David Brainerd's Preface to Thomas Shepard's Diary

In August of 1747, two months before his death, David Brainerd (1718-1747) wrote a preface to Thomas Shepard’s (1605-1649) diary, published that year under the title Meditations and Spiritual Experiences. A portion of Brainerd’s preface was later extracted and included in the “Reflections and Observations” of Jonathan Edward’s (1703-1758) edition of Brainerd’s own journal.

The intersection of Brainerd and Shepard and Edwards — three of the brightest luminaries of American colonial experimental piety who each wrote diaries that they never envisioned would be published — is a remarkable window into the souls of the godly.

Recently added to the inventory of Log College Press, Brainerd’s preface to Shepard’s diary stands as a remarkable essay on the importance of true religion, exemplified in the life of a New England Puritan.

It was Brainerd’s hope that the publication of Shepard’s diary would serve to better illustrate the yearnings of a godly soul, and that Shepard’s example would stir up men, and especially ministers of the gospel, to greater holiness.

Now, as all proper means are to be used to cure the errors of men's minds, especially in things of religion, and as something of this nature may, therefore, seem peculiarly needful, especially in some places, so 'tis hopeful that the publication of the following small piece of the Rev. Mr Shepard's will be made, in some measure, serviceable in that respect. For, as it is a journal of the private experiences of that excellent and holy man, designed for his own use, so it contains, as it were, this true religion for a course of time delineated to us in a very exact manner; whence we have opportunity to see, with utmost plainness, what passed with him for religion, what he laboured after under that notion, and what were the exercises and difficulties he met with in pursuance of a religious life: And those who have any favour for the name and piety of that venerable man, 'tis hoped, will read his experiences with care and attention, and, as they read, consider whether there be any manner of agreement be tween his and theirs; and whoever reads attentively, I'm persuaded must own that he finds a greater appearance of true humility, self-emptiness, self loathing, sense of great unfruitfulness, selfishness, exceeding vileness of heart, smallness of attainments in grace; I say he must needs own that he finds more expressions of deep unfeigned self-abasement in these experiences of Mr Shepard's than some are willing to admit of And 'tis hopeful, the reader will further observe, that, when Mr Shepard speaks of his comforts in religion, as he frequently does of his satisfaction, sweetness, and desire to die and to be with Christ, he always gives a solid account of the foundation of these comforts, and mentions some exercises of grace from which they proceeded; so that they are wholly different from those groundless joys that arise in the minds of poor deluded souls from a sudden suggestion made to them — that Christ is theirs, that God loves them, and the like. The reader will further observe, that he valued nothing in religion that was not done with a view to the glory of God, as appears by many of his expressions, especially that under April 15, where he says, “When I looked over the day, I saw how I fell short of God and Christ, and how I had spent one hour unprofitably: and why? because though the thing I did was good, yet because I in tended not God in it, as my last end, and did not set my rule before me, and so set myself to please God, therefore I was unprofitable. O that others, from this example, would learn to lay the stress of religion here, and labour that whether they live, they might live to the Lord, or whether they die, they might die to the Lord!

There is something in these papers of the Rev. Mr Shepard's that seems excellently calculated to be of service to those who are in the ministry in particular. His method of examining his aims and ends, and the temper of his mind, both before and after preaching, whether he had met with enlargement or straitening, is an excellent example for those that bear the sacred character. By these means they are like to gain a large acquaintance with their own hearts, as 'tis evident he had with his.

May the blessing of heaven attend the following pages, that he who has long been dead may yet speak by them to the instruction, conviction, and saving benefit of many souls!

With an introduction such as this, be encouraged dear reader to read the whole of Brainerd’s short essay, and to peruse Shepard’s diary. Also on David Brainerd’s page is his own journal edited and reflected upon by Jonathan Edwards. These are two volumes which constitute a storehouse of spiritual treasures.