April 20th, 1718- October 9th, 1747
For every person who has felt the call to ministry or serve the Lord and found that stepping into the calls has been almost impossible, the story of David Brainerd will encourage you. He was a man so changed by the love of the Lord that he was driven to “Go” and no matter what stood in his way, he pressed forward. He discovered the key to success was the secret place, which for him was getting alone in the woods in prayer.
His brother John wrote…
“his dwelling a wigwam, his bed a blanket on the earth of gathered leaves, his food corn-cakes kneaded by his own hand and baked at his forest-fire, the missionary explorer, threading alone on horseback hundreds of miles of the wilderness, in the midst of tangled forest, swamps, ravines, and craggy precipices; surrounded by yelping wolves, and himself cold, weary, sick and oppressed by the morbid depression so often the attribute of genius, so that literally, like the Master, ‘he had nowhere to lay his head;’ the shrewd, unwearied Christian teacher, bringing all the energies of his nature to render himself familiar with one and then another Indian tongue, until he could speak without an interpreter the words of life; the parental sympathy and love, that made his people’s joy and sorrows his own, by which he stole the hearts and opened their eyes to truth… by which the Indians saw the Gospel organized into a loving example of purity and charity; the earnest, lowly, and effective prayers by which he preserved himself in a heavenly spirit and brought to his aid the energy of the Holy Ghost; patient and unremitted labor and prayer while the revival-blessing was delayed, and the meek humility and quietude with which he bore himself when his labors were crowned with success; his Pentecostal seasons of revival…”1
Daniel Brainerd arrived from Exeter, England to Hartford in 1649. He was only eight years old. When he was twenty-one he moved with a group of others about thirty miles from Hartford and started a new settlement they called, Haddam. Brainerd placed his estate about two miles from Haddam and one mile from Higganum. Daniel Brainerd, was David’s grandfather. He became a prosperous and influential man.2 Daniel Brainerd, helped to build the first church in Haddam, and he became a deacon at it. 3 He had eight children, who all lived to advanced years. 3 They were all devout and served in the church. David’s father, Hezekiah, was the youngest son and the king’s council for the colony and his mother, Dorothy Hobart, was the daughter of Rev. Jeremiah Hobart, the pastor of the church in Haddam. Dorothy was a young widow. They married on October 1st, 1707. 5 His father was highly educated and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He would die in the Capitol as a Senator on May 24th, 1727. 6
“From his father, no doubt, David and John Brainerd inherited a constitutional tendency to that keen sensibility, that high conscientiousness, that self-dissatisfaction, that moral adhesiveness to fixed purposes, and that general religiousness which their whole history so prominently exhibits. 7
At the age of nine, his father died and at the age of fourteen, his mother. 8 David had nine brothers and sisters. Five of these were older than David.9 So, even though he would inherit a farm, he was not old enough to take ownership so went to live with his married sister. 9
His family would be devastated by sickness and disease. His older brother, Nehemiah graduated Yale in 1732 and settled in Eastbury where he died in 1742. His brother while in a revival wrote to David and John calling them to help him gather in the harvest of souls for Jesus. 10 This as we will see clearly impacted David. We also see the deaths of many of his family may have impart helped to cause depression which in the words of his brother, John, who would take up David’s mantle and carry on the mission, wrote…
“In the whole Brainerd family for two hundred years there has been a tendency to a morbid depression akin to hypochondria.”11
David suffered a lot from depression throughout his life as we will see. During these teenage years he would also have periods of great conviction. He had been brought up with Puritan severity12 which may help to explain why he was extremely judgmental of himself. Despite all the conviction, as David wrote explained he loved to frolic or enjoy the world. However, afterwards he would feel extremely guilty. 13. David wrote that while he would pray and seek the Lord, he “lacked a desire for the glory of God.”14
In April of 1737, David moved to Durham to the farm he inherited. He would eventually go to stay with a Rev. Fisk in 1938, who advised David…
“To abandon young company and associate…with grave, elderly people.”15
The influences we have in these critical years can dramatically impact are trajectory. The Lord was directing his steps even in his ignorance. It is worth noting that despite all the Christian influence in his life, he was still not saved. But the Lord was calling him. In his diary he would speak of being “without God,”16 as he would later recognize that fact.
While he was at the farm he sought to get an education and wanted to follow his family and go to Yale. His older brother, Nehemiah, had already gone to Yale to become a minister. So, David dedicated himself to going into ministry. He read the Word twice daily and spent a lot of time in prayer. During the winter of 1738, he again began to feel deep conviction for his sin and began to pray and cry out to the Lord earnestly. 17 Deep was calling deep. Brainerd did not understand that the Holy Spirit was calling to him and his spirit man was acknowledging his need of the Lord. During these seasons people often begin to attack the Lord to cover what is happening inside of them. They realize that they are truly empty inside and need Him, but refuse to bow and accept that fact. David would later in life write to his brother, Israel..
“Once more, Never think that you can live to God by your own power or strength; but always look to and rely on him for assistance, yea, for all strength and grace. There is no greater truth than this, that “we can do nothing of ourselves,” (John. xv. 5. and 2 Cor. iii. 5.)”18
David kept crying out to God for mercy during this time as he could not get past his sinfulness and he is still trying to earn salvation. It is clear David felt extremely unworthy.
It was at this time that David clarifies the issues he has with the Lord God:
1). The Strictness of the Divine Law- he realized that no one could meet the demands of the Law
2). Faith Was the Condition of Salvation- he could not understand how that those who did not believe were lost and all good works meant nothing
3). He Could Not Understand What Faith Was- he was looking at things as a natural man, and the Word is spiritual and can only be spiritually apprehended.
