“For to me. To live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
“I could have no freedom in the thought of any other circumstances or business in life: All my desire was the conversion of the heathen, and all my hope was in God: God does not suffer me to please or comfort myself with hopes of seeing friends, returning to my dear acquaintance, and enjoying worldly comforts.” – David Brainerd
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.
In April, 1743, following a brief period serving a church on Long Island, Brainerd began working as a missionary to Native Americans. His first missionary assignment was working at Kaunameek, a Mohican settlement near present-day Nassau, New York. Brainerd remained there for one year.
Later in 1743, he was reassigned to work among the Delaware Indians along the Delaware River northeast of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He remained there for another year, during which he was ordained by the Newark Presbytery. Following this, he moved to Crossweeksung in New Jersey. By 1744, the Native American church at Crossweeksung had 130 members. In 1746, they moved to Cranbury where they established a Christian community.
In these years, he refused several offers of leaving the mission field to become a local church pastor. Brainard continued his work with the Native Americans, writing in his diary: “I could have no freedom in the thought of any other circumstances or business in life: All my desire was the conversion of the heathen, and all my hope was in God: God does not suffer me to please or comfort myself with hopes of seeing friends, returning to my dear acquaintance, and enjoying worldly comfort.”
He would continue to serve in this missionary work until late 1746 when he became too ill. Along with his physical battle with tuberculosis, he also experienced depression, loneliness, and a lack of food. It is estimated that Brainerd traveled over 3,000 miles on horseback as a missionary.
In November 1746, he became too ill to continue ministering, and so moved to Jonathan Dickinson’s house in Elizabethtown and later to Jonathan Edwards’ house in Northampton, Massachusetts. Apart from a trip to Boston in the summer of that year, he remained at Edwards’s house until his death the following year in 1747.
“David Brainerd died in the Edwards’ home toward day, about six o’clock in the morning, on Friday, October 9th, 1747. The coming of Brainerd to Northampton was an event of far-reaching importance in Edwards’ life. While the opposite might have been expected, the presence of a dying man, through many weeks, was uplifting to Edwards. For five years past he had been particularly occupied with the nature of true godliness, and it was as he advance in this subject that he became not only isolated from many ministerial neighbors but also from others in his own congregation. In Brainerd, though almost a stranger on his arrival, there was an instinctive unity of mind and spirit,” writes Edwards’ biographer Iain Murray.
More to come. May it be evidenced by us that for us to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Soli deo Gloria!