Have You Read the Letters of David Brainerd?

Among classic Christian writings are the letters of John Calvin (French Huguenot); Martin Luther (German Reformer); Samuel Rutherford (Scottish Covenanter); and Joseph Alleine (English Puritan). The letters of David Brainerd (1718-1747), American Presbyterian missionary to the Delaware Indians of New Jersey, are perhaps less well-known, but are equally devotionally precious. 

The life of this young man was cut short in the providence of God at the age of 29. It was in the house of Jonathan Edwards, Sr. that Brainerd died of tuberculosis, and it was Edwards who wrote the life of Brainerd based on his diary. This work, the most-reprinted work written by Edwards, was originally published in 1749 under the title An Account of the Life of the Late Rev. David Brainerd. In the genre of Christian biography, it remains a classic (reprinted under a variety titles). Of this work, Henry Martyn once wrote: "Oh! blessed be the memory of that beloved saint! No uninspired writer ever did me so much good." 

From here we have gleaned some extracts from Brainerd's letters (beginning at p. 261) which illustrate the experimental piety of this young man. They savor so sweetly of heaven that they seem sent from Immanuel's Land. Though his time in this vale of tears was short, he was conscious of the preciousness of time, possessing as he did a view of eternity, and made the most of the time given to him in order to answer his chief end, that is, to glorify God. And that was the view of time which he bequeathed to others. This is the counsel of one who tasted eternal bliss while on his earthly pilgrimage, and now sends word to us from heavenly places to be heavenly-minded.

Letter (II) to John Brainerd (Dec. 27, 1743):

I find nothing more conducive to a life of Christianity than a diligent, industrious, and faithful improvement of precious time.

Letter (III) to Israel Brainerd (Jan. 21, 1743/4):

Again, Be careful to make a good improvement of precious time. When you cease from labour, fill up your time in reading, meditation, and prayer: and while your hands are labouring, let your heart be employed, as much as possible, in divine thoughts.

Letter (IV) to a Special Friend (July 31, 1744):

Verily, no hours pass away with so much divine pleasure, as those that are spent in communing with God and our own hearts.

Letter (VI) to John Brainerd (Dec. 25, 1745):

My brother, "the time is short." Oh let us fill it up for God; let us "count the sufferings of this present time" as nothing, if we can but run our race, and finish our course with joy." Let us strive to live to God....I think I do not desire to live one minute for any thing that earth can afford. Oh that I could live for none but God, till my dying moment!

Letter (VII) to Israel Brainerd (Nov. 24, 1746):

Let me intreat you to keep eternity in view, and behave yourself as becomes one that must shortly "give an account of all things done in the body."

Letter (VIII) to Israel Brainerd (June 30, 1747):

It is from the sides of eternity I now address you....But let me tell you, my brother, eternity is another thing than we ordinarily take it to be in a healthful state. Oh how vast and boundless; how fixed and unalterable! Of what infinite importance is it, that we be prepared for eternity!

Letter (IX) to a Young Gentleman, a Candidate for the Ministry (Summer 1747):

How amazing it is that "the living who know that they must die," should notwithstanding put far away the evil day, in a season of health and prosperity; and live at such an awful distance from a familiarity with the grave, and the great concerns beyond it. Especially it may just fill us with surprise, that any whose minds have been divinely enlightened, to behold the important things of eternity as they are, I say, that such should live in this manner. And yet, Sir, how frequently is this the case. How rare are the instances of those who live and act, from day to day, as on the verge of eternity; striving to fill up all their remaining moments in the service and to the honour of the great Master. We insensibly trifle away time, while we seem to have enough of it; and are so strangely amused as in great measure to lose a sense of the holiness and blessed qualifications necessary to prepare us to be inhabitants of paradise. But oh, dear Sir, a dying bed, if we enjoy our reason clearly, will give another view of things.

A Morning Prayer for a Busy Day

In 1895, J.R. Miller (1840-1912), author of numerous devotional writings, published a short but sweet encouragement to begin the day with prayer, titled For a Busy Day: A Morning Prayer for a Busy or Troubled Week-Day.

He reminds us of the need to begin each day with prayer, especially week-days, which are sometimes a spiritual letdown, as when Christians may be facing the trials of a work-day, or a particular burden, without the sweet fellowship of the saints that one experiences on the Sabbath. It was Martin Luther to whom is often attributed the famous saying, "I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." (This writer has written elsewhere about the origin of that quote.) When we have much to do, our need to commence with prayer is greater, not less.

Using Psalm 143 as the basis for his guide, Miller outlines six principles of such a morning prayer: 

  • Seek to hear God's voice first;
  • Seek God's guidance to know the way wherein to walk;
  • Seek to be kept from evil;
  • Seek to be taught to do God's will;
  • Seek God as the giver of life; and
  • Seek God for deliverance from trouble. 

It is in the same chapter in which our Lord Jesus taught his disciples to pray using the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6) that he adds: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Every day we have need to pray, and to seek grace and help from above, especially on the hard days. 

Is this a hard day for you, dear reader? Might it become so unexpectedly? We hope not, but if so, this little book may be a helpful encouragement to you to begin your day with prayer unto Him who "is able to exceeding[ly] abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Eph. 3:20).