4). The Sovereignty of God- how the Lord could save of damn a person as he felt that God decreed that he was designed for damnation
As you look at David, he is very typical of a millennial, which he was in his day. But thank the Lord he continues to seek after the Lord to get answers. He was twenty-one years old and in the eyes of the world a man, but still not a believer. His Puritan influences were impacting him. At this time Puritans were beginning to “emphasize outward works and family consecrations for church membership instead of a personal relationship with Jesus.”19 He has decided to follow his brother and enter Yale. David would slip away to a solitary place in the open and pray. Once again, he realizes all his efforts to obtain salvation have been in vain. During these times he keeps experiencing the mercy of God which draws him. We must never forget that it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance. He remains in this state over the weekend and then on July 12th 1739, while once again in the wilderness he encounters the Lord. He describes the glory and love of God consuming him. 20 He becomes full of joy and peace and discovers full satisfaction. In fact, he describes himself as being swallowed up in God.21 It is here that he finds answers and the way of salvation. He wrote, “I could not but sweetly rejoice in God, lying down and rising up.”22
Two months after his encounter with the Lord in the fall of 1739, he would enter Yale. His time at Yale even from the beginning was challenging in. It is worth noting he was a very intelligent man. President Edwards stated of David that he was a “very remarkable pious and good sort of man, who reached eminence and success by meaning well and industrious labor.” He further added, David was “distinguished for an intellect of wonderful power; for gifts and graces that would have distinguished him in any profession, any age, or any land.”22
In his early Yale days, he experienced:
- Hazing from the upper-class students
- He found his studies difficult
- He got measles and had to leave and return home for a few weeks
- Later he started spitting up blood which was probably from “TB” which he would die from later. Once again, he had to leave school to recover.23
The Spiritual Awakening
The Wesley brothers and George Whitefield are having an awakening in Britain. George Whitefield who started preaching in the fields came to the American colonies to preach the Gospel which called people to repentance and having faith in the Lord Jesus. As he preached under the power of the Holy Spirit, people fell under great conviction and prostrated themselves on the ground and cried out loudly for mercy and asking how they could be saved. The twenty-six-year-old George Whitefield preached the message of the new birth in open air revivals that drew thousands.
Before the Awakening reached Yale, David went home as he had been ill and experienced great communion with the Holy Spirit. When David returned he organized a Bible study and prayer group. Students began to flock to the group. 24 As the Awakening spread people were split into two groups, those in favor and those who were opposed. Those who agreed with the Awakening were called the “New Lights” and those who opposed, “The Old Lights.” The opposition felt what was being preached was a new gospel because of the emotionalism witnessed at the revivals. Yale was part of the group that opposed it. Despite the opposition, David continued with his Bible study and he would slip out to visit the visiting Awakening Evangelists.
One night a student asked Brainerd regarding the prayers of one of their tutors, Mr. Chauncey Whittelsey. David responded that he felt they were harsh. This comment made in private was over heard and reported back to the Dean. Just before the statement that school had made a rule that forbade criticism of a tutor and that the first offense would demand a public apology and a second offense would result in expulsion.
David was called to apologize publicly in front of all in the main Hall. David refused and was expelled. David would regret this decision for years. It is important to note that as you read the letters of David, he was a man who did not tolerate hypocrisy and false religion. There was something built in him that at this point needed to be tempered but also revealed a little of the heart of David. He wanted the truth and what was real. He did not play games. Brainerd argued that his comments were made in private and not public so he did not need to repent publically.26
One Door Shuts and Another Opens
David was expelled in the winter of 1742 and the expulsion would deeply wound Brainerd. 27 Many came to his defense, but it was to no avail. He was driven into the wilderness. What Brainerd did not realize at this time, was that as one door was shutting the Lord was about to open the door to his divine destiny. Had he continued and finished Yale, he may have become a pastor at some church and missed it divine purpose. We must never lose sight of the fact that the Lord is bigger than us and our circumstances and He has plans for us. Even in our stupidity He is able to redeem the situation if we walk right before Him. Too often we seek to fit in with the wrong flow and as a consequence we see strife and issues arise.
It was clear that the burden to reach the lost was burning in David…
“I felt, in secret prayer much resigned, calm and serene… I had much pleasure in the prospect of the heathen being brought home to Christ, and desired that the Lord would employ me in that work.”28
For Brainerd, he looked like all was over as he knew that without a Yale degree he could not get ordained and a license to preach. When you have a call on the inside it is a fire that demands of us to go and preach, and when you feel in such a place where you feel you blew it and you are now disqualified from finishing the race it is one of the most discouraging and darkest places. David would go into deep depression during this time. But in the midst of it all he would write…
“This morning the Lord was pleased to lift up the light of His countenance upon me in secret prayer, and made the season very precious to my soul. And although I had been depressed of late, respecting my hopes of future serviceableness in the cause of God; yet now I had much encouragement respecting the manner.
