Greg Spires – Teaching Pastor
David Brainard was a missionary to Native Americans living in New England in the mid-1700s. His life and ministry were short and difficult, with little visible ministry fruit.
Brainard became a believer in college. Like many saved during the period of the Great Awakening, his conversion was marked with exuberance and joy at finding Christ. He attended Yale but was soon kicked out. Yale had established rules to limit what the school considered to be excessive spiritual expression. Brainard’s public expression of belief aimed at one of his instructors contributed to his being expelled. Also, Brainard was beginning to show symptoms of tuberculosis, the ailment that would take his life.
Unable to finish his studies and enter ministry in the church, Brainard began working as a missionary to various Native American groups. His ministry lasted about three years before he was too ill to continue. He did see some fruit in his ministry, a handful of new believers, and the beginnings of a small church. But the work was unbelievably difficult. He often went hungry for lack of food. He also struggled with deep depression. His physical struggle with illness, lack of adequate food, and sparse ministry fruit would make anyone struggle with depression.
Brainard died in 1747 at the age of 29. Jonathan Edwards’ daughter cared for him in his final days. She contracted tuberculosis from caring for Brainard and later died as a result.
Jonathan Edwards, the famous theologian and President of Princeton, penned a biography of Brainard’s short life and ministry. He felt that others should know of his dedication to the work of the Lord, even in the face of unbearable difficulty. Of all of Edwards’ numerous publications, his biography of Brainard’s life was the work most reprinted. Since its publication, it has never been out of print.
In the wake of the release of Brainard’s biography, several influential people became dissatisfied with Yale and their treatment of Brainard. The result was the founding of two schools: Princeton and Dartmouth. Later, to make amends, Yale named a building after Brainard: Brainard Hall at Yale Divinity School. It is the only building at Yale named after a student they expelled.
Brainard’s impact on Christian world missions can’t be overstated. The list of missionaries that consider Brainard as their inspiration to enter ministry would be too long to list. But three notable missionaries that considered Brainard’s life to be an influence in their call to missions are William Carey (missionary to India, considered to be the father of modern missions), Jim Elliot (missionary and martyr in Ecuador), Adoniram Judson (missionary and Bible translator in Burma).
Brainard’s life was short, full of suffering, and yielded little spiritual fruit. And yet, his impact on the spread of the gospel around the world has been so great that it would be impossible to estimate the degree of his influence.
Listen to Paul’s words from prison in Philippians 1:12, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” In prison, Paul could have considered his ministry as yielding little result. However, he understood that God could use his situation to spread the gospel even outside the prison walls.
When we see limitations in our life, God sees opportunities to display His power. We need to trust God when it comes to the spiritual impact He will have through us. We might see weaknesses and feel there is little we can contribute to the cause of Christ. We might feel like we don’t know enough, we are too shy, or our life has been too marked by sin to be of any use to God. But God can take our life, regardless of the situation, and use it to advance the gospel.
This should encourage us to be bold. The outcome of sharing hope in Christ with others is in God’s hands. Our job is simply to be willing to tell others of the hope we have in Jesus. How they respond is between them and God.
We should also consider whether we need to examine our priorities. It may be that the advance of the gospel isn’t in our top 10 list of concerns. But we know it is Jesus’ primary concern. There is certainly room for us to humbly repent in recognition of taking our call lightly to see the gospel advance.
I look forward to being with you this Sunday as we celebrate the work of God in Jesus Christ together! This Sunday, we will be seeking God through His Word in Philippians 1:12-18.
See you Sunday,