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The diary of David Brainerd, early missionary to the American Indians, tells of the price paid for revival in terms like these: wrestling earnestly in prayer, pleading for souls, interceding fervently, days of fasting and prayer, an agony of prayer.
So fierce was the battle that at times David Brainerd was tempted to give up his mission to the Indians. Then when hope was at lowest ebb, God sent a gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Drunken powwows turned into fervent services of worship. Pagan darkness and superstition changed to brotherly love and humble, holy living.
I longed to live to God, and to be altogether devoted to Him; I wanted to wear out my life in His service, and for His glory, wrote David Brainerd on his 24th birthday. It was the year 1742 and he was studying with a pastor in preparation for the work of the ministry. He realized his own inadequacy to serve the Lord acceptably. Time was set aside daily for secret prayer and some whole days were given to fasting and prayer, that the Lord might bestow upon him the grace needed to serve Him. Hours, too, were given to intercession for souls and for the enlargement of Christs Kingdom in the world.
In the spring of 1743 Brainerd received his assignment to minister to the Indians, and he made the journey by horseback into the wilderness where they lived. He sought to be fully submitted to God whatever miseries and sufferings he might meet. Living conditions were primitive. For a time he lived in the home of a settler, where his bed was a little heap of straw in a log room without any floor. Later he lived in a wigwam while his own little hut amongst the Indians was being built. Humble though the hut was, he appreciated it as a place where he could be alone to commune with the Lord.
The Lord was his great comforter in this lonesome wilderness. Only with his interpreter could he speak English. Sometimes he longed for Christian fellowship, for someone with whom he could share the distress and discouragement that he went through these early months among the Indians.
His diary of these days is much taken up with his efforts in prayer. He yearned, he wrote, to follow after holiness, that I may be fully conformed to God
I longed after holiness, humility and meekness. He struggled to persevere in prayer for himself and for those to whom he had come to minister.
Passion For Christs Kingdom And Gods Glory
I poured out my soul for all the world, friends and enemies, he wrote. My soul was concerned, not so much for souls as such, but rather for Christs Kingdom, that it might appear in the world, that God might be known to be God, in the whole earth.
He was helped in prayer by the example of Elijah. My soul was much moved, observing the faith, zeal, and power of that holy man, he recorded in his diary, how he wrestled with God in prayer, etc. My soul then cried with Elisha, Where is the Lord God of Elijah! (2 Kings 2:14). O I longed for more faith! My soul breathed after God, and pleaded with Him, that a double portion of that Spirit which was given to Elijah might rest on me (2 Kings 2:15). And that which was divinely refreshing and strengthening to my soul was, I saw that God is the same that He was in the days of Elijah!
I was enabled to wrestle with God by prayer, in a more affectionate, fervent, humble, intense, and importunate manner than I have for many months past. Nothing seemed too hard for God to perform; nothing too great for me to hope for from Him. I had for many months entirely lost all hope of being made instrumental of doing any special service for God in the world; it has appeared entirely impossible, that one so vile should be thus employed for God. But at this time God was pleased to revive this hope.
At other times he recorded concerning his prayer life: I love to live alone in my own little cottage, where I can spend much time in prayer
My soul was sundry times in prayer enlarged for Gods church and people. O that Zion might become the joy of the whole earth! (Ps. 48:2)
My soul confided in God for myself and for His Zion; trusted in divine power and grace, that He would do glorious things in His church on earth, for His own glory
My soul was ardent in prayer, was enabled to wrestle ardently for myself, for Christian friends, and for the church of God; and felt more desire to see the power of God in the conversion of souls than I have done for a long season. Blessed be God for this season of fasting and prayer! May His goodness always abide with me, and draw my soul to Him!
He often felt weak in body and already had signs of tuberculosis. Sometimes he lacked nourishing food. He had to go or send 10 or 15 miles for bread and sometimes it became moldy or sour before he could eat it. He obtained Indian meal and made fried cakes. Yet I felt contented with my circumstances, and sweetly resigned to God, was his reaction to this. I blessed God as much for my present circumstances as if I had been a king.
