Brother Bryan

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It is the Lord’s Day again, and every Lord’s Day should be a day of remembering the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His death, He paid the debt of our sins. By His resurrection, He gave irrefutable proof that the debt was canceled.

James Alexander Bryan [20 March 1863 - 28 January 1941]The Rev. James A. Bryan, known affectionately as Brother Bryan of Birmingham, was a powerfully effective pastor and evangelist in the city of Birmingham, Alabama in the early 20th-century. He was particularly effective in his ministry to the poor of the city, both black and white. The following sermon is from one of three published collections of Brother Bryan’s sermons, all apparently quite rare now.

SUBJECT: “THE COMFORTING CHRIST;”
SCRIPTURAL TEXT, “THY BROTHER SHALL RISE AGAIN,” – JOHN 11:23

We remember that Jesus, to comfort Mary and Martha, walked 35 miles to their homes in Bethany. With the weeping sisters we read that “Jesus wept.” Oh, my dear friends, when their hearts were sorely grieved over the death of their brother Jesus Himself wept with them. Another very striking thing just here is one of the wonderful sentences which Jesus uttered to them in these words: “Thy brother shall rise again.”

And so, my friends, Jesus speaks to you and to me concerning our sleeping loved ones and it should be very comforting and inspiring to hear Him as He says, “Thy mother, thy father, thy brother, thy sister, thy friend or thy friends shall rise again.” You may be sorely grieved over the loss of a little child or a daughter or a son, but how comforting to hear Jesus say, “Thy child, thy little friend, thy daughter, thy son shall rise again in the last day in the resurrection.”

I wish you to notice the culture and refinement, education, spiritual education of these lovely sisters at Bethany. Martha responded to Christ’s words by looking up into His face and speaking softly and calmly, “Yes, Lord, I know that my brother who is sleeping in his sepulcher down at the foot of this hill will rise again in the resurrection in the last day.” Now Martha was a Jewess and deep down in her heart was that Jewish belief of the resurrection of the dead in the last day as Christ was then teaching in His words: “Thy brother shall rise again.” The spiritually-minded Hebrew or Jew was most secure in such a belief, and this wonderful Jewess of Bethany tells Christ that this was a certainty in her life.

And yet this sleep was mighty hard for Martha to bear because she loved her brother dearly. The separation from love is mighty hard. Lazarus was a loving brother. While we love the separation is mighty hard. Then Jesus, to continue to comfort the grieved and sorrowing sister, said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” It was Jesus who had also said, “I am the bread of life, I am the living water of eternal life, I am the light of this dark world, I am the way, the truth, and the life.” And He says, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” That is, Jesus was telling Martha, and is telling the whole world, “I am the resurrection and the life, and whosoever believeth in Me, that I have power over sin and death and the grave unto salvation shall see His power.” And so He is saying this morning, “I am the light of the dark grave in which your loved one or friend is sleeping. I am the power to remove the gravestone. I have power over the darkness to give light.”

“I am the resurrection and the life.” Death is the absence of life and Jesus says of it, “I put life in that body to bring it back unto myself, and whosoever believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live again.” I believe this as positively as I can. If I believe in Him, trust in Him, and daily and hourly reach out for Him, when I die my body goes to sleep and is placed in the graveyard or cemetery to be resurrected again at the last day and my soul goes to Christ. The soul of the Christian, the believer goes to Christ and is made perfect in happiness and holiness. Truly that is the reward of walking by faith and not by sight.

Now Jesus is still in Bethany, where the sisters’ faith has been tested and tried in the separation from their brother whom they loved. Many things are taking place since Christ has raised Lazarus from the dead. It was a very exciting time in Jerusalem, Bethany and the surrounding country to which the news had spread very rapidly. The Jews numbered among the enemies of Christ could not stand for Christ’s popularity. Here in Bethany is a man who had been dead four days and Christ has raised him to life. There was the little daughter of Jairus in Capernaum whom Christ had raised very soon after her death by going into the room where her body had been carefully prepared for the casket or bier, upon which it would be soon placed and borne to the cemetery. There with Peter, James and John, Christ prayed and spoke the resurrecting words, “Talitha Cumi.” “Little maid, I say unto thee, arise.”

