Born APRIL 20, 1718
David Brainerd served God in the North American wilderness of the “1700s.” His life wasn’t easy. Yet he endured physical and emotional hardships to reach Native Americans with the gospel. His short, faithful ministry, preserved in the diary he kept, has inspired many.
RUGGED START, PROMISING FUTURE
David Brainerd was born in Haddam, Connecticut. He was the sixth of nine children. Both of his parents died before his fifteenth birthday.
The orphaned teen lived the next few years with his sister’s family. After turning nineteen, the role of religion in his life became important to him. He moved into the home of the local pastor. When the pastor died, David turned to his brother for further education. Driven to learn and to serve God, David eventually decided to attend Yale to prepare for the ministry.
JOY AND SORROW AT YALE
Two months before entering Yale, David came to a realization about his faith. Up until this point he had treated his good deeds as godly service, worthy of salvation. As he walked through a dark grove one day, the impact of Jesus’ sacrifice lit his heart, and he realized he was lost from God. He recorded in his journal, “Thus God, I trust, brought me to a hearty disposition to exalt Him and set Him on the throne.”
During his second year at Yale, illness sent him home for rest. He returned to college to witness the flames of the Great Awakening ablaze at Yale. They were fanned to life among the student body, but not the administration. By invitation, Jonathan Edwards gave the 1741 commencement speech, which further divided the school. A zealous remark from David about a superior led to his expulsion from the institution.
David was credentialed to preach by a New Lights group (those advocating the spiritual revivalism of the Great Awakening) in Connecticut. By then he’d already gained a year of experience with the Mohican Indian tribe of New York. In June of 1744, David relocated to the Forks of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.
Alone in the wild, David battled episodes of melan-choly. However, he refused an offer to pastor at a church on Long Island. He felt drawn to the geographical wilderness, to preach to those who’d never heard the gospel. The untamed environment made harsh demands, including having to sleep on the ground. Yet David persevered.
When he finally established himself among the Delaware tribe, they listened yet clung to their non-Christian worship traditions. Discouragement there led him to a Delaware settlement at Crossweeksung, New Jersey.
FRUITFUL FINAL YEARS
Relocating to Crossweeksung in June of 1745 began his best years of ministry. He wrote in his journal on November 4th of that year, “I have now baptized in all forty-seven persons of the Indians, twenty-three adults, and twenty-four children; thirty-five of them belong-ing to these parts, and the rest to the Forks of Delaware: and through rich grace, none of them as yet have been left to disgrace the profession of Christianity by any scandalous or unbecoming behaviour.”
His congregation grew to 130 individuals. He provided discipleship for all ages, served them communion, taught them to fast and to love God and mankind. A journal entry from that period concludes, “Amazing change this! Effected by nothing less than divine power and grace!”
However, David’s work there would be short-lived. His journal entries from this period show both the success of his work and the worsening of his health. He moved his growing congregation (to whom he preached through an interpreter) to a plot of ground in Cranberry, New Jersey. In November of 1746, he had to leave Cranberry due to declining health.
Suffering from tuberculosis, David resorted to the home of Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts. He was engaged to the famed preacher’s daughter, Jerusha. David died there on October 9, 1747 at age 29.
SHORT LIFE, LASTING RESULTS
After his death, Jonathan Edwards edited David’s journals, which he published as “The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.” The volume is available from current-day publishers.
David Brainerd’s short life was not, as it may seem to some, wasted. It was rather, greatly invested in service to God. The chronicle of his life has influenced myriads of ministers and missionaries, including John Wesley, William Carey and Adoniram Judson. That influence continues to the present day.
All images of David Brainerd are PD US.
LET ME KNOW: How has David’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
Larsen, Timothy, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003.
A few other online resources–
Read his journal entries from June to November of 1745:http://www.revival-library.org/catalogues/1725ff/brainerdjournal.html.
Read journal entries during 1745-1746:http://davidbrainerd.blogspot.com/
Various biographical resources are available at: http://www.davidbrainerd.com/brainerdi.html.