Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

DAVID BRAINER D.

No man liveth and no man dieth to himself alone. The obscurest individual in the community, exerts an influence upon his fellow creatures, both by his life and by his death, which stops not even with the generation to which he belongs, but is transmitted by innumerable channels to posterity. Nevertheless, the great mass even of those who have the brightest record in Heaven, leave no enduring record on earth, except in the silent influence of their virtues, which, though it can never cease to exist, is soon lost, like a drop in the ocean, in that illimitable range of influence that pervades God's moral kingdom. But it is not so with all. There is here and there a bright sun that rises upon the world, which continues to shine when death has done all that it can do to quench its beams—here and there a name that descends from generation to generation, in all the freshness and fragrance which it had, when it was transferred from the list of the living to that of the dead. It is the province of biography chiefly to serve the world by embalming the virtues and the memories of those who have been the world's benefactors. She makes out a record of what they have been and what they have done, and leaves it for future

generations to contemplate and profit by; though it must be confessed that she has not unfrequently lost sight of her own legitimate dignity, by attempling to perpetuate characters, which were too lame and indifferent to sustain themselves against the oblivious influence of time. There are multitudes of noble characters in by-gone ages, which, by this means, have come down to us; and thus while their bodies rest in the grave and their spirits rejoice in heaven, they have a sort of protracted earthly existence in the record of the past—they live not only in the veneration and gratitude, but in the good resolutions, the brightening graces, the active usefulness, of multitudes who can contemplate them only through the medium of their history.

With this general estimate of the importance of religious Biography, it has occurred to us that some brief sketches of the lives and characters of a few of our most distinguished clergymen, chiefly of the last century, might not be an unacceptable offering to the Christian public, and this is what we propose to do in several successive numbers of this work. These sketches will consist, partly of facts which are already recorded in other forms, not readily accessible to the public at large, and partly of tra

ditionary, but well authenticated information, which may be illustrative of the character, and of sufficient importance to be preserved. It is proposed to connect with each of the sketches,

possible, an original letter never before published, from the individual who is the subject; and, perhaps, also such general reflections of a practical kind as the narrative may suggest.

The name which is placed at the head of this article, is one that can never lose its lustre, by the lapse of ages. David Brainerd was born at Haddam, in Connecticut, April 20, 1718, and was the son of Hezekiah Brainerd, who was a man of considerable note in his day, in the colony. His mother, who was the daughter of the Rev. Jeremiah Hobart, who was first settled at Topsfield, Mass., and finally at Brainerd's native place, died just as he had reached the age of fourteen. He seems, while he was yet quite a child, to have been the subject of strong religious impressions, and to have associated himself with several other youth for purposes of social prayer and Christian improvement. But, notwithstanding he evidently imagined himself at the time, the subject of a spiritual renovation, and supposed that he had entered in deed and in truth on the Christian life, he subsequently became satisfied that all this experience was delusive, and was nothing better than the operation of a principle of supreme selfishness. He was, indeed, at this time, orthodox in his creed, and gave an intellectual assent to the great doctrine of salvation by grace ;

but it was, as he afterwards believed, an assent of the understanding merely, without the concurrence of the will and affections. It came to pass, however, in due time that he became convinced that he had been resting in a delusion. The light of truth shone with such power upon his conscience that he could find no peace. Nevertheless, the rebellion of his heart did not readily yield. He clung to his own righteousness with an obstinacy that was invincible to all human power, even when its utter insufficiency was revealed to him in the light of an impressive and terrible conviction. He loathed the idea that he could do nothing in the way of merit, to accomplish his own salva.

and objected to the terms of the gospel as unreasonably humiliating and oppressive. In this state of mind it pleased God to suffer him to remain, till he had had experience enough of the insufficiency of his own self-righteous efforts, to be willing to accept of salvation on the

tion ;

terms on which it was offered. As he was walking in a retired place on a summer evening in 1739, for purposes of serious meditation, fully convinced of his absolute ruin and entire dependence on God's sovereign grace, a great and wonderful change came over his mind, which seems to have marked the era of the commencement of his spiritual life, or at least of the perceptible operation of the renovated nature. His views of the character of God, of the character and mediation of Christ, and of the office of the Holy Spirit, became clear, elevating, delightful; he breathed a new atmosphere; he lived for new objects; in every action that he performed, he desired to hide himself, that God might be all in all.

