BILLY BRAY, THE BIBLE CHRISTIAN BY THE EDITOR.
THE grace of God does not obliterate the peculiarities of nature. It weakens, and ultimately destroys, our depraved propensities; but the merely human elements in us it preserves in all their individuality, consecrating but not effacing them. Originality is rather an embellishment than a disfigurement of true religion; though formalists have in all ages aimed at lifting all up or beating all down to a common level, it is a most fortunate circumstance that they have not succeeded, for had they done so the elect family would have lost much of its beauty, and more of its strength. If when the living creatures in Noah’s day entered the ark, they had all, straightway, become of one species — all cattle for instance — the result would have been destructive to the perfect chain of life, injurious to mankind, and, what is far more important, derogatory to the wisdom of the Most High: we ought not, therefore, to expect men when they enter the ark of salvation, to lose their natural distinctions and peculiarities, and become all tame and monotonous repetitions of one model.
Many, however, who are prepared to tolerate, and even to admire considerable diversities of character, have yet, unconsciously to themselves, laid down in their own minds very fixed and definite limits within which those diversities shall range. So far they are still looking for a measure of uniformity, and will probably require several more or less violent wrenches of their propriety before they will be able to comprehend within the circle of their sympathy sundry eccentric and erratic forms of genuine spiritual life, which, nevertheless, hare had their uses, and have brought no small glory to God. We are most of us somewhat tolerant of well-educated eccentrics, we almost reverence the oddities of genius, but we are squeamish if we see singularities combined with ignorance, and idiosyncrasies prominent in men who cannot even spell the word. What in a gentleman would be a peculiarity, is reckoned in a poor man to be an absurdity. Such slaves are most men to kid gloves and good balances at the banker’s, that they toady to aristocratic whims, and even affect to admire in my Lord Havethecash that which would disgust them in poor Tom Honesty. This partiality of judgment, in a measure, affects even Christians, who, beyond all other men, are bound to judge things by their own intrinsic value, and not according to the false glitter of position and wealth. We claim for uneducated Christian men as wide a range for their originality as would be allowed them if they were the well-instructed sons of the rich; we would not have a shrewd saying decried because it is ungrammatical; nor a fervent, spiritual utterance ridiculed because it is roughly expressed.
Consider the man as he is; make allowances for educational disadvantages, for circumstances, and for companionships, and do not turn away with contempt from that which, in the sight of God, may be infinitely more precious than all the refinements and delicacies so dear to pompous imbecility.
With this long-winded preface, we beg to introduce to our esteemed readers the life of Mr. William Bray, of Cornwall, for several years a local preacher among the Bryanites, or Bible Christians: we beg his pardon for calling him by a name which he never used, and introduce him a second time, with due accuracy, as Billy Bray. This worthy was once a dunken and lascivious miner, running to excess of riot, but grace made him an intensely earnest and decided follower of the Lord Jesus. His conversion was very marked, and was attended with those violent struggles of conscience which frequently attend that great change in strong-minded and passionate natures. After many resolves and failures, he was deeply impressed by reading Bunyan’s “Visions of Heaven and Hell.” In that book he met with a passage, in which two lost souls in hell are represented as cursing each other for being the author of each other’s misery; and Bray at once thought of a certain Sam Coad, to whom he was much attached, and the question pierced his very heart “Shall Sam Coad and I, who like each other so much, torment each other in hell?” “From that time, November, 1823, he had a strong desire to be a better man. He had married some time before; his wife had been converted when young, but had gone back from the right path before marriage. But the remembrance of what she had enjoyed was very sweet, and yet very bitter. She told her husband that ‘no tongue could tell what they enjoy who serve the Lord.’ ‘Why don’t you begin again?’ was his pertinent enquiry; adding, ‘for then I may begin too.’ He was ashamed to fall on his knees before his wife, for the devil had such a hold of him; but he knew it was his duty to pray for mercy. He went to bed without bending his knees in prayer; but about three o’clock he awoke, and thinking that if he waited until his wife was converted, that he might never be saved, he jumped out of bed, and got on his knees for the first time, and forty years afterwards he could joyfully boast that he had never once since been ashamed to pray. “When Sunday morning came it was very wet; the Bible Christians had a class-meeting a mile from his house; he went to the place, but because it was wet none came. This had an unfavorable effect on his mind, and his first thought was, ‘If little rain will keep the people away from the house of God, I shall not join here.’ This hasty decision was soon reversed, for Billy was a consistent member with the Bible Christians for more than forty years, and died in communion with the people of his early choice.”
