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David Brainerd, the Man Who Prayed for the Indians

by Thomas John Bach

David BrainerdEvery republic in the Americas—South, Central, and North America—has a group of people known as Indians. The history of these aboriginal Americans is one of sadness. The red men have suffered much at the hands of the white men. They have been exploited, and millions of them have been killed in the struggle to retain possession of their land, their silver, and their gold. Missionaries to the Indians have been comparatively few, and the visible results of their ministry have been meager, although their efforts have been self-denying and heroic.

Among those who have faithfully given themselves to win the Indians for Christ are Captain Allen Gardiner and his six fellow missionaries who died the martyr's death among the Indians in South America; John Elliot, the apostle to the Indians of North America; Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, who learned the language of a tribe of Indians and befriended them with respect to their civil rights and in every way possible sought their spiritual welfare; and the missionary, David Brainerd, whose brief biography is here given.

David Brainerd was born in the village of Haddam, Connecticut, April 20, 1718. His father was the Honorable Hezekiah Brainerd. When David was only nine years of age, his father died; five years later, when his mother died, he was left a lonely orphan. He made his living by working on a farm and later came to live with the pastor of the local church, who kindly helped him with his studies. He was anxious to obtain a college education and, in the year 1739, went to Yale College where he studied for three years. At that time there was no theological seminary at Yale, but David Brainerd was helped in his Biblical studies by various ministers.

NOT BY WORKS

As a young man, he was known for his sobriety and his self-righteous attitude. He spent much time in prayer with the hope of obtaining divine favor and thus qualifying himself for salvation. While he was at Yale, a religious revival took place, and the day came when he, too, realized his self-conceit. He was twenty-one years of age when awakened to the fact that he was a lost sinner, and a decisive change took place in his life. He became deeply concerned about his own spiritual growth and the conversion of his fellow students. It is said that Brainerd was especially used of God in the conversion of the later distinguished theologian, Samuel Hopkins.

When Brainerd was twenty-four years of age, he entered upon his missionary career among the Indians. The Apostle Paul was his great hero as he carried on his missionary endeavors. He was deeply influenced by the ministry of John Elliot. Brainerd was sent to the Stockbridge Indians in Massachusetts in the year 1743 under the auspices of the Scottish Propagation Society. He established a school for Indian children, and, with the aid of an interpreter, preached to the adults. There was no English family within many miles and his dwelling was a room made of logs. There was no floor other than the hard-packed earth, and his bed was a heap of straw. His principal food was boiled corn and bread baked in the ashes.

After about a year, Brainerd was asked by his mission director to begin work among the Delaware Fork Indians. About the same time he received a call to the pastorate of the largest and wealthiest church on Long Island, but he deemed that the will of God was not always found where comfort, ease, and wealth are offered. He determined to continue as a missionary to the neglected red-skinned people of America.

The long journey to the fork of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, about 50 miles north of Philadelphia, was made on horseback. Often he had to spend the night in the open, making his bed on the ground. He arrived at his destination in May, 1744. A month later he was ordained by the presbytery at Newark, New Jersey. At that period he experienced his greatest success among the red men. He visited the Indians on the Susquehanna regularly and established a church and a school.

For some time his health had been failing due to pulmonary consumption. He was invited to come to the home of the distinguished preacher, Jonathan Edwards, at Northampton, Massachusetts. There he died on October 9, 1747, at only twenty-nine years of age.

TO ALL THE WORLD

The story of David Brainerd's devoted life of not quite four years of public missionary service has had world-wide influence. His spiritual, saintly prayer life reached far beyond the Indians whose lives were transformed. Religious leaders within the various church groups were challenged to deeper consecration and earnest zeal in their efforts to win the unsaved to Christ. Such world-famous missionaries as Henry Martyn, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and others were stirred in their missionary zeal as they read of David Brainerd's devotion to Christ and his sacrificial service among the people to whom he was sent to preach the gospel.

While on earth we will never fully be able to measure the influence of a Holy Spirit-filled life.

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The deep purposes and warm spiritual experiences of David Brainerd are revealed in entries such as these in his diary:

"Here am I, send me; send me to the ends of the earth; send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness; send me from all that is called comfort on earth; send me even to death itself, if it be but in Thy service, and to promote Thy kingdom."

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"My desires 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 a stranger here below, that nothing may divert me from pressing through the lonely desert, till I arrive at my Father's house."

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"This morning about nine I withdrew to the woods for prayer. I was in such anguish that when I arose from my knees I felt extremely weak and overcome... I cared not how or where I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls for Christ."

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"Oh, that I could spend every moment of my life to God's glory!"

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"I have received my all from God. Oh, that I could return my all to God."

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"It is sweet to be nothing and less than nothing that Christ may be all in all."


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Pioneer Missionaries for Christ and His Church by Thomas John Bach. Wheaton, Ill.: Van Kampen Press, ©1955.

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