David Brainerd [1718-1747]

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Glory, Glory, Glory to the Blessed God

Our minds and hearts are drawn once again to one of the diary entries of David Brainerd, that man of God who, as a Presbyterian home missionary,  ministered to the native Americans in the mid-eighteenth century in our land.  Listen to his words penned on March 7, 1743:

“This morning when I arose, I found my heart go after God in longing desires of conformity to him, and in secret prayer found myself sweetly quickened and drawn out in praises to God for all he had done to and for me, and for my inward trials and distresses of late.  My heart ascribed glory, glory, glory to the blessed God and bid welcome to all inward distress again, if God saw meet to exercise me with it.  Time appeared but an inch long, and eternity at hand; and I thought I could in patience and cheerfulness bear anything for the cause of God, for I saw that a moment would bring me to a world of peace and blessedness.  My soul by the strength of the Lord, rose far above this lower world, and all the vain amusements and frightful disappointments of it.”

It is clear from reading this brief diary entree that Brainerd saw clearly that both delights and distresses came equally from God’s hand.   Regardless of which came his way, he was prepared to say, “Glory, glory, glory to the blessed God” for it.  And while this is hard to do, to praise God for dark providences, as one called it, yet it is biblical, to say the least.  “In everything give thanks,” the apostle Paul commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.  It is primarily possible when, like David Brainerd, we find ourselves drawn irresistibly to God in adoration and obedience.  Thus we know that, being close to Him, He will give only that which is necessary for our souls to live closely to Him.

Words to Live By:  It is only by daily walking with God, as David Brainerd did during his short life, that we will be able to accept all what the Father has sent our way.  Question? Are you daily walking moment by moment with the Triune God?

Though the Scriptures:  Deuteronomy 23 – 25

Through the Standards: The Only Redeemer of God’s Elect, according to the Confession

WCF 8:1
“It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Savior of His Church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world: unto whom He did from all eternity give a people, to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.”

WCF 8:2
“The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fulness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin; being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance.  So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.  Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.”

Remembering Our Fathers and Brothers :
The following PCA pastors entered their eternal rest on this day in—
1990 – William Donald McColley. Born in Tacoma, Washington in 1936, Rev. McColley graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary in 1961 and was ordained in the RPCES, ministering for four years with InterVarsity before becoming the organizing pastor of the Glenmore Presbyterian church in Calgary, Alberta. Honors included serving as vice Moderator of the RPCES Synod meeting in 1972. His longest pastorate was with the Bellewood church in Bellevue, WA, 1980-87 and at the time of his decease, he had been the pastor of the Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian church of Calgary, 1987-90.
1998 – Clyde Capehart Cobb. Born in 1941 and educated at Fuller Theological Seminary, he was both an educator and a pastor. Rev. Cobb was serving as the organizing pastor of the Grace Fellowship church in Kingston, Tennessee up until the time of his death.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Meditations of David Brainerd

We turn to the thoughts and words of missionary statesman David Brainerd who wrote in his diary on this day, February 7, the following devotional words.  He said in 1744 that he “was much engaged in some sweet meditations on the powers and affections of the godly soul in their pursuit of their beloved object: wrote something of the native language of spiritual sensation, in its soft and tender whispers; declaring, that it now feels and tastes that the Lord is gracious; that he is the supreme good, the only soul-satisfying happiness: that he is a complete, sufficient, and almighty portion: saying,

‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides this blessed portion.  O, I feel it is heaven to please him, and to be just what he would have me to be!  O that my soul were holy, as he is holy! O that it were pure, even as Christ is pure; and perfect, as my Father in heaven is perfect!  These, I feel, are the sweetest commands in God’s book, comprising all others.  And shall I break them!  must I break them! am I under a necessity of it as long as I live in the world!  O my soul, woe, woe is me that I am a sinner, because I now necessarily grieve and offend this blessed God, who is infinite in goodness and grace! Oh, methinks, if he would punish me for my sins, it would not wound my heart so deep to offend him: but though I sin continually, yet he continually repeats his kindness to me!  Oh, methinks I could bear any sufferings; but how can I bear to grieve and dishonour this blessed God!  How shall I yield ten thousand times more  honour to him?  What shall I do to glorify and worship this best of beings?  O that I could consecrate myself, soul and body, to his service for ever!  O that I could give up myself to him, so as never more to attempt to be my own, or to have any will or affections that are not perfectly conformed to him!  But, alas, alas!  I find I cannot be thus entirely devoted to God; I cannot live, and not sin.  O ye angels, do ye glorify him incessantly; and if possible, prostrate yourselves lower before the blessed King of heaven?  I long to bear a part with you; and, if it were possible, to help you. Of, when we have done all that we can, to all eternity, we shall not be able to offer the ten thousandth part of the homage that the glorious God deserves!’

