Samuel Logan Brengle
Preacher and Teacher of HolinessFrom "The Officer" magazine - November/December 2006
Samuel Logan Brengle, promoted to Glory 70 years ago this year, is still acknowledged as The Salvation Army's most influential and widely acclaimed teacher and preacher of personal, biblical holiness. Samuel was the only child of William Brengle, a teacher in the Kentucky backwoods of Fredericksburg, USA, who also took charge of the Sunday school in the Methodist church in the village.
After William volunteered to fight in the American Civil War he was wounded and returned home an invalid. He died shortly afterwards when Samuel was two years old. Samuel's mother, born Rebecca Anne Horner, came from a devout Methodist family. Brengle readily acknowledged the significant influence she had on him during his developing years, stating: 'It is to my darling mother that I owe my deepest debt of love and gratitude ... her gentleness and tenderness became the most powerful instruments of discipline to my wayward spirit.'
His mother's marriage to a doctor when Samuel was still a small child brought a father-figure into his life. Receiving little remuneration as a doctor, his step-father turned to farming. Helping out on the farm instilled in Samuel a strong work ethic and a deep appreciation for the natural world. He also loved words and reading and his mother imparted to him a great love for the Bible.
When he was 13 Samuel received Christ as his savior during a series of revival meetings. However, he felt frustrated with not 'feeling' saved so 'went forward' on five consecutive nights! It wasn't until weeks later, when telling his mother that he was a Christian, that he finally felt saved.
Throughout his subsequent preaching and teaching career Samuel often stressed the important lesson he learned from that simple experience: the need for Christians to witness to the spiritual blessings they receive, for in doing so the Holy Spirit assures us that we really do belong to Christ.
A life-transforming decision
At 15 Brengle became a Bible class leader, and a little later assistant superintendent of the Sunday school. He confessed to two ambitions: to be a worthy follower of Jesus and to excel as a scholar. His love for words fostered a passionate desire to be a great orator. He pursued his twin ambitions at Indiana Asbury University (from 1882 De Pauw University). He led a Sunday school class for five years and while preparing to be a lawyer at college began to make a name for himself as an orator.
Though the idea of preaching had occurred to him it wasn't until his last year at university that he knew he had to do something about it. He realized God was calling him to full-time ministry. Experiencing a lot of stress in preparing for a university oratory competition which he desperately wanted to win, but at the same time feeling very strongly the call to ministry, Brengle promised: '0 Lord, if thou wilt help me to win this case, I will preach!'
Brengle won and he kept his promise. After graduating with a BA degree he became a circuit preacher with the Methodist Episcopalian Church for a year. With his mind set on fame as a preacher and churchman he then enrolled at Boston Theological Seminary.
A spiritual crisis
Though Jesus Christ had definitely changed his life when he was 13, several unpleasant spiritual failures deeply troubled Samuel when he later reflected over his life. Shortly after Samuel's youthful conversion a school mate insulted him and Samuel punched him.
Afterwards he felt condemned. He had let God down. More seriously, just after graduation from university Samuel had to write an exam for entrance into the Methodist ministry. While writing the exam he cheated by availing himself of a book lying nearby. After passing with high marks his conscience bothered him. While he knew he was a Christian Brengle was troubled by that remaining tendency in himself to sin so easily.
The issue came to a climax during his theological studies. Poring over the Scriptures and reflecting in particular upon 1 John 1:7 Samuel concluded that God was able to cleanse him from all sin. He felt the big obstacle to his personal victory over all sin was his ambition to win the esteem and admiration of thoughtful, educated people. This was preventing him from surrendering his all to Christ.
He prayed and wept for a baptism of the Spirit. But this eluded him until one day when he read the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:29: 'That no flesh should glory in his presence' V1-uthorised Version). He recognized the idol of his soul was self, the 'passionate, consuming desire for glory'.
An inward struggle followed. Samuel knew his old self was finally crucified when he was able to say: 'Let me stammer and stutter if that is the way I can bring glory to God.'
