The Victimisation and Vindication of David Brainerd

The Victimisation and Vindication of David Brainerd

From The One Year Book of Christian History by Michael and Sharon Rusten

David Brainerd was born in Connecticut in 1718. Shortly before he en­tered Yale University in 1739, he experienced a profound conversion to Jesus Christ.

Brainerd’s years at Yale were difficult. Yale had been founded because Harvard had become Unitarian, yet the many religious activities there ap­peared to have little effect on the student body. The main diversions of the students were drinking parties, gambling and harassment of the townspeople.

In August 1740 Brainerd’s tutor noticed that he was spitting up blood, the first sign of tuberculosis. His tutor recommended that he return home to recuperate.

While Brainerd was at home, George Whitefield, the twenty-five-year­ old Anglican evangelist, preached at Yale. Brainerd returned to Yale in No­vember and, by the following February, the fruit of George Whitefield’s preaching was beginning to manifest itself.

In March, Gilbert Tennant, an Irish American evangelist, preached at Yale and had a great impact upon the students. However, by September of 1741 Thomas Clap, the rector and president, and the college trustees took a stand against the revivalists. They condemned the students who were in support of what became known as the Great Awakening and passed a resolution stating “that if any student of this college shall indirectly state that the rector…the trustees or tutors are hypocrites, carnal or unconverted men, he shall for his first offense make a public confession in the Hall, and for the second offense be expelled.”

David Brainerd, now a junior, spent many hours discussing spiritual things with his fellow students. One day the discussion was about a certain tu­tor. When one of Brainerd’s friends asked him what he thought of the tutor he replied, “He has no more grace than this chair.” A freshman overhead Brainerd’s remark, and soon President Clap learned of it and summoned Brainerd. David admitted making the comment, and the president told him that he must make a public apology to the student body. Brainerd refused, be­lieving that a public confession was inappropriate since it had been a private remark. To President Clap this was an act of rebellion, and he immediately ex­pelled Brainerd.

A law recently passed in Connecticut stated that no minister could be in­stalled in a church unless he was a graduate of Yale, Harvard, or a European university. Because of his expulsion David Brainerd was now cut off from his calling. On September 15, 1743, Brainerd wrote a letter to President Clap and the trustees of Yale confessing his sin in his handling of the situation and offer­ing to make a public apology to the student body. His appeal was rejected.

Yet God worked the situation out for his glory and for Brainerd’s good. A group of ministers sympathetic to the Great Awakening licensed Brainerd to preach and appointed him as a missionary to the American Indians. In the few remaining years before his death he brought the Great Awakening to the Indi­ans of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

But the results of Brainerd’s expulsion from Yale went far beyond his ministry to the Indians. Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr Sr., both grad­uates of Yale and Presbyterian pastors, took an interest in Brainerd’s efforts to be readmitted to Yale and were disillusioned with the college’s refusal to re­admit him.

Brainerd’s expulsion brought to a head the Presbyterians’ dissatisfaction with Yale and solidified their resolve to begin a college of their own. The Col­lege of New Jersey, later Princeton University, began in 1741 in Jonathan Dickinson’s home, where David Brainerd, now twenty-nine, was living in his final months. Brainerd is thus considered to be the college’s first student. Brainerd’s expulsion from Yale precipitated the founding of Princeton.

Have you experienced situations where God made something good out of something bad? Joseph in the Old Testament was sold as a slave by his brothers, yet he ended up becoming second in command in Egypt. Maybe the bad experience in your life hasn’t yet resulted in something good. Make it a matter of prayer to ask God to glorify himself in your situation.

Joseph told them, “…But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good…” (Gen 50:19-20)


The One Year Book of Christian History by Michael and Sharon Rusten is published by Tyndale House.