The Life of David Brainerd by Jesse Page; published by and available from John Ritchie Ltd; 160 pages. Price £7.99. (9781907731785)
Why did John Wesley say, "Let every preacher read carefully over the life of David Brainerd"? Why did the story of his short life make such an impact on men like William Carey, David Livingstone and Robert Murray McCheyne? The reader of this addition to the "Classic Biography Series" will quickly discover the answers to these questions.
Born in Connecticut in 1718 and born again in 1739, Brainerd studied at Yale College. He was expelled from that institution, where he would have graduated with distinction, for remarking that a certain tutor had "no more grace than this chair". His ambition to become a clergyman in a comfortable charge was thus denied, for God had another plan. Soon David Brainerd responded to God's call to preach Christ among North American Indians. The year was 1743.
David was often depressed and downcast and seldom, if ever, happy with his own spiritual state. He constantly battled severe ill health and loneliness. Being no linguist, he found the many native dialects difficult to master. His initial contact with the Indians caused him only despair. They viewed "palefaces", not without some justification, as those who had come to steal their land and corrupt their people.
Brainerd's response was fervent intercessory prayer to God. Days and nights were spent in what he called "secret exercises"- prayer and fasting. It was among the Indians of Crossweeksung (now Crosswicks, New Jersey) that he first saw his prayers answered in a way that simply amazed him. He was astounded to find that the "hearts of these Indians were melted by the love of Jesus" rather than the terrors of judgment. Converts were gathered to form a local church of which he said:
"I know of no assembly of Christians where there seems to be so much of the presence of God, where brotherly love so much prevails, and where I should so much delight in the public worship of God, in general, as in my own congregation; although not more than nine months ago, they were worshiping devils and dumb idols under the power of pagan darkness and superstition. Amazing change this! Effected by nothing less than divine power and grace!"
By the end of 1747, twenty-nine years of age and less than four years after his life's work began, the Lord called David Brainerd home, a victim of tuberculosis. His last murmured words were, "I shall soon be in Glory, I shall soon glorify God with the angels!"
"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" (John Piper).
It would be well if John Wesley's counsel was heeded, not only by preachers, but by every Christian who, conscious of weakness, desires to serve God more effectively.