David Brainerd (1718-1747) was a missionary to the American Indians in New York, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania. Born in Connecticut in 1718, he died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-nine. Many people know of his work among the Indians, but in reading his diary (as edited by Jonathan Edwards), I was most struck with the work the Lord did in David Brainerd.
Early in his short life, Brainerd admits, in his fallen state, to being irritated by 4 specific doctrines of God (pgs 64 & 65):
- The strictness of the divine law. “I found it condemned me for my evil thoughts and sins of my heart, which I could not possibly prevent.”
- Salvation is by faith alone. “God would not come down to lower terms and He would not promise life and salvation upon my sincere and heart prayers and endeavors.”
- As one dead in sin, he did not understand saving faith. “I read the calls of Christ to the weary and heavy laden; but could find no way that He directed them to come in.”
- The Sovereignty of God. “I could not bear that it should be wholly at God’s pleasure, to save or damn me, just as He would. That passage, Romans 9:11-13, was a constant vexation to me, especially verse 21.”
In all his vexation at his condition, Brainerd records that he “never once prayed from any respect to the glory of God.” (pg 68) All of his religion had been “nothing but self-worship, and a horrid abuse of God.” (pg 69)
A short time later, having been saved and experiencing manifold witnesses of the Lord working in his life and those of the Indians, he had learned to trust God: “I have been too much laboring for spiritual life, peace of conscience, and progressive holiness, in my own strength; but now God showed me, in some measure, the arm of all strength, and fountain of all grace.” (page 194)
We also see a helpful attitude towards his work and that of God: “Although I could not but continue to use the means by which I thought proper for the promotion of the work, yet God seemed, as I apprehended, to work entirely without them. … I found myself obliged and delighted to say, “Not unto us,” not unto instruments and means, “but to thy name be glory.”” And, “Thus God has begun, thus He has hitherto surprisingly carried on a work of grace amongst these Indians. May the glory be ascribed to Him, who is the sole Author of it!” This is a man who has found the peace of working with his whole heart and soul for the right reason, trusting wholly in God for the work only He can do.
As one reads about the short life of David Brainerd, we see the young man maturing, yet always falling short. Progressive sanctification, this is called.
And we see, a few months before his death, a deep understanding of the doctrines of grace that once caused him to hate God. He, weak in body, “Discoursed before the administration of the sacrament from John 1:29 – Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” Where upon he considered three points that are well our attention:
I. In what respects Christ is called the Lamb of God and is so called (1) from the purity and innocency of His nature; (2) from His meekness and patience under sufferings; (3) from His being that atonement which was pointed out in the sacrifice of lambs, and in particular by the paschal lamb.
II. How and in what sense He “takes away the sin of the world: not because all the world shall actually be redeemed from sin by Him, but because (1) He has done and suffered sufficient to answer for the sins of the world, and so to redeem all mankind; (2) He actually does take away the sins of the elect world.
III. How we are to behold Him in order to have our sins taken away: (1) not with our bodily eyes; nor (2) by imagining Him on the cross; but (3) by a spiritual view of His glory and goodness, engaging the soul to rely on Him.
Would that you and I saw such wondrous Truth in such a simple verse! This is a mark that God has changed the man. No one can be saved and left without a mark from this mighty work of His Spirit. Let the Christian examine himself and see if there be any marks from of the saving grace of Holy God in his life and on his soul. If you be in Christ, rejoice! And know that it is God Himself that wills and performs His good pleasure in and through you – for the glory of His name.