I felt exceedingly calm, and quite resigned to God, respecting my future employment, when and where He pleased.”29
David sought to live up to other men’s expectations of him which caused him to see himself as always falling short. The call is to fix our eyes on Jesus and to run our race. Every time we take our eyes off of Him, the enemy seeks to discourage us and if successful stop us. The enemy will use things or people whose opinion or validation matter to us, to if possible derail us from running the race He has called us to run. We are accountable to Him and it is to Him we must give an account. David would keep seeking to get back what he lost instead of trusting in the Lord. Who qualifies us to preach? Him! And what is the proof of His qualifying us? The fruit we produce! (Matt. 7: 17)
In this difficult wilderness, David learned the power of gaining strength and encouragement in the secret place. He would fast and pray and enjoy the presence of the Lord. As we read his letters we also know he learned to meditate on the Word. Today, at art of meditating on the Word has been lost and as a result the power and fruit it can yield in our lives. Listen to these words written by David to a man seeking to get into ministry…
Suffer me therefore, finally, to entreat you earnestly to “give yourself to prayer, to reading, and meditation” on divine truths: strive to penetrate to the bottom of them, and never be content with a superficial knowledge. By this means, your thoughts will gradually grow weighty and judicious; and you hereby will be possessed of a valuable treasure, out of which you may produce “things new and old,” to the glory of God.30
David would preach for Rev. Joseph Bellamy. He would write Rev Bellamy a letter, in which he wrote, “What I have endured in my soul is perfectly beyond expression and the conception of any but those that feel the same, but I’ll just hint at some of my feelings-frequently I seem to be placed alone in the midst of vast and immense barren or empty spaces, void of anything soul-satisfying; Heaven and Earth are perfectly destitute, yea forever destitute of any real blessedness, and the Eternal God, methinks (if there be any such Being, which indeed I cannot conceive to be oftentimes) is not sufficient to make my poor immortal soul happy, and hence I fall into a great degree of despair, so that I’m ready to wish to be anniliated.”31
Reaching the Unreached
We want the natural to change and believe our joy is dependent on it changing, but before the natural changes, the spiritual changes. True joy comes from our spirit man and learning to see with our spiritual eyes and through faith. As we press in after the Lord seeking His will, we release His authority and provision in our life. But it starts in the spiritual realm before it manifests in the natural. We must learn to wait in prayer and meditating on the Word until the natural lines up with the will of the Father.
David’s call with not to a building and position as a pastor of some church, but to apostolically go where no one had gone and break things open and reach the unreached.
The Lord was working to set in motion His divine purpose for David.
“I set apart this day for fasting and prayer to God for His grace; especially to prepare me for the work of the ministry, to give me divine aid and direction in my preparation for that great work, and, in His own time, to send me into His harvest.”32
There is power to deliberately declaring and setting aside a day for prayer and fasting. Too often we would like to take a day and fast and pray but we don’t absolutely resolve to do so and as a result life distracts us and we fail to keep it as a day of prayer and fasting. David understood the importance of laying a spiritual foundation and birthing the call. Learning to consecrate ourselves through prayer and fasting to His purpose and His timing is powerful in releasing the resources of heaven into our life. It worked for David and it will work for us to, if we too will follow his example.
“I never could feel any freedom to enter into another man’s labors and settle down in the ministry where the Gospel was preached before.”33
Most like the easy route of simply stepping into an established and successful work. But true heroes are willing to pay the price and break open the ground of a new work. The Lord knew David had such a spirit. In the summer of 1742 a group of ministers who were part of the Awakening agreed to license David so he could preach. Also, Jonathan Dickinson, the leading Presbyterian in New Jersey became interested in Brainerd and actually sought to have him reinstated at Yale. He failed.34 Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton of New York wrote to David encouraging him to consider being a missionary to the Indians. 35
David jumped at the opportunity and working through the Society in Scotland for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge was assigned to be a missionary to the Indians (Native Americans) among the Housatonic Indians of Kaunaumeek, New York. They were located eighteen miles outside of Albany.
On David’s twenty-fifth birthday on April 20th, 1743, David spent the day in prayer and fasting to prepare himself. David wrote in his diary…
“O that God would enable me to live for His glory for the future!”36
Tested, Tried and Proved
On November 25th, 1742 David was examined and declared fit so he was appointed a missionary. He spent the winter serving in a local church before finally in April beginning his work as a missionary. He was assigned to the Native American or as they were called at that time, Indians, located in New York, New Jersey, and Eastern Pennsylvania. His first appointment was as already mentioned to the Housatonic tribe at Kaunaumeek. He arrived on April 1st.
He would spend a year at this location living in the home of a poor Scottish couple that lived around a mile and a half from the Indian camp. This would be a time of great trying for David. In a letter to his brother he described what it was like…
“I live in the most lonely melancholy desert, about eighteen miles from Albany; for it was not thought best that I should go to Delaware river, as I believe I hinted to you in a letter from New York. I board with a poor Scotchman: his wife can talk scarce any English. My diet consists mostly of hasty pudding, boiled corn, and bread baked in the ashes and sometimes a little meat and butter. My lodging is a little heap of straw, laid upon some boards, a little way from the ground; for it is a log-room, without any floor, that I lodge in. My work is exceeding hard and difficult: I travel on foot a mile and half, the worst of ways, almost daily, and back again; for I live so far from my Indians.–I have not seen an English person this month.–These and many other circumstances as uncomfortable attend me; and yet my spiritual conflicts and distresses so far exceed all these, that I scarce think of them, or hardly mind but that I am entertained in the most sumptuous manner. The Lord grant that I may learn to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ!” As to my success here I cannot say much as yet: the Indians seem generally kind, and well-disposed towards me, and are mostly very attentive to my instructions, and seem willing to be taught further. Two or three, I hope, are under some convictions: but there seems to be little of the special workings of the divine Spirit among them yet”37
It puts a lot into perspective when the Lord calls us to pay a price which in comparison is so much smaller and yet we find it often more than we are willing to pay.
David had to work with an interpreter to speak with the Indians, but he worked on learning to speak with them directly in their own language. As you look at David now one of the biggest differences which he made clear in his diary was the fact that he was now living for the glory of God. Too many of us are in reality building our own kingdom and not His.