He traveled many miles through the woods seeking out Indians to whom he could minister. He rejoiced in Gods care for him during these journeys: I have often been exposed to cold and hunger in the wilderness, where the comforts of life were not to be had, have frequently been lost in the woods, and sometimes obliged to ride much of the night, and once lay out in the woods all night; yet blessed be God, He has preserved me!
Brainerd was invited, and even urged, to become pastor of churches in settlements where living conditions would have been more pleasant and comfortable. But he chose to continue his mission to the Indian people.
O I longed to fill up the remaining moments all for God! he wrote.
For about a year he labored and prayed at the first Indian settlement to which he was assigned. There were no apparent converts, although through his studied, careful preaching, backed by hours of prayer, several came to him with tears in their eyes, asking what they should do to be saved.
Through The Wilderness To A New Settlement
To reach his next assignment, he had to travel about 100 miles by horseback through desolate country where there were few settlements. My heart sometimes was ready to sink with the thoughts of my work, and going alone in the wilderness, I knew not where, he confided in his diary, but still it was comfortable to think that others of Gods children had wandered about
in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:37,38) and Abraham, when he was called to go forth, went out, not knowing whither he went (Heb. 11:8). O that I might follow after God!
The Indians at the new location were quite scattered and showed little interest in Christianity. He recorded his thoughts in his diary: To an eye of reason every thing that respects the conversion of the Heathen is as dark as midnight; and yet I cannot but hope in God for the accomplishment of something glorious among them
In prayer my soul was enlarged, and my faith drawn into sensible exercise; was enabled to cry to God for my poor Indians, and though the work of their conversion appeared impossible with man, yet with God I saw all things were possible. My faith was much strengthened, by observing the wonderful assistance God afforded His servants Nehemiah and Ezra, in reforming His people and re-establishing His ancient church. I was much assisted in prayer for my dear Christian friends, and for others whom I apprehended to be Christless, but was more especially concerned for the poor heathen, and those of my own charge. I was enabled to be instant in prayer for them and hoped that God would bow the heavens and come down for their salvation.
It seemed to me that there could no impediment sufficient to obstruct that glorious work, seeing the living God, as I strongly hope, was engaged for it. I continued in a solemn frame, lifting up my heart to God for assistance and grace, that I might be more mortified to this present world, that my whole soul might be taken up continually in concern for the advancement of Christs Kingdom. Earnestly desired that God would purge me more, that I might be as a chosen vessel to bear His name among the heathen.
My soul was very solemn in reading Gods Word, especially the ninth chapter of Daniel. I saw how God had called out His servants to prayer, and made them wrestle with Him when He designed to bestow any great mercy on His church. And alas! I was ashamed of myself to think of my dullness and inactivity when there seemed to be so much to do for the upbuilding of Zion. O how does Zion lie waste! I longed that the church of God might be enlarged, and was enabled to pray, I think, in faith. My soul seemed sensibly to confide in God, and was enabled to wrestle with Him
Guarding The Spirit Of Prayer
When Brainerd recognized that the spirit of prayer was upon him he was watchful, tender, and jealous of my own heart, lest I should admit carelessness and vain thoughts, and grieve the blessed Spirit, so that He should withdraw His sweet, kind and tender influences. He was afraid of every idle thought which might grieve the Spirit.
I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls to Christ, his diary records.
He prayed urgently for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Indian people. He longed to see the power of God manifested among them. Some days he retired 5 or 6 times for prayer. As he traveled on horseback he prayed. Sometimes he had wakeful nights because of pain or weariness. These times he prayed as able and meditated on Scriptures. My soul so much delighted to continue instant in prayer, at this blessed season, he wrote once in his diary, that I had no desire for my necessary food.
