David Brainerd was not an archetypal candidate for a heroic and inspiring missionary. Before going into ministry, he had already failed at farming. On to university, where he was expelled in his second year. He was ill throughout his adult life, having contracted tuberculosis, which eventually killed him. He also struggled with depression, even praying for death on occasions. His first two years in mission saw only two converts from the Native American communities amongst which he worked.
On this day in 1747, he died aged only 29, at the home of the theologian Jonathan Edwards. Edwards looked beyond these continual difficulties. He was so encouraged by the commitment of Brainerd’s life, he decided to publish a biography, recounting trials, turned-down-offers of a more comfortable life and 3,000 miles covered on horseback.
This book of Edwards’, The Life of David Brainerd, became his most popular work. Since its publication, it has never been out of print. John Wesley prescribed its reading for every preacher. Brainerd’s life, as retold in the book, has been cited by many missionaries as influential in their lives, including Henry Martyn, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Robert McCheyne and Jim Elliot.
His work at and expulsion from Yale were also major factors in the establishment of Princeton and Dartmouth Universities. And the Brainerd Hall is the only university building at Yale to be named after an expelled student. A lot of influence for a man who during his lifetime was seen to be a sickly and melancholic failure!
Brainerd’s life was not constrained by what he appeared to be. He knew that God invites anyone and everyone to participate in his work. God is doing amazing things around the world through Bible translation. You can participate by praying, giving, going or telling someone else about the 180 million people who still don’t have a single word of Scripture in their own language. Visit wycliffe.org.uk to find out more.