David Brainerd concludes this diary portion with the statement, “Blessed be God, that he enables me to love him for himself.”

Words to Live By: Oh to make this our prayer language and our life reality, that my soul is holy, as he is holy! that it is pure, even as Christ is pure; and perfect, as my Father in heaven is perfect.

Through the Scriptures: Exodus 35 – 37

Through the Standards: The modes of providence

W.C.F. 5:2, 3

“Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and  decree of  God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutable, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.  God, in His ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, about, and against them, at His pleasure.”


This Day in Presbyterian History:  

The Author and Finisher of Faith

We return again to the devotional diary of David Brainerd, the Presbyterian missionary of the middle eighteenth century.  What could account for the zeal which this early missionary showed as he traveled, not by modern conveyance but on  horseback? His travels did not take him by established thoroughfares, but rather on frontier trails through forests and across swollen rivers.  These areas were safe, when you stop to think of it, as hostile forces and wild animals were sure to block his way.  What could prompt an individual to undertake such an arduous journey?

As we look at his diary for February 3, 1744, we ascertain at least several strong reasons for his constant ministry.  Read his words and see if you can glean the answer.  He wrote:

“Enjoyed more freedom and comfort than of late; was engaged in meditation upon the different whispers of the various powers and affections of a pious mind exercised with a great variety of dispensations, and could not but write, as well as meditate on so entertaining a subject.  I hope the Lord gave me some true sense of divine things this day, but alas, how great and pressing are the remains of indwelling corruption!  I am now more sensible than ever, that God alone is ‘the author and finisher of faith,’ i.e. that the whole and every part of sanctification, and every good word, works, or thought, found in me, is the effect of his power and grace, that ‘without him I can do nothing,’ in the strictest sense, and that ‘he works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure,’ and from no other motives.  Oh! how amazing it is that people can talk so much about men’s power and goodness, when if God did not hold us back every moment, we should be devils incarnate! This is my bitter experience, for several days last past, and has abundantly taught me concerning myself.”

If you carefully meditate on this diary entry, you cannot help but see the place of Scripture permeating his thoughts.  He quotes portions of Hebrews 12:2, John 15:5, and Philippians 2:13 in this section.  In other words,  he lived and breathed Scripture!

David Brainerd also had a practical understanding of the work of sanctification in his soul, and understood the remnants of sin within himself.  Thus, with a true sense of himself, but more importantly, a true understanding of his God, he could move forward each day to do the work of evangelism and discipleship among the native population to whom God had called him.

Words to Live By: “How amazing it is that people can talk so much about men’s power and goodness, when if God did not hold us back every moment, we should be devil’s  incarnate.” — David Brainerd

Through the Scriptures: Exodus 21 – 24

Through the Standards: The creation of mankind in the catechisms

WLC Q. 17 – “How did God create man?
A. After God has made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.”

WSC Q. 10 – “How did God create man?
A. God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.”


This Day in Presbyterian History :  

A Most Solemn Season of Prayer

It was on January 14, 1744 that Presbyterian missionary David Brainerd recorded in his famous diary a personal prayer session he had with his God and Father.  Meditate on his words:

“This morning I enjoyed a most solemn season in prayer: my soul seemed enlarged, and assisted to pour out itself to God for grace, and for every blessing I wanted, for myself, my dear Christian friends, and for the church of God, and was so enabled to see him who is invisible, that my soul rested on him for the performance of everything I asked agreeable to his will.  It is then my happiness, to ‘continue instant in prayer,’ and  was enabled to continue  in it for nearly an hour.  My soul was then ‘strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.’  Longed exceedingly for angelic holiness and purity, and to have all my thoughts, at all times, employed in divine and heavenly things.”

 “Oh how blessed is a heavenly temper (i.e. spirit)!  Oh how unspeakably blessed it is, to feel a measure of that rectitude, in which we were at first created!  Felt the same divine assistance in prayer sundry times in the day.  My soul confided in God for myself, and for His Son.  Trusted in divine power and grace, that He would do glorious things in his church on earth, for his own glory.”

