal of those who came after him. The short life of the "Missionary of the Wilderness," spent in teaching a few Indians the way of life, has already borne abundant fruit to the glory of God, and will continue to do so to the end of time, as few lives have done or will do. "Being dead he yet speaketh." Through the silence of nearly one hundred and fifty years he is speaking to day, with trumpet tongue, words of almost matchless power; speaking also by example, by his "Diary," and "Journal," and "Letters," recording in simple words his religious experiences from day to day—his hopes and fears, his joys and trials, his self-reproaches and longings after a higher life—speaking to our young men in college and seminary and in the several professions, and to those just entering upon life's work in the gospel ministry—speaking indeed to the Church at large, urging the claims of dying millions, and the obligations of redeeming love.
Little did the solitary, and often lonely and desponding missionary, ruminating in his wigwam or log hut in the forest, which his own hands had built, sleeping on his pallet of straw, or on the floor, or out in the woods, living on poor and scanty food, often sick and suffering, with "none to converse with but poor rude, ignorant Indians"; wrestling with God and with his own heart day and night, and writing down in his journal an account of his inner life and daily work;—little did he dream that that life, whose surroundings were so unpromising, whose scene of labor was so secluded, and whose errors and shortcomings cost him so many regrets and bitter tears, would carry light and conviction and stimulus all over Christendom and down the centuries. But so it has proved. Brainerd's Memoirs have been read and wept over for almost one hundred and fifty years, by Christians of all lands and creeds and conditions; and they are as full of Christian life and power to-day as when Jonathan Edwards gave them to the press in 1749. It is certainly one of the most wonderful auto-biographies extant. No better manual of Christian experience has ever been given to the world, bating the vein of morbid melancholy which runs through it. No loftier example of Christian heroism and consecration to the work and purpose of Christianity has been held up since the apostolic age. His life has been a potent force in the grand missionary movement of modern times. Reading the life of Brainerd decided Henry Martyn to become a missionary and "imitate his example." William Carey likewise received a powerful inspiration from the same source. Jonathan Edwards, the greatest theologian of his times, had never appeared in the role of a "missionary to the Stockbridge Indians," had he not come into intimate contact with the seraphic spirit of this missionary apostle and martyr, for such he truly was. Thousands and tens of thousands of Christians in America and Europe, and all over the missionary world, have had their piety deepened, their faith quickened, and their spirit of consecration fanned into a flame, by reading the wondrous record of this man's life and Christian experience, whose brief ministry was spent among the Indians of the American wilderness.
Let us study carefully the brief life, and analyze the remarkable character of Brainerd, that we may learn the secret of his great power and abiding life in the Church; learn what there was in his religious character and experience which lifted him immeasurably above his age and surroundings, the conditions and incidents of his being, and identified him with the conflicts and triumphs of the Church in all times, and placed him among the foremost characters in religious history.
As we have already intimated, the annals of his life were few and simple. He was born of pious and respectable parents; of good Puritan stock. He was left an orphan at fourteen. He was cared for by kind Christian friends. He entered Yale College, but was expelled after two years and before graduation, for a trifling offence. We shall notice this further on, for it was an act of cruel injustice, and had a marked influence on his character and whole future life. He pursued his theological studies in a private way with a pastor, as theological seminaries were not yet established. He was licensed to preach at the age of twenty-six. Declining several urgent invitations to settle in New England, and a highly flattering one from Long Island, he deliberately and solemnly devoted himself to missionary work among the Indians, scattered among the several colonies. And having once put his hand to the plow, he looked not back, but gave himself, heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, to his chosen mission, with unfaltering purpose, with apostolic zeal, with a heroic faith that feared no danger and surmounted every obstacle, and with an earnestness of mind that wrought wonders on lives and whole communities, but which in four years broke down his health and consigned him to an early grave.
We cannot appreciate the choice he made, the kind of life he lived, or the work he accomplished, unless we look at the times and the circumstances in which he lived and wrought.
