Books vs the Bible?

If there is one thing you may not know about me is my love of books.

If you saw my library you’d see I have lots of books, from many different generations, different styles, different genres, different authors, different denominations, and those don’t even cover the ones on my Logos collection. Beginning in my early days in college at an interdenominational school here in Florida we were taught to think outside the box and read from many different authors who challenge our presuppositions about ministry, theology, doctrine, and practice. I’m very grateful for those early days. It trained me to think outside of my own theological spectrum. Now, not only did my time there teach me to think outside of my boundaries, it also taught me to appreciate the value that books have in forming the Christian life.

In literature and books we have great wisdom from men and women that have gone before us. We have their application of Scripture and encouragement for times of sorrow and times of joy. We have their instruction on how to think through hard issues. We have their synthesis of Scripture to point us to a fuller understanding of the text of Scripture. However, it is important to understand those books should never take the place of Scripture in your spiritual life.

In too many cases it is easy to become overwhelmed by the knowledge of those who came after the apostles rather than the apostles, the prophets, and Jesus Himself. We must never overlook the importance of Scripture alone as the foundation for our spiritual health. You are grown most fundamentally through the Word of God. Therefore when it comes to reading apart from it, it is important that we choose books that will encourage and inform us on the truth of Scripture. Books that will encourage and push us forward in our spiritual journey. This is especially true when it comes to selecting devotionals.

Do we choose resources that encourage and inflame our love for the Scriptures? Do we choose resources that encourage and push us back to know more about what the Word of God says, or do we select devotionals that point us back to ourselves and what we think about things?

Do not be deceived by false teachers that would put their words above God’s Word. In our day and age it’s very easy to be misled by false teachers through the books that we read, especially from books sold in Christian bookstores. Just because a Christian bookstore sells it does not make it Christian or Biblical in its application of Scripture or its understanding of God’s word. But I guess the question remains what do we read?

First and foremost read the Bible.

It is the only thing that gives us hope, that truly reveals an understanding of who God is. This is not to dissuade you from reading, but rather to make sure that our foundation is set first and foremost on our understanding of God. We must read with an aim to know and see God in His Word and in the words of others.

Second, read books that will encourage you in your walk with the Christ

Now these are books that can range from daily devotionals to theological works.  Most of us since early days in our Christian faith were encouraged to do a daily devotional. Throughout Church history many great men have written their own devotionals, such as Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, which are still used by many even today. Aside from devotionals though you’d also find great spiritual encouragement through theological works such as J. C. Ryle’s classic Holiness, or even something slightly newer like Knowing God by J. I. Packer. 

On our own homepage we list the four theological works that each of us are currently reading. As you can see from the list currently both Adam and myself are reading books by Michael Horton. Adam, reading one of his newer works, Ordinary. This book encourages us to see that our lives, even though they may appear ordinary, are really the supernatural work of God. Myself, on the other hand, am reading a book that he wrote several years ago on our call to be disciple makers. Horton does this by walking us through the importance of the great commission and our job as believers to follow through with that call. You can see each of these books seek to further our knowledge of God and a reliance on Him through the Scriptures.

Third, Read a good biography

For many of you this third category seems obvious. Biographies are very common in our day and age so much so that their use to actually be a television channel dedicated to them. That should be no shock to you that we as believers should be encouraged to read good biographies especially about the lives of the saints of God who lived before us. You’d be amazed at the things that believers went through and how through the power of God they overcame their trials and temptation and found joy and contentment in Christ alone. Biographies are great blessing to the Christian as we see time and time again the work of the Lord in His saints. Now I am not saying to go out and buy the two volume George Whitefield biography collection by Arnold Dallimore, though it is a fantastic book series, but there are some great short biographies put out by Ligonier ministries, also John Piper on his website Desiring God wrote some short biographies on some great saints such as David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards that can bring great encouragement to your Christian walk. Mostly, biographies help us to know that we are not alone in our journey, we are not the first to experience the things that we’ve experienced, just as the Lord was faithful to them so too we can trust that he will be faithful to us.

Finally, (though not least in importance) enjoy a good work of fiction.

