SAVED BY CHRIST ALONE Extracted from the diary of David Brainerd (1718-1747), missionary to American Indians”
*The record of the innermost concerns of the souls of those who are being prepared by God for a life of service and suffering such as David Brainerd knew are, of course, unique to that particular person. The reading of Brainerd’s diary should produce a sense of wonder and deep thankfulness. It should humble us to realise the truly extreme sufferings he went through in his determination to preach the gospel to these heathen tribes in such inhospitable areas of undeveloped America. However we should realise that the profound depths of soul-searching and spiritual depression he experienced are not the universal experience of genuine believers who are being taught in God’s school. May such records of a man who was only to live for twenty-nine years, encourage those who seek more deeply to know their Lord and not drive them to discouraging and despairing selfcondemnation because their spiritual pathway is less severe and less remarkable. Editor.
One morning, while I was walking in a solitary place, as usual, I at once saw that all my contrivances and projects to effect or procure deliverance and salvation for myself were utterly in vain. I was brought quite to a stand as finding myself totally lost. I had thought many times before that the difficulties in my way were very great; but now I saw, in another and very different light, that it was forever impossible for me to do anything towards helping or delivering myself. I then thought of blaming myself that I had not done more, and been more engaged while I had opportunity, for it seemed now as if the season of doing was forever over and gone. But I instantly saw that, let me have done what I would, it would no more have tended to my helping myself than what I had done; that I had made all the pleas I ever could have made to all eternity; and that all my pleas were vain. The tumult that had been before in my mind was now quieted; and I was something eased of that distress which I felt while struggling against a sight of myself, and of the divine sovereignty. I had the greatest certainty that my state was forever miserable, for all that I could do; and wondered that I had never been sensible of it before.
While I remained in this state, my notions respecting my duties were quite different from what I had ever entertained in times past. Before this, the more I did in duty the more hard I thought it would be for God to cast me off; though at the same time I confessed, and thought I saw, that there was no goodness or merit in my duties. But now the more I did in prayer or any other duty, the more I saw I was indebted to God for allowing me to ask for mercy; for I saw it was self-interest had led me to pray, and that I had never once prayed from any respect to the glory of God. Now I saw there was no necessary connection between my prayers and the bestowment of divine mercy; that they laid not the least obligation upon God to bestow His grace upon me; and that there was no more virtue or goodness in them than there would be in my paddling with my hand in the water (which was the comparison I had
then in my mind); and this because they were not performed from any love or regard to God. I saw that I had been heaping up my devotions before God, fasting, praying, pretending, and indeed really thinking sometimes that I was aiming at the glory of God; whereas I never once truly intended it, but only my own happiness.
I saw that as I had never done anything for God, I had no claim on anything from Him but perdition, on account of my hypocrisy and mockery. Oh, how different did my duties now appear from what they used to do! I used to charge them with sin and imperfection; but this was only on account of the wanderings and vain thoughts attending them, and not because I had no regard to God in them; for this I thought I had.
But when I saw evidently that I had regard to nothing but self-interest, then they appeared a vile mockery of God, self-worship, and a continual course of lies. So that I now saw that something worse had attended my duties than barely a few wanderings; for the whole was nothing but selfworship, and a horrid abuse of God.
I continued, as I remember, in this state of mind from Friday morning till the Sabbath evening following (July 12, 1739), when I was walking again in the same solitary place, where I was brought to see myself lost and helpless, as before-mentioned. Here, in a mournful, melancholy state, I was attempting to pray; but found no heart to engage in that or any other duty. My former concern, exercise, and religious affections were now gone. I thought the Spirit of God had quite left ine, but still was not distressed; yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth could make me happy.
I had been thus endeavouring to pray, though as I thought, very stupid and senseless, for near half an hour; then, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such a thing. Nor do I intend any imaginations of a body of light somewhere in the third heavens, or anything of that nature; but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor anything which had the least resemblance of it.
I stood still, wondered, and admired! I knew that I never had seen before anything comparable to it for excellency and beauty; it was widely different from all the conceptions that ever I had of God, or things divine. I had no particular apprehension of any one Person in the Trinity, either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost; but it appeared to be divine glory. My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that He should be God over all for ever and ever. My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God, that I was even swallowed up in Him. At least to that degree that I had no thought (as I remember) at first, about my own salvation, and scarce reflected there was such a creature as I.
