Hoosier Holy Man
If there had been no little Fredericksburg, there would have been no little book, little brick, OR little Brengle.
The first American-born Salvationist to make a significant impact on the way The Salvation Army developed was Samuel Logan Brengle. He became an internationally renowned evangelist, author, and teacher of holiness. Tracing Brengle's roots may be a trivial pursuit compared to learning and applying the spiritual lessons he so effectively shared with the world. Still, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Brengle's birth, it's appropriate to revisit the hometown of this Hoosier holy man.
He was born in Fredericksburg, Indiana on June 1, 1860 to William and Rebecca Brengle. William was Fredericksburg's schoolmaster and superintendent of the Methodist Sunday School. Rebecca was formerly one of his students and a daughter of a Fredericksburg pioneer, John Horner. Two years after Sam was born, William went off to fight in the Civil War, leaving Rebecca at home, pregnant with their second child. On January 22, 1863 Sam's brother, William N. Brengle Jr. was born, but his young life ended on earth twelve days later. An inscription on his grave stone reads, "Sleep on sweet babe and take thy rest, God called thee home, He thought it best". Three months later, William Sr. came home from war, an invalid, and on February 20,1864 he too, died. Poor Sam lost both his brother and father in just over a year's time.
The graves of Brengle's father and brother can be visited today on the southeast side of the Fredericksburg Cemetery just one block north of Hwy 150 in Fredericksburg on Fredericksburg-DePauw Road. The house Samuel Logan Brengle was born in was located one block south of the highway on the same road. The house was destroyed by fire in the 1980's. The Blue River, where Samuel played as a boy, runs behind the site of his birth and winds around the cemetery.
Rebecca and her son Sam continued attending Fredericksburg's Methodist Church and in 1866 a new brick church building was built for the congregation. Then on March 18, 1866, Rebecca married James Yount. On August 13, 1868 their Fredericksburg property was sold and the family moved to Harrisonville, Indiana, now known as Trinity Springs, 50 miles west-northwest of Fredericksburg. After a very brief stay in Harrisonville, the family moved about nine miles south to Shoals, Indiana.
Today, as then, Shoals is a scenically beautiful little town on the White River with tree-covered hills and known for Jug Rock, the USA's largest free-standing table rock formation east of the Mississippi River.
In 1872 the family moved just across the Wabash River to Olney, Illinois, but after his mother died, Sam decided to return to Indiana in 1877 for college. He attended Indiana Asbury University (soon after renamed DePauw University) in Greencastle. It was here he first read about William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, and developed a keen interest in Booth's exploits. Brengle became a gifted orator and contemplated going into law or politics, fields in which many said he would find great success. After graduating in the class of 1883 Brengle instead became a circuit rider - an itinerant preacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church, and pastored four churches just north of Lafayette, Indiana, at Chalmers and Brookston.
In 1885 Samuel Brengle moved to Boston, Massachusetts and on the 9th of January he received the blessing of sanctification, a life-transforming experience that changed the motivation of his heart and set his course for life. In the Autumn of the same year, Brengle was asked to pastor "the finest Methodist edifice in Northern Indiana" in South Bend. The church was newly built by multi-millionaire Clement Studebaker, whose company was the largest wagon manufacturer in the country, and was later known for its automobiles. Brengle turned down the tempting offer after sensing God's call to be an evangelist.
In 1887, Brengle married Lily Swift and was commissioned as a Captain in The Salvation Army in London, England by General William Booth. He took up various appointments in the United States, then after a ruffian nearly killed him by hitting him in the head with a brick, he dedicated his lengthy recovery time to writing articles, which soon became a book, "Helps to Holiness". This was the first of nine books he would write, books that became popular internationally. In fact, Brengle's writings were translated into fourteen languages and a million copies were produced before his death. His books are still being read by many today, and have helped countless thousands understand and experience holiness. Brengle said, "If there had been no little brick, there would have been no little book!" He actually kept the brick and wrote a Bible verse on it: "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Gen.50:20. Brengle went on to become, according to author Clarence Hall, "The Salvation Army's great itinerant", traveling to every state in the union and at least twelve countries as an evangelist, delivering over 25,000 messages.
