True Saints, When Absent From The Body, Are Present With The Lord

Preached by Rev. Jonathan Edwards on the day of the funeral of the Rev. David Brainerd, Missionary to the Indians, from the Honorable Society in Scotland for the propagation of Christian Knowledge, and Pastor of a Church of Christian Indians in New Jersey; who died at Northampton in New England, October 9, 1747, in the 30th year of his age, and was interred on the 12th following.

Part 3 of 3

"We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8)

[Editor’s note: We have seen that the souls of the true saints will go to be with Christ in three respects, namely: (1) they will go to dwell in the same abode with the glorified human nature of Christ; (2) they will go and dwell in the immediate, full and constant sight or view of Christ; (3) they will enjoy a full manifestation of their union with Christ; (4) they shall enjoy a glorious and immediate fellowship with Christ as friends and brethren; and (5) they shall be made to share in the blessedness of Christ. In this concluding part of the sermon, Edwards brings us to consider the life and death of David Brainerd’s as an example of how the inspired word should shape our thoughts and aspirations.]

Concluding Remarks

The use that I would make of what has been said on this subject is ofexhortation. Let us all be exhorted hence earnestly to seek after that great privilege, that when "we are absent from the body, we may be present with the Lord." We cannot continue always in these earthly tabernacles; — they are very frail, and will soon decay and fall, and are continually liable to be overthrown by innumerable means. Our souls must soon leave them, and go into the eternal world. — O, how infinitely great will the privilege and happiness of such be, who at that time shall go to be with Christ in his glory, in the manner that has been represented! The privilege of the twelve disciples was great, in being so constantly with Christ as his family, in his state of humiliation. The privilege of those three disciples was great, who were with him in the mount of his transfiguration, where was exhibited to them some little semblance of his future glory in heaven, such as they might behold in the present frail, feeble, and sinful state. They were greatly entertained and delighted with what they saw, and were for making tabernacles to dwell there, and return no more down the mount. And great was the privilege of Moses when he was with Christ in mount Sinai, and besought him to show him his glory, and he saw his back parts as he passed by, and proclaimed his name. — But how infinitely greater the privilege of being with Christ in heaven, where he sits on the right hand of God, as the glory of the King and God of angels, and of the whole universe, shining forth as the great light, the bright sun of that world of glory; there to dwell in the full, constant and everlasting view of his beauty and brightness; there most freely and intimately to converse with him, and fully to enjoy his love, as his friends and spouse; there to have fellowship with him in the infinite pleasure and joy he has in the enjoyment of his Father! How transcendent the privilege, there to sit with him on his throne, to reign with him in the possession of all things, and partake with him in the joy and glory of his victory over his enemies, and the advancement of his kingdom in the world, and to join with him in joyful songs of praise to his Father and their Father, to his God and their God, forever and ever! Is not such a privilege worth seeking after?

But here, as a special enforcement of this exhortation, I would improve that dispensation of God’s holy providence, which is the sorrowful occasion of our coming together at this time, viz. the death of that eminent servant of Jesus Christ, in the work of the gospel-ministry, whose funeral is this day to be attended; together with what was observable in him, living and dying.

In this dispensation of Providence, God puts us in mind of our mortality, and forewarns us that the time is approaching when we must be absent from the body, and "must all appear (as the apostle observes in the context) before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one of us may receive the things done in the body, according to what we have done, whether it be good or bad."

And in him, whose death we are now called to consider and improve, we have not only an instance of mortality, but an instance of one that, being absent from the body, is present with the Lord, as we have all imaginable reason to conclude. And that whether we consider the nature of the operations he was under, about the time whence he dates his conversion, or the nature and course of his inward exercises from that time forward, or his outward conversation and practices in life, or his frame and behavior during the whole of that long season wherein he looked death in the face.

His convictions of sin, preceding his first consolations in Christ (as appears by a written account he has left of his inward exercises and experiences), were exceeding deep and thorough. His trouble and exercise of mind, through a sense of guilt and misery, very great and long-continued, but yet sound and solid, consisting in no unsteady, violent and unaccountable hurries and frights, and strange perturbations of mind, but arising from the most serious consideration, and proper illumination of the conscience to discern and consider the true state of things. And the light let into his mind at conversion, and the influences and exercises that his mind was subject to at that time, appear very agreeable to reason and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The change [was] very great and remarkable, without any appearance of strong impressions on the imagination, sudden flights and pangs of the affections, and vehement emotions in animal nature, but attended with proper intellectual views of the supreme glory of the Divine Being, consisting in the infinite dignity and beauty of the perfections of his nature, and of the transcendent excellency of the way of salvation by Christ. — This was about eight years ago, when he was about twenty-one years of age.