Again they had heard how Christ upon entering upon the threshold of the approach into the city of Nain had met a funeral procession of a poor widow’s son, her only support and comfort in a world of trials and temptations. No doubt they were very poor people and the dead body was being carried out of corporation limits to be buried in a lonely country cemetery where funeral expenses were little known. Jesus, touched with the grief of that poor mother, walked up to the bier and touched it, saying, “Son, arise,” and the son arose and was restored to his mother again for her comfort and support.

But now the enemies of Christ have, many of them, witnessed the resurrection of a man who had been dead four days, one day longer than Christ Himself would sleep in the garden tomb. Lazarus had come forth from the tomb bound hand and feet in grave clothes. Jesus turned and said to some of them, “Loose him, and let him go.” Friends, we too, have something to do to carry on the work of Christ, who died on Calvary and was resurrected, and says to us, “Go.” We must be active because there is much to be done. Oh, what a blessed thing it is to be at work for Christ by having the light turned on our lives that we may help others to see Christ, the Light of the world. Oh, to help others see that Christ is the bright and morning star, the express image of God Himself, the chiefest among ten thousand, the One altogether lovely, the Immanuel, the Jesus, the light of this dark world, a friend that sticketh closer than a brother, a brother born for adversity, our mediator, our saviour, our comforter.

We think of what a comforter Christ was to the lovely sisters of Bethany in an hour of grief. He has been such a comforter, and is today such a comforter to thousands of homes. He just longs to be a comforter to all. He wants to be a comforter to the many men and women without work, to those in hospitals without means, to the poor without shoes and without clothes and without food. He is calling to us to go out and help them. Are we answering that call by going out and helping those in need?

Of course, there were curious people about the country who were just crazy with excitement over the great event which had just happened at the foot of the hill, below the little village of Bethany. They might have wanted to see Christ, but they were extremely anxious and curious to see Lazarus. Along about this time the Jewish authorities began in great earnestness to devise a way to kill Christ. In the latter part of this chapter they said, “Do you think He will come to the feast?” They were just seeking a chance to entrap and kill Christ. They could not stand the fact that He could open blind eyes, cleanse lepers, heal weak feverish babies in their mothers’ arms, cast devils out of men and women, restore withered hands, eat with publicans and sinners, and heal sick folks on the Sabbath. They could not stand for Him to say that He and the Father were One and that He robbed God of no glory by taking upon Himself the form of God and also at the same time a fleshly body. That is, in that He became flesh and dwelt among us did not rob God of any glory and honor. His enemies were now ready that all doors be closed to Him and that He be put to death.

Friends, is the door of your heart open to Christ this morning? Is the door of your home open to Christ? Is the door of your business, wherever and whatever it is, open to Christ? Look over your work and see if you have been fair and square with those you have dealt with? Mr. Business Man, look over your books and see if you have charged someone too much. You are not the only one who is keeping an account. God knows about those charges. Oh, is your place open for Christ today? Is He the head and great partner in your work?

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James Alexander Bryan [20 March 1863 - 28 January 1941]It’s Sunday, and since we had a post early last week on Brother Bryan of Birmingham, I thought one of his sermons would work well today. Sermons can sometimes provide a glimpse into a preacher’s character and ministry. This sermon comes from an undated collection of his sermons, but one biographical detail in this sermon would place the publication at around 1930-31. For background, it helps to know that around 1927, Rev. Bryan was blessed with a trip to Europe and Palestine, and a number of these collected sermons reflect on that trip abroad. Also, many of these sermons give the appearance of having been written down exactly as he preached them, and so some of the expressions may seem a bit odd. I still can’t make sense of a sentence toward the end of the third full paragraph, “We fail to fold the things to give the things we should…”

SUBJECT: “THE FAILURES OF KING SAUL.”

I wish you to think prayerfully and carefully with me about some of the events and places where they occurred in the land which I saw connected with the life of Samuel and Saul and the wonderful peerless Jonathan, the son of Saul. The places that I saw connected with this narrative begin at the twelfth chapter of First Samuel. There was Ramah, Bethel, Bethlehem, Michmash, Gilgal, and Mizpah. Seven out of ten of the places mentioned in the sixty-six books of the Bible have been located by careful students, geographers and explorers. The time, no doubt, will come when every place mentioned in the Bible will be located. Yet I humble take off my hat in this study because I know that I am standing on the holiest ground, having had this responsibility rolled over on my tired heart and brain in this sacred task.