His actual obtaining of peace brought the tears into our eyes as we read it, and made us remember a lad who, more than twenty years ago, found the Lord in a somewhat similar style; it also reminded us of George Fox the Quaker, and John Bunyan the Baptist, when undergoing a similar change.
Children of God are born very much alike: their divergencies usually arise as a matter of after years; in their regeneration, as in their prayers, they appear as one. When Bray found no one at the meeting, he went home, and spent the day in reading his Bible and the hymn-book, and in prayer to God. “He was assailed by the fierce temptation ‘that he would never find mercy;’ but with the promise, “Seek and ye shall find,” he quenched this fiery dart of the wicked one, and in due time he learned, by blessed experience, that the promise was true . Monday forenoon was spent in the same manner. In the afternoon he had to go to the mine, but, ‘all the while I was working I was crying to the Lord for mercy.’ His sad state moved his fellow-workmen to pity he ‘was not like Billy Bray,’ they said. Why?
Because he had been used to tell lies to make them laugh, and now he was determined to serve the Lord. No relief came, and he went home, ‘asking for mercy all the way.’ It was then eleven o’clock at night, but the first thing he did was to go upstairs and fall upon his knees, and entreat God to have mercy on him. Everything else was forgotten in the intensity of his desire that the Lord would speak peace to his soul. After a while he went to bed, but not to sleep. All the forenoon of the next day he spent in crying for mercy food being almost left untasted, and conversation with his ‘partner’ at the mine in the afternoon having almost ceased. That day passed away, and nearly the whole night he spent upon his knees. The enemy ‘thrust at him sore,’ but ‘I was glad,’ he says, ‘that I had begun to seek the Lord, for I felt I would rather be crying for mercy than living in sin .’ On the next day he had ‘almost laid hold of the blessing,’ but the time came for him to go to the mine (two o’clock in the afternoon). The devil strongly tempted him, while at his work, that he would never find mercy; ‘but I said to him, “Then art a liar, devil,” and as soon as I said so, I felt the weight gone from my mind, and I could praise the Lord, but not with that liberty I could afterwards. So I called to my comrades, “I am not so happy as some, but sooner than I would go back to sin again, I would be put in that ‘plat’ there, and burned to death.” When he had got home on former nights he had cared nothing about supper, his anguish of soul was so great; and this night he did not, because a hope had sprung up in his heart, and with it a determination to press right into the kingdom of heaven. To his chamber he again repaired. Beautifully simple and touching are his own words: — ‘I said to the Lord, “Thou hast said, They that ask shall receive they that seek shall find, and to them that knock the door shall he opened , and I have faith to believe it.” In an instant the Lord made me so happy that 1 cannot express what I felt. I shouted for joy. I praised God with my whole heart for what he had done for a poor sinner like me for I could say, the Lord hath pardoned all my sins. I think this was in November, 1823, but what day of the month I do not know. I remember this, that everything looked new to me; the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees. I was like a man in a new world. I spent the greater part of my time in praising the Lord. I could say with Isaiah, “O Lord, I will praise thee, for though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me;” or, like David, “The Lord hath brought me up out of a horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, and hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto my God.” I was a new man altogether. I told all I met what the Lord had done for my soul. I have heard some say that they have had hard work to get away from their companions, but I had hard work to find them soon enough to tell them what the Lord had done for me. Some said I was mad; and others that they should get me back again next pay-day. But, praise the Lord, it is now more than forty years ago, and they have not got me yet. They said I was a mad -man, but they meant I was a glad man, and, glory be to God! I have been glad ever since.’” No sooner was Billy saved himself than he began at once looking after others. He prayed for his work-mates, and saw several brought to Jesus in answer to his prayer. His was a simple faith; he believed in the reality of prayer, and meant to be heard, and expected to be answered whenever he supplicated for the souls of his comrades. He was a live man, not a dummy.