After laboring for about a year at the second location with seemingly little results, he moved on to a third location. He found the families here scattered, but he gathered 7 or 8 women and children together and preached to them. After hearing him once, these women traveled here and there to gather others to come together to hear him preach again. About 30 gathered, and they soon showed concern for their souls. Not many months before they had objected to preachings on Christianity, but now God had prepared their hearts. They wanted him to preach to them twice a day.
At this time he had his first Indian converts. His interpreter and wife made a public profession of faith in Christ. The interpreting now took on new life and fervency. After Brainerd had finished preaching, the interpreter would continue on, repeating what had been preached and urging it upon the hearers.
Some of the other Indians became concerned about their souls and inquired how to be saved. A few words to them about their souls would cause the tears to flow. Even a message on the love of God pierced their hearts with conviction. Some lay prone on the ground crying for mercy. A few began to pray through to peace and joy of salvation.
God Powerfully at Work
The congregation was growing in number as new people came. Brainerd reports concerning the meeting of one afternoon: There was much visible concern among them while I was discoursing publicly. But afterward, when I spoke to one and another more particularly, whom I perceived under much concern, the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly like a mighty rushing wind, and with an astonishing energy bore down all before it. I stood amazed at the influence which seized the audience almost universally, and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent, or swelling deluge, that with its insupportable weight and pressure bears down and sweeps before it whatever is in its way.
Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together, and scarcely one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation. Old men and women who had been drunken wretches for many years, and some little children not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress for their souls, as well as persons of middle age. It was apparent that these children, some of them at least, were not merely frightened with seeing the general concern, but were made sensible of their danger, the badness of their hearts, and their misery without Christ, as some of them expressed it. The most stubborn hearts were now obliged to bow.
A principle man among the Indians, who before was most secure and self-righteous, and thought his state good because he knew more than the generality of the Indians had formerly done, and who with a great degree of confidence the day before told me he had been a Christian more than ten years, was now brought under solemn concern for his soul and wept bitterly. Another man advanced in years who had been a murderer, a powwow or conjurer, and a notorious drunkard, was likewise brought now to cry for mercy with many tears, and to complain much that he could be no more concerned when he saw his danger so very great.
They were almost universally praying and crying for mercy in every part of the house, and many out of doors and numbers could neither go nor stand. Their concern was so great, each one for himself, that none seemed to take any notice of those about them, but each prayed freely for himself. I am led to think they were to their own apprehensions, as much retired as if they had been individually by themselves in the thickest desert
Me thought this had a near resemblance to the day of Gods power, mentioned in Joshua 10:14, for I must say I never saw any day like it in all respects: it was a day wherein I am persuaded the Lord did much to destroy the kingdom of darkness among this people.
A young Indian woman who, I believe, never knew before that she had a soul, nor ever thought of any such thing, hearing that there was something strange among the Indians, came, it seems, to see what was the matter. On her way to the Indians she called at my lodgings, and when I told her that I designed presently to preach to the Indians, laughed, and seemed to mock, but went however to them. I had not proceeded far in my public discourse before she felt effectually that she had a soul, and before I had concluded my discourse was so convinced of her sin and misery and so distressed with concern for her souls salvation, that she seemed like one pierced through with a dart, and cried out incessantly.
She could neither go nor stand nor sit on her seat without being held up. After public service was over, she lay flat on the ground, praying earnestly, and would take no notice of, nor give any answer to any who spoke to her. I hearkened to what she said and perceived the burden of her prayer to be, Have mercy on me, and help me to give you my heart. Thus she continued praying incessantly for many hours together. This was indeed a surprising day of Gods power, and seemed enough to convince an atheist of the truth, importance, and power of Gods word.
The account in his diary the next day says: While I was discoursing near night to two or three of the awakened persons, a Divine influence seemed to attend what was spoken to them in a powerful manner, which caused the persons to cry out in anguish of soul, although I spoke not a word of terror but on the contrary, set before them the fullness and all-sufficiency of Christs merits and His willingness to save all that come to Him, and thereupon pressed them to come without delay.