In this twelfth chapter is the wonderful speech of Samuel, the first in the great line of the Old Testament prophets and the last in the line of the judges. His character was clean, pure, holy, positive, outright, righteous. His circuits were from Ramah, his home and the place from where he judged Israel, to Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpeh. His spoiled sons judged at Beersheba, the southern extremity of Palestine. But they took tribes and did not judge righteously as did their father. Here Samuel introduces the king’s walk before the people and says, “Behold, I have stolen nothing from you. I have taken no bribe or silver, gold, ox, ass, wine, of any hand to blind mine eyes with.” Then with a desire to glorify God he said, “It is the Lord that advances His mighty works. It is the Lord who when Jacob was come into Egypt, and your fathers cried out to God that He heard their cry and sent Moses down into Egypt to bring them out of Egyptian bondage.” This fact shows us that these old Hebrews had a deep spiritual life and an idea of God early in life. They had an idea of God’s people of old. Samuel had a knowledge of God since early childhood because he was taught about God from the cradle on up. Samuel said, “Consider all these great things the Lord hath done for you; and turn aside from idols and fear and serve God with all your heart.” Oh to lay aside the idols of our lives and worship only God. I think of a stanza my mother taught me:

“The dearest idol I have known, whate’er it may be.
Help me, Lord, to tear it from my throne
And worship only Thee.”

Then Samuel says, “My dear friends, do you know that I was not the cause of all this? You did not reject me, but God told me that you rejected Him.” Oh, have I rejected God? Have you rejected God? Have I turned my back on God? Now we come to Saul, and we can but notice his seeming success and his failures. I can visualize Bethel, a sacred place from of old, Abraham camped and built an altar there (Gen. 12:8), Jacob fleeing from his brother’s wrath, camped here and had a heavenly vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder from earth to heaven. He awoke the next morning, and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. I would not have stayed here had I known it.” As Jacob got up early before the gray dawn of the morning and despairingly said that he would not have been there if he had known the Lord was in the place, so I fear that many of us today avoid the places where God is. We fail to fold the things, to give the things we should to God, and fold to our hearts the things we ought to. I beg you today to tear from your heart and life anything that comes between you and God. It was here or very near here that the Spirit of the Lord came upon this man King Saul.

I now visualize Gilgal the first encamping place of the Israelites after they crossed the Jordan. It was here that circumcision was renewed, and the Lord “rolled away” their reproach. (Joshua 4:19; 5:9). It was the place no doubt where the people were taught by Joshua to worship God in the tabernacle until it was removed to Shiloh. It was from here that Joshua went forth on his great military achievements. There Samuel before the Lord slew Agag. It was here that an altar of twelve stones from the Jordan River, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, was built commemorating their crossing over into the Promised Land.

Now this place Michmash has not yet been located by scholars. It was a strong hold of the Philistines. Saul in choosing out a great army against the Philistines selected three thousand, two thousand of which were with him in Michmash. Now at first in all of Saul’s successes he was very humble. Notice that when he was asked to become king of Israel he said, “Why make me king when I am of the least of the tribes of all Israel?” I see him humbly anointed by Samuel for the kingship, a sign of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

We are now in Mizpeh, which means a watch-tower. It was here, as I have already said, Samuel judged, and here he summoned the people to elect a king. No doubt from this watchtower the Israelites stood to watch for the encounters and plans of the Philistines. Then they go to Gilgal, where the people saw the coronation of Saul and they said, “Long live the king.” But success sometimes is a very dangerous thing in one’s life. It must have been in the life of Saul since his heart was changed from humility to exaltation on the part of himself.

God gave the people a king, just what they wanted, because He had a plan to work out in it. I have known people to rebel because they had lost all of their loved ones and life was sad and lonely for them. But in it all, we are to remember that God’s plan is lined with love. God’s plan for Saul’s life was lined with love. Saul began to fail when he first began to envy and eye David and the peerless Jonathan. His presumption is another point in his fall. When Saul was anointed to be king, he like other kings, was to be a military leader. He rallied the people to fight against the Ammonites. No doubt at that time Saul inquired of the Lord and led a prayerful life. But triumphs in the Christian life are very dangerous sometimes. Many times in God’s Word we are told to humble ourselves in the sight of God that we may be lifted up.

