I had a breakfast with a few friends today and the name David Brainerd came up. It led me to think of offering you some thoughts regarding his missionary activity among the Indians in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey between June 1744 through June of 1745. He ministered near the Susquehanna, the Forks of the Delaware River, and in Crossweeksung, before succumbing to tuberculosis, riding his horse from there to Massachusetts, and then passing away in the home of Jonathan Edwards at the young age of 29.
Brainerd was born in Haddam, Connecticut, on April 20, 1718. His father died when he was nine, and his mother when he was 14 -- leaving him (his four brothers and four sisters) orphaned. In July of 1739 (at the age of 21), he was so overcome by the sense of God's wrath against his sins, and the imperfection in all his religious duties, that it drove him to seek -- by faith in Christ alone -- "that way of salvation that is entirely by the righteousness of Christ."
He started at Yale College in New Haven in September of that year, studying to enter the pastorate. Though he was at the top of his class, and likely to be the valedictorian that next year at graduation, he was casually asked by two friends what he thought of one particular professor (Mr. Whittelsey). He answered that he had no more grace (in him) than the chair he was sitting in. Another student, who happened to overhear his remark, told the faculty and Brainerd was dismissed from the college or ever returning. It would be hard to describe the shame and brokenness of spirit this caused Brainerd -- since without a degree from Harvard or Yale, or a European college, one could not gain a pulpit in New England.
Yet, by the providence of God, this led Brainerd to his short but impactful life's work among the Indians. Due to the severe conditions of working outside, and traveling with the Indians, he succumbed to tuberculosis and died in 1747. Jeshua Edwards (Jonathan Edwards 17 year old daughter) fell in love with him as she nursed him during the last six months of his life in their house. In the last week of his life he told her: "If I had thought that I should not see you, and be happy with you in another world, I could not bear to part with you..." She herself contracted tuberculosis from him and died the next winter at the age of 18.
The excerpts that follow are taken from his journal and diary which were never intended to be public, or published.They were discovered by Edwards after he died, who after editing out some of the more personal content published them under the title: "The Life and Diary of David Brainerd." It was one of the volumes which William Carey read that inspired him to pursue foreign missions. My son David is named after him. Enjoy.
Saturday, October 5, 1745: "Preached to my people (the Indians at Crossweeksung, N.J.) from John 14:1-6. The divine presence seemed to be in the assembly. Numbers were affected with divine truths and it was a season of comfort to some in particular. Oh what a difference there is between these Indians and the Indians I had lately ministered to at the Susquehanna! To be with them seemed like being banished from God, and all His people; but to be with these, is like being admitted into His family, and to the enjoyment of His divine presence! How great is the change lately made upon numbers of these Indians, who not many months ago were as thoughtless and adverse to Christianity as those upon Susquehanna! And how astonishing is that grace which has made this change!"Sunday, Lord's Day, October 6, 1745: "Preached before noon from John 10:7-11. There was a considerable melting among my people. The dear young Christians were refreshed, comforted and strengthened, and one or two persons newly awakened (or made alive in Jesus). In the afternoon I discoursed on the story of the jailer in Acts 16, and in the evening expounded Acts 20:1-12. There was at this time a very agreeable melting spread through the whole assembly. I think I scarce ever saw a more desirable affection in any number of people in my life. There was scarce a dry eye to be seen among them, and yet nothing boisterous or unseemly. Nothing that tended to disturb public worship. But rather, to encourage and excite a Christian ardor an spirit of devotion. Those who, I have reason to hope, were savingly renewed, were the first affected, and seemed to rejoice much, but with brokenness of spirit and godly fear... appearing to be the genuine effect of a Spirit of adoption.
After public service was over I withdrew (being much tired with the labors of the day) and the Indians continued praying among themselves for nearly two hours together. These continued exercises appeared to be attended with a blessed quickening influence from on high. I could not but earnestly wish that numbers of God's people had been present at this season to see and hear these things, which I am sure must refresh the heart of every true lover of Zion's interest..."
October 24, 1745: "Discoursed from John 4:13-14. There was a great attention, a desirable affection, and an unaffected melting in the assembly. It is surprising to see how eager they are of hearing the word of God. I have oftentimes thought they would cheerfully and diligently attend divine worship twenty-four hours straight, had they an opportunity so to do."
October 25, 1745: "Discoursed to my people respecting the resurrection, from Luke 20:27-36. And when I came to mention the blessedness the godly shall enjoy at that season; their final freedom from death, sin, and sorrow; their equality to the angels in regard to their nearness to, and enjoyment of Christ (an imperfect degree of which they are favored with in the present life, and from whence springs their sweetest comfort)... numbers of them were much affected and melted with a view of this blessed state."
October 26, 1745: "I was asked to help assist in the serving of the Lord's Supper at a nearby congregation (of Englishmen). Invited my (Indian) people to go with me. In general they accepted the opportunity cheerfully, and attended the several discourses (in English) with diligence and affection, most of them now understanding something of the English language."
Lord's Day, October 27, 1745: "While I was preaching to a vast assembly of people, there was one Indian woman, a stranger, who never heard me preach before, nor ever regarded anything about religion. She was persuaded by some of her friends to come to meeting, though much against her will. She was seized with pressing concern for her soul, and soon after expressed a great desire of going home, more than 40 miles distant, to call her husband, that he might also be awakened to a concern for his soul. Some other of the Indians also appeared to be affected with divine truths this day. The pious people of the English (numbers of whom I had opportunity to converse with) seemed refreshed with seeing the Indians worship God in that devout and solemn manner with the assembly of His people. And with those mentioned in Acts 11:18, they could not but, "glorify God, saying, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life."
October 28, 1745: "Preached again to a great assembly, at which time some of my people appeared affected. And when public worship was over, were inquiring whether there would not be another sermon in the evening, or before the celebration of the Lord's Supper ended, being still desirous to hear God's word."
About a year before his death (September of 1746) he wrote in his diary: "My heaven is to please God, and glorify Him, and to give all to Him, and be totally 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 suppose I had any true religion in me."
May the Lord be pleased to pour out upon the lives of many in our day the same spirit of hungering after God. In God's providence Brainerd was kept from pastoring a comfortable New England church.
Yet he was driven by his love for souls to preach -- to the Indians -- people he came to love so much that he often pleaded for their rights against the settlers, "complaining of the horrid practice of making the Indians drunk, and then cheating them out of their lands, and other properties, with too much warmth of spirit" (righteous anger).
In His Service, Pastor Jeff