In his own simple style he did all that he did with vigor, physical vigor being quite conspicuous enough in his shouting and leaping for joy. “He tells us, soon after his conversion, ‘I was very happy in my work and could leap and dance for joy under ground as well as on the surface. My comrades used to tell me that was no religion, dancing, shouting, and making so much “to-do.” But I was born in the fire , and could not live in the smoke . They said there was no need to leap, and dance, and make so much noise, for the Lord was not deaf and he knows our hearts. And I would reply, but you must know that the devil is not deaf either, and yet his servants make a great noise. The devil would rather see us doubting than hear us shouting.’” Does the reader wince? Why should not Billy Bray shout, as., well as the saints in the Psalms? and why should he not dance before the Lord, if he felt inclined to do so, with so good an example as David before him? Why should we play the part of Michal? True, neither the writer nor his readers will probably become shouters or jumpers; but, for the life of us, we cannot see why natural expressions of holy joy in rough, pitmen should not be quite as acceptable with God as the more silent and decorous modes of thanksgiving adopted by more refined converts. The deadly decorum which represses all the jubilation of unsophisticated nature is none of our favorites. We have half a mind to give a leap or two ourselves, or shout “Glory, glory!” just to show how heartily we despise the stiffness of unregenerate gentility, which has stolen the name of propriety. “Bray began publicly to exhort men to repent, and turn to God, about a year after his conversion. Towards the end of 1824 his name was put on the Local Preachers’ Plan, and his labors were much blessed in the conversion of souls. He did not commonly select a text, as is the general habit of preachers, but he usually began his addresses by reciting a verse of a hymn, a little of his own experience, or some telling anecdote. But he had the happy art of pleasing and profiting the people, so that persons of all ages, the young as much as the old, of all classes, the rich as much as the poor, and of all characters, the worldly as much as the pious, flocked to hear him, and he retained his popularity until the last. Perhaps no preacher in Cornwall ever acquired more extensive or more lasting renown, and the announcement of his name, as a speaker at a missionary meeting, or any anniversary or special occasion, was a sufficient attraction, whoever might or might not be present rise. Sometimes his illustrations and appeals made a powerful impression, I remember once hearing him speak with great effect to a large congregation, principally miners. In that neighborhood there were two mines, one very prosperous, and the other quite the reverse, for the work was hard and the wages low. He represented himself as working at that mine, but on the ‘pay-day’ going to the prosperous one for his wages. But had he not been at work at the other mine? the manager inquired. He had, but he liked the wages at the good mine the best. He pleaded very earnestly, but in vain. He was dismissed at last with the remark, from which there was no appeal, that he must come there to work if he came there for his wages. And then he turned upon the congregation, and the effect, was almost irresistible, that they must serve Christ here if they would share his glory hereafter, but if they would serve the devil now, to him they must go for their wages by-and-by. A very homely illustration certainly, but one that convinced the understanding and subdued the hearts of his hearers. “There was great excitement and much apparent confusion in some of his meetings, more than sufficient to shock the prejudices of highly sensitive or refined, or over-fastidious persons. Some even who had the fullest confidence and warmest affection for Billy could not enjoy some of the outward manifestations they occasionally witnessed to the extent that he himself did, or persons of similar temperament. Billy could not tolerate ‘deadness,’ as he expressively called it, either in a professing Christian or in a meeting, He had a deeper sympathy with persons singing, or shouting, or leaping for joy, than he had with ‘The speechless awe that dares not move, And all the silent heaven of love.’“ His life, though not without its trials, must have been a remarkably happy one. Mr. Gilbert says of him, on one occasion, “When Billy was about to leave, in company with a youth who had come with him, he said, ‘Johnny and I, we’ll make the valleys ring with our singing and praising as we go home!’ I said, ‘ Then you are a singer, Billy,’ ‘O yes, bless the Lord! I can sing. My heavenly Father likes to hear me sing, I can’t sing so sweetly as some, but my Father likes to hear me sing as well as those who sing better than I can. My Father likes to hear the crow as well as the nightingale , for he made them both.” When much opposed and persecuted for singing so much, he would exclaim, “If they were to put me into a barrel, I would shout glory through the bung-hole!” Methodism is the mother church of Cornwall, and Bray was a genuine though uncultivated child of her heart. As John Wesley always associated the grace of God with the penny a week, so Bray’s religion was not all shouting; it had an eminently practical turn in many directions. Billy was quite a mighty chapel builder; he began by getting a piece of freehold from his mother, which he cleared with his own hands, and then proceeded to dig out the foundations of a chapel which was to be called Bethel . Under great discouragements, both from friends and foes, mostly, however, from the first, he actually built the place, working at it himself, and at the same time begging stone, begging timber, and begging money to pay the workmen. His little all he gave, and moved all around, who had anything to spare, to give likewise. On-lookers thought Billy to be silly, and called him so; but, as he well remarked, “Wise men could not have preached in the chapel if silly Billy had not built it.” Almost as soon as one building was finished, he was moved to commence another. It was much needed, and many talked about it, but nobody had the heart to begin it but Billy Bray.
