Pustules of prosperity and the life and death of David Brainerd

In many “evangelical” movements today, the Bible is not considered to be mainly about Jesus but about yours sincerely: moi. “How I can slay the Goliaths in my life, be more successful, healthier, live live to the full.” Read your Bible silly and find out. I call this self-adulation the “pustules of prosperity.” Contrast this narcissistic lust for life with the life and death of the American missionary, David Brainerd (April 20, 1718–October 9, 1747), whose short life of dedication and suffering among the Native Americans of Delaware inspired many other misionaries and continues to inspire many Christians from all walks of life. Here is an except from a short biography of Brainerd:

In November 1746, he became too ill to continue ministering, and so moved to Jonathan Dickinson’s house in Elizabethtown. After a few months of rest, he travelled to Northampton, Massachusetts, where he stayed at the house of Jonathan Edwards. Apart from a trip to Boston in the summer of that year, he remained at Edwards’s house until his death the following year. In May 1747, he was diagnosed with incurable consumption; in these final months, he suffered greatly. In his diary entry for 24 September, Brainerd wrote:

‘In the greatest distress that ever I endured having an uncommon kind of hiccough; which either strangled me or threw me into a straining to vomit.’

During this time, he was nursed by Jerusha Edwards, Jonathan’s seventeen-year-old daughter. The friendship that grew between them was of a kind that has led some to suggest they were romantically attached. He died from tuberculosis on 9 October 1747, at the age of 29. He is buried at Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton, next to Jerusha, who died in February 1748 as a result of contracting tuberculosis from nursing Brainerd. His gravestone reads:

Sacred to the memory of the Rev. David Brainerd. A faithful and laborious missionary to the Stockbridge, Delaware and Sasquehanna TRIBES OF INDIANS WHO died in this town. October 10, 1747.”

David Brainerd (Words speak louder than pictures)
David Brainerd (Words speak louder than pictures)

The following excerpt is from Jonathan Edwards’ biography of Brainerd, which includes excerpts from Brainerd’s diary. My title will become clear in the text.

The Life and Diary of David Brainerd” by Jonathan Edwards (free ebook pdf here).

Pp. 296-7

(Excerpts from Brainerd’s diary appear in italics)

“Friday, Oct. 2. My soul was this day, at turns, sweetly set on God: I longed to be with him, that I might behold his glory. I felt sweetly disposed to commit all to him, even my dearest friends, my dearest flock, my absent brother, and all my concerns for time and eternity. Oh that his kingdom might come in the world; that they might all love and glorify him, for what he is in himself; and that the blessed Redeemer might `see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied!’ `Oh come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen.'”

The next evening we very much expected his brother John from New Jersey; it being about a week after the time that he proposed for his return, when he went away. And though our expectations were still disappointed; yet Mr. Brainerd seemed to continue unmoved, in the same calm and peaceful frame that he had before manifested; as having resigned all to God, and having done with his friends, and with all things here below. On the morning of the next day, being Lord’s day, Oct. 4, as my daughter Jerusha (who chiefly attended him) came into the room, he looked on her very pleasantly, and said,

“Dear Jerusha, are you willing to part with me? — I am quite willing to part with you: I am willing to part with all my friends: I am willing to part with my dear brother John, although I love him the best of any creature living: I have committed him and all my friends to God, and can leave them with God. Though, if I thought I should not see you and be happy with you in another world, I could not bear to part with you. But we shall spend a happy eternity together!” [67] In the evening, as one came into the room with a Bible in her hand, he expressed himself thus; “Oh that dear book! that lovely book! I shall soon see it opened! the mysteries that are in it, and the mysteries of God’s providence, will be all unfolded!”

His distemper now very apparently preyed on his vitals in an extraordinary manner: not by a sudden breaking of ulcers in his lungs, as at Boston, but by a constant discharge of purulent matter, in great quantities: so that what he brought up by expectoration, seemed to be as it were mouthfuls of almost clear pus; which was attended with very inward pain and distress. On Thursday, Oct. 6, he lay for a considerable time as if he were dying. At which time he was heard to utter, in broken whispers, such expressions as these; “He will come, he will not tarry. — I shall soon be in glory. — I shall soon glorify God with the angels.”

But after some time he revived. The next day, Wednesday, Oct. 7, his brother John arrived from New Jersey; where he had been detained much longer than he intended, by a mortal sickness prevailing among the Christian Indians, and by some other circumstances that made his stay with them necessary. Mr. Brainerd was affected and refreshed with seeing him, and appeared fully satisfied with the reasons of his delay; seeing the interest of religion and of the souls of his people required it. 

The next day, Thursday, Oct. 8, he was in great distress and agonies of body; and for the greater part of the day, was much disordered as to the exercise of his reason. In the evening he was more composed, and had the use of his reason well; but the pain of his body continued and increased. He told me, it was impossible for any to conceive of the distress he felt in his breast. He manifested much concern lest he should dishonour God by impatience, under his extreme agony; which was such, that he said, the thought of enduring it one minute longer was almost insupportable. He desired that others would be much in lifting up their hearts continually to God for him, that God would support him, and give him patience.

He signified, that he expected to die that night; but seemed to fear a longer delay: and the disposition of his mind with regard to death appeared still the same that it had been all along. And notwithstanding his bodily agonies, yet the interest of Zion lay still with great weight on his mind; as appeared by some considerable discourse he had that evening with the Reverend Mr. Billing, one of the neighboring ministers, (who was then present,) concerning the great importance of the work of the ministry, &c. And afterwards, when it was very late in the night, he had much very proper and profitable discourse with his brother John, concerning his congregation in New Jersey, and the interest of religion among the Indians. In the latter part of the night, his bodily distress seemed to rise to a greater height than ever; and he said to those then about him, that “it was another thing to die than people imagined;” explaining himself to mean that they were not aware what bodily pain and anguish is undergone before death. Towards day, his eyes fixed; and he continued lying immovable, till about six o’clock in the morning, and then expired, on Friday, Oct. 9, 1747; when his soul, as we may well conclude, was received by his dear Lord and Master, as an eminently faithful servant, into that state of perfection of holiness, and fuition of God, which he had so often and so ardently longed for; and was welcomed by the glorious assembly in the upper world, as one peculiarly fitted to join them in their blessed employ and enjoyment.

End of Jonathan Edwards

Here is a fitting passage from the Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 3:

8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Straining Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

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