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Reflections on the preceding Memoirs.
We have here an 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 in powerful exercise. Particularly it may be worthy to be observed,
I. 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 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; agreeably to frequent scriptural representations of the Christian life. He continued pressing forward in a constant manner, "forgetting the things that were behind and reaching forth to 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 have been more effectual to engage him to labour and activity in religion, than the fear of hell had been before.
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 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. 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 maintain a considerable height merely for a few days, and 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. Many, 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 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 out-goings of their souls after divine objects. Now and then, indeed, they have a comfortable reflection on the past, and are somewhat affected with the remembrance, and so rest easy, thinking that it is safe, and they doubt not but they shall go to heaven when they die. 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. The spiritual exercises of his mind continued exceedingly 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. 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. Thus they continued 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 the scriptural descriptions of true and genuine religion, and of the Christian life. The change wrought in him at his conversion was agreeable to the scriptural 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 merely 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 reforma
tion; 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.
II. 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 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, and bringing him to a hearty desire to exalt God, to set him on the throne, and to 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 which some would have called
feeling the love of Christ in him and being full of the Spirit. How exceedingly far were his experiences, at his first conversion, from all things of such a nature.
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 imagi nary 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 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, 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 from any sudden suggestion to his mind, as though at that very time directed by God to him in particular, of any such 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 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. This was the way in which he had full satisfaction soon after his conversion, (see his diary for Oct. 18. and 19, 1740.) We find no other way of satisfaction through his whole life afterwards; and this he abundantly declared to be the way, 53
the only way, in which 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 persuade us, that 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. BRAINERD's experience is a confutation of this; for in him we have an instance of one who possessed as constant, as unshaken an assurance, through the course of his life, after conversion, as perhaps can be produced in this age. Yet he obtained and enjoyed it without any such sort of testimony, and without the least 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 which the pretenders to immediate witness can produce. He not only 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. 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.
III. 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