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David Brainerd

By Jesse Morrell


      Hebrews Chapter 11 is the hall of fame for Christians. It is tremendously moving to read about the possibilities of faith. The men listed in the hall of fame overcame remarkably huge obstacles for the glory of God by faith. Faith can move mountains and dry up rivers. Faith weakens the devil and strengthens the Christians. Faith is what makes a hero. That's why they are commonly called the Heroes of Hebrews.

      I am sure you all know who Abraham was, as well as Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Hebrews also lists men like Gideon, Samson, Moses, Samuel, and others. There are names in which we all know. There is however a hero of the faith that you might not know about. His name is David Brainerd. Although he is not one of the Heroes of Hebrews, he is certainly one of the Heroes of Heaven. Leonard Ravenhill listed some of those who have been touched by the life of David Brainerd in his book, Why Revival Tarries. Ravenhill said "Let's line them up: Payson, McCheyne, Carey, Edwards, Wesley, men of renown, yet all kindled by one flame, and all debtors to the sickly but supplicating Brainerd." Let's now take a look at the inspiring life of this man.

      David Brainerd was born April 20th, 1718 at Haddam, a town of Hartford, Connecticut. At that time Hartford was a county not a city. It really was awesome for me to read Brainerd's diary because I currently live in the same area where he lived. He was the third son of his parents. All together his parents had five sons and four daughters. I know of at least 3 of their sons that went into the ministry, including David Brainerd.

      The work of the Spirit of God was clearly seen in the early life of Brainerd in order to bring about his conversion. Listen to this account by Brainerd himself about his childhood. "Though I daily longed for greater conviction of sin, supposing that I must see more of my dreadful state in order to receive a remedy; yet when the discoveries of my vile, hellish heart were made to me, the sight was so dreadful and showed me plainly my exposedness to damnation that I could not endure it." The Spirit of God was making the proper preparations for Brainerd's true conversion. If you yourself have had a real conversion, then you know the pains of such a birth. Just as physical birth is painful, spiritual birth is painful.

      In another passage of his life and diary, Brainerd records this: "Sometimes I grew remiss and sluggish, without any great convictions of sin, for a considerable time altogether; but after such a season, convictions seized me more violently. One night I remember in particular, when I was walking solitarily abroad, I had open to me such a view of my sin that I feared the ground would cleave asunder under my feet and become my grave; and would send my soul quick alive into hell before I could get home."

      Now that's incredible! He literally feared that the ground would open up and cast him into hell before he could even get home. There were nights when he would force himself to try to sleep but couldn't because of great fear of impending wrath. But then he says he would return to a "state of carnal security."

      It was July 12th, 1739 during a time of prayer in a thick grove that Brainerd had an encounter with God that changed his entire life. He received a new view of God that he never had before. A God that was wonderful and admirable. A God that was awesome and excellent. He said that way of salvation opened up to him with such infinite wisdom, suitableness, and excellency, that he wondered why he had never complied with the way of salvation before.

      That was the end of his false security and the beginning of a true right standing with God. You will never convince others of their sinfulness if you are not first convinced of your own. It's no wonder a revival amongst the Indians came through him, a personal revival first occurred in his own life. I heard that D.L. Moody took a piece of chalk once and drew a circle around himself. He then prayed "Lord start a revival within this circle." Before Brainerd revived anybody, God first revived him.

      Shortly after Brainerd's experience with God, he started attending Yale in New Haven. As a side note, I have personally had the privilege of preaching open air at the green right next to Yale. It's really a blessing to me to have seen these places first hand. He was however a little reluctant of going to Yale fearing he would not lead a life of strict religion in the midst of so many temptations. If Brainerd were alive today and saw the moral bankruptcy of Yale students now, he would probably not go anywhere near the place. I've seen first hand how those students do the unthinkable and yet think nothing of it. But in his day he chose to go despite the "many temptations."

      Even during his college days he had a strong devotional life. That is what he is known for, his prayer life. During this time Brainerd writes "Oh! One hour with God infinitely exceeds all the pleasures and delights of this lower world." If Brainerd truly believed this, that an hour spent with God is better then anything at all, then his chief focus in life would be his devotional life. And it certainly was. He set aside days to secret prayer and fasting. His diary records more of his prayers then anything else. What we sow in time we will reap in eternity, and what we sow in eternity we will reap in time. I believe that if Brainerd was told he was not allowed to pray, he would have asked to be killed because he valued his prayer life more then anything else.

