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David Brainerd – My Hero

Category Articles
Date August 17, 2010

The Free Church (Continuing) Assembly was addressed this summer [2010] by one of its evangelistic workers, Donald John Morrison, and this is what he said of the missionary to the Indians, David Brainerd.

A man with a great missionary vision once said that ‘the spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him the more intensely missionary minded we become’. I am often carried away by the spirit of one man who was intensely missionary minded. The reason he was intensely missionary minded was because he was obsessed with this very spirit of Christ. In his life, in his heart and in his soul he lived for Christ and he worked for Christ. He had a heart-wrenching missionary spirit for the lost and he never lost it. To stir our hearts so that we might recapture our vision as a Church for the greatest and most noble cause on earth I want to reflect on the life of one man. We all have our heroes: Martin Luther, Thomas Chalmers, James Begg, John Knox, John Calvin. One of my heroes is David Brainerd. I love the man for who he was and what he did. I love the sacrificial spirit he had to win the unreached, the unchurched and the unsaved of his day. This godly and zealous man of God forsook all of life’s comforts to take the Gospel to the pagan Indians of North America. ‘Here am I’, he said, ‘send me; send me to the ends of the earth; send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness; send me from all that is called comfort on earth; send me even to death itself, if it be but Thy service, and to promote Thy Kingdom’.

This very spirit was, sadly, very different to the spirit of a minister I recently met in my work as an evangelist in Edinburgh. As I pressed him to give an explanation of what it means to be ‘born again’, he retorted, ‘That’s simple. It means moral uprightness!’

It is said of David Brainerd that he did his greatest work by praying and weeping in secret. He spent many days in the depths of the forests all alone, unable to speak the language of the pagan and savage Indians. He spent whole days in prayer, praying simply that the power of the Holy Spirit might come upon him so greatly that the Indians would not be able to refuse the Gospel message. On hearing, on one occasion, that the Indians were planning to hold an idolatrous feast and dance, he spent a day and night in prayer. He writes:

This morning about nine I withdrew to the woods for prayer. I wrestled for an ingathering of souls. I was in such anguish that when I arose from my knees I felt extremely weak and overcome. Sweat ran down my face and body . . . I cared not how or where I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could but gain souls for Christ.1

These were not empty words. He practised what he preached and he practised what he prayed. He was frequently in distress for lack of food, was exposed to hunger and cold, was lost in the forests, caught in storms with no shelter available, spent nights in the woods, was constantly in danger from wild beasts and wild savages. He records one incident:

About six at night I lost my way in the wilderness, and wandered over rocks and mountains, through swamps and most dreadful places. I was pinched with cold and distressed with an extreme pain in my head and stomach, so that much blood came from me. But God preserved me, and blessed be His name, such fatigues and hardships as these seem to wean me more from the earth and I trust will make heaven the sweeter.2

Many of the Indians would be in tears as they listened to him preach. After speaking for a short time to them about their souls and salvation, tears would flow among them producing many sobs and many groans. They would be in such great distress for their souls that some could neither leave the meeting not stand up on their feet. They would lie on the ground crying out in anguish to God for mercy. One of the Indians who had intended to murder said to his chief, ‘The paleface is a praying man. The Great Spirit is with him . . . and he brings a wondrous sweet message’. We continue to be reminded that significant financial sacrifices would inevitably have to be made if our church is going to survive. Whatever financial and administrative sacrifices are made, the biggest and greatest sacrifice must be a spiritual one if we are to bring that same ‘wondrous sweet message’ of salvation to the perishing people of Scotland.

In his love for human souls Brainerd said:

I care not where I go, or how I live, or what I endure so that I may save souls. When I sleep I dream of them; when I awake they are first in my thoughts – no amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition, of brilliant and stirring eloquence can atone for the absence of a deep impassioned sympathetic love for human souls.3


  1. The Diary and Journal of David Brainerd (1902 repr. Banner of Truth, 2007), p.53
  2. Ibid., pp. 196-7.
  3. Ibid., p. 181.

Taken with permission from Free Church Witness, July/August 2010. Notes added. No references were given in the original article and not all the quotations appear exactly as given in the Trust’s edition of The Diary and Journal of David Brainerd.

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