Jonathan Edwards: The Life of David Brainerd. Part One.

David Brainerd was not a genius, nor an orator. His scholarship was not very remarkable. He laid no foundations of empire. He made no discoveries. He achieved no literary fame. And yet young Brainerd had that in him of which heroes and martyrs are made. He was a representative man of the truest and noblest type. His is a character of such saintliness, of such lofty aims and principles, of such intense loyalty to “Christ and him crucified,” and of such all-absorbing love for souls and desire for God’s glory, that it has left a lasting impression on the Christian Church, and his name will travel down the centuries, hallowed in the memory of the good, and regarded as one of the brightest stars in the constellation of Christian worthies.” – J.M. Sherwood

Even to this day, believers in Christ are influenced by the life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards. Numerous books are available which detail his life, his family, his ministry and his legacy. There is no question that Edwards left an enduring legacy.

Edwards’ impact upon the church of Jesus Christ is unquestionable. However, there is one singular individual who made a lasting impact upon Edwards. That individual was the missionary David Brainerd.

David Brainerd (1718 – 1747) was an American Presbyterian minister and missionary to the Native Americans known as the Delaware Indians of New Jersey. Missionaries such as William Carey and Jim Elliot, and Brainerd’s cousin, the Second Great Awakening evangelist James Brainerd Taylor (1801–1829) cite Brainerd as an inspiration in the lives and ministry.

Brainerd was born in Haddam, Connecticut. His parents were Hezekiah, a Connecticut legislator, and Dorothy. Brainerd had nine siblings, one of whom was Dorothy’s from a previous marriage. He was orphaned at the age of nine; his father died in 1727 at the age of 46 and his mother died five years later.  

Following his mother’s death, Brainerd moved to East Haddam to live with one of his older sisters, Jerusha. At the age of nineteen, he inherited a farm near Durham, but returned to East Haddam a year later to prepare to enter Yale College.

Brainerd was converted to Christ when he was twenty-one. On July 12, 1739, he recorded having an experience of “unspeakable glory” that prompted in him a “hearty desire to exalt [God], to set him on the throne and to ‘seek first his Kingdom'”.

In September of that same year, Brainerd enrolled at Yale. While in his second year at Yale, he was sent home because he was suffering from a serious illness that caused him to spit blood. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

One historian explains, “When he returned in November 1740, tensions were beginning to emerge at Yale between the faculty staff and the students. This was because the staff considered the spiritual enthusiasm of the students to be excessive. The students fervent behavior of the Lord and His Word had been prompted by visiting preachers such as George WhitefieldGilbert TennentEbenezer Pemberton and James Davenport. Brainerd was soon expelled because of his derogatory comments about, what he called, the impious Yale faculty. 

Due to a recent law forbidding the appointment of ministers in Connecticut unless they had graduated from Harvard, Yale, or a similar and approved European institution, Brainerd had to reconsider his ministerial plans. 

In 1742, Brainerd was licensed to preach by a group of New Light evangelicals.  As a result, he gained the attention of Jonathan Dickinson, the leading Presbyterian in New Jersey, who unsuccessfully attempted to reinstate Brainerd at Yale. Therefore, Dickinson suggested that Brainerd devote himself to missionary work among the Native Americans, supported by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge. The society approved Brainerd for this missionary work on November 25, 1742.  

More to come. Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Soli deo Gloria!

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