Devotion for Week of February 1st, 2010

David Brainerd – Missionary <?xml:namespace prefix = o />

Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

David Brainerd, missionary, was born at Haddam, Connecticut, April 20, 1718.  His father, Hezekiah, was one of His Majesty's counsel for the colony, and his maternal grandfather was the son of Rev. Peter Hobart, first minister of the gospel at Hingham, England, who came to New England during the persecution of the Puritans, and settled at Hingham, Massachusetts. David was left an orphan at fourteen years of age.  He was always thoughtful beyond his years and inclined to morbid conscientiousness. When he was seven or eight years old, his religious experiences were marked, but did not continue. Six years afterward they returned upon him with great power, resulting as he believed in his conversion to God. At the age of twenty he was again the subject of especial religious impression, and his new baptism stirred his soul to its inmost depths. He preserved the record of these experiences in detail, as well as the account of his early life and conversion.

After three years of study at Yale College, he became a missionary to the Indians, under appointment of the Scottish Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

On the way to his work among the Indians at Kaunaumeek, New York, he stopped and preached at Montauk, Long Island, at that time chiefly inhabited by Indians; and what was his text?  He says: "I went and preached from Isaiah 53-- 'Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him ... [and] make his soul an offering for sin.'"

Jesus' death on the cross was part of the divine plan: "It pleased the LORD to bruise him."

Jesus' death on the cross was the costly remedy for a terrible disease: " ... an offering for sin."

Jesus' death on the cross would be divinely used to the salvation of multitudes: "The pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand ... and justify many."

Several months after reaching Kaunaumeek, the young missionary set aside a day "for secret fasting and praying from morning till night."  Thus far he felt that his work had been a failure.  He was overwhelmed by a sense of his own unworthiness and of the obstacles confronting him, chiefly, the depravity of the Indians and the weakened condition of his own pain-racked, consumptive body.  

He read extensive passages from the Bible, "frequently in the meantime," he states, "falling on my knees and crying to God."  As he read of the people of God of old and of how marvelously God had used them, he longed to be like them. That day the pattern of his amazing life was formed, as he solemnly consecrated himself to walk in the footsteps of four of the heroes of the Bible. "O that I may be, as were they, aflame for God," he prayed. That night he wrote in his Diary, "My soul blessed God that He had shown Himself so gracious to His servants of old."

Brainerd longed to be AFLAME FOR GOD, living, like Moses, a life of self-abasement to His service and glory.

When God spoke out of the burning bush in Midian, He found Moses very different from what he was forty years earlier. Then he was self-assertive, endeavoring to deliver his enslaved brethren by his own hand and by his own ill-chosen methods. Now he was self-abased, conscious of his inadequacy and unworthiness. "Who am I," he said, "to undertake so great a task?"

God could and did use mightily one thus yielded and eager, not for self-glory but for the glory of God. No man ever yearned more ardently to be like Moses, or succeeded to a greater degree, than did David Brainerd. "I spent the evening," he says, "praying incessantly that I might not be self-dependent but have my whole dependence upon God." In a letter to his brother, January 2,1744, he wrote:

"We should always look upon ourselves as God's servants, placed in God's world to do His work; and accordingly labor faithfully for Him. Let it then be your great concern, thus to devote yourself and your all to God."

His Diary contains innumerable passages of similar import to the following. "April 26,1742. Oh, that I could spend every moment of my life to God's glory!" "August 30, 1742. My soul longs with a vehement desire to live to God." "November 22, 1745. I have received my all from God. Oh that I could return my all to God." Not in self-dependence but in God-dependence, Brainerd found the source of unlimited power, the secret of a gallant spirit, the sacrament of inward peace.

Self-abasement was not to Brainerd an end in it self. "It is so sweet," he confides, "to be nothing and less than nothing" that Christ may be "my all in all."

Oh, the bitter shame and sorrow
  That a time could ever be
When I let the Saviour's pity
Plead in vain, and proudly answered:
  "All of self, and none of Thee."

Yet He found me: I beheld Him
  Bleeding on the accursed tree;
Heard Him pray, "Forgive them, Father,"
And my wistful heart said faintly:
  "Some of self and some of Thee."

Day by day, His tender mercy,
  Healing, helping, full and free,
Sweet and strong, and oh, so patient,
Brought me lower, while I whispered:
  "Less of self and more of Thee."