Thus God sanctified and made meet for his use, that vessel which he intended to make of eminent honor in his house, and which he had made of large capacity, having endowed him with very uncommon abilities and gifts of nature. He was a singular instance of a ready invention, natural eloquence, easy flowing expression, sprightly apprehension, quick discerning, and a very strong memory, and yet of a very penetrating genius, close and clear thought, and piercing judgment. He had an exact taste. His understanding was quick, strong and distinguishing.

His learning was very considerable, for which he had a great taste, and applied himself to his studies in so close a manner when he was at college, that he much injured his health, and was obliged on that account for a while to leave his studies and return home. He was esteemed one that excelled in learning in that society.

He had an extraordinary knowledge of men, as well as things, had a great insight into human nature, and excelled most that ever I knew in a communicative faculty. He had a peculiar talent at accommodating himself to the capacities, tempers and circumstances of those whom he would instruct or counsel.

He had extraordinary gifts for the pulpit. I never had opportunity to hear him preach, but have often heard him pray. I think his manner of addressing himself to God, and expressing himself before him, in that duty, almost inimitable, such (so far as I may judge) as I have very rarely known equaled. He expressed himself with that exact propriety and pertinency, in such significant, weighty, pungent expressions, with that decent appearance of sincerity, reverence, and solemnity, and great distance from all affectation, as forgetting the presence of men, and as being in the immediate presence of a great and holy God, that I have scarcely ever known paralleled. And his manner of preaching, by what I have often heard of it from good judges, was no less excellent: being clear and instructive, natural, nervous, forcible, and moving, and very searching and convincing. — He rejected with disgust an affected noisiness, and violent boisterousness in the pulpit, and yet much disrelished a flat, cold delivery, when the subject of discourse, and matter delivered, required affection and earnestness.

Not only had he excellent talents for the study and the pulpit, but also for conversation. He was of a sociable disposition and was remarkably free, entertaining, and profitable in ordinary discourse, and had much of a faculty of disputing, defending truth and confuting error.

As he excelled in his judgment and knowledge of things in general, so especially in divinity. He was truly, for one of his standing, an extraordinary divine. But above all, in matters relating to experimental religion. In this, I know I have the concurring opinion of some who have had a name for persons of the best judgment. And according to what ability I have to judge things of this nature, and according to my opportunities, which of late have been very great, I never knew his equal, of his age and standing, for clear, accurate notions of the nature and essence of true religion, and its distinctions from its various false appearances, which I suppose to be owing to these three things meeting together in him: the strength of his natural genius, the great opportunities he had of observing others, in various parts, both white people and Indians, and his own great experience.

His experiences of the holy influences of God’s Spirit were not only great at his first conversion, but they were so in a continued course, from that time forward, as appears by a private journal which he kept of his daily inward exercises from the time of his conversion until he was disabled by the failing of his strength, a few days before his death. The change which he looked upon as his conversion, was not merely a great change of the present views, affections, and frame of his mind, but also the beginning of that work of God on his heart, which God carried on from that time to his dying day. He greatly abhorred the way of such as live on their first work, as though they had now got through their work, and are thenceforward, by degrees, settled in a cold, lifeless, negligent, worldly frame. He had an ill opinion of such persons’ religion.

