Brainerd’s sick body, weakened by inadequate food and stricken with tuberculosis, began to fight its last battle. In May 1746 the Delaware Indians moved to Cranberry, New Jersey, where Brainerd hoped God would settle them “as a Christian congregation.” A final missionary trip to the Susquehanna in August 1746 was interrupted by illness, and Brainerd returned home to Cranberry, doubting that he would recover but “little exercised with melancholy, as in former seasons of weakness.” He continued to work and preach, sometimes from his bed, rejoicing that life and death did not depend upon his choice.
In November 1746 Brainerd left for New England but was forced by sickness to remain for the winter in Elizabethtown, in the home of Jonathan Dickinson, the first president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton). It is claimed by some that the college was founded by the Presbyterians because Brainerd was expelled from Yale for his support of the revival! In March 1747 Brainerd returned to Cranberry, where he visited his congregation of Indians for the last time. On March 18 he wrote: “About ten o’clock, I called my people together; and after having explained and sung a psalm, I prayed with them. There was a considerable degree of affection among them; I doubt not, in some instances, that which was more than merely natural.”
Too ill to resume his missionary work, David Brainerd set out again for New England and reached Jonathan Edwards’s home in Northampton, Massachusetts, on May 28, 1747. Edwards carefully records the final days of Brainerd’s life, noting such things as the last time he attended public worship and the last time he offered the family prayer. According to George Marsden, Edwards found “Brainerd’s prayers in the family stunning. Even his prayers returning thanks for food were awe inspiring.”
Edwards’s daughter Jerusha gave herself to the task of caring for the dying young missionary. There is no real evidence that they were engaged, but the story of David Brainerd and Jerusha Edwards, writes Marsden, is “one of the history’s fabled spiritual love tales.”2
Brainerd corrected some of his private writings, wrote letters, and gave spiritual counsel to those about him. “He spoke to some of my younger children,” writes Edwards, “one by one.” When someone came into his room with a Bible, Brainerd said, “Oh that dear book: that lovely book! I shall soon see it opened: the mysteries that are in it, and the mysteries of God’s providence, will all be unfolded.”
Bidding his friends good-bye, especially his beloved Jerusha, and assuring her that “we shall spend a happy eternity together,” David Brainerd died on October 9, 1747, at the age of twenty-nine. His soul, writes Jonathan Edwards, “as we may well conclude, was received by his dear Lord and Master, as an eminently faithful servant, into that state of perfection and fruition of God, which he had so often and so ardently longed for; and was welcomed by the glorious assembly in the upper world, as one peculiarly fitted to join them in their blessed employments and enjoyments.”
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