David wrote in his diary…
My circumstances are such, that I have no comfort, of any kind, but what I have in God. I live in the most lonesome wilderness; have but one single person to converse with, that can speak English… I have no fellow Christian to whom I might unbosom myself… and join in… prayer.”38
What was clear that despite his trials and challenges which also included fresh episodes of the sickness he had suffered while at Yale, he was relentless in seeking to fulfill his assignment that he recognized as from the Lord and for the Lord. He gave everything and sought to run the race and be faithful before the Lord. As he said in his letter to his brother dated April 30th, 1743…
“Let us run, wrestle, and fight that we may win the prize, and obtain that complete happiness, to be “holy, as God is holy.” So, wishing and praying that you may advance in learning and grace, and be fit for special service for God”39
Another Try at Yale
John Bernard wrote…
“His subsequent efforts to regain admission show how deeply the sense of injury was burned into his heart… We have no doubt that the life of David Brainerd was shortened by his college persecution. His manuscript journal at Kaunaumeek develops the most intense and overwhelming mental suffering from the stigma fastened on him.”40
In June David would try again at apologizing and being able to complete his time at Yale. He went sixty miles to New Haven and pleaded that he would be able to finish he final year. He was sponsored by Jonathan Edwards and Aaron Burr Sr., who were both Yale supporters and therefore, perhaps David’s best chance of getting back into Yale. However, Yale once again rejected his plea.41
David struggled to let go and like so many of us kept trying to open a door the Lord had closed. David would later write about those religious people who are a hinderance to the true Gospel. Before his death he wrote to his brother…
“I fear you are not sufficiently aware how much false religion there is in the world; many serious Christians and valuable ministers are too easily imposed upon by this false blaze. I likewise fear, you are not sensible of the dreadful effects and consequenses of this false religion. Let me tell you, it is the devil transformed into an angel of light; it is a brat of hell, that always springs up with every revival of religion, and stabs and murders the cause of God.”42
The spirit of religion seeks to kill the call. Jesus wrote of this spirit that its traditions make the Word of no effect. They seek to build their own kingdom and oppose everything which is true making it out to be false. Just like in the time of Jesus it only recognizes those who are under its authority and therefore it demands you submit and that you do what they say in order to be legitimate. It will persecute anything that resists its control. It does not look to the fruit and has no fear of the Lord and of grieving the Holy Spirit. It is in its own mind, final authority. Had David bowed to it, he would not have stepped into his divine destiny and ran the race the Father had set before him. We look for men to qualify and equip us, but we need to learn to go outside the gate and be qualified by Him and equipped by the Holy Spirit.
David was a man of great discernment and his statement he made in zeal was accurate and the religious people which demand that you receive their criticism refuse in any way to accept any criticism.
As a consequence of what happened, Edwards and Burr would withdraw their sponsorship of Yale and they founded a new college in Princeton, New Jersey. The College was later called Princeton. It is also interesting to note that the professor who opposed Brainerd, later repented and joined the New Lights.43 When we learn to press forward with the Lord and forgive in love those who have come against us, it opens the door for the Lord to work. Left to ourselves we would want judgment, but what is so much greater is His mercy and the Lord turning the hearts of such people and bringing them to a place where they walk humble before Him!
While Yale refused to accept Brainerd, let after his death and the success of his ministry, Yale would place a bronze plaque to Brainerd. The plaque reads, “David Brainerd, Class of 1743.” The Lord honored David for his faithfulness.
The Heart of a Yielded Vessel
As I said earlier, David was now living for the glory of God. He returned to Kaunaumeek and on the way back got lost in the wilderness. He spent the night in the open and awoke very sick and in a lot of pain. He had to trust wholly on the Lord for strength.44
When he made it back he would build himself a hut at the Indian camp. He wrote in the diary “Saturday July 30th. Just at night, moved into my own house, and lodged there at night; found it much better spending the time alone, than in the wigwam where I was before.” 45 He then committed himself to earnest prayer daily. Slowly he would win the Indians over and they became his people. He would later write…
“I would not change my present mission for any other business in the whole world”46
In his diary when he preached he wrote, “The presence of God attended our meeting. O the sweetness, the tenderness I felt in my soul!”47 This is how we should preach with the presence of the Living God filling the atmosphere. How many times as He turned up and we have turned Him away because we would not surrender control to Him. Oh, the power of His presence.
David’s season of being tried and tested would end in March. He was invited by New Light churches to be their pastor, and even though it was tempting, David knew his mission was to the Indians. He then received orders to go to a new assignment at the Forks of Delaware. Several tribes lived in this area and they were not fond of missionaries and actually plotted to kill David. 48
It is clear from David’s diary that he was very ill and in terrible pain. Often, he was unable to walk and bedbound. But David refused to give into it. He discovered the absolute need of the Presence. David became spiritually hungry and the more he found of the Lord, the hungrier he got. We need such holy desperation and hunger. How much do we pursue and need the presence of the Lord. Listen to this one account from his diary…
“Towards evening was in distress for God’s presence and a sense of the divine things: withdrew myself to the woods and spent near an hour in prayer and meditation.”49
“Spent this day in fasting and prayer, seeking the presence and assistance of God, that He would enable me to overcome all my corruptions and spiritual enemies.”50
This holy desperation was the real key to his success. We can say we want the presence, but do we go after it with everything within in us and are we in such a place where we can’t go on without it. Our lives absolutely need the presence. This is more than experiencing an anointed and powerful church service. This is all about one-one-one pursuit. When no one is around, and you could do a thousand other things, but all you can think of is His presence. You absolutely thirst with desperation for His presence.
In June the Presbytery met regarding David’s ordination in Newark. David was very ill but in preparation for his probation sermon, he did his usual and went off to be alone and seek the presence. He would pass the examination.