Not only an evangelist and author, Brengle was an international peacemaker and unifier. In times of crisis, it seemed Brengle was The Salvation Army's "go-to guy." He was appointed to Chicago as General Secretary in 1896, to be a steadying influence for the Northwest Province, particularly battered after a national schism in 1896. When the "Tongues" and "New Theology" movements brought some confusion and uncertainty to Salvationists in Scandinavia in 1907, Brengle was called on to conduct campaigns there. Then in 1914 he was dispatched by Commander Eva Booth to do what he could in Toronto after 124 Salvationist lives were lost in the sinking of the "Empress of Ireland". In 1928 Brengle was called upon to join a few other Commissioners to deliver documents to General Bramwell Booth, asking for the international leader's resignation. The Army leadership knew Brengle's value as a gracious influence and involved him whenever there was call for a man of sensitivity and wisdom.
Back home again in Indiana, Brengle was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree from DePauw University in 1914. In 1926 Brengle became the first American-born Salvation Army officer to be promoted to the rank of Commissioner. Then in 1935 Brengle was inducted into the Order of the Founder "for inestimable services rendered to the Army by the writing of widely circulated books on holiness, and for unceasing labor and example as a true soldier of the Cross." He was the 31st officer so honored (43rd person overall) and one of the first Americans. On May 19, 1936 Brengle received his highest rank. He was promoted to Glory and received his eternal reward.
Gone, but not forgotten, in 1947 the first National Brengle Holiness Institute was held near Chicago, drawing Salvationists from around the United States. The gathering became an annual tradition and is still conducted today. In fact, annual Brengle Holiness Institutes have been established in many countries around the world. On June 1, 1960, the Centenary of Brengle's birth was commemorated at Fredericksburg by the Indiana Division, led by Lt. Col. T. Raymond Gabrielson and Commissioner Claude E. Bates of Chicago. The Salvation Army presented a bronze plaque to the Fredericksburg United Methodist Church, which had it mounted on the church, located west of Fredericksburg on Highway 150.
On October 27, 1993, the Samuel Logan Brengle Memorial Chapel was dedicated at The Salvation Army's Camp Hidden Falls, southeast of Bedford and within an hour's drive northwest of Fredericksburg. The 300-seat, "A" frame chapel contains a commemorative plaque and a display case with Brengle photographs and a handwritten letter from Brengle. Also, the Brengle Memorial Library was dedicated at New York's Training College. Over the years, plays and musicals celebrating Brengle's life have been produced for Salvation Army gatherings in Chicago, Atlanta and Boston, with audiences in the thousands. These include, "Portrait of a Prophet" by William Himes, and "Brengle: My Life's Ambition," by W. Edward Hobgood. In January 2010, festivities in Boston commemorated the 125th anniversary of Brengle's experience of entire sanctification. And now the 150th birthday celebration commences in Washington County, Indiana.
Maybe Sam Brengle was born in a small town in Indiana, but today his name is known throughout the world. Brengle Holiness Institutes are conducted on six continents, and perhaps no Salvationist (except founders William and Catherine Booth) has been the subject of more books and articles than Brengle. All because long ago a gifted young man decided to remain humble and seek God's will rather than follow selfish ambition. Surely he exemplified the truth found in the Bible, "Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." To be sure, Brengle was not the only godly man to come out of Indiana, and no matter where we are from, we can all receive the same Holy Spirit and be used of God in a mighty way. Yet, there will always be something special about this saint who is sure to continue to hold an enduring and unique place in Salvation Army history. Thank you humble Fredericksburg for giving us this mighty man of God.
"Holiness for you and for me, is not maturity, but purity: a clean heart in which the Holy Spirit dwells. All that God asks is that the heart should be cleansed from sin, and full of love." - Samuel Logan Brengle