The man whose heart and mind are capable of responding to the demands of the circumstances by which he is surrounded, is a genius of the highest type. My idea will be better understood by the following remark, which I heard made of a certain distinguished statesman, once a Senator in Congress. It was said that Mr. C.'s capacities were like Indian rubber--capable of indefinite expansion--they could be stretched out to any necessary extent, in order to meet the emergencies of the occasion. This and other sketches contained in this volume will demonstrate the fact that the early preachers in this State exhibited a great deal of the India-rubber-like quality, during the years of their ministerial labors.
With a small population, widely scattered over a large territory, nearly all of them poor, and all of them wholly untrained in the great duty of supporting the gospel--with constantly increasing demands for a preached gospel and the ordinances of God's house--with but few to meet all these pressing wants, the preachers of the early days in this country experience a draft upon their courage and self-denial that is probably without a parallel in the Christian Church, in any part of a Christian country. Every person of common intelligence admires a heroic act, and is ready to do honor to the hero who performed it. What, then, shall be said of the man whose whole life has been made up of such acts--whose duty performances, for years together, consisted of a series of splendid deeds of faithful devotion to the duties of benevolence and love? The man of the world is moved by considerations of selfishness. He works for money or for fame, and if he does not realize results to his labors he will abandon them and try other fields more promising of adequate returns. But the poor preacher must wring out of his heart the last remnant of worldly ambition; he must extinguish forever the fires of personal pride; he must dedicate himself for all time to the hard destiny of poverty, unremitting labor, self-denial, self-sacrifice, and to the duty of working for others. This seems a hard lot for any man to choose for himself. Every one who grows up to man's estate is the subject, more or less, of all those stirring emotions and throbbing impulses which are born in the human heart, and which prompt the man to bold achievements in the race for wealth and renown. The brain of every youth in the land, as it expands with the growing years, teems with a thousand golden visions of the honors which he shall win, and the wealth he shall gain, and the love he shall command, when once fairly launched upon the troubled sea of the world's affairs. To repress all these high aspirations, to quench all these glowing hopes, and dedicate the life to poverty and to toil, is the grandest exhibition of moral courage and genuine heroism which the history of the race of man has ever furnished.
We believe we are wholly within bounds when we say that Frank M. Braley was the best type of the early preacher, in all that appertains to an absolute consecration and devotion to his ministerial work, which the early history of our ministry can furnish. It is not pretended that he was the greatest or the most useful preacher among his contemporaries. His uniform attendance upon the judicatures of the Church, often involving great sacrifice and labor, it will be found as we progress, was a most conspicuous feature in his ministerial life. If it be true that every public man will exhibit extraordinary proficiency in, or devotion to, some one special department of his labor, it will be found that Mr. Braley's distinguishing characteristic was in his prompt attendance upon the official meetings of the Church. It will not follow from this, however, that he was not a good and useful preacher. My personal recollections of most of that band of heroic preachers which was taught by Morrow and Ewing, at New Lebanon Church, is very distinct; and of none of them do I retain a more lively recollection than of Mr. Braley. He was unlike any of his compeers in person, manners, or habits. Of medium size and height, well-formed and graceful, he was a most comely man to look upon. Modest and shy among the old preachers, he rarely showed to good advantage when in such company. But the most pleasing and striking features about his person were his sunny eyes and his bland and winning smile. He was a man to command not only the esteem, but the love, of all those who should come to understand his character and appreciate his worth. He would leave a pleasant impression in every household where he should visit. He would cause men to think better of the Christian religion, on account of its development in his own life and conduct.
In the narrative which I shall present of the life and labors of Mr. Braley, I shall rely almost entirely on a number of very able articles on this same subject, which were written by the late Rev. Jacob Clark, and published in the Cumberland Presbyterian, in the years 1856 and 1857. It had been my purpose to copy those articles entire in this volume; but, after they came into my hands, I found they were too voluminous for the space which I could give to the subject. It was found, also, upon a careful reading of the articles referred to, that they were incumbered with a great deal of detail about matters which would be of no interest to readers who had no knowledge of the concomitant circumstances under which they transpired.
It will be my purpose, therefore, to condense the narrative of Mr. Clark, and leave out all matter that is not of general interest to readers of the present, and also of coming, time.
Frank M. Braley was the son of James and Ruth Braley, and was born in Rowan county, North Carolina, on the 19th day of July, 1800.
The parents of Mr. Braley were members of the Presbyterian Church, and brought up their children under the strict discipline which prevailed among the families connected with that Church in the early days. I believe it is a matter of history that very many persons who were members of that denomination at the period referred to, under the fires of the great revival, had their religious foundations burned up and swept away. It was true of the elder Braley, according to the family history, and it was not till many years after he had been a member of the Presbyterian Church, in good standing, that he became a really converted man. This is not mentioned in prejudice of that Church, but merely as showing the religious condition of the people at and immediately preceding the commencement of that great religious awakening.
In the year 1808 Mr. Braley moved, with his family, to the "Cumberland country," and settled in Wilson county, in the bounds of the Big Spring Congregation. This is another one of those localities which has furnished so much interesting history to Cumberland Presbyterian readers. And it was here the father of the family was fully enlightened on the subject of his religious condition--was made to understand that mere membership in a Church was not sufficient to entitle him to a registry in that upper Church, where none but the pure in heart can be received. The history is, that the head of the family became soundly converted, and during all the remaining years of a long career, lived a godly life, and became an active, influential Christian worker.