It calls for no great sacrifices, in our day, to be a missionary to the heathen world. There is now a wide spread and grand missionary spirit and sentiment existing in the Church. Thousands have gone forth to labor in distant fields. The eyes of the Christian world are upon them, the sympathies and prayers of the great Christian brotherhood follow them. They go for the most part in groups, and carry home, and Christian society, and civilization, with them. They know that behind them, watching and deeply interested in them, sustaining them, and praying for them, are great National Societies, thus giving dignity, character and importance to their missionary work.
But how different was the case with reference to Brainard and his times. It was before the birth of modern missions. Christian missions had then no standing in the American Church. There was little or no faith in them. No prayers were offered for them, either in public or in the closet. There was no public sentiment calling for missions to the heathen and pagan world. Not a dollar was contributed or pledged to the support of missionaries. The few hundreds necessary to Brainerd's support in the mission which he undertook, came from over the sea. It was a little foreign society, organized in Edinburgh, Scotland,—too far away to extend effective sympathy to its distant missionary—that undertook to "hold the ropes" while he made the venture. So little missionary interest existed in this country that even seventy years afterward when the first American missionaries were sent out to foreign parts, the money needed to defray expenses was sought in England.
And then Brainerd had to undertake and carry on the work literally alone; he had no associate or helper. Although authorized by the Society to employ "two missionaries," the Commission, which acted for it, could find but one—so little interest was then felt in such a work. One young man, solitary and unsupported, went forth into the wilderness, in obedience to the Saviour's great command; and there with his single hands laid the foundation of Christ's kingdom in that field! It was an act of sublime heroism! He touchingly alludes, at times, to his "loneliness"—only Indians to associate with—no one to speak to in English, or commune with—wholly destitute of the comforts of civilized life—the only white in a community of Indians, and many days' journey remote from a white settlement. His only mode of travel was on horseback, through dense and trackless forests; often obliged to "sleep out in the woods," exposed to dangers and hardships of every kind, often weary and sick, dejected and cast down. But never wavering in his purpose, never regretting his choice; incessantly at work, preaching, catechizing the Indians, moving among them like an angel of light, pleading with them in the name of Christ, and pleading their cause against greedy and unprincipled whites, who sought to corrupt and rob them (as is so often done in our time) as he had opportunity, and ceasing not his arduous and self-sacrificing labors for their temporal and spiritual welfare, until his strength was finally exhausted and his life worn out. Then, by slow and painful journeys, he made his way back to his native New England to die!
Surely, whatever may be the case at present, there was no "romance" in missionary life in such an age, among such a people, in such surroundings, amidst such repulsive scenes and conditions of physical and social life.
His, then, was not the dream of a visionary enthusiast. Had it been, his zeal would quickly have abated, and the enterprise been abandoned. But instead of being disgusted or disheartened by the terrible experiences which he encountered, he rose superior to them all, and prosecuted his mission with the zeal of a Paul, and made his life a "living oblation." His work grew in interest and love and dignity to the last. And when, finally, health and strength utterly failed him, under a constant strain upon his physical and mental energies amidst severe privations and hardships, it cost him the bitterest pangs to cease his work and turn his back upon his "dear Indians" and abandon the field. And he ceased not his prayers and efforts in their behalf, so long as life remained in him. Through the subsequent months of severe sickness, and while lying on his death bed, his Indian mission was continually on his mind. Again and again was he heard to plead with God for its continued prosperity. His efforts also to interest his friends in it were unceasing; and he would not rest until he had induced his brother John, whom he "loved the best of any being on earth," to take his place and prosecute the great work which he had been compelled in the providence of God to relinquish.
That Brainard rose above the spirit of his age—for the spirit of Evangelism is the measure of the Church's life—and taking his life in his hands, alone and singlehanded, went forth into the wilderness to preach Christ to Indian tribes, and was permitted to witness among and upon them astonishing displays of God's converting grace—demonstrates the high order of his faith in God, and of his consecration to the great work of the world's salvation.
No eulogy can exalt such a man. The simple story of his life proves him to be one of the most illustrious characters of modern times, as well as the foremost missionary whom God has raised up in the American Church—one whose example of zeal, self-denial and Christian heroism has probably done more to develop and mould the spirit of modern missions and to fire the heart of the Church in these latter days, than that of any other man since the apostolic age. One such personage, one such character, is a greater power in human history than a finite mind can calculate.
