Early in the eighteenth century, the eastern districts of North America were but thinly sprinkled with European settlements. Here and there inland plantations had been cleared amidst the native forests, and, along the course of the larger rivers, groups of log-huts marked out the sites of future towns; whilst the Indians—the "native tribes of red-men, were gradually driven to remoter hunting-grounds, or constrained to adopt a more settled life, by the pale-faced intruders from beyond the great waters. The whole interior of this vast continent was still an unmapped wilderness.
Connecticut was one of the more flourishing districts of New England. Its population, mostly British, contained a large mixture of the old kirk-loving Scotch element. It was already rising to wealth and importance among its sister colonies.
Haddam, in Connecticut, was the birthplace of David Brainerd. His father was one of His Majesty's Council for that colony. Of a family of nine children, David, the third son, was born on the 20th of April 1718. He was brought up in the fear of God, and the outward observances of religion, and at an early age was the subject of deep religious convictions. He was naturally sober and sedate, somewhat inclined to melancholy; and this tendency was rather confirmed than corrected by the future circumstances of his life.
In 1732, he was aroused to a fresh concern for his soul by the prevalence at Haddam of a distemper attended with much mortality. The death of his mother, also, at this sad time, increased the anguish of his mind. She had been a widow about five years. Her children, now orphans, were not, however, left destitute of temporal resources.
Had young David, at this period, had the advantage of judicious Christian counsel, he might probably have been materially helped in finding rest for his soul; he might have been earlier guided to the peace-giving knowledge of Christ's perfect work. Like Israel of old, he "followed after the law of righteousness," but attained not "the righteousness which is of faith." Although, as he says himself, "frequent, constant, and fervent in duties," he was wavering in doubt and uncertainty respecting his real condition; sometimes hoping that he "was converted, or at least in a good and hopeful way for heaven and happiness;" yet still not knowing what conversion was.
At the age of fifteen he removed to East Haddam, and four years afterwards, to his farm at Durham, where he continued working for about twelve month. Comforted, at times, with "good frames" of mind, he often found them spoiled by "young company, or frolicking." At length, however, he adopted a more rigid course of religious duty, abandoned his youthful companions, applied himself to regular studies, and formed the purpose of devoting himself to the ministry. With this view, he went, in April 1738, at the age of twenty, to reside with Mr. Fiske, the pastor of the church at Haddam.
In the winter of that year he was suddenly struck with such a sense of his sin, and of the wrath of God, that he stood amazed, and his "former good frames all presently vanished." Distress of mind, and dread of God's vengeance, followed him from day to day. Mercy seemed shut out by the mountain-barrier of God's righteous law. "One night, in particular," he says, "I had such a view of my sin, that I feared the ground would cleave asunder, and become my grave. I was forced to go to bed, lest my distress should be discovered by others; yet I scarce durst sleep at all, for I thought it would be a great wonder if I should be out of hell in the morning." He often walked out into solitary places, bemoaning his condition, and crying to God for mercy; but still endeavoured to find relief for his troubled conscience by an increased earnestness in the performance of duties.
"In this distressed, bewildered, and tumultuous state of mind," writes Brainerd, "the corruption of my heart was especially irritated with these things following:—
"1. The strictness of the Divine law. I found it was impossible for me, after my utmost pains, to answer the demands of it. I thought, if it extended only to my outward actions and behaviour, I could bear with it; but I found it condemned me for the sins of my heart. I was extremely loth to give up, and own my utter helplessness. I hoped that I should strive more earnestly than ever, if the matter came to an extremity; though I never could find the time to do my utmost in the manner I intended.
"2. Another grievance was, that faith alone was the condition of salvation. That word, Mark 16:16, 'He that believeth not, shall be damned,' cut off all hope. I could not bear that all I had done should stand for mere nothing. I confessed, indeed, the vileness of all my duties; but what made them at that time seem vile, was my wandering thoughts in them; not because I was all over denied—so that I could not possibly do anything that was good.
"3. I could not find out what faith was; or what it was to believe, and to come to Christ. I thought I would gladly come, if I knew how, though the path of duty were ever so difficult. I read Mr. Stoddart's 'Guide to Christ,' and my heart rose against the author; for, though he showed me my very heart all along under convictions, yet here he failed,—he did not tell me anything I could do that would bring me to Christ; but left, as it were, a great gulf between me and Christ, without any direction to get through.
