February 23, 2007

David Brainerd – “Thus death works in us, but life in you”

February 23, 2007

David Brainerd

David Brainard attended Yale University which in those days trained men for church ministry. Disaster struck. Through an unwise remark about a lecturer, he was expelled. Only 23 years old, his career seemed in ruins. But his attitude was exemplary: “I felt thankfulness to God for they have been the means of making me more humble. I felt pleased to be little, to be nothing, to lie in the dust.”

He gave himself to prayer and fasting and soon sensed God still wanted to use him: “Though I have been so depressed respecting my hopes of future serviceableness, yet now I had much encouragement. I was assisted [by God] to intercede for poor souls, and for special grace for myself, to fit me for special services.”

These “special services” soon became clear: “I set apart this day for fasting and prayer, to give me divine aid and direction, and in his own time to send me into his harvest. I felt a power of intercession for immortal souls and even joy at the thoughts of suffering hardship and even death itself, in the promotion of it, pleading for the conversion of the poor heathen. God enabled me so to agonize in prayer that I was quite wet with sweat. I gasped for multitudes of souls.”

The “poor heathen” were the Indians and he was granted a license to preach to
them. “I rode out to Kaunaumeek and there lodged on a heap of straw.”

There began a terrible battle with loneliness (“I live in the most melancholy desert”), culture shock (“only one single person who can speak English”), poor food (“bread baked in the ashes”), poor housing (“a log cabin without any floor”), poor bedding (“a little heap of straw upon some boards”), and hard physical labor (“hard and difficult. I travel on foot.”) But above all, no Christian fellowship (“no fellow-Christian to whom I might open my spiritual sorrows.”)

A dreadful sense of unworthiness and black depression all but consumed him: “Still in distress. In the afternoon preached to my people, but was more discouraged with them than before. Feared that nothing ever would be done for them to any happy effect. I poured out my soul for mercy, but without any relief.”

As he persisted, God gradually changed his attitudes. Nine months later he wrote in his famous diary: “I love to live alone in my own little cottage, where I can spend much time in prayer. Oh, a barn, stable, hedge, or any other place is truly desirable if God is there!”

Returning briefly to civilization he was at last ordained a minister and called to two churches, one large and wealthy, and the other near his friends. But Brainerd knew where God wanted him. Turning both churches down, he returned to his Indians.

He knew what he was in for: “To an eye of reason, everything that respects the conversion of the heathen is as dark as midnight, and yet I cannot but hope in God for the accomplishment of something glorious among them.”

Brainerd now writes of “praying incessantly, every moment, with sweet fervency,” of going to the woods for prayer where “I was in such anguish and pleaded with such earnestness that when I rose from my knees I could scarcely walk straight.” He felt “I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went through, so that I could gain souls for Christ. While I was asleep I dreamed of these things, and when I woke, the first thought I had was this great work of pleading for God against Satan.”

Illness struck. He often felt too weak to fast and pray. The moment he was well–
“I set apart this day for prayer and fasting. When interceding I enjoyed freedom from wandering and distracting thoughts.” Three days later, however, “I could not keep my thoughts fixed on prayer for one minute. My soul was in anguish. I was so overborne by discouragement that I despaired of doing any good.”

He began to think seriously of giving up his mission: “God seemed to frown upon their saving conversion by withholding His blessed Spirit.” Over the next few months his despair deepened: “It was my duty to make some attempts for their conversion to God, though I cannot say I had any hope of success.”

Still, he stayed on and prayed on. A breakthrough had to come: “Enabled to speak with plainness and warmth, the power of God attended the Word, so that persons were brought under great concern for their souls, made to shed tears, and wish for Christ to save them.”

Now when he spoke “a few words about the concerns of their souls,” their indifference had become “tears, sobs, and groans.”

Finally, on August 8, 1745, the long prayed-for, wept-for, suffered-for, agonized-for outpouring took place: “The power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly ‘like a mighty rushing wind’ and with astonishing energy bore down all before it. I stood amazed at the influence, which seized the audience almost universally. They were praying and crying for mercy.”

Those soon assured of sins forgiven went among those still under conviction “telling them of the goodness of Christ, and the comfort that is to be enjoyed in Him, and thence invited them to come and give up their hearts to Him.”

Day after day the meetings went on, tears and cries of conviction graduallybecoming the peace of sins forgiven.

Brainerd prayed, preached, and labored on. He now looked out beyond his Indians: “Here am I, Lord, send me. Send me to the ends of the earth, send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness, send me even to death itself, if it be but in Thy service and to promote Thy Kingdom.”

But his years of intercession had taken a terrible toll. Soon he was coughing up blood. Two years after the Revival he was dead, a testimony to the price he was prepared to pay for the Revival he lived to bring.

Can one person’s prayers bring Revival? Yes. But be prepared for the price that may be required by God to see others blessed at your expense. “Thus death works in us, but life in you” (2 Cor 4:12).

From the Revival list

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