Learning from a Surprising Problem in the Life of David Brainerd

April 11, 2014

Reading in a short biography of Jonathan Edwards, I was surprised to learn that David Brainerd, of whom I have never heard anything negative said, got into serious trouble when he was a student at Yale because he openly criticized the spiritual state of his superiors:

Far worse, some local traveling preachers, and even some Yale students, were saying the same thing. Just before the commencement the Yale trustees passed a regulation saying that “if any student of this college shall directly or indirectly say, that the rector, either of the trustees or tutors are hypocrites, carnal or unconverted men, he shall for the first offence make public confession in the hall, and for the second offence be expelled.” One of the main targets was an intensely spiritual and outspoken student named David Brainerd. Eventually Yale expelled Brainerd after he was overheard to remark that one of the tutors “had no more grace than a chair.”

. . . Even if students like David Brainerd went too far in criticizing their superiors, Edwards admired their deep spiritual intensity.

—George M. Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, 70

May we all learn from Brainerd’s failures in this regard and pray earnestly and regularly, “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3).

Rajesh

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