Billy Bray was was once a drunken and lascivious miner, but grace made him an intensely earnest and decided follower of the Lord Jesus. His conversion was very marked, and was attended with those violent struggles of conscience which frequently attend that great change in strong-minded and passionate natures.
His actual obtaining of peace brought the tears into our eyes as we read it, and made us remember a lad who, more than twenty years ago, found the Lord in a somewhat similar style; it also reminded us of George Fox the Quaker, and John Bunyan the Baptist, when undergoing the sacred change. Children of God are born very much alike; their divergences usually arise as a matter of after years. In their regeneration, as in their prayers, they appear as one. Bray was assailed by the fierce temptation that he would never find mercy; but with the promise, "Seek, and ye shall find," he quenched this fiery dart of the wicked one, and in due time he learned, by blessed experience, that the promise was true. Beautifully simple and touching are his own words:—"I said to the Lord, 'Thou hast said, They that ask shall receive, they that seek shall find, and to them that knock the door shall be opened, and I have faith to believe it.' In an instant the Lord made me so happy that I cannot express what I felt. I shouted for joy. I praised God with my whole heart for what he had done for a poor sinner like me: for I could say, the Lord hath pardoned all my sins. I think this was in November, 1823, but what day of the month I do not know. I remember this, that everything looked new to me; the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees. I was like a man in a new world. I spent the greater part of my time in praising the Lord. I could say with David, 'The Lord hath brought me up out of a horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, and hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto my God.' I was a new man altogether. I told all I met what the Lord had done for my soul. I have heard some say that they have hard work to get away from their companions, but I had hard work to find them soon enough to tell them what the Lord had done for me. Some said I was mad; and others that they should get me back again next pay-day. But, praise the Lord, it is now more than forty years ago, and they have not got me yet. They said I was a mad-man, but they meant I was a glad man, and, glory be to God! I hare been glad ever since."
No sooner was Billy saved than he began at once looking after others. He prayed for his work-mates, and saw several brought to Jesus in answer to his prayer. His was a simple faith; he believed in the reality of prayer, and meant to be heard, and expected to be answered whenever he supplicated for the souls of his comrades. He was a live man, not a dummy. In his own simple style he did all that he did with rigor, physical vigor being more than sufficiently conspicuous in his shouting and leaping for joy. "He tells us, soon after his conversion, 'I was very happy in my work, and could leap and dance for joy underground as well as on the surface.'
"Bray began publicly to exhort men to repent, and turn to God, about a year after his conversion. Towards the end of 1824 his name was put on the Local Preachers' Plan, and his labors were much blessed in the conversion of souls. He did not commonly select a text, as is the general habit of preachers, but he usually began his addresses by reciting a verse of a hymn, a little of his own experience, or some telling anecdote. But he had the happy art of pleasing and profiting all classes, the rich as much as the poor; and all characters, the worldly as much as the pious, flocked to' hear him. He retained his popularity until the last. Perhaps no preacher in Cornwall ever acquired more extensive or more lasting renown, and the announcement of his name as a speaker at a missionary meeting, or on any special occasion, was a sufficient attraction, whoever else might or might not be present. Sometimes his illustrations and appeals made a powerful impression. I remember once hearing him speak with great effect to a large congregation, principally miners. In that neighborhood there were two mines, one very prosperous, and the other quite the reverse, for the work was hard and the wages low. In his sermon he represented himself as working at that mine all the week, but on the' pay-day' going to the prosperous one for his wages. Had he not been at work at the other mine? the manager inquired. He had, but he liked the wages at the good mine the best. He pleaded very earnestly, but in vain, and was dismissed with the remark, from which there was no appeal, that he must come there to work if he came there for his wages. And then he turned upon the congregation, and the effect was almost irresistible, that they must serve Christ here if they would share his glory hereafter, but if they would serve the devil now, to him they must go for their wages byand- by. A very homely illustration certainly, but one which convinced the understanding and subdued the hearts of his hearers.
"There was excitement in some of his meetings, more than sufficient to shock the prejudices of highly-sensitive or refined persons. Some even who had the fullest confidence and warmest affection for Billy could not enjoy some of the outward manifestations they occasionally witnessed to the extent that he himself did. Billy could not tolerate 'deadness,' as he expressively called it, either in a professing Christian or in a meeting. He had a,leeper sympathy with persons singing, or shouting, or leaping for joy, than he had with
'The speechless awe that dares not move,
And all the silent heaven of love.'"
