In last Sundy’s sermon at TDF, we talked about the fact that God-fearers are greater than history-makers. Though we may not see the results of our labors, God has promised to amplify our influence and to use us in ways greater than we know. A great example is David Brainerd, who died at age 29 without seeing much success in his ministry. His greatst work, however, occurred after his death.
Brainerd was orphaned at age 14. At age 21, he dedicated himself fully to Jesus Christ. He enrolled in Yale University, but was expelled for criticizing his tutor. He tried to get back in, but the school wouldn’t let him re-enroll. He developed a burden for the Native Americans in New England, and he determined to do what he could to meet their needs, befriend them, and share the Gospel with them. He worked so hard that he wore himself out, developed tuberculosis, and died young. During his lifetime he saw only a small handful of conversions attributed to his preaching and his ministry.
But Jonathan Edwards was so deeply moved by David Brainerd’s life that his passion was stirred, his prayer life was deepened, and his ministry was inflamed. That led to the Great Awakening, which turned America from infidelity and secularism to Christ.
In England, a man named William Carey was so moved by the story of Brainerd that he dedicated himself to go to India as a missionary; and Carey is known today as the Father of Missions and the founder of the modern missionary movement.
Henry Martyn read the life of Brainerd and devoted himself to a famous career of missionary endeavor in India.
In Scotland, Robert Murray McCheyne read the story of Brainerd and his prayers and sermons brought national revival to his land.
Robert Moffat and David Livingstone read Brainerd’s story and were so moved that they opened darkest Africa to the Gospel.
In the twentieth century, Jim Elliot read Brainerd’s story and was so moved that he and his compatriots dedicated themselves to reach the Auca Indians of Equator, in what came to be one of the most widely-reported missionary endeavors of our lifetimes.
And today at Yale University – the university that expelled David Brainerd and would not let him re-enroll – there is a wing of the great building of the divinity school named in his honor– the only building at Yale to be named for a student who was expelled.
God fearers are greater than history makers, and our works will follow us.
(Some of this material was adapted from William D. Gale, Through Sunshine and Shadows (Cincinnati, Ohio: 2004), 89-99).