It was under such influences as these that the first religious impressions of Mr. Frank Braley were received. It could scarcely fail to take deep root in his young and tender heart, and finally to bear the abundant fruits of a devoted Christian life.
In the eleventh year of his age Mr. Braley gave his heart to the service of his Master, and thence on down to old age he demonstrated in his own life the truth and power of the Christian religion.
There is nothing remarkable in the early religious experience of Mr. Braley that would require to be detailed in this biography. He passed over the same pathway which had been traveled by every earnest Christian who had preceded him, and he experienced the same alternate happiness and despondency, the same sunshine and darkness which make up the experience of all the humble followers of Christ. Our observations on religious characters have not led us to suppose any one passes through a long Christian life with entire exemption from the besetments and trials common to our sinful nature. It is the prerogative and office of true religion to qualify its possessor to pass through all these ordeals without the smell of fire upon his garments.
The sentiments of a man's heart give color and character to his actions; and he is the best Christian whose inner life prompts and develops the greatest amount of benevolent deeds. True religion is not selfish--it does not confine its influence to the heart and life of the individual, but it begets sympathies that will take in the whole human race; it develops a benevolence which would do good to all mankind; and in so far as factual fruits are realized from any Christian life, we are thereby enabled to judge of the standard of true piety which has been reached by the man. The results which flow from a pious heart and life are governed by no law known to human affairs. Ordinarily, and independently of all moral considerations, when a man gives his time and his means for the service and benefit of others, it is time and money lost to him. But in matters of religious works, the ordinary laws of human affairs are reversed; for the earnest Christian who bestows his labor and means upon others, with the proper motive, becomes enriched thereby in his own heart-felt experiences and in his final preparations for the journey to his heavenly home. In other words, every Christian duty honestly performed will react upon his own heart, and it will become a source of pleasure and happiness to the performer as well as to the subject of the act. As compared with all mere human experiences, this fact in Christianity is so perfectly anomalous that even Christians themselves are slow to comprehend and believe it; and it is by reason of this fact, in part at least, that men are enabled, as was Mr. Braley, to spend a long life without any adequate pecuniary compensation in the active duties of the ministry. Every time I come back to this point, I am more and more amazed at the power of that religion which can influence men to consecrate themselves to a life of unmitigated toil, for the benefit of those who by nature have no claims upon their benevolence.
Among the old preachers whom Mr. Braley met when a boy, and heard preach, he mentions Calhoun, McSpaddan, King, and Donnell. He seems to have experience a great sensation when listening to the prayers of Father King on one occasion at the family altar in his father's house. He was too young to have formed any proper judgment of those stern old warriors who always fought their battles in the front line, and who had long before discarded from their "army regulations" the words "defeat and retreat."
In the year 1815 Mr. James Braley moved with his family to the then Territory of Missouri, and settled in the county of Cape Girardeau.
For a number of years succeeding their arrival in this county, there was nothing special in the history of young Braley to require to be recorded. It is stated that he found no Cumberland Presbyterian Churches or people in his part of the country at that early day, and that he temporarily connected himself with the Methodist Church.
Mr. Clark says, "It was during this period of his connection with the Methodist Church that Mr. Braley first became impressed on the subject of engaging in the ministry, and at some of the class-meetings which he conducted he first began to exercise himself in public speaking."
It was five years after his arrival in Missouri before he saw any preacher of the denomination of his choice. About December, 1820, the Rev. Wm. C. Long visited South-east Missouri, and preached throughout that section of the country. Mr. Braley heard of him, and rode forty miles to attend his first appointment.
The way of the young man now seemed to open up, and he could contemplate the matter of entering the ministry in the Church of his choice. He, therefore, visited the Methodist elder, and stated his case fully, and was encouraged to go forward, and prepare himself for the ministry in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. With perfect understanding and good feeling he parted from his Methodist friends, and reconnected himself with his old Church.
It was in the spring of 1820 that Mr. Braley set out with his friend, the Rev. W. C. Long, to attend Presbytery, which met in Central Missouri, at least three hundred miles distant from his home. It seems that they allowed themselves ample time in which to perform their journey, and Mr. Long frequently preached on the way. They would stop for a day, and circulate an appointment, and the minister would literally sow his seed by the wayside. On these occasions Mr. Braley would conclude the exercises by prayer, and sometimes by exhortation.
In due time they reached the place where the Presbytery met. The opening sermon was upon the subject of the "ministry"--delivered by the Rev. Finis Ewing, according to Mr. Clark--and it seemed to have been a very opportune discussion of that subject for the young Braley.
His mind had been greatly exercised on the subject for months past, but especially during their long ride to Presbytery. The sermon aided him to his conclusion to enter the ministry, and he finally presented himself to the Presbytery, and was received as a candidate.
On his return home, he at once set about the work of preparation for the great mission that lay before him. Mr. Braley was not one of those self-sufficient egotists who thinks he has only to open his mouth in the pulpit, and it will be filled. With some adequate conception of the magnitude and sacred importance of the office of the ministry, he greatly distrusted his own ability to perform the work which appertained to that office, and therefore the more earnestly sought all those aids and facilities which are to be found in literary, scientific, and theological learning.
