David Brainerd on Imaginary Notions of Christ's Human Nature

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Matthew Willard Lankford

Puritan Board Freshman
During times of spiritual awakening many may be deceived by their "spiritual experiences." Is it all grounded in the Word of God? It must always be sorted out by the Word of God. Below are several heart-searching quotes by David Brainerd, missionary to the Indians.

Besides what has been already related of Mr Brainerd's sentiments in his dying state concerning true and false religion, we have his deliberate and solemn thoughts on this subject, further appearing by his Preface to Mr. Shepard's Diary before mentioned; which, when he wrote it, he supposed to be (as it proved) one of the last things he should ever write. I shall here insert a part of that Preface as follows:

How much stress is laid by many upon some things as being effects and evidences of exalted degrees of religion, when they are so far from being of any importance in it, that they are really irreligious, a mixture of self-love, imagination and spiritual pride, or perhaps the influence of Satan transformed into an angel of light. How much stress is laid on these things by many, I shall not determine : but it is much to be feared, that while God was carrying on a glorious work of grace, and undoubtedly gathering a harvest of souls to himself, (which we should always remember with thankfulness) numbers of others have at the same time been fatally deluded by the devices of the devil, and their own corrupt hearts. It is to be feared that the conversions of some have no better foundation than this; viz. that after they have been under some concern for their souls for awhile, and it may be, manifested some very great and uncommon distress and agonies, they have on a sudden imagined they saw Christ, in some posture or other, perhaps on the cross, bleeding and dying for their sins; or it may be, smiling on them, and thereby signifying his love to them: and that these and the like things, though mere imaginations, which have nothing spiritual in them, have instantly removed all their fears and distresses, filled them with raptures of joy, and made them imagine that they loved Christ with all their hearts; when the bottom of all was nothing but self-love. For when they imagined that Christ had been so good to them as to save them, and as it were to single them out of all the world, they could not but feel some kind of natural gratitude to him; although they never had any spiritual view of his divine glory, excellency and beauty, and consequently never had any love to him for himself. Or that instead of having some such imaginary view of Christ as has been mentioned, in order to remove their distress and give them joy, some having had a passage or perhaps many passages of Scripture brought to their minds "with power," as they express it, they have immediately applied these passages to themselves, supposing that God hereby manifested his peculiar favour to them, as if mentioned by name: never considering, that they are now giving heed to new revelations, their being no such thing revealed in the word of God as that this or that particular person has or ever shall have his sins forgiven; nor yet remembering that Satan can, with a great deal of seeming pertinency, (and perhaps also with considerable power) bring Scripture to the minds of men as he did to Christ himself. Thus they rejoice in having some Scripture suddenly suggested to them, or impressed upon their minds, supposing they are now the children of God, just as did the other upon their imaginary views of Christ. And it is said that some speak of seeing a great light which filled all the place where they were, and dispelled all their darkness, fears and distresses, and almost ravished their souls. While others have had it warmly suggested to their minds, not by any passage of Scripture, but as it were by a whisper or voice from heaven, "That God loves them, that Christ is theirs," &c. which groundless imaginations and suggestions of Satan have had the same effect upon them, that the delusions before mentioned had on the others.

And as is the conversion of this sort of persons, so are their after-experiences; the whole being built upon imagination, strong impressions, and sudden suggestions made to their minds; whence they are usually very confident (as if immediately informed from God) not only of the goodness of their own state, but of their infallible knowledge and absolute certainty of the truth of every thing they pretend to under the notion of religion; and thus all reasoning with some of them is utterly excluded.

But it is remarkable of these, that they are extremely deficient in regard of true poverty of spirit, a sense of exceeding vileness in themselves, such as frequently makes truly gracious souls to groan, being burdened; as also in regard of meekness, love and gentleness towards mankind, and tenderness of conscience in their ordinary affairs and dealings in the world. It is also rare to see them deeply concerned about the principles and ends of their actions, and apprehensive lest they should not eye the glory of God chiefly, but live to themselves. This at least is the case in their ordinary conduct, whether civil or religious. But if any one of their particular notions, which their zeal has espoused, be attacked, they are then so conscientious that they must burn, if called to it, for the defense of it. Yet while they are so extremely deficient in regard of those divine tempers which have been mentioned, they are usually full of zeal, concern and fervency in the things of religion, and often discourse of them with much warmth and earnestness : and to those who do not know or do not consider wherein the essence of true religion consists, viz. in being conformed to the image of Christ, not in point of zeal and fervency only, but in all divine tempers and practices; I say, to those who do not duly observe and distinguish, they often appear like the best of men.

