Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(I Corinthians 13:4-8, 13)
First Corinthians 13 has become so cliché to our modern Christian lingo. It is often quoted, but rarely interpreted correctly. Faith, hope, and love are all virtues that we as humans display on this earth. But when, as believers, our faith and hope in Christ has been realized, only love will pass on into heaven. We will continue to demonstrate love as we worship our Lord at His feet.
But can this love endure all things while here on earth? Can this love endure trials, tribulations, and persecutions? What about death? Does our love truly abide after death? David Brainerd and Jerusha Edwards seemed to believe so. These were two young believers who exemplified this type of love.
David Brainerd was a single 29 year-old who had started a mission to the Delaware Indians of New Jersey. Born in 1718, Brainerd was the most unlikely of missionary candidates. Although he was a very handsome man, Brainerd was skinny, pale, and suffered from a chronic illness, which we now know as tuberculosis. He also battled ongoing bouts of depression, which assaulted his mental spirit. He was plagued more with internal weakness than with the physical. In his depression, he struggled with the sufficiency of God’s grace for him, and wondered why God would die for a sinner such as him.
Brainerd attended Yale, but was expelled when he criticized one of his tutors by saying that “he has no more grace than a chair”. This added to Brainerd’s depression, especially since a recent law forbade anyone to be appointed as a minister without a degree from Harvard, Yale, or a respectable European school.
But Brainerd felt stronger than ever that the Lord was leading him to the mission field. He rejected opportunities to work in a mission field of relative ease with people of his own skin color, accepting instead the call to work with American Indians.
Brainerd’s first mission work was with the Housatonic Indians of New York, where he established a school and began working on a translation of the Psalms. Later, he began working with the fierce and violent Delaware Indians of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
But David needed a respite from his missionary work. Lately, he had grown more ill than usual. He needed a break. It was during this time, in May of 1747, that David Brainerd first arrived at the home of Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts.
The spring of 1747 was a very busy time for the Jonathan Edwards household. Sarah Edwards had just given birth to her tenth child, and the household was bustling with young children. As mother to this large family, Sarah was the overseer for farming, cooking, clothing, washing, cleaning, punishment, and education. Historian George Marsden notes that Sarah Edwards was “the embodiment of the Puritan ideal of industry”.
In addition to caring for the household, Sarah also opened her home to travelers and visitors who came to learn from her husband. David Brainerd’s arrival seemed like an added burden because he needed constant care and attention.
Jerusha Edwards, Jonathan and Sarah’s seventeen-year old daughter, took on the task of caring for Brainerd. Not much is known about Jerusha, except the fact that, much like her parents, her goal in life was to serve in self-less submission to God’s will. Her father wrote that she was very close to the Lord, especially at such a young age. She admired Brainerd from the start. She knew that he would endure any hardship to bring the gospel to the Indians. Thus, Jerusha viewed Brainerd as the embodiment of her spiritual ideal. She took it upon herself to care for this very weak young man.
The only prescription that the doctors had prescribed to Brainerd for his illness was fresh air, which he partook of through regular horseback riding. After spending weeks in Northampton at the Edwards home, David left on a horseback ride to Boston, over 100 miles away. He was accompanied by Jerusha, who said she was “to be helpful to him in his weak and low state”. The trip normally took two days. David and Jerusha spent four days traveling.
Upon arriving in Boston, Brainerd again became deathly ill, and Jerusha feared for his life. The doctors said that he could die any day; however, he seemed to recover just a few weeks later. The trip back to Northampton would again be taken very slowly to ease travel for David.
David continued to have brief daily horseback rides until finally he was just too weak to continue to do so. By early September, David was confined to bed. Jerusha continued to care for him daily, despite the fact that she was not well herself.
By October, David Brainerd had taken a turn for the worse. Jonathan Edwards wrote that on Sunday, October 4, Brainerd was near death. Jerusha Edwards entered Brainerd’s room and David “looked on her very pleasantly and said ‘Dear Jerusha, are you willing to part with me? I am willing to part with you…though, if I thought I should not see you and be happy with you in another world, I could not bear to part with you. But we shall spend an happy eternity together!’” Five days later, on October 9, 1747, David Brainerd died at the age of 29. Jerusha was most assuredly by his side at death.
Jonathan Edwards gave Brainerd a very simplistic funeral service, as David would have wanted it. However, Edwards preached a magnificent funeral sermon entitled, “True Saints, When Absent From the Body, are Present With the Lord”. Edwards emphasized that these saints are not in a temporary holding spot awaiting the Lord’s return, but are immediately with the Lord after death. Perhaps this brought comfort to Jerusha’s grieved soul. Edwards seemed to have emphasized this point with his daughter in mind.
Just four short months later, Jerusha Edwards died of an acute fever, after having only been ill for a week. This illness was most likely the result of her selfless care for Brainerd. Her father, of course, conducted the funeral, noting that Jerusha “was like a flower that is cut down”. Borrowing the theme from Job, Jonathan compared a cut down flower as a “fit emblem of a young person in the bloom of life, with amiable, pleasant, and promising qualifications, not only with a blooming body, but mind also; with desirable natural and moral endowments.” Jerusha had been the child that was most like her father. Thus, her death stung Jonathan in particularly. He noted her moral virtues in the funeral service, hoping that other young people would learn from her example. He said that Jerusha “declared in words, showed in deed, ever more ready to deny herself, earnestly inquiring in every affair which way she could most glorify God.”
Jonathan Edwards, remembering the words David Brainerd had spoken to Jerusha while on his deathbed, buried his daughter next to Brainerd. He was confident that they were both presently with the Lord and in the company of each other. But he wanted to ensure that their bodies would rise together at the resurrection. He seemed to understand that the love of David and Jerusha would endure despite death. He seemed to recognize that love is eternal.
The love with which David Brainerd and Jerusha Edwards showed each other was based on the altruistic love of Christ. Jerusha Edwards risked her health to care for the one in which she not only admired, but also loved. Brainerd recognized and appreciated the love with which Jerusha showed him.
If only the two had lived. They could have married and raised children with the zeal that they both had for the Lord. But that was not God’s sovereign plan for the love with which they displayed. It was His plan that the love of David Brainerd and Jerusha Edwards, with a foundation set on the love of Christ, would endure spiritually. The love of David Brainerd and Jerusha Edwards would never end.
"David Brainerd." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 July 2013. Web. 13 Jan. 2013.
Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003. 318-30. Print.
"Missionary Biography: David Brainerd (1718-1747)." Bethany College of Missions. 3 Aug. 2010. Web. 13 Jan. 2013.