The actual feeling of being cleansed from all known sin and filled with the Holy Spirit occurred a few days later. His moving description is worth quoting: 'On January 9, 1885, at about nine o'clock in the morning, God sanctified my soul '" He gave me such a blessing as I never had dreamed a person could have this side of Heaven. It was a heaven of love that came in into my heart. I walked out over Boston Common before breakfast weeping for joy and praising God. Oh, how I loved! In that hour I knew Jesus and I loved him till my heart would break with love. I loved the sparrows, I loved the dogs, I loved the horses, I loved the little urchins in the streets, I loved the strangers who hurried past me.,. I loved the whole world.'
When the ecstasy of that life-changing experience eventually subsided Brengle realized he had to walk by faith rather than emotion and to trust God no matter how he felt. Henceforth he would define holiness as 'pure love'. This powerful experience of the Holy Spirit laid the foundation for a lifelong ministry of passionate preaching, teaching and exhorting people to appropriate their birthright in Christ - a full salvation that purifies one from all known sin and empowers one humbly and joyfully to serve God, his Church and the world.
William Booth, Founder of The Salvation Army, visited Boston, USA, in 1886. His vision and passion for 'saving the world', especially the poor and needy, captured Brengle's heart and imagination.
Brengle subsequently met and married Elizabeth Swift, an educated and cultured young woman who had become a Salvationist through observing the Army's ministry in Glasgow and London. She became Samuel's inspiration and soulmate and they were married for 28 years, Elizabeth dying of an undiagnosed disease in 1915, leaving Brengle single for the remaining 20 years of his life.
Disappointed with the formality and overly intellectual approach of the seminary, Brengle did not complete his divinity degree and decided to pursue the possibility of becoming an officer in The Salvation Army.
When he went to London for six months' training to be an officer, his first assigned duty was to polish the boots of his fellow cadets. The experience proved to be another spiritual ' turning point in his life. Initially he felt such tasks were a waste of his talent; however, reflecting upon the humility of Jesus in washing the feet of the disciples gave him the victory. Since the Army stood for humble service in the name of Jesus, never again would Brengle baulk at any menial task.
Teacher of holiness
The ancient Roman philosopher Quintilian emphasized the need for teachers to be people of integrity who modeled the highest ethical standards to their students. During his officer-training days Brengle felt a strong calling to be a teacher and preacher of personal holiness. Like Quintilian he knew his character and integrity must back up his teaching.
He realized he could teach and lead them only into an experience that he possessed himself. Samuel wanted to hold half-nights of prayer to lead people into the experience of holiness. While in charge of Boston 1 Corps, he was struck on the head by a heavy brick thrown at him by a drunken ruffian. During 18 months of convalescence this life-threatening event served to advance the cause of Christ when Brengle decided to write some articles on holiness for Salvation Army periodicals. Shortly thereafter the Army published them as a small book, Helps to Holiness.
Brengle demonstrated his gift for teaching and writing through his ability to explain profound theological truths in simple language which even the unlearned could readily grasp. This was a strategically important gift indeed considering the educational level of most Salvationists in those days.
In Helps to Holiness Brengle defined holiness as 'pure love ... a baptism of love that brings every thought into captivity to the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) [and] that brings one into perfect and unbroken sympathy with the Lord Jesus Christ in his toil and travail to bring a lost and rebel world back to God'.
He maintained that holiness is a state 'in which there is no anger, malice, blasphemy, hypocrisy, envy, love of ease, selfish desires for the good opinion of people, shame of the Cross, worldliness, deceit, debate, contention, covetousness, nor any evil desire or tendency in the heart' . In short, holiness is the renewal of the whole person in the image of Jesus.
Influenced by his Wesleyan Methodist roots and his own life-transforming experience, Brengle believed this radically optimistic conquest of inward and outward sin by the mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit was an experience subsequent to conversion. One appropriates this experience through wholehearted, unconditional consecration to God and by claiming full deliverance from all known sin and the fullness of the Spirit through faith (1 John 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24; Luke 11:9, 13; Acts 1:8).
For Brengle, consecration means putting off self and putting on Christ. The two hindrances to this blessing are thus imperfect consecration and imperfect faith.
Given the emphasis of recent years on church growth and seeker-friendly services which water down the demands of the gospel in order to win the unsaved, Brengle jolted me with his words: 'Do not think you can make holiness popular. It cannot be done. There is no such thing as holiness separate from "Christ in you", and it is an impossibility to make Jesus Christ popular in this world.'
