David Brainerd: Long-Term Missionary Who Lived a Short Life

By Cesar Vigil-Ruiz

The life of a missionary is always a challenge for us to look at, especially one who resolves to be devoted to honoring God in all that they do. Lives spent to live solely for Christ and to see His Name proclaimed to all people discomforts us to think hard and reflect on whether we live with that same desire, knowing what we have been taught from the Scriptures on a constant, weekly basis. That becomes the danger of reading biographies about certain believers in history, and yet we’ve all been called to remember the saints from the past (Hebrews 11:1-12:3). David Brainerd is an example of a flawed saint used greatly by God to further His cause for His glory.

David Brainerd was born April 20, 1718 in Haddam, CT and died October 9, 1747 at the age of 29. Born to a CT state legislator, and mother, as the sixth of nine children, he lived to see his father die when he was five and his mother when he was 14. Living with his married sister, Jerusha, Brainerd soon inherited a farm and tried at it for a year, yet couldn’t find himself doing that kind of hard labor for long. He soon returned to prepare for Yale to enter the ministry at the age of 20, later admitting he was not converted at the time. He struggled with the truth that nothing could be done to merit a place at the table of God’s presence. His conversion occurred at the age of 21, he was awakened to see God’s weighty glory that led him to no longer live for his own but all and entirely God’s. This day was July 12, 1739, a couple months before entering Yale. His stay did not last long due to a case of the measles, along with the spiritual immaturity that many of the students, and even teachers, had. His life soon began to consist of a constant spitting up of blood that would be a recurring problem for him throughout the rest of his life.

Upon returning to Yale the next year, things had changed. This was the time of the Great Awakening. George Whitefield, from his visit, had helped awaken students to the seriousness and reality of true religion, wanting to live wholeheartedly for Christ, which was not a helpful environment for the faculty of Yale to be part of, given their lack of seriousness with the Word of God. Not too long after, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon that explained what was a true work of the Spirit of God, in opposition to what wasn’t but was claimed to be. Knowing the staff were wary of the Great Awakening as being a work of God, Edwards argued that it was, knowing there were elements that people were engaging in that would be legitimate grounds to call “excess.” The college trustees then voted that anyone who would say anyone on staff were “hypocrites, carnal or unconverted men,” would have to make public confession and then would be expelled. Brainerd described one of the tutors as having “no more grace than a chair,” which led to him being expelled.

In those times, to be a minister in Connecticut, you had to have graduated from either Harvard, Yale, or a European university. This was a wound that deeply affected Brainerd’s desire for ministry. However, God’s sovereignty was displayed in the licensing of Brainerd to be a missionary under the Commissioners of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge in 1742. He preached for one year in 1743 to the Housatonic Indians at Kaunaumeek, not far from Stockbridge, MA, starting a school for the Indian children there. He then went to Delaware to preach to the Indians in that area, soon becoming ordained into the ministry in 1744. After another year, Brainerd preached through the area of Crossweeksung, NJ, bringing about a congregation of 130 people, later moving to Cranberry a little over a year after he started. He quickly became sick, left Cranberry to recuperate, but was able to visit one last time before his death in the house of Jonathan Edwards in 1747.

All his life, Brainerd suffered from great physical pain, leaving behind a number of entries in his own diary concerning daily struggles to stay joyful in God while coughing up blood throughout his life. He suffered from tuberculosis, as well as depression, stemming from a godly sorrow that knew he was unworthy to even enter into Gospel ministry. He led a life of deep introspection that flowed out of his vulnerable writings that weren’t intended to be published.

His life and ministry has led to a renewed calling for those of similar age to rise up and reawaken to God’s call to disciple the nations for His glory. His painful life should call into question our lazy and slumbered lives droning away at work, school, while untold numbers are not being told the Gospel. His pain helped strengthen him, knowing that through his own weakness, Christ would display His strength in using weak sinners saved by grace to reach many with His beautiful message of a crucified Savior from sin and death. This personally has confronted me to not be too sure of my own plans, but to trust in His for His good purposes. May our hearts be ignited to fight for missions and for His Name to be displayed among people we never thought we had intended to reach.

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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