Saturday, July 23, 2016
David Brainerd and Us
Our new pastor started his first sermon with the story of David Brainerd, not revealing the name of course until almost the end, leaving me to guess who he was talking about. I figured it out before the reveal because he mentioned Jonathan Edwards, one of my heroes despite my learning he owned at least one slave (although she was a house servant type of slave).
Of course, I go to Brainerd Baptist Church, which was one of the reasons he was invoking David Brainerd. The church is not named after David Brainerd; it is named after the Brainerd area of Chattanooga, which is named after the Brainerd Mission (situated near Eastgate Town Center), which was named after David Brainerd by some of his devotees who came to East Tennessee to minister the gospel to native Americans. David Brainerd never made it here—too far south of course, no settlements during his life, and his life was cut short by illness.
It was odd that after all these years I never made the connection of the church being named Brainerd and that being our legacy. The pastor made available a download of a book on David Brainerd by John Piper, and I also downloaded his diary and have begun reading it, the preface of which is written by Edwards, who would have been his father-in-law had Brainerd lived longer.
All that to say that, despite the 18th century language, the diary is interesting reading and I was taken by his struggles toward conversion. He tells of trying to do works and devotion, religious and otherwise, that would be good enough for salvation or acceptance by God, not achieving it, and then getting angry about it. He was not trusting grace and didn’t know how.
“Sometimes I used to take much pains to work it up into a good frame, an humble submissive disposition; and hoped there was then some goodness in me. But, on a sudden, the thoughts of the strictness of the law, or the sovereignty of God, would so irritate the corruption of my heart, that I had so watched over, and hoped I had brought to a good frame, that it would break over all bounds, and burst forth on all sides, like floods of water when they break down their dam. “
In spite of the archaic language and the doctrines of election, I don’t think his struggle is that far from all of us. We want to please God and try means to do so other than falling on grace; we get mad when we can’t reach God our own way. We want to believe in God; some atheists believe in God but are greatly angry and disappointed at Him, which makes no sense. Grace is harder than it sounds because it means stopping our own dependence on our abilities and work ethic and whatever else.
Which leads me to the topic of legalism. I still hear people who think legalism is not engaging in certain practices. There are many good reasons not to engage in certain practices (drinking, for example) and they have nothing to do with legalism. If you abstain from alcohol because of logical reasons (health; possibility of addiction, which is much greater a possibility than the newly liberated Christians want to admit; saving money—let’s be real, alcohol is expensive), then that is not legalism. If you abstain from alcohol because it makes you a better class of people and believe God will love you more, that is legalism. Legalism has no more to do without specific outside practices than spirituality does; very profligate people can be legalistic about some things. Saul was a legalist and martyring people.
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