Samuel Logan Brengle
Soldier and Servant
Biographical Sketch from They Knew Their God, Volume 1
Who would have thought it! Young, formerly ambitious Brengle on his knees polishing eighteen pair of boots! He who had turned down the call to a popular pulpit of a large Methodist Church in an American city was actually performing this most menial task in the Salvation Army Training Barracks in London. The struggle was sharp but short. He wondered if all his educational advantages and personal talents were being thrown away. Then the Holy Spirit brought to his remembrance his Great Exemplar. “If Jesus could wash the disciples’ feet, I can blacken the Cadets’ boots!” was the happy conclusion. And so young Brengle accepted cheerfully William Booth’s rigorous methods of training soldiers of the Cross, and for almost half a century he was to be a highly used specialist in promoting a deep concept of consecration and holy living in the worldwide circle of Salvation Army influence.
Samuel Logan Brengle was born in Fredericksburg, Indiana, U.S.A., of William and Rebecca Brengle, June 1, 1860. When the lad was two years of age, his schoolteacher father responded to the call of his country to serve in the Northern Army during the American Civil War. Wounded in the siege of Vicksburg, the brave young soldier returned home only to succumb to his wounds. The godly wife and mother, now entrusted with the rearing of her only child, faithfully instructed him in the things of God. Although she married again and life consisted of one move after another, attendance at church never was neglected.
Revival services came to the small town of Olney, Illinois, where the family lived, and the young Samuel sought for peace of heart at the close of each service. For five nights in succession, he knelt in prayer, believing that such an act of decision would make him a Christian. But no divine witness followed.
Some time later, in a walk with his mother, they talked together concerning the latest proposed move to Texas of the ever restless stepfather. “Mother,” exclaimed Samuel, “I’m glad we didn’t move to Texas. If we had, I might have fallen in with a rough, drunken lot of fellows and lost my soul. But we stayed here, and I have become a Christian.” With this declaration, there came such a sense of peace and rest of soul that he knew beyond all doubt he was accepted of God. For weeks, he reveled in his Heaven-sent experience. But the work of redemption within was not complete as he was yet to learn.
As he walked home from school one day with several companions, an argument arose, whereupon one of the boys called Sam a most undesirable name. Then and there, young Brengle became aware of the presence of evil within his heart as, in retaliation, he dealt a hearty blow with the fist. Immediately the wonted calm of his soul was exchanged for a storm of confusion and distress. Nor could he feel a sense of rightness with his Maker until he had sought forgiveness at the throne of grace for the unseemly act.
Throwing himself heartily into church work at fifteen years of age, he became assistant superintendent of the Sunday School. His eagerness for knowledge led his high school teachers to recommend that he study grammar with an excellent professor who lived about fifteen miles distant. His mother consented to this agreement, though the close relationship existing between her and Samuel made the parting mutually painful.
The lad was thrown into a most bewildering emotional state when his mother, after a brief illness, passed away. His sorrow seemed to be assuaged only by a closer application to his studies and, as he advanced in them, the next step in his career was college. The sale of the farm provided funds. And Brengle, at seventeen years of age, enrolled as a student in what is now DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana.
His college career marked him as a brilliant scholar, particularly in oratory, and ambitions of a political nature began to appear on the horizon of his life. But God had another plan for Brengle, which now and again flitted across his vision although he was almost unwilling to acknowledge its existence—a plan that he should become a preacher of the Gospel. In a somewhat unusual way, he was led to comply.
Because of his natural eloquence, he was chosen to speak at an annual convention upon an important matter on which depended the very life of the fraternity to which he belonged. He was so burdened with the sense of responsibility entailed, that in anguish of spirit he prayed for divine help, vowing that if his speech accomplished its purpose he would yield the point and obey God wherever His call led him. When his prayer was answered, he could not disregard the blueprint for his life that God had at various times tried to reveal to him.
After graduation, Samuel served for a brief time as a circuit preacher of the Methodist Church. Then friends advised him to take up the study of theology and, spurred by the ambition to become a preacher of note, Brengle enrolled at Boston Theological Seminary.