Methodism is the mother church of Cornwall, and Bray was a genuine though uncultivated child of her heart. As John Wesley always associated the grace of God with the penny a week, so Bray's religion was not all shouting; it had an eminently practical turn in many directions. Billy was quite a mighty chapel builder; he began by getting a piece of freehold from his mother, which he cleared with his own hands, and then proceeded to dig out the foundations of a chapel which was to be called Bethel. Under great discouragement's, both from friends and foes, mostly, however, from the first, he actually built the place, working at it himself, and at the same time begging stone, begging timber, and begging money to pay the workmen. His little all he gave, and moved all around, who had anything to spare, to give likewise. On-lookers thought Billy to be silly, and called him so; but, as he well remarked, "Wise men could not have preached in the chapel if silly Billy had not built it." Almost as soon as one building was finished, he was moved to commence another. It was much needed, and many talked about it, but nobody had the heart to begin it but Billy Bray. He begged the land, borrowed a horse and cart of the giver; and then after doing his own hard day's work underground in the pit, and providing for five small children, he and his son worked at raising stone and building the walls; frequently working twenty hours of the twenty-four. He had a hard struggle over this second chapel; but his own account is best. "When our chapel was up about to the door-head, the devil said to me, 'They are all gone and left you and the chapel, and I would go and leave the place too.' Then I said, 'Devil, doesn't thee know me better than that; by the help of the Lord I will have the chapel up, or lose my skin on the down.' So the devil said no more to me on that subject. Sometimes I had blisters on my hands, and they have been very sore. But I felt I did not mind that, for if the chapel should stand one hundred years, and if one soul were converted in it every year, that would be a hundred souls, and that would pay me well if I got to heaven, for they that 'turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.' So I thought I should be rich enough when I got there. The chapel was finished after a time; and the opening day came. We had preaching, but the preacher was a wise man, and a dead man. I believe there was not much good done that day, for it was a very dead time with the preacher and people; for he had a great deal of grammar, and but little of Father. 'It is not by might, nor power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord' Weir it was by wisdom or might, I should have but a small part, for my might is little and my wisdom less. Thanks be to God, the work is his, and he can work by whomsoever he pleases. The second Sunday after the chapel was opened I was 'planned' there. I said to the people, 'You know I did not work here about this chapel in order to fill my pocket, but for the good of the neighbors, and the good of souls; and souls I must have, and souls I will have.' The Lord blessed us in a wonderful manner. Two women cried to the Lord for mercy; and when I saw that I said, 'Now the chapel is paid for already.' The good Lord went on to work there; and the society soon went up from fifteen members to thirty. You see how good the Lord is to me; I spoke for one soul a year, and he gave me fifteen souls the first year. Bless and praise his holy name, for he is good, and his mercy endureth for ever, for one soul is worth a thousand worlds. Our little chapel had three windows, one on one side, and two on the other; the old devil, who does not like chapels, put his servants, by way of reproach, to call our chapel Three-Eyes. But, blessed be God, since then the chapel has become too small for the place; and it has been enlarged; now there are six windows instead of three; and they may call the chapel Six-Eyes if they will. For, glory be to God, many that have been converted there are now in heaven; and, when we get there, we will praise him with all our might; and he shall never hear the last of it."
No sooner was this second house finished, than he began a third and larger one, and in this enterprise his talent for collecting, as well as his zeal in giving and working, were well displayed. He had high—and as we believe proper—ideas of his mission, in gathering in the subscriptions of the Lord's stewards. "A friend who was with Billy on a begging expedition, suggested, as they were coming near a gentleman's house, and Billy was evidently making for the front door, that it would be better if they went to the back door. 'No,' said Billy, 'I am the son of a King, and I shall go frontways.'" "At one time, at a missionary meeting, he seemed quite vexed because there was something said in the report about money received for 'rags and bones.' when he rose to address the meeting he said: 'I don't think it is right supporting the Lord's cause with old rags and bones. The Lord deserves the best, and ought to have the best.'" Well done, Billy! This is right good, and sound divinity.
Billy knew how to fight the devil and his agents with their own weapons. Returning late from a revival meeting, on a dark night in a lonely road, "certain lewd fellows of the baser sort," tried to frighten him by making all sorts of unearthly sounds; but he went singing on his way. At last one of them said, in the most terrible tones, "But I'm the devil up here in the hedge, Billy Bray." "Bless the Lord! Bless the Lord!" said Billy, "I did not know thee 'wust' so far away as that." To use Billy's own expression, "What could the devil do with such as he?"
"One of the most blessed results of his deep piety was his unfeigned humility, and his continual sense of dependence upon God. The Lord's servants without the Lord's presence are weak like other men, like Samson, when he lost his locks. Here is one experience of Billy's: 'When I was in the St. Neot's Circuit, I was on the plan; and I remember that one Sunday I was planned at Redgate, and there was a chapel full of people, and the Lord gave me great power and liberty in speaking; but all at once the Lord took away his Spirit from me, so that I could not speak a word: and this might have been the best sermon that some of them ever heard. What! you say, and you looking like a fool and not able to speak? Yes, for it was not long before I said, I am glad I am stopped, and that for three reasons. And the first is, To humble my soul, and make me feel more dependent on my Lord, to think more fully of the Lord and less of myself. The next reason is, To convince you that are ungodly, for you say we can speak what we have a mind to, without the Lord as well as with him; but you cannot say so now, for you hear how I was speaking, but when the Lord took away his Spirit I could not say another word; without my Lord I could do nothing. And the third reason is, That some of you young men who are standing here may be called to stand in the pulpit some day as I am, and the Lord may take his Spirit from you as he has from me, and then you might say, it is no good for me to try to preach or exhort, for I was stopped the last time I tried to preach, and I shall preach no more. But now you can say, I saw poor old Billy Bray stopped once like me, and he did not mind it, and told the people that he was glad his Lord had stopped him: Billy Bray's Lord is my Lord, and I am glad he stopped me too, for if I can benefit the people and glorify God, that is what I want. I then spoke a great while, and told the people what the Lord gave me to say.'"
Preaching in such a spirit Bray was sure to have a blessing, and a blessing he had. Many orators and doctors in divinity look very small by the side of Billy Bray, if we estimate ministries by their results in soul-winning, and they will look smaller still when the souls saved by poor humble speakers shall shine forth like stars, and their own rhetorical fame and boasted learning shall be as darkness.
We say no more, but refer the reader to the memoir of Billy Bray, written by Mr. F.W. Bourne, and published at the Bible Christian Book Room, 57, Fairbank Street, East Road.