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THERE are two ways of recommending true religion and virtue to the world : the one, by doctrine and precept; the other by history and example. Both are abundantly used in the holy scriptures. Not only are the grounds, nature, design, and importance of religion clearly exhibited in the doctrines of scripture—its exercise and practice plainly delineated, and abundantly enforced, in its commands and counsels—but there we have many excellent examples of religion, in its power and practice, set before us, in the histories both of the Old and New Testament.
JEsus CHRIST, the great Prophet of God, when he came to be “ the light of the world.”—to teach and enforce true religion, in a greater degree than ever had been done before—made use of both these methods. In his doctrine, he not only declared more fully the mind and will of God—the nature and properties of that virtue, which becomes creatures of our constitution, and in our circumstances, and more powerfully enforced it by exhibiting the obligations and inducements to holiness; but he also in his own practice gave a most perfect eacample of the virtue which he taught. He exhibited to the world such an illustrious pattern of humility, divine love, discreet zeal, self-denial, obedience, patience, resignation, fortitude, meekness, forgiveness, compassion, benevolence, and universal holiness, as neither men nor angels ever saw before.
God also in his providence, has been wont to make use of both these methods to hold forth light to mankind, and inducements to their duty, in all ages. He has from time to time raised up eminent teachers, to exhibit and bear testimony to the truth by their doctrine, and to oppose the errors, darkness, and wickedness of the world; and he has also raised up some eminent persons who have set bright examples of that religion which is taught and prescribed in the word of God; whose examples have, in the course of divine providence, been set forth to public view. These have a great tendency both to engage the attention of men to the doctrines and rules taught, and also to confirm and enforce them; especially when these bright examples have been exhibited in the same persons who have been eminent teachers. Hereby the world has had opportunity to see a confirmation of the truth, efficacy, and amiableness of the religion taught, in the practice of the same persons who have most clearly and forcibly taught it ; and above all, when these bright examples have been set by eminent teachers, in a variety of unusual circumstances of remarkable trial; and when God has withal, remarkably distinguished them with wonderful success in their instructions and labours.
Such an instance we have in the excellent person whose life is published in the following pages. His example is attended with a great variety of circumstances calculated to engage the attention of religious people, especially in America. He was a man of distinguished talents, as all are sensible who knew him. As a minister of the gospel, he was called to unusual services in that work; and his ministry was attended with very remarkable and unusual events. His course of religion began before the late times of extraordinary religious commotion ; yet he was not an idle spectator, but had a near concern in many things that passed at that time. He had a very extensive acquaintance with those who have been the subjects of the late religious operations, in places far distant, in people of different nations, education, manners, and customs. He had a peculiar opportunity of acquaintance with the false appearances and counterfeits of religion; was the instrument of a most remarkable awakening, a wonderful and abiding alteration and moral transformation of subjects, who peculiarly render the change rare and astonishing. In the following account, the reader will have an opportunity to see, not only what were the easternal circumstances and remarkable incidents of the life of this person, and how he spent his time from day to day, as to his external behaviour, but also what passed in his own heart. Here he will see the wonderful change he experienced in his mind and disposition; the manner in which that change was brought to pass; how it continued ; and what were its consequences in his inward frames, thoughts, affections, and secret exercises, through many vicissitudes and trials, for more than eight years. He will also see his sentiments, frame, and behaviour, during a long season of the gradual and sensible approach of death; and what were the effects of his religion in the last stages of his illness. The account being written, the reader may have opportunity at his leisure to compare the various parts of the story, and deliberately to view and weigh the whole, and consider how far what is related, is agreeable to the dictates of reason, and the Word of God. I am far from supposing, that BRAINERD’s inward exercises or his external conduct, were free from all imperfections. The example of Jesus Christ, is the only perfect example that ever existed in human nature. It is, therefore, a rule by which to try all other examples; and the dispositions, frames, and practices of others, must be commended and followed no further, than they were followers of Christ. There is one thing in BRAINERD, easily discernible by the following account of his life, which may be called an imperfection in him, which, though not properly an imperfection of a moral nature, yet, may possibly be made an objection against the extraordinary appearances of religion and devotion in him, by such as seek for objections against every thing that can be produced in favour of true, vital religion; I refer to the fact, that he was, by his constitution and natural temper, so prone to melancholy, and dejection of spirit. There are some, who think that all religion is a melancholy thing; and that what is called Christian experience is little else besides melancholy vapours, disturbing the brain, and exciting enthusiastic imaginations. But that BRAINERD's temper or constitution inclined him to despondency, is no just ground to suspect his extraordinary devotion to have been only the fruit of a warm imagination. All who have well observed mankind, will readily grant that many of those who by their natural constitution or temper, are most disposed to dejection, are not the most susceptive of lively