"4. Another thing that I found a great inward opposition to, was the sovereignty of God. When I came to reflect on my inward enmity, I was the more afraid of God, and driven further from any hopes of reconciliation with Him. I dreaded to see myself in God's hands, and at His sovereign disposal; for I thought God had designed my damnation."
It is natural to the instincts of fallen man, always to resist and refuse the sovereign grace of God. But when a poor sinner, stricken and broken-hearted, once listens to that faithful saying—"God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life;" (John 3:16;) and that "the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost;" (Luke 19:10;) then he is glad to cast aside the false hopes and fears of a guilty conscience, and to accept salvation as the free and present gift of God. It was so, ere long, with David Brainerd.
But he had first to be divested of all confidence in his own contrivances, and to feel that he was totally ruined and lost. Then he ceased to regard his prayers and fasting as an acceptable service to God—a ground why God should show mercy to him. He felt that, "as he had never done anything for God," so he "had no claim to anything from Him but perdition." For some days he remained in this mournful, melancholy state of mind.
On the evening of the 12th of July 1739, in his usual solitary walk, God's
free gift of salvation by Christ crucified for sinners, was presented all
at once to his mind, as infinitely wise, suitable, and excellent. This
revelation of the truth by the Holy Spirit was so clear and vivid, that he
now began to wonder "that
all the world did not see and comply with this way of salvation—entirely
by the finished work of Christ." He says:—
"As I was walking in a dark, thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to my soul. I do not mean any external brightness, nor any imagination of a body of light; but a new, inward apprehension that I had of God. It appeared to be Divine glory that I then beheld, and my soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable. My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God, that I had no thought, as I remember, at first, about my own salvation; and scarce reflected that there was such a creature as myself."
So sings the Christian poet—
"I lose myself when God I see,
And into nothing fall;
Content if Thou exalted be,
And Christ be all in all."
The change thus wrought in the mind of Brainerd gave a new aspect to everything about him. "I felt myself," he says, "in a new world!" The "sweet relish" of these emotions continued, and he could "rejoice in God, lying down and rising up."
In the autumn of 1739 he entered at Yale College, Newhaven, where he pursued his studies with so much ardour as to seriously injure his health, and impair "the activity and vigour of his spiritual life."
A remarkable revival of religion took place in New England in the year 1741, nearly concurrent with the awakening which marked the middle of last century in the British Islands. In this revival the society of Yale College participated, and Brainerd was especially animated and refreshed in his own soul. A lively concern was soon kindled in his mind on behalf of his fellow-students, and he began to visit them in their own chambers, earnestly reasoning with them on the subject of their personal interest in Christ. Many individuals were convinced of their sins, and led to the Saviour through these visits. Amongst others benefited by his instrumentality was Samuel Hopkins, afterwards pastor of Newport, Rhode Island. Dr. Hopkins died in 1803, after sixty years of ministerial usefulness. Thus was Brainerd already as one "that winneth souls."
But a severe trial followed,—a temptation by which, in an unguarded moment, he was betrayed. The consequences of that unhappy moment fell, like the shadow of a cloud, over the rest of his earthly course.
Amidst the general reformation "in the College, the town, and the land," says the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, "an intemperate, imprudent zeal, and a degree of enthusiasm soon crept in, and mingled itself with that revival of religion. So great and general an awakening being quite a new thing in the land, neither people nor ministers had learned thoroughly to distinguish between solid religion and its delusive counterfeits." The rulers of the College deemed it necessary to impose restraints on its own members, which provoked dissatisfaction and resistance. On one occasion Brainerd was led, in private conversation with a few confidential friends, to cast a severe reflection on the character of one of the College tutors. This sin of the tongue—the "unruly evil"—was soon disclosed, and punishment inflicted even more severe than the offence deserved. This was, doubtless, aggravated by some other accusations against him, which were groundless, and by his joining once in a religious meeting when forbidden by the rector. But feeling much injured in the conduct of the whole affair, and declining to make a public confession of a private offence, he was expelled the College.
Exclusion from academic privileges, and the consequent loss of his degree, seemed likely to frustrate Brainerd's cherished purpose of entering the ministry, especially in a community in which they were deemed essential qualifications for the sacred office. His friends made repeated efforts to obtain his restoration, but the rulers were inflexible, and he therefore finished his studies under the care of the Rev. Mr. Mills, of Ripton.