Thus God, I trust, brought me to a hearty disposition to exalt Him and set Him on the throne, and principally and ultimately to aim at His honour and glory, as King of the universe. I continued in this state of inward joy, peace, and astonishment, till near dark, without any sensible abatement; and then began to think and examine what I had seen; and felt sweetly composed in my mind all the evening following. I felt myself in a new world, and everything about me appeared with a different aspect from what it was wont to do.
At this time, the way of salvation opened to me with such infinite wisdom, suitableness, and excellency, that I wondered I should ever think of any other way of salvation; was amazed that I had not dropped my own contrivances, and complied with this lovely, blessed, and excellent way before. If I could have been saved by my own duties, or any other way that I had formerly contrived, my whole soul would now have refused it. I wondered that all the world did not see and comply with this way of salvation, entirely by the righteousness of Christ.
David Brainerd’s visit to the Susquehannah River in what is now Pennsylvania.
Tuesday, October 2 (1744). Set out on my journey, in company with dear Brother Byram and my interpreter, and two chief Indians from the Forks of Delaware. Travelled about twenty-five miles, and lodged in one of the last houses on our road; after which there was nothing but a hideous and howling wilderness.
Wednesday, October 3. We went on our way into the wilderness and found the most difficult and dangerous travelling, by far, that ever any of us had seen. We had scarce anything else but lofty mountains, deep valleys, and hideous rocks, to make our way through. However, I felt some sweetness in divine things part of the day, and had my mind intensely engaged in meditation on a divine subject. Near night, my beast that I rode upon, hung one of her legs in the rocks, and fell down under me; but through divine goodness, I was not hurt. However, she broke her leg; and being in such a hideous place, and near thirty miles from any house, I saw nothing that could be done to preserve her life, and so was obliged to kill her, and to prosecute my journey on foot.
This accident made me admire the divine goodness to me, that my bones were not broken, and the multitude of them filled with strong pain. Just at dark, we kindled a fire, cut up a few bushes, and made a shelter over our heads, to save us from the frost, which was very hard that night. Committing ourselves to God by prayer, we lay down on the ground and slept quietly.
Friday, October 5. We arrived at Susquehannah River, at a place called Opeholhaupung and found there twelve Indian houses. After I had saluted the king in a friendly manner, I told him my business, and that my desire was to teach them Christianity. After some consultation,
the Indians gathered, and I preached to them. And when I had done, I asked if they would hear me again. They replied that they would consider of it, and soon after sent me word that they would immediately attend, if I would preach; which I did, with freedom, both times. When I asked them again whether they would hear me further, they replied they would the next day. I was exceeding sensible of the impossibility of doing anything for the poor heathen without special assistance from above. My soul seemed to rest on God and leave it to Him to do as He pleased in that which I saw was His own cause.
Indeed, through divine goodness, I had felt something of this frame most of the time while I was travelling thither, and in some measure before I set out.
Saturday, October 6. Rose early and besought the Lord for help in my great work.
Near noon, preached again to the Indians. In the afternoon, visited them from house to house and invited them to come and hear me again the next day, and put off their hunting design, which they were just entering upon, till Monday. `This night,’ I trust, `the Lord stood by me,’ to encourage and strengthen my soul. I spent more than an hour in secret retirement and was enabled to `pour out my heart before God,’ for the increase of grace in my soul, for ministerial endowments, for success among the poor Indians, for God’s ministers and people and for distant dear friends. Blessed be God!
Monday, October 8. Visited the Indians with a design to take my leave of them, supposing they would this morning go out to hunting early. But beyond my expectation and hope, they desired to hear me preach again. I gladly complied with their request, and afterwards endeavoured to answer their objections against Christianity; then they went away. We spent the rest of the afternoon in reading and prayer, intending to go homeward very early the next day. My soul was in some measure refreshed in secret prayer and meditation. Blessed be the Lord for all His goodness.
Tuesday, October 9. We rose about four in the morning, and commending ourselves to God by prayer and asking His special protection, we set out on our journey homewards about five. We travelled with great steadiness till past six at night and then made us a fire and a shelter of barks, and so rested. I had some clear and comfortable thoughts on a divine subject, by the way, towards night. In the night, the wolves howled around us; but God preserved us.
We bear the torch that flaming fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus died and rose.
Ours is the same commission, the same glad message ours,
Fired by the same ambition, to Thee we yield our powers.