At his ordination, Pemberton preached from Luke 14: 23 where we are called to go to the highways and byways and compel them to come into the house of the Lord. He was commanded to go into the highways and byways. 51He was told the duty of a minister is to compel them to come in. His message was clear on the call and the reason he was to go and compel people to come in. He was to preach the Gospel with love following the examples of the early apostles. As Pemberton said, “it is the duty of the ministers of the present day to use the same methods of compassion and friendly violence…an unshaken fidelity in the Master’s cause, with universal benevolence to mankind, must constantly animate our public discourses, and be conspicuous in our private conversation and behavior. We must diligently endeavor to convince the understandings, engage the affections, and direct the practice of the hearers.”52
David was to go and turn them from darkness and from the power of Satan unto the Lord God. David took these charges to heart and sought to fulfill them. David wrote…
I was affected with a sense of the important trust, committed to me… I gave myself up to God, to be for Him, and not for another. Oh, that I may be always engaged in the service of God.”53
The Forks of Delaware
As David went to meet the Delaware tribe he feared if they would receive him or not. Again, as you read David’s diary, he was burdened to see souls for Jesus. He was there thinking how he could make their lives better and be a blessing. No! He wanted to reach them and bring them to Jesus. He knew the key was prayer and so he went off to a secret place and cried out to God. David was not aware that he was being watched by warriors who were seeking to kill him.
The warriors watched David in intense prayer. David uses the term “intense” to describe his praying. We have lost how to enter into intense pleading for the salvation of others. While David prayed a rattle snake came up to him and was inches from his bowed head. But David was lost in prayer, so the snake much like the Indians just slithered away. 54
Each morning David would preach to the Indians the message of salvation and sought to walk His love out before them.
David wrote on how he awoke one night and “The first thing I thought of was the great work of pleading for God against Satan.”55. David spent hours in intense pleading in prayer for the Indians before the throne room. He would feel seasons that lasted several days at a time of a strong Divine burden to pray for the Indians fervently.
Deeper into The Wilderness
We must remember that America still did not exist as a nation and much of it was undiscovered and a wilderness. David did not consider himself limited to preaching to just one tribe but pressed into the wilderness to reach as many as possible in honor of the charges given to him. His travels were not easy, and he would often thank the Lord that he had not broken a bone or been injured on his journeys. But he was desperate to reach the Indians, so he never quit. In October of 1744, he went with a fellow missionary, Eliab Byram, a Harvard graduate, deep into the wilderness along the Susquehanna river.
During this trip his horse tripped and broke its leg. David was forced to put the animal down and continue on foot. Along the way, he shared the Gospel and the Fathers love with many tribes. He would write…
“I am persuaded God enabled me to exercise faith in Him while I was speaking to them. I perceived that some of them were afraid to hearken to and embrace Christianity, lest they should be enchanted and poisoned by some of the powows, but I was enabled to plead with them not to fear these; and confiding in God for safety and deliverance.”56
The powwows, were medicine men and they had a powerful control on the Indians. David understood “I was exceedingly sensible of the impossibility of doing anything for the poor heathen without special assistance from above; and my soul seemed to rest on God, and leave it to Him to do as He pleased in that which I saw was His cause…”57
In October, he had decided to move on to another tribe and set about meeting with them before their morning hunt. However, he found the Indians eager to hear him preach, so he remained and addressed their arguments against becoming a Christian. 58
The Medicine Man
In Early December, David spent nights in prayer and fasting. On December 16th he looked at his body and his physical weakness and his desire to reach the Indians. He realized he could not do it but through Christ he could. The next day he spent in prayer.59 On December 18th he went to preach to the Indians. He felt he had nothing to give that would pierce their hearts, but a fervency from the Lord came upon Him and he felt the Spirit of God come upon him. 60 As he preached the power of God fell, and Indians began to fall to their knees and cry out for mercy. 61 Jesse Page who wrote about David, put it this way, “The history of this devoted missionary is full of evidence of the power of Christianity to effect, as nothing else can, this radical change in human nature.”62 As the Spirit was being powered out, lives were truly be changed and translated from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son. The impact of preaching on the power of the Holy Spirit changed everything. David who for so long suffered depression and had constantly yearned for death now desires to live and do something for the kingdom. 63
David had poured out his soul over a long season in prayer for the Indians. It has appeared that his prayers were unheard. The season of breaking up the ground in prayer is where most give up. Maybe you have like David spent many nights in prayer for a loved one and the heavens are like brass. Divine delays test the heart. Are we doing it for our glory or His? David came to that wonderfully place where he realized he had been living for his glory. He even realized that all his prayers and religious duties were not done for the glory of God. This simple change had powerful results. He determined to live for the glory of God. David also realized he was dependent on Holy Spirit to pray for the Indians and to reach them. It is humbling when we realize that the Lord does not need us, and we are in and of ourselves not worthy, yet He choses to partner with us through prayer to bring about His purpose on the earth. As we partner in prayer, allowing His Holy Spirit to pray through us we are transformed, and His kingdom is birthed on the earth. We must also realize that change often takes time and Heaven has a divine timetable. If we will learn perseverance the day of His visitation will come. He does not act on our schedule and rarely in our timing. To us He often appears late, but when we look back, He is always right on time. We fail to see that more is happening in the spiritual realm during the season of intercession than we can imagine and if we would just hold fast, the breakthrough is on it’s way.
In December, David learned of a feast the Indians were planning where they would worship their gods and engage in idolatrous practices. David feels compelled to go and stop it. However, he knew that in his own strength he would have no impact. So, he withdrew and prayed. “That night he spent in such agony of supplication as can scarcely be described. When he rose from his knees, he could scarcely stand for the very exhaustion, the perspiration stood on his forehead, he had cried to God until voice utterly failed.”64 This is true earnest prayer for souls. Such prayer breaks through and touches the heart of the Father. David received great confidence from the Father. He is overwhelmed by the heartbeat of heaven, souls for Jesus. A spirit of boldness falls on him and all cares disappear as he knew in the going the Father would be with him.