Twelve months after this unhappy event he sought to obtain his degree; and, to this end, offered to the trustees, in writing, a full and humble acknowledgment of his fault. But they determined, if they should receive him again into the College, to withhold his degree for another year at least. This was incompatible with his present plans; for, being now engaged by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, the correspondents of the Society in America would not consent to this condition.
It must be lamented that such a blight should have fallen upon so fair and promising a branch of the true and living Vine. But it was a stroke that the power of God could turn into a blessing. The love of Christ was, indeed, the true motive of his unreserved devotedness to missionary work; but he evidently threw himself into the enterprise with the desperate energy of a forlorn hope, in which his own life was not esteemed worthy of a moment's regard.
And it is a matter of just regret, that they should be branded as enthusiasts, who, amid the fervours of a real religious revival, ventured beyond the lines of accustomed church order. In Brainerd's case this could not quench his zeal, but it led him into indiscretion, and overspread his path with gloom.
His diary from January 1741 to February 1742, contained, probably, his own convictions in reference to his college life; but this portion of his daily spiritual register was, by his own injunction, destroyed. From a few succeeding portions we may discern the softened and saddened spirit in which he walked with God, and the longings of his soul for his heavenly rest.
"Friday, April 2, 1742—In the afternoon I felt somewhat happy in secret prayer, much resigned, calm, and serene. What are all the storms of this lower world, if Jesus, by His Spirit, does but come walking on the waters! Some time past I had much pleasure in the prospect of the heathens being brought home to Christ, and desired that the Lord would employ me in that work; but now my soul more frequently desires to die, and to be with Christ.
"Monday, April 19.—I set apart this day for fasting and prayer to God for His grace, especially to prepare me for the work of the ministry, to give me Divine aid and direction, and in His own time to send me into His harvest. I felt a power of intercession for precious souls, and for the advancement of the kingdom of my dear Lord and Saviour; and withal, a most sweet resignation—and even consolation and joy—in the thought of suffering hardships, distresses, and death itself, in the promotion of it. God was with me of a truth. Oh, it was blessed company indeed.
"April 20.—This day I am twenty-four years of age. Oh, how much mercy have I received! And how poorly have I answered the vows I made this time twelve months, to be wholly the Lord's—to be for ever devoted to His service! This has been a sweet, a happy day to me: blessed be God! Was enabled to plead fervently with the Lord to-night for my enemies. I longed to live to God; I wanted to wear out my life in His service, and for His glory.
"Lord's Day, April 25.—Felt much pressed now, as frequently of late, to plead for the meekness and calmness of the Lamb of God in my soul. It is a sweet disposition, heartily to forgive all injuries done us. Blessed Jesus! may I be daily more and more conformed to Thee! At night, was exceedingly melted with Divine love, and had some feeling sense of the blessedness of the upper world. I wished and longed for the coming of my dear Lord. I longed to join the angelic hosts in praises wholly free from imperfection. The blessed moment hastens! All I want is to be more holy. My very soul pants for the complete restoration of the image of my adored Saviour; that I may be fit for the enjoyments of the heavenly world.
"April 28.—Thirsting desires and insatiable longings possessed my soul after perfect holiness. God was so precious to my soul that the world, with all its enjoyments, was infinitely vile. I had no more value for the favour of men than for pebbles. The Lord was my all. I saw Him to be such a fountain of goodness that it seemed impossible I should distrust Him again, or be any way anxious about anything that should happen to me."
These spiritual enjoyments were often varied with deep exercises of heart, on account of innate corruption. We see him bowed down to the earth in many such daily records as the following:—
"Lord's Day, May 9.—I think I never felt so much of the sinful pride of my heart, as well as the stubbornness of my will before. What a vile wretch I am! O that God would humble me in the dust!
"May 23.—Saw so much of the wickedness of my heart that I longed to get away from myself. I felt almost pressed to death with my own vileness. Lord, deliver my soul!
"June 30.—Spent this day alone in the woods, in fasting and prayer, and underwent the most dreadful conflicts. I saw myself so vile, that I was ready to say, 'I shall now perish by the hand of Saul!' Spent almost the whole day in prayer incessantly. I could not bear to think of Christians showing me any respect; I almost despaired of doing any service in the world.