Higher than the highest heaven,
  Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, Thy love at last has conquered:
Grant me now my soul's desire,
  "None of self and all of Thee."

Brainerd longed to be AFLAME FOR GOD, being, like Elijah, a man fervent and mighty in prayer.

His soul "was much moved" as he read the story of Elijah the prophet, who, by laying hold upon God in prayer, was sustained in all his trials and was enabled to overcome the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, to call a multitude to repentance and to bring down rain upon a famished earth. Thereupon, says Brainerd: "My soul breathed after God, and pleaded with Him, that 'a double portion of that spirit' which was given to Elijah, might 'rest on me.'"

He usually spent several hours a day in prayer and frequently devoted an entire day to this purpose. June 14, 1742, he writes: "I set apart this day for secret fasting and prayer. Just at night the Lord visited me marvelously. I wrestled for an ingathering of souls ... I was in such an agony from sun half an hour, till near dark, that I was all over wet with sweat. Oh, my dear Saviour did sweat blood for poor souls. I went to bed with my heart wholly set on God."

Brainerd discovered the reality of prayer: "The Lord visited me marvelously."

Brainerd experienced the agony of prayer: "I wrestled for souls ... in agony."

Brainerd discerned the resources of prayer "treasures of divine grace were opened to me."

Brainerd learned the transforming power of prayer: "My heart was wholly set on God."

July 21,1744, on hearing that the Indians were planning to hold an idolatrous feast and dance the next day, he spent a day and night in prayer. He writes: "This morning about nine I withdrew to the woods for prayer. I was in such anguish that when I rose from my knees I felt extremely weak and overcome, and the sweat ran down my face and body ... I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls for Christ. I continued in this frame all the evening and night."

Thus empowered, he went forth to meet the Indians the next morning, convinced that God was with him in this contest just as He was with Elijah on Mount Carmel; and, wonder of wonders, instead of promptly scalping him when he called upon them to stop their dance, they actually desisted and listened to the missionary preach, both morning and afternoon.

Made strong by prayer and the awareness of the divine companionship, Brainerd dragged his tortured body through the forests from village to village, preaching with such tenderness and conviction that the stony-hearted Indians were frequently melted to tears.

Brainerd longed to be AFLAME FOR GOD, his life, like Abraham's, being characterized by the holy piety of one on pilgrimage to eternity.

In his Diary Brainerd makes frequent reference to the ancient patriarch. He spoke of "Abraham's pilgrimage" and of "what a stranger he was here on earth." He longed to be like Abraham and the worthies referred to in Hebrews 11:13, who "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." As a citizen of heaven, he felt that he should be insensible to the enjoyments of this world. "My desires," he wrote on July 19, 1742, "seem especially to be after weanedness from the world, perfect deadness to it, and that I may be crucified to all its allurements. My soul desires 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."

Being on such a pilgrimage, he was filled with the most intense longings after holiness and sanctification. "Blessed Jesus," he prayed, "may I daily be more and more conformed to Thee. All I want is to be more holy, more like my dear Lord ... that I may be fit for the blessed enjoyments and employments of the heavenly world." As a "pilgrim here below," Brainerd was animated by a threefold yearning: to be crucified to the allurements of this world, to be conformed daily to the holy purposes of Christ, to be made fit for the enjoyments and employments of heaven!

Brainerd frequently felt himself cast down into the dust because of his sinfulness and spiritual deadness. "What a vile wretch I am!" he exclaims. "Oh that I could give up myself to God, so as nevermore to attempt to be my own, or to have any will or affections that are not perfectly conformed to Him! But alas, alas! I find I cannot be thus entirely devoted to God."

Few men have ever exposed their inmost souls as did Brainerd; and yet it should be remembered that he had no idea that any other eye than his own would ever see his private writings. If a saint is one who lives in time with a view to eternity, no saintlier man ever lived than David Brainerd. "I love to live," he said, "on the brink of eternity."

Brainerd longed to be AFLAME FOR GOD, living, like Paul, to preach Christ and to share His sufferings unto the salvation of souls.

His Diary contains this entry, July 6,1744: "I long and love to be a pilgrim; and want grace to imitate the life, labors and sufferings of Paul among the heathen." He and Paul were kindred spirits in being captivated and animated by one great design -- the salvation of lost souls, and in believing that this objective could best be attained by preaching the gospel of Christ and by living a life of self-denial and sacrifice.

