David Brainerd





An excerpt from the book






Edited by

Jonathan Edwards




A very lamentable ignorance of the main essentials of true practical religion, and the doctrines neatly relating thereunto, very generally prevailed. The nature and necessity of a conviction of sin and misery, by the Holy Spirit opening and applying the law to the conscience, in order to a saving closure with Christ, was hardly known at all to the most. It was thought that if there was any need of a heart-distressing sight of the soul's danger, and fear of divine wrath, it was only needful for the grosser sort of sinners.... The common names for such soul concern were, melancholy, trouble of mind, or despair, and trouble of mind was looked upon as a great evil, which all persons that made any sober profession and practice of religion, ought carefully to avoid. According to these principles, and this ignorance of the most soul-concerning truths of the gospel, people were very generally through the land careless at heart, and stupidly indifferent about the great concerns of eternity; and indeed the wise, for the most part, were in a great degree asleep with the foolish. It was sad to see with what a careless behaviour the public ordinances were attended, and how people were given to unsuitable worldly discourse on the Lord's day. In public companies, a vain and frothy lightness was apparent in the deportment of many professors.




I was from my youth somewhat sober, and inclined rather to melancholy than the contrary extreme; but do not remember anything of conviction of sin worthy of remark till I was, I believe, about seven or eight years of age. Then I became concerned for my soul and terrified at the thoughts of death, and was driven to the performance of duties - but it appeared a melancholy business that destroyed my eagerness for play. And though, alas! this religious concern was but short-lived, I sometimes attended secret prayer; and thus lived at "ease in Zion, without God in the world" and without much concern, as I remember, till I was above thirteen years of age.

But sometime in the winter 1732, I was roused out of carnal security by I scarce know what means at first; but was much excited by the prevailing of a mortal sickness in Haddam. I was frequent, constant, and somewhat fervent in duties; and took delight in reading, especially Mr. Janeway's Token for Children. I felt sometimes much melted in duties and took great delight in the performance of them; and I sometimes hoped that I was converted, or at least in a good and hopeful way for heaven and happiness not knowing what conversion was. The Spirit of God at this time proceeded far with me. I was remarkably dead to the world, and my thoughts were almost wholly employed about my soul's concerns. I may indeed say, "Almost I was persuaded to be a Christian." I was also exceedingly distressed and melancholy at the death of my mother, in March, 1732. But afterwards my religious concern began to decline, and by degrees I fell back into a considerable degree of security, though I still attended secret prayer.

About the fifteenth of April, 1733, I removed from my father's house to East Haddam, where I spent four years; but still "without God in the world," though, for the most part, I went a round of secret duty. I was not much addicted to young company, or frolicking, as it is called, but this I know, that when I did go into such company, I never returned with so good a conscience as when I went. It always added new guilt, made me afraid to come to the throne of grace, and spoiled those good frames I was wont sometimes to please myself with. But, alas! all my good frames were but self righteousness, not founded on a desire for the glory-of God.

About the latter end of April, 1737, being full nineteen years of age, I removed to Durham to work on my farm, and so continued about one year- frequently longing, from a natural inclination, after a liberal education. When about twenty years of age, I applied myself to study and was now engaged more than ever in the duties of religion. I became very strict and watchful over my thoughts, words, and actions; and thought I must be sober indeed, because I designed to devote myself to the ministry; and imagined I did dedicate myself to the Lord.

Sometime in April, 1738, I went to Mr. Fiske's (pastor of the church at Haddam), and lived with him during his life. I remember he advised me wholly to abandon young company and associate myself with grave elderly people, which counsel I followed. My manner of life was now exceeding regular and full of religion, such as it was; for I read my Bible more than twice through in less than a year, spent much time every day in prayer and other secret duties, gave great attention to the Word preached, and endeavored to my utmost to retain it. So much concerned was I about religion that I agreed with some young persons to meet privately on Sabbath evenings for religious exercises, and thought myself sincere in these duties. After our meeting was ended, I used to repeat the discourses of the day to myself; recollecting what I could, though sometimes very late at night. I used sometimes on Monday mornings to recollect the same sermons; had considerable movings of pleasurable affection in duties and had many thoughts of joining the church. In short, I had a very good outside, and tested entirely on my duties, though not sensible of it.

After Mr. Fiske's death, I proceeded in my learning with my brother; was still very constant in religious duties, and often wondered at the levity of professors. It was a trouble to me that they were so careless in religious matters. Thus I proceeded a considerable length on a self-righteous foundation; and should have been entirely lost and undone, had not the mere mercy of God prevented.