His experiences were very diverse from many things that have lately obtained the reputation, with multitudes, of the very height of Christian experience. About the time that the false religion, which arises chiefly from impressions on the imagination, began first to make a very great appearance in the land, he was for a little while deceived with it, so as to think highly of it. And though he knew he never had such experiences as others told of, he thought it was because others’ attainments were beyond his, and so coveted them and sought after them but could never obtain them. He told me that he never had what is called an impulse, or a strong impression of his imagination, in things of religion, in his life. But [he] owned that during the short time that he thought well of these things, he was tinged with that spirit of false zeal that is wont to attend them. But said that then he was not in his element, but as a fish out of water. And when, after a little while, he came clearly to see the vanity and perniciousness of such things. It cost him abundance of sorrow and distress of mind, and to my knowledge he afterwards freely and openly confessed the errors in conduct that he had run into, and laid himself low before them whom he had offended. And since his conviction of his error in those respects, he has ever had a peculiar abhorrence of that kind of bitter zeal, and those delusive experiences that have been the principal source of it. He detested enthusiasm in all its forms and operations, and abhorred whatever in opinion or experience seemed to verge towards antinomianism, as the experiences of those whose first faith consists in believing that Christ died for them in particular, and their first love, in loving God, because they supposed they were the objects of his love. Their assurance of their good estate [was] from some immediate testimony or suggestion, either with or without texts of Scripture, that their sins are forgiven, that God loves them, etc. and the joys of such as rejoiced more in their own supposed distinction from others, in honor, and privileges, and high experiences, than in God’s excellency and Christ’s beauty: the spiritual pride of such laymen, [who] are for setting up themselves as public teachers, and cry down human learning, and a learned ministry. He greatly disliked a disposition in persons to much noise and show in religion, and affecting to be abundant in publishing and proclaiming their own experience. Though he did not condemn, but approved of Christians speaking of their experiences, on some occasions, and to some persons, with modesty, discretion, and reserve. He abominated the spirit and practice of the generality of the Separatists in this land. I heard him say, once and again, that he had been much with this kind of people, and was acquainted with many of them, in various parts, and that by this acquaintance, he knew that what was chiefly and most generally in repute amongst them, as the power of godliness, was entirely a different thing from that vital piety recommended in the Scripture, and had nothing in it of that nature. He never was more full in condemning these things than in his last illness, and after he ceased to have any expectation of life. [This was] particularly when he had the greatest and nearest views of approaching eternity, and several times, when he thought himself actually dying, and expected in a few minutes to be in the eternal world, as he himself told me.

As his inward experiences appear to have been of the right kind, and were very remarkable as to their degree, so was his outward behavior and practice agreeable. He in his whole course acted as one who had indeed sold all for Christ, and had entirely devoted himself to God, and made His glory his highest end, and was fully determined to spend his whole time and strength in His service. He was lively in religion, in the right way: lively, not only, nor chiefly, with his tongue, in professing and talking, but lively in the work and business of religion. He was not one of those who are for contriving ways to shun the cross, and get to heaven with ease and sloth, but was such an instance of one living a life of labor and self-denial, and spending his strength and substance in pursuing that great end, and the glory of his Redeemer, that perhaps is scarcely to be paralleled in this age in these parts of the world. Much of this may be perceived by anyone that reads his printed journal, but much more has been learned by long intimate acquaintance with him, and by looking into his diary since his death, which he purposely concealed in what he published.

And as his desires and labors for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom were great, so was his success. God was pleased to make him the instrument of bringing to pass the most remarkable things among the poor savages — in enlightening, awakening, reforming, and changing their disposition and manners, and wonderfully transforming them — that perhaps can be produced in these latter ages of the world. An account of this has been given the public in his journals, drawn up by order of the Honorable Society in Scotland, that employed him, which I would recommend to the perusal of all such as take pleasure in the wonderful works of God’s grace, and would read that which will peculiarly tend both to entertain and profit a Christian mind.

No less extraordinary than the things already mentioned of him in life, was his constant calmness, peace, assurance, and joy in God, during the long time he looked death in the face, without the least hope of recovery: continuing without interruption to the last, while his distemper very sensibly preyed upon his vitals, from day to day, and oft brought him to that state in which he looked upon himself, and was thought by others, to be dying. The thoughts of approaching death never seemed in the least to damp, but rather to encourage him, and exhilarate his mind. And the nearer death approached, the more desirous he seemed to be of it. He said, not long before his death, that "the consideration of the day of death, and the day of judgment, had a long time been peculiarly sweet to him." And at another time, that "he could not but think of the meetness there was in throwing such a rotten carcass as his into the grave: it seemed to him to be the right way of disposing of it." He often used the epithet glorious, when speaking of the day of his death, calling it that glorious day. On a sabbath day morning, September 27, feeling an unusual appetite to food, and looking on it as a sign of approaching death, he said, "he should look on it as a favor, if this might be his dying day, and he longed for the time." He had before expressed himself desirous of seeing his brother again, whose return had been expected from the Jerseys, but then (speaking of him) he said, "I am willing to go, and never see him again: I care not what I part with, to be for ever with the Lord." Being asked, that morning, how he did? He answered, "I am almost in eternity: God knows, I long to be there. My work is done; I have done with all my friends; all the world is nothing to me." On the evening of the next day, when he thought himself dying, and was apprehended to be so by others, and he could utter himself only by broken whispers, he often repeated the word Eternity; and said, "I shall soon be with the holy angels. — He will come; he will not tarry." He told me one night, as he went to bed, that "he expected to die that night." And added, "I am not at all afraid, I am willing to go this night, if it be the will of God. Death is what I long for." He sometimes expressed himself as "nothing to do but to die: and being willing to go that minute, if it was the will of God." He sometimes used that expression, "O why is his chariot so long in coming."