"July 3.—My heart seemed again to sink. The disgrace I was laid under at College seemed to damp me, as it opens the mouth of opposers. I had no refuge but in God only. Blessed be His name, that I may go to Him at all times, and find Him a present help.
On the 29th of July 1742, Brainerd was examined by the Association at Danbury, and received license to preach the Gospel of Christ. He immediately began to use his privilege, and soon had proof of the Lord's help and blessing in this holy service. But there were still those in authority at Newhaven who had other thoughts. They sought opportunity to apprehend and imprison him for having preached at that place; and he was obliged to conceal himself in a friend's house, at some distance from the town, to avoid his persecutors. Reflecting on this, he says—"It brought me to a further sense of my sinfulness, and just desert of this, and much more—from the hand of God, though not from the hand of man." At Southbury, at Judea, at Bethlehem, at Turkey-Hills, at West Suffield, at Lebanon, and at Millington, he was almost constantly engaged in service during the next four months; often with much power and joy, but with deep abasement of soul before God. At the last-mentioned place he writes—"It seemed as if one so unholy could never arrive at that blessedness—to be holy, for God is holy. I longed for sanctification, and conformity to God: oh, that is the all, THE ALL!"
The "New World," like enchanted ground, is a land of rapid transformations! Within the last two centuries forests have been swept away, towns built, cities filled with teeming communities, and States formed that rival some of the old kingdoms of Europe. The Red Indians—the sons of the forest—have almost disappeared from the older settlements, displaced by the onward rush of the Saxon race, or destroyed in a continued, unequal struggle with their enemies. The fatal introduction of ardent spirits, not less than the use of gunpowder, has tended to this melancholy result.
Many of these Indians were men of noble stature, unmatched courage, and great mental power. The settlement of William Penn proved, under the providence of God, that the native chiefs were capable of peaceful intercourse and steadfast friendship with European settlers. The early history of Pennsylvania appears like a "golden age;" but, alas! it was an exception to the more general rule. It was too bright to last.
A hundred years ago, there were numerous tribes of Indians spreading even to the Atlantic coast; some of which now exist, in name only, on maps of an early date.
These Indians—ruthlessly plundered, and driven off their hunting-grounds, by settlers and traders bearing the Christian name—became objects of compassion to some few who were Christians indeed. They were heathens, slaves of superstition; and, though not idol-worshippers, ignorant of the one true God, and of His Son, the only Saviour.
Could these Indians be evangelized? Could they be brought to know, and love, and serve God? Were they within the reach of Christian effort? Could they be brought to sit at the feet of Jesus as their Redeemer? These queries were happily met by the fact that a few, here and there, had already heard and embraced the Gospel of Christ. Under one of Brainerd's first sermons, some Indians were deeply affected, and were at once placed under Christian instruction—a kind of first-fruits of his labours.
But a more serious question remained. Who would go to the Indians, to carry the message of God's salvation to their native settlements? It was a hard, if not a hopeless task, and required an entire abandonment of selfish ends and worldly prospects to undertake it. Perhaps but for the mysterious providence of God, in blighting his temporal wishes, even David Brainerd might not have been prepared to answer—"Here am I, send me!"
The Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, had assented to the proposal to maintain two missionaries among these poor pagans; and their correspondents in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania had been seeking two candidates for this difficult enterprise. In August 1741, they had prevailed with Mr. Azariah Horton to commence a mission to some Indian villages on Long Island; but a second candidate had not, hitherto, been found.
In November 1742, Mr. Brainerd was desired to meet the correspondents at New York. He did so, and after much prayer, he undertook this self-sacrificing service, and solemnly devoted the remainder of us life to be spent among the Indians.
Purposing to enter on his work in the spring, he spent the winter in preaching, and in settling his temporal affairs. He had some patrimony, and arranged to employ it in the education of a young friend, as a candidate for the ministry.
On the 15th of March 1742-43, he again repaired to New York, where he received his ultimate directions.
Kaunameek, a station about twenty miles from Albany, on the borders of New York and Massachusetts, was the scene of Brainerd's first missionary labours. It was a dreary place, surrounded by mountains and forests; and the only person with whom he could converse (except by an interpreter) was a poor Scotch Highlander, in whose log-cabin he lodged. Soon, however, he had to build for himself a small house, nearly two miles off, among the Indians. The most ordinary and scanty food; a little heap of straw upon some boards, for a bed; a wearisome daily task; and no society:—such were some of his missionary privations.