David went to the place where they were holding the feast and saw the Indians dancing. He realized the Lord was with him and called the Indians to break up the feast. Suddenly the Indians who were surrounding the medicine man, grouped themselves around David and his prayer was answered.
Following this David saw a flare up of his illness. The devil always likes to do a counterattack to steal the victory and prevent any further damage to his dominion. But God would have the last laugh!
In the summer of 1745, his breakthrough would finally come as the power of God would fall. The Scottish Society called David and moved him to the region of Crossweeksung in New Jersey, located about eight miles southeast of Trenton, New Jersey. 65
“The angel has seemed of late to trouble the waters,’” Brainerd would write “and the time had come for the multitude of his poor stricken Indians should hasten down the steps of repentance to find restoration and salvation in the fountain open for sin and uncleanness. At last the burden of so many prayers of strong crying after God in the darkness of the forest and of languishing longings for the souls of the benighted was answered abundantly, and the very windows of heaven opened to shower down blessings of grace Divine.”66
At his first meeting most of the natives turned up to hear him preach. On the next night women had traveled throughout the area inviting other natives to join. The crowds continued to grow. David found here hearts open to hear what the Lord was saying and it refreshed his soul.
The natives were so hungry they asked him to preach twice daily.
Jesse Page also stated, “Now however, the clouds lifts and the hearts compelling light of the Spirit of the Lord scatters the darkness. The revival in Suquehannah will stand on record as one of the most remarkable events in the history of Christian enterprise.”67 These Native Indians were simply impacted by the love of Jesus. 68 It was not the terrors of hell, but His love. There hearts would be melted by listening to the love of the Father.
“most were much affected… some few could neither go nor stand, but lay flat on the ground, as if pierced at heart, crying incessantly for mercy.”69 The next day David wrote, “the irresistible force of a mighty torrent,” of the Spirit fell. 70 Throughout the houses in the village natives were praying or rejoicing in their salvation.
The First Great Awakening, like all revivals was accomplished with wild fire amongst the real fire. However, the great debate was on what was real fire and what was not.
In David’s early days at Yale he was inspired by Whitefield, Tennent, and Ebenezer Pemberton. He was also influenced by James Davenport. 71 Pemberton would in 1741 preach at Yale calling the students to a personal and living relationship with Jesus rather than mental assent.72 Pemberton would warn the students and professors, “Every soul in this assembly, that has not an experimental knowledge of Christ is… exposed to an infinitely more terrible execution, than any human power can inflict, there remains but a short and uncertain time to fly from the amazing danger and escape the vengeance of eternal fire.”73 James Davenport would openly challenge Yale rector Thomas Clap.
Gilbert Tennent was another major voice during the revival and he preached strongly against ministers who did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. He stated…
“I would to God, that that golden Saying of our Lord, A corrupt Tree cannot bring forth good Fruit, was better understood, and more seriously ponder’d upon, by the Professors of this Age
If all that are born of the Flesh, be Flesh, and if he that is in the Flesh, (i. e. unconverted) cannot please God, or perform acceptable Service.”74
Davenport had worked with Whitefield and as a result was associated with radical evangelism. When the revival came to Yale it came was all of its physical manifestations. Edwards who preached there in response to these manifestations argued that the wild fire did not negate the power and blessing of the revival.75
David after his expulsion reexamined his beliefs and would oppose the radicals and sought to regulate radical behavior.76
During the Brainerd revival David wrote that he did not see any “appearance of those convulsions, bodily agonies, frightful screamings, swoonings… visions, trances, (or) Imaginations of being under prophetic inspiration.”77 Brainerd like Edwards became very conservative and opposed to any of these manifestations. Perhaps in part David sought to show Yale he was not a radical and win them over ad perhaps he was also influenced by what he saw at pagan Indian festivals.
A Flame For God
David’s call was to travel throughout the region and to reach as many Indians as possible. So, despite being ill he traveled hundreds of miles on horseback and foot. On January 1st, 1746 he declared…
“I am this day beginning a new year; and God has carried me through numerous trials and labours in the past. He has amazingly supported my feeble frame; for having obtained help of God, I continue to this day. O that I might live nearer to God this year than I did last year.”78
David “Brainerd longed to be AFLAME FOR GOD, living like Paul, to preach Christ and to share His sufferings unto the salvation of souls.”79 He felt the need to suffer hardship as a good soldier. Something he would state again and again in his diary and letters. So, even though he was ill and in pain, he pressed forward to reach as many as he could for Christ.
In the spring of 1746, David and the Indians moved and settled in Cranberry New Jersey. Here he would begin schooling the Indians and teaching them Christian doctrine. David considered settled down here. 80 But as you read his dairy it was clear he knew he was called to travel. He stated…
“Although I still wanted to go about far and wide, in order to spread the blessed gospel among the benighted souls, far remote; yet I never had been so willing to settle in any one place, for more than five years past, as I was in the foregoing part of this week. But now these thoughts seem to be wholly dashed… for it appeared to me, that God’s dealings towards me had fitted me for a life of solitariness and hardship; and that I have nothing to lose, nothing to do with earth… It appeared to me just right, that I should be destitute of house or home, and many comforts of life, which I rejoiced to see others of God’s people enjoy. And at the same time, I saw much of the excellency of Christ’s kingdom, and the infinite desirableness of its advancement in the world, that it swallowed up all my thoughts, and made me willing, yea, even rejoice, to be made a pilgrim or hermit in the wilderness, to my dying moment, if I might thereby promote the blessed interest of the Great Redeemer. And if ever my soul presented itself to God for His service, without any reserve of any kind, it did so now.” 81
In August of 1746, David continued to spend time alone in prayer.