The cry of these was soon heard by others, who, though scattered before, immediately gathered round. I then proceeded in the same strain of gospel invitation till they were all melted into tears and cries except two or three, and seemed in the greatest distress to find and secure an interest in the great Redeemer.
Some who had little more than a ruffle made in their passions the day before, seemed now to be deeply affected and wounded at heart, and the concern in general appeared nearly as prevalent as the day before. There was indeed a very great mourning among them, and yet every one seemed to mourn apart. So great was their concern that almost every one was praying and crying for himself as if none had been near. Have mercy upon me; have mercy upon me was the common cry. It was very affecting to see the poor Indians who the other day were hallooing and yelling in their idolatrous feasts and drunken frolics, now crying to God with such importunity for an interest in His dear Son.
The diary continues with reports of the outpouring of Gods Spirit at this time: Those who had obtained relief and comfort, and had given hopeful evidences of having passed a saving change, appeared humble and devout, and behaved in an agreeable and Christian-like manner. I was refreshed to see the tenderness of conscience manifest in some of them, one instance of which I cannot but notice.
Perceiving one of them very sorrowful in the morning, I inquired into the cause of her sorrow, and found the difficulty was that she had been angry with her child the evening before, and was now exercised with fears lest her anger had been inordinate and sinful, which so grieved her that she awoke and began to sob before daylight, and continued weeping for several hours together.
I never saw the work of God appear so independent of means as at this time, records Brainerd. I discoursed to the people, and spoke what I suppose had a proper tendency to promote convictions, but Gods manner of working upon them seemed so entirely supernatural and above means that I could scarcely believe He used me as an instrument, or what I spake as means of carrying on His work.
It appeared, as I thought, to have no connection with or dependence on means in any respect. Though I could not but continue to use the means which I thought proper for the promotion of the work, yet God seemed, as I apprehended, to work entirely without them. I seemed to do nothing, and indeed to have nothing to do, but to stand still, and see the salvation of God (Ex. 14:13), and found myself obliged and delighted to say, Not unto us, not unto instruments and means, but to Thy name be glory. God appeared to work entirely alone, and I saw no room to attribute any part of this work to any created arm.
Old Things Passed Away, All Things New
The change in the lives of the converted Indians was evident. Brainerd writes: In the afternoon I discoursed from Revelation 1:20, at which time fifteen Indians made a public profusion of their faith. After the crowd of spectators was gone I called them together, and discoursed to them in particular, at the same time inviting others to attend. I reminded them of the solemn obligations they were now under to live to God. I warned them of the evil and dreadful consequences of careless living, especially after their public profession of Christianity. I gave them directions for future conducts, and encouraged them to watchfulness and devotion by setting before them the comfort and happy conclusion of a religious life.
This was a desirable and sweet season indeed. Their hearts were engaged and cheerful in duty, and they rejoiced that they had in a public and solemn manner dedicated themselves to God. Love seemed to reign among them. They took each other by the hand with tenderness and affection as if their hearts were knit together while I was discoursing to them. All their deportment toward each other was such that serious spectator might justly be excited to cry out with admiration, Behold, how they love one another! Numbers of the other Indians, on seeing and hearing these things, were much affected and wept bitterly, longing to be partakers of the same joy and comfort which these discovered by their very countenances as well as conduct.
An old Indian who had all his days been an idolater, was brought to give up his rattles, which they use for music in their idolatrous feasts and dances, to the other Indians who quickly destroyed them. This was done without any interference of mine, I having not spoken to him about it so that it seemed to be nothing but the power of Gods word, without any particular application to this sin that produced this effect. Thus God has begun, thus He has hitherto surprisingly carried on a work of grace among these Indians. May the glory be ascribed to Him who is the sole author of it.
Love For The Word Of God
Another diary entry tells of the eagerness of the new converts to hear the Word of God: I discoursed from John 4:13,14. There was a great attention, a desirable affection and an unaffected melting in the assembly. It is surprising to see how eager they are to hear the Word of God. I oftentimes thought that they would cheerfully and diligently attend divine worship twenty-four hours together, if they had an opportunity to do so.
