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Missionary Biographies

David Brainerd

by H. E. F.

David BrainerdIt is just 160 years ago since David Brainerd was born in a part of N. America which was called New England, because the first settlers who came from old England landed and lived there. What a different place America was in 1718 to what it is in 1879 [when this was written]. There were no railways, no steamers, no telegraphs—most of the country was covered with woods and swamps—and Indians [native Americans] wandered about where there are now busy towns, and thickly scattered farms and villages.

When Brainerd was a little boy about seven years old, he says he first began to think about his soul; but he made a great mistake about religion, which I am afraid many other people have done both before and since. He did not see what a happy thing it is to have God for our Father, and the Lord Jesus to be our Saviour, and how glad and bright a true Christian should be, because his sins have been forgiven, and the Holy Spirit has come to him to abide with him. And so poor little David found it was very hard and very dull work trying to make himself good. When he was twenty years old God showed him his mistake, and then he found out that he was only a lost sinner, and could do nothing to help himself. He became very sad till he saw how the Lord Jesus had borne his sins on the cross, and then he wondered "that he should ever have thought of any other way of salvation, and had not dropped his own contrivances and complied with this lovely, blessed, and excellent way before."

Soon after this he began to study for the ministry, and it was not long before his mind turned to the heathen. He used to write down in a diary a great many of his thoughts and feelings, and from this we are able to see how God led and prepared His servant. One day about this time, he says,—

"This morning the Lord was pleased to lift up the light of His countenance upon me in secret prayer, and made the season very precious to my soul, and though I have been so depressed of late respecting my hopes of future serviceableness in the cause of God; yet now I had much encouragement respecting that matter. I was especially assisted to intercede and plead for poor souls and for the enlargement of Christ's kingdom in the world, and for special grace for myself, to fit me for special services...I thought I wanted not the favour of man to lean upon; for I knew Christ's favour was infinitely better, and that it was no matter when, nor where, nor how Christ should send me, nor what trials He should still exercise me with, if I might but be prepared for His work and will."

Was not this the spirit of a true Missionary? You will not wonder that after a time God opened the way. Brainerd had much to suffer. He was weak in health and was often greatly cast down by sad and gloomy thoughts about himself. I do not think it is always a good thing to study our own bad hearts so much as he did, or if we do we ought to look all the more at the Lord Jesus who is "able to save them to the uttermost who come to God by Him." But still all this was a useful preparation for the work God was going to give Brainerd, and when he was twenty-four years old, he was sent by a Scotch Missionary Society to teach the Indians at a place called the Kaunaumeek in New York.

David Brainerd found his work among the Indians very difficult. He did not know their language, and had to speak by an interpreter. He was quite alone, and was obliged to live on such scanty food as he could get for himself. In this way he suffered many hardships, and for two or three years had also the sorrow of seeing no fruit for his labour. The Indians would not listen to the white man. They had already been spoilt by the traders, who sold them strong drink and gunpowder; and they led such wild roving lives that it was seldom that Brainerd could get more than a very few together to teach them. At last, when he was almost tempted to despair, God began to give him encouragement. First Brainerd's interpreter was converted to Christ. He had been a very bad man, and a great drunkard, but after he had been some time with Brainerd, he began to leave off some of his bad ways, and like his master, he learnt to see what a sinner he was, and that, as he said,

"all was bad, and that I had never done one good thing. And now I thought that I must sink down to hell, that there was no hope for me because I never could do anything that was good; and if God let me alone ever so long, and I should try ever so much, still I should do nothing but what is bad."

You can think how glad Brainerd was to hear this poor heathen talk like this, and what a happy day it was when some time after he was able to baptize him as a true believer in Jesus Christ. You will like to know the name of this first convert; it was Moses Tuida Tautamy.

But this was only the beginning of a very wonderful work among the Indians. It was another step of God's preparation. First he had prepared Brainerd himself, and now He gave Brainerd a Christian interpreter, who could not only speak to his countrymen what Brainerd told him to say, but could also speak with his own heart full of love to their souls for Christ's sake.

