“Find preachers of David Brainerd’s sprit and nothing can stand before them…Let us be followers of him as he was of Christ, in absolute self-devotion, in total deadness to the world and in fervent love to God and man,” wrote John Wesley to his colleagues; and such men he did find. It was men of the spiritual caliber of David Brainerd that set the frontiers of colonial American and the cities and boroughs of Great Britain alight with the flames of revival. As these firebrands went forth to pry away the citizenry from the clutches of dead orthodoxy or from debauchery and indifference, they had the good and noble example of the frontier preacher, David Brainerd, to shine the way.
Born in Hadden, Connecticut in 1718, converted in 1739, he entered Yale College to study the ministry. There he was known for his general propriety and devotion to study. Yet according to college record he amassed numerous misdemeanors arising out of “intemperate, indiscreet zeal.” His passion for Christ was too much for the system to bear. He was expelled in 1742 after commenting on the spiritual life of a teacher as being “destitute of grace as the hair.” Undaunted by this seeming setback, he continued studying privately. That same year, the Scottish Society of the Propagation of Christian Knowledge appointed him as their missionary to the Indians. In 1743 he labored among the Kauhameek tribe and the Delaware Indians. Ordained in 1744, he settled in Cross Creeks, New Jersey where his newly converted Indian interpreter preached to neighboring tribes. In 1745 through 1746, his journal records that he “saw a remarkable work of grace among the Indians” with over 130 converted. So anointed was his preaching, that culturally distant, potentially hostile tribal villages would weep at his message. So dramatic were the results of his preaching, that skeptical whites would come to the meetings to mock, only for themselves to get converted. In village after village the power of God fell, converting the otherwise disinterested, animist Indians. In 1745, David Brainerd traveled over 3, 000 miles on horseback to reach Indian tribes in the backwoods of Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey. He endured harsh weather, deprivation and personal suffering in his drive to press on to each new village with the good news. Contracting tuberculosis, he still pressed on.
It was a common sight to find this man of God calling out for God’s mercy to save the Indians. Weeping and praying, laying prostrate on the snow-covered forest floor for days at a time, fasting and praying, asking God to move upon the hears of those in the next village. Witnesses recounted on more than one occasion that the white ground covering of freshly fallen snow was stained by the bloody spittle coughed up from his tubercular lungs. He chose to pray and press on, then to retire and peacefully fade away. He continued as long as his mustered strength held up. Burn out, not rust out was his goal. Finally, all strength exhausted, he retuned to his father-in-law, Jonathan Edwards’, home in Northampton. Entrusting his most recent work among the Susquehanna tribe to his brother John, David died three months later, in 1747.
David Brainerd’s time of ministry spanned less than five years, yet by his closing age of 29, he crated such an example of self-sacrifice, prayer and devotion that his own journal, published after his death, would inspire hundreds to become messengers and bearers of the cross of Jesus Christ. Although his ministry was brief and his converts, small when compared with the great evangelistic campaigns of today, hundreds of missionaries were propelled into the harvest by his example and hundreds of thousands brought to Christ as a result. “Lest a grain of wheat falleth into the earth and die, it abideth alone.”
Originally published in Discerning Times in 1985. A publication of Destiny Image