Of Intense Brightness
The Spirituality of Uncommon Christian James Brainerd Taylor
Edited and introduced by Dr. I. Francis Kyle III
Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, June 2008
Foreword by James M. Houston "Of Intense Brightness" – Introductory Essay Selection No. 19 (of 45) of Taylor's Letters/Journal Entries Selection No. 22 (of 45) Selection No. 38 (of 45) Selection No. 43 (of 45) Epilogue by Peter Adam: A Special Word to University and Seminary Students
Foreword by James M. Houston (M.A., Edinburgh; D.Phil., Oxford)
Founding Principal and Board of Governors' Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College (Vancouver, B.C., Canada)
& Author/Editor (among others), Joyful Exiles: Life in Christ on the Dangerous Edge of Things (IVP)
One of the saints of our times is Marcus Loane, former Archbishop of Sydney and Primate of the Anglican church in Australia. I was privileged to know him as a friend of our family. Quietly on one occasion, he told me what he had done on a sabbatical. He had been deeply moved by the dedicated lives of three young men, two who died at twenty-nine years old and one at thirty-one. All had spent themselves selflessly in amazing ways. These were David Brainerd (1718–1747), Henry Martyn (1781–1812), and Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813–1843). The subject of these letters and journal entries, James Brainerd Taylor (1801–1829), was a maternal cousin, four times removed, of David Brainerd.
All were inspired by David Brainerd to inspire others in turn. As a pioneer missionary in India who translated the Bible into Urdu and most of the New Testament into Persian, the Englishman Henry Martyn writes in his journal: "Read David Brainerd today and yesterday, and found as usual my spirit greatly benefited by it. I long to be like him; let me forget the world and be swallowed up in a desire to glorify God." Both David Brainerd and Henry Martyn, in turn, inspired Robert Murray M'Cheyne. He was as instrumental in a spiritual revival in Dundee, Scotland, as James Brainerd Taylor had been in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.
As a contemporary reader of this collection of letters and journal entries, you may feel so remote from their spirit and religious consciousness that you wonder why go on reading them. Yet my friend, Marcus Loane, responded in a wonderful way after he had perused all their memoirs. He set out from Australia for India, and traveled in the steps of Henry Martyn through the sub-continent, eventually to reach his graveside in Persia. There he re-erected the broken and defaced tomb and its memorial at his own expense. He then traveled to Scotland to visit the haunts of Robert Murray M'Cheyne. Finally, he traveled from David Brainerd's birthplace in Haddam, Connecticut, to parts of the Hudson, Delaware, and Susquehanna Valleys, where Brainerd had served as a missionary to the Indians. Now our editor, Francis Kyle, a young man like them, maps out for us the itinerary of places visited by James Brainerd Taylor. At least now, we can travel on the spiritual journey of his memoirs. . . .
A young man of a recent generation was Jim Elliott (1927–1956), martyred missionary to the Auca Indians. He reported: "I see the value of Christian biography tonight, as I have been reading Brainerd's Diary. . . . Enjoyed such sweetness (as he puts it) in reading of the last months of Brainerd's life. . . . Was much encouraged to think of a life of godliness in the light of an early death." I hope you will likewise be encouraged and challenged too, to read these letters and journal entries of Brainerd's relative and fellow uncommon Christian evangelist, James Brainerd Taylor.
"Of Intense Brightness" – Introductory Essay
"The reader will not begrudge his purchase money. . . . [It] should not only be read, but . . . it should be made a familiar companion and counselor. . . . [It is] one of the most holy and unexceptionable [sic] books we ever read." So stated the January 1834 Biblical Repertory and Theological Review (later renamed The Princeton Review) in its glowing eight-page assessment of the first edition Memoir of James Brainerd Taylor. With such high accolades from such a reputable and influential Christian periodical, it is little wonder that by mid-nineteenth century the second edition of Taylor's memoir became the fifth most printed memoir of the American Tract Society (est. 1825). Between 1833 and 1855, exactly 50,787 copies of Taylor's memoir were printed by the Society. Only the memoirs on David Brainerd (1718–1747), Henry Martyn (1781–1812), Harlan Page (1791–1834), and Edward Payson (1783–1827) were printed more often by the Society up to that time. Due to his popularity among mid-to-late nineteenth-century Christians from all denominational persuasions and from around the globe, J. B. Taylor was one of fifteen thousand Americans who appeared in one of the first, most definitive biographical works of its kind ever published in America—Appletons' Cyclopedia of American Biography (1887–1889). A portion of his entry states, "He engaged in missionary work while in school and college, and gained many converts."
