David Brainerd was a colonial American missionary to native Americans that lived from 1718-1747. Though he died at a very young age (29), he had a tremendous ministry, and was mightily used of God to carry the Gospel to multiple native Americans. His personal diary, originally published by Jonathan Edwards (and now available as a standalone book) is one of the most inspiring, challenging and encouraging Christian books I have ever read. It somewhere in the top ten most important books I have ever read, and has been a highly influential book on my own personal life. For the majority of his life, Brainerd was quite weak in terms of his health. From my reading of his journal, I would diagnose him with asthma, at the least, and several other maladies. Nevertheless, he would often ride out on horseback, in some of the harshest New England Winter climates, and take the Good News of Jesus to many. These trips would usually take their toll on young Brainerd, and his diary is filled with many entries that outline his sicknesses (in a non-whiney way!) and how he leaned on God heavily during his convalescence. One week before he died, he wrote these words in his diary – his last entry:
My soul was this day, at turns, sweetly set on God: I longed to be with him, that I might behold his glory. I felt sweetly disposed to 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 in the world; that they might all 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.’
The end of Brainerd’s life is both beautiful and tragic. In 1746 he came down with what was likely tuberculosis (then called consumption) and was bed-ridden for the majority of the last year of his life. During several of those months, he lived with Jonathan “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” Edwards, that great preacher of the First Great Awakening. Dr. Edwards daughter, Jerusha Edwards, was Brainerd’s primary caregiver. She was 17 and a very attentive friend and caregiver for the dying Brainerd – based on journal entries, it was quite clear that they were very close. In fact, it is possible, maybe even likely, that they had romantic feelings for each other. Sadly, their friendship – and whatever possible romantic love that might have been bound up within – was curtailed on October 9, 1746 when Brainerd finally passed after a long week of agonizing suffering. Perhaps even more tragically, young Jerusha’s life was also cut short by her selfless act of service – she too succumbed to tuberculosis, almost certainly contracted from Brainerd, four months later. Here is a journal entry of Edwards that addressed the last week of Brainerd’s life, and Jerusha’s watchcare over him:
On the morning of the next day, being Lord’s day, Oct. 4, as my daughter Jerusha (who chiefly attended him) came into the room, he looked on her very pleasantly, and said, “Dear Jerusha, are you willing to part with me?—I am quite willing to part with you: I am willing to part with all my friends: I am willing to part with my dear brother John, although I love him the best of any creature living: I have committed him and all my friends to God, and can leave them with God. 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!”….In the evening, as one came into the room with a Bible in her hand, he expressed himself thus; “Oh that dear book! that lovely book! I shall soon see it opened! the mysteries that are in it, and the mysteries of God’s providence, will be all unfolded!”
Source: Diary of Jonathan Edwards, October 2, 1746
As the title of this series is “Vintage Christmas Reflections,” We shall now get on to the Christmas part of this entry. The journal entry quoted below is from Brainerd’s diary on Christmas day, 1745, less than 9 months before he died. Despite being ill with tuberculosis/consumption, Brainerd was able to preach and teach among the native Americans on Christmas day – a day normally associated with drinking and revelry. At times in the past, Brainerd’s audience had been so touched by the Scripture that they wept, moaned and cried out to God for mercy. This time, the Word of God struck into their hearts as an earthquake, and shook them to the core. Read below for Brainerd’s powerful account of the mini-Christmas revival that broke out among his Native American friends that cold December day!
Dec. 25. The Indians having been used upon Christmas days to drink and revel among some of the white people in these parts, I thought it proper this day to call them together, and discourse to them upon divine things: which I accordingly did from the parable of the barren fig-tree, Luke 13:6–9. A divine influence, I am persuaded, accompanied the word at this season. The power of God appeared in the assembly, not by producing any remarkable cries, but by shocking and rousing the heart, as it seemed, several creatures that were scarce ever moved with any concern before. The power attending divine truths seemed to have the influence of the earthquake rather than the whirlwind upon them. Their passions were not so much alarmed as has been common here in times past, but their judgments appeared to be powerfully convinced by the masterly and conquering influence of divine truths. The impressions made upon the assembly in general, seemed not superficial, but deep and heart-affecting. O how ready did they now appear universally to embrace and comply with every thing they heard and were convinced was duty!—God was in the midst of us of a truth, bowing and melting stubborn hearts! How many tears and sobs were then to be seen and heard among us! What liveliness and strict attention, what eagerness and intenseness of mind, appeared in the whole assembly in the time of divine service! They seemed to watch and wait for the dropping of God’s word, as the thirsty earth for the “former and latter rain.”
(Source: Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 403. Note: Portions of the Diary of David Brainerd are included amongst the Works of Edwards here. )