Now this being the last category that I’ll discuss for many of us it may be our favorite category. A good fictional novel  can range from some of the great works of the past like To Kill a Mockingbird, Oliver Twist or The Lord of the Rings to some of the newer works of fiction such as the works of Stephen King, Ken Follett, George R. R. Martin or maybe J. K. Rowling. Fictional works help to expand our imaginations. They can help us to see the world in a different light, especially for ministers, fictional novels help us to think differently about the world around us. Fictional novels can open our imaginations, broaden our visual vocabulary, and allow us to get a look into the way our culture thinks and acts by the way they write about the world.

In conclusion this is an encouragement to those of us who love books, who love our libraries, who love great authors and theologians, so much so that we spend great deals of time with them, to not lose sight of the truth of God in the midst of the words of others. And to those who don’t read as often, to see, in works of theology, works of Christian growth, stories of brothers and sisters who have walked the path before, an opportunity for you to grow in your understanding of the Scriptures and to grow in your understanding of the work of God through the lives of others.

Above all else again the Bible must be central to our understanding. While we can learn from great men and women through their writings as they have experienced the work of God in them, through them, and through their knowledge of Him, they are still but mortals. Their words are but temporary while the Word of the Lord is eternal.

A Long Post on a Dead Man: The Legacy of David Brainerd

David-BrainerdToday in 1747 David Brainerd, puritan missionary to the Native Americans, died.  He is my hero.  To honor this man, I’ve put together a long post detailing his life and thought.  In summary his life was one of ‘pleasing pain.’  To find out why read on:

John Piper says, “Hebrews 11 is a divine mandate to read Christian biography. The unmistakable implication of the chapter is that, if we hear about the faith of our forefathers (and mothers), we will “lay aside every weight and sin” and “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (12:1). If we asked the author, “How shall we stir one another up to love and good works?” (10:24), his answer would be: “Through encouragement from the living (10:25) and the dead” (chap. 11). Christian biography is the means by which “body life” cuts across the generations.”

There are two ways of representing and recommending true religion and virtue to the world.  First, by doctrine and teaching, and the second, by example.  Both are used in the Scriptures. One example, David Brainerd, was not worthy of this world (Hebrews 11:38). But at the same time, David Brainerd’s story needs to be told to the world to see exactly what the world was so unworthy of.

It is true to say that no one would know who David Brainerd was if not for Jonathan Edwards. I say this because after Brainerd died, Edwards took Brainerd’s diary and made a book that has stood the test of time, ‘The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.’ Ed Reese made a great claim of this book, “In truth David Brainerd’s life and sacrifice reached out and touched the whole world, challenging more people into Christian service than perhaps any other man that ever lived.” Francis M. Dubose said, “Almost immediately upon (the Diary’s) publication, it captured the hearts of the protestant world. For over a century it was one of the most popular documents in evangelical circles. Its influence has been enormous.” Brainerd, a Congregationalist, lived a short life of only 29 years, from 1718 to 1747. For only being a Christian eight of those years, and a missionary to the Indians for only four, Brainerd’s life will not soon be forgotten.

Born on April 20, 1718, in Saddam Connecticut, Brainerd entered the world. In that year John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards turned fourteen, and Benjamin Franklin turned twelve and George Whitfield had his third birthday. Edwards commented once, “From birth, Brainerd was by his constitution and natural temper, so prone to melancholy and dejection of spirit…in which he exceeded all melancholy persons that ever I was acquainted with.” His father, Hezekiah, died when he was only nine years old, his mother, Dorothy died when he was thirteen. The parents were not the only ones to die early; his older brother Nehemiah, died when he was thirty-two, another brother Israel, died at twenty-three, a sister Jerusha, died at thirty four, and David himself died at twenty-nine. Brainerd said in his diary “I was from my youth somewhat sober, and inclined rather to melancholy than the contrary extreme…” Right before his mother’s death he was almost convinced to be a Christian, but was so distressed after her death that his religious concern began to fade away. He moved in with his sister, Jerusha, and after trying his hand at farming, grew a desire to attend Yale.

His language would sound very Christian to a modern believer, but puritans often described themselves as yearning to enter the ministry while they were unconverted. This was David’s experience as well. He struggled with his religious duties that he learned from his father and saw nothing in himself that would ever be pleasing to God. He was frightened so much at times he thought the ground would give way and send him to hell before he could make it home. He fought with his depravity, the law of God, the sovereignty of God, and the idea of faith but was brought by God to repentance and a right view of these things. Soon after these struggles he said this, “Thus God, I trust, brought me to a hearty disposition to exalt Him and set Him upon the throne, and principally and ultimately to aim at His honor and glory, as King of the universe.” He was now soundly converted and getting ready to prepare for his liberal education at Yale.