An analysis of his character it is not difficult to make, for the leading traits or qualities of the man stand out in bold relief and challenge our observation and admiration.
The first thing that impresses the reader of Brainerd's life is the genuineness and depth and thoroughness of his personal piety. We see at once that there is nothing superficial, transient, doubtful, half-hearted about it. We are brought into contact with a Christian character, and a Christian experience, and a Christian life, most rare and extraordinary in many of their elements and features. There is something startling and awe-inspiring in the depth and intensity of his religious "frames" and "exercises," as recorded so frankly and faithfully in his diary, running through several years, with no expectation that any eye save his own and God's would ever read them. "He belongs to a class of men," as one has well said, "who seem to be chosen of Heaven to illustrate the sublime possibilities of Christian attainment—men of seraphic fervor of devotion, and whose one, overmastering passion is to win souls for Christ, and to become wholly like him themselves."
The Law made thorough work with him. His sense of the evil, guilt, and awfulness of sin, of his own deep moral corruption and desert of God's wrath, his personal unworthiness, and entire dependence on Divine grace, and his constant need of the Holy Spirit to cleanse, enlighten and sanctify, was most profound and ever present with him. He could not find language strong enough to express his hatred of sin and desire to be entirely and forever cleansed and delivered from it. He longed and strove after holiness, after complete victory over sin and the world and the devil, after entire conformity to the will and likeness of Christ, with a strength and intensity of soul that seems almost superhuman.
2. His consecration to the Master's service was, seemingly, entire and sublime. Not since the apostolic age has the Church produced a grander illustration of the power of the Gospel to subdue human selfishness, and the love of ease and pleasure and self-indulgence, and to make Jesus Christ supreme, "all and in all," in the affections and life of the soul. Like Paul, he made a total surrender of every faculty and power of body, soul and spirit, to the Divine Son of God, and at the same time an unreserved, absolute consecration of his life and being to His service. He could not love and serve God enough. He was jealous of his own heart and life, lest he should not render every day and hour a full measure of love and labor. He kept nothing back. From the time he gave himself to Christ, he devoted his life and strength and attainments and acquirements and opportunities to the work of saving souls, without recreation, without cessation, sparing him self in no particular; serving God to the full extent of his ability, and even beyond. The amount of work he did was almost incredible. He broke down his constitution in four short years, by exposure, privation, and labors of every kind; literally wore his life away in the cause of his blessed Master. It is affecting in the highest degree, to read the entries in his journal from day to day, of what he did, what he attempted, what he longed to accomplish; and, in the midst of his incessant labors, to hear him bemoan his shortcomings, his barrenness of spirit, his unfruitfulness, and pray God to forgive him his unfaithfulness and grant him a new baptism of love and zeal. Here is a specimen:—
"Here I am, Lord, send me; send me to the ends of the earth; send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness; send me from all that is called comfort in the earth; send me even to death itself if it be but in thy service and to promote thy kingdom."
And it was no ascetic or misanthrope that wrote thus, for he adds:—
"At the same time I had as quick and lively a sense of the value of earthly blessings as I ever had, but only saw them infinitely overmatched by the worth of Christ's kingdom. Farewell friends and earthly comforts, the dearest of them all; the very dearest, if the Lord calls for it: adieu, adieu; I will spend my life, to my latest moments, in caves and dens of the earth, if the kingdom of God may thereby be advanced.
He was affianced, as is well known, to a youthful saint, of rare gifts, the youngest daughter of Jonathan Edwards; and such a pure, intelligent and sensitive nature as his, would have enjoyed, in an eminent degree, the felicity of domestic life. But he sacrificed even this and plunged alone into the wilderness and passed his years with the Indians, that he might win them to Christ. The little patrimony left him, he also devoted to the education of a poor and promising young man for the ministry, soon after entering upon his missionary work.