Samuel said his three main points in teaching holiness were: people cannot make themselves holy any more than the leopard can change its spots; the blessing is received by faith; and it is to be received by faith now.
As a means of nurturing a life of personal holiness Brengle strongly advocated the necessity and value of prayer. He believed that 'all spiritual failure has its beginnings in the [prayer] closet, in neglecting to wait on God until filled with wisdom, clothed with power, and all on fire with love'.
He taught that the spirit of prayer is a gift, but it also requires cultivation: how few make a business of prayer and wrestle with God for blessing and power and wisdom!
Real prayer is something more than a form of words, or a hasty address to God just before breakfast, before worship or before going to bed at night. It is an intense, intelligent, persistent council with the Lord, in which we wait on him, and reason and argue and plead our cause, and listen to his reply and will not let him go till he blesses us. But how few pray in this way!
In his second book, Heart Talks on Holiness, Brengle elaborates on some of the topics covered in Helps to Holiness. He explains that holiness is not necessarily a state in which there is perpetual, rapturous joy; it is not a state of freedom from temptation,' the infirmities of the flesh and affliction. Neither is it a condition of the soul in which there is no further growth. Holiness is a state of conformity to the divine nature.
Brengle was careful to point out that 'holiness does not consist so much in rapturous, sublimated experiences as in lowly, humble, patient, trustful love' . His eloquent pen made the experience of holiness understandable to the uneducated and the learned: 'Holiness is not some lofty experience, unattainable except to those who can leap the stars, but it is rather a lowly experience, which lowly people in the lowly walks of life can share with Jesus, by letting his mind be in them.'
Brengle's teaching often stressed the marvelous results of the blessing of holiness (he also called the experience a 'clean heart', 'entire sanctification' and 'full salvation'). Through it one becomes a soul winner and experiences a consistency of spiritual victory. Peace, joy and self-giving love are perfected. The Bible comes alive and temptation is quickly recognized and overcome. Though divine courage now possesses the heart, one is more keenly aware of one's weaknesses.
How was such a high standard of spiritual life and vigor to be maintained? His answer: 'Secret prayer must often bring the soul face to face with [Jesus], and the Bible, God's record of him must be daily, diligently and lovingly searched, and faithfully applied to the daily life.'
Brengle advocated giving at least 'one solid hour every day to restful, loving devotion with Jesus over our open Bible, for the refreshing, developing and strengthening of our spiritual life ... God would [thus] have an opportunity to teach, correct, inspire and comfort us, reveal his secrets to us and make spiritual giants of us' .
What about the pain and heartaches of life? Brengle taught that we are in 'God's school' in this life. 'Nothing can come to us that God does not permit and which by his grace cannot be made to work out for our higher good (Romans 8:28) ... What means all this uncertainty and mystery of pleasure and pain, of hope and despair? Hallelujah! It means that God wants us for himself ... It means he sees there is something in us worth his while to educate, and he is educating us.'
In 1902 Bramwell Booth, then second-in-command of The Salvation Army, asked Brengle to write a book on holiness for young people. Brengle called this 55-page gem The Way of Holiness.
How did he define holiness for young people? 'Holiness is conformity to the nature of God. It is likeness to God as he is revealed in Jesus ... Holiness ... is not maturity, but purity: a clean heart in which the Holy Spirit dwells, filling it with pure, tender, and constant love to God and people.'
In the book Brengle dealt with practical topics like holiness and the sanctification of the body, humility, a passion for soul-winning, worry, duty, prayer and how to become holy and how to maintain a life of holiness.
In his fourth book, When the Holy Ghost is Come, Brengle dealt again with some of the practical aspects of holy living, with chapters entitled 'Purity', 'Power (over the world, the flesh and the devil)', 'Hope', 'Guidance', 'The imperative of holy living for spiritual leaders' and 'The meek and lowly heart'. His primary focus, however, was on the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Christian's life - the witness of the Spirit, the sin against the Holy Spirit, offences against the Spirit, praying in the Spirit, victory through the Holy Spirit over suffering, victory over evil temper by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Regarding a man he met who felt the guidance of the Holy Spirit involved minute details like exactly how much food one should eat at a meal, Brengle advocated the use of sanctified common sense: 'Otherwise, one is reduced to a state of mental infancy and kept in swaddling clothes.'