Some time in the beginning of winter, 1738, it pleased God, on one Sabbath day morning, as I was walking out for some secret duties, to give me on a sudden such a sense of my danger and the wrath of God that I stood amazed, and my former good frames, that I had pleased myself with, all presently vanished. From the view I had of my sin and vileness, I was much distressed all that day, fearing the vengeance of God would soon overtake me. I was much dejected, kept much alone, and sometimes envied the birds and beasts their happiness because they were not exposed to eternal misery as I evidently saw I was. Thus I lived from day to day, being frequently in great distress. Sometimes there appeared mountains before me to obstruct my hopes of mercy; and the work of conversion appeared so great, that I thought I should never be the subject of it. I used, however, to pray and cry to God and perform other duties with great earnestness; and thus hoped by some means to make the case better.

Though hundreds of times I renounced all pretenses of any worth in my duties, as I thought, even while performing them, and often confessed to God that I deserved nothing for the very best of them but eternal condemnation; yet still I had a secret hope of recommending myself to God by my religious duties. When I prayed affectionately and my heart seemed in some measure to melt, I hoped God would be thereby moved to pity me; my prayers then looked with some appearance of goodness in them, and I seemed to mourn for sin. Then I could in some measure venture on the mercy of God in Christ, as I thought, though the preponderating thought, the foundation of my hope, was some imagination of goodness in my heart meltings flowing of affections in duty, extraordinary enlargements.

Though at times the gate appeared so very strait that it looked next to impossible to enter, yet, at other times, I flattered myself that it was not so very difficult, and hoped I should by diligence and watchfulness soon gain the point. Sometimes after enlargement in duty and considerable affection I hoped I had made a good step towards heaven - imagined that God was affected as I was and that He would hear such sincere cries, as I called them. And so sometimes, when I withdrew for secret duties in great distress, I returned comfortable; and thus healed myself with my duties.

Sometime in February, 1739, I set apart a day for secret fasting and prayer, and spent the day in almost incessant cries to God for mercy, that He would open my eyes to see the evil of sin and the way of life by Jesus Christ. And God was pleased that day to make considerable discoveries of my heart to me. But still I trusted in all the duties I performed; though there was no manner of goodness in them, there being in them no respect to the glory of God, nor any such principle in my heart. Yet, God was pleased to make my endeavors that day a means to show me my helplessness in some measure.

Sometimes I was greatly encouraged and imagined that God loved me, and was pleased with me; and thought I should soon be fully reconciled to God. But the whole was founded on mere presumption, arising from enlargement in duty, or flowing of affections, or some good resolutions, and the like. When, at times, great distress began to arise on a sight of my vileness, nakedness, and inability to deliver myself from a sovereign God, I used to put off the discovery, as what I could not bear. Once, I remember, a terrible pang of distress seized me, and the thoughts of renouncing myself and standing naked before God, stripped of all goodness, were so dreadful to me, that I was ready to say to them as Felix to Paul, "Go thy way for this time."

Thus, though I daily longed for greater conviction of sin, supposing that I must see more of my dreadful state in order to a remedy; yet when the discoveries of my vile, hellish heart were made to me, the sight was so dreadful and showed me so plainly my exposedness to damnation that I could not endure it. I constantly strove after whatever qualifications I imagined others obtained before the reception of Christ, in order to recommend me to His favor. Sometimes I felt the power of a hard heart and supposed it must be softened before Christ would accept of me; and when I felt any meltings of heart, I hoped now the work was almost done. Hence, when my distress still remained, I was wont to murmur at God's dealings with me; and thought when others felt their hearts softened God showed them mercy; but my distress remained still.

Sometimes I grew remiss and sluggish, without any great convictions of sin, for a considerable time together; but after such a season, convictions seized me more violently. One night I remember in particular, when I was walking solitarily abroad, I had opened to me such a view of my sin that I feared the ground would cleave asunder under my feet and become my grave; and would send my soul quick [alive] into hell, before I could get home. Though I was forced to go to bed lest my distress should be discovered by others, which I much feared; yet I scarcely durst sleep at all, for I thought it would be a great wonder if I should be out of hell in the morning. And though my distress was sometimes thus great, yet I greatly dreaded the loss of convictions, and returning back to a state of carnal security, and to my former insensibility of impending wrath; which made me exceeding exact in my behavior lest I should stifle the motions of God's Holy Spirit.

When at any time I took a view of my convictions, and thought the degree of them to be considerable, I was wont to trust in them. But this confidence, and the hopes of soon making some notable advances towards deliverance, would case my mind and I soon became more senseless and remiss. Then again, when I discerned my convictions to grow languid, and I thought them about to leave me, this immediately alarmed and distressed me. Sometimes I expected to take a large step, and get very far towards conversion, by some particular opportunity or means I had in view.