3. His love for souls amounted to a passion, which nothing could cool or conquer. No miser ever clung to his treasure as he grasped this idea and made it an ever present and supreme object with him. No matter where he went, or what were his surroundings, the ruling bent of his soul was manifest. In health and in sickness, in his wigwam among the Indians, on his numerous and solitary journeys, from settlement to settlement in the wilderness, and in his occasional visits to New England, his supreme desire was to convert souls; and no occasion, no opportunity, did he fail to improve, however weary or racked with pain, or weak or broken down from disease. This intense, ever burning passion often finds expression, as when he writes in his diary:
"O how I longed that God should be glorified on earth. Bodily pains I cared not for, though I was then in extremity. I never felt easier; I felt willing to glorify God in that state of bodily distress, so long as he pleased I should continue in it. The grave appeared really sweet, and I longed to lodge my weary bones in it: but O that God might be glorified! this was the burden of all my cry. O to love and praise God more, to please him forever! this my soul panted after, and even now pants for while I write, O that God might be glorified in the whole earth! Lord let thy kingdom come! . . . O the blessedness of living to God! . . . Spent two hours in secret duties, and was enabled to agonize for immortal souls, though it was early in the morning and the sun scarcely shone, yet my body was quite wet with sweat. . . With what reluctance did I feel my self obliged to consume time in sleep! I longed to be a flame of fire, continually glowing in the divine service, and building up Christ's kingdom to my latest, my dying moment."
Is it any marvel that many souls—were given to him? And he never regretted his devotion and self-sacrificing zeal in this work. Read his thrilling words, as he hung over eternity while in Boston. "I declare now I am dying, I would not have spent my life other wise for the whole world."
4. His humility and spirit of self-denial and cheerful submission to deprivations and hardships for the Gospel's sake, are touchingly illustrated in his life. According to President Edwards' testimony, he was a young man of "distinguished talents;" "had extraordinary knowledge of men and things;" had "rare conversational powers;" "excelled in his knowledge of theology, and was truly, for one so young, an extraordinary divine, and especially in all matters relating to experimental religion." "I never knew his equal of his age and standing, for clear and accurate notions of the nature and essence of true religion." His "manner in prayer was almost inimitable, such as I have very rarely known equalled." He "had a very extensive acquaintance, and engaged the attention of religious people in a remarkable degree." He had also many invitations to settle in his own New England, and an urgent and oft-renewed call to "East Hampton—the fairest, pleasantest town on Long Island, and one of its largest and wealthiest parishes." So that he did not give himself to the missionary work, as is often, though unjustly, said of other missionaries in these days, because he could not succeed at home. His talents, gifts, and Christian attainments made him the peer of New England's most gifted preachers, with few exceptions.
But he put from him all these tempting offers, and all considerations of a merely personal and temporal nature, and gave his whole self for life to the work of teaching the American Indians the way of salvation. And he had no thought that he was doing anything wonderful, or that he was degrading himself, or throwing away his talents and life by so doing. On the contrary, he evidently felt that God had greatly honored him in calling him to such a service; and he consecrated his heart and soul and mind and strength and life to it, with as much heartiness and enthusiasm and ambition as though he were ministering to a highly cultured people in some conspicuous and wealthy parish.
So real and great was his humility that he often expressed his surprise that he was called to such a noble service; that the Indians should have any respect for him, or show him any attention, or that any good should come from his labors. His privations and hardships likewise were such as few missionaries have ever experienced. An extract or two will serve to introduce the reader to his mode of life:
"My diet consists mostly of hasty-pudding, boiled corn, and bread baked in the ashes, and sometimes a little meat and butter. My lodging is a little heap of straw, laid upon some boards a little way from the ground, for it is a log room without any floor, that I lodge in ... I have now rode more than 3,000 miles [on horseback] since the beginning of March [8 months] . . . Frequently got lost in the woods ... At night lodged in the open woods . . . crept into a little crib made for corn and slept there on the poles."
