09 October 2009

Better Late than Never

by Phil Johnson

eah, yeah—I know. I'm supposed to have Friday's blogpost on line by Friday morning. But I just got back from vacation last night, and this is the best I could do, with minimal effort.

What follows is John MacArthur's foreword to a brand-new biography of David Brainerd, titled David Brainerd: A Flame for God, by Vance Christie. I had the privilege of reading Christie's manuscript almost three years ago, when he sent it to John MacArthur to consider a Foreword. I loved the book and was sad when I had to turn the manuscript over to John MacArthur so that he could write the foreword. I have been eagerly awaiting its publication so that I could get a copy of my own. After three years, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see it again. But it's now in print from Christian Focus, and well worth your time to read.

Here's what John MacArthur says about it:


avid Brainerd was a living illustration of how, in order to confound the mighty and the wise, our God delights to use those whom this world might deem weak and foolish (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Brainerd was a feeble, sickly man, prone to difficult bouts with severe depression. He was orphaned at age fourteen and dismissed from Yale before graduating (because he remarked that one of his tutors had no more grace than a piece of furniture). Brainerd nevertheless continued privately studying for the ministry and in time obtained a license to preach.
     His whole ministry was spent laboring in obscurity as a missionary to Native Americans. He died of tuberculosis before his thirtieth birthday. He had completed only about four years of ministry among the people he loved and wanted to reach.
     For a man with such a short career in a pioneer work, Brainerd's influence as a missionary was remarkable. During the Great Awakening, many American Indians under Brainerd's ministry were powerfully and dramatically converted to Christianity. In 1745, he wrote in his diary:
Although persons are doubtless much easier affected now than they were in the beginning of this religious concern, when tears and cries for their souls were things unheard of among them; yet I must say, their affection in general appear[s] genuine and unfeigned . . . I have now baptized in all forty-seven persons of the Indians, twenty-three adults, and twenty-four children; thirty-five of them belonging to these parts, and the rest to the Forks of Delaware: and, through rich grace, none of them as yet have been left to disgrace their profession of Christianity by any scandalous or unbecoming behaviour.

     Yet Brainerd's greatness, and the main reason we remember him today, lay in the character of his private life. The publication of his diary after his death is what revealed the heart of this great man to the world. And for generations, Christians have rightly honored him for the strength and quiet passion of his devotion to the pursuit of God's glory.
     Jonathan Edwards was David Brainerd's first biographer. Brainerd had succumbed to complications from tuberculosis and, after being bedridden and steadily growing weaker for some time, died in Edwards's home. An Account of the Life of the Late Rev. David Brainerd, Edwards's famous work, is one of the classic biographies of both American and evangelical history.
     A wave of remarkable influence began with the original publication of that book. Since that time, Brainerd's life has made a profound impact on generation after generation of Christians, especially many young people who have seen Brainerd's resolute single-mindedness and been moved to emulate his holy zeal. The ranks of the evangelical missionary force are continually being replenished with young people, and large numbers of them have been profoundly and directly influenced by the testimony of David Brainerd. Thus Brainerd's life and labor have continued to reap fruit in great abundance for two and a half centuries since his death.
     In this marvelous new biography, Vance Christie has given us a thorough, engaging, meticulously documented but wonderfully readable new chronicle of the life of David Brainerd. Christie makes Brainerd live and breathe for the twenty-first century reader in a vivid, colorful account of the young man's heart, mind, and work. This is a splendid volume, full of insight into what drove David Brainerd to give his life in the Lord's service—despite several obstacles that would seem insurmountable to the typical person today.
     This retelling of Brainerd's story is a much-needed and strategic answer to many of the current generation's spiritual needs. Brainerd's devotion to serving others for God's glory makes a sharp contrast with the shallowness and self-centeredness of our postmodern culture, and points to a better, more Christlike way. Brainerd's own words, quoted frequently but always strategically by Christie, reveal Brainerd as a real and honest man, with struggles, discouragements, and bouts of depression that, if anything, make our postmodern woes seem paltry by comparison. The Appendix deals in detail with Brainerd's battle against frequent and crippling waves of depression, and is one of the most valuable chapters of the book.
     I know you will enjoy this book, as I did. My prayer is that you will also be moved by it to a more earnest walk with Christ and a deeper devotion to Him, and above all that you will catch something of David Brainerd's passion to see Christ glorified.
                    John MacArthur

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Becky Schell said...

Not a bad best you could do, Phil!

archshrk said...

With so many great books, I wish I could read faster. Heck, I'm lucky I can read at all - and I'm not busy doing other things (like ministry)

donsands said...

This would make a nice Christmas gift. Thanks for the post.

I have the book: "The Life and Diary of David Brainerd", and keep it on my end table to glean from it every now and then.

He was an exceptional Christian.

"Blessed be God for every such divine gale of His Spirit, to speed me on in my way to the new Jerusalem!" -David Brainerd

Jay T said...

I love Brainerd's Life and Diary and have been contemplating whether or not it's time to read it for the fifth time.
But why a biography when the primary source is clearly going to be the journal itself? Or is it going to be like the extras on a DVD?

CR said...

Reading this forward reminds me of something and that is when a person becomes a true Christian he becomes a very special object of Satan's interest (not withstanding the battle that ensues with his flesh and the world) and attack.

I'm sure some of us Christians have asked ourselves, how on earth, can I do what James asks us to do and count it all joy (i.e., be happy) when we fall into trials and temptations. And the reason why we can be happy when we are tempted and experience trials is because it is a proof of our faith.

The fact that we become Christians doesn't mean that Satan will no longer try to attack us. He'll try to attack us with doubts, or he'll attack us with depression like he did with Brainerd or some other arsenal that he has. Satan cannot prevent us from being Christians. Thank God for that. But it appears he is often successful in making us miserable Christians. He doesn't control whether we are in the Christian faith, but if we are not aware of this teaching and do not use God's armor, Satan can affect us and the result is there are many of us who are born-again but have been unhappy in the Christian life.

Matthew said...

I agree with you archshrk.

So many books to read :)

I want to read this book, I may fast track it to the top of the list!