An Abridgement of Mr. David Brainerd's Journal
Among the Indians.
Or, the Rise and Progress of a Remarkable Work of Grace Among a Number of the Indians. In the Provinces of New-Jersey and Pennsylvania.
With a Dedication by P.[hilip] Doddridge.
London: John Oswald, 1748.
Born in Haddam, Connecticut, April 20, 1718, David Brainerd, a Christian in the Reformed tradition, entered Yale College in 1739, but the College expelled him in his junior year for sympathizing with various "First Great Awakening" preachers and for criticizing one of the tutors at the College. Associating himself with the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and licensed to preach on July 29, 1742, in Danbury, Connecticut, Brainerd later was ordained by the SSPCK. Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton, president of the SSPCK board, preached Brainerd's ordination sermon on June 12, 1744, in Newark, New Jersey. In 1743-1744, Brainerd worked as a missionary among various Native Americans in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
Brainerd, however, was not the first missionary to Native Americans. Many other missionaries preceded him, including John Eliot (1604-1690), the translator of the Bible into the Native American Massachuset language (New Testament, 1661; entire Bible, 1663) and author of The Indian Grammar (1666). Of significance is the fact that Eliot's translation was the first Bible printed in America. Eliot began preaching to Native Americans in 1646 as he served as the minister of a Puritan church in Roxbury, Massachusetts Bay Colony. Eliot's work spawned the establishment in 1649 of the first missionary society, the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent in North America. Later, in 1701, the Anglicans established the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and by 1783, had sent over three hundred missionaries to North America.
Receiving a Royal Charter, the SSPCK was established in 1709 for the purpose of spreading Reformed Christianity in Scotland's highlands and islands. As early as 1730, the SSPCK supported missionaries to Native Americans, and Brainerd became one of the SSPCK's missionaries in 1742.
In September 1742, Brainerd returned to Yale College for the graduation of his class. Asking to be permitted to receive his degree with his classmates and being refused, Brainerd remained calm, impressing a new acquaintance, the famous Congregational minister Jonathan Edwards. Brainerd's journal singularly affected Edwards. Edwards thought that the Native Americans' Christian experience was a significant act of God. "Not only was God acting in demonstrative ways to redeem the devil's people, but this redemption had world-historical significance. It would presage a last, mighty work of the Spirit across the world at the end of time" [Gerald R. McDermott, Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 198]. Edwards spent the last eight years of his life ministering to Native Americans in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
At the age of twenty-nine, Brainerd (click here for a portrait) died abruptly on October 9, 1747, as a result of tuberculosis. Engaged to Jerusha Edwards, seventeen years old and second child of Jonathan Edwards, Brainerd spent his last days of illness (May, 1747 - October 9, 1747) in the home of Jonathan Edwards being cared for by Jerusha. Edwards preached Brainerd's funeral sermon, and on February 14, 1748, five months after Brainerd's death, Jerusha Edwards also died.
Following Brainerd's death, Edwards prepared and published in 1749 Brainerd's biography, An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd. As a result of Edwards's biography that has remained in print for over two hundred years, Brainerd's life has had ongoing effects to the present day. Scholars debate Brainerd's success. Henry Warner Bowden suggests that Brainerd spent about sixteen months around present day Trenton, New Jersey, convincing almost fifty native Americans to become Christian. To these few converts, Brainerd administered communion three times [American Indians and Christian Missions: Studies in Cultural Conflict, in Chicago History of American Religion, ed. Martin E. Marty (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 154].
Despite Brainerd's short life and ministry, William Carey relied upon him as an exemplar for missionary outreach. In the final paragraph of An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (Leicester: Ann Ireland, 1792), p. 87, Carey gave Brainerd the highest compliment:
It is true all the reward is of mere grace, but it is nevertheless encouraging; what a treasure, what an harvest must await such characters as Paul, and Elliot, and Brainerd, and others, who have given themselves wholly to the work of the Lord. What a heaven will it be to see the many myriads of poor heathens, of Britons amongst the rest, who by their labours have been brought to the knowledge of God. Surely a crown of rejoicing like this is worth aspiring to. Surely it is worth while to lay ourselves out with all our might, in promoting the cause, and kingdom of Christ.
Of note also is the striking stylistic similarity between Brainerd's journal and Carey's journal. Possibly, Brainerd's journal served as an exemplar for Carey. In addition, the Anglican minister, missionary to Bengal, and friend of the Serampore Trio, Rev. Henry Martyn, held Brainerd in the highest esteem.
Functioning as a report to Brainerd's sponsoring mission body, the SSPCK, the journal was published by William Bradford, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1746. Two years later, the volume was abridged and published in London. Philip Doddridge, 1702-1751, an evangelical dissenting minister in Northampton, England, and author of many hymns, including "O Happy Day, That Fixed My Choice" and "Ye Servants of the Lord," wrote the preface for the 1748 London abridged edition.
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Created: May 25, 2001 Updated: September 10, 2001