David Brainerd, “A Pure and Fervent Flame of Love to God”

Each year the elders at our church recommend that families read a missionary biography. For 2008, our recommendation was the biography of David Brainerd compiled by Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards captures the essence of why it was important that we read Brainerd’s biography,

“that we may be in like manner faithful in our work; that we may be filled with the same spirit, animated with the like pure and fervent flame of love to God, and the like earnest concern to advance the kingdom and glory of our Lord and Master, and the prosperity of Zion!”

Edwards further comments on his focus on the glory of God,

‘Oh that the things that were seen and heard in this extraordinary person, his holiness, heavenliness, labor, and self-denial in his life, his so remarkably devoting himself and his all, in heart and practice to the glory of God…” Jonathan Edwards, Works, Vol.2, 35-36).

Here are nine critical messages of Brainerd’s life that we hope are transformational for us at our church.

1. His sensitivity to sin

It is possible that Brainerd had an over active sensitivity to sin, but it may also be true that we at Hope Baptist are less sensitive to sin – maybe too much so. We wanted to encourage a greater hatred of sin as we see in Brainerd. He writes, “Saw myself so vile and unworthy that I could not look my people in the face when I came to preach. Oh, my meanness, folly, ignorance, and inward pollution.” p146 At the same time, he shows his desire for holiness, “My soul breathed after God in sweet spiritual and longing desires of conformity Him.’ P107

2. His sufferings

His body was constantly at war with him and the disease that finally claimed his life caused him to feel poorly nearly every day of his life. Some of of the people in our church have experienced the most difficult year of their lives physically. Brainerd shows us how one man dealt with constant sickness and physical hardship. “With regard to the comforts of life. Most of my diet consists of boiled corn, hasty-pudding, etc. I lodge on a bundle of straw, my labor is hard and extremely difficult, and I have little appearance of success to comfort me.” P124

3. His short life.

Brainerd was Saved at age 21 and he died age 29. At age 25 he became a missionary to the Indians. So for eight years he was a Christian and four years a missionary. We have a church full of young people and how important it is that we help them labor in meaningful things.

4. His struggle with depression

He experienced emotional ups and downs and brought them before the throne of God. He was often lonely and cold and without adequate food. He was among Indians and could not communicate with them in their native languages. We may struggle with discouragement, but we need also recognize that God is in control and He will glorify Himself even when we do not feel good about what is happening in our lives.

5. His devotion to evangelism

“I wanted to wear out my life in His service, and for His glory,” p81 Brainerd inspires us that all of our energies ought to be invested in eternal things.

6. His passion for prayer

We that Brainerd is constantly devoting large amounts of time for prayer. He writes, “this morning I spent about two hours in secret duties and was enabled more than ordinarily to agonize for immortal souls.” P81

7. His use of time

Brainerd desired that his time would be spent for God’s glory. He said, “O that I may never loiter in my heavenly journey.”

8. His weakness and God’s strength

Brainerd’s fruitfulness was not dependent upon himself but upon Divine blessing. Here is David Brainerd looking back on his work among the Indians, “It is remarkable that God began this work among the Indians at a time when I had the least hope and, to my apprehension, the least rational prospect of seeing a work of grace propagated amongst them. My bodily strength and been much wasted… exposed to hardships and fatigues… my mind also exceedingly depressed with a view of the unsuccessfulness of my labors. I had little reason so much as to hope that God had made me instrumental in the saving conversion of any of the Indians… Whence I learn that it is good to follow the path of duty, though in the midst of darkness and discouragement.” p243

9. He was a blessed brother – he ministered to Jonathan Edwards’ children while in Edwards house on his deathbed

“He applied himself to some of my younger children at this time, calling them to him and speaking to them one by one; setting before them, in very plain manner, the nature and essence of true piety and its great importance and necessity; earnestly warning them not to rest in anything short of a true and thorough change of heart and a life devoted to God.” p366