After public service was over I withdrew, being much tired with the labors of the day, and the Indians continued praying among themselves for near two hours together, which continued exercises appeared to be attended with a blessed quickening influence from on high. I could not but earnestly wish that numbers of Gods people had been present at this season to see and hear these things which I am sure must refresh the heart of every true lover of Zion.
To see those who were very lately savage pagans and idolaters, having no hope and without God in the worldnow filled with a sense of divine love and grace, and worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth, as numbers have appeared to dowas not a little affecting, and especially to see them appear so tender and humble, as well as lively, fervent and devout in the divine service.
God moved on the congregation, Brainerd recorded, more like gentle but steady showers which effectually water the earth, without violently beating upon the surface.
Another recording from the diary says, The impressions made by the word of God upon the audience appeared solid, rational and deep, worthy of the solemn truths by means of which they were produced, and far from being the effects of any sudden fright or groundless perturbation of mind. O how did the hearts of the hearers seem to bow under the weight of divine truth, and how evident did it now appear that they received and felt them not as the word of man, but as the word of God. None can form a just idea at the appearance of our assembly at this time but those who have seen a congregation solemnly awed, and deeply impressed by the special power and influence of divine truths delivered to them in the name of God.
One man considerably in years, who had been a remarkable drunkard, a conjurer and murderer, and was awakened some months before, was now brought to great extremity under his spiritual distress, so that he trembled for hours together, and apprehended himself just dropping into hell without any power to rescue or relieve himself. Divers others appeared under great concern, as well as he, and solicitous to obtain a saving change.
Of the little congregation out in the wilderness, David Brainerd wrote: 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 take 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 worshipping devils and dumb idols under the power of pagan darkness and superstition. Amazing change this! effected by nothing less than divine power and grace. This is the doing of the Lord, and it is justly marvellous in our eyes.
The strenuous labors were telling more and more on David Brainerd. He had traveled more than 3000 miles on horseback in his labors among the Indians. He had endured many hardshipssleeping sometimes on the ground and in the open air. He was exposed to cold and heat and rain. Sometimes at night the wolves howled around him.
He did not complain. Such fatigues and hardship as these serve to wean me from the earth and I trust will make heaven the sweeter. He became able to rejoice in these hardships, like the apostle Paul.
Of the Indians he wrote: They are so unwearied in religious exercises and insatiable in their thirsting after Christian knowledge, that I can sometimes scarcely avoid laboring so as greatly to exhaust my strength and spirits.
Not only did he preach to his Indians several times a week, but he did much visitation among them. His little house was often thronged with visitors. From time to time he ministered to gatherings of white settlers in the area also.
When he became too weak to go to the church to preach, he lay on his bed and the people gathered around so he could minister to them. At last he bid farewell to his beloved Indians and traveled north, barely able to stay on his horse, to the home of Jonathan Edwards, where he was to spend his last months.
His Work Finished
I am almost in eternity, he said as he gradually lost strength and was confined to bed. I long to be there. My work is done. I have done with all my friends. All the world is nothing to me. I long to be in heaven, praising and glorifying God with the holy Angels. All my desire is to glorify God.
He was only 30 years of age when he was granted the desire of his heart to pass into the presence of his Lord. The work among the Indians was carried on by his brother John, which was of great comfort to David Brainerd.
David Brainerd was reluctant to give consent that the diary from which the above account is taken, should be published. But at last he agreed that Jonathan Edwards might use the diary as he saw fit for the glory of God and for the interest of religion. Through the years, God has used the diary to inspire many to accept the challenge to a life of prayer and wholehearted service to the Lord, and for the advancement of revivals of religion. Let our hearts be likewise stirred to pay the price for revival in our day!
Arranged from the book, The Life of David Brainerd (Chiefly Extracted From His Diary) edited by Jonathan Edwards.