He entered Yale to prepare for the ministry but found it harder than he had anticipated. “There was hazing by the upperclassmen, little spirituality, difficult studies, and he got measles and had to go home for several weeks during that first year.” On his return after the measles had passed, during his second year, he had to return home again because he was so sick that he was spitting blood. He already had the tuberculosis that would take his life seven years later. He returned to Yale in 1740 and was happy to see that the campus had changed. George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennent, Ebenezer Pemberton, and James Davenport had been there to preach, and students were in awe of the gospel through their fiery preaching.

Then began what would eventually get Brainerd kicked out of Yale for good, never to return.

During the awakening on campus, tensions grew between the students and the faculty. The faculty brought in Jonathan Edwards to preach at a commencement ceremony with hopes that he would side with the faculty and tell the students they were out of line. He did not. He preached a sermon titled “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.” Edwards tried to persuade that what was happening among the students was true, in spite of their seemingly unrestrained behavior. The students were so stirred up at this time they were rebuking the faculty by calling them unconverted men. That very morning the faculty had decided that if any student called them unconverted, they should have to make a public confession before Yale. If they did this twice, they would be expelled. David Brainerd was in the audience that day Edwards preached. Although his grades earned him a spot at the top of his class, he was expelled from Yale during his third year. Why? He was overheard saying two comments that enraged the faculty. First, he said that Chauncey Whittelsey, one of the tutors, “has no more grace than a chair.” Second, he had wondered aloud why the Rector had not dropped down dead for fining students for their evangelical zeal.

Because Brainerd was expelled from Yale, his entire life would change direction. He had wanted to be a pastor in a quiet town and left alone with his books. A law had been passed that you could not be a minister unless you had graduated from Yale, Harvard, or a European university. This severed the pastorate from Brainerd, even after several pleas by other men and himself for re-admittance.

Before we go on we must address two huge things that happened from Brainerd’s expulsion from Yale. First: directly after he left, he labored to make peace and get back into Yale. Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr took up his cause with Yale as well. Yale stood their ground and would not let Brainerd back in. This news eventually got to the New York and New Jersey Presbyterian Synods. These two synods were fed up with Yale, and began a new school in 1746 called, The College of New Jersey, or later named Princeton. Dickinson and Burr were the first leaders of the new school. Later in life while Brainerd was ministering to the Iroquois Indians, which he moved on from due to lack of fruit and frustration, a man named Eleazar Wheelock got a hold of Brainerd’s journal during his time there and was so inspired he moved to the Iroquois and began to minister to them. Soon, after much success, Wheelock founded a school for the Indians and the Whites. He moved the school to Hanover, then to New Hampshire, where he named the school, Dartmouth College. Do you see the significance of this? If Brainerd had not been expelled from Yale, neither of these two universities would have been started. We see that God is always at work even in the darkest of times.

Second, John Piper comments on Brainerd’s ordeal with Yale by drawing out this massive lesson. “There is a tremendous lesson here. God is at work for the glory of His name and the good of His church even when the good intentions of His servants fail – even when that failing is owing to sin or carelessness. One careless word, spoken in haste, and Brainerd’s life seemed to fall apart before his eyes. But God knew better, and Brainerd came to accept it.”

This is right. God knew better. Brainerd struggled with it, but came to embrace it. God, behind the scenes of this horrible expulsion and agony of failure, was weaving a story out of a young man’s life that would shape history forever. I can say that because after leaving Yale, Brainerd began to sense a leading to give his life away for the sake of the gospel among those who have never heard it. He said in his journal that he “found himself willing, if God should so order it, to suffer banishment from my native land, among the heathen, that I might do something for their salvation, in distresses and deaths of any kind.” Why did young David begin to find “himself willing?” Because God was ‘so ordering it.’