But his missionary cares pressed far more heavily upon his soul. He had a great work before him, and but little strength; there were many adversaries; and it was not easy to convey instruction through an interpreter—himself, as yet, a heathen. But he felt it to be the Lord's work, and he sought and found courage and help by communion with Him.
In a letter addressed to his brother John, he gives a striking sketch of his own views amid his varied trials. It is dated—
"Kaunameek, Dec. 27, 1743.
"I long to see you, and to know how you fare in your journey through a world of inexpressible sorrow, where we are compassed about with vanity, confusion, and vexation of spirit. I am more weary of life, I think, than ever I was. The whole world appears to me like a vast empty space, whence nothing desirable or satisfactory can possibly be derived; and I long daily to die more and more to it, even though I obtain not that comfort from spiritual things which I earnestly desire...
"I find nothing more conducive to a life of Christianity than a diligent, industrious, and faithful improvement of precious time. Why should we sink, and grow discouraged with any particular trials and perplexities which we are called to encounter in the world? Death and eternity are just before us. A few tossing billows more will waft us into the world of spirits, and we hope, through infinite grace, into endless pleasures and uninterrupted rest and peace. Let us then run with patience the race that is set before us; and oh, that we could depend more upon the living God, and less upon our own wisdom and strength!
"Your affectionate brother,
His own account of his first year among the Indians, will explain his method in the "improvement of precious time."
"In my labours with them, in order 'to turn them from darkness to light,' I studied what was most plain and easy, and best suited to their capacities.
"Especially I made it the scope and drift of all my labours to lead them into a thorough acquaintance with these two things—First, The sinfulness and misery of the state they were naturally in, the evil of their hearts, the pollution of their nature, the guilt they were under, and their exposedness to everlasting punishment; their utter inability to save themselves; their unworthiness of any mercy at the hand of God; and, consequently, their extreme need of Christ to save them. And, secondly, The fulness and freeness of that redemption which the Son of God had wrought out, by his obedience and sufferings, for perishing sinners; how this was suited to all their wants; and how he called and invited them to accept of everlasting life freely, notwithstanding all their sinfulness, inability, and unworthiness."
That he might pray with the Indians, he composed sundry prayers in their own tongue; afterwards he translated some psalms, which they might sing together in worship; and, at length, he applied himself to the study of their language, in order, if possible, to preach without the aid of an interpreter; but he never fully relinquished this aid.
Three months in the poor Scotchman's hut, one more in an Indian's wigwam, and, after that, in the cabin he had raised with his own hands, Brainerd spent one whole year at Kaunameek. Christian truth found ready welcome among the people there, and some were deeply impressed by the Word; and, when it was proposed to transfer his labours to a distant tribe, they sorrowfully endeavoured to persuade him not to leave them, but to stay and teach them more of the good way to heaven. They were, however, prevailed upon to remove to Stockbridge, where they might have land apportioned to them, and receive further Christian instruction under the ministry of Mr. Serjeant.
At the end of March 1744, it was determined that Brainerd should proceed on a mission to the Delaware Indians. This would have been his first station, but for some disputes between them and the white settlers respecting their lands.
On the 29th of April, he bade farewell to the poor people at Kaunameek, and set forward on his journey through an uninhabited wilderness, to the Forks of the Delaware river, in Pennsylvania, where he arrived on the 13th of May. Here, at a place called by the Indians Sakhauwotung, he recommenced his work, surmounting fresh difficulties and discouragements, and extending his efforts to surrounding tribes and settlements. Long journeys frequently exhausted his physical energies, and called for the utmost "exercise of patience and resignation." Sometimes he lost his way in traversing the wilderness, and "wandered over rocks and mountains, down hideous steeps, through swamps, and dreadful and dangerous places." Pinched with cold and hunger, and distressed with pain and sickness, he was in perils often; sometimes finding no shelter at night. But he says—"God has hitherto preserved me, and, blessed be His name! such fatigues and hardships serve to wean me more from earth, and will make heaven the sweeter."
