The life span of David Brainerd was only 29 years, 5 months, and 19 days. He never finished college; he was expelled from Yale for criticizing a professor. As a young man, David began to earnestly pursue his passion for deep spirituality. Sickly, frail, and of a melancholy disposition, he would have been considered by many a high risk for pioneer gospel work among the North American Indians. Yet God used Brainerd in a most remarkable and noteworthy manner. Reading The Life and Diary of David Brainerd is a convicting, challenging, and life-changing experience.
In his book, Jonathan Edwards reconstructs the daily walk and life of Brainerd and describes in detail the dealings he had with God in his own soul as well as his great exploits of pioneer missionary work among the North American Indians of Massachusetts; at Crossweeksun, New Jersey; eastern Pennsylvania; and his endeavors at the Forks of Delaware.
On April 19, 1741, Ebenezer Pembertson visited Yale and gave a stirring address about missionary work to the Indians. The next day, on his 23rd birthday, Brainerd vowed “to be wholly the Lord’s, to be forever devoted to His service.” On April 20th he wrote in his journal, “I hardly ever so longed to live to God and to be altogether devoted to Him; I want to wear out my life in His service and for His glory.” In June of 1742 he began to spend some days in fasting and prayer. He was at a loss as to what the Lord wanted him to do.
On July 29, that same year, he was licensed to preach as a Presbyterian at Danbury, Connecticut. He spent the summer with Joseph Bellamy, another young bachelor friend. They worshiped and preached in a barn which served as a meeting house for Bellamy’s small congregation in Woodbury, Connecticut.
Brainerd’s first sermon was on July 30th at Southbury, Connecticut, using 1 Peter 4:8 as his text. His first message to the Indians was soon after, on August 12, near the Connecticut-New York border. He traveled as an itinerant preacher for several months. Brainerd was well received by the Indians and usually taught them in the chief’s house. Traveling some 70 miles back to New York, Brainerd was ordained on June 11, 1744, by the Presbytery of New York. On June 19th he left friends and benefactors to again seek God’s chosen ones in the remote wilderness.
In his deep personal dealings with God he committed himself to a life’s work to which he felt God was calling him – to preach Christ among the heathen idolatrous Indians of North America.
(samples from his journal)
“Wednesday, April 21: God again enabled me to wrestle for numbers of souls, and had much fervency in the sweet duty of intercession.
Lord’s Day, April 25: This morning I spent about two hours in secret duties and was enabled more than ordinarily to agonize for immortal souls. Though it was early in the morning and the sun scarcely shined at all, yet my body was quite wet with sweat.
Saturday, December 15: Spent much time in prayer in the woods and seemed raised above the things of this world.
Thursday, August 4: Was enabled to pray much, through the whole day.
Thursday, November 3: Spent this day in secret fasting, and prayer, from morning till night.”
David Brainerd’s writings are full of examples of ministries and miraculous interventions by God in assisting him and furthering the gospel in remote areas of the northeastern USA. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd ought to be read and mused upon by every person who has desires after godliness or missionary work. It will do something for you spiritually. You will be convicted, challenged, and changed. It has had a life-transforming effect on many, motivating them to become missionaries, evangelists, preachers, and people of prayer and power with God.
Brainerd died in 1747 in the home of Jonathan Edwards. His ministry to the Indians was contemporary with Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards as they ministered to the English-speaking people during the period called the “Great Awakening.”