He seemed to have remarkable exercises of resignation to the will of God. He once told me, that "he had longed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God, and the glorious times of the church, and hoped they were coming; and should have been willing to have lived to promote religion at that time, if that had been the will of God. But (says he) I am willing it should be as it is: I would not have the choice to make myself for ten thousand worlds."

He several times spoke of the different kinds of willingness to die, and spoke of it as an ignoble mean kind, to be willing, only to get rid of pain, or to go to heaven only to get honor and advancement there. His own longings for death seemed to be quite of a different kind, and for nobler ends. When he was first taken with something like a diarrhea, which is looked upon as one of the last and most fatal symptoms in a consumption, he said, "O now the glorious time is coming? I have longed to serve God perfectly; and God will gratify these desires." And at one time and another, in the latter part of his illness, he uttered these expressions. "My heaven is to please God, and glorify him, and give all to him, and to be wholly devoted to his glory. — That is the heaven I long for. That is my religion, and that is my happiness, and always was, ever since I supposed I had any true religion. All those that are of that religion, shall meet me in heaven. I do not go to heaven to be advanced, but to give honor to God. It is no matter where I shall be stationed in heaven, whether I have a high or low seat there, but to love, and please, and glorify God. If I had a thousand souls, if they were worth anything, I would give them all to God: but I have nothing to give, when all is done. It is impossible for any rational creature to be happy without acting all for God. God himself could not make me happy any other way. — I long to be in heaven, praising and glorifying God with the holy angels; all my desire is to glorify God. — My heart goes out to the burying place, it seems to me a desirable place: But O to glorify God! That is it! That is above all! — It is a great comfort to me to think that I have done a little for God in the world: It is but a very small matter; yet I have done a little; and I lament it, that I have not done more for him. — There is nothing in the world worth living for, but doing good, and finishing God’s work, doing the work that Christ did. I see nothing else in the world that can yield any satisfaction, besides living to God, pleasing him, and doing his whole will. My greatest joy and comfort has been to do something for promoting the interest of religion, and the souls of particular persons."

After he came to be in so low a state, that he ceased to have the least expectation of recovery, his mind was peculiarly carried forth with earnest concern for the prosperity of the church of God on earth, which seemed very manifestly to arise from a pure disinterested love to Christ, and desire of his glory. The prosperity of Zion, was a theme he dwelt much upon, and of which he spoke much, and more and more, the nearer death approached. He told me when near his end, that "he never, in all his life, had his mind so led forth in desires and earnest prayers for the flourishing of Christ’s kingdom on earth, as since he was brought so exceeding low at Boston." He seemed much to wonder that there appeared no more disposition in ministers and people to pray for the flourishing of religion through the world. And particularly, he several times expressed his wonder, that there appeared no more forwardness to comply with the proposal lately made from Scotland, for united extraordinary prayer among God’s people, for the coming of Christ’s kingdom, and sent it as his dying advice to his own congregation, that they should practise agreeably to that proposal.

A little before his death, he said to me, as I came into the room, "My thoughts have been employed on the old dear theme, the prosperity of God’s church on earth. As I waked out of sleep (said he) I was led to cry for the pouring out of God’s Spirit, and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, which the dear Redeemer did and suffered so much for: it is that especially makes me long for it." — But a few days before his death, he desired us to sing a psalm concerning the prosperity of Zion, which he signified his mind was engaged in above all things. At his desire we sang a part of the 102nd Psalm. And when we had done, though he was then so low that he could scarcely speak, he so exerted himself, that he made a prayer, very audibly, wherein, besides praying for those present, and for his own congregation, he earnestly prayed for the reviving and flourishing of religion in the world. His own congregation especially lay much on his heart. He often spoke of them, and commonly when he did so, it was with extraordinary tenderness, so that his speech was interrupted and drowned with weeping.