And yet not one word of complaint do we hear. Even in his times of extreme melancholy and dejection, and they were frequent; when sick and racked with pain; when lonely and disconsolate, not one breath of murmur rises to Heaven. His forest home was often a "Bochim," or as the "valley of Baca," as it respected the outward man and his surroundings. And, yet, even then and there, like Jesus after the temptation of the wilderness, angels comforted him and his soul often exulted, while he magnified the God of his salvation, "who giveth songs in the night."
5. He exemplified the law of Christian meekness and forgiveness in a preeminent degree. The unusual attention which his extraordinary career and saintly character attracted, at home and abroad; the sympathy and interest manifested in him by many of the most eminent ministers of his day, among whom were Jonathan Edwards, Bellamy, the Tennants, Pemberton, Aaron Burr, and Jonathan Dickinson, and the high esteem in which he was held by the Christian world, especially towards the close of his life, did not tend in the least to elate him. On the contrary—as in all cases of real and eminent worth and superiority—it only tended to make him more humble; it induced Christian meekness, and filled him with a profound sense of his unworthiness. The expressions of this feeling in his journal are frequent, emphatic, and evidently sincere.
In all the annals of human life and experience, excepting those of the God-Man, we have no more striking example of Christian forgiveness than the life Brainerd furnishes. Take a single particular.
He was wronged; wronged as few men in similar circumstances, ever were wronged. He was wronged by a public institution; wronged before the world; nay, it is not uncharitable to say that he was persecuted, insulted, outraged—and all redress refused, and that against the united, solemn, and earnest protest of such men as President Edwards, Burr, Dickinson, Pemberton, and many others of the most distinguished men of the times. He was wronged in a way to mortify and humiliate and injure a young man of his ambition, and talent and genuine manliness and high Christian character and standing, to the utmost possible extent. The wrong was persisted in, with iron determination and relentless severity, even after he had made the most manly and Christian acknowledgment and confession that it was possible for the college authorities to exact, or a gentleman, respecting his own manhood, truth and righteousness, could consistently make.
And that he felt the wrong exquisitely, and smarted under it, and carried the memory and the scar of it to his grave, his diary affords abundant and affecting proof. This ill treatment, at his tender years, had much to do with his dejection at times. It preyed upon his sensitive nature. He felt as if a brand was placed upon his forehead. Most of all he mourned over it, because he thought religion suffered in consequence of it. No one can read the entries made in his journal during his visit to New Haven a year after his expulsion, at the time when he would have graduated but for that unjust procedure— afraid to show himself in the town for "fear of imprisonment"—hiding away in the house of a friend in the out skirts of the town, as if "guilty of some open and notorious crime," and there spending commencement day in prayer and sweet converse with Christian friends—and not feel his heart rise in rebellion against that stern and unrighteous decree which on that occasion crushed his last hope of redress! Earnest application was made on his behalf to the authorities of the college by a "council of ministers at Hartford," and by Edwards, Burr, and many other distinguished men in the various colonies, that he might be allowed to take his degree with his class. But all in vain. Yet here is the entry he made in his diary in this bitter hour of disappointment:
"Sept 14. This day I ought to have taken my degree; [this being Commencement day] but God sees fit to deny it to me. And though I was greatly afraid of being overwhelmed with perplexity and confusion, when I should see my classmates take theirs; yet, at the very time, God enabled me with calmness and resignation to say, 'the will of the Lord be done.' Indeed, through divine goodness, I have scarcely felt my mind so calm, sedate, and comfortable, for some time. I have long feared this season, and expected my humility, meekness, patience, and resignation, would be much tried; but found much more pleasure and divine comfort, than I expected. Felt spiritually serious, tender and affectionate in private prayer with a dear Christian friend to-day."
But notwithstanding the wrong done him was so great, and was so obstinately persisted in to the last; notwithstanding he suffered in his feelings as only a man of such exquisite natural and moral sensibilities could suffer, not once was he known to speak harshly or unkindly of those who had committed the injury. Not a line is found in his diary alluding to the matter that breathes other than a spirit of Christlike charity and forgiveness; while he was fervent and frequent in his prayers in behalf of those who had "so ill used him." The same spirit that cried out from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for thy know not what they do," animated the heart of this youthful disciple while living, and to-day encircles his brow with a halo of Christlike glory.