David Brainerd spent the rest of his short life laboring among the Indians for their salvation. Under the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, he went to the most of the tribes around the Kaunaumeek and the Crossweeksung areas. He suffered the entire time due to his tuberculosis and eventually died on October 9, 1747 in Jonathan Edward’s home. Jerusha (Jonathan Edwards’ 17 year old daughter) was his nurse for 19 weeks, devoting herself with great delight because she looked on him as a powerful servant of Jesus Christ. During this time the two, Jerusha and Brainerd, fell in love. Five days before his death, October 4th, “he recorded this touching conversation with Jerusha, in appreciation of her constant companionship and love.

“Dear Jerusha…though, if I thought I should not see you, and be happy with you in another world, I could not bear to part with you. But we shall spend a happy eternity together.” Four months later, the saddened Jerusha, became sick and died on February 14, 1748. She was buried next to him. Jonathan Edwards knew Jerusha caught the disease that killed her from Brainerd, and was not bitter. He said, “I would not conclude my observations on the merciful circumstances of Mr. Brainerd’s death without acknowledging with thankfulness the gracious dispensation of providence to me and my family in so ordering that he…should be cast hither to my house, in his last sickness, and should die here: So that we had opportunity for much acquaintance and conversation with him, and to show him kindness in such circumstances, and to see his dying behavior, to hear his dying speeches, to receive his dying counsel, and to have the benefit of his dying prayers.”

Edwards later said, “It has pleased a holy and sovereign God, to take away this my dear child by death, on the 14th of February…after a short illness of five days, in the 18th year of her age. She was a person of much the same spirit with Brainerd. She had constantly taken care of and attended him in this sickness, for nineteen weeks before his death; devoting herself to it with great delight…”

Is it not awe-inspiring to see this come out of Edwards, in full view of the cost it would take on his daughter’s life? Remember, if Brainerd was never expelled from Yale, only God knows if this would have happened.

Now, I said earlier that no one would know who David Brainerd was if it weren’t for Jonathan Edwards. I say that because after Brainerd’s death, Edwards took all his journals and diaries and wrote what we now call ‘The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.’ I say we now call it that because in 1749 Edwards first called it; ‘An Account of the Life of the late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd, Minister of the Gospel, Missionary to the Indians, from the honorable Society in Scotland, for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, and Pastor of a Church of Christian Indians in New Jersey. Who died at Northhampton in New England, October 9, 1747, in the 30th year of his Age : Chiefly taken from his own Diary, and other private Writings, written for his own Use; and now published by Jonathan Edwards, A.M., Minister of the Gospel at Northampton.’ Gotta love long Puritan titles huh? To this book we now turn.

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd was published in 1749 and has never been out of print. In fact out of all the books that Jonathan Edwards wrote, this diary of Brainerd’s life has been reprinted more than any of his other books. John Wesley said, “Let every preacher read carefully over the Life of David Brainerd.” Henry Martyn, a missionary to India and Persia said while he was “perusing the life of David Brainerd, his soul was filled with a holy emulation of that extraordinary man; and after deep consideration and fervent prayer, he was at length fixed in a resolution to imitate his example.” The list of other people who were inspired by this book are: William Carey, Robert Morrison, Robert McCheyne, F. W. Robertson, Ion Keith Falconer, Francis Asbury, A. J. Gordon, Thomas Coke, John Mills, Frederick Schwartz, David Livingston, Andrew Murray, and Jim Elliot to name a few. Gideon Hawley, a missionary during the time of Jonathan Edwards wrote, “I need, greatly need, something more than human to support me. I read my Bible and Mr. Brainerd’s Life, the only books I brought with me, and from them have a little support.” John Piper says, “Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to Him day and night to accomplish amazing things for His glory.”

Clyde Kilby described it like this, “It is not Brainerd’s accomplishments as a missionary, significant as they were, that have perpetuated his influence. It certainly is not his perturbations of spirit or his sense of vileness or his flagellation “complex” or his morbidity. I venture to say that it is not even his diary so much as the idea back of all which eventuated in molding the man. In our timidity and our shoddy opportunism we are always stirred when a man appears on the horizon willing to stake his all on a conviction.”

The conviction Brainerd was willing to stake all on was not any conviction, but the conviction that we all must have. It was a desire for the glory of God in the salvation of the world.

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd has affected me in a substantial way. I have scarcely found the amount of interwoven passion and struggle in one man. You can not only understand what he is saying as you read, you can feel what he is feeling as he penned the words. Few writers have felt so close to my soul as David Brainerd has; the more I read him, the more knit to him I feel.