This decision ushered in the most important experience of his career. For eight years, he had been painfully aware of an inner conflict between the forces of good and of evil within his own heart, with no clear knowledge as to the way the problem could be solved. In Boston he was blessed, just when he needed it most, by the instruction of Dr. Daniel Steele concerning the provision of Calvary for the sin of his wayward heart. This godly tutor was able to prove from the Scripture that inner deliverance was possible, and he could also confirm the reality by personal testimony. How timely was this Heaven-planned contact! And much study brought to his aid a greater Teacher than Steele—the Holy Spirit Himself. He describes what this Teacher revealed to his hungry heart:
I saw the humility of Jesus and my pride; the meekness of Jesus and my temper; the lowliness of Jesus and my ambition; the purity of Jesus and my unclean heart; the faithfulness of Jesus and the deceitfulness of my heart; the unselfishness of Jesus and my selfishness; the trust and faith of Jesus and my doubts and unbelief; the holiness of Jesus and my unholiness. I got my eyes off everybody but Jesus and myself, and I came to loathe myself.1
Interwoven with the knowledge that God had called him to preach, was the ignoble yet insistent urge to be a big preacher. How subtle was the temptation, “If I can only be a great preacher like Moody! Perhaps if I seek the baptism, I shall have this power!” And he further adds, “I was seeking the Holy Spirit that I might use Him, rather than that He might use me.”
The morning of January 9, 1895, found Brengle awake early, his soul stirred to the depths. The Spirit of God was trying to bring him to a definite issue. “Today,” exclaimed the young man, “I must obtain—or be lost forever.” But his ambition for ministerial greatness had not yet been brought to the Cross, although he prayed, “Lord, if Thou wilt only sanctify me, I will take the meanest little appointment there is.”
His carnal heart, meanwhile, found comfort in the thought that even though he should be assigned to a small, obscure church, he could still be a powerful speaker. Then a flash of divine light discovered the enormity of his love of self to such an extent that, broken completely before the revelation, he exclaimed, “Lord, I wanted to be an eloquent preacher but, if by stammering and stuttering, I can bring greater glory to Thee than by eloquence, then let me stammer and stutter.” But the Holy Spirit delayed His coming. Suddenly, however, the darkness of his soul was pierced by the words, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
“I believe that,” was Brengle’s response, and then the Lord Whom he sought came suddenly to His temple. To the end of his days, Brengle never doubted the reality of this work of grace in his soul, nor did he ever cease to magnify it. Two days later, another manifestation of God flooded his soul. Of this experience, he said:
I opened my Bible and, while reading some of the words of Jesus, He gave me such a blessing as I never had dreamed a man could have this side of Heaven. It was an unutterable revelation. It was a Heaven of love that came into my heart. My soul melted like wax before fire. I sobbed and sobbed. I loathed myself that I had ever sinned against Him or doubted Him or lived for myself and not for His glory. Every ambition for self was now gone. The pure flame of love burned like a blazing fire would burn a moth.
I walked out over Boston Commons before breakfast, weeping for joy and praising God. Oh, how I loved! In that hour I knew Jesus, and I loved Him till it seemed my heart would break with love. I was filled with love for all His creatures. I heard the little sparrows chattering; I loved them. I saw a little worm wriggling across my path; I stepped over it; I didn’t want to hurt any living thing. I loved the dogs; I loved the horses; I loved the little urchins on the street; I loved the strangers who hurried past me; I loved the heathen; I loved the whole world.2
To be sure, such a flood-tide of emotion subsided, but in its place came the certainty and solidity of an unwavering faith that made Brengle the spiritual giant he became. Again he writes:
One day, with amazement, I said to a friend, “This is the perfect love about which the apostle John wrote, but it is beyond all I dreamed of; in it is personality. This love thinks, wills, talks with me, corrects me, instructs me, and teaches me.” And then I knew that God, the Holy Ghost, was in this love, and that this love was God, for “God is love.”
Oh, the rapture mingled with reverential, holy fear—for it is a rapturous, yet divinely fearful thing—to be indwelt by the Holy Ghost, to be a temple of the living God! Great heights are always opposite great depths, and, from the heights of this blessed experience, many have plunged into the dark depths of fanaticism. But we must not draw back from the experience through fear. All danger will be avoided by meekness and lowliness of heart, by humble, faithful service, by esteeming others better than ourselves, and in honor preferring them before ourselves, by keeping an open, teachable spirit, in a word, by looking steadily unto Jesus, to Whom the Holy Spirit continually points us; for He would not have us fix our attention exclusively upon Himself and His work in us, but also upon the Crucified One and His work for us, that we may walk in the steps of Him Whose blood purchases our pardon and makes and keeps us clean.
Doors of opportunity swung open. The flattering offer of the pastorate of the largest Methodist church in the northern part of the state of Indiana formerly would have been accepted without hesitation. Now it was rejected. Brengle felt that divine guidance was directing him to the Salvation Army. He had heard General Booth speak and had been greatly moved. The open-air efforts of those intrepid warriors of the Cross had a strange appeal and, when a Voice whispered, “These are My people,” the die was cast. He determined to go to England, where he could personally offer himself to General Booth and where he could receive adequate training for Christian service.
