Heroes of the Faith: 2014 marks 275th anniversary of Brainerdís conversioncomment (0)
March 20, 2014
By Joanne Sloan
One night on one of his many missions trips, David Brainerd barely survived a fall from his horse on a rocky path. His horse broke her leg, and he had to shoot her. He then walked 30 miles to the next house.
This episode was among countless ones Brainerd (1718–1747) experienced in his ministry to Native Americans. He suffered from tuberculosis (TB) and from frequent illnesses because of his arduous travel (15,000 miles on horseback during his short life). His bouts with deep depression contrasted with heights of spiritual emotion.
Despite debilitating health problems, Brainerd was one of America’s first and most influential missionaries. This year marks the 275th anniversary of his conversion.
Born in Haddam, Conn., Brainerd was orphaned at the age of 14. Although he grew up in a Christian home, he wasn’t converted until he was 21 while living in the home of the pastor of Haddam’s Congregational Church. Brainerd spent long hours praying and fasting but still lacked peace with God.
On July 12, 1739, while walking in a solitary place, he finally experienced God’s grace. “I was brought to see myself lost and helpless,” he recorded in his journal. “Unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. ... My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness and other perfections of God, that I was even swallowed up in Him. ... The way of salvation opened to me with such infinite wisdom, suitableness and excellency. ... If I could have been saved by my own duties or any other way that I had formerly contrived, my whole soul would now have refused it. I wondered that all the world did not see and comply with this way of salvation entirely by the righteousness of Christ.”
Called to pursue the ministry, he entered Yale College. But in 1740 he had to withdraw because of the first symptoms of TB. When he returned to Yale, he was expelled for telling a tutor he had “no more grace than a chair.”
Soon God gave him a burden to minister to Native Americans. He started working with the Indians along the Delaware and the Susquehanna rivers in April 1743. After two years, discouraged by his lack of success, he began work with other Indians in Crossweeksung, N.J., and saw an immediate response to the Christian message.
By the fall of 1746, he was coughing up blood. The great theologian-pastor Jonathan Edwards took him to his home in Northampton, Mass. Edwards’ daughter Jerusha served as Brainerd’s nurse, and the two fell in love. Brainerd died Oct. 9, 1747, at the age of 29. Jerusha died a few months later.
After Brainerd’s death, Edwards edited and published “The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.” It has influenced generations of missionaries — including William Carey, Adoniram Judson and Jim Elliot — and has never been out of print.
Brainerd’s complete devotion to Christ is epitomized in one of his many famous quotes: “All I want is to be more holy, more like my dear Lord.”