David Brainerd, Pioneer Missionary to the American Indians

John Thornbury, Evangelical Press, 1996, 305pp., pbk.

reviewed by Elizabeth Foley

David Brainerd was born in 1718 in Connecticut, USA, and died of consumption at the age of 29 years. It is said that he burnt himself out through ministry, although this is no doubt true, yet it was God's appointed time to take him home to Heaven.

He was a most godly, compassionate man, forsaking all of life's comfort to take the Gospel to the American Indians. He called them "my people", or "my poor people". Often he slept on the ground, and once in the hollow of a tree, which he dug out with his own hands while the rain poured down. No sacrifice for Christ was too great for him, for he kept the reality of eternity and the wonderful hope of being with the Lord Jesus Christ ever in view. David Brainerd traveled many hundreds of miles over hostile terrain, usually on horseback with his interpreter, or other Indian friends. He was also given to great bouts of melancholy, yet he knew true communion with God, spending great periods of time in prayer. He would plead with God to pour out His Holy Spirit upon the Indians, a heathen people, with such earnestness and pleadings that he states:

"I could scarce walk straight, my joints were loosed; The sweat ran down my face and body; and nature seemed as if it would dissolve."

He pleaded with God to make him as holy as the blessed angels. David Brainerd always sought to introduce the people to the Gospel straightway. He would access the Sachem (Chief) first, then arrange a meeting to teach the Indians. One of the first great obstacles he encountered was sadly the bad reputation of the English Christians, the latter teaching the Indians to get drunk. They took there land from them by force, and murdered their people. David Brainerd displayed great sorrow of heart over this, and said sorry for such awful behavior, and sought to show them that these people were not true Christians at heart. He was convinced that God was fully able to bring about a great awakening among the Indians, and this came to pass as the number of Indians coming to hear the Word of God increased as did their concern and distress of soul.

It should be noted that the beginnings of a great pouring out of the Holy Spirit occurred as he preached on the abundant mercy and love of God in giving Christ as the Saviour. The more David Brainerd preached on this theme, and the more he invited them to partake of His love, the more distressed the Indians became because they felt themselves unable to come. Their hearts were pierced with the tender and melting invitations of the Gospel. Two came to Christ. After two more days of discoursing with the Indians and seeing several newly awakened there was to be a Pentecostal pouring out which was not to be repeated. A time of Divine visitation, not upon one or two, but upon 65 Indians who sat quietly listening to David Brainerd preach on Luke 14:23 - "And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled."

In his own words "when I spoke to one and another more particularly, who I perceived under much concern, the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly 'like a mighty rushing wind,' and with astonishing energy bore down all before it. I stood amazed at the influence which seized the audience almost universally; and could compare it to nothing more aptly, than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent or swelling deluge , that with its insupportable weight and pressure bears down and sweeps before it whatever comes in its way. Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together, and scarcely one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation. Old men and women, who had been drunken wretches for many years and some little children, not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress for their souls as well as persons of middle age. It was apparent that the children, some of them at least, were not merely frightened with seeing the general concern; but were made sensible of their danger, the badness of their hearts, and their misery without Christ, as some of them expressed it...the most stubborn hearts were now obliged to bow." This is an extraordinary evidence of the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of sinners. O that we had this manifestation today.

It is interesting to note that when Jonathan Edwards preached that famous sermon, entitled: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, it resulted in a great awakening in the Enfield congregation, when he taught the terrors of Hell, and eternal agony. They were especially stubborn, thoughtless and vain churchgoers. In contrast, David Brainerd preached the love and abundant mercy of God in Christ to the Indians, and they were gloriously converted to Christ.

David Brainerd died in the home of Jonathan Edwards as a young man, reminding us too of yet another great servant of God, Robert Murray McCheyne. David Brainerd loved God, he truly lived life to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. We do well to follow his example.

Copyright © Family Matters 1997