Mr. Braley spent the summer at a grammar school in his own neighborhood, and after the fall session of the Presbytery he entered that famous "School of the Prophets," which was taught by Rev. R. D. Morrow and Rev. Finis Ewing, at New Lebanon Church. Some eight or ten young preachers and candidates were in attendance upon that school. All of them, with perhaps one exception, have rejoined their venerable instructors and their school-fellows up in that better country where Christ is the teacher, and all the hosts who have gone up from the Church on earth are the learners. In another part of this volume reference was made to this school and the scholars who attended it, and it was said that our venerable father, the Rev. John B. Morrow, was still lingering upon the hither bank of the dark, cold river; but since that chapter was written, he has crossed over and gone to his heavenly reward. What a grand jubilee there was when all that renowned band who studied the plan of Christ's salvation in the old church at Lebanon had their first meeting in the New Lebanon beyond the stars! I have but one leading aspiration in my heart to-day, and that is that I may be permitted to join them in their heavenly home, and that before it is long.
At the close of the school in the following spring Mr. Braley and others were licensed to preach, and were ordered upon their respective circuits. Mr. Braley was to operate in South-east Missouri, in what is now St. Louis Presbytery.
The record is, that he devoted his whole time to his circuit, and to holding camp-meetings. A large number of persons were brought to a knowledge of the truth at the meetings which he himself held and assisted others in holding. A very interesting incident is related, touching the conversion of his brother, the Rev. John E. Braley, now of California. This occurrence was of course calculated greatly to encourage the young circuit-rider. He speaks of the occasion as being one of the happiest hours of his life. Five others professed religion at the same meeting. This was only a few weeks after Mr. Braley had entered upon his regular work in the ministry, and it is not surprising that he regarded this happy beginning as evidence of the divine blessing upon his ministerial labors, and of his duty to preach the gospel. As was to be expected, dark days followed close upon the heels of the bright ones. He was still young, inexperienced, and untrained to his high duties. If he could not always see the silver lining on the cloud, he would become despondent and discouraged. In the winter following his licensure he was still upon the circuit, with a jaded horse, worn-out clothes, and no money. Too timid to tell the people plainly that it was their duty to give him a reasonable support, he suffered on in silence. Finally, when it became necessary to prepare for a long journey of two hundred and fifty miles to Presbytery, it was found that he had only the eighth of a dollar--a cut-bit--in his pocket, and clothing scarcely creditable to wear. By some means, scarcely known to himself, the people came to find out his condition, and generously supplied all his present wants, and he went on his long journey rejoicing. To have a good suit of clothes, and money in his pocket, however small the amount, was a great thing for the young circuit-rider of that day. Being so easily satisfied, the wonder is that he should ever have had occasion to be without these.
In this connection I introduce the following extract from Mr. Clark:
"Presbytery ordered Brother Braley back to the same district, which was then called Mine Le Breton (generally pronounced Mine a Burton), in company with the Rev. Wm. C. Long, with directions to travel and labor together for the ensuing six months. They entered upon their work, and had the assistance of some zealous young brethren at camp-meetings. They commenced their labors under a very dark cloud of complicated discouragements. Other denominations were jealous, and a large majority of the unconverted were, like Gallio of old, 'caring for none of these things.' Other Churches having the precedence, and their ministers all having 'welcome' quarters, together with the fact the Cumberland Presbyterians were only partially known, and that themselves were strangers and had but little influence, inspired them with a consciousness of their entire dependence on divine aid for success. Under this conviction, shortly after they had entered upon their labors, as they were riding together one evening, 'and were sad,' an alternate conversational condolence commenced. Being, as it were, 'shut up to the faith,' having 'left all to follow Christ'--no earthly means on which to depend--each adverted to some of the promises of God for the others's comfort and encouragement. At length Brother Long remarked: 'God has said, If two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done,' and said: 'Brother, can we not agree in asking God to give us souls for our hire?' Brother Braley responded, 'Let us try,' in the meantime reaching out his hand to engage in covenant. Thus joined, hand and heart, in covenant to pray for the blessing of God upon their labors, they went forth to 'watch for souls for which the Lord did heavenly bliss forego.' They went to work like industrious husbandmen. They 1st, prepared the ground; 2d, sowed the seed; 3d, cultivated the ground thus sown; and 4th, about the 1st of August--the proper season of the year-- they began to reap a glorious harvest. Their camp-meetings commenced about the first of this month, the first of which was blessed with the conversion of 10 souls; at the second, 33; at the third, 20; and several others at two other meetings--making the whole number of converts in six months, which were reported to the fall session of Presbytery, seventy."
As illustrating the strong faith and absolute reliance of the young preacher on divine aid on all occasions of need, we relate the following, taken from Mr. Braley's own lips:
Several preachers and two or three candidates set out on a long journey to Presbytery. On the way one of the young men became very ill, and it was decided that Mr. Braley should remain with him so long as he should require attention. Both the nurse and the invalid were extremely anxious to reach the Presbytery in due time. They were stopping at a lonely cabin in the wilderness, with no physician or medicine within reach. Mr. Braley says that he felt that he was driven to the only resource in his power, and that was earnest prayer for divine aid. To this source he applied with all earnestness and honesty. The infinite power could rebuke disease, and the infinite mercy would grant the prayer if it were faithful. And soon the heart of the poor preacher was filled with an unspeakable happiness in the assurance that his prayer had been heard; and the next day the invalid was on his horse, pursuing his journey by the side of his faithful nurse and friend. The prayer of the humble preacher was the only remedy applied.
For the year ending April, 1824, he had received as compensation for his laborious and faithful services the sum of nine dollars and fifty-five cents; and to his honor be it spoken that he made no complaint, but said that his wants were few, and he supposed he had received enough. Not in the least discouraged, he still went forward, and made another long journey to Presbytery in April, 1824, when he was ordained to the whole work of the ministry. He received this authority at the hands of the Church with very great humility and misgiving as to his qualifications for so responsible a duty as would be thus devolved upon him. Mr. Braley says that he was ordained in company with the Rev. J. B. Morrow, now but recently deceased, and that the Rev. Finis Ewing preached the ordination sermon.