As you read over this marvelous prayer, you can see how thoroughly saturated Brainerd was in the Word of God.  He wanted only to pray for requests which were “agreeable to His will,” as Jesus taught the disciples to pray in Matthew 6:10. (NIV)  He was able to “continue instant in prayer,” as Roman 12:12 commands.  As a result of such prayer, he was able to be “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might,” as Ephesians 6:10 (KJV) enjoins the people of God. David Brainerd was able to guide his prayers through the language of Scripture.

Words to Live By: Take any of the prayers of Paul in his letters, like Ephesians 1:17-19, or 3:14-21, and personalize them.  In so doing, you will be brought closer to your God, as you use the inspired Word of God to approach Him in prayer.

Through the Scripture: Genesis 43 – 46

Through the Standards:  The attributes of God, according to the Confession.

WCF 2:1
“There is but one only, living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”


This Day in Presbyterian History :  

God Enabled Him to be a Prayer Warrior

It is amazing that one life lived for God could  inspire not just his own life and soul, but  countless others as well.  And yet that was the case with David Brainerd [1718-1747].  A recipient of the Great Awakening in New England in the early seventeen hundreds, David Brainerd was ordained by the Presbytery of New York as a missionary  to the Delaware Indians.  A sickly man, he would eventually die of tuberculosis, but not before he penned a memorable diary which illustrated his deep piety in the things of God. Listen to some of his thoughts, written on January 3, 1745.

 “Being sensible of the great want (lack) of divine influences and the outpouring of     God’s Spirit, I spent this day in fasting and prayer to seek so great a mercy for myself, my poor people (e.g. the native population) in particular, and the Church of God in general.  In the morning, I was very lifeless in prayer and could get scarce any sense of God.  Near noon, I enjoyed some sweet freedom to pray that the will of God might in every respect become  mine, and I am persuaded that it was so at that time in some good degree.  In the afternoon, I was exceedingly weak and could not enjoy much fervency in prayer, but felt a great degree of dejection which, I believe, was very much owing to my bodily weakness and disorder.”

If you read carefully the above quotation from David Brainerd, you would have observed that this was an all-day prayer session by this home missionary.  And it was a prayer which was answered, for within a year, there was an outpouring of sovereign grace among the Indians, beginning with his own interpreter and his wife. Eventually God’s Spirit would bring an extraordinary spiritual awakening to the inhabitants of the towns and villages which later on became the northeastern states of the United States. And his diary continues to be an inspiration to modern day Christians, countless of whom have entered into Christian service as a result of its reading.

Words to Live By:  What is prayer?  Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, in the name of Christ, by the help of His Spirit, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.  (Larger Catechism of the Westminster Standards, No. 178)

Through the Scriptures: Genesis 6 – 9

Through the Standards:  The what, how, and why of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments

WCF 1:2  “Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these, OF THE OLD TESTAMENT Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. Deuteronomy. Joshua. Judges. Ruth. 1 Samuel. 2 Samuel. 1 Kings. 2 Kings. 1 Chronicles. 2 Chronicles. Ezra. Nehemiah. Esther. Job. Psalms. Proverbs. Ecclesiastes. The Song of Songs. Isaiah. Jeremiah. Lamentations. Ezekiel. Daniel. Hosea. Joel. Amos. Obadiah. Jonah. Micah. Nahum. Habakkuk. Zephaniah. Haggai. Zechariah. Malachi. OF THE NEW TESTAMENT The Gospels according to Matthew. Mark. Luke. John. The Acts of the Apostles. Paul’s Epistles to the Romans. 1 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians. Galatians. Ephesians. Philippians. Colossians. 1 Thessalonians. 2 Thessalonians. 1 Timothy. 2 Timothy. Titus. Philemon. The Epistle to the Hebrews. The Epistle of James. The first and second Epistles of Peter. The first, second, and third Epistles of John. The Epistle of Jude. The Revelation of John. All which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.

For further reading on the life of David Brainerd:
Primary sources: Brainerd’s Diary remains in print and can be obtained here or on the web in various digital formats here.

Secondary sources, recommended:

  • Marsden, Robert, “Missionary Heroes of the Past: XIX. David Brainerd,” The Presbyterian Guardian, 8.11 (10 December 1940): 170.

Secondary sources, additional (more scholarly & to be read with discretion):

  • Conforti, Joseph, “Jonathan Edward’s Most Popular Work: The Life of David Brainerd and Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Culture.” Church History 54.2 (June 1985): 188-201.
  • Harris, Paul, “David Brainerd and the Indians: Cultural Interaction and Protestant Missionary Ideology,” American Presbyterians 72.1 (Spring 1994): 1-9.

Also on this date:
in 1898, Robert Lewis Dabney died at his home in Victoria, Texas, at the age of 77.


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