While it is true that the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) graduate and Yale Seminary student was remembered for his work as an evangelist and preacher in revivals while a full-time student, Taylor was equally, if not more so, remembered for his depth of evangelical Protestant piety. As Presbyterian minister and longtime Princeton Professor of Mathematics and Mechanics John T. Duffield (1823–1901) stated in 1887, "He was a young man of exceptional piety, a Christian of the Henry Martyn and [Robert Murray] McCheyne type. With him love for Christ and the souls of men was a ruling passion." According to a multitude of notable nineteenth-century pastors, evangelists, seminary professors, and missionaries, Taylor's "exceptional piety" was particularly instructive for theology students, candidates for the ministry, and ordained ministers. One such notable professor was Princeton Seminary's Samuel Miller (1769–1850). Of the aspiring "uncommon Christian," Miller wrote,
I do hope that the [Memoir] of this beloved and excellent youth . . . will be long a useful monument for candidates for the holy ministry. If his heavenly spirit should be held forth as it ought to be, it cannot fail to benefit the sons of the church, who are looking forward to that sacred office.
Although it could be stated as late as 1920 that James Brainerd Taylor's memory "is still precious in the Congregational churches in New England," this is no longer so. The Church in Taylor's native land and elsewhere has evidently experienced a case of historical amnesia regarding not only Taylor, but also other prominent men and women of deep scriptural piety who effectively labored during America's Second Great Awakening (ca. 1790–1830). While the reasons for this apparent amnesia are numerous and varied, there is hope for change. The simple fact that aspects of Taylor's life and spirituality are appearing here in this second published modern work on Taylor is a testimony to that change. (In January 2008, University Press of America published the exhaustive biography An Uncommon Christian: James Brainerd Taylor, Forgotten Evangelist in America's Second Great Awakening.) In the midst of the continued resurgence of interest in the general subject of spirituality in North America and abroad, may the Triune God of Christianity—"the only true God" (John 17:3)—especially be pleased to continue the resurgence of interest in the evangelical Protestant theology and spirituality of such holy men of God as Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), David Brainerd (1718–1747), and Brainerd's distant maternal cousin and Edwards disciple, James Brainerd Taylor. Indeed, these men are worthy of imitation (1 Corinthians 4:16; Hebrews 6:12) and can serve as instructive examples of what evangelical spirituality can look like in concrete form. . . .
J. B. Taylor was indeed a man who possessed an uncommon depth of spirituality that "ought to be noticed with more distinctness" in relationship to other traits of his "lovely character," and that was "of intense brightness to behold." His was a spirituality that was
- focused on and rooted in Jesus Christ alone for salvation (conversionism);
- centered on all three persons of the Godhead (Trinitarianism);
- rooted in the authority and sufficiency of the Holy Bible (biblicism);
- marked by a distinct other-worldly mindedness;
- committed to doing good for others (outward activism); and
- characterized by the shedding of tears in gratitude towards God and for lost souls (godly weeping).
What follows is an examination of these six major aspects of J. B. Taylor's spirituality that were "the very element of his soul." The examination is followed by some comments on the results of Taylor's "uncommon" Christianity. A final word of warning and exhortation from Jonathan Edwards concludes the introductory essay.
Selection No. 19 (of 45) of Taylor's Letters and Journal Entries
(minus the selection's endnotes)
Letter to Miss L.
January 13, 1824
Nassau Hall (Princeton University)
It seems from your testimony that God has lately deepened the work of grace in your soul. How blessed to be blessed of God! What can equal that peace which Christ imparts in some favored moment to his disciples? What joy is like that which flows from an unction of the Holy One? It may be said of those who are justified and sanctified, "Ye are the temples of the Holy Ghost." And to them earth has lost its charms—those scenes of former gayety are mourned over, as time worse than lost—forms and fashions no more seem becoming. With what holy contempt do such look upon the passing vanities of the world. Disgusted with these things, the soul seeks its happiness in retirement, and finding it there alone with God, leaves the worldling to his pursuits and pleasures. Give me my Bible, a season for holy meditation, and an opportunity to call on my "Father who seeth in secret," and I envy not their joys.
Having been so richly blessed of Heaven, I trust you will go on, renewing your strength from day to day. We need "daily bread." And close and intimate communion with God the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, is the food best adapted to the soul that has tasted that the Lord is gracious. May you find your closet more and more a Bethel. It is there that the soul must be trained. There the sweetest hours are to be enjoyed. Holy ones, in every age, have lived near to God in secret. It is this that fits one to live a holy, self-denying, cross-bearing life before the world.
Since my location in college, the Lord has been very gracious in manifesting his love to my soul. He has communed with me from off the mercy seat, so that I have found that these walls cannot shut out the Comforter from my heart. Were it not for this refreshing from the presence of the Lord, what should I do? Methinks of all men I should be the most miserable; but with this my soul is happy, and often exults in God.