Very soon we read in Brainerd's Journal of a number of Indians who began to be most anxious about their souls. He had left Kaunaumeek, and spent most of his time between two places about eighty miles apart called in Crossweeksung in New Jersey, and the Forks of Delaware in Pennsylvania.

At both of these places the people gathered together in a way that was quite unusual, and showed great willingness both to hear and receive God's Word. Many wept over their sins, and cried aloud to God for pardon. "Old men and women," says Brainerd, "who had been drunken wretches for years, and some little children not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress about their souls. And it was apparent that these children were not merely frightened at seeing the general concern; but were made sensible of their danger, the badness of their hearts, and their misery without Christ, as some expressed it."

It would take too long to tell you the stories of the different people of whose conversion Brainerd gives an account in his Journal. Some day I hope you will read it for yourselves. God showed that the work was His own, for the poor heathen who were converted were not only willing to confess Christ by baptism, but by their changed lives made all men see how real their religion was. At the end of a year Brainerd writes in his Journal,—

"What amazing things has God wrought in this space of time for these poor people. What a surprising change appears in their tempers and behaviour. How are morose and savage pagans in this short space of time transformed into agreeable, affectionate, and humble Christians; and then drunken pagan howling’s turned into devout and fervent prayers and praises to God! They 'who were sometimes darkness are now become light in the Lord.' May they walk as children of the light and of the day. And now to Him that is of power to stablish them according to the Gospel, and the preaching of Christ:—To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen."

Brainerd was not spared long to see the happy results which he here described. The sufferings and privations which he endured while living among the Indians, brought on a painful disease, to which he had been subject all his life. He went on with his work as long as he could, at last even preaching to a few of his people as he lay on his bed. But the time came when he was obliged to leave them. He travelled by slow stages, staying at the houses of different friends till he came to that of good President Edwards, from which he was never able to go further. Here he lingered in much weakness for several months, and was visited from time to time by many persons who came to hear his holy and loving discourse. Many of the words of this dying man were taken down by Mr. Edwards' young daughter, who nursed him, and are full of most precious and heavenly thoughts. Once as he was lying very ill he said,—

"I do not go to heaven to get honour, but to give all possible glory and praise." At another time, "My heaven is to please God and glorify Him, to give all to Him, and to be wholly devoted to His glory. That is the heaven I long for... There is nothing in the world worth living for, but doing good, and finishing God's work, doing the work that Christ did... My greatest joy and comfort has been to do something for the promoting of religion, and the souls of particular persons; and now in my illness, while I am full of pain and distress from day to day, all the comfort I have is in being able to do some little char, (i.e. small, humble piece of work) for God, either by something that I say, or by writing, or some other way."

The sad thoughts which in his earlier days had too often filled his mind, now seemed to have been all taken away, and though he endured great bodily suffering, his soul was kept in perfect peace, and occupied with heavenly things. The last words ever written in his journal show what grace God gave to His dying servant.

"Oct. 2nd. My soul was this day sweetly set on God. I longed to be with Him, that I might behold His glory. I could commit all to Him, even my dearest friends, my dearest flock, my absent brother, and all my concerns for time and eternity. Oh, that His kingdom might come, that all might love and glorify Him, for what He is in Himself; and that the blessed Redeemer might see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied! Oh, come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen."

Just a week after this, when he was little more than twenty-nine years old, God took him home, and Brainerd's work on earth was done. No, not done! does not he still speak, though dead, to some of our little readers? His work will not be done if it please God to put Brainerd's spirit into some of our young friends, and make them able to say from their heart as he said, "It is no matter when or where or how Christ shall send me, if I might but be prepared for His work and will." "Here am I, Lord, send me."

From The Church Missionary Juvenile Instructor. [London]: Seeley, Jackson, & Halliday, [1879]. Lightly edited.

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