6. But the crowning excellency of Brainerd was the large measure of the spirit of Prayer which characterized his life. Prayer was his chief reliance, and the secret of his remarkable success. Much of his time was spent in prayer. Days and nights were thus passed; and he grieved when anything interfered to keep him from his knees in solitary and prolonged intercession and communion with God. Closely in this respect did he follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Prayer was his solace, his inspiration, his strength. No part of his diary or journal is of more thrilling interest to any and every Christian worker, either in the home or the foreign field, than the numerous entries in relation to his seasons of secret prayer. Few saints, this side of heaven, ever got so near to the throne of God in prayer; ever so "wrestled with the angel of the covenant;" ever experienced such communion with the Father of spirits until his soul exulted and overflowed with the fulness of "ineffable comforts."—Read a specimen or two:—
"Had the most ardent longings after God, which I ever felt in my life. At noon, in my secret retirement, I could do nothing but tell my dear Lord, in a sweet calm, that he knew I desired nothing but himself, nothing but holiness; that he had given me these desires, and he only could give me the things desired. I never seemed to be so unhinged from myself, and to be so wholly devoted to God. My heart was swallowed up in God most of the day . . . Felt much comfort and devotedness to God this day. At night, it was refreshing to get alone with God, and pour out my soul. Oh, who can conceive of the sweetness of communion with the blessed God, but those who have experience of it! Glory to God for ever, that I may taste heaven below . . . Retired early for secret devotion, and in prayer God was pleased to pour such ineffable comforts into my soul that I could no nothing for some time but say over and over, O my sweet Saviour! O my sweet Saviour! whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. If I had a thousand lives, my soul would gladly have laid them all down at once to have been with Christ . . . My soul was this day at turns sweetly set on God; I longed to be with him, that I might behold his glory. I felt sweetly disposed to commit all to him, even my dearest friends, my dearest flock, my absent brother, and all my concerns for time and eternity. O, that his kingdom might come in the world, that they might all love and glorify him for what he is in himself, and that the blessed Redeemer might 'see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied! Oh come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen."
Is it wonderful that such a habit of prayer, and such experiences in prayer in the closet, should have made his social and public prayers edifying and striking in a remarkable degree? President Edwards' testimony on this point is very explicit and noteworthy: "I know not that I ever so much as heard him ask a blessing or return thanks at table, but there was something remarkable to be observed both in the matter and manner of the performance." Prayer, in secret and personal communion with God, will temper the whole spirit of a Christian, and put its impress upon his social and public habits. If you witness habitual fervency, and fullness, and power, and a wrestling spirit in prayer, on the part of any disciple, you may be sure the habit has been acquired in secret intercourse with God upon his knees. Prayer is not so much a gift as a grace, implanted, nourished and matured in long and intimate communion with the Hearer of prayer.
The end of such a life, as we might anticipate, was peace and joy—peace in fullness of measure, and "joy unspeakable and full of glory." A glance in his dying chamber reveals the fact that it was "quite on the verge of heaven." Says President Edwards:—
"On Tuesday, Oct. 6, he lay for a considerable time, as if he were dying. At which time he was heard to utter, in broken whispers, such expressions as these: 'He will come, he will not tarry. I shall soon be in glory. I shall soon glorify God with the angels.' . . . The extraordinary frame he was in that evening could not be hid. His mouth spake out of the abundance of his heart, expressing in a very affecting manner much the same things as are written in his diary. Among very many other extraordinary expressions which he then uttered, were such as these: 'My heaven is to please God and glorify him, and to give all to him and to be wholly devoted to his glory; that is the heaven I long for—that is my religion, and that is my happiness, and always was ever since I suppose I had any religion: I do not go to heaven to be advanced but to give honor to God. It is no matter where I shall be stationed in heaven—whether I have a high or a low seat there, but to love and please and glorify God is all; if I had a thousand souls, if they were worth any thing, I would give them all to God."