Here are my favorite quotes so far:

“Towards night, enjoyed some of the clearest thoughts on a divine subject (viz., that treated of 1 Cor. 15:13-16) that ever I remember to have had upon any subject whatsoever; and spent two or three hours in writing them. I was refreshed with the intenseness: My mind was so engaged in these meditations I could scarcely turn it to anything else; and indeed I could not be willing to part with so sweet an entertainment.”

“No poor creature stands in need of divine grace more than I, and none abuse it more than I have done, and still do.”

“At night God enabled me to give my soul up to Him, to cast myself upon Him, to be ordered and disposed of according to His sovereign pleasure; and I enjoyed great peace and consolation in so doing. My soul took sweet delight in God; my thoughts freely and sweetly centered in Him. Oh, that I could spend every moment of my life to His glory!”

“Saw so much of the wickedness of my heart that I longed to get away from myself. I never before thought there was so much spiritual pride in my soul. I felt almost pressed to death with my own vileness. Oh what a body of death is there in me…Oh the closest walk with God is the sweetest heaven that can be enjoyed on earth!”

The past four quotes are very good illustrations of what his life was like. Remember he was prone to depression, but his loathing over his own sin was profound, as was his praise. He always was either up or down in his spiritual life with God. Often he found himself very down or very high. Is this not so much like us? How often are we either very up in exultation and praise to Christ, and then the next day, (or next hour!) be very down in longing to get away from ourselves? This is one reason that history has so much to teach us, and why every Christian should dive into biographies. Because we are like people who have gone before us, and our struggles are not new. If they got through them, by God’s help, we can too. This is the whole point of Hebrews 11 – 12:1. That we would be encouraged to press on by seeing the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.

Here are some other quotes:

“I saw so much of my hellish vileness that I appeared worse to myself than any devil. I wondered that God would let me live and wondered that people did not stone me, much more that they would ever hear me preach! It seemed as though I never could nor should preach anymore; yet about nine or ten o’ clock the people came over, and I was forced to preach.”

“God is unspeakably gracious to me continually. In times past, He has given me inexpressible sweetness in the performances of duty. Frequently my soul has enjoyed much of God; but has been ready to say, ‘Lord, it is good to be here,’ and so to indulge sloth while I have lived on the sweetness of my feelings. But of late, God has been pleased to keep my soul hungry almost continually, so that I have been filled with a kind of pleasing pain. When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of Him the more insatiable, and my thirsting after holiness the more unquenchable. And the Lord will not allow me to feel as though I were fully supplied and satisfied, but keeps me still reaching forward. I feel barren and empty, as though I could not live without more of God; I feel ashamed as guilty before Him. Oh! I see that “the law is spiritual, but I am carnal.” I do not, I cannot live to God. Oh for holiness! Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press hard after God…Oh that I may feel this continual hunger, and not be retarded, but rather animated by every cluster from Canaan to reach forward in the narrow way, for the full enjoyment and possession of the heavenly inheritance! Oh, that I may never loiter in my heavenly journey!”

So, I commend you to David Brainerd. That you may also feel the weight of this ‘pleasing pain’, and become intimate with what it’s like to feel that you cannot live without more of God.

David Brainerd: Abusing and Needing Divine Grace

David Brainerd was a puritan missionary whose diary changed my life.  Brainerd was the almost son-in-law of Jonathan Edwards due to his untimely death.  He was devoted to Christ, he desired to see Jesus’ fame spread to the ends of the earth, longed for more of God’s grace, and honestly struggled with the sin that he saw in himself.  He often said something like this in his diary:

No poor creature stands in need of divine grace more than I, and none abuse it more than I have done, and still do.

journalsMany people would think that this comment would come from a man or woman who was behind bars for life for horrendous crimes, but yet it comes from a puritan missionary who knew two things very well: his savior and his sin.  Because of this, reading his journals has been life-giving to my bones, and it will be to you too if you take it up and dig in.

