David Brainerd: Eighteenth-Century Missionary To the Indians & Advocate of the “Great Awakening”
David Brainerd lived a short life but accomplished much for the glory of God. He was born on April 20th, 1718 and experienced heartache at age nine when his father died and only fourteen at his mother’s death. As he dealt with the brevity of life and the absence of his parents, he admitted that he struggled with emotional ups and downs for the remainder of his life. The trends of his life are well documented in his partial diary that was published posthumously by his friend, mentor, and encourager Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).
Perhaps the most important turning point of his life was when the leaders of Yale College refused to grant him his degree. The allegations involved an incident surrounding his criticism of a College leader and his involvement in unapproved meetings during the “Great Awakening.” Many of his friends including Edwards came to New Haven to lend their support of his graduation but until the day of his death he was a preacher and a missionary without a diploma.
As a missionary to the Indians, Brainerd suffered many hardships and illnesses in the primitive living conditions he endured. However, he knew his calling and had a sense of duty to fulfill his providential ministry. Norman Pettit surmised, “In contrast to Edwards’ joy in summer is Brainerd’s fear of winter.” Even though “fear” might not be the most accurate assessment, perhaps the word “concern” would capture the thoughts of Brainerd as he contemplated braving the elements during a New England winter.
A conceivable positive thought regarding his missionary travels was the committed financial support he received from the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. Nevertheless, in less than two decades the meteorological conditions and exposure to disease would ultimately take its toll upon David Brainerd.
Before his death, Brainerd ended up at the Edwards home in Northampton and was nursed by Jerusha Edwards. On October 9th, 1747 at the age of 29, he joyfully entered his heavenly home.
Due to pieces of information and because of Brainerd’s desire to dispose of some personal notes, many have offered conjecture regarding the degree of affection between David and Jerusha. Perhaps the inquisitiveness surrounding their relationship has to do not only with the lack of historical information but also because Jerusha died shortly after Brainerd and their Northampton graves remain engraved and nestled for all to see. Their story has a few pieces of the puzzle but the mystery is exacerbated by the lack of details and continues to thrust the curiosity forward. Nevertheless, we do have adequate information from the extant sections of the diary to conclude that David Brainerd lived a brief life and achieved much for the glory of God!~TKE~
Dr. Toby Easley
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