Jonathan Edwards believed that Brainerd’s life “shows the right way to success in the work of the ministry,” and “his example of labouring, praying, denying himself, and enduring hardness, with unfainting resolution and patience, and his faithful, vigilant, and prudent conduct in many other respects… may afford instruction to missionaries in particular.” The last words of Brainerd’s diary sum up his missionary passion: “May this blessed work… prevail among the poor Indians here as well as spread elsewhere till their remotest tribes shall see the salvation of God! Amen.”
David Brainerd’s faith was steady rather than flashy. It was not, writes Edwards, “like a land-flood, which flows far and wide and with a rapid stream bearing down all before it, and then dried up; but more like a stream fed by living springs; which though sometimes increased by showers, and at other times diminished by drought, yet is a constant stream.”
Brainerd’s influence grew remarkably within the transatlantic evangelical community through The Life of David Brainerd, Edwards’s most frequently reprinted and widely read book. It was the first American biography to reach a large European audience. It became the best-selling religious book in nineteenth-century America (with more than thirty different editions) and remains in print to the present day.
John Wesley prepared an abridged version of Edwards’s book and recommended it with the words: “Let every preacher read carefully over The Life of David Brainerd. Let us be followers of him, as he was of Christ, in absolute self-devotion, in total deadness to the world, and in fervent love to God and man.”
In 1769 John Newton wrote: “Next to the Word of God, I like those books best which give an account of the lives and experiences of His people… No book of this kind has been more welcome to me than the life of Mr. Brainerd of New England.”
Brainerd’s missionary career spanned less than five years, but Edwards’s Life of David Brainerd revealed a missionary hero whose impact was astounding. The little book made a significant contribution to the new era of missions that sent British and American Christians to many parts of the world.
Archibald Alexander said that a missionary spirit was enkindled in the New Side Presbyterian Church as a result of the publication of Brainerd’s diary.
As William Carey prepared to go to India, Brainerd’s Life was “almost a second Bible.” When Carey, Ward, and Marshman signed the historic agreement that laid down the principles of their missionary work at Serampore, they agreed to “often look at Brainerd in the woods of America, pouring out his very soul before God for the perishing heathen without whose salvation nothing could make him happy.”
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