Brief Bio:

brain1rDavid Brainerd was born in Haddam, in the County of Herford, Connecticut, on April 20, 1718.  His father, Hezekiah Brainerd, died when David was nine, and his mother, Dorothy, who was the daughter of the Reverend Jeremiah Hobart, died leaving him an orphan when he was 14.  His was a strict religious home of the Congregational Church persuasion. Bible reading, prayer, Sabbath observance, and Christian classics such as Bunyan’sPilgrim’s Progress and Baxter’s A Call to the Unconvertedwere the order of the day.  But it was not until he was 21, while living in the home of Phinehas Fiske, who was pastor of the Congregational Church at Haddam, that one evening in solitary mediation he saw his lost and helpless condition. It was as though he saw a vision—not external but in the heart—of the glory of God. “I was even swallowed up in Him.”  A new peace engulfed him.  Joy overwhelmed him. He had become a new creature in Christ.  He said, “One hour with God infinitely exceeds all the pleasures of this lower world.”  Even before this experience he had been prone to spending long hours in prayer, fasting, and meditation.  He was always somewhat of a mystic.

In 1739, at the age of 21 he entered Yale College, considerably older than most students who, at that time, entered between ages 13 and 17.  It was during this time that he came under the influence of the preaching of George Whitefield.  This was known as “the time of the Great Awakening,” when great revivals swept the communities all throughout the colonies.  Some of the students at Yale became enthusiastic adherents to what was referred to as the “New Light Movement.”

In 1741, due to illness, he had to withdraw from school for a period of time, and it was then that the first signs of tuberculosis evidenced themselves. It led to times of melancholy and depression.  He was able to return to Yale and applied himself most diligently to his studies. From an academic standpoint, he was the head of his class. Because of the emotion and fervor of the revivalists, he looked upon some of his tutors who were much more staid as being spiritually dead.  On one occasion, he referred to Mr. Whittelsey, a tutor at Yale, as having no more grace than a chair.  For this statement he was expelled from Yale. Brainerd was devastated by this action, and even though he asked forgiveness and such men as Jonathan Edwards interceded in his behalf, he was never reinstated, nor did he graduate from college.

Through some of his friends, he became interested in the American Indians, and it was at this juncture that the Lord laid a burden upon his heart to minister to them.  He was introduced to the Society in Scotland for the Propagating of Christian Knowledge and was invited to become an agent under that mission society. He was then commissioned to minister to the Indians living near the forks of the Delaware in Pennsylvania and to those along the Susquehanna River.  He began his work in April of 1743.  April 20th was his 25th birthday.  He set it aside not for celebration but for fasting and prayer.  He reflected on God’s goodness to him. He prayed that God would sanctify his spiritual afflictions and soul distress.  Wandering along in the woods, he poured out his complaint to God:  “My soul is 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.”

Brainerd was not the first, nor the most successful missionary to the Indians.  It was John Eliot [1604-1690] who was called the Great Apostle to the Indians. Eliot labored as a pastor in Roxbury, two miles outside of Boston.  When he was 40 years of age, he saw the great need of the Algonquin Indians.  He began to study their language, which was a very difficult one, and applied himself to those studies for two years.  Then be began to preach in their language with real success among these degraded people.  He also began to translate the Bible.  He was often ridiculed by his peers, who thought he should rather teach the Indians English, but he persisted, and by 1663 he had translated the entire Bible into their tongue. He faithfully labored among them, establishing Christian Indian communities until his death at the age of 85.

In contrast, Brainerd was first and foremost a preacher.  The central theme of his preaching was the cross of Jesus Christ.  During these years of ministry at the forks of the Delaware and along the Susquehanna, David Brainerd was frequently soaked to the skin by rain and chilled to the bone by the snow and wind.  He often slept in the forest with little or no protection from the elements.  A very inadequate diet left him frequently weakened.  Long sessions of fasting and prayer fed his soul but weakened his body.  The long weeks on horseback or on foot, living under very primitive conditions, were most difficult and debilitating.  His ministry was interspersed with frequent illnesses.  He was also prone to periods of deep depression as well as heights of spiritual emotion. By June of 1745, Brainerd felt very discouraged at the hardness of hearts and so little evident fruit.  He then heard of some Indians living in Crossweeksung, New Jersey.  They were much more responsive to the fervent preaching of Brainerd and fell under conviction of sin, which caused real anguish of heart and at times bitter weeping.  In July of that year Brainerd wrote, “My soul, my very soul, longs for the in-gathering of the heathen, and I cry to God most willingly and heartily.”