Mr. Braley was ordered back to his old district, and immediately entered upon his duties. During the following summer old Father King and his son Robert visited that part of the country, and rendered great assistance in his camp-meetings. Mr. Braley speaks gratefully of this timely assistance from preachers of greater age and experience than himself. He also says that the results of the summer campaign were very large and valuable. Many persons were converted, and numerous additions were made to the Church. It was during this year that he speaks of an interesting little event which occurred under his ministry. He was called to preach in a neighborhood where resided certain persons who had been brought up in the high old Calvinistic doctrines. One old man argued stoutly with the young preacher that if he were elected to eternal life he would be saved without the aid of the preachers, and if her were doomed to be lost the ministers could do him no good. Still the young preacher went on with his meetings; the old predestinarian attended from time to time. Presently some of his family became interested on the subject of religion, and after awhile a number of them were converted. Then the old gentleman began to feel that his sandy foundation was gradually slipping away from under his feet, and that nothing but a genuine repentance of his sins and his own voluntary return to Christ would bring salvation. Finally the fatal errors under which he had labored all his life were cast out from his understanding, and he was hopefully converted; and, with the illumination of divine grace in the heart, he was enabled to see the folly and the fallacy of his previous views on the subject. A great many other incidents, of interest to the preacher and to the people at the time, transpired during his long and faithful ministerial career; but I have not space for them in detail. I shall mention only a few of them, as they may occur to me in the progress of this narrative.
The following fact is stated by Mr. Clark: On one occasion an appointment had been made in one of the neighborhoods where Mr. Braley was preaching, and when the day arrived no preacher was at hand. Quite a congregation had assembled, and was about the disperse, when a stranger was observed to be riding up in company with a man well known in the neighborhood as a reckless sporting character. The untoward appearance of the stranger, and the company he was in, forbade the idea that he could be a minister; yet some one was curious enough to inquire, and, to their astonishment, he answered he was a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher. His dress was a roundabout, or boy's jacket, for coat, and pants of tow linen. Yet this man called himself a preacher; and, in the absence of any one else, he was invited to preach, and the people were astonished a second time at the fine discourse he delivered. He was requested to preach again, and he graciously consented, and created quite a sensation among the people before he left them. The name of the preacher is not given. I regard it a great loss to the history of the times that the name of a preacher who would dress himself in a roundabout and tow pants should be withheld from a grateful and appreciative posterity. May his name be yet rescued from oblivion!
A man's marriage to the woman of his choice constitutes an epoch in his life and history. If it be a suitable and happy marriage, he will have cause for rejoicing all the remainder of his days; and if to the contrary, bitter fruits will bud and blossom on the household tree every day of his after-life.
No class of men is so seriously and deeply affected by the event of marriage as the ministers of the gospel. When a pious, sensible, cultivated, genuinely good woman becomes the wife of a preacher, his guarantees of usefulness become greatly enhanced and multiplied from the very hour of its consummation. Such a wife is an encouragement, an aid, and a consolation to the preacher that will at once be felt in his laborious calling; such a wife will stimulate and support the husband--will, by an influence so gentle he will never suspect its source, impress upon his mind the idea that he must become a better preacher, that he must improve his mind, his manners, his delivery, his elocution, and become a great preacher. But if the poor preacher should be so unwise as to marry a woman of poor piety, no education, no well-bred manners, no adequate self-respect, no proper apprehension of the character and dignity of a preacher's calling, no self-denying, self-sacrificing spirit--in short, no heart for the great work in which her husband is engaged--that preacher had better surrender his credentials to his Presbytery, and devote his disappointed and blighted life to the plow-handles. I have made my observations on this subject of preachers' marriages with a good deal of attention, and I simply state a melancholy fact, which every preacher in the land has observed, that very many of our ministers have made grievous mistakes in marrying persons unsuitable to the position of a preacher's wife; and nine times out of ten it has all arisen from the fact that the preachers were married too soon after entering upon their professional labors. This is the way it happens:
A young man is licensed to preach. His mother gives him some good clothes, and his father, or other friends, a fat horse. He starts upon his circuit. Everybody treats the preacher well, on account of his holy calling. Many persons made much of him, and turn his head. The women, old and young, commence to banter him about getting married, and every motherly old sister on the circuit has picked out a suitable wife for the young man. This is not merely hinted to him, but it is told him in plain language. This, of course, puts him to thinking about the matter. In the meantime, he meets with numerous girls in his travels. His intercourse with them is free and unrestrained. He is a preacher, and of course nothing wrong will be said or done. Most of these young ladies have a very unfounded idea that every preacher is a great and good man, and that it would be a grand thing to be a preacher's wife. So they begin to set nets to catch greenys in, and of course the young preacher is the first and easiest victim. He then begins to frame a thousand excuses for getting married. It would settle him in life. A married man would be so much more useful than a single one. He could associate with ladies of all classes with more freedom, and thus be able to extent his influence in that direction. And in this way he cheats and deludes himself with a thousand false notions; and presently some simpering, green, foolish girl is made a preacher's wife, and an otherwise promising life is practically blighted, and the prospects of making a useful preacher destroyed forever.
