The diary of 18th century missionary to the American Indians, David Brainerd, is too well known to need much critique from me. It became world-renown due to the efforts of Jonathan Edwards who edited and published the diary and journal shortly after Brainerd’s death at the young age of 29. It has since served as an encouragement for spiritual fervor and dedicated service to the Lord for the tens of thousands who have read it.
Brainerd did not write his diary with the intent of others reading it. As such it is a record of his personal struggles and triumphs in his walk with God. No one, after reading the diary, could ever doubt this young man’s sincerity. He desired to be all that God wanted him to be and served the Lord so mightily that it most likely broke his health. But his constant morbid introspection is troublesome. Even Edwards admits that Brainerd’s melancholy and “dejection of spirit” was his greatest imperfection (pp. 45-46). Throughout his diary Brainerd was either rejoicing in his experience of pleasures in the Lord or depressed that he was not enjoying such delights. These reversals of moods could take place rapidly, even within the same day. Interestingly, in the journal portion of this book (pp. 203-308) written for the Scottish believers who had sent him to preach to the Indians, we read very little of this melancholy. As he poured himself into ministry, with some considerable success among one group, he seemed to have less time to dig into his own moods and feelings. Perhaps this supports one of the standard recommendations for depressed people—stop thinking so much about yourself and reach out to others.
The particular edition that I read, first published by Moody Bible Institute in 1949 and reprinted by Baker Book House in 1989, includes a short (pp. 11-39) biographical sketch of the life of Jonathan Edwards.