In May 1743, he was summoned to Newark, in New Jersey, to receive ordination, having given full proof of his qualification for missionary work. He had received several pressing invitations to ministerial service, in various English settlements; but nothing moved him from his steadfast purpose to preach Christ to the heathen.
At the Forks of Delaware he built his second mission cottage, and dwelt chiefly there until December 1746. During this period, he made several visits to the Indian tribes on the banks of the Susquehanna river, and saw some fruit among them. Many of these abandoned their heathen sacrifices and superstitions, and not a few were strongly impressed with Christian truth.
Eighty miles from his Delaware cottage, at a place called Crosweeksung, in New Jersey, he found a considerable, but scattered tribe of Indians. These he visited first in June 1745, and again in July and August; and here he found ample cause for joy and thankfulness in the results of his devoted labours.
At his first visit, he preached to them almost daily, often twice a day, and the Word was indeed a welcome message to many souls. The more they heard, the more ardently they desired to hear again. Some mourned and wept bitterly with concern for their salvation. Great results may be often traced back to small causes: a few of these Indians had heard Brainerd preach at the Delaware station; the Word had taken hold upon their conscience, and they communicated to their tribe what they had heard. Hence their readiness of mind to listen, and obey the Word of God, when Brainerd came amongst them preaching the glad tidings of the Gospel.
Another help in his work, and a proof of the Redeemer's grace, was given him in the conversion of his interpreter. This man was well skilled in the Indian and English languages; yet, while unconverted, he could but imperfectly set forth the solemn truths that accompany salvation. Now he felt the "Word in its Divine power, and rejoiced to tell to his brethren, in their own tongue, "the wonderful works of God."
On his second visit to Crosweeksung, a very solemn and unusual effect was produced by his preaching. The poor red children of the forest wept—they trembled—they were pierced to the heart with conviction of their sin and danger; and some already found comfort and peace in believing the Gospel. This peace "appeared to rest on solid and Scriptural grounds," and their desire now was, to live in holiness of heart and life; they "wanted Christ to wipe their hearts quite clean."
One day, after preaching to about sixty-five Indians, from the parable of the "great supper," (Luke 14:16-22,) he went among them, speaking individually to those who were most deeply concerned. Mr. Brainerd thus describes the scene:—
"I stood amazed at the influence that seized the audience, almost universally; and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent, or swelling deluge, which bears down, and sweeps before it, whatever is in its way. Persons of all ages were bowed down with concern. Old men and women who had been drunken wretches for many years, and little children not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress for their souls, as well as persons of middle age. The most stubborn hearts were obliged to bow. A principal man among the Indians, who before was most secure and self-righteous, and who, only the day before, had told me he had been a Christian more than ten years, was now brought under solemn concern for his soul, and wept bitterly. Another man who had been a murderer, a powaw or conjuror, and a notorious drunkard, was likewise brought to cry for mercy with many tears.
"They were praying and crying for mercy in every part of the house, and many out of doors. Their concern was so great that none seemed to take any notice of those about them—every one praying apart, although all together."
Other remarkable cases of conversion are described, and Brainerd closes his account thus:—
"This was, indeed, a surprising day of God's power, and seemed quite enough to convince an atheist of the truth, importance, and power of God's Word."
The next day similar effects were wrought by the power of the Gospel, the most hardened being the most earnest in crying to God for mercy: all, except two or three, were melted into tears. Nor did they cry in vain, for many found peace; and during many succeeding days this work of grace was continued. To adopt his own words—"There seems to have been some good done by every discourse; some newly awakened every day, and some comforted."
After careful preparatory instruction, Mr. Brainerd baptized twenty-five of these Indian converts; and now a new care devolved upon him—to watch over and feed these gathered sheep, "as one that must give account."
Returning for a while to the Delaware, he found his preaching there also accompanied with Divine power, and many were convinced of their sins.
Then he visited again the Susquehanna Indians, at Shaumoking, and the Juniauta river. But here the old superstition seemed to prevail with new energy, and Satan led the people captive at his will. Still they listened to the Word, and some trembled.
In October, Brainerd came back to Crosweeksung, where the work of God still spread; and, shortly after, he baptized fourteen new converts, one of whom was near fourscore years of age. In December he, for a third time, took up his abode in a cottage built by his own labour; and from this date he was occupied, almost incessantly, in preaching and teaching the glorious Gospel of Christ, publicly, and from house to house. His journals are replete with instances, deeply interesting, of the grace of God to sinners, through a crucified Saviour.
