Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
~ Ecclesiastes 7:3
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
~ Hebrews 12:10-11
Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.
~ Luke 6:21
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
~ James 3:17
Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.
~ Psalm 26:2
Reflections and Observations of the Preceding Memoirs, by Jonathan Edwards, on the Life of David Brainerd.
I. We have here 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 powerful exercise. Particularly it may be worthy to be observed,
1. How greatly Mr. 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 thorough, earnest religion, in the stated practice of it. Although his convictions and conversion were in all respects exceeding 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 and violence 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 Scripture representations of the Christian life. He continued pressing forward in a constant manner, forgetting the things that were behind, and reaching forth towards 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, which after this he was actuated by, of love to God, and longings and thirstings after holiness, seem to be more effectual to engage him to pains and activity in religion, than fear of hell had been before.
And 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: but on the contrary, the beginning of that work, the beginning of his spiritual discoveries and holy views, the first dawning of the light which thenceforward increased more and more, the beginning of his holy affections, his sorrow for sin, his love to God, his. rejoicing in Christ Jesus, his longings after holiness. And 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, and praise, and flowing affections, did not only hold up to a considerable height for a few days, 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; as it is with many,who, after the newness of things is over, soon come to that pass, that it is again with them very much as it is used to be 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 outgoings of their souls after divine objects, but only now and then they have a comfortable reflection on things they have met with in times past, and are something affected with them, and so rest easy, thinking all things are well, they have had a good clear work, and their state is safe, and they doubt not but they shall go to heaven when they die. How far otherwise was it with Mr. Brainerd, than it is with such persons! 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 months and years, became much greater, and more remarkable; and the spiritual exercises of his mind continued exceeding 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. And 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, and so continued to be, in a general course, 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 Scripture descriptions of true and right religion, and of the Christian life. The change that was wrought him at his conversion, was agreeable to Scripture 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 only 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 affections; but a change of nature, a change of the abiding habit and temper of his mind. Nor [was it] a partial change, merely in point of opinion, or outward reformation, 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 ways of sin, unto universal holiness of heart and practice; from the power and service of Satan unto God.
2. His religion did apparently and greatly differ 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 on 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, &e. strongly fixed in 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 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 unto him, as by name, revealing Christ’s love to him, either words of Scripture, or any other; but a manifestation of God’s glory, and the beauty of his nature, as supremely excellent in itself, powerfully drawing and sweetly captivating his heart, bringing him to a hearty desire to exalt God, set him on the throne, and 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, that he (as some others) called the feeling the love of Christ in him, and being full of the Spirit. How exceeding far were his experiences at his first conversion from things of such a nature!
And 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; no imaginary 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; 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 words 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 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; no instance of comfort by a sudden bearing in upon his mind, as though at that very time directed by God to him in particular, any such kind of 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. No supposed communion and conversation with God carried on in this way; no such supposed tasting of the love of Christ. But the way 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 cast out fear. This was the way he had full satisfaction soon after his conversion (see his diary on October 18 and 19, 1740). And we find no other way of satisfaction through his whole life afterwards, and this he abundantly declared to be the way, the only way, that 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 bear us in hand, 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. But Mr. Brainerd’s experience is a confutation of this; for in him we have an instance of one that possessed as constant and unshaken an assurance, through the course of his life, after conversion, as perhaps can be produced in this age; which yet he obtained and enjoyed without any such sort of testimony, and without all manner of appearance of it, or pretence to it; yea, while utterly disclaiming any such thing, and declaring against it; and one whose assurance, we need not scruple to affirm, has as fair a claim and as just a pretension to truth and genuineness, as any that the pretenders to immediate witness can produce; and not only an instance of one that 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: and had it too in its fulness, and in the height of its exercise, under those repeated trials that he had 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 declares his assurance to be such as perfectly secluded all fear; and 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.