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Confessions of a Biographile

(date)

I cannot endure David Brainerd’s journals. I have read it in the past, but now I read with different eyes. Before I read academically and it inspired me. Now, I am reading as a man completing the ___ year of his life with mournful frustration. Not because I cannot emulate him (which I am sure I cannot), but that I do not even want to emulate him. I am not ready to violate his memory by bringing his holy words to my mind. Actually, my revulsion is not even that noble. David Brainerd was a fanatic. And I am too in love with the world to follow him. I am addicted to the pleasures of this world, and I don’t really want to be free of them to the extent that I lose it all for Christ. Reading Brainerd is an irritation, an unkind reminder of an alternative lifestyle, the light of which sends my soul scurrying to its dark dingy hole – the place I call my Christianity.

My mind immediately hurls forth cavil and denunciations, excuses and condescending assessments of Brainerd’s psyche. He used hyperbole excessively. He was a fanatical recluse. He might have been more effective if he had taken care of himself. His passion was unusual and it is impossible for a normal person. He was imbalanced. He was emotionally unstable. Warped. Sick. He’s overrated. What did Carey see in him? Spurgeon? Edwards? But the truth is this: he makes me feel rotten. It galls me to read a spiritual man describe his love for sinners and Christ and wonder what he is even talking about.

O, Lord, forgive me. That’s the truth. Is there any hope for my ilk? From my vantage point in this dingy hole I can see the light from a safe distance, benefit from its warmth, and thereby procure an above average power of discernment of the place that I and my countrymen call Christianity, but the thought of coming out into the fullness of the Light is still unappealing. For, there in the fullness of Your Light, I will have more than the power to discern the place I call Christianity, more than the warmth of basking in the glorious light, but – and this is the part I fear – I will have the empowered and undimmed discernment of the person that I am.

I am praying against my feelings when I ask for a portion of whatever it was that David Brainerd had.

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3 Responses

  1. I agree … One of the most depressing and discouraging books I ever read. Depressing because he was so melancholy. Discouraging because he was so committed and I certainly don’t have that.

  2. Great thoughts, Bob. I had the very same reaction. My sense, however, was that he became more stable and consistent in his spirit even as his health deteriorated. I didn’t try to quantify this, but it seemed that as time passed there was less of the feeling “so low and little of the presence of God” and more of “was very much in the Lord this day.”

  3. This is true, Ben. My criticisms were journaled expressions of my far-too-human reaction to reading Brainerd, not necessarily a reflection of what I really know to be true about him. In other words, thinking of him as a sick fanatic soothed my afflicted conscience. You are right. As he neared heaven, he seemed to grow in peace.

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