It only remains that we touch upon the matter of young Brainerd's expulsion from Yale College and vindicate his memory from the aspersion cast upon his good name by that high-handed measure. Sure we are that no unprejudiced mind, possessed of the facts of the case on which the act was based, as carefully stated by President Edwards, and also by Brainerd himself, in his journal and letters, can come to any other conclusion than that the College authorities erred in expelling him in the first instance, for so slight an offence—erred in inflicting the severest academical punishment in their power for a word spoken in confidence to two or three college mates and intimate religious friends, with no malicious intent; that they erred again in refusing to accept his very humble and penitent confession, and restore him to his standing; erred the third time by their strange and relentless persistency in refusing the request of a large number of the most distinguished clergymen in the colonies, that Brainerd might be allowed to take his degree with the class from which he was expelled the year before. Had his alleged offence been tenfold more serious than it was, we cannot see how their conduct in this instance could be justified, especially in view of the peculiar circumstances of the case, and the fact that the offending party had made a prompt and manly acknowledgment.
But the offence in fact was a trifling one, and one that the offended tutor and the faculty of the college ought not to have laid to heart or made a serious fuss over. If the authorities of Yale, or of any other college in the land to-day, should expel a student for such an offence, a cry of shame and indignation would ring throughout the land.
The offence consisted of two particulars: The first a hasty and foolish remark, reflecting on the piety of one of the tutors, made in private to two or three fellow students, and overheard and reported by another student who happened to overhear it. The other item was in going to a religious meeting in the town when the college had forbidden attendance on such meetings. That was the whole of the offence. It seems scarcely credible to us in these days. The last item must be ruled out. For no college rulers had a right, legal or moral, to enact such a rule. It was a high-handed assumption of power, and was a fling at the promoters of the great religious revival which then agitated and divided New Haven, and many other parts of New England. And whether the other offence—the words applied to tutor Whittlesey—were true or false, there was, as all must admit, a great deal to excuse or palliate the offence in the spirit and occurrences in the life around him at the time.
A great religious movement was then on foot. Whitefield, and other apostles of the New Evangelism, had fired the hearts of multitudes. Excitement ran high. The revival had shaken the town of New-Haven, and the mass of college students had come under its power, Brainerd among the rest, who entered into the work with all the intensity of his earnest nature. "Ministers of long standing," and churches without number, were divided in regard to these "New Lights," as they were called. Extravagances and evils, according to President Edwards' testimony, mixed with much that was good. A censorious spirit was rampant. Whitefield himself publicly judged and denounced ministers of standing and experience, and many leading churches, also for their supineness or opposition; so much so that the pastor of Northampton, while sympathizing with the movement and throwing the great weight of his example and preaching in favor of it, deplored the excesses of intemperate zeal, and specially exposed and condemned the censorious and self-righteous spirit which characterized a portion of its promoters: even Whitefield himself he censured and personally rebuked!
Surely, when old and staid ministers, ministers of learning and piety and recognized standing in the country, were led away for the time being from the meekness and sweet gentleness of Christ, and in speech and manner, in preaching and praying, implied that all who were not of their way of preaching, and praying—all who cast not out devils after their fashion—all who failed to enter heartily into their measures, or who dared to oppose them,—were hypocrites or graceless professors, the young, inexperienced and zealous sophomore, who had caught the contagion and entered into the excitement, and who took an active part in the revival, which changed the character of the college and numbered many of its students among its converts, might have been pardoned the hot, thoughtless words spoken in private concerning the lack of piety in one of the tutors, who had just been "pathetically" praying before the students! What college law was broken? What was there in the nature and extent of the offence to call for college discipline? Were there not many palliating considerations in the times and in the circumstances of the case? Would not a reprimand have been all that the offence called for? On what principle of justice or fairness could they visit upon him, a student too of blameless virtue and exemplary piety, condign punishment and blast his future prospects and consign him to disgrace, so far at least as their action had effect? Fortunately it did not seriously injure the character of Brainerd, even at the time, or lessen the high esteem in which he was held by his friends; while it served to rally to his support many of the most eminent ministers of his time, and called forth great sympathy and interest in his career, not only over all New England, but also in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. And God so overruled the matter, that, beyond all question, it was one of the chief causes which led to the establishment of Princeton College.
