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Life of David Brainerd Published - Timeline Event

Time Period

1749

Description

David Brainerd became a hero for pro-Great Awakening evangelicals called "New Lights" after he was expelled from his theological studies at "Old Light" Yale University for accusing an Old Light faculty member of having "no more grace than a chair." He immediately became a symbol for pro-revivalists.

After some time as a missionary to Native Americans, he fell ill from tuberculosis in 1747 and died in the home of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards believed that Brainerd's life of self-renunciation and agonizing death exemplified what should be normative for Christians. As a result, Edwards edited Brainerd's diary and released it in 1749 as An Account of the Life of David Brainerd. He omitted sections dealing with depression and deriding opponents of the Awakenings. The book sold more copies than anything else that Edwards published and was widely read by evangelicals, including Adoniram Judson and John Wesley. Since its initial publication, it has never gone out of print.

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Narrative

After David Brainerd experienced a religious conversion at the age of 21, he enrolled for theological studies at Yale University. While there, he heard many of the most prominent preachers of the First Great Awakening address the studentbody, including George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennent, and Jonathan Edwards.

When Yale expelled Brainerd for his vocal support of the revivals, he became the unlikely hero of pro-Great Awakening evangelicals called "New Lights." Yale was controlled by "Old Light" critics of the Awakening who accused the revivalists of being prone to excessive emotional outbursts. When the administration heard that Brainerd had accused an Old Light faculty member of having "no more grace than a chair," they expelled him. The incident helped rouse support for a new evangelical-leaning school, the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University).

In 1743, Brainerd went as a missionary first to a Mahican tribe in New York and then to the Delawares in New Jersey. His mission work had relatively little immediate affect and Brainerd claimed fewer than a hundred converts. In 1747, ill from tuberculosis, he died in the home of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards believed that Brainerd's life and death exemplified the kind of Christian example that proponents of the First Great Awakening believed should be normative for Christians. By persevering through spiritual hardship and physical suffering in order to share the gospel, Brainerd gave the lie to critics of the Awakening who alleged that revivalists proclaimed an "antinomian," or lawless, gospel.

Edwards substantially edited Brainerd's diary and released it in 1749 as An Account of the Life of David Brainerd. He omitted sections where Brainerd grappled with serious depression as well as passages in which he derided opponents of the Awakenings. The book sold more copies than anything else that Edwards published and was widely read by evangelicals during and after the First Great Awakening, including Adoniram Judson and John Wesley. Since its initial publication, it has never gone out of print.

Religious Groups

Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Religious Family Tree

Biographies

Edwards, Jonathan
Judson, Adoniram
Tennent, Gilbert
Whitefield, George
Wesley, John

Movements

Missionary Movement

Photographs

Life of David Brainerd, title page- Internet Archive
Life of David Brainerd, title page- Internet Archive

David Brainerd Riding- Hathi Trust- from David Brainerd, the Apostle to the North American Indians by Jesse Page
David Brainerd Riding- Hathi Trust- from David Brainerd, the Apostle to the North American Indians by Jesse Page

Brainerd preaching to the Indians- Hathi Trust- from David Brainerd, the Apostle to the North American Indians by Jesse Page
Brainerd preaching to the Indians- Hathi Trust- from David Brainerd, the Apostle to the North American Indians by Jesse Page

Book/Journal Source(s)

Marsden, George, 2003. Jonathan Edwards: A Life Yale University Press.

Web Page Contributor

Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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