David Brainerd – Missionary To The American Indians (Part 1)
Arranged from the book, The Life of David Brainerd (1718-1747), chiefly extracted from his diary, edited by Jonathan Edwards.
On his 24th birthday, David Brainerd wrote: "I longed to live to God, and to be altogether devoted to Him. I wanted to wear out my life in His service, and for His glory." It was the year 1742 and he was studying with a pastor in preparation for the work of the ministry. He realized his own inadequacy to serve the Lord acceptably. Time was set aside daily for secret prayer and some whole days were given to fasting and prayer, that the Lord might bestow upon him the grace needed to serve Him. Hours, too, were given to intercession for souls and for the enlargement of Christ’s kingdom in the world.
In the spring of 1743 Brainerd received his assignment from a Scottish missionary society to minister to the Indians living in the northeastern part of his homeland, which would later become the United States of America. Brainerd made the journey by horseback into the wilderness where the Indians lived. He sought to be fully submitted to God whatever miseries and sufferings he might meet. Living conditions were primitive. For a time he lived in the home of a settler, where his bed was a little heap of straw in a log room without any floor. Later he lived in a wigwam while his own little hut amongst the Indians was being built. Humble though the hut was, he appreciated it as a place where he could be alone to commune with the Lord.
The Lord was his great comforter in this lonesome wilderness. Only with his interpreter could he speak English. Sometimes he longed for Christian fellowship, for someone with whom he could share the distress and discouragement that he went through these early months among the Indians.
His diary of these days is much taken up with his efforts in prayer. He yearned, he wrote, to "follow after holiness, that I may be fully conformed to God…I longed after holiness, humility and meekness." He struggled to persevere in prayer for himself and for those to whom he had come to minister.
Passion for Christ’s Kingdom and God’s Glory
"I poured out my soul for all the world, friends and enemies," he wrote. "My soul was concerned, not so much for souls as such, but rather for Christ’s kingdom, that it might appear in the world, that God might be known to be God, in the whole earth."
He was helped in prayer by the example of Elijah. "My soul was much moved, observing the faith, zeal, and power of that holy man," he recorded in his diary, "how he wrestled with God in prayer, etc. My soul then cried with Elisha, ‘Where is the Lord God of Elijah!’ (2 Kgs. 2:14). Oh, I longed for more faith! 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 (2 Kgs. 2:15). And that which was divinely refreshing and strengthening to my soul was, I saw that God is the same that He was in the days of Elijah!
"I was enabled to wrestle with God by prayer, in a more affectionate, fervent, humble, intense, and importunate manner than I have for many months past. Nothing seemed too hard for God to perform; nothing too great for me to hope for from Him. I had for many months entirely lost all hope of being made instrumental of doing any special service for God in the world; it has appeared entirely impossible, that one so vile should be thus employed for God. But at this time God was pleased to revive this hope."
At other times he recorded concerning his prayer life: "I love to live alone in my own little cottage, where I can spend much time in prayer…My soul was sundry times in prayer enlarged for God’s church and people. Oh, that Zion might become the ‘joy of the whole earth!’ (Psa. 48:2)…My soul confided in God for myself and for His Zion; trusted in divine power and grace, that He would do glorious things in His church on earth, for His own glory…My soul was ardent in prayer, was enabled to wrestle ardently for myself, for Christian friends, and for the church of God; and felt more desire to see the power of God in the conversion of souls than I have done for a long season. Blessed be God for this season of fasting and prayer! May His goodness always abide with me, and draw my soul to Him!"
He often felt weak in body and already had signs of tuberculosis. Sometimes he lacked nourishing food. He had to go or send someone ten or fifteen miles for bread and sometimes it became moldy or sour before he could eat it. He obtained Indian meal and made fried cakes. "Yet I felt contented with my circumstances, and sweetly resigned to God," was his reaction to this. "I blessed God as much for my present circumstances as if I had been a king."
He traveled many miles through the woods seeking out Indians to whom he could minister. He rejoiced in God’s care for him during these journeys: "I have often been exposed to cold and hunger in the wilderness, where the comforts of life were not to be had, have frequently been lost in the woods, and sometimes obliged to ride much of the night, and once lay out in the woods all night; yet blessed be God, He has preserved me!"