I have spoken of this matter elsewhere in this volume, and I refer to it again in the hope that I may arrest the attention of the young men looking forward to the ministry, and warn them against committing this great folly. At a proper time every preacher should seek the marriage relation; but, for the sake of his future usefulness, let him wait till he has made a man of himself, and then he can marry a woman who can hold up her head in the most cultivated society in the land.
It is our happiness to know that Mr. Braley was exceedingly fortunate in his marriage relations. He was married, on the 19th of July, 1825, to Elizabeth H. Madison; and the very same week in which this event occurred, the history is, he attended a camp-meeting, labored with great zeal and efficiency, had a great revival in his Church, and thus set out on a new and better career of usefulness, in company with his noble wife. The testimony upon this point goes farther, and states that for many long years this devoted wife encouraged her husband in all his ministerial labors, oftentimes, and for long periods, taking care of the family in the absence of its natural guardian, and in every way laboring to promote his usefulness at the expense of her own comfort, and the material interests of her household. All honor to the pious, good woman who can thus sacrifice herself with her husband on the altar of our common humanity!
I cannot leave this point without quoting Mr. Braley as authority for the views herein expressed on the subject of early marriages by preachers. Mr. Braley had been ordained about two years; he was an acceptable and useful preacher, well qualified for his profession; and, in speaking of his own marriage, he says that perhaps he had married too soon. There was not a lingering doubt on his mind as to the propriety of the step he had taken, except in that particular. Mr. Clark in speaking of this, adds his own testimony against the folly of early marriages by preachers of the gospel. So it will be found that all the old preachers, and all the more thoughtful members of the Church, will unite in condemning this practice.
Let me add, in conclusion upon this point, that men of the world are more wise. Young lawyers and doctors, merchants and others, whose early years are required to qualify themselves for their calling, don't stop in the midst of their preparation and marry some foolish young woman who will never be able to help them forward in their pursuits.
We now find Mr. Braley fairly launched upon the troubled sea of life. His profession has been deliberately chosen under the sanction of the Divine Spirit. He has made such preparation for his great duties as the times and circumstances permitted. He is in the vigor of a strong manhood. His companion for the voyage of life is by his side: with beaming countenance, and sparkling eyes, and ready hands, she offers her aid in whatsoever seas their bark may be driven. He is promoted to the responsible position of pilot and leader. He must steer his vessel straight to the promised haven, or she will be driven upon the rocks, and all on board will perish. His guide by day is the all-glorious sun which lights up the moral heaven; his path by night is illuminated by the Star of Bethlehem which hung over the birth-place and the cross. And thus the voyage is commenced. For more than the third of a century he maintains his post with unflinching fidelity. A thousand storms beat upon the vessel, and yet it outrides them all; a thousand adverse winds drive them hither and thither over an angry sea, yet the pilot stands firmly at his post, and bids his crew God-speed, and promises a triumphant entrance of the port to which they are steering. When it is dark and threatening, God's own bow of promise appears in the sky. The gloom of every night is rifted, and penetrated by rays from the star which has been burning in the heavens for two thousand years. And still onward they go. On every hand, scattered all over the great ocean, are other vessels, with other pilots and crews, bound for the same port. The same unerring light guides them all on their perilous voyage. What a grand character is that pilot who stands by his helm for thirty years without faltering, and never surrenders for a day his responsible trust, and never sleeps for an hour while duty demands attention!
It might be interesting to follow Mr. Braley all through the details of his great labors for the next ten or fifteen years; but we cannot do so under the plan which has been adopted in reference to all the sketches which have been prepared for this volume. There is one fact, however, brought out by Mr. Clark in his biography, which deserves to be noted with special emphasis; and that is the very frequent seasons of grace that were enjoyed by Mr. Braley in the course of his ministerial labors. While constantly engaged in the benevolent work of leading others to Christ, it appears that he nearly always labored under bright skies; that his own pathway was constantly illuminated from the divine Source of all light; that his own heart experienced, in a large degree, the consolations which he promised to others who should accept the terms of the gospel; that he felt and enjoyed the religion which he recommended to others.
This well-authenticated fact in the experience of this most faithful preacher furnishes abundant proof of the proposition, submitted in another part of this sketch, that there is a direct and a reflex influence put forth by all those engaged in the benevolent work of preaching the gospel; that the first is felt by the people, and the latter is experienced by the preacher himself. The idea is submitted, in another form, that he who does a good deed for the benefit of others is himself a large sharer in the blessing which he confers. This is one of the compensations, received by the humble herald of the cross, which is not to be estimated by dollars and cents.
Man cannot live by this along, it is true; and because of this, the Church is not exonerated from her duty in affording a liberal support to the preachers of the gospel; yet it is legitimate for the minister himself to consider the blessings to his own heart which are to be derived from this source, and this will go a long way to sustain him in his laborious work.
The first Synod which met west of the Mississippi River convened in Potosi, Washington county, in the fall of 1829. This being in Mr. Braley's own section of the State, he of course was present as a member. It appears, from Mr. Clark's statement, that the boundaries of this Synod included apart of Western Illinois, and that Mr. Braley, as often as twice at least, went to that State to attend the session of the Synod. We have no records in this State of the Synod until the session of 1835. I remember, now, that when the Synod met at New Lebanon, in 1831, the Rev. J. M. Berry, of Illinois, was a member.