The many disappointments, great distresses and perplexity I met with, put me into a most horrible frame of contesting with the Almighty; with an inward vehemence and virulence finding fault with His ways of dealing with mankind. I found great fault with the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity; and my wicked heart often wished for some other way of salvation than by Jesus Christ. Being like the troubled sea, my thoughts confused, I used to contrive to escape the wrath of God by some other means. I had strange projects, full of atheism, contriving to disappoint God's designs and decrees concerning me, or to escape His notice, and hide myself from Him.

But when, upon reflection, I saw these projects were vain and would not serve me, and that I could contrive nothing for my own relief; this would throw my mind into the most horrid frame, to wish there was no God, or to wish there were some other God that could control Him. These thoughts and desires were the secret inclinations of my heart, frequently acting before I was aware. But, alas! they were mine, although I was affrighted when I came to reflect on them. When I considered, it distressed me to think that my heart was so full of enmity against God; and it made me tremble, lest His vengeance should suddenly fall upon me.

I used before to imagine that my heart was not so bad as the Scriptures and some other books represented it. Sometimes I used to take much pains to work it up into a good frame, a humble submissive disposition, and hoped there was then some goodness in me. But, on a sudden, the thoughts of the strictness of the law, or the sovereignty of God, would so irritate the corruption of my heart, that I had so watched over and I hoped I had brought it to a good frame, that it would break over all bounds and burst forth on all sides, like floods of waters when they break down their dam.

Being sensible of the necessity of a deep humiliation in order to a saving close [saving faith) with Christ, I used to set myself to work in my own heart those convictions that were requisite in such a humiliation; as, a conviction that God would be just, if He cast me off forever; that if ever God should bestow mercy on me, it would be mere grace, though I should be in distress many years first and be never so much engaged in duty; that God was not in the least obliged to pity me the more for all past duties, cries, and tears.

I strove to my utmost to bring myself to a firm belief of these things and a hearty assent to them; and hoped that now I was brought off from myself, truly humbled, and that I bowed to the divine sovereignty. I was wont to tell God in my prayers that now I had those very dispositions of soul that He required, and on which He showed mercy to others, and thereupon to beg and plead for mercy to me. But when I found no relief and was still oppressed with guilt and fears of wrath, my soul was in a tumult, and my heart rose against God as dealing hardly with me.

Yet then my conscience flew in my face, putting me in mind of my late confession to God of his justice in my condemnation. And this giving me a sight of the badness of my heart, threw me again into distress, and I wished I had watched my heart more narrowly, to keep it from breaking out against God's dealings with me, and I even wished I had not pleaded for mercy on account of my humiliation, because thereby I had lost all my seeming goodness. Thus, scores of times, I vainly imagined myself humbled and prepared for saving mercy. And while I was in this distressed, bewildered, and tumultuous state of mind, the corruption of my heart was especially irritated with the following things:

1. The strictness of the divine law. For I found it was impossible for me, after my utmost pains, to answer its demands. I often made new resolutions, and as often broke them. I imputed the whole to carelessness and the want of being more watchful; and used to call myself a fool for my negligence. But when, upon a stronger resolution, and greater endeavors, and close application to fasting and prayer, I found all attempts fail; then I quarrelled with the law of God, as unreasonably rigid. I thought if it extended only to my outward actions and behaviors I could bear with it; but I found it condemned me for my evil thoughts and sins of my heart, which I could not possibly prevent.

I was extremely loth to own my utter helplessness in this matter: but after repeated disappointments, thought that, rather than perish, I could do a little more still; especially if such and such circumstances might but attend my endeavors and strivings. I hoped that I should strive more earnestly than ever if the matter came to extremity--though I never could find the time to do my utmost, in the manner I intended--and this hope of future more favorable circumstances, and of doing something great hereafter, kept me from utter despair in myself and from seeing myself fallen into the hands of a sovereign God, and dependent on nothing but free and boundless grace.

2. Another thing was, that faith alone was the condition of salvation; that God would not come down to lower terms and that He would not promise life and salvation upon my sincere and hearty prayers and endeavors. That word, Mark 16:16, "He that believeth not, shall be damned," cut off all hope there. I found faith was the sovereign gift of God, that I could not get it as of myself, and could not oblige God to bestow it upon me by any of my performances (Eph. 2:1-8). This, I was ready to say, is a hard saying, who can bear it? I could not bear that all I had done should stand for mere nothing, who had been very conscientious in duty, had been exceeding religious a great while, and had, as I thought, done much more than many others who had obtained mercy.