Brengle - peacemaker and unifier
Brengle's fifth book, Resurrection Life and Power, was published in 1925. Apart from developing obvious themes about the resurrection of Christ, Brengle applied his insights not only to the usual practical issues like temptation, staying 'sweet' in one's soul and redeeming the time. He also tackled two controversial subjects the unpardonable sin and speaking in tongues.
The latter had become a divisive issue in the Army and among Methodists and other Christians in Scandinavia in the early 1900s, and in 1907 Brengle was dispatched to try to maintain the unity of the Army.
In Oslo, Norway (then called Christiania) he was invited by some religious leaders to address the tongues issue. His exposition of I Corinthians 12-14, interpreting tongues as only one of the gifts of the Spirit rather than the required gift and sign of being filled with the Spirit, plus his articulate and passionate teaching of the grace of love in 1 Corinthians 13 (including his personal testimony), calmed everyone down and helped restore a spirit of unity among the various believers. Many of the people who had become totally preoccupied with speaking in tongues 'went forward' and on their knees prayed for holier lives that would henceforth be filled and controlled by the self-giving love of God.
At the same time the so-called New Theology (which claimed, for example, that Jesus was not divine) was causing consternation and perplexity, particularly in Bergen, Norway. When Brengle visited the city he was invited to address this issue in an auditorium filled with the devout and the intelligentsia of the city.
In the midst of conducting two to four services every day he somehow managed to prepare mentally and then preach to this audience a brilliant exposition on the Atonement from a few notes he scribbled on the back of an envelope. In 1934 he provided this in full written form in Guest of the Soul
It would be difficult to find in any language a more lucid, succinct and evangelically persuasive one-hour sermon on the Atonement. The Atonement is 'God's act of condescension and mercy which bridges the gulf between sinful man and the holy God; between a wicked and fallen creature and an offended Creator; between a willful and defiant child and a wounded and grieved and loving Father.
'The whole Trinity is involved in the atoning work of Jesus Christ: the Father's heart of love was pierced with pain by the thorns that pierced the heart of the Son. The Father's heart ws hurt with the nails that pierced the hands and feet of the Son. The Father's heart was thrust through with anguish at the guilt and sins of men when they thrust the spear into the heart of Jesus. The Father suffered with and in the blessed Son .. , and it was through the eternal Spirit that Christ offered himself without spot to God (Hebrews 9:14).'
Brengle forcefully and convincingly argued from Scripture that, among other things, our being convinced of the divinity of Jesus Christ is a gift of God's grace – the result of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Those who are spiritually blind thus need the gift of spiritual insight.
The inference was clear: those who denied Christ's divinity needed the Spirit's illuminating grace! Brengle's biographer, Clarence Hall, felt this Atonement address, in both subject matter and results, should be considered 'the outstanding [pulpit] achievement of Brengle's career'. Though a masterful communicator and teacher and a very persuasive preacher, Brengle was a powerful example of the truth that we most influence people through who we are. We teach who we are. Sensing the authenticity of Brengle's own experience of the wonderfully transforming love of God that radiated though his holy life, people 'bought into' the truth he so passionately communicated.
Brengle's vision of the ideal Salvationist and Christian
Though a fiercely loyal Salvationist, Brengle was appreciative of the powerful example of other Christian saints. In Guest o fthe Soul he devotes 17 pages to exhorting Salvationists to emulate the spirit and example of Francis of Assisi, whom he called 'a 13th century Salvationist'. He saw in Francis the supreme lesson for The Salvation Army and for the whole Church that, 'whoever finds his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it' (Matthew 10:39 AV).
