David Brainerd – Unspeakable Glory
Isn’t it incredible to think that a missionary who influenced countless people battled depression his entire life? That same man who inspired many to go to the mission field felt his own ministry was a failure. Although David Brainerd was strong spiritually, his body was frail and feeble from Tuberculosis causing him to die at the age of 29.
His desire was to be “a flame for God.” In his journal entry on April 26, 1742, “Oh, that I could spend every moment of my life to God’s glory!” He burned with passion on August 30, 1742 writing, “My soul longs with a vehement desire to live for God.” November 22, 1745 he entered, “I have received my all from God, oh that I could return my all to God.”
David was born into a Puritan family on April 20, 1718 and although he read the Bible through twice each year, he was never soundly converted. It wasn’t until he was 21 that he experienced salvation. Brainerd says, “As I was walking in a dark, thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension in my soul. It was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, or anything that I had the least remembrance of, so that I stood still and wondered and admired. My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellencies, the loveliness, and the greatness and the other perfections of God. I was swallowed up in Him. At least to that degree, that I had no thought, as I remember, first about my own salvation…and thus, the Lord, I trust, brought me to a hearty desire to exalt Him.” (The Lord’s Day, July 12, 1739)
Shortly after his conversion, he entered Yale. Brainerd’s experience in school was disappointing. In his first year, he was sent home due to illnesses. Added to that, the student body was carnal and unspiritual. When he did return his second year, everything was different, primarily because of a revival George Whitefield held! Most of the school’s faculty considered the revival emotionalism. One of Brainerd’s professors was critical about the Revival; David’s comment toward the issue caused him to be removed from Yale.
Unsure of the direction in his life, Brainerd shepherded a small congregation in Woodbury, Connecticut. It wasn’t long until David knew the calling God had on his life. In August of 1742, he was asked to preach to the Indians. The next March, he resigned his pastorate and became a full time missionary.
Through miraculous events, the Indians gained trust in David’s ministry. They believed the “paleface” was sent by the spirits. Brainerd took every opportunity to teach Scripture. Although the work began slowly, he later saw results. “I have now baptized, in all, 47 persons of the Indians. 23 adults and 24 children…through rich grace, none of them as yet have been left to disgrace their profession of Christianity by any scandalous or unbelieving behavior” David wrote in his journal.
“After public worship was over, I went to my house, proposing to preach again after a short season of intermission. But they soon came in one after another; with tears in their eyes, to know, ‘what they should do to be saved...’ It was an amazing season of power among them, and seemed as if God had ‘bowed the heavens and come down...’ and that God was about to convert the whole world.”
Brainerd’s ministry did not come without the continuous sacrifice of prayer and fasting. In July 1744, David wrote, "This morning about nine I withdrew to the woods for prayer. I was in such anguish that when I rose from my knees I felt extremely weak and overcome, and the sweat ran down my face and body ... I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls for Christ. I continued in this frame all the evening and night." Again, he records, "About six at night I lost my way in the wilderness, and wandered over rocks and mountains, through swamps and most dreadful places. I was pinched with cold and distressed with an extreme pain in my head and stomach so that much blood came from me. But God preserved me, and blessed be His name, such fatigues and hardships as these seem to wean me more from the earth and I trust will make heaven the sweeter."
Tuberculosis came again as his body began to give out. He wrote, “Farewell friends, and earthly comforts…I will spend my life to my latest moments in caves and dens of the earth, if the kingdom of Christ may thereby be advanced.”
“It is my fervent longing to be a flame of fire, continually glowing in the divine service, till my latest, my dying moment.” That moment came in the home of Jonathan Edwards on October 9, 1746. At the age of 29, on his deathbed, he whispered, “I was made for eternity. How I long to be with God and to bow in His presence. Oh that the Redeemer may see of the travail of this soul and be satisfied. Oh come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!” With that said, he passed from his earthly body into his heavenly body free of depression, thoughts of failure and free of pain.