August 8, 1745, the windows of heaven opened and revival fire fell on these seeking hearts.  He had preached fervently and frequently, and the joy of seeing souls born into the Kingdom of God brought great joy to his heart.  But his health was failing, and frequently he was very ill.  He did not seek to educate the Indians into the Kingdom or reform them into the Kingdom—they were born into the Kingdom, often after violent emotional struggles.  He wrote in his diary, “Here am I, Lord, send me.  Send me to the ends of the earth.  Send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness. Send from all that is called comfort in earth or earthly comfort.  Send even to death itself if it is be in Thy service and to promote Thy kingdom.”  More than a century later, David Livingstone said, “In Christ’s service I wish to live; in it I wish to die.”

The revival that took place in August of 1734 brought him great joy, but it also brought him an increased burden of work as he discipled the new believers and helped them establish Christian communities.  He was oftentimes severely criticized and opposed by the white colonists, many of whom called themselves Christian but showed no Christian compassion, love, or concern for the Native Americans.

One of the happiest days of his life was when he was able to baptize some of these new believers and then partake of the Lord’s Supper, sharing the bread and wine with those he had seen come to the Lord through his ministry.

In the spring of ’47, he was so ill that Jonathan Edwards invited him to come to his home in Northhampton,Massachusetts, to recuperate.  Although there were periods of some slight improvement, his condition continued to deteriorate. Completely burned out in the service of God, David Brainerd died at Northhampton on October 9, 1747, at the age of 29.  Edwards’ daughter Jerusha, the flower of the family, who attended the dying young man during his last year, contracted the same disease and died a few months later at the tender age of 18. Though never confirmed, it is thought that they were engaged.  They are buried side by side in the graveyard at Northhampton. Jonathan Edwards, who had befriended Brainerd and in whose home he died, was greatly impressed by the life of David Brainerd, and it was he who gave the world his diary and journals.

We can easily understand how the life of David Brainerd, one that exemplified such spiritual intensity and zeal for the salvation of souls, would have a profound impact on all who read about it.  We will mention only a few.  The three beloved heroes of William Carey [1761-1834], who is referred to as the Father of Modern Missions, were the Apostle Paul, John Elliot, and David Brainerd.  One of the rules of the mission group in India, of which he was the leader, was to read The Life and Diary of David Brainerdthree times a year.  Carey’s oft-quoted statement, “Attempt great things for God.  Expect great things from God” sounds very much like the following entry in Brainerd’s diary of almost 100 years earlier where it is recorded, “Nothing seems too hard for God to perform, nothing too great for me to hope from Him.”  Henry Martyn [1781-1812] was a brilliant scholar at Cambridge and intended to pursue a legal career, but after reading The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, he wrote, “I long to be like him.  Let me forget the world and be swallowed up in desire to glorify God.” Martyn’s statement, “Let me burn out for God,” could very well have been inspired by the words of Brainerd when he wrote, “Oh, with what reluctancy did I feel myself obligated to consume time in sleep.  I long to be a flame of fire, continually glowing in the divine service in building Christ’s Kingdom to my last and dying moment.”  Both of these men died at a very early age.  The saintly young pastor of Aberdeen, Robert Murray McCheyne [1813-1843], was deeply moved and influenced by studying the life of David Brainerd. John Wesley and Francis Asbury, early Methodist leaders, both held him up as models of meekness, labor, and self-denial and challenged their followers to pattern their lives after that of Brainerd.  Many other well-known missionaries, such as Samuel Marsden, Robert Morrison, David Livingstone, Andrew Murray, and Sheldon Jackson, all testified to the tremendous impact that David Brainerd had upon their life and ministry.

Seldom in the annuls of Christendom has there been a man like David Brainerd who sought so earnestly to be filled with the Spirit of God and who gave himself unreservedly to the glory of God as did this young man.  It has been said that “David Brainerd dead” more greatly influenced the missionary cause than did “David Brainerd alive.”

Here’s a few more items from Brainerd’s pen:

“I love to live on the brink of eternity.  May I never loiter in my heavenly journey.”

“All my desire was the conversion of the heathen and all hope was in God”

“I want to wear out my life in His service and for His glory.”

“Let me forget the world and be swallowed up in the desire to glorify God.”

“All I want is to be more holy, more like my dear Lord.”

O’ for More of God in My Soul!