Shortly after this stage of his experience, he was admitted, in Sept. 1739, a member of Yale College. The two succeeding years were distinguished by the great revival of religion in New England, in which Whitefield had a prominent agency, and in which the celebrated Davenport rendered himself so conspicuous by his erratic and fanatical movements. The extravagances which prevailed in connection with the revival, had the effect, as was to be expected, of driving a portion of the religious community to the opposite extreme; and Yale College, with President Clap at its head, seems to have been thrown into this undesirable attitude. Hence the religious atmosphere about the college was cold; everything like fervor of spirit was frowned upon as having in it the elements of fanaticism; and the government even went so far as to enact severe penalties against those students who should be heard of at a light” meeting. Brainerd, from the natural warmth of his temper, as well as from his deep sense of the importance of eternal things, was inclined to sympathize with the more zealous party, and looked upon this procedure of the government as an unreasonable and tyrannical infringement of his liberty; and he attended the “ separate” meeting without any regard to the offensive enactment. About the same time, he was partly overheard to say, in conversation with several of his fellow students, in respect to one of the tutors, that he did not believe that he had any more religion than the chair on which he sat. The individuals with whom he was conversing, having been required by the Rector to state the conversation, Brainerd was ordered to make a public confession of his fault in the chapel. But so fully was he convinced that the requirement was unreasonable and vindictive, that he refused to submit to it; and in

consequence of this, in connection with the offence already referred to, he was expelled from college. There is no doubt that the course which the government adopted in relation to him, was the result of an undue sensitiveness to the prevailing religious excitement, and was designed as a strong expression of their opposition to Whitefield and his coadjuters; but however much they may have been in fault, it must be acknowledged that Brainerd's course was justly liable to reprehension. Indeed, he was himself subsequently fully sensible of it; and though he always felt that he had been the object of an unwarrantable severity, he never hesitated to acknowledge his fault, and it is evident that his reflections upon it exerted a decidedly favorable influence upon his character ever afterwards.

This untoward circumstance occurred while he was in his junior year, and as he never returned to college afterwards, he of course failed to receive a degree. In the spring of the same year in which he left college, he commenced the study of divinity under the direction of the Rev. Mr. Mills, of Ripton, and in the succeeding July was licensed to preach by the association of ministers which held its session at Danbury. From the commencement of his theological course, his attention had been directed with uncommon earnestness to the deplorable condition of the heathen, especially the aborigines of our own country; his heart burned to follow in the footsteps of the illustrious Eliot, in bringing the light of the gospel in contact with their darkened understandings; and, accordingly, in the autumn after he was licensed, he went to New York by invitation of the correspondents of the society for promoting Christian knowledge, and after submitting himself to an examination, received a regular appointment from them as a missionary among the Indians.

The first scene of his missionary labors was at an Indian village called Kaunameck, about half way between Stockbridge and Albany. Here he lived in the woods for about a year, lodging during a part of the time in a wigwam with the Indians, and subsisting altogether upon Indian fare. Notwithstanding he was subject to the greatest deprivations, and often suffered not a little from bodily debility and disease, he persevered without interruption in his benevolent labors, until the Indians among whom he resided, agreed to remove to Stockbridge, and place themselves under the care of the Rev. Mr. Sergeant. In consequence of this arrangement, he was obliged to look out for

[ocr errors]

new

[blocks in formation]

another field of labor, and forth with directed his attention toward the Delaware tribe.

