David Brainerd: “A Constant Stream” - page 3

A few months later, on Sunday, February 14, Jerusha died. The grief-stricken father, who said that Jerusha was “generally esteemed the flower of the family,” preached her funeral sermon on the poignant words from Job—“Youth is like a flower that is cut down.” She was seventeen years old. Her body was buried next to Brainerd’s in the Northampton Cemetery.

David Brainerd’s brief life was consumed by two great passions. On February 4, 1744, he wrote in his diary: “Sanctification in myself, and the ingathering of God’s elect, was all my desire; and the hope of its accomplishment, all my joy.”  

Edwards’s Life of David Brainerd begins with a classic sentence: “There are two ways of representing and recommending true religion and virtue to the world… the one is by doctrine and precept, the other is by instance and example.” Edwards had already dealt with the matter of true and false religion theologically in The Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God (1741) and The Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746). In 1749 he published Brainerd’s Life as “a remarkable instance of true and eminent piety, in heart and practice.”

Every page of Brainerd’s diary is filled with expressions of longing for holiness. On January 1, 1746, he wrote: “O that I might live nearer to God this year than I did the last… May I for the future be enabled more sensibly to make the glory of God my all.” Brainerd attempted to “live to God in every capacity of life.” He prayed: “May I never loiter in my heavenly journey.”

One can find shortcomings in Brainerd’s life. Edwards notes a tendency to melancholy, which Brainerd himself found to be “a great hindrance to spiritual fervency.” Edwards also faults Brainerd for “being excessive in his labours, not taking due care of his strength.” Understandably, Brainerd struggled with loneliness. He knew that solitude aggravated his trials but it was better, he thought, than to be “incumbered with noise and tumult.” There is little or no appreciation for the beauties of God’s creation in Brainerd’s diary, unlike Edwards, who saw images of God’s glory and excellence everywhere. Edwards, however, found the young man who was dying in his home “remarkably sociable, pleasant and entertaining in his conversation; yet solid, savoury, spiritual and very profitable; appearing meek, modest and humble, far from any stiffness, moroseness, superstitious demureness, or affected singularity in speech or behaviour.”

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