Who Was David Brainerd?

Who Was David Brainerd?

God brought awakening to the American Indians, adding more than one hundred to Brainerd’s growing congregation. While experiencing sickness, extreme hardship, and loneliness, Brainerd often took up his pen to write of his increased love for the American Indians under his ministerial care. His heart longed to show them the glory of Christ through the preaching and teaching of Scripture. He spent hours in prayer, asking God to bring about their salvation and growth in Christ. However, his time among the American Indian tribes of New England was mingled with periods of severe depression and sickness. His diary is filled with entries chronicling these spiritual and physical battles. 

On a spring day in 1747, mounted on his horse, a frail twenty-nine year old David Brainerd (1718–1747) rode into the yard of the Northampton parsonage of New England pastor Jonathan Edwards. Before this day, Brainerd and Edwards were relative strangers to one another. However, the summer of 1747 nurtured a growing friendship between the two men culminating in one of the most influential missionary biographies in the history of American evangelicalism.

Childhood and Unspeakable Glory

Born on Easter Sunday, April 20, 1718, in Haddam, Connecticut, David was one of nine children born to Hezekiah and Dorothy Brainerd. The Brainerd family were descendants of a long line of men and women noteworthy for their religious zeal. It was said that David’s father, Hezekiah, was a man of “great personal dignity and self-restraint . . . and of extreme scrupulousness in the Christian life.”

As in most eighteenth century New England families with Puritan lineage, David and his eight siblings attended daily family worship consisting of Scripture readings and the singing of psalms. In addition, numerous chores around the house and farm awaited as they rose very early each morning.

David’s father died when he was only nine years old. A month before his fourteenth birthday, his mother died, which left young David incredibly distraught. Vividly depicted in his voluminous diaries, from this point until the end of his life, David experienced the dichotomy of living with the constant fluctuation between overwhelming joy and spiritual darkness. After the death of his mother, David moved to East Haddam to live with his sister. When he turned nineteen, he inherited a farm, but after only one year of farming, he decided education was vital for his preparation to enter the Christian ministry. He returned to East Haddam but remained unconverted. However, on the Lord’s Day, July 12, 1739, after a long battle with his resistance to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and original sin, Brainerd wrote:

The Lord, I trust, brought me to a hearty desire to exalt him, to set him on the throne and to “seek first his Kingdom,” i.e. principally and ultimately to aim at his honor and glory as the King and sovereign of the universe, which is the foundation of the religion of Jesus . . . I felt myself in a new world.

David had experienced an “unspeakable glory” within his soul. He was twenty-one years old.

Yale College and Awakening

In early September 1739, only two months after his conversion, Brainerd entered Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut.

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