—David Brainderd, Johnathan Edward's The life of the Rev. David Brainerd, missionary to the Indians

Yet it must be acknowledged, that, when this work became so universal and prevalent, and gained such general credit and esteem among the Indians as Satan seemed to have little advantage of working against it in his own proper garb, he then transformed himself 'into an angel of light,' and made some vigorous attempts to introduce turbulent commotions of the passions in the room of genuine convictions of sin, imaginary and fanciful notions of Christ, as appearing to the mental eye in a human shape, and in some particular postures, etc. in the room of spiritual and supernatural discoveries of his divine glory and excellency, as well as divers other delusions. I have reason to think, that, if these things had met with countenance and encouragement, there would have been a very considerable harvest of this kind of converts here.

Spiritual pride also discovered itself in various instances. Some persons who had been under great affections, seemed very desirous from thence of being thought truly gracious: who, when I could not but express to them my fears respecting their spiritual state, discovered their resentments to a considerable degree upon that occasion. There also appeared in one or two of them an unbecoming ambition of being teachers of others. So that Satan has been a busy adversary here, as well as elsewhere. But blessed be God, though something of this nature has appeared, yet nothing of it has prevailed, nor indeed made any considerable progress at all. My people are now apprised of these things, are made acquainted, that Satan in such a manner 'transformed himself into an angel of light,' in the first season of the great outpouring of the divine Spirit in the days of the apostles; and that something of this nature, in a greater or less degree, has attended almost every revival and remarkable propagation of true religion ever since. They have learned so to distinguish between the gold and dross, that the credit of the latter 'is trodden down like the mire of the streets;' and, as it is natural for this kind of stuff to die with its credit, there is now scarce any appearance of it among them.

As there has been no prevalence of irregular heats, imaginary notions, spiritual pride, and Satanical delusions among my people; so there have been very few instances of scandalous and irregular behavior among those who have made a profession, or even an appearance of seriousness. I do not know of more than three or four such persons who have been guilty of any open misconduct, since their first acquaintance with Christianity; and not one who persists in anything of that nature. Perhaps the remarkable purity of this work in the latter respect, its freedom from frequent instances of scandal, is very much owing to its purity in the former respect, its freedom from corrupt mixtures of spiritual pride, wild fire, and delusion, which naturally lay a foundation for scandalous practices.

May this blessed work in the power and purity of it prevail among the poor Indians here, as well as spread elsewhere, till their remotest tribes shall see the salvation of God! Amen.

—David Brainerd, Brainerd's Journal

Of all the persons I have seen under spiritual exercise, I scarce ever saw one appear more bowed and broken under convictions of sin and misery (or what is usually called a preparatory work) than this woman. Nor scarce any who seemed to have a greater acquaintance with her own heart than she had. She would frequently complain to me of the hardness and rebellion of her heart. Would tell me, her heart rose and quarrelled with God, when she thought he would do with her as he pleased, and send her to hell notwithstanding her prayers, good frames, &c. That her heart was not willing to come to Christ for salvation, but tried every where else for help.

And as she seemed to be remarkably sensible of her stubbornness and contrariety to God, under conviction, so she appeared to be no less remarkably bowed and reconciled to divine sovereignty before she obtained any relief or comfort. Something of which I have before noticed in my Journal of Feb. 9. Since which time she has seemed constantly to breathe the spirit and temper of the new creature: crying after Christ, not through fear of hell as before, but with strong desires after him as her only satisfying portion; and has many times wept and sobbed bitterly, because (as she apprehended) she did not and could not love him.—When I have sometimes asked her, Why she appeared so sorrowful, and whether it was because she was afraid of hell? She would answer, "No, I be not distressed about that; but my heart is so wicked I cannot love Christ;" and thereupon burst out into tears.—But although this has been the habitual frame of her mind for several weeks together, so that the exercise of grace appeared evident to others, yet she seemed wholly insensible of it herself, and never had any remarkable comfort, and sensible satisfaction till this evening.

This sweet and surprising ecstasy, appeared to spring from a true spiritual discovery of the glory, ravishing beauty and excellency of Christ: and not from any gross imaginary notions of his human nature; such as that of seeing him in such a place or posture, as hanging on the cross, as bleeding, dying, as gently smiling, and the like; which delusions some have been carried away with. Nor did it rise from sordid, selfish apprehensions of her having any benefit whatsoever conferred on her, but from a view of his personal excellency, and transcendent loveliness, which drew forth those vehement desires of enjoying him she now manifested, and made her long "to be absent from the body, that she might be present with the Lord."
—David Brainerd, Brainerd's Journal, Lord's day, March 9, 1746.
 
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