Diary of David Brainerd – Book Review

This blog was originally written on September 12, 2014

My pastor challenged all in our church who have gone or would like to go on a mission trip to read at least one book of  the life of a missionary. He mentioned a book on kindle that was actually free, so I downloaded it. The book is: “The Life and Diary of David Brainerd with Commentary by Jonathan Edwards”.

I had heard of David Brainerd before and started reading. Talk about humbling!! At first it was very difficult to adjust to his utter wretchedness. I actually believed that the diary was beginning at a time in his life before he was saved and that he was writing about his feelings on the pangs of guilt and shame that sinners feel before they are saved. But as I kept on reading, I realized that this was just him. He was so in tune with his sin, so aware of his state that I couldn’t help but to feel shame that I wasn’t as serious about mine. Constantly, sometimes weeks at a time he would mention his corrupted person, and it would affect him so much that he would actually become physically sick. Here is a short excerpt of his diary on May 2, 1741:

“God was pleased this morning to give me such a sight of myself, as made me appear vile in my own eyes. I felt corruption stirring in my heart, which I could by no means suppress; felt more and more deserted; was exceeding weak, and almost sick with my inward trials”

There are moments when he feels better and praises God, but most of the time he is melancholic and suffers so much because of the sin in his life, his lack of holiness and this desperation of not doing enough for God.

He is also overcome with compassion for the lost. He longs for their salvation! He spends hours pleading to God for them. The prayers in his diary are full of anguish, self-examination, and fervency for holiness. I then look at my diary and it’s so bland and emotionless.

April 13, 1743 he writes:
“My heart was overwhelmed within me; I verily thought I was the meanest, vilest, most helpless, guilty, ignorant, benighted creature living. And yet I knew what God had done for my soul, at the same time: though sometimes I was assaulted with damping doubts and fears, whether it was possible for such a wretch as I to be in a state of grace. “

Does the thought of grace for me cause me to question God “why did you choose me?” Not question Him on “how He could” but “why He did”. When I am aware of my cesspool of a life, do I marvel at the wonder that God loves me!?!? Or have I forgotten the magnificent impact that redemption causes?

In this book, I also learned that David Brainerd went to Yale, but was expelled because he had called one of the professors a name. Not being able to go to school, he then was asked to preach to the Native Americans in New England. He begins his work with the Mohegan Indians at Kaunaumeek in New York in April of 1743 and he lovingly refers to them as “my people” in his diary.

Throughout the diary we read just how much he suffered physically. He mentions his sicknesses, his fevers, his aches and pains, his trouble eating and with his stomach. Several times he speaks of coughs that are accompanied by blood  (which actually started when he first entered college). He continues to work with different tribes and “nations” of Native Americans. Although we know he had much success with the Native Americans in their acceptance of the Gospel, you wouldn’t know it by his diary. Mr. Brainerd was not at all the kind of man to boast. He praises God when he notices the Spirit working, but he always re-evaluates how he can further the kingdom even more amongst the Native Americans.

He loved the people that God sent him to. He desired for their salvation. As he preaches in different churches he is asked to become a pastor and refuses because of “his little flock” in the wilderness – as he calls them. He is endeared to them and on his death bed receives letters from them that bring him much joy of how well they are fairing in their spiritual walk.

As the end of his life draws near, I just longed for him to die and be with God. He suffered tremendously the months before his death and he still continued to find something to do for the furthering of His Kingdom. Four months before his death he writes: “… death appeared inconceivably more desirable to me than a useless life..”

There is a recurring theme that somewhat haunts the whole diary and that is that he longs to be with God. David Brainerd died at the age of 29 and from the first entries of his diary we see he just wants to be with Him. Jonathan Edwards comments on David saying that ” . . he generally made it one petition in his prayer, ‘that we might not outlive our usefulness'”.

I didn’t know this, but Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd knew each other. So much so that David died in Mr. Edwards home. Mr. Edwards’ daughter Jerusha, nursed David Brainerd until he died. She died four months later of a fever. This is what her father, Jonathan Edward says in the commentary: “Since this, (the writing of the commentary of David Brainerd’s diary)it has pleased a holy and sovereign God to take away this my dear child by death, on the 14th of February, next following, after a short illness of five days, in the eighteenth year of her age. She was a person of much the same spirit with Mr. Brainerd. She had constantly take care of and attended him in his sickness, for nineteen weeks before his death; devoting herself to it with great delight because she looked on him as an eminent servant of Jesus Christ.

I have heard it countless of times that as Christians, we should read biographies of other Christians, and I agree with that. The diary of David Brainerd really helped me to stop complaining. I sometimes feel too tired to work in ministry, but this man puts these feelings to shame! You will not come out happy, refreshed, or rejuvenated after reading this book. As a person, I don’t struggle with depression. I tend to be a fairly happy person, and I am not known to be serious; but this book made me think a lot about that. God saving me brings me so much joy and the fact that He didn’t have to save me changes my perspective on all things dire. I am saved to be eternally with Him and I don’t deserve to be. But do I hate my sin that much? I just go so quickly to the Cross when I sin. I feel shame and quickly turn to the work of Jesus that saved me. I don’t think about the slop I just fed on. I don’t think about the $*** I just played with, it doesn’t horrify me all the heaps of dung I prefer at moments instead of my Savior. I believe I should think on those things more, and I hope I do when I return to my sin.

To the Christian: I recommend this book to any Christian considering mission work. Also, if  you are struggling with pride or vanity, this would be a great book to read to ground you. 🙂