David Brainerd

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The Author and Finisher of Our Faith

We turn now 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 quite unsafe, 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

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brainerd02We have more than once made reference to the diary of David Brainerd in this historical devotional guide. Often times these entries filled a date in which no other Presbyterian person, place, or event could readily be found, so this writer was thankful for that. But it also set forth the true example of an individual who by his own statement wanted to wear out his life in God’s service and for His glory. How scarce are they found today in Christ’s church!

Talk about a Christian who, by all reports, was skinny and sickly. No modern missionary agency, whether for overseas or in our own country, would even approve of one like this for missionary service. So the very fact that he was a missionary in the first place to native Americans had to be of God. There simply was no other reason for it. God was in the whole plan as well as the details of the plan.

From the time of his ordination until his death was but about three years. As the inscription on his tombstone reads, “Sacred to the memory of the Rev. David Brainerd, a faithful and laborious missionary to the Stockbridge, Delaware, and Susquehanna Tribes of Indians.” And yet his influence upon them doesn’t really tell the whole story. His diary has caused countless in every century since that time to open themselves up to the call of God upon their lives. His life and ministry have stood the test of time, and a stream of workers for the kingdom of God have been sent forth to the nations of the world with the gospel of Christ, at least in part because of his example.

His closing days were precious in more than one way. After discovering that he had tuberculosis, he spent his months in the home of America’s greatest philosopher, Dr. Jonathan Edwards, in Northampton, Connecticut. While there, Dr. Edwards youngest daughter, Jerusha, a mere teenager, took care for him in an atmosphere of spiritual love. Whether they were engaged has never been proved, but there was a loveliness in that relationship which brought words like “we will spend a happy eternity together,” on the day he died, which was October 9, 1747. That eternity came sooner than later, as Jerusha contracted the same dread disease, and died a year later. They are buried side by side in the cemetery in Northampton.

Words to live by: If you have never, dear reader, read the Diary of David Brainerd, it remains available in either book form or on  the web in digital format. Open your heart to the words of this young man who died at age 29. Not only will it convict you of your need for more holiness, but it will give you a sense of urgency to take the gospel to unsaved loved ones, to friends, and to strangers, as David Brainerd did in his day. And who knows? Maybe it will send you to far off shores as a missionary, as it has so many since that time now long ago in colonial America.

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Our Ability is Ever from God, Not from Ourselves.

The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14 – 3:5 (read please) spoke for every Christian when he acknowledged that, regardless of the effect of the gospel on people’s hearts, we in spreading that good news, are “a sweet fragrance to God.” He goes on to spell out that our spiritual aroma is a “smell of doom” to those who are lost, but a “vital fragrance, living and fresh” to those who are found in Christ. And then, in the latter part of verse 16 of 2 Corinthians 2, he asks the question which all soul-winners have asked of themselves, “And who is qualified, fit and sufficient, for these things? (Who is able for such a ministry? We?” (Amplified Bible)

brainerd02David Brainerd, missionary to the Indians in the middle part of the seventeen hundreds, asked the same question on June 23, 1743 in his diary. Listen to his words:

“I scarce ever felt myself so unfit to exist as now: saw I was not worthy of a place among the Indians, where I am going, if God permit. Thought I should be ashamed to look them in the face, and much more to have my respect shown me there. Indeed I felt myself banished from the earth, as if all places were too good for such a wretch. I thought I should be ashamed to go among the very savages of Africa. I appeared to myself a creature fit for nothing, neither heaven nor earth. None know but those who feel it, what the soul endures that is sensibly shut out from the presence of God. Alas! It is more bitter than death.”

This Presbyterian missionary was feeling what the apostle Paul was feeling as to his inadequacy of being a instrument of the gospel. Thankfully, he continued on his mission, even as Paul did, recognizing that “our power and ability and sufficiency are from God.” (Amplified)

Words to Live By: “It is God who has qualified us, making us to be fit and worthy and sufficient. . . .” Second Corinthians 3:5 (Amplified Version) Let us each one go forth in service to Christ in the knowledge of that truth.

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brainerd02Reprise:

We have more than once made reference to the diary of David Brainerd in this historical devotional guide.  Often times it filled a date in which no other Presbyterian person, place, or event had occurred, so this writer was thankful for that.  But it also set forth the true example of an individual who by his own statement wanted to wear out his life in God’s service and for His glory.  How scarce are they found today in Christ’s church!

Talk about a Christian who, by all reports, was skinny and sickly. No modern missionary agency, whether for overseas or in our own country, would even approve of one like this for missionary service. So the very fact that he was a missionary in the first place to native Americans had to be of God. There simply was no other reason for it.  God was in the whole plan as well as the details of the plan.

From his ordination to his death was approximately three years.  As his inscription on his tombstone reads, “Sacred to the memory of the Rev. David Brainerd, a faithful and laborious missionary to the Stockbridge, Delaware, and Susquehanna Tribes of Indians.”  And yet his influence to them doesn’t really tell the whole story. His diary has caused countless in every century since that time to open themselves up to the call of God upon their lives.  He life and ministry had stood the test of time, and a stream of workers for the kingdom of God have been sent forth to the nations of the world with the gospel of Christ.