      In Brainerd third year of college, he was expelled. In the situation Brainerd felt he was mistreated. The spring after his expulsion he went to live with the Rev Mills of Ripton in order to study for the ministry. During this time he frequently went and visited neighboring ministers such as Mr. Cooke of Stratford, Mr. Graham of Southbury, and Mr. Bellamy of Bethlehem.

      During this time of preparation he grew greatly spiritually. He writes how the thoughts of suffering hardships, distresses, and even death itself in order to preach the gospel gave him a sweet joy. He was willing even to be banishment from his own native land if God willed it. He said "I felt weaned from the world and from my own reputation amongst men, willing to be despised and to be a gazing stock for the world to see."

      The Lord is able to use men like this. Men who are willing to submit to the plan of God no matter how painful that plan may be. Leonard Ravenhill said "God is looking for nobodies. God is looking for dead men. God is looking for men who don't want to be esteemed or thought about but will live solely to God." It is only that kind of man that God is able to use and that is preciously the type of man Brainerd was. In his eyes, everything in the world was vile and little. The only thing of important was Christ.

      During this time of growing, his desire was to be more holy and more like Christ. His continual longing was for sanctification. To serve the Lord fully, you must be cut off from the world fully.

      This is a poem I found in his diary. It does not say who the author is. I assume that this is Brainerd's poem.

      "Farewell, vain world; my soul can bid Adieu,
      My Savior taught me to abandon you.
      Your charms may gratify a sensual mind,
      Not please a soul wholly for God's design.

      Forbear to entice, cease then my soul to call:
      Tis fixed through grace; my God shall be my ALL.
      While He thus let's me heavenly glories view,
      Your Beauties fade, my heart's no room for you."

      Monday, July 19th, 1742 Brainerd writes "My desires seem especially to be carried out after weaned ness from the world, perfect deadness to it, and to be even crucified to all its allurements. My soul longs to feel itself more of a pilgrim and stranger here below; that nothing may divert me from pressing through the lonely desert, till I arrive at my Father's house."

      During this time Brainerd also learned humility. He said "I never felt it so sweet to be nothing, and less then nothing, and to be accounted nothing." The humility in Brainerd life was the key to his ministry. Jesus promises us that if we humble ourselves, then he will exalt us. I believe the only reason the name David Brainerd is so exalted among men today, is because he humbled himself among men in his day. Proverbs 15:33 says "before honor is humility." He even referred to himself in his diary as a dead dog and he pitied those who had to hear him preach. He wrote "if God's people knew me, as God knows, they would not think so highly of my zeal and resolution for God, as perhaps now they do! I could not but desire they should see how heartless and irresolute I was, that they might be undeceived and "not think of me above what they ought to think." And yet, I thought, if they saw the utmost of my flatness and unfaithfulness, the smallness of my courage and resolution for God, they would not be ready to shut me out of their doors as unworthy of the company or friendship of Christians." May we all learn from his humility and honesty of heart. If a man with a prayer life like his, a passion and a heart like his, and a ministry of revival like his can be humble, then how much more so should we be?

      It was Thursday, July 29th 1742 that He was examined by The Association of Ministers of the Eastern District of Fairfield County, Conn. They granted him a license to preach the gospel so he began preaching in Churches.

      There was one passage in his diary that I wish I had more of an explanation on. It was Monday, September 6th, 1742. It says "Was informed that they only waited for an opportunity to apprehend me for preaching at New Haven Lately, that so they might imprison me. This made me more solemn and serious, and to quit all hopes of the world's friendship." And that's all that it says. The only explanation he gives as to why they want to imprison him was for preaching but there are no details. That passage actually brought me some comfort because I myself have had four threats of arrest in New Haven for preaching the gospel. Nothing is new that is under the sun. They actually did arrest me in Hartford which is Brainerd's birth place.

      April 1, 1743 Brainerd rode on horse back to Kaunaumeek where the Indians lived in whom he was to be a missionary. His time at Kaunaumeek was hard. He had only one person there who could speak English and no fellow Christian. His diet was boiled corn and hasty pudding etc. He slept on a bundle of straw. And many of the people there, as far as he could tell, hated him because he came to preach. He spent most of his time in prayer and study. If I could tell every missionary only one thing it would be that 90% of their labor should be in prayer, and 10% should be in preaching. It is the private prayers of the Saints and not the public ministries of the showmen that truly deliver souls from death.

      He also would ride into civilization on occasion to see people. He was grieved when he did so because he would see the "vanity of the multitude". He would enjoy conversations with other Christians but admits that most of the time he would rather have been alone. If I could compare Brainerd to someone from the bible, it would have to be Enoch. Enoch walked with God and not with a sinful world. As Ravenhill (whom you have to forgive me for quoting so much) said "Enoch didn't even walk with Noah." From what I can tell from Brainerd's diary, he did nothing at all besides pray, fast, study, write, preach, and whatever physical labor was required of him. If there was any time wasted in his life then it wasn't much.