There is one point suggested by these memoirs that is worthy of careful consideration by all the friends of missions at the present time: it relates to the methods and the machinery of missionary operations. I do not propose to discuss this important and vital question here, but simply to note the example of this eminent Christian and missionary, and the results of his labors.
Brainerd literally obeyed the ascended Lord. He went forth with the Bible only in his hands. He gave himself to prayer, and to the preaching of the word of God, to catechetical instruction, to direct efforts to convert souls and train them for Christ. He at once began to preach to these untutored, uncivilized, degraded people, the central truth of Christianity, the cardinal doctrines of the Christian system—the very same doctrines which Jonathan Edwards then preached in Northampton, and which Dr. John Hall preaches today on Fifth Avenue in New York City: and he preached them with the same distinctness, and discrimination, and directness, and urgency, and application; and the same results followed! He had to preach through an interpreter. He labored under a thousand disadvantages. But he honored God's word, God's method of saving sinners; and he preached and prayed with faith in the efficacy of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit's power; and the effect, the fruit, was the same at Kaunaumeek, and Crossweeksung, and at the Forks of the Delaware, as at Northampton, and in New York City, and in primitive times.
Have we not, in these days of weak faith and decay of spiritual life, departed quite too far from the apostolic idea and practice, in our missionary endeavors? Are we not making organizations, schools, civilizing influences, machinery, and merely human devices, altogether too prominent? Is not the natural, if not the inevitable tendency of such a policy, to unduly exalt the human element, at the expense of the Divine? And is not the effect to weaken our hold on God; to lessen the felt necessity of prayer and the Holy Spirit's omnipotent energy? Is not precious time lost? are not energies wasted? and is not the time of harvest delayed?
Christ understood perfectly the conditions and necessities of the case, and the nature and adaptability of the Gospel to its end, when he commissioned the disciples to go and teach all nations. And we know how the disciples understood his message, and how they obeyed it; their one uniform and universal method among Jews and Greeks and Romans, alike among barbarians, and in civilized communities, was to preach Christ and him crucified, and to organize and gather the converts into Christian churches on the simple basis of the Gospel. They knew nothing about our modern theories, and accessories. We do not find the slightest trace of any of these modes or machinery in the primitive Church's effort to evangelize the world. And human nature is the same to-day; and the condition of the heathen world is essentially the same. And yet we have drifted into a totally different method. We have come virtually to put civilization, education, preparation, before and in place of the Gospel. It is not "the foolishness of preaching" so much as it is the perfection of appliances, and constructive agencies, and civilizing forces, that is the Church's main reliance to-day for the evangelization of the world, both nominally Christian and heathen.
The Indians to whom Brainerd ministered were uneducated; their social and moral condition was low. They were simply uncivilized. And yet, the Gospel, as preached and expounded to them by this single young isolated missionary, whose heart was all aflame with the love of God, and who spent hours every day on his knees in prayer, was made mighty unto God for their salvation. The grace of God achieved in four short years among the Indians, was as signal and as glorious a triumph as it achieved under Whitefield and Edwards among the civilized and educated. No one can trace the history of God's converting and transforming grace at Kaunaumeek and Crossweeksung—note the operation of Gospel truth and of the Holy Spirit's influence on these uneducated and uncivilized sinners—and especially such manifestations of power and grace as are recorded in chapter ten of these memoirs, and doubt for one moment the sufficiency of the Gospel in the hands of the Spirit of God, when wisely and faithfully preached, in faith and with importunate prayer, to transform and elevate any people, however depraved and degraded. O for the simplicity, the faith, the whole-heartedness, the reliance on the teachings of Christ and "the witness of the Spirit," which characterized the early Christians, and characterized the life of Brainerd! The Church must yet come to this, or the "millennial" age, for which she has prayed and waited so long, will prove only a pleasing dream. May a renewed study of the life and example and achievements of this illustrious missionary help to bring it about!...
Copied and edited for WholesomeWords.org from Memoirs of Rev. David Brainerd... edited by J. M. Sherwood. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884.
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