  Brainerd and Paul were kindred spirits!
  Captivated by one grand design-- "to testify the gospel of the grace of God."
  Animated by one superb longing-- "to fill up that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ."
  "I long to imitate the life, labors and sacrifices of Paul among the heathen."

Almost every page of Brainerd's Diary tells how he "endured hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." His sufferings, caused by a diseased and weakened constitution, were intensified by the rigors of his life among the Indians and his arduous travels through the wilderness. Concerning his first night among the Indians, he made this entry, "I rode to Kaunaumeek and there lodged on a little heap of straw."

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. Concerning one such incident he relates, "About six at night I lost my way in the wilderness, and wandered over rocks and mountains, through swamps and most dreadful places. I was pinched with cold and distressed with an extreme pain in my head and stomach, so that much blood came from me. But God preserved me, and, blessed be His name, such fatigues and hardships as these seem to wean me more from the earth and I trust will make heaven the sweeter." This man was no secluded saint. He was apostolic in his labors and in the way he gloried in tribulation.

Brainerd's health was failing fast and he gave some consideration to the idea of giving up his missionary journeys and settling down, either among his Christian Indians or at one of the white churches which had extended to him a call. This prospect was immeasurably enhanced by his dreams of domestic felicity, for he was ardently attached to Jerusha Edwards. He realized, however, that he had at most a year or two longer to live, and concluded, after much struggle of soul, that he should "burn out to the last" as a traveling missionary. Falling on his knees in his resignation, he cried: "Farewell friends and earthly comforts; farewell to the dearest, the very dearest of them all. I will spend my life to my latest moments in caves and dens of the earth, if the kingdom of Christ may thereby be advanced."

During the last months of his life, Jerusha was his nurse and constant companion; and so heartbroken was she at the death of her beloved, she faded like a flower famished for rain, and, just four months later, went to join him in the Celestial City.

Brainerd, like Paul, gloried in the Cross and determined to preach nothing "save Jesus Christ and him crucified." He made Christ the center and goal of every message. "If I treated on the being and glorious perfections of God," he wrote, "I was thence naturally led to discourse of Christ as the only way to the Father. If I attempted to open the deplorable misery of our fallen state, it was natural from thence to show the necessity of Christ to undertake for us, to atone for our sins and to redeem us from their power." The Apostle to the Indians proved, not only that the preaching of "gospel truth" is the only thing that can melt savage hearts to repentance, but also is the only means by which to reform and transform their lives. Just as soon as the Indians were changed at heart, they gave up their heathen vices.

At the end of one year of labor at Kaunaumeek, Brainerd persuaded the Indians to move to Stockbridge, where they came under the ministry of a Mr. Sargeant and later of Jonathan Edwards. Henceforth his parish centered in the area of the forks of the Delaware and extended through wide areas of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He made the Indian town of Crossweeksung his headquarters and there erected a little hut. For a considerable time he was greatly depressed by the heathen practices of the Indians, by the darkness of their minds and the hardness of their hearts. But he kept on sowing the gospel seeds and watered them with his tears, for he believed "the promises of God." Often he retired into the forest recesses, and the leafy solitudes echoed with the pleadings of his anguished heart on behalf of his "poor Indians."

  The promises! The sure promises of God!
  "Sow in tears ... reap in joy!"
  "Call upon me and I will answer!"
  Echoes among the leafy solitudes!
  Pleadings of his anguished heart!

At length a mighty revival broke out in Susquehannah, and the reaper with joy gathered the precious sheaves. One day while preaching on Isaiah 33, "the Word was attended with amazing power; many scores in that great assembly were much affected, so that there was a very great mourning among them." Suddenly there fell among the Indian population of this area a sense of soul concern. From all directions they came, crowding around the missionary to hear his message and falling down with sobs and groans under conviction of sin. A besotted woman fell down crying, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord." An elderly man, who had been a murderer, a pow-wow (or conjuror), and a notorious drunkard, cried for mercy with many tears. Scores were soundly converted and came to be known as "Praying Indians," for, like their missionary, they spent much time in importunate prayer for the salvation of their people. And what was the message that produced such remarkable results? When one of the men was asked, "Why do you cry so?" he replied, "When I think how Christ was slain like a lamb and spilt His blood for sinners, I cannot help crying." It was the message of Isaiah 53! And when Brainerd called his Christian Indians together for their first communion and talked to them of the great sacrifice represented by the sacred emblems, the whole company was dissolved in tears.


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