Robert Murray McCheyne was deeply moved when he first read Brainerd’s Life in 1832. He remarked that as a result of Brainerd’s example he was “more set upon missionary enterprise than ever.” A few years later McCheyne wrote in a letter: “O to have Brainerd’s heart for perfect holiness.”
In the preface to an 1851 reprint of The Life of David Brainerd, Horatius Bonar warned against taking Brainerd’s life as a perfect life and points out some few defects, but goes on to hold up his life as a protest “against the easy-minded religion of our day.” If Brainerd’s life, Bonar stated, is used to quicken our consciences and urge us forward in the “same path of high attainment,” we will find it “an unspeakable blessing.” The example of Brainerd’s “life of marvelous nearness to… God, which he lived during his brief day on earth,” continues to inspire Christians, Bonar wrote. “His life was not a great life, as men use the word,” Bonar concluded, but it was “a life of one plan, expending itself in the fulfillment of one great aim, and in the doing of one great deed—serving God.”
Two hundred and fifty years after Brainerd’s death, The Life of David Brainerd still challenges and inspires readers.
Oswald J. Smith, founding pastor of the People’s Church in Toronto, paid tribute to Brainerd with these words:
So greatly was I influenced by the life of David Brainerd in the early years of my ministry that I named my youngest son after him. When I was but eighteen years of age, I found myself 3,000 miles from home, a missionary to the Indians. No wonder I love Brainerd! Brainerd it was who taught me to fast and pray. I learned that greater things could be wrought by daily contact with God than by preaching. When I feel myself growing cold I turn to Brainerd and he always warms my heart. No man ever had a greater passion for souls. To live wholly for God was his one great aim and ambition.3
A few years ago, John Piper wrote:
I thank God for the ministry of David Brainerd in my own life—the passion for prayer, the spiritual feast of fasting, the sweetness of the Word of God, the unremitting perseverance through hardship, the relentless focus on the glory of God, the utter dependence on grace, the final resting in the righteousness of Christ, the pursuit of perishing sinners, the holiness while suffering, the fixing the mind on what is eternal, and finishing well without cursing the disease that cut him down at twenty-nine.4
The “constant stream” still flows.
There have been many editions of Brainerd’s diary. The Life of David Brainerd, edited by Norman Pettit, appeared in 1985, as volume 7 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, (Yale University Press). Books by Marcus Loane, Oswald J. Smith, and John Piper cited in the following notes contain helpful short chapters on David Brainerd.
David B. Calhoun is Professor Emeritus of church history at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He received his Ph.D. in church history from Princeton and is a Minister of the Presbyterian Church in America. He has served with Ministries in Action in the West Indies and in Europe and as Dean of the Iona Centres for Theological Study. He has also served as board member and President of Presbyterian Mission International. Dr. Calhoun is the author of a two-volume history of Princeton Theological Seminary, published by the Banner of Truth Trust. Dr. Calhoun’s is married to Anne, a graduate librarian.
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