He had become engaged to a young Salvationist, Elizabeth Swift. In every way, she seemed to meet the high standards he had set for himself concerning marriage and, with her full consent, he set sail for England two days after the wedding.
General Booth eyed Brengle coolly. “You belong to the dangerous classes,” he said. “You have been your own boss for so long that I don’t think you will want to submit to Salvation Army discipline. We are an Army, and we demand obedience.”3
However, Brengle was sent “on trial ” to a training school where his first assignment was to black the boots of eighteen other cadets! When he remembered that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, his heart sang for joy. Never did he shrink from the humble quarters where he later found himself, the visitation routine, the every-night services, and the selling of the War Cry.
After six months’ training, he returned, as Captain Brengle, to his native land where, with his wife, he labored for the salvation of sinners and the sanctification of the soldiers in the Army itself. “To insist upon holiness” wherever stationed was the passion of his heart, and for forty years his clarion call was heard all over the United States. His circle of influence widened to England, the Continent, and even to Australia, New Zealand, and the Hawaiian Islands.
A fellow-officer met Brengle at a railway station in California. So desirous was he for spiritual help that he could not wait for the first Convention service. “I want you for myself as well,” he exclaimed. “I’ve read your writings, sensed your spirit, and I believe you can help me. I’ve grown a little dry in my own soul.”4
This man and two other officers later engaged in daily prayer that Samuel Logan Brengle would be set aside by the Army for spiritual work only, that is for the building up of the spiritual life among officers and soldiers. They petitioned headquarters to this effect, and their request was granted. This recognition of Colonel Brengle as a prophet of God seems to have coincided with his own sense of call, for we find this entry in his diary: “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord!” (1 Sam. 3:19, 20). What earthly honor or fame can compare with this! What dignity to be “a prophet of the Lord!”5
Brengle never dealt in generalities. Having seen the sin of his own heart, he knew what was in man. More than one hearer declared that Brengle preached directly at him. He was never guilty of making his congregation feel that they could in any way temporize with their submission to God. “Now is the day of salvation,” he declared and, wherever he proclaimed the Gospel, the penitent forms saw many a spiritual victory.
As great as he was as a preacher, it is as a writer for which he will be longest remembered. He wrote only eight books, but it has been estimated that no less than a million copies have been printed in English and other languages as well. Helps to Holiness holds a very high place in its field and has been widely circulated to the spiritual enlightenment of thousands.
Birth-throes of agony often precede the production of that which is to bless multitudes. Enjoying his work in a certain town, Brengle received the startling message that he was appointed to No. 1 Boston Corps. He said later that a feeling of faintness came over him as he read the telegram, for this Corps was located in an extremely difficult area. Poverty, drink, and crime degraded the inhabitants among whom they would be working. Quiet for study and writing would seem impossible. What is more, the hall was not far from the Theological Institute and former fellow students would be visiting him in anything but enviable quarters. Boston spelled to him a living martyrdom. He prayed,“Lord, why do I feel this way? Am I proud? Is this appointment an offense to my pride? Am I not dead to these things?”
He then read the declaration of St. Paul, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” He could not but exclaim, “Dear Lord, I too will be faithful. I am willing, not only to go to Boston and to suffer there if necessary, but I am willing even to die in Boston for Thee!”6 Little did he foresee how near he would come to dying, nor could he know the blessed outcome to the spiritual interests of posterity.
The Brengles proceeded to Boston where blessing followed. And then one night, a drunkard, enraged because he had been ejected from the hall, hurled a paving brick which struck Brengle on the head. The devoted man hovered for some time between life and death and for eighteen months he was unable to preach. But fire such as had come upon Brengle’s sacrifice could not be easily contained. The message of holiness burned in his bones. He wrote articles on the subject for the War Cry which were later collected and published under the title, Helps to Holiness. Mrs. Brengle later painted on the offensive missile the words of Joseph referring to his brothers’ selling him as a slave: “As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to save much people alive.”
Another of his useful books was the fruit of the distressing crisis which arose upon the secession of the Ballington Booths from the Salvation Army. To help keep the soldiers engaged in warfare for souls rather than in controversy, articles were written on the subject of soul-winning, which were eventually published as Soul-Winner’s Secret.
Commissioner Brengle often was asked the secret of retaining the blessing of sanctification. Two years before his death he gave sound advice in answer to the query:
Keep in the will of God, obey Him, seek Him daily, waiting at His gates. Read the Bible regularly. Never neglect secret prayer. Keep testifying to the grace bestowed upon you. Help others.