“In the evening was favoured with assistance in secret prayer…Blessed be God for that freedom I then enjoyed at the throne of grace, for myself, my people, and my dear friends. It is good for me to draw near to God.”
David had learned certain secrets of prayer…
- The reality of prayer: “The Lord visited me marvelously.”
- The Agony of prayer: I wrestled for souls…in agony.”
- Discerned the resources of prayer: The treasures of divine grace were opened to me.”
- The transforming power of prayer: My heart was wholly set on God.”82
Then on the one year anniversary of the revival breaking out in Crossweeksung, David preached on Psalm 72 and he recorded, “the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly, and when I prayed from Acts 4: 31, ‘And when they had prayed, the place was shaken,’ there was a shaking and melting among us; and many, I doubt not, were in some measure filled with the Holy Ghost.”83
David’s health began to decline and while he was in intense pain, he stilled traveled hundreds of miles to reach more and more Indians. “He was frequently in distress for lack of suitable food, exposed to hunger and cold, lost in the forests, caught in storms with no shelter available, obliged to ford raging streams and to spend the night in the woods, in peril from wild beasts and wild savages.”84 It is hard to fully comprehend his life and his absolute commitment to fulfilling his divine purpose. He was sold out to seeing as many Native Americans brought to the knowledge of the Lord and into a living relationship.
In a letter to a friend he wrote…
“I am in a very poor state of health; I think scarce ever poorer: but through divine goodness I am not discontented under my weakness and confinement to this wilderness. I bless God for this retirement: I never was more thankful for any thing than I have been of late for the necessity I am under of self-denial in many respects. I love to be a pilgrim and stranger in this wilderness: it seems most fit for such a poor ignorant, worthless, despised creature as I. I would not change my present mission for any other business in the whole world.”85
A Visit with an Indian Prophet
David met up with a Delaware prophet who was a “restorer, of what he supposed was the ancient religion of the Indians.”86 They both began to discuss religion and issues facing the Indians. Both agreed they were against abusing alcohol. It is important to understand that the Indians had become consumed by “idleness and drunkenness.”86 Drunkenness was something that got from the “whiteman,” according to David. 87 Page stated, “It will be noticed, in the foregoing, that strong drink, that curse of all nations, had already begun to produce its fatal results upon the poor Indians.”88 Alcoholism was a major problem in the colonies.
While both agreed on many thinks and the prophet liked a lot of what David said about the Lord God, he could not accept the existence of a devil. The prophet was part of a group seeking to get the Delaware Indians to return to their tradition beliefs and reject European values.
Some of the European settlers started stirring up rumors that Brainerd was an agent for the Roman Catholics. Early Puritan settlers felt it was necessary to reach the Native Indians. They did this for two main reasons. First, they wanted them to know the Lord Jesus and be converted, and secondly they wanted to reach them before the Roman Catholics swept them into their religion.89 In England, Bonnie Price Charles was seeking to encourage Jacobites (those seeking to return England to Catholicism) to rise up and he backed a French attempt to overthrow the crown. Those opposing Brainerd, sought to convince people he was trying to get the Indians to rise up against the English because David had criticized the European colonists of “making the Indians drunk, and then cheating them out of their land and other properties.”90
As a result, David suffered great opposition even as the revival was happening at Crossweeksung.
His Last Days
In the summer of 1746, David moved to Susquehanna. But by now his health was fast declining. He was now coughing up blood again as the tuberculosis progressed. The doctors who knew little about tuberculosis believed the best thing was to journey on horseback. So David deceived to travel to New England in a bid to restore his health. He spent November through March visiting friends and family in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York before returning to Cranberry in March 1747.
He remained there a few days praying and baptizing people before leaving for Elizabethtown to meet up with his younger brother John, who would take up the mantle after him. He would celebrate his twenty-ninth birthday with his brother before setting off for New England in the hope of improving his health.
When he arrived in New England he meet a number of influential Christians including Jonathan Dickinson, the president of the College of New Jersey. He would then visit family in Hadddam, before going to Northampton Massachusetts and to the house of Jonathan Edwards. Here David became too ill to travel and so remained there for so time. He became to develop a friendship with Jonathan Edwards daughter, Jerusha.
In June David rode to Boston to visit Christian friends before heading back to the Edwards house in Northampton, a journey of around a hundred miles. In August, David was confined to his bed. Here he was cared for my Jerusha. He wrote to his younger brother…
“I am now just on the verge of eternity, expecting very speedily to appear in the unseen world. I feel myself no more an inhabitant of earth, and sometimes earnestly long to “depart and be with Christ.” I bless God, he has for some years given me an abiding conviction, that it is impossible for any rational creature to enjoy true happiness without being entirely “devoted to him.” Under the influence of this conviction I have in some measure acted. Oh that I had done more so! I saw both the excellency and necessity of holiness in life; but never in such a manner as now, when I am just brought to the sides of the grave. Oh, my brother, pursue after holiness; press towards this blessed mark; and let your thirsty soul continually say, “I shall never be satisfied till I awake in thy likeness.” Although there has been a great deal of selfishness in my views; of which I am ashamed, and for which my soul is humbled at every view; yet, blessed be God, I find I have really had, for the most part, such a concern for his glory, and the advancement of his kingdom in the world, that it is a satisfaction to me to reflect upon these years.”92
John had begun to minister at Cranberry on April 15th, 1747. 93 However, he came to visit David at the Edwards home and brought great joy to David. He gave his journal to John and never envisioned it would be published and inspire generations to come. John would take up the mantle and seek to carry on David’s work. In September, his youngest brother, Israel was ordained, and he also visited David.