Were I to suggest some rules for holy living, they should be the following:
 Let there be constant watchfulness, frequent fastings, and continual prayer.
 Let the Bible be a constant companion for reading and meditation; and as a test to try every thought, word, and action.
 Do good to all. In a word, walk humbly, penitently, and believingly; so shalt thou "die daily," advance heavenward hourly, be blessed always, and happy forever.
Selection No. 22 (of 45) of Taylor's Letters and Journal Entries
(minus the selection's endnotes)
Letter to his sister in Christ, Miss W. of New York
August 25, 1824
Nassau Hall (Princeton University)
O Miss W. what a truth! "God is love;" and I feel the indescribable weight of this truth resting upon my soul. To the world and the formalist, I know, indeed, that these are unmeaning words; but my friend can rejoice that God has imparted the knowledge of this hidden mystery to me, and is building me up in faith and holiness. Holiness! O what charms in the very word! God is holy—angels are holy—saints in glory are holy—and "without holiness no one shall see the Lord." O to be more like our blessed Jesus—more like God!
I still address you from my Bethesda—a house of mercy to the most unworthy. My study is about five feet square; and yet I can sing,
"This little room, for me design'd,
Suits as well my easy mind
As palaces of kings."
I hope God is training me for something; I trust it is either to labor for him on earth, or to take me to himself. To labor for him now is sweet, increasingly sweet; and O, he is with me! At home and abroad Jesus stands by me—the Spirit comforts me—my Father smiles—so,
"Tell me no more of earthly toys,
Of sinful mirth and carnal joys,
The things I loved before."
Let the world have these. Let the professor of religion who indulges in them, wish to join him; but God forbid! for, were I to indulge, even in what by some are called innocent pleasures, my spiritual joys would be gone. And for this I am spoken of, and that too by professors of the religion of Jesus. But what is it to be judged of man's judgment? My witness and record are on high. By censuring for this, they censure me for doing the work of the Lord. The spare time I have from my college duties, I would rather spend with the sick—the indigent; and that too, to win souls. And my prospect for doing good is much greater in huts and smoky cabins, than in the drawing-rooms of rich and thoughtless worldlings. They are joined to their idols. O, pray that I may firmly and devotedly do the work of the Lord, caring neither for their contempt nor their applause; alike indifferent to popularity and persecution. And may our efforts be to turn men from sin to holiness.
Glory to our heavenly Father, for his rich grace through our Lord Jesus Christ. "By grace are ye saved, through faith." This is the way, the only way, of salvation. And it is a sweet way—the way of holiness—the way of heaven.
Selection No. 38 (of 45) of Taylor's Letters and Journal Entries
(minus the selection's endnotes)
August 9, 1827
Last evening's devotion was fraught with the richest of blessings—a broken heart and a contrite spirit. I think I never had such a sense of the necessity of grace to subdue the heart—not because it could not yield, but because it would not. The inability of man is not cannot but will not. My soul was in sweet subjection.
Walked out after tea, and communed with Heaven. Walking, and praying, and contemplating, and singing aloud, as I often do, in my retired walks, it seemed as if the Savior almost spoke audibly to me, "Are you willing to come to me?" I replied, "Yes, Lord, yet willing to remain." My soul was sweetly melted, and I could praise the Lord. Blessed, thrice blessed is my soul. Having retired to my room, I sat me down by my window to look at the heavens. The thought of dying and going to Jesus was pleasant. And I felt ready, but I wished to destroy some of my papers. I thought that I would attend to this on the morrow. This morning, however, I awoke with illness indicative of an excess of bile. Took an emetic. Kind, dear friends and fellow pilgrims of this my home, all interested themselves to help me. They load me with kind offices—all the inmates of the house, and the domestics. Friends send to inquire after me as though they loved me. In looking upon myself I am led to say, Who can ever love me? But I love not a few, and my heart is knit with theirs in the best bonds. Did not know what would be the issue of my illness. Neither was I solicitous. That God was with me—that was enough. Was so much recovered this p.m. as to walk out. ——, still without hope. A., her sister, a dear lamb.
Friday evening. More attended my meeting tonight than ever before. Spoke from the words, "Rejoice with trembling." Some feeling. Saturday evening. Attended the meeting. Rainy. Few present. Pleasant season. Sunday. Bible class at noon. Solemn. More than one hundred present. Lot's fleeing out of Sodom, the subject. At evening devotions, was sweetly refreshed with a visit from my best, heavenly Friend. The Spirit took of the things of Christ and showed them unto me. My fellowship with the Father and with the Son was intimate and unusually dear.
Of late, I have loved to sit and to lie prostrate on the floor while before God, all suffused in tears, and my heart melted into burning love. My soul has been so inflamed as to cause the tears to flow from my eyes as it were, like scalding waters. There is an ardency of affection that causes my soul to lean on the arm of my beloved, and repose on his bosom. Under such soul ardor, I feel the most unworthy, and the least disposed to forgive myself the sins which I have committed against God.