I confessed indeed the vileness of my duties; but then, what made them at that time seem vile was my wandering thoughts in them; not because I was all over defiled like a devil, and the principle corrupt from whence they flowed, so that I could not possibly do anything that was good. And therefore I called what I did, by the name of honest faithful endeavors; and could not bear it that God had made no promises of salvation to them.

3. Another thing was that I could not find out what faith was; or what it was to believe and come to Christ. I read the calls of Christ to the weary and heavy laden; but could find no way that He directed them to come in. I thought I would gladly come if I knew how, though the path of duty were never so difficult. I read Mr. Stoddard's Guide to Christ, (which I trust was, in the hand of God, the happy means of my conversion), and my heart rose against the author; for though he told me my very heart all along under convictions, and seemed to be very beneficial to me in his directions; yet here he failed, he did not tell me anything I could do that would bring me to Christ, but left me as it were with a great gulf between, without any direction to get through. For I was not yet effectually and experimentally taught that there could be no way prescribed whereby a natural man could, of his own strength, obtain that which is supernatural and which the highest angel cannot give.

4. Another thing to which I found a great inward opposition was the sovereignty of God. I could not bear that it should be wholly at God's pleasure, to save or damn me, just as I He would. That passage, Romans 9:11-23, was a constant vexation to me, especially verse 21. Reading or meditating on this always destroyed my seeming good frames. For when I thought I was almost humbled and almost resigned, this passage would make my enmity against the, sovereignty of God appear. When I came to reflect on my inward enmity and blasphemy, which arose on this occasion, I was the more afraid of God and driven further from any hopes of reconciliation with Him. It gave me such a dreadful view of myself that I dreaded more than ever to see myself in God's hands, at His sovereign disposal, and it made me more opposite than ever to submit to His sovereignty; for I thought God designed my damnation.

All this time the Spirit of God was powerfully at work with me; and I was inwardly pressed to relinquish all self-confidence all hopes of ever helping myself by any means whatsoever. The conviction of my lost estate was sometimes so clear and manifest before my eyes that it was as if it had been declared to me in so many words, "It is done, it is done; [it is] forever impossible to deliver yourself."

For about three or four days my soul was thus greatly distressed. At some turns, for a few moments, I seemed to myself lost and undone; but then would shrink back immediately from the sight, because I dared not venture myself into the hands of God as wholly helpless and at the disposal of His sovereign pleasure. I dared not see that important truth concerning myself, that I was "dead in trespasses and sins." But when I had as it were thrust away these views of myself at any time, I felt distressed to have the same discoveries of myself again; for I greatly feared being given over of God to final stupidity. When I thought of putting it off to a "more convenient season," the conviction was so close and powerful with regard to the present time that it was the best, and probably the only time, that I dared not put it off.

It was the sight of truth concerning myself, truth respecting my state as a creature fallen and alienated from God, and that consequently could make no demands on God for mercy but must subscribe to the absolute sovereignty of the Divine Being; the sight of the truth, I say, my soul shrank away from and trembled to think of beholding. Thus, he that doth evil, as all unregenerate men continually do, hates the light of truth, neither cares to come to it, because it will reprove his deeds and show him his just deserts (John 3:20).

And though, some time before, I had taken much pains, as I thought, to submit to the sovereignty of God, yet I mistook the thing; and did not once imagine that seeing and being made experimentally sensible of this truth, which my soul now so much dreaded and trembled at, was the frame of soul that I had been so earnest in pursuit of heretofore. For I had ever hoped that when I had attained to that humiliation, which I supposed necessary to go before faith, then it would not be fair for God to cast me off. But now I saw it was so far from any goodness in me to own myself spiritually dead and destitute of all goodness that, on the contrary, my mouth would be forever stopped by It; and it looked is dreadful to me to see myself and the relation I stood in to God--I a sinner and criminal, and He a great judge and Sovereign-as it would be to a poor trembling creature to venture off some high precipice.

And hence I put it off for a minute or two, and tried for better circumstances to do it in; either I must read a passage or two, or pray first, or something of the like nature; or else put off my submission to God's sovereignty with an objection that I did not know how to submit. But the truth was I could see no safety in owning myself in the hands of a sovereign God, and that I could lay no claim to anything better than damnation.

But after a considerable time spent in such like exercises and distresses, 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 self worship, and an 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 me, but still was not distressed; yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth could make me happy.

I had been thus endeavoring 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 thing. Nor do I intend any imagination 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 honor 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.