One of these, baptized in May 1746, was an aged powaw, who, like Simon Magus, had long deceived the people with his conjurations. Of this fierce enemy of truth, even Brainerd had so little hope, that he "often thought it would be a great favour to the design of gospelizing the Indians, if God would take that wretch out of the world." But God thought otherwise. He was first impressed by seeing the baptism of Brainerd's interpreter, in 1745; then he followed the preacher; his spirit of conjuration left him; he was pricked in his heart, and went for some months in terrible distress of soul; till at last he cried—"My heart is dead—I can never help myself—I must go to hell!" But soon after he had such a view of the excellency of Christ, that he was filled with comfort, joy, and praise.
Another was a woman who, for some time, had been "constantly crying after Christ, as her only satisfying portion." After public worship one evening, she came, with many others, to Brainerd's cottage. While they were singing there, she "was filled 'with joy unspeakable, and full of glory,' and could not but burst forth in prayer and praises to God." When Brainerd asked her whether she now could love the Saviour, she answered with tears—"I have many times heard you speak of the goodness and preciousness of Christ—that he was better than all the world; but, oh, I never believed you! Now I know it is true." He asked again, "Do you see enough in Christ for the greatest of sinners?" She replied, "Oh, enough, enough for all the sinners in the world, if they would but come!" Then, turning to some poor awakened sinners standing by, she said—"There is enough in Christ for you—oh, strive, strive to give up your hearts to him!" Something being said of the glory of heaven—that there is no sin in that world—she fell again into an ecstacy of joy, crying, "Oh, dear Lord, do let me go! I want to go to Christ! I cannot live; oh, do let me die!" She was baptized about a week afterwards, and the consistency of her life and conduct fully proved the genuineness of her faith and hope.
Brainerd had begun to catechise his people in the elements of Christian doctrine; sometimes, however, this exercise was necessarily superseded by the claims of the anxious. On January 5th, 1745-46, he writes:—
"Near night I proposed to proceed in my usual method of catechising; but, while we were engaged in the first prayer, the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly in such a remarkable manner, and so many appeared under pressing concern for their souls, that I thought it much more expedient to insist upon the plentiful provision made, by Divine grace, for the redemption of perishing sinners, and to press them to a speedy acceptance of the great salvation, than to ask them questions about doctrinal points."
He now obtained the assistance of a schoolmaster, for the benefit of both children and adults. New converts were frequently baptized; and occasional communion services were held, in which the Indians joined with great reverence and delight.
His daily business had become "as great as nature could bear up under;" and, before his third missionary year was completed, he wrote:—
"My health is so much impaired, and my spirits so much wasted with my labours and solitary manner of living, that I become fit for nothing at all, sometimes for days together."
A new temptation happened to him about this time, which led him to exclaim—"Alas, what will not Satan do to bring a slur and disgrace on the work of God! Oh, how holy and circumspect had I need to be!" Reports had been injuriously circulated that he was a Roman Catholic in disguise; a partizan of the Pretender, sent to stir up the Indians to revolt against the English; and, while some grew doubtful respecting him, others openly proposed to apprehend and punish him, as a traitor to his king and country! But the enemy was restrained.
Towards the close of the year he numbered the Indians, and found that God had gathered round him at Crosweeksung about one hundred and thirty persons, old and young. Preparations were also begun to form a more compact settlement at Cranberry, some fifteen miles distant, afterwards called Bethel; and there, in the course of a few months, he found himself in his fourth and last earthly tenement, among his dear spiritual children. Of these he says:—
"I know of no assembly of Christians where there seems to be so much of the presence of God; where brotherly love so much prevails; and where I should take so much delight in the worship of God, as in my own congregation; although not more than nine months ago they were worshipping devils, under the power of pagan darkness and superstition. Amazing change! effected by nothing less than Divine power and grace."
As the fourth year of his ministry advanced, Brainerd found his strength rapidly fail. His vital energy was exhausted by his excessive labours and privations. Consumption had begun to rend the frail tabernacle of flesh, but his spirit more clearly and calmly viewed, by faith, the Saviour's glory within the opening vail of heaven.