His closing days were precious in more than one way.  After discovering that he had tuberculosis, he spent his months in the home of America’s greatest philosopher, Dr. Jonathan Edwards, in Northampton, Connecticut.  While there, Dr. Edwards youngest daughter, Jerusha, a mere teenager, took care for him in an atmosphere of spiritual love.  Whether they were engaged has never been proved, but there was a loveliness in that relationship which brought words like “we will spend a happy eternity together,” on the day he died, which was October 9, 1747. That eternity came sooner than later, as Jerusha contracted the same dread disease, and died a year later.  They are buried side by side in the cemetery in Northampton.

Words to live by:  If you have never, dear reader, read the Diary of David Brainerd, it is available on both the web as well as books still being published today.  Open your heart to the words of this young man who died at age 29.  Not only will it convict you of your need for more holiness, but give you a sense of urgency to take the gospel to those unsaved loved ones, friends, and strangers, as David Brainerd did in his day.  And who knows? Maybe it will send you to far off shores as a missionary, as it had done for so many since that time in colonial America.

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Early American Missionary Prayer Letter

It was on this day, March 18th, in 1781, that John Brainerd died at the age of sixty-one. His remains were buried beneath the floor of the Presbyterian church in Deerfield, Massachusetts. John was one of several sons born to the Honorable Hezekiah and Dorothy (Mason) Brainerd, and he was born in Haddam, Connecticut on February 28, 1719. In time, his older brother Nehemiah tutored him in preparation for college, and John subsequently graduated from Yale in 1746.

It was during his college years that his brother David wrote to him, warning John against “spurious religious experience that is too often found in connection with great religious excitements.” Any actual date of John’s conversion or public profession of faith in Christ is lost to history, the records of his home church having been destroyed. Nonetheless, John must have begun to anticipate entering the ministry while he was still in college, for very shortly after graduation, he began to preach and was even engaged in work as a missionary among the Indians.

A small portion of a letter that John wrote to a Mrs. Elizabeth Smith serves to provide details on the missionary work that John and his brother David were engaged in.

BROTHERTON in New Jersey, August 24, 1761.

Madam: According to my promise, I here send a particular account of the Indian mission in this Province, which, for some years, has been the object of my care. I shall take a brief view of it from its first rise and foundation.

brainerd02In 1743, my brother and predecessor, Mr. David Brainerd, being employed by the Corresponding members of the Honourable Society in Scotland for propagating Christian Knowledge, entered on the arduous business of Christianizing the Indians, and for that end, on the 1st of April, arrived at Kaunaumeck, an Indian settlement about twenty miles from Stockbridge Northwest. AT this place he continued about the space of a year; and having so far gained upon these Indians as that he could persuade them to move to Stockbridge, and settle themselves under the ministry of the Rev. Mr. Sargeant, he, by the direction of the Correspondents, removed to the Forks of Delaware in Pennsylvania. Among these Indians, he spent a little more than a year; had some encouraging appearances, but no very great success. He then took a journey of about thirty miles to a settlement of Indians at Crosweeksung in this Province; where it pleased the Lord greatly to smile upon his endeavours, and in the most remarkable manner to open the eyes of the poor savages, and turn them from the power of Satan to God, as appears at large by his printed Journal.

Partly with those Indians, partly at the Forks of Delaware, and partly on the banks of the Susquehanna, (where he made no less than five journeys first and last,) he spent near two years, till he was so far gone in a consumption [tuberculosis] as rendered him utterly unable to officiate any longer.

But by this time a number of the Indians had removed from these Northern parts; the Indians also at Crosweeksung had left that place, and settled themselves on a tract of land near Cranberry, far better for cultivation, and more commodious for such a number as were now collected into one body.

In this situation I found the Indians when I arrived among them, at their new settlement called Bethel, which was about the middle of April, 1747. And this summer I officiated for my brother, who took a journey to the Eastward, thinking that possibly it might be a means of recovering his health. But his distemper had taken such a hold of his vitals, as not to be diverted or removed by medicine or means. He was, on his return from Boston to New Jersey, detained at Northampton by the increase of his disorder, and there made his exit out of the world of sin and sorrow, and no doubt entered upon a glorious and blessed immortality, the October following.

The work of Divine grace still went on among the Indians, although those extraordinary influences that appeared for a time, had begun some months before to abate, and still seemed gradually going off, but the good effects of them were abiding in numbers of instances.”

[Brainerd’s letter continues, but is too long to reproduce here.]

About 1760, John Brainerd came to reside in Mount Holly, Massachusetts, where he had a meeting-house, which was later burned by the British in the Revolutionary War. Several other places also shared in his pulpit ministry. Finally, in 1777 he retired to Deerfield, and it was there that he died in 1781.

Words to Live By:
The 20th-century missionary to the Auca Indians, Jim Elliott, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I can think of no better summary for the lives of David Brainerd and his brother John. We still have missionaries today who wholeheartedly expend their lives for the proclamation of the Gospel in foreign lands. Increasingly, those missionaries come from some of those foreign lands once destitute of the Gospel, now sending thousands elsewhere on the globe. Pray for our missionaries. Support them. Encourage them with your letters and visits.

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