PIPER FRIDAY – Brainerd's Mistake, World Mission's Gain

While I believe Piper is arguably one of the greatest preachers alive, he is also a fantastic biographer. I found these words very encouraging. It is amazing to realize that one man’s moment of foolishness directly led to a course of action which would arguably inspire the entire modern missions movement! God truly is sovereign—even over our unwise mistakes.

As someone who is prone to foot-in-mouth disease myself (and more serious failures of tongue control) it is good to know that even when I fail in my duty to learn to control my tongue, He can sovereignly overrule. This, of course, does not absolve me of my responsibility and accountability for what I have said—our careless words can truly be sin—as I suspect were Brainerd’s here.

So, if you are someone who has been hurt by anything I have said in the past, this post is not aimed at you—instead, please let me know privately so I can apologize in person! (See also James 3)

Brainerd . . . was at the top of his class academically, but was summarily expelled in early 1742 during his third year. He was overheard to say that one of the tutors, Chauncey Whittelsey, “has no more grace than a chair,” and that he wondered why the Rector “did not drop down dead” for fining students for their evangelical zeal.

This expulsion wounded Brainerd very deeply. He tried again and again in the next several years to make things right. Numerous people came to his aid, but all to no avail. God had another plan for Brainerd. Instead of a quiet six years in the pastorate or lecture hall, followed by death and little historical significance at all, God meant to drive him into the wilderness that he might suffer for His sake and make an incalculable impact on the history of missions.

Before the way was cut off for him to the pastorate, Brainerd had no thought of being a missionary to the Indians. But now he had to rethink his whole life. There was a law, recently passed, that no established minister could be installed in Connecticut who had not graduated from Harvard, Yale, or a European university. So Brainerd felt cut off from his life calling.

There is a tremendous lesson here. God is at work for the glory of His name and the good of His church even when the good intentions of His servants fail—even when that failing is owing to sin or carelessness. One careless word, spoken in haste, and Brainerd’s life seemed to fall apart before his eyes. But God knew better, and Brainerd came to accept it. In fact, I am tempted to speculate whether the modern missionary movement that was so repeatedly inspired by Brainerd’s missionary life would have happened if David Brainerd had not been expelled from Yale and cut off from his hopes to serve God in the pastorate!

                                                       —John Piper

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