and strong impressions on their imagination, or the most subject to those vehement affections, which are the fruits of such impressions. Many who are of a very gay and sanguine natural temper are vastly more so ; and if their af. fections are turned into a religious channel, are much more exposed to enthusiasm than many of the former. As to BRAINERD notwithstanding his inclination to despondency, he was evidently one of those who usually are the farthest from a teeming imagination ; being of a penetrating genius, of clear thought, of close reasoning, and a very exact judgment; as all know who knew him. As he had a great insight into human nature, and was very discerning and judicious in general ; so he excelled in his judgment and knowledge in divinity, but especially in experimental religion. He most accurately distinguished between real solid piety, and enthusiasm ; between those af. fections that are rational and scriptural—having their foundation in light and judgment—and those that are founded in whimsical conceits, strong impressions on the imagination, and vehement emotions of the animal spirits. He was exceedingly sensible of men's exposedness to these things; how much they had prevailed, and what multitudes had been deceived by them ; of their pernicious consequences and the fearful mischief they had done in the Christian world. He greatly abhorred such a religion, and was abundant in bearing testimony against it, living and dying; and was quick to discern when any thing of that nature arose ; though in its first buddings, and appearing under the most fair and plausible disguises He had a talent for des* cribing the various workings of this imaginary enthusiastic religion— evincing its falseness and vanity, and demonstrating the great difference between this, and true spiritual devotion—which I scarcely ever knew equalled in any person. His judiciousness did not only appear in distinguishing among the experiences of others, but also among the various exercises of his own mind; particularly in discerning what within himself was to be laid to the score of melancholy; in which he exceeded all melancholy persons that ever I was acquainted with. This was doubtless owing to a peculiar strength in his judgment; for it is a rare thing indeed, that melancholy people are sensible of their own disease, and convinced that such things are to be ascribed to it, as are its genuine operations and fruits. BRAINERD did not obtain that degree of skill at once, but gradually ; as the reader may discern by the following account of his life. In the former part of his religious course, he imputed much of that kind of gloominess of mind, and those dark thoughts, to spiritual desertion, which in the latter part of his life he was abundantly sensible, were owing to the disease of melancholy; accordingly he often expressly speaks of them in his diary, as arising from this cause. He often in conversation spoke of the difference between melancholy, and godly sorrow, true humiliation, aud spiritual discretion, and the great danger of mistaking the one for the other, and the very hurtful nature of melancholy; discoursing with great judgment upon it, and doubtless much more judiciously for what he knew by his own experience. But not to argue from BRAINERD's strength of judgment merely, it is apparent in fact, that he was not a person of a warm imagination. His inward experiences, whether in his convictions or his conversion, and his religious views and impressions through the course of his life, were not excited by strong and lively images formed in his imagination; nothing at all appears of it in his diary from beginning to end. He told me on his death-bed, that although once, when he was very young in years and experience, he was deceived into a high opinion of such things—looking on them as superior attainments in religion, beyond what he had ever arrived at—was ambitious of them, and earnestly sought them ; yet he never could attain them. He moreover declared, that he never in his life had a strong impression on his . imagination, of any outward form, external glory, or any thing of that nature ; which kind of impressions abound among enthusiastic people. As BRAIN FRD's religious impressions, views. and affections in their nature were vastly different from enthusiasm ; so were their effects in him as contrary to it as possible. Nothing, like enthusiasm, puffs men up with a high conceit of their own wisdom, holiness, eminence, and sufficiency; and makes them so bold, forward assuming, and arrogant. But the reader will see that BRAINERD's religion constantly disposed him to a most humble estimation of himself, and abasing sense of his own sinfulness, unprofitableness, and ignorance; looking on himself as worse than others; disposing him to universal benevolence and meekness; in honour to prefer others, and to treat all with kindness and respect. And when melancholy prevailed, and though the effects of it were very prejudicial to him, yet it had not the effects of enthusiasm; but operated by dark and discouraging thoughts of himself, as ignorant, wicked, and wholly unfit for the work of the ministry, or even to be among mankind. Indeed, at the time just mentioned, when he had not learned well to distinguish between enthusiasm and solid religion, he joined, and kept company with some who were tinged with no small degree of the former. For a season, he partook with them in a degree, of their dispositions and behaviours; though, as was observed before, he could not obtain those things wherein their enthusiasm itself consisted, and so could not become like them in that respect, however he erroneously desired and sought it. But certainly it is not at all to be wondered at, that a youth, a young convert, one who had his heart so swallowed up in religion, and who so earnestly desired its flourishing state—and who had so little opportunity for reading, observation, and experience— should for a while be dazzled and deceived with the glaring appearances of mistaken devotion and zeal; especially, considering the extraordinary circumstances of that day. He told me on his death bed, that while he was in these circumstances, he was out of his element, and did violence to himself, while complying in his conduct with persons of a fierce and imprudent zeal, from his great veneration of some whom he looked upon as better than himself. So that it