Having received Presbyterian ordination at Newark, N. J., in June, 1744, on which occasion the Rev. Mr. Pemberton of New York preached, he forth with stationed himself near the forks of the Delaware, in Pennsylvania, where he labored, with comparatively little apparent effect, for about a year. At the end of this period he visited the Indians at a village called Crosweeksung, in the neighborhood of Freehold, the residence of the celebrated Wil. liam Tennent. Here was the scene of his greatest success. A wonderful divine influence accompanied his labors, and in less than a year he baptized seventy-seven persons, thirty-eight of whom were adults, whose subsequent life furnished satisfactory evidence of a true conversion. There is no doubt that this was not only a very powerful, but very genuine revival of religion. In an unpublished letter addressed to the Rev. Dr. Wheelock, he says, “The good work which you will find largely treated of in my journal, still continues among the Indians; though the astonishing divine influence that has been among them, is in a considerable measure abated. Yet there are several instances of persons newly awakened. When I consider the doings of the Lord among these Indians, and then take a view of my journal, I must say, 'tis a faint representation I have given of them "

During his residence at the forks of the Delaware, he twice visited the Indians on the Susquehannah ; and he paid them a third visit in the summer of 1746. But on his return to the village where he had been recently laboring, his physical energies were so far exhausted that he found it exceedingly difficult to preach, and in pursuance of medical advice he determined to travel, and visit his friends in New England. He extended his journey as far as Boston, and in July returned to Northampton, and became domesticated in the family of Jonathan Ed. wards, to whose daughter he was engaged to be married. Here he continued, undergoing a gradual decline, accompanied toward the close with most intense suffering, till Oct. 9, 1747, when he closed his earthly course at the early age of twenty-nine.

His last illness is represented as a most calm and yet triumphant exhibition of Christian faith. His views of divine truth were never so vivid and glorious as when he had nearly reached the threshold of that world where the great objects of his faith were to become the objects of bis vision. He saw nothing but worthless

ness and emptiness in himself, nothing but worthiness and fulness in his Redeemer; and while he was yet lingering at the gate of death, he seemed to be entranced with the glories of heaven. He forgot not even amidst his dying agonies and the anticipation of the crown that awaited him, the prosperity of Christ's church on earth; and the poor Indians especially, among whom he had labored, came in for a share of his tender remembrances as he was on his way through the dark valley. The glories of the saved and the miseries of the lost rose up in fearsul contrast before his dying eye; and he exclaimed with his last breath, “ My work is done—Oh to be in Heaven, to praise and glo. rify God with his holy angels !"

The funeral of Mr. Brainerd, at which Presi. dent Edwards preached, was an occasion of the deepest interest to the inhabitants not only of Northampton, but of the whole surrounding country. We happen to have in our possession an original letter addressed by Mr. Edwards to a clergyman in the neighborhood, inviting him to Mr. Brainerd's funeral. It is as follows*

“ Rev. Sir,-It has pleased God to remove by death that eminent servant of his, the Rev. Mr. David Brainerd, about 6 o'clock this morning. You may remember that you desired me, if I had opportunity, to give you notice of the time of his funeral. It is, God willing, to be the next Monday ; the lecture before the funeral to begin at one o'clock. When Mr. Brain. erd, in his life-time, was speaking of the circumstance of his own funeral, and desiring that the neighboring ministers of his acquaintance might be sent for, I mentioned what you had said, manifesting a disposition to attend the funeral, if it might be convenient. He seemed in a considerable degree to take a thankful no. tice of it; and desired me to take some pains to find an opportunity to give you notice. I mention these things to you, Rev. Sir, leaving it with you to conduct yourself according to your own discretion. But if you can be present, I shall be very glad, who am

“ Your humble servant,

“ JONATHAN EDWARDS.” The mortal remains of this eminently devot. ed and useful minister repose in the buryingplace at Northampton, and the spot is hallowed to the hearts of thousands by the most grateful associations and remembrances. The stranger who only passes through the town is often heard inquiring the way to “Brainerd’s grave;"

* The date of the letter is wanting.