I suppose it probable that Mr. Braley is the only minister who ever went from this State to Illinois to attend the Synod. In the light of the record before us, this was not a remarkable thing for him to do, but it would have been for any of his colleagues. When a man forms the habit of doing all his duty, in every department of his labor, people come to expect him to continue in the same way; whereas, they seldom have any rebukes for the man who habitually fails in some important part of his work. This is about like the judgment which men render upon the acts of their fellows. How sad a thing it would be if their judgment was to be final and irrevocable!
It was at the Synod in Illinois, in 1830, that Mr. Braley first met with the venerable Father McAdow. He speaks of him as being "very unassuming in his manners, displaying a deep and unostentatious humility, and full of kindly affections."
I append an extract from Mr. Clark in reference to a colored preacher of whom I have made mention before:
"The spring session was of more than ordinary interest. Two brethren were ordained, viz., Nicholas Carper and John Linville, whose memory is dear to the Church to this day, though they have long since 'fallen asleep.' Many of our people still remember the melodious voice of the former, in his proclamation of the tidings of salvation to fallen sinners, and the mild, conciliating spirit and pathetic manner of address of the latter. In natural oratory few men of our knowledge have equaled Brother Carper, though he was a man of color--a yellow man--and his success as a minister of Christ has been equaled by but few men in our country. The place of his grave is in Madison county, Illinois, near the city of St. Louis, and, for aught the writer knows, is unepitaphed. Such men should never be forgotten by the Church. The place of his family is unknown to the writer."
I find the following very interesting history in Mr. Clark's sketch, and quote it at length:
"When the time arrived to start to Synod, he was about 88 miles from home and 170 miles from the place of the meeting. His boots were worn out, and he had no money to buy another pair; and even if he had a pittance of money, it was needed to pay for moving his family to their new home. Under these straitened circumstances it was difficult for him to decide what was duty. It is said that 'man's extremity is God's opportunity.' It was true at least in this case. Friends gave him money to buy his boots; the man who moved his family charged nothing for his own labor and the use of his wagon and team, and the road expense which accrued while moving he advanced, and waited until the straitened minister could refund. Thus he was enabled to make the start, and falling in company with other brethren who had a little money, and by paying two small bills for him, he was permitted to attend this important judicature of the Church.
"Upon his return to the neighborhood of his new destination he found his family well and every thing right. Though his family were in a rather strange land, Brother Braley had many acquaintances, having preached to the people there many times previous to their settlement in the neighborhood. Thus they were prepared to appreciate the minister and his family, and they bestowed many kindnesses upon them. This opened the way for more extensive usefulness in the Church, and he embraced it with much pleasure to his own heart and greatly to the advancement of the cause of Christ.
"About this time more than usual excitement existed in all the branches of the Church on the subject of supplying the Valley of the Mississippi with Sabbath-schools, by the American Sunday-school Union. In this Brother Braley was highly favored, as his services were needed as agent in the establishment of schools; and in the meantime he could serve the people, where schools were needed, in the practice of his onerous profession, as neither employment would interfere with the other.
"He received an appointment to travel and establish schools for a term of six months, for which he received $160 as a compensation. This so effectually loosed his hands from secular employment that he went heartily into the work. Four counties were assigned him, which he thoroughly canvassed as Sabbath-school Agent, and preached to the people wherever he went. He succeeded in establishing a large number of schools, all of which were blessed with a good state of religious interest, and quite a number of professed religion in the bounds of his district. Though in a great degree deprived of the enjoyment of the society of his family, he felt himself happy in the prosecution of his Master's work, this being the element in which he took most delight in living.
"He attended the meetings of both the spring and fall sessions of the Presbytery in this year, and also Synod."
Mr. Clark employs this language in reference to the disposition that was frequently made of Mr. Braley's services: "The Church was in the habit of using him to stop cracks, to fill up gaps, and support weak places, as necessity seemed to require. In many instances this course seemed not to contribute any thing to his personal comfort or pecuniary benefit; but as the best interest of the Church seemed to be thereby promoted, he cheerfully submitted." Mr. Braley was at one time attached to the Arkansas Presbytery, and some years after the St. Louis Presbytery was formed, this Presbytery was attached to the Illinois Synod, in 1832. His Presbytery was also at one time attached to the McAdow Synod, so that it indeed seemed that he and his brethren of that Presbytery were used as a public convenience. But, the testimony is, he never complained; he set it all down to the account of his general duty, and went forward to his usual work. This was like Braley, and not like anybody else, to the same extent.
The year 1836 was one of peculiar afflictions to Mr. Braley and his family. Being greatly afflicted in his own person for a number of months, he was called upon also, at the same time, to stand by the dying-bed of his beloved wife, who departed this life on the 16th of June of that year. Of this excellent Christian lady Mr. Clark speaks as follows: "She was a mild, pleasant, meek, and patient Christian lady, and, like her pious husband, took so much interest in the cause of Christ that she ever threw a straw in the way of his usefulness." In a few months after this event one of his three children died. But the Christian father and husband recognized the hand of his Heavenly Master in these terrible visitations, and humbled himself in the dust, and reconsecrated his life to his great calling.
At the Synod of the year 1837 he was unanimously chosen by that body to travel throughout its bounds, and preach to and instruct the Churches on the subject of supporting the gospel. In the execution of this duty he traveled extensively over the State, visited all the leading Churches, and preached to them on this special subject. His report shows that he attended many very interesting meetings; that his special mission resulted in great good to the members of the Church, in teaching them their high duties in this connection, and in realizing liberal contributions to the support of the gospel in their own midst. Upon presenting his report to the Synod of the following year (1838), there was so much evidence of good that had been accomplished by his labors he was reappointed to the same duty for the following year. With his usual promptness he entered upon this arduous duty, and discharged it with his usual fidelity. His report of this year's labors was not so interesting or encouraging as that of the previous year. Still the Churches began to be awakened, many of them for the first time, on the great duty of supporting the gospel; and the seed then sown has borne good fruit in long after years. The full results of his labors were not realized in his own life-time.