Helps to Private and Family Prayer

Two works by 19th century American Presbyterians newly added to Log College Press are designed to aid individuals and families in their devotions to God. 

The first, by James Robert Boyd (1804-1890), is Daily Communion with God on the Plan Recommended by Rev. Matthew Henry, V.D.M., for Beginning, Spending, and Concluding Each Day with God (1873). This revision of Henry's Directions for Daily Communion with God (a work that has also been republished under the title of The Secret of Communion with God, is different than his Method of Prayer), is edited with helpful introductory matter concerning the life of Henry, Henry's own practice of piety, and poetic verse inserted by Boyd for meditation and contemplation. This work shows the value placed by one 19th century Presbyterian minister on spending each day for and with God, much as his Puritan forebears did. 

The second is a course of daily family prayers for morning and evening over a month's time by John Hall (1829-1898), called Family Prayers, For Four Weeks (1868). These written prayers should be seen as guides for those in need of assistance in leading their family worship, that is, head of households, including households with absent fathers. They are meant to be adapted or modified to suit circumstances, but mainly to encourage regular family worship twice a day. They are partly Hall's own writings, and partly borrowed, he says, from an earlier anonymous author. One will note the prayers for Sabbath preparation and sanctification, as well as for all the daily needs of individuals, families, and civil and ecclesiastical society. This is a good guide for families who need a bit of assistance in this most precious family duty. 

If you need help with your private or family prayers, or know someone who does (and who doesn't?), please download these works and make use today of these valuable aids from two centuries gone by. 

Samuel Miller's Thoughts on Public Prayer

Samuel Miller's Thoughts on Public Prayer (1849) is an important volume for teaching and ruling elders leading in corporate worship, as well as anyone who has to pray publicly, whether in family worship, social settings, or at other occasions. Miller lays out a history of public prayer, discusses liturgies, opens up frequent faults in public prayer, and shows forth the characteristics of a good public prayer, as well as the best means of attaining excellence in this gift and grace. Tolle lege!

Benjamin Morgan Palmer's sermon on Philippians 4:6

On July 29, 1855, Benjamin Morgan Palmer preached a sermon to his congregation at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, on Philippians 4:6 entitled "The Antidote of Care." It had such an impact on the people of God that they asked him to publish it. The antidote of care is prayer. Palmer tells us why:

1. In prayer we are brought to a habitual and practical sense of the supreme will of a personal God.

2. Prayer leads to the contemplation of God in his Covenant relations to us, which will soften the lot otherwise rugged and difficult.

3. Prayer compels us to take an inventory of our mercies, and to balance, these against our trials. 

4. Prayer imparts a tone to the spirit, girding it for the hour of trial.

5. Prayer brings us to a distinct issue with ourselves in relation to our cares.

6. In prayer we apprehend the nearness of Heaven, which is a motive to submission and patience.

What does the preacher need as he prepares to preach Sunday by Sunday? Gardiner Spring answers.

"Two things you will find indispensable to profitable preparations for the pulpit: prayer and
toil. You must be a man of prayer. Prayer will give you thought, tenderness, and a power of feeling which nothing else can give. Sermons are heartless, lifeless things that are not elaborate with prayer. The difficulties of your work, and your own weakness invite you to your closet. If you look to yourself only, all is darkness, discouragement and despair. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be all of God. There is no substitute for Prayer. And you must consent to labour. There is no severer toil than the labours of the sacred ministry. Other men may rest; may retire from business and enjoy the fruits of their acquisitions; but there is no rest, no retirement for the minister of the gospel. The very Day of Rest of others, is a day of labour and solicitude with him. The duties of one Sabbath are scarcely fulfilled, and his thoughts are upon his preparations for another. And when he looks forward through life, he sees no end to his toil but in the grave. There is rest not until the battle is fought and the victory won."

-- Gardiner Spring, "Letter to a Young Clergyman," in Fragments from the Study of a Pastor (1838)

If you've never heard of Benjamin Morgan Palmer's Theology of Prayer, download it here today.

Benjamin Morgan Palmer, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1856-1902, wrote a beautiful volume on the theology of prayer, as viewed in the religion of nature and under the covenant of grace. You can find it for free here. To whet your appetite, here is a snippet:

In the last analysis, then, what is prayer but the language of creaturely dependence upon that God from whom being itself is derived? ... This consciousness of dependence finds its only full expression in prayer; we lean upon God, and are at rest. It may pour itself forth with a pathos that stirs the heart of sympathy, or despair may muffle 'the groanings which cannot be uttered'; in either case the intelligent recognition of creature-helplessness leaning upon divine power is the kneeling posture of the soul in prayer. It is the thirst of ignorance drinking deep draughts from the overflowing fulness of divine wisdom. It is the exhaustion of weakness drawing nerve into a broken will from the resources of infinite strength. This is prayer: when, sinking through the earthly crust, the creature seeks repose in God; when from the eternal fountain he derives the help and solace which the creature always needs, and which the Creator alone can supply. (15-17)

It gets even better. So spend some time this weekend reading this book - you will be thankful you did.