One readily senses the genuineness and depth of Brengle's spirituality and his dream for all Salvationists when he writes: 'Francis found hidden reservoirs of power in union with Christ; in following Christ; in counting all things lost for Christ; in meekly sharing the labors ... the passion and the cross of Christ. Thus his life became creative instead of acquisitive. He became a builder, a fighter, a creator; he found his joy, his fadeless glory, his undying influence, not in possessing things, not in attaining rank and title and worldly pomp and power but in building the spiritual house, the Kingdom of God - in fighting the battles of the Lord against the embattled hosts of sin and hate and selfishness. This creative life he found in ... sacrifice and service.'
For 24 years Brengle held the position of National Spiritual Special in the USA and for seven years, to many other nations of the world. As an itinerant evangelist and holiness teacher and preacher he influenced thousands towards a deeper relationship with God. His speaking circuit also included dozens of educational institutions, ministers' conferences and holiness conventions. It's estimated that 100,000 people 'came forward' for salvation or sanctification through Brengle's ministry.
Helps to Holiness went through multiple editions in several languages with the total number of copies exceeding one million before his death. Brengle also played a major role in the establishment of the Christian Holiness Association in America. DePauw University recognized the impact and scope of his holiness teaching and ministry by conferring the degree of Doctor of Divinity upon him in 1914.
In 1947, 11 years after his death, The Salvation Army in the USA held its first two week Brengle Institute for Salvation Army officers. Its purpose was to continue Brengle's legacy of promoting a scriptural holiness that would be a powerhouse of spiritual energy. The idea spread throughout the Army world and this annual holiness institute, now usually seven to 10 days in length, continues in most Army territories. Brengle's lifelong passionate teaching and preaching of holiness as Christlikeness in character continues to be The Salvation Army's official definition of personal holiness.
Promotion to Glory
Entering The Salvation Army's six-month training program at the age of 27, Brengle wrote: 'I have been led from the beginning to pray that I might be a blessing '" to the whole Army.' God answered Brengle's prayer to an extent far beyond his imagining.
After Brengle was promoted to Glory from St Petersburg, Florida, USA, on 20 May 1936 the then international leader of The Salvation Army, General Evangeline Booth, wrote a tribute which spoke eloquently of the debt the Army would always owe to this saintly warrior of God: 'He stood always the apostle and champion of the gospel of Christ and literally until his latest breath proclaimed its power to overcome every opponent of good in the hearts and lives of people. In every part of the world he has made lamps to burn which will never be extinguished. '
The teaching of holiness: what of the future?
In Love-Slaves Brengle eloquently expressed his fervent desire for the Army's continuing emphasis upon the doctrine and experience of personal holiness: 'This holiness – the doctrine, the experience, the action - we Salvationists must maintain; otherwise we shall betray our trust; we shall lose our birthright; we shall cease to be a spiritual power in the earth; we shall have a name to live, and yet be dead ... The souls with whom we are entrusted will grope in darkness or go elsewhere for soul-nourishment and guidance.'
How did Brengle envision the Army's holiness teaching being perpetuated into the future?
• Adult Salvationists must teach the doctrine to and live the experience before their children.
• Salvationists should remember that the standard for holiness is not human-made but God-given.
• The Army should publish and distribute holiness literature, especially making it available to young people.
• It should publicly preach and teach it.
• It should maintain a generous and sympathetic judgment towards others.
• The Salvation Army should continually rely and wait upon God for the help, inspiration and empowerment of the Holy Spirit in understanding, teaching, preaching and incarnating the doctrine and the biblical standard of personal holiness.
The Salvation Army is now serving in 111 countries. I don't know to what extent personal, biblical holiness is taught, preached and lived in the rest of the Army world but in his native country Brengle's books have been reprinted in recent years. Perhaps some of Brengle's terminology describing the experience and life of holiness could be updated. Have some of us overreacted to his emphasis on the 'destruction' of the sin nature and thus relegated holiness teaching to a bygone era?
However we describe the experience we cannot escape God's expectations: 'Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy' (Leviticus 19:2 NIV). Surely God would not give us commands that are impossible to keep. All God's commands are therefore implied promises. 'May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify [us] through and through. May [our] whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls [us] is faithful and he will do it' (l Thessalonians 5:23, 24 NIV). May God help us to perpetuate this holiness legacy of God's sanctifying grace until Jesus returns!
Originally published in "The Officer" magazine in November/December 2006.
Written by Major Max Sturge