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.