Sterling Conversion of David Brainerd

Diana Severance, Ph.D. edited by Dan Graves, MSL

Sterling Conversion of David Brainerd

David Brainerd lived only 29 years but the account of those years inspired many to follow Christ. Some, like William Carey and Henry Martyn, followed his footsteps onto the mission field.

At the age of seven David began to seek the Lord. His journal shows that he struggled greatly in coming to Christ. To replace self-righteous works by faith seemed to him very difficult to do. He found it hard to prefer God's glory over his own salvation. Exceedingly scrupulous, depressive, and tubercular his physical health might well have aggravated his spiritual struggles.

David Brainerd found peace at last. It began with an utter sense of lostness. "One morning while I was walking in a solitary place (as usual) and came near a thick bunch of hazels, I felt at once unusually lost and at the greatest stand and felt that all my contrivances and projections respecting my deliverance and salvation were brought to a final issue." From Friday morning through Sunday evening he was in the greatest agony of spirit, eventually feeling that the Spirit of God had quite left him. Here is his own account of his subsequent conversion on this day July 12, 1739:

"By this time the sun was scarce half an hour high, as I remember, as I was walking in a dark thick grove, "unspeakable glory" seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. By the glory I saw I don't mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing, nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light or splendor somewhere away in the third heaven, or anything of that nature. But it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God; such as I never had before, nor anything that I had the least remembrance of it. I stood still and wondered and admired." He came to want to exalt God above all things (as had Christ) and remained in great joy for about a week.

Brainerd proceeded to enroll and study for his ministerial degree at Yale. However, he was not allowed to receive the degree he earned, having commented that one teacher had no more grace than a chair. He swore he had no recollection of making the remark but, offered, nonetheless to apologize. This was refused. Three professors who stood behind him resigned and helped found Princeton.

David Brainerd was, nonetheless, commissioned by the Scotland Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge as a missionary to the Indians. He labored for about three years among several tribes until ill-health forced him to leave. Engaged to marry one of Jonathan Edward's daughters, he was nursed in the preacher's home and died there October 9, 1747. Edwards preached Brainerd's funeral service and edited his journal with comments of his own under the title The Life of David Brainerd.


  1. "Brainerd, David." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, 1958-1964.
  2. Edwards, Jonathan. The Life of David Brainerd. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.
  3. Eerdman's Handbook to the History of Christianity. Editor Tim Dowley. Berkhamsted, Herts, England: Lion Publishing, 1977.
  4. Various encyclopedia articles.

Last updated April, 2007.

  • Editors' Picks

    Stop Trying to Read the Bible in a Year!
    Stop Trying to Read the Bible in a Year!
  • The God of All Weather
    The God of All Weather
  • Does Islam Promote Violence?
    Does Islam Promote Violence?