Mr. Braley remained single after the death of his wife for five years, and during all that time, Mr. Clark says, his home was in the saddle. It seemed that he should be entitled to a little respite; and, accordingly, on the 18th day of February, 1841, he was married to Miss A. M. McClellan, of Jackson county, Missouri. But not long did he take rest from his labors. In the following year he devoted his whole time among the Churches of his own Presbytery; but the utter failure of the Churches to render him any adequate support for his services compelled him to devote more attention than was usual for him to his worldly affairs. This, of course, circumscribed his own usefulness, and it left many of the Churches in a cold, declining condition. He spoke with emphasis of the failures of the Fox Creek Congregation to meet their engagements with him, and he predicted their demoralization and downfall--which melancholy fact was realized by them before many years had passed after the prophecy was uttered.
For several years preceding 1852 we have no special events to notice, more than the general fact that he was still preaching constantly somewhere, and for some time just preceding the period referred to he had labored chiefly in St. Louis county. Being in bad health, and not able for much active service, he accepted the appointment of Commissioner to the General Assembly, which met in Nashville, Tennessee. This was an occasion of great interest to Mr. Braley. He had the pleasure of meeting in that Assembly the old fathers, Porter, Calhoun, and Donnell. Speaking of that Assembly, he said, "It was composed of the most intelligent and dignified set of men I ever saw collected in one body." He said, farther, that he was struck with the difference in the exterior appearance of the members of this Assembly and of those of the first General Synod which he attended, at Cane Creek, Lincoln county, Tennessee, in 1824. In the Synod, composed of forty preachers and twenty elders, there was but one man dressed in broad-cloth, all the others being dressed in fine home-made jeans; but in the Assembly of 1852 there was not a single member dressed in home-spun cloth. There is no significance in this fact at all, but it was observed by Mr. Braley as a remarkable change in the habits and customs of the people within that period.
The melancholy fact was now disclosed to the subject of this sketch that his health had become permanently impaired. Thirty years of unabated toil, thousands of miles traveled on horseback, labor on the farm, in the pulpit, in the altar, everywhere, had at last begun to tell on his strength and his energies. Time, with his iron fingers, had begun to write on his handsome face the record of his doom, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return." O how inexorable is this enemy of all human life! When man and his paradise were smitten by sin, death inaugurated a devilish carnival, which has lasted six thousand years, and which will continue on down till the last human victim shall fall a prey to his insatiable lust.
Chiefly on account of his impaired health, Mr. Braley determined to seek a new home, where the climate would be more moderate in the winter season, and where he could reasonably hope to recuperate somewhat his failing strength. He visited Arkansas and South-west Missouri, frequently thought of California, but finally concluded to make his new home in Lawrence county, in this State.
Accordingly, in the early spring of 1853, he moved with his family to the neighborhood of Spring River Academy, and entered at once upon his ministerial labors. All that section of Missouri was embraced in the Ozark Presbytery. Our Churches were greatly scattered over a large territory, and there were not many laborers in that large field.
It will suffice in this connection to say, briefly, that Mr. Braley deliberated long and prayerfully on the expediency of leaving a field of work wherein he had labored for thirty years. It cost him a struggle which cannot be well described, and which no one but himself could fully realize and understand. For all that long period Mr. Braley had been the leading member of the St. Louis Presbytery, and a representative preacher of the denomination. His removal left a void which has not been filled, and the Church in that country has never known the prosperous times which were realized in the days of Braley and Clark.
Mr. Braley claimed no immunity from labor on account of his advancing age and feeble health; but, always true to his controlling sense of duty, he at once entered upon the work of a traveling preacher in the bounds of the Ozark Presbytery. The record is that he witnessed many precious revivals of religion and many conversions to Christ during this first year in the country of his new home. Some time during the summer he attended a camp-meeting at Cane Hill, Arkansas, where there was a flourishing institution of learning under the auspices of our people. This visit resulted in his employment as the pastor of the congregation at that place, which position he filled for two years with acceptability to the people and substantial results to his labors.
After the close of his two years' service in this congregation, he returned to Spring River again, where he lived during the few months which were allotted to him in this life.
As a fitting review of his life, I will introduce the fourth article by Mr. Clark, and copy it entire. It presents in a nut-shell the leading characteristics of the ministerial labors of his now departed friend and brother:
"The writer, in closing this history, would challenge comparison with Brother Braley throughout the whole bounds of our Church, in one particular--namely, in regard to promptness in attending the judicatories of the Church. He always made it a point during his ministry to be at the meetings of his Presbytery, and generally attended the meetings of the Synod of which he was a member. Here is an example for our young men in all coming time.