      After Brainerd labored a full year to the Kaunaumeek Indians, they became few in number. Brainerd felt his energies might be more effective else where. The Commissioners granted his request to be transferred and so he went to minister to the Delaware Indians. He was ordained and sent to the Indians at Crossweeksung where he had his most remarkable success.

      During this time he would travel on horse back to minister to other Indians. He was in danger of wolves as well as freezing to death when he sometimes would get lost and had to spend all night in the woods alone. He writes "I was afraid of nothing but sin, and afraid of that in every action and thought." His travels were even harder due to the fact that he was often terribly sick.

      The Focus of his preaching he said was to "set before sinners their sin and danger." He did this with compassion and tender affection with the help of God. Those preachers, who warn others on the coming destruction, are the preachers who don't want others to be destroyed. There are some in our own day that accuse the preachers that preach strongly against sin and strongly about hell as being harsh or unloving. The truth of the matter is that it is the exact opposite. Brainerd preached against sin and about hell because of his great love for souls. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that none should perish. So the focus of our preaching must be so that none should perish.

      He also said "I was satisfied if not one of the Indians should be profited by my preaching but should all be damned, yet I should be accepted and rewarded as faithful." He was concerned about being faithful with the gospel, not successful as we would say. Too many preachers set out to be "successful" and if they don't get X amount of people at an alter they feel they failed. Or because they had X amount of people at the altar, then they must be somebody. There is nothing farther from the truth. Jeremiah for example won absolutely zero converts but yet, I guarantee you, was more faithful then these fancy preachers we see on TV.

      However, Brainerd was remarkably successful. A great deal of the Indians would be in tears when hearing him preach. After only speaking a few words about their souls, tear would flow freely among them producing many sobs and many groans. On one occasion there were no more then three Indians in forty that could refrain from tears and bitter cries. They would be in great distress for their souls that some could neither leave the meeting nor stand to their feet but would lay on the ground as through someone had pierced their hearts, crying out incessantly for mercy.

      While John Wesley was slaying the England with the word of God, George Whitefield was slaying American colonist with the word of God, and at the same time David Brainerd was slaying the Indians with the word of God. August 8th, 1745, in the afternoon he preached to the Indians. Afterwards when he spoke individually with those who were obviously awakened and concerned for their souls, in his own words "the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly 'like rushing mighty wind' and with an astonishing energy bore down all before it." The Indians were not "merely frightened" he said "but were made sensible of their danger, the badness of their hearts, and their misery without Christ." People would be afraid "of the anger of God" and would fall helplessly to the ground. One lady stayed there on the ground many hours and would answer no one who tried to talk with her. They would cry out in anguish of soul, Brainerd said, "Although I spoke not a word of terror."

      This revival had nothing to do with words of terror. He did not cause them to cry out for mercy, God caused them to cry out for mercy. The work was entirely supernatural that he could hardly believe God used him as an instrument or his words to carry on the work. It seems not to have any connection with him at all. He wrote "God appeared to work entirely alone." Even after he would withdraw from the meeting because of exhaustion the Indians would stay and pray for a few hours even without him there.

      To finalize the conversion of the Indians Brainerd would perform baptisms. However He would put off the baptisms many weeks in order to see the evidence of them having had great change. He would then be able to observe their fruits and to make sure he was not doing as the Puritans would say, "Plucking unripe fruit". One of the greatest evidences that they truly had repented would be that they had stopped getting drunk.

      Tuesday, September 9th 1746 Brainerd writes "Rode down the river near thirty miles. Was extremely weak, much fatigued, and wet with a thunderstorm. Discoursed with some warmth and closeness to some poor ignorant souls on the life and power of religion; what were, and what were not, the evidences of it. They seemed much astonished when they saw my Indians ask a blessing and give thanks at dinner; concluding that a very high evidence of grace in them; but were astonished when I insisted that neither that, nor yet secret prayer, was any sure evidence of grace. Oh, the ignorance of the world! How are some empty outward forms, that ay all be entirely selfish, mistaken for true religion, infallible evidence of it! The Lord pity a deluded world!"

      Lord's Day, May 24. Brainerd writes about true religion. "Could not but think, as I have often remarked to others, that much more of true religion consists in deep humility, brokenness of heart, and an abasing sense of barrenness and want of grace and holiness than most who are called Christians imagine; especially those who have been esteemed the converts of the late day. Many seem to know of no other religion but elevated joys and affections, arising only from some flights of imagination, or some suggestion made to their mind, of Christ being theirs, God loving them, and the like."