I have been asked again if the realization of sanctification has ever waned during the past fifty years. Judging by my emotions, yes; judging by my volitions, no. There have been times when my emotional experience has ebbed out, and I wondered whether I had lost my Lord and my experience. Once I was sure I had, and I cast away my confidence, and for twenty-eight days was sorely tempted and sifted by the devil. When deliverance came—for I was not cast away—I discovered that my will had not wavered in its purpose, that my volitions had held fast to Christ in the midst of the emotional storm and desolation that swept over my soul.
To all my tempted comrades, I would say: “Hold fast! Be faithful, regardless of how you feel, for Christ will never leave His own. He knows the way you take. He, too, was tempted for forty days and nights of the devil.” That trial of faith and loyalty proved to be one of the greatest blessings of my life.
Sanctification has meant complete abandonment to the will of God, but not in such a way that my will has become passive in its functioning. It has had to be, and has been, active, firm, assertive in purpose to be the Lord’s. I have not been allowed to sit in passive rapture singing myself away to everlasting bliss. God and man must cooperate, work together, both in the reception and continuance of the blessing.
The great heights are set over against the great depths. So the highest religious attainments are set over against the dark depths of fanaticism. And the only way to escape falling into that abyss is by being humble-minded and praying such a prayer as David’s, “Teach me good judgment and knowledge.” I have prayed for years that my light and my love might keep step with each other. Light without love may lead to pride—may make us supercilious and give us a false sense of superiority. Love without light may lead to great indiscretions and false judgments and fanaticism.
But we must beware of thinking that there is no further development. We are bidden to “grow in grace.” We have entered into a rich grace through this act of sanctification, and we are to grow in it, though we cannot grow into it. We may, and should, increase daily in knowledge, in good judgment, in understanding, in ever-increasing love and devotion to God and to the well-being of our fellowmen. Jesus Himself grew in wisdom as He grew in stature and in truth.
We should forever get rid of the idea that sanctification is purely an emotional condition. It is equally volitional. You cannot, however, have any great inner experience without emotion. One of the greatest dangers to religion today is the fear, probably born of pride, that people have of emotion. They are so anxious to be balanced and well poised that they cease to be vital and natural. They become faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null—no more.
The highest religious experiences make men and women as natural as little children, and each one will express himself according to his own temperament. I would say to young people, “Don’t be standardized. Be yourselves. Have some enthusiasm in your religion. Don’t be a slave to what others may think. Keep your eyes off people and on Jesus and cultivate love for the people who try you. They may not always be wise, but if they are good, bear with them.”
Some of my prayers I have not yet seen answered, but others that I poured forth with tears and strong desire for His glory and the salvation and sanctification of men fifty years ago are being answered before my eyes today in ways I did not, could not, foresee.
These fifty years have been rich in spiritual blessing and sweet fellowship with my Lord and His people. But they also have been years of toil, of temptation, of tribulation and sometimes of sore discipline of spirit amounting to agony. My Master is a Man with a cross, Who bade me take up my Cross and follow Him if I would be His disciple, learn of Him, and finally share His triumph.
In the year 1931, Commissioner Brengle retired from active service in the Salvation Army, though he continued to fulfill speaking engagements for at least two more years. Then declining health and failing eyesight brought about a curtailment, and finally, a cessation of public activity. On May 19, 1936, God called His servant to Himself.
QUOTATIONS BY SAMUEL LOGAN BRENGLE
One glad, sweet morning, God wrought mightily in my soul. All alone in my room, God revealed His Son in me. I was just as sure He had cleansed and filled me that moment, as I am that I am here now. I could not deny it any more than the man who was born blind could deny that Jesus had touched his eyes. I knew that, whereas I had been blind, I could see; whereas I had been impure, I was made clean.
You may pray with others, you may confess to others, but there will come a time when you will have to get alone with God, lost to everybody but God—though many be about you—as though there was no one but you and God in the universe.
I have seen His face in blessing
When my eyes were dimmed with tears;
I have felt His hand caressing
When my heart was torn by fears.
When the shadows gathered o’er me,
And the gloom fell deep as night,
In the darkness, just before me,
There were tokens of His light.
I have stepped in waves of sorrow
Till my soul was covered o’er;
I have dreaded oft the morrow
And the path which lay before.
But when sinking in my sadness,
I have felt His helping hand,
And ere daydawn came His gladness
With the courage to withstand.
I was wandering, and He found me,
Brought me from the verge of Hell;
I was bruisèd, and He bound me,
Sick was I, He made me well.
I was wounded, and He healed me
When a-wearied of the strife;
I was erring, and He sealed me,
Dead, His Spirit gave me life.
By His life’s Blood He has claimed me
As a jewel in His sight;
As His own child He has named me,
Brought me forth to walk in light.
So I’m fighting till He calls me,
Walking in the path He trod;
And I care not what befalls me
Living in the life of God.
—S. L. Brengle.