He begged the land, borrowed a horse and cart of the giver; and then after doing his own hard day’s work underground in the pit, and providing for five small children, he and his son worked at raising stone and building the walls; frequently working twenty hours of the twenty-four. He had a hard struggle over this second chapel; but; his own account is best. “When our chapel was up about into the door-head, the devil said to me, ‘They are all gone and left you and the chapel, and I would go and leave the place too.’
Then I said, “Devil, doesn’t thee know me better than that; by the help of the Lord I will have the chapel up, or lose my skin on the down.’ So the devil said no more to me on that subject. Sometimes I had blisters on my hands, and they have been very sore. But I felt I did not mind that, for if the chapel should stand one hundred years, and if one soul were converted in it every year, that would be a hundred souls, and that would pay me well if I got to heaven, for they that ‘turn many to righteousness, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.’ So I thought I should be rich enough when I got there. The chapel was finished after a time; and the opening day came. ‘We had preaching, but the preacher was a wise man, and a dead man. I believe there was not much good done that day, for it was a very dead time with the preacher and people; for he had a great deal grammar , and but little of Father . ‘It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord.’ If it was by wisdom or might, I should have but a small part, for my might is little and my wisdom less. Thanks be to God, the work is his, and he can work by whomsoever he pleases. The second Sunday after the chapel was opened and I was ‘planned’ there. I said to the people, ‘You know I did not work here about this chapel in order to fill my pocket, but for the good of the neighbors, and the good of souls; and souls I must have, and souls I will have.’ The Lord blessed us in a wonderful manner.
Two women cried to the Lord for mercy; and when I saw that, said, ‘Now the chapel is paid for already.’ The good Lord went on to work there; and the society soon went up from fifteen members to thirty. You see how good the Lord is to me; I spoke for one soul a year, and he gave me fifteen souls the first year. Bless and praise his holy name, for he is good, and his mercy endureth for ever, for one soul is worth a thousand worlds. Our little chapel had three windows, one on one side, and two on the other; the old devil, who does not lite chapels, put his servants, by way of reproach, to call our chapel Three-Eyes . But blessed be God, since then, the chapel has become too small for the place; and it has been enlarged; now there are six windows instead of three; and they may call the chapel Six-Eyes if they will. For, glory be to God, many that have been converted there are now in heaven. And, when we get there, we will praise him with all our might; and he shall never hear the last of it .”
No sooner was this second house finished, than he began a third and larger one, and in this enterprise his talent for collecting, as well as his zeal in giving and working, were well displayed. He had high — and as we believe proper — ideas of his mission, in gathering in the subscriptions of the Lord’s stewards. “A friend who was with Billy on a begging expedition suggested, as they were coming near a gentleman’s house, and Billy was evidently making for the front door, that it would be better if they went to the back door. ‘No,’ said Billy, ‘I am the son of a King, and I shall go frontways.” “At one time, at a missionary meeting, he seemed quite vexed because there was something said in the report about money received for ‘rags and bones.’ And when he rose to address the meeting he said ‘I don’t think it is right supporting the Lord’s cause with old rags and bones. The Lord deserves the best;, and ought to have the best.’” Well done, Billy!
This is right good, and sound divinity.
Simple souls like Billy, with all their happiness, have also their trials. His true life unto God observed the molesting influence of the evil spirit, and he viewed him in much the same realistic manner as Martin Luther had done before him. “King of the Blacks,” was his common name for the archenemy. “The devil knows where I live,” was a common saying of Billy’s, in answer to remarks of persons that he knew but little or nothing of trial and temptation, he was tempted, so he said, to do many bad things, to swear, to tell lies, etc., and sometimes to end his life by throwing himself down the “shaft” of a mine. But he told the tempter, “old smutty-face ,” as he called him, to do this himself, and see how he would like it.
This cool way of ridiculing the fiend reminds us of a story of the Puritan times. We will give it as we find it. “Mr. White, of Dorchester, being a member of the Assembly of Divines, was appointed minister of Lambeth, but, for the present, could get no convenient house to dwell in, but one that was possessed by the devil. This he took; and, not long after, his maid, sitting up late, the devil appeared to her; whereupon, in a great fright, she ran up to tell her master. He bid her go to bed, saying, she was well served for sitting up so late. Presently after, the devil appeared to Matthew White himself, standing at his bed’s feet; to whom Mr. White said, ‘If thou hast nothing else to do, thou mayest stand there still, and I will betake myself to rest;’ and, accordingly, composing himself to sleep, the devil vanished.” A little of this coolness would soon end the nonsense of impostors, and would probably be the best treatment for the fallen angel himself, if he did literally appear.