Mrs. —— has come into great enjoyment. My testimony to her was blessed, after which she could not sleep, nor did she rest until she found the Lord exceedingly precious. Mrs. —— (another lady), in deep trouble, and wishes to be prayed for as one unconverted. May she come into full liberty. Mrs. —— (still another lady), happy. Greatly filled with the love of God.
Selection No. 43 (of 45) of Taylor's Letters and Journal Entries (minus the selection's endnotes)
October 28, 1828 Bond Street, New York City
Yesterday, had sweet thoughts of Jesus. The thought of becoming a pure, disembodied spirit, refreshed my soul. And last night, after I had retired, a precious love token was handed down to the unworthiest. The Lord remembereth that I am but dust—that I am of a weak, debilitated, and feeble frame. Often I find it a laborious task to repeat the four lines,
"Now I lay me down to sleep," etc.
Greatly fatiguing to repeat the Lord's prayer. How mercifully the Lord accommodates himself to this weakness. The other night, I had but just laid down, and thought on
"Religion gives sweet pleasures while we live." etc.
And my soul was sweetly melted. So, at times, during the day, in my lonely hours, as I sit and while away the time, unable to apply myself to study or reading long. Last night was most refreshingly baptized—an unction from the Holy One. It rendered me happy—happy on my way to a happy heaven, and the residence of the glorified. Having laid me down for the night, I thought on my anticipated departure—on leaving friends, and yet going on my way, peradventure, where others should become endeared. I thought on meeting one at Princeton (L. H.). He seemed to inquire whether I had solicitude to preach the Gospel. No, I replied, as the thoughts passed through my mind. The days of my solicitude, I added, are gone by. Then, I remembered seasons of anxiety, deep, nay burnings, that I had had for the work of a minister of Jesus Christ. My eyes ran down with tears. I wet my couch, and was greatly melted under the sweet consciousness of an honest appeal to God, who had ever marked my steps. The seasons of longing have not been few in which I have groaned for the work, and for preparation for it. The thought of relinquishing this object, now I rejoiced in, if God will. Nay, I was rather desirous of leaving all behind, and to go to Jesus. I see, I think, enough worth dying for.
Epilogue by Peter Adam (Ph.D., Durham)
A Special Word to University and Seminary Students
Former Principal and Lecturer in Theology and Preaching, Ridley College (Melbourne, Australia)
& Canon, St. Paul's Cathedral (Melbourne)
& Author (among others), Hearing God's Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality (Apollos/IVP, series preface by D. A. Carson)
I thank Francis Kyle for his excellent work in producing this book about James Brainerd Taylor. I am also grateful for the opportunity to write these few pages to encourage students to get maximum benefit from this book. Student life is filled with great opportunities for learning and growth. To miss these opportunities is a tragedy; to grasp them is a triumph. Good decisions now will have great consequences, as will bad decisions. Seize the day for God's sake, and for your ministry's sake!
This book is worth reading. The Evangelical movement was one of the first significant grassroots and worldwide Christian movements, and biographies and journals serve an important function in understanding it. . . .
What can you as a student learn from J. B. Taylor?
- Learn to adore God: "Have just risen from the floor, on which I prostrated myself before God. . . . My prayer was upraised for a disclosure of God's perfections. I think I never before had such a clear view of God's greatness."
- Personal weakness need not hinder our usefulness to God. "But while I am ignorant, helpless, needy, I know that my Lord is wise, powerful and possesseth all things. Him I love—him I would serve and obey."
- Ask an older believer to mentor you: "My Christian brother, permit me to request that you communicate with me as you may find time; and as you are older in religion that I am, I shall look to you to give me such advice as may aid my growth in grace."
- Take the fate of the lost to heart: "Numbers near us are dying for want of the bread of life."
- Learn to pray. I loved Taylor's quotation from an ancient disciple, "I have a friend now in waiting to speak with me." What a great reason to pray!
- Pray for great love: "May we . . . be filled with the Holy Ghost, and with the fire of divine love—love supreme towards God, ardent towards our brethren, and universal towards perishing sinners."
- Know yourself to be a sinner and so be even more aware of God's mercy and mercies: "This is the epitome of my history in every succeeding stage of my past life—mercies and sins."
- Take every opportunity to grow in holiness: "[T]here is no place more eligible for advancement in holiness than college."
- Finally, learn to shun our distorting avoidance of death and human frailty, and learn to see your life in the light of your mortality: "In a word, I am a happy, though a sick and dying man."
May God use the life of J. B. Taylor to challenge and enrich your life and ministry during your student years.