O’ how sweet it is to read this part of David Brainerd’s diary.

“God is unspeakably gracious to me continually. In times past, He has given me inexpressible sweetness in the performances of duty. Frequently my soul has enjoyed much of God; but has been ready to say, ‘Lord, it is good to be here,’ and so to indulge sloth while I have lived on the sweetness of my feelings. But of late, God has been pleased to keep my soul hungry almost continually, so that I have been filled with a kind of pleasing pain. When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of Him the more insatiable, and my thirsting after holiness the more unquenchable. And the Lord will not allow me to feel as though I were fully supplied and satisfied, but keeps me still reaching forward. I feel barren and empty, as though I could not live without more of God; I feel ashamed as guilty before Him. Oh! I see that “the law is spiritual, but I am carnal.” I do not, I cannot live to God. Oh for holiness! Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press hard after God…Oh that I may feel this continual hunger, and not be retarded, but rather animated by every cluster from Canaan to reach forward in the narrow way, for the full enjoyment and possession of the heavenly inheritance! Oh, that I may never loiter in my heavenly journey!”  (Life and Diary of David Brainerd, page 103-104)

I have scarcely found the amount of interwoven passion and struggle in one man. You can understand what he is saying as you read, but you can also feel what he is feeling as he penned the words. Few writers have felt so close to my soul as David Brainerd has; the more I read him, the more knit to him I feel.

Life and Ministry of David Brainerd: A Brief Chronology

David Brainerd is one of my heroes.  I love learning about him, reading his journals, and soaking in all I can from God’s work through this man.  The following is from Douglas A. Sweeney of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he serves as chair of the church history and history of Christian thought department, professor of church history and the history of Christian thought, and director of the Jonathan Edwards Center. (Posted with permission.)

April 20, 1718 = born in Haddam, CT, to Hezekiah and Dorothy Hobart Mason Brainerd (the widow of Daniel Mason)

1727 = Hezekiah Brainerd dies

1732 = Dorothy Brainerd dies

July 12, 1739 = David Brainerd’s conversion experience

September 1739-early 1742  = studies at Yale College

early 1742 = expelled from Yale for insulting Tutor Chauncey Whittlesey (“He has no more grace than this chair”) and refusing to confess this sin in public

April 1742 = moves to Ripton, CT, where he studies for the ministry with the Rev. Jedediah Mills

July 29, 1742 = licensed to preach by the Congregational Association of the Eastern District of Fairfield County, CT

November 1742 = appointed a missionary by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge

March 31, 1743 = visits Stockbridge to begin training for missions work (primarily to learn Mahican) with John Sergeant

April 1, 1743 = begins his ministry to the Indians at Kaunaumeek (in upstate New York)

May 1744 = entrusts John Sergeant in Stockbridge with his Kaunaumeek congregation and begins evangelizing the Delaware Indians near the Forks of the Delaware River (primarily in east central Pennsylvania)

June 12, 1744 = ordained by the Presbytery of New York

June 1745 = begins his ministry to the Indians of Crossweeksung in New Jersey

March 1746 = begins moving his Crossweeksung congregation to Cranberry, NJ

1746 = Brainerd publishes Mirabilia Dei inter Indicos; or, the Rise and Progress of a Remarkable Work of Grace Amongst a Number of the Indians in the Province of New Jersey, the first installment of his Journal

Nov. 1746-March 1747 = winters with Jonathan Dickinson before leaving for New England (in 1746, the College of New Jersey had been founded in Dickinson’s home in Elizabethtown, NJ-Dickinson served as its founding president until his death the following year-Brainerd is sometimes referred to as Princeton’s first student!)

March 1747 = one last visit with his congregation in Cranberry (before his brother John Brainerd would succeed him there)

by the end of DB’s ministry there, there were 85 communicant members of the Indian congregation, 43 adults and 42 children

April 1747 = leaves for New England

May 28, 1747 = arrives in Northampton

June 9-July 20, 1747 = trip to Boston with Jerusha Edwards

Oct. 9, 1747 = Brainerd dies of tuberculosis at the age of 29

1748 = posthumous publication of Divine Grace Displayed; or, The Continuance and Progress of a Remarkable Work of Grace . . ., the second installment of Brainerd’s Journal

1749 = JE publishes An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd

HT: Justin Taylor