David spent his last days in prayer for his brothers and ministers that they “might be filled with the Holy Spirit.”94 He prayed for his Native Indians. In late August he could no longer make it up and down the stairs. 95 His last letters were written by another as he dictated it as he was no longer able to even write. 96
On September 19th he tried to walk, and he thought, “How infinitely sweet it is, to love God, and be all for him.”97 He wrote that despite being in extreme pain, he cared nothing about the pain but longed to see the Lord glorified and desired to be stripped on his “filthy garments!”98 On September 19th, he gained strength and preached for an hour the last sermon he would ever preach. 99
During this time spite being so seriously ill, David would find himself melted with desires that the Lord be glorified.
He would spend the end of September correcting his diary. But on September 24th, his strength began to fail. He was asked how he was doing once and he responded…
“I am almost in eternity. I long to be there. My work is done: I have done with all my friends: all the world is nothing to me. I long to be in heaven, praising and glorifying God with the holy angels. All my desire is to glorify God.”100
During the last two weeks David seemed focused on heaven and just glorified the Lord. He would wake up and be crying for the church to receive an “outpouring of God’s Spirit, and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.”101 On October 7th, his brother John returned after being detained with the ministry. This greatly refreshed David. On October 8th, David found himself in a lot of pain and agony. David was promoted to heaven on Friday October 9th, 1747 at around 6 am.
Jonathan Edwards daughter, Jerusha, who took care of David became ill and died on February 14th, 1748. “She was a person of much the same spirit with Mr. Brainerd.”102 She was buried next to David in the Northampton cemetery.
The Revival Among the Indians
John recorded that…
“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.”103
John did continue ministering to the Indians and traveling like David. Many things would change after David’s death. While many tried to minister to the Indians, most struggled. It is hard to fully appreciate what David had accomplished, but few get such holy desperation that they are willing to pay the price and pursue the Lord with all of their hearts that He might be glorified. David had realized that a lot of his young life he was living for his glory. But he was wrecked by the love of Jesus and when he received the Holy Spirit he had to go.
His work and diary would inspire so many including John Wesley, William Carey, and Robert MCheyne. David understood he could not do it in his ability and he discovered how through fervent and agonizing prayer to lay a hold of the power of the Holy Spirit which changed everything. When the Holy Spirit falls there is always a divine GO!
David recorded in his diary…
“Here I am Lord, sent me, send me to the ends of the earth, send me to the rough, savage pagans of the wilderness; send me from all that is called comfort in earth, send me even to death itself, if it be but Thy service, and to promote Thy kingdom.”104
John Pier wrote of David and his legacy…
“How has it helped me to press on in my ministry and to strive for holiness and divine power and fruitfulness in my life?
The answer for me is that Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints, who will cry to Him day and night, to accomplish amazing things for His glory.”105
Too often we want to wait until we are perfect before we go, but David’s life demonstrates that the call to “Go” does not demand we are perfect. He is looking for obedience. David struggled with sickness throughout his ministry days and what is so powerful is that he pressed forward and did what he did despite his illness.
In God’s plan He sends people out in groups of two. David went out alone and we see throughout his diary that he struggling with loneness. But “the reason Brainerd’s life has such powerful effects on people is that in spite of all his struggles he never gave up hi faith or his ministry. He was consumed with a passion to finish his race and honor his Master and spread the kingdom and advance in personal holiness.”106
David accomplished something wonderful and powerful among the Native Americans. Today, in heaven there are many who now rejoice in their God because of what he did. He fulfilled his commission to go to the field assigned to him by the Lord and there he compelled them to come. He was not afraid to offend and to challenge. He did not compromise the truth, so he could be their friend. No, he went to bring them the truth of the Gospel. He paid the price not just in going, suffering loneliness, and battling through terrible pain and sickness, but he pressed in after the Lord, pursuing His presence and as he states…
“I continued to wrestling with God in prayer for my dear little flock here; and more especially for the Indians elsewhere; as well as for dear friends in one place and another; till it was bed time and I feared I should hinder the family etc. But oh, with what reluctancy did I find myself obliged to consume time in sleep!”107
While, David never technically graduated from Yale, he played a major part in the founding of Princeton and Dartmouth Colleges. 108
John Shearer beautifully wrote, “but in the brief remnant of life that remained to him, he accomplished a glorious work and unlocked a spring of heroic inspiration for generations to come. He made the uttermost sacrifice, and God gave him the uttermost reward. Henceforward his journal is the record of constant journeyings amongst his poor Indians, covering more than 3000 miles, through pathless forests, over dark, dangerous mountains, in fierce rains and freezing cold. His body was reduced to a pitiable state of extreme weakness. But as his strength ebbed his compassion grew, grew till it it became a great hunger that would not be denied. Whole nights spent in agonizing prayer in the dark woods, his clothes drenched with the sweat of travail.”
He was willing to step up to the plate and serve his generation. He paid a heavy price yet despite being seriously ill achieved in a short time more than many do in a lifetime. Are we willing to do the same to reach ours?
- Brainerd, John. The Life of John Brainerd, the brother of David Brainerd and his successor as Missionary to the Indians of New Jersey. Philadelphia, Presbyterian Publication Committee. Pages 14-15
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- Piper, John, David Brainerd: May I never Loiter on My Journey! Desiring God, Minneapolis MN. 2012. Loc 107
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- Shearer, John. Old Time Revivals: How the Fire of God Spread in Days Now Past and Gone. Pickering and Inglis, London. Page 42