300

THE CHRISTIAN PARLOR MAGAZINE.

and many a Christian and many a minister, tive of his subsequent exercises in the more ad. whose home is on the other side of the ocean, vanced stages of his experience. While he felt has stood over the spot with quickened emo. most deeply the turpitude of human nature in tions and with a moistened eye. It is within its present lapsed state, and had the deepest the last two or three years, that on some public sense of his own moral pollution and ill desert occasion at Northampton, which called together in the sight of a holy God—while he gratefully a large number of ministers—we forget whether felt and acknowledged the sinner's entire deit was the meeting of the American Board or of pendence for salvation on sovereign mercy the General Association—a clerical procession abounding through Jesus Christ, he was as far walked early in the morning into the grave- as possible from diminishing aught from the yard to visit this hallowed spot; and as they sinner's obligations and responsibilities, and stood over it, they offered up thanksgivings to never failed to unite duty with dependence, his God and their God for having made him either in his reflections or his ministrations. what he was, and supplications that the remem- He abhorred that religion that consists merely brance of his example might cheer them on- in frames and feelings, and was satisfied with ward in their labors, and assist them to win the nothing either in respect to himself or others, immortal crown. Let that grave remain, not to but substantial love to God and man. He had, foster the spirit of superstition, not to awaken especially in the later periods of his life, no an idolatrous homage, but to speak to the church sympathy with a spirit of enthusiasm or unchaand her ministry of the power of God's grace, ritableness. The fact of his having been beand of their obligations to glorify him in the trayed, to some extent, into the indulgence of extension of his gospel.

this spirit, during his connection with college, Brainerd possessed an intellect, if not of the and of his subsequent conviction that he had highest order, yet of more than common vigor. thus fallen into errors, no doubt was the means His perceptions were unusually quick and clear, of guarding him more effectually against this his

memory retentive, his judgment discriminat- evil during the rest of his lise; and if there was ing, and his utterance ready and agreeable. He any one thing for which his character as a had a mind which could originate thoughts for Christian and a minister was distinguished, it itself, without being entirely dependent on other was his rigid adherence to gospel principles and minds; and he had the faculty of commanding rules in opposition to the impressions and vahis thoughts at pleasure and of using them to garies of fanaticism. He had such entire conthe best advantage. By the most intimate com- fidence in the character of God, and such enmunion with his own heart, and by a careful rapturing views of his glory, that he found deobservance of the conduct of his fellow men, light continually in doing his will, and in subhe became a great proficient in the knowledge mitting to his will—no matter how severe may of human nature; and this gave him a great have been the sufferings to which he was calladvantage, especially in the prosecution of his ed. After he closed his labors at Kaunameck, missionary labors. His preaching was charac- which had been continued for a year with comterized by the most discriminating views of paratively little success, he was invited to the evangelical truth, by a manly and dignified pastoral charge of the church in East Hampton, eloquence, and by that fervor of spirit and L. I.--the same of which the venerable Dr. strength of appeal, which are especially fitted Butler was afterwards for many years pastor; to work their way to the heart. In the ordina- and though it was regarded as one of the most ry intercourse of life, he was easy and familiar, eligible places of the day for ministerial comand though his deportment always evinced a fort and usefulness, yet Brainerd unhesitatingly thoughtful and fervent spirit that was tending declined it, preferring a new mission among the upward, yet he was as far as possible from any- Indians, with all the deprivations and hardships thing that looked like artificial sanctity.

by which he knew it must be attended. The It was in his Christian, rather than his intel. benevolence of the gospel breathed in all his lectual, character that the secret of his mighty actions. In his efforts to save the souls of his power, and his extensive usefulness, lay. Few fellow creatures and glorify his Redeemer, he men whose history is recorded, have had so completely lost sight of his own temporal conremarkable a religious experience as he. We

venience and comfort ; and in all the success have already alluded the character of his that attended his labors, the language of his exercises at the commencement of his Christian heart evidently was, “ Not unto us, not unto course; and that was, in most respects, indica- us, but to thy name, O Lord, be all the glory!"