He had entertained thoughts of settling among the Indians, and of enjoying "more agreeable circumstances of life," and companionship in the Lord's service.
"But now," says he, "these thoughts seemed to be wholly dashed in pieces; not by necessity, but of choice. It appeared to me that I had nothing to do with earth, and nothing to lose by a total renunciation of it. The quiet settlement, the certain place of abode, the tender friendship—appeared as valuable to me, in themselves, as ever; but, compared with the enlargement of Christ's kingdom, they vanished like the stars before the rising sun. I was constrained, and yet chose to say, Farewell, friends and earthly comforts, the dearest of them all—the very dearest, if the Lord calls for it I ... I continued wrestling with God in prayer till it was bed-time; but oh, with what reluctancy did I find myself obliged to consume time in sleep! I longed to be a flame of fire, continually glowing in the Divine service—preaching and building up Christ's kingdom, to my latest, my dying moment!"
Happy, self-denying, heavenly Brainerd! Soon shall the joy of thy Lord be thine!
In November 1746, he became incapable of public service, and little hope of life remained; "but, through Divine goodness," he writes, "I could, with great composure, look death in the face, and frequently with sensible joy." He spent the winter at Elizabeth Town, New Jersey, with his friend, the Rev. Jonathan Dickinson; his brother John taking charge of his Indian congregation. On the 20th of April 1747, he completed the twenty-ninth year of his age, and the fourth of his ministry; and he then proceeded on a journey to New England—a last and hopeless expedient to restore him to health and service.
At Northampton he was the guest of his kind friend and biographer, President Edwards, whose daughter accompanied him on a visit to Boston. But his disorder continued its ravages, and, after a few weeks, they returned to Northampton. Miss Edwards, so writes her father, "was a person of much the same spirit with Mr. Brainerd. She constantly attended him in his sickness, for nineteen weeks before his death; devoting herself to it with great delight, because she looked upon him as an eminent servant of Jesus Christ." They were tenderly attached to each other. A few days before he died, he said to her—"Dear Jerusha, are you willing to part with me? If I thought I should not see you, and be happy with you, in another world, I could not bear to part with you. But we shall spend a happy eternity together!" She survived him only about four months.
One evening in September, while attempting to walk a little, his thoughts ran thus:—
"How infinitely sweet it is to love God, and be all for Him! Upon this it was suggested—You are not an angel. My whole soul immediately replied—I as sincerely desire to love and glorify God as any angel in heaven. It was suggested again—But you are filthy, not fit for heaven. Instantly appeared the blessed robes of God's righteousness, which I could not but exalt and triumph in. I viewed the infinite excellency of God, till my soul swelled with longings that He should be glorified! I thought of dignity in heaven; but instantly the thought returned—I do not go to heaven to get honour, but to give all possible glory and praise!"
The last entry in his diary was made, by dictation, in his brother Israel's handwriting:—
"October 2.—My soul was sweetly set on God; I longed to be with Him, that I might behold His glory. I felt sweetly disposed to commit all to Him—even my dearest friends, my dearest flock, my absent brother, and all my concerns for time and eternity. Oh, that His kingdom might come— that all might love and glorify Him! Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen."
On Tuesday, the 6th, he whispered—"He will come, he will not tarry—I shall soon be in glory—I shall soon glorify God with the angels!" The next day his brother John arrived, and the final scene drew on. His bodily suffering increased till it became almost insupportable; yet his mind was unshaken, and his latest thoughts and cares had reference to "his congregation in New Jersey, and the interests of religion among the Indians." His missionary ardour died but with his dying breath.
After a night of much agony, he entered into his eternal rest about sunrise on Friday, the 9th of October 1747.
David Brainerd was a bright pattern for Christian missionaries. Where can we find more earnest zeal, thorough self-surrender, and untiring love? What a constant source of joy to him was the consciousness of God's supreme excellency! He was his strength, his portion, his eternal reward. How deeply he thirsted after true holiness, separation from sin, and full conformity to Christ! And, once in the field, when did he look back, or slacken his endeavours to spread the glory of the Saviour's name?
"Soldier of Christ, well done!
Thy glorious warfare's past;
The battle fought, the victory won
And thou art crown'd at last!"
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Bright Examples: Short Sketches of Christian Life. Dublin; London: Dublin Tract Repository, [18--]
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