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His conduct at college, and preparation for the
In the autumn of 1739, Mr. Brainerd entered at Yale College, in Newhaven ; and began his academical course, under salutary apprehensions of the temptations which were likely to beset him therein.
After he had been a few months at college he caught the measles; and returned home in consequence to Haddam. His life was in imminent danger; but he was spared for future services.
On his return to college, his ardour in study was such, that it injured his health, and greatly wronged,' to use his own words, the activity and vigour of his spiritual life. He had enjoyed much of the presence of God ; and, in his sickness, had rather longed for death than dreaded its approach. Such was the elevation of his piety, that he could say of certain states of his mind, “Oh, how much more refreshing was this one season, than all the pleasures and delights that earth can afford !' Yet, though he could continue to say of the habit of his mind, “ In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul,” he felt and lamented the deadening influence of ambition and eagerness in his studies.
In the autumn of 1740, his severe application had reduced him to such a state of debility, that his tutor advised him to retire from college, and to disengage his mind, for a season, from its customary pursuits. He recovered strength by this suspension of his labour, and returned to college in the beginning of November.
During this retirement, and for some time after the renewal of his studies, he had much enjoyment and elevation of soul. God was his portion; and to walk with him was his habit and his joy. While he deeply felt the depravity of his fallen nature, and the malignity and odiousness of sin, he could exult in the grace of his heavenly Father, and felt an ardent love to all mankind. This was as a fire in hi bosom. He longed earnestly that all men shoula enjoy what he himself enjoyed.
In the prospect of his return to college on his recovery, he trembled at the thought of those snares which had before proved injurious to his mind; and, so keen was his sensibility on this head, that he felt as though he would much rather die than return. His old temptation, as he called it—ambition in his studies-does not appear, indeed, to have resumed its former influence over him, though he did not wholly escape.
A great revival of religion taking place, in the early part of 1741, throughout the college, Brainerd was much animated and encouraged thereby.
President Edwards remarks, that this revival of religion was, for a time, very great and general at Newhaven, and that the college had no small share therein. That society was much reformed: most of the students became thoughtful, and many of them truly religious. Much of the profession and emotion of those days ended, indeed, as in many similar cases, in extravagance and enthusiasm ; but the most happy and permanent effects continued on the minds of many members of the college.
The danger, however, attending such a state of things is strikingly manifested in its effects on Brainerd's mind. He was yet young, and his judgment but little exercised. Though there is no reason to doubt but that he was still sincere and elevated in his piety ; ' yet,' says his biographer, ‘ he was afterwards abundantly sensible that his religious affections at that time were not free from a corrupt mixture, nor his conduct to be acquitted from many things that were imprudent and blameable ; which he greatly lamented himself, and was willing that others should forget, that none might make an ill improvement of such an example.'
The truth of the Christian's character is very much discovered by the manner in which he views his own imperfections. In this respect, Brainerd displays the ingenuousness of an humbled and gracious mind. And, as the biography of fallen but renewed man will warn as well as encourage, we shall not withhold this instructive part of Brainerd's history.
From the end of January 1741, to the end of February 1742, he kept a regular diary, containing a very particular narrative of what passed from day to day. When he lay on his death-bed, he directed this diary to be destroyed; and, not being then able to write himself, be desired a friend to record at the beginning of the part of his diary immediately fol
lowing, that the preceding part was lost; but that if any persons should be desirous of knowing how he had lived during that period, they might consult the earlier part of that diary, where they would find something of a specimen of his ordinary manner of living during the thirteen months preceding; cepting,' as he added, with ingenuous compunction,
that here he was more refined from some imprudences and indecent heats, than there.'
As the imprudences thus alluded to led to his expulsion from the college, it may be well to state the affair in the words of his biographer.
It could not be otherwise, than that one, whose heart had been so prepared and drawn to God as Mr. Brainerd's had been, should be mightily enlarged, animated, and engaged at the sight of such an alteration made in the college, the town, and land ; and so great an appearance af men's reforming their lives, and turning from their profaneness and immorality, to seriousness and concern for their salvation, and of religion's reviving and flourishing almost everywhere. But as an intemperate imprudent zeal, and a degree of enthusiasm, soon crept in and mingled itself with that revival of religion; and so great and general an awakening being quite a new thing in the land, at least as to all the living inhabitants of it; neither people nor ministers had learned thoroughly to distinguish between solid religion and its delusive counterfeits : even many ministers of the gospel, of long standing and the best reputation, were for a time overpowered with the glaring appearances of the latter; and therefore, surely it was not to be wondered at that Brainerd should be so; who was not only young in
years, but very young in experience, and had had but little
opportunity for the study of divinity, and still less for observation of the circumstances and events of such an extraordinary state of things. A man must divest himself of all reason to make strange of it.
'In these disadvantageous circumstances, Brainerd had the unhappiness to have a tincture of that intemperate indiscreet zeal which was at that time too prevalent; and was led, from his high opinion of others that he looked upon as better than himself, into such errors as were really contrary to the habitual temper of his mind.
•One instance of his misconduct at that time gave great offence to the rulers of the college, even to that degree that they expelled him the society; which it is necessary should here be particularly related, with its circumstances.
• Several religious students associated themselves one with another for mutual conversation and assistance; who were wont freely to open themselves one to another, as special and intimate friends. Brainerd was one of this company. And it once happened, that he and two or three more of these his intimate friends were in the hall together, after Mr. Wbit. telsey, one of the tutors, had prayed there with the scholars; no other person now remaining in the hall, but Brainerd and tbese his companions. Mr. Whittelsey having been unusually pathetic in his prayer, one of Brainerd's friends on this occasion asked him what he thought of Mr. Whittelsey: he made answer, ' He has no more grace than this chair. One of the freshmen happening at that time to be near the hall (though not in the room) overheard those words of his. Though he heard no name mentioned, and knew not who the person was that was thus cen