[blocks in formation]

After contemplating the eminent services and sacrifices of such a man as David Brainerd, we should be unjust alike to our own interests and his memory, if we were not to pause and gather up some of the lessons, which the history of such a man suggests. We will briefly advert to two or three of them.

We see in the history of this remarkable man, a striking instance of what often occurs under the government of God-evil being rendered subservient to good. Brainerd's course toward the government of college was certainly reprehensible, and the spirit which he evinced for a time, savored little of the meekness and gentleness of Christ; and yet this taught him a lesson of his weakness and danger which he never forgot; and to this no doubt it was chief. ly owing that he was so much distinguished in his subsequent course for the union of consistency and charity. But it was not for himself only that he learned this lesson, but for all who come after him; and especially for all young professors who are thrown into circumstances of great religious excitement. During the revivals which have occurred in our churches with in the last twenty years, this same spirit which Brainerd manifested, and afterwards so heartily condemned, has often been exhibited by young men, in relation not merely to those who have really discovered an unjustifiable apathy toward the existing state of things, but those also who have had far more piety as well as stability and discretion, than themselves. We have in our eye at this moment young men who have fol. lowed in Brainerd's steps, not less in regard to his penitence than his error; who have acted rashly and uncharitably and fanatically for a time, and have afterwards reproached themselves ior their evil doing, and settled down into stable and consistent Christians. And we regret to-day that we can think of other cases in which young men who have played the same unworthy part during a revival, who have stig. matized prudence with the name of apathy, and order with the name of formality, and have seemed to set themselves up as examples of all that was zealous and courageous and self-sacrificing, who have after a little while apparently lost their interest in the whole subject-and perhaps in the compass of a few brief months have travelled the whole distance from fanaticism to formalism. We say again, the experience of Brainerd on this subject is monitory to every young man of this age, and if the lesson of caution which it suggests could have been duly pondered and heeded by every young Chris

tian in our land within the last few years, it would have prevented a world of bitterness, and false experience, and commotion all over the church,

Brainerd's history shows the wonderful pow. er of the Christian principle as an element of usefulness. He had indeed a well balanced and well cultivated mind; but was not in either of these respects so much distinguished, as to constitute any reason for his name being transmitted to posterity. No doubt he had classmates in college and brethren in the ministry, who possessed as vigorous powers as he, whose names have alreadly perished from every, earthly record, unless perhaps it be the college calalogue ; whilst his name is like a household word on the other side of the ocean. And wherefore is this difference? It arises simply from the fact that while they were either strangers to the renovating influence of Christianity altogether, or else had the Christian graces bui feebly and imperfectly developed in their characters, with him religion was an all-absorbing matter—it was the only element in which he could freely breathe-it was the vital principle of his existence. It was faith in the gospelfaith in the Saviou-faith in the promisesthat made him so mighty both to labor and endure. No man felt his own weakness more, but he was in constant communion with the fountain of all strength. He lived with his eye fixed on the glories of the upper world. He lost sight of everything earthly in his exceeding desire to behold God's glory, and to wear the purchased crown. Let others go and do likewise, and they may hope for his reward. They may behold fresh monuments of usefulness rising up in their path ; they may see the wil. derness budding and blossoming around them, they may hear sinners converted from the error of their ways recognizing them as instruments of their salvation ; and they may be cheered by the thought that after they have passed away from all earthly scenes, the record of their example will survive them to work with mighty power in training others for heaven.

How manifestly is the wisdom of God to be seen in now and then raising up a man like Brainerd, the light of whose character shall shine through many generations! While in every such instance he displays the sovereignty and riches of his grace, to the contemplation and admonition of his church, he also furnishes an example of eminent faith and usefulness which may stimulate myriads to nobler Christian attainments and achievements. Luther, and

« AnteriorContinuar »