"Look at the following abridged statement of his faithfulness in this regard:
"He was ordained in the spring of 1824. Attended as a member of the old General Synod, held at Cane Creek, Lincoln county, Tennessee, in the fall of 1824; attended Synod at Princeton, Kentucky, October, 1825; attended Synod at Russellville, Kentucky, October, 1826; attended Synod at Russellville, Kentucky, October, 1827; missed attending Synod at Franklin, Tennessee, October, 1828; attended first Missouri Synod at Potosi, Missouri, October, 1829; missed second Missouri Synod at Fulton, Missouri, October, 1830; attended third Missouri Synod at Lebanon, Missouri, October, 1831; attended fourth Missouri Synod at Mt. Gilead, Illinois, 1832; attended fifth Missouri Synod at Pisgah, Missouri, October, 1833; attended sixth Missouri Synod at Silver Creek, Illinois, October, 1834; attended seventh Missouri Synod at Booneville, Missouri, October, 1835; attended eighth Missouri Synod at Bethel, Missouri, October, 1836; attended ninth Missouri Synod at Booneville, Missouri, October, 1837; attended tenth Missouri Synod at Col. Bell's, Chariton, Missouri, October, 1838; attended eleventh Missouri Synod at Sugar Creek, Missouri, October, 1839; attended twelfth Missouri Synod at Richmond, Missouri, October, 1840; attended thirteenth Missouri Synod at Lebanon, Missouri, October, 1841; attended fourteenth Missouri Synod at Mt. Vernon, Missouri, October, 1842; attended fifteenth Missouri Synod at Sugar Creek, Missouri, October, 1843; attended sixteenth Missouri Synod at Col. Bell's, Missouri, October, 1844.
"So it appears that he missed only two meetings of the Missouri Synod, from the time of its constitution until a new Synod was stricken off, which was called McAdow, of which he was a member. After the creation of this Synod, of which he was the first Moderator, as is seen in the preceding part of this history, his promptness in attendance did not abate. It will be seen, by reference to his previous history, that he attended first McAdow Synod at New Providence, Missouri, October, 1845; missed Synod at Jefferson City, Missouri, October, 1846; attended Synod at Bowling Green, Missouri, October, 1847; attended Synod at Bowling Green, Missouri, October, 1848; attended Synod at Fox Creek, Missouri, October, 1849; attended Synod at Bloomington, Missouri, October, 1850; missed by sickness both in 1851 and 1852; attended Ozark Synod at Fairfield, Missouri, October, 1853; missed at Neosho, Missouri, by sickness, October, 1854.
"Here is a short exhibit of a life spent in the service of the Church. Consider the distances traveled, the time spent in attending Presbytery twice a year, and frequent attendance at the meetings of the General Assemblies of our Church, and you will find that he is without a parallel in our Church in this one particular. But these labors are over, and the circuit he now rides is that of the heavens, and the meetings which he now attends are those of 'the General Assembly and Church of the first-born,' high up in the glory-land, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.
"In regard to his last moments, I give an extract from a letter received from Professor King, a short time after his death: 'His death was easy and peaceful. During his protracted illness he enjoyed much religious comfort, and desired to live only for the benefit of his family, and to labor for Christ. Christ and him crucified were his great themes in the whole course of his ministry in this community, leaving out of view, as of comparatively little importance, all those subjects which tended not directly to edify and build up the Church, and to bring sinners to repentance.'
"Thus has lived and died one of the most faithful servants of Christ in modern times."
My own reflections on the character of Mr. Braley will be very brief.
In his extended sketches of Mr. Braley, Mr. Clark nowhere gives his views of his leading characteristics as a preacher. It was a simple narrative of the great labors he performed while in the service of the Church.
My acquaintance with Mr. Braley commenced when he was a young man, and I was a boy; and during the earlier years of his ministry I met him frequently, and heard him preach often. I was not so competent to judge of his real abilities then as I may perhaps be now, but the views I shall advance on this point are not so much my own conclusions as the general verdict of his brother ministers, and of the Church generally in this State. The truth is, I am becoming considerably more critical and fastidious in my judgment and taste about preaching than I was formerly. I have heard so much really poor preaching--I might almost call it trash--that I cannot listen with patience to a rehash of old sermons which I have been hearing for thirty years past.
We have so many mere surface-men in the pulpit nowadays that it seems to be the exception to the rule to hear a sermon which will both interest and edify. To hear a fresh thought advanced in a sermon is almost as remarkable as to see green leaves in winter. Our preachers of to-day (and I include all denominations generally) don't think well enough for the important positions they fill. There are so many books, and so many ready-made sermons, that the preachers imagine the day of real mental toil is past; they have only to con over somebody else's thoughts, count other people's coin, and hand it out for their own. How few of them ever dig down to the bed-rock, and there collect the pure native gold! This is a miner's phrase, but it is a good one in this connection. The bed-rock must be reached before the gold is found, and, when thus found, no person else in the world has any right to it but the honest miner. I wish we had more bed-rock workers among the clergy. But we return to Mr. Braley.
I believe it is the general sentiment of the Church in this country that he was not a great preacher, in the usual sense of that term; but he was better than that--he as humble, zealous, industrious, and genuinely good. Notwithstanding he may not take rank with others in respect to his abilities, yet no one of them all has wrought a more successful work for the Church and the world. After all, the best test of a man's abilities are the results which follow from his labors. Measured by this standard, Mr. Braley has no superior, and but few equals, among his contemporaries in the ministry.
In the social circle, no one as more genial, simple, and unaffected. He was one of those characters whom every good person would appreciate and love.
I confess to have had a great liking for the man, and to have honored him as one of the truest and most faithful of God's ministers.
His life was stainless and pure, and his record clear. He is now in heaven, and thousands will call him blessed throughout the revolving cycles of eternity.
[Source: Ewing, R. C. Historical Memoirs: Containing a Brief History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Missouri, and Biographical Sketches of a Number of Those Ministers who Contributed to the Organization and the Establishment of that Church, in the Country West of the Mississippi River. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 336-377.]