Thus I have endeavored to represent something of the character and behavior of that excellent servant of Christ, whose funeral is now to be attended. Though I have done it very imperfectly; yet I have endeavored to do it faithfully, and as in the presence and fear of God, without flattery; which surely is to be abhorred in ministers of the gospel, when speaking as messengers of the Lord of Hosts. Such reason have we to be satisfied that the person spoken of, now he is absent from the body, is present with the Lord, and now wearing a crown of glory, of distinguished brightness.

And how much is there in the consideration of such an example, and so blessed an end, to excite us, who are yet alive, with the greatest diligence and earnestness, to improve the time of life, that we also may go to be with Christ, when we forsake the body! The time is coming, and will soon come, we know not how soon, when we must take leave of all things here below, to enter on a fixed unalterable state in the eternal world. O, how well is it worth the while to labor and suffer, and deny ourselves, to lay up in store a good foundation of support and supply, against that time! How much is such a peace as we have heard of, worth at such a time. And how dismal would it be, to be in such circumstances, under the outward distresses of a consuming, dissolving frame, and looking death in the face from day to day, with hearts uncleansed, and sin unpardoned, under a dreadful load of guilt and divine wrath, having much sorrow and wrath in our sickness, and nothing to comfort and support our minds: nothing before us but a speedy appearance before the judgment seat of an almighty, infinitely holy, and angry God, and an endless eternity in suffering his wrath without mercy! The person we have been speaking of, had a great sense of this. He said, not long before his death, "It is sweet to me to think of eternity: the endlessness of it makes it sweet. But, oh, what shall I say to the eternity of the wicked! I cannot mention it, nor think of it! — The thought is too dreadful!" At another time, speaking of a heart devoted to God and his glory, he said, "O of what importance is it to have such a frame of mind, such a heart as this, when we come to die! It is this now that gives me peace."

How much is there, in particular, in the things that have been observed of this eminent minister of Christ, to excite us, who are called to the same great work of the gospel ministry, to earnest care and endeavors, that we may be in like manner faithful in our work, that we may be filled with the same spirit, animated with the like pure and fervent flame of love to God, and the like earnest concern to advance the kingdom and glory of our Lord and Master and the prosperity of Zion! How amiable did these principles render this servant of Christ in his life, and how blessed in his end! The time will soon come, when we also must leave our earthly tabernacles, and go to our Lord that sent us to labor in his harvest, to render an account of ourselves to him. O how does it concern us so to run as not uncertainly, so to fight, not as those that beat the air! And should not what we have heard excite us to depend on God for his help and assistance in our great work, and to be much in seeking the influences of his Spirit, and success in our labors, by fasting and prayer, in which the person spoken of was abundant? This practice he earnestly recommended on his deathbed, from his own experience of its great benefits, to some candidates for the ministry that stood by his bedside. He was often speaking of the great need ministers have of much of the Spirit of Christ in their work, and how little good they are like to do without it, and how, "when ministers were under the special influences of the Spirit of God, it assisted them to come at the consciences of men, and (as he expressed it) as it were to handle them with hands: whereas, without the Spirit of God, said he, whatever reason and oratory we make use of, we do but make use of stumps, instead of hands.

Oh that the things that were seen and heard in this extraordinary person, his holiness, heavenliness, labor and self-denial in life, his so remarkably devoting himself and his all, in heart and practice, to the glory of God, and the wonderful frame of mind manifested in so steadfast a manner under the expectation of death, and the pains and agonies that brought it on, may excite in us all, both ministers and people, a due sense of the greatness of the work we have to do in the world, the excellency and amiability of thorough religion in experience and practice, and the blessedness of the end of such a life, and the infinite value of their eternal reward, when absent from the body and present with the Lord; and effectually stir us up to endeavors, that in the way of such a holy life, we may at least come to so blessed an end. — Amen. W

David Brainerd’s Final Entry in His Diary

Friday, October 2 [1747]. My soul was this day, at turns, sweetly set on God. I longed to be with Him that I might behold His glory. I felt sweetly disposed to commit all to Him, even my dearest friends, my dearest flock, my absent brother, and all my concerns for time and eternity. Oh, that His kingdom might come in the world; that they might all love and glorify Him, for what He is in Himself; and that the blessed Redeemer might "see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied"! Oh, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen.