Daily Devotional 8-3-18

The Forgotten Brainerd, Pt 2


Indian Missions

Even from Plymouth Rock in 1620, ministry to North American Indians was an issue for pursuit by evangelical Christians, both in America and Great Britain. In the 1640s, Thomas Mayhew began to preach among Indian groups on the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket in New York. The Mayhew descendants kept this ministry continuing for five generations until the death of Zechariah Mayhew in 1813.

It was in 1646 that John Eliot began a settlement for Indians at Newton, Massachusetts. Then fifteen years later, Eliot planted a church at the village of Natick. He also translated the Bible and other books into at least one Indian language, with 1500 copies of his Bible translation being published in 1663 and 2000 more in 1685. Eliot lived until his 80th year, dying in 1690, being called the ‘Apostle to the Indians’.4

By the 1670s, in and around the Plymouth colony, there were 24 different churches for Indians, who were taught not only the gospel, but also farming, sewing, and knitting. As late as the 1860s, in the western part of Martha’s Vineyard, there were at least four thousand acres of Indian property, with the state of Massachusetts furnishing their churches and schools.

Such early and successful labours among the North American natives brought about the formation of various Christian organizations known as societies, which would continue such good work. One such society was formed in Edinburgh, Scotland, called ‘The Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge’. Known as the S.P.C.K., it was this organization that sent John Sergeant in 1733 from Yale College to go to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, then called ‘a howling wilderness’, where he laboured for fifteen years until his death in 1749.

When Sergeant arrived in Stockbridge, he found fifty Indians who apparently had little or no cooperation with white men. Upon his death fifteen years later, there were no less than 218 Indians in the village, with good dwellings, developed farms, a church of forty-two members, and a school with one hundred students. It was to Stockbridge that Jonathan Edwards would go after Sergeant’s death, when Edwards was dismissed as pastor from his church in Northampton.

It was this same S.P.C.K. that commissioned David Brainerd to begin a mission among the Indians at Nassau Township, New York, in 1743. Thus began the brief and legendary work of the famous older Brainerd brother. In light of the great work that God did among the Indians under David’s preaching, it is an easily-forgotten fact that his entire ministry lasted only three years. But in those three years of lonely and difficult gospel labour, David Brainerd sowed in tears and reaped in joy, seeing one of the purest outpourings of the Holy Spirit possibly since the Day of Pentecost. Thomas Brainerd later would give one of the finest descriptions ever penned about the work of grace which occurred under David’s ministry:

The frequent revivals, marked by cries of anxiety, tears of contrition, earnestness of prayer, fullness of transformation evidenced in subsequent holiness, have encouraged the whole church of God for the past one hundred years.
David Brainerd had health battles even in his mid-twenties, and by the summer of 1746 he began to realize that he might not be long for this world. His battle was with what would later be diagnosed as tuberculosis. Soon his thoughts began to turn towards the possibility of John being the one to succeed him among the Indians as missionary pastor. The next year, David, still with strength enough to make some trips, made his way in April of 1747 to Newark, N.J., where the presbytery of New York was meeting for annual business. He spent part of April 9 in the Presbyterian session meetings, then went in the afternoon to Elizabethtown to see John. It is clear what occurred between the two brothers over the next 2-3 days, as David recorded a brief and simple entry in his diary:

April 10 – found my brother John there and spent time in conversation with him.

April 11 – assisted in examining my brother for [ministerial] licensure by the New York Presbytery.

April 14 – this day my brother went to my people.

John was ordained later by the same presbytery early in 1748.

Thomas Brainerd, John’s biographer, gives some insight as to how to view this brief entry in David’s diary:

We doubt whether an interview stirring such thoughts and involving such heart yearnings ever had a record more brief. Its brevity is suggestive. To these two brothers, duty was everything and their own lives personally were nothing. They met as soldiers on the battlefield. One [David] who had fought in the front rank bravely was now fallen wounded and would return home to die. The other [John], still fresh, strong and hopeful, stood ready to take his dying brother’s sword and fight in the same conflict, as God should ordain.
What words and prayers that would have been shared between them in those five brief days together would have been very moving to hear. Both of them realized that once John rode off to the Indians, it could likely be the last time they would ever see each other upon earth.

Dear brother, I am now just on the verge of eternity, expecting very speedily to appear in the unseen world. I feel myself no more an inhabitant of earth, and sometimes earnestly long to depart and be with Christ. I bless God that He has for some years given me an abiding conviction that it is impossible for any rational creature to enjoy true happiness without being entirely devoted to Him. Under the influence of this conviction, I have in some measure acted and lived. O, that I had done so more! I saw both the excellency and necessity of holiness of life, but never in such a manner as now, when I am just brought to the sides of the grave … yet, blessed be God, I find I have really had, for the most part, such a concern for His glory and the advancement of His kingdom in the world, that it is a satisfaction to me to reflect upon these years.

And now, my dear brother, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace … may you enjoy the Divine Presence both in private and in public and may the arms of your hands be made strong by the right hand of the mighty God of Jacob. These are the passionate desires and prayers of
Your affectionate and dying brother – David Brainerd.

– to be continued
Mack Tomlinson