While upon this subject, we are tempted to quote Mr. Bourne again, especially as the passage shows Billy Bray to the life. “We may give two or three incidents, as they show not only the eccentricity, but also the force of his genius. He thus repelled the tempter, when he suggested that he would not go to heaven when he died ‘Hast thee got a little “lew” place for me in hell where I could sing thee a song? Thee cus’n’t burn me, devil There’s no grease in me’ ; or, ‘If thee shouldst get me, I should vex thee a lot, for I should bring Jesus with me. I never go anywhere without he. I should raise such a peal about thy ears as thee hasn’t heard for this two-seven years. I should do nothing but sing and tell about Jesus.” If the temptation was that he was a fool to go to preach, as he would never get anything for it, the answer was, ‘Not so big a fool as thee art, for once thee was in a good situation, and did not know how to keep it.’ When his crop of potatoes failed, while his neighbors had plenty, the temptation was, ‘What a God thine is! He gives others plenty of potatoes and you none. I would not serve such a God as that.’ Billy’s reply was, ‘Then I would , for this shows that my heavenly Father is omnipotent, and that he can give potatoes or take them away!’ and the devil left at once, and, as Billy said, ‘without having the manners to say good morning .’ It is long long ago since Satan asked the Almighty, ‘Doth Job fear God for nought?’ craftily insinuating that there was no disinterested virtue, and that God had only to touch what Job had, and he would curse him to his face. But Christians love God for what he is, and not for profit or reward; and they love holiness, not only because it is happiness, but because it is his image who is to them “the fairest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely.’ It is a miserable, shallow philosophy to suppose that the Lord rewards those who are poor in spirit, and pure in heart, and patient, under suffering, with mere earthly good, or that their trust, and love, and devotion, and service, can be alienated by any sorrows and evils he permits to come upon them.
Billy, too, knew how to fight the devil and his agents with their own weapons. Returning late from a revival meeting, on a dark night in a lonely road, ‘certain lewd fellows of the baser sort,’ tried to frighten him by making all sorts of unearthly sounds; but he went singing on his way. At last one of them said, in the most terrible tones, ‘But I’m the devil up here in the hedge, Billy Bray.’ ‘Bless the Lord! Bless the Lord!’ said Billy, ‘I did not know thee “wust” so far away as that.’ To use Billy’s own expression, ‘What could the devil do with such as he!’” This good man’s heart and soul were in all that he did, and to him things were as the Book of God describes them. ‘We do not suppose that we should have agreed with his theology; but we sympathize with his experience, and admire his holy childlikeness. We feel obliged to Mr. Bourne for telling the simple, unvarnished tale, and only hope our borrowing from him, may, like the bees who suck the flowers, do no hurt to his book. We expect that our readers will get it for themselves, and exhaust the edition. They will find a good deal which they will not endorse, but much more that they will read with interest, and we trust with profit..
We shall not tell more of his life and death, but close with an incident which we admire beyond everything else in the book, for we believe in the Holy Ghost moving preachers, and would gladly be silent if we did not feel his power. “One of the most blessed results of his deep piety was his unfeigned humility, and his continual sense of dependence upon God . The Lord’s servants without the Lord’s presence are weak like other men, like Samson, when he lost his locks. Here is one experience of Billy’s: ‘When I was in the St. Neot’s Circuit, I was on the plan; and I remember that one Sunday I was planned at Redgate, and there was a chapel full of people, and the Lord gave me great power and liberty in speaking; but all at once the Lord took away his Spirit from me, so that I could not speak a word and this might have been the best sermon that some of them ever heard.
What! you say, and looking. like a fool and not able to speak? Yes, for it was not long before I said, I am glad I am stopped, and that for three reasons. And the first is, To humble my soul, and make me feel more dependent on my Lord, to think more fully of the Lord, and less of myself.
The next reason is, To convince you that are ungodly, for you say we can speak what we have a mind to, without the Lord as well as with him; but you cannot say so now, for you hear how I was speaking, but when the Lord took away his Spirit I could not say another word; without my Lord I could do nothing. And the third reason is, That some of you young men who are standing here may be called to stand in the pulpit some day as I am; and the Lord may take his Spirit from you as he has from me, and then you might say, it is no good for me to try to preach or exhort, for I was stopped the last time 1 tried to preach, and I shall preach no more. But now you can say, I saw poor old Billy Bray stopped once like me, and he did not mind it, and told the people that he was glad his Lord had stopped him, and Billy Bray’s Lord is my Lord, and I am glad. he stopped me too, for if I can benefit the people, and glorify God, that is what I want.’ I then spoke a great white, and told the people what the Lord gave me to say.’”