Acts America

Biographies of Great Christians


David Brainerd - Part 1

David BrainerdHe was only 29 when he died...his gravestone simply says, "A faithful and laborious missionary to the Stockbridge, Delaware and Susquehanna tribes of Indians." But in truth David Brainerd's life sacrifice reached out and touched the whole world, challenging more people into Christian service than perhaps any other man that ever lived. The mere mention of the name, Brainerd, automatically triggers the mind to think of dedication in a way that perhaps has never been equaled.

He traveled 15,000 miles on horseback. One small compelling book — David Brainerd's Journal which he kept from June 19, 1745, to June 19, 1746, plus his diaries of his days before and after this time are still used of God today to inspire and convict the Christian world in the matter of Christian service.

David was the sixth of nine children born into the home of Hezekiah and Dorothy (Mason) Brainerd. Details of his childhood are scanty, but he grew up in a country house just above the west bank of the Connecticut River, two miles outside of Haddam. His father was a country squire, a local justice of the peace, and a Christian, as was his mother. His father died when he was nine and the death of his mother in March, 1732 brought additional great grief to 14 year old David, who was by then seeking to find what conversion was all about. From ages 15 to 19 he lived with his sister Jerusha who had just married Samuel Spencer. In April, 1738, he returned to Haddam to live and to study with the pastor of his youth, Phineas Fiske. Brainerd soon became a serious student of the Bible, and ignored the other pleasures in which most young people were participating. Fiske died in the fall, and Brainerd, like Luther, continued desperately seeking peace with God. By February, 1739, he was setting aside whole days of secret fasting and almost incessant prayer as he strove for acceptance with God.

Finally on July 12, 1739, as he returned to his secret place of prayer, God spoke to him as light dawning, and he had a glorious salvation experience. Now he wondered why all the world could not see "this lovely, blessed, and excellent way." He states as he was walking in a dark thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of his soul. He was then 21 years of age.

In September, 1739, David entered Yale University. It was a terribly cold winter and a bout with the measles laid him aside that first year. Trying to catch up only caused greater maladies and by August, 1740, he was weak and spitting up blood. Consumption or tuberculosis of the lungs was the plague of colonial New England. He returned to Yale on about November 6, 1740, to see a marked spiritual change in the school. George Whitefield had visited Yale on October 27th, and it seemed a pentecostal flame had hit the school. Gil Tennent of New Jersey had also preached with great power in March of 1740 in New Haven. Brainerd and two other students were soon distinguished for their zeal and visited many other students "for conversation and prayer." On April 19, Rev. 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."

The Great AwakeningThe Great Awakening was now at its peak, and despite Jonathan Edwards' efforts to keep everything in decency and order, things got out of hand. Tennent had preached his impassioned sermon, The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry, simply reinforcing Whitefield's sentiments. The Great Awakening began to reveal the corruptness of man, both lost and “saved”. People began to turn against their ministers and hold "separate" meetings. Preachers and ministries were being exposed and called hypocrites.

So as a result, as Brainerd entered his third year at Yale in the fall of 1741, a rule was made, "Voted, that if any student of this College shall directly or indirectly say, that the Rector, either of the Trustees or Tutors are hypocrites, carnal or unconverted men, he shall for the first offense make a public confession in the Hall, and for the second offense be expelled." Soon in a private conversation, when asked what he thought about a certain tutor, David replied, "He has no more grace than this chair." A freshman overheard and reported the conversation. When Brainerd refused to publicly confess this, which he felt was a private matter, he was expelled in February, 1742.

On April 20th (24th birthday) Brainerd wrote, "...I hardly ever so longed to live to God and to be altogether devoted to Him; I wanted to wear out my life in his service and for his glory..." He waged a constant fight against the bitterness of his disappointment over his expulsion from Yale. In June 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, 1742, he was licensed to preach as a Presbyterian at Danbury, Connecticut. He spent the summer with another young bachelor friend — Joseph Bellamy. 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 I Peter 4:8 as his text. He traveled as an itinerant preacher for several months. In September, 1742, he had to leave New Haven quickly for unlawful preaching.

On November 19th, he received a summons from Rev. Pembertson of New York City, to come and discuss the question of ministry to the Indians in those parts. As part of his examination, he delivered a sermon, most probably in Pemberton's church. He was grieved for the congregation, "that they should sit there to hear such a dead dog as I preach." He felt he was totally unworthy to preach to others so much better than himself.

He preached from place to place in the winter, including a farewell sermon to his family and friends in a home in East Haddam on February 1, 1743. He then served as a supply preacher at East Hampton, Long Island, New York for six weeks. On his last Sunday there, March 13th, although he could hardly stand up, he preached for an hour and a half. The congregation pressed him to stay permanently. But the next day, he left for work among the Indians. He said later,

"I never, since I began to preach, could feel any freedom to enter into other men's labours and settle down in the ministry where the gospel was preached before." He felt he had to preach where Christ was not named nor known. He left for his life's work March 25, 1743.