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  • Writer's pictureDr. Roger D Duke

David Brainerd:-Died Young For His Lord Christ and the Aboriginal People- One of the First Missionaries to the American Indians

[Left: Cover of Vision Video's a Brainerd documentary]

(Adapted, adopted, and used by permission from the Christian History Institute. You can enjoy their other writings at https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/subscribe and https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/today.)


DAVID BRAINERD lived only twenty-nine years, but his faith was responsible for two major events. He helped trigger the formation of Princeton University (as the College of New Jersey) and converted many Seneca and Delaware Indians to Christianity. His journal and diary also had a powerful influence after his death.


Born in 1718, he began to seek the Lord at the age of seven. But not until he was twenty-one did he have “a new inward apprehension or view” of God that propelled him to deep acts of faith. He enrolled in Yale to study for the ministry but never received his degree. A fellow student accused him of saying one teacher had no more grace than a chair. Brainerd admitted making that remark but denied any recollection of another comment attributed to him. The school rejected his response as unsatisfactory, both then and when he later offered a more complete apology. Three professors who took Brainerd’s side resigned in disgust. They were among those who helped found the College of New Jersey.


The Scotland Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge was not put off by Brainerd’s lack of a degree. They commissioned him to carry the gospel to American Indians. The first three years of that work resulted in little fruit. 


Still he persevered. On this day, 12 June 1744, the New Jersey presbytery ordained David Brainerd. He wrote in his diary, 

At this time I was affected with a sense of the important trust committed to me; yet composed and solemn, without distraction. I hope I then, (as many times before) gave up myself to God, to be for him, and not for another. Oh that I might always be engaged in his service, duly remembering the solemn charge I have received, in the presence of God, angels, and men. Amen. May I be assisted of God for this purpose.


Mr. Pemberton, who officiated at the ceremony wrote,

We can with pleasure say, that Mr. Brainerd passed through his ordination-trials, to the universal approbation of the presbytery, and appeared uncommonly qualified for the work of the ministry. He seems to be armed with a great deal of self-denial, and animated with a noble zeal to propagate the gospel among those barbarous nations, who have long dwelt in the darkness of Heathenism.


Brainerd’s years of “fatigues and hardships” paid off in 1745. His diary and journal record a number of instances in which the Spirit of God moved individuals and groups to repentance. Soon he was baptizing as many as fourteen at a time. Brainerd had just one more year of good work left in him. In 1747, he became too ill to continue and rode to Jonathan Edwards’s home where he was engaged to one of Edwards’s daughters. They never married. After five months of decline, Brainerd died of tuberculosis.


Protestants such as Henry Martyn and William Carey found in Brainerd’s journal an inspiration to their own mission work.


Written by—Dan Graves

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