      In another place he wrote "Especially, I discoursed repeatedly on the nature and necessity of that humiliation, self-emptiness, or full conviction of a person's being utterly undone in himself, which is necessary in order to a saving faith, and the extreme difficulty of being brought to this; and the great danger there is of persons taking up with some self-righteous appearance of it. The danger of this I especially dwelt upon, being persuaded that multitudes perish in this hidden way; and because so little is said from most pulpits to discover any danger here; so that persons being never effectually brought to die in themselves are never truly united to Christ, and so perish."

      At one point Brainerd said that none of those whom he baptized disgraced their profession of Christianity by any ungodly actions or behavior. He was saying he knew of no backsliders at that point.

      Of course He received great discouragement from some of the white folks in that area. They would tell him that the Indians were just fine as they were and didn't need to have this big fuss over Christianity. That is a lie Christian missionaries still hear about heathen today. Others even lied to the Indians saying that Brainerd planned on selling them as slaves to England.

      There were a great deal of incidences that I would be willing to preach about when souls were awakened and God manifested His presence, but now I would rather point out two keys which I believe made Brainerd successful.

      Brainerd wrote what he thought was the chief cause of the most powerful awakening among the Indians. He wrote: "Nor have I ever seen so general an awakening in any assembly in my life as appeared here, while I was opening and insisting upon the Parable of the Great Supper, Luke 14. In which discourse I was enabled to set before my hearers the unsearchable riches of gospel-grace. Not that I would be understood here that I never instructed the Indians respecting their fallen state, and the sinfulness and misery of it; for this was what I at first chiefly insisted upon with them and endeavored to repeat and inculcate in almost every discourse, knowing that without this foundation I should but build upon the sand; and that it would be in vain to invite them to Christ, unless I could convince them of their need of Him, Mark 2:17. But still, this great awakening, this surprising concern, was never excited by any harangues of terror, but always appeared most remarkable when I insisted upon the compassions of a dying Savior, the plentiful provisions of the gospel, and the free offers of divine grace to the needy distressed sinners. Now would I be understood to insinuate that such a religious concern might justly be suspected as not being genuine, and from a divine influence, because produced by the preaching of terror; for this is perhaps God's more usual way of awakening sinners, and appears entirely agreeable to Scripture and sound reason. But what I meant here to observe is that God saw fit to employ and bless milder means for the effectual awakening of these Indians, and thereby obviated the fore mentioned objection which the world might otherwise have had a more plausible color of making." That was what caused the greatest awakening Brainerd saw in his ministry. Not the truth of the terrors of God, but the compassion of a dying Savior. I realized recently that even a razor is not sharp on all sides. Neither should our preaching be.

      The second key to his success I found in his diary, Thursday August 28, 1746. He said "Scarce ever saw more clearly, than this day, that it is God's work to convert souls, and especially poor heathens. I knew I could not touch them; I saw I could only speak to dry bones, but could give them no sense of what I said. My eyes were up to God for help. I could say the work was His, and if done, the glory would be His." The reason Brainerd won so many souls was because he prayed for many souls, the reason he prayed for many souls was because he knew the only thing that truly won souls was the power of God. It was not his hand leading the Indians to Christ but The Fathers hand. The glory of these revivals does not belong to Brainerd but to our most excellent and wonderful God!

      If we apply these two principals to modern Christianity, then I see no reason we can't see a revival. If we teach men both the terrors of the Law and the compassion of Christ, if we rely solely on the power of God and His hand and His Spirit, then we can reap a harvest in our own day. If sinners must be damned I pray that they have to swim through the rivers of our tears to get there. So long as sins are sending souls to hell, our hearts should send tears to our eyes. It is far easier to complain that souls are going to hell then it is to have compassion on the souls that are going to hell. Brainerd did not complain he had compassion.

      David Brainerd died in October 1747 in the house of Jonathon Edwards. Although Brainerd was a Christian only 8 years of his life, I fear he was more prepared for eternity then some who have been Christians for decades. If we can learn only one thing before we ourselves die, I pray that it be obedience. It's not a matter of getting knowledge, anyone can get knowledge. It's a matter of applying it. That is what not everybody does. Until we have God we must long after God. We don't have God. We don't long after God and that's why we don't have God. Brainerd longed for God so He had God. May we seek after the hand of God as Brainerd had, may we seek after the face of God as Brainerd had, and may we seek after the glory of God as Brainerd had.

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