"I longed to be as a 'flame of fire'...continually glowing in the divine service..." (Edwards 402). These words proved to be the life-blood of David Brainerd, one of America's first missionaries to its native population. Brainerd's short lived life, hallmarked by physical torment and spiritual intensity, is honored to this day by Christians and non-Christians alike as one of the most influential men in 18th century America.
Born in 1718 to a devout Puritan family, Brainerd was immersed with the Calvinistic, convent tradition. As a young child, he began to grasp the significance of the scriptures for himself. This personal discovery failed to strengthen his faith. Instead, he felt abandoned with the damning realization of guilt and shame. Although he yearned for the redemption of Christ, he found himself trapped by feelings of unworthiness and rejection. At fourteen, Brainerd rejected the traditional converting mechanisms of "religious conversation and church attendance" as self-righteous legalism (Thornbury 52).
It was during this spiritual struggle in Brainerd young life in which he began his life-long battle with an illness which would eventually be diagnosed as tuberculosis. Spiritual insecurity coupled with bouts of depression and physical illness only served to heighten the importance of his conversion. This question would torment him until the age of twenty-one, when, on one contemplative day, he was boldly confronted by an overwhelming understanding of the greatness of God. He recounts the vivid experience:
By the 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 (