Saul really had read and learned Old Testament history. He refers to the Amalakites who met Israel between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai and now he meets them. God told him to kill Agag and the cattle. But now Saul looms up in a presumptuous attitude and says, “Why wait I for any man? Samuel is late, and here are fat calves which I kept for sacrifices and my own use. I will just offer up a sacrifice myself.” Why in the world did Saul want to usurp the authority of a priest? He was the king and not a priest. I cannot go out and work on the railroad or in the shops, or in the bank or some other trade. My work is to preach the Gospel which I have humbly tried to do in Birmingham and other places for a period of forty-one years in a month from now. [Brother Bryan began his ministry in 1889, so that would date this sermon to 1930.]

Saul offered up the sacrifice and here comes faithful old Samuel. He hears the lowing cattle, for God is revealing to him the sin of Saul. He says “What meaneth all this lowing of cattle which I hear, Saul? Did not God tell thee to kill all the cattle? And, Saul, I see you have King Agag. You were supposed to have killed him, too. God bade thee to do so.” Saul was using the church to carry out his ambitious purposes. In other words he was commercializing on the church. Listen to Saul’s excuse which is like our excuses today: “Oh, I just wanted to keep the people together, so I just offered up one sacrifice of these goodly heifers which I saved back for the purpose.” Today so many people say, “O I could not do that because it would not please the church, the world, the people.” We must shun such sin. O if we would use our time alone in the work which God has given us to do. Forgive us, O Lord, if we are not grasping the opportunities Thou hast given us. Help us to try to make our lives count for Thee in these warning lessons which we get from the life of King Saul.

We now come to Bethlehem Ephratah, as it was first called and which means roses, vegetation. Then it was called Bethlehem, and after this the City of David. It is mentioned first as the home of Elimelech and Naomi. It is the place to which Samuel came from Ramah, having no doubt walked about 18 miles over that ancient highway from Damascus to Egypt, to select a king of the house of Jesse. I see Samuel walking along that road with a hickory switch in his hand driving a heifer down to Bethlehem. Someone says, “Where are you going?” He says, “I am going down to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse.” He, like wise people today, did not tell everything he knew. He did not tell them what his purpose there was. He wisely kept secrets. “He that dwelleth in the secret places of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”

I see the sons of Jesse lined up for Samuel’s examination. Then Samuel, the great man of faith in God, said, “Jesse, have you any other sons?” I stood and looked toward the north of Bethlehem to the hill country of Judea and the shepherd hills. It was a Jewish custom that the youngest son of a family keep his father’s sheep. David, Jesse’s youngest son, was keeping the sheep on those shepherd hills east of Bethlehem. He was sent for and chosen and anointed king by Samuel. Why did God use him? The answer comes back that God used him because He could trust him. The question is not how much faith I have in God, but has God any faith in me? Am I treating God right? Am I treating my friends right? So as Samuel said, “Man looketh on the outward appearance but God looketh on the heart.” Are we holding on to this Bible on which my mother, dying, placed her hand and said, “My son, I have made no mistake in believing every word of this Bible.”

I see Saul baffled with a great army and yet no one dared fight Goliath, the great Philistine giant. David is sent to carry food and supplies to his brothers employed in Saul’s army. [Goliath] had challenged all Israel. But here comes David eagerly listening to the conversations about this dreaded giant. But yet no one has dared to fight the enemy of God. O my friends, are you willing to go out and fight the enemy of the Church? Goliath is a type of the enemy of the Church. Someone says, “Here comes a little red-headed Jew from Bethlehem, we will let him go try. He has killed a lion and a bear.” So saying they were met with an eager response on the part of David himself.

David then goes out to fight Goliath, the symbol of darkness, hell, and temptations which assail you and me like great avalanches. This giant looked in disdain at David and said, “You poor little thing. Would you dare come out to meet me, Goliath, with a sling and a few small stones?” I hear David say to Goliath, like you and I ought to say now, “You are coming to me with a sword and spear like a weaver’s beam, but I come to you in the name of the God of the army of Israel, the army of the living God.” My friends, we must meet these temptations, we must fight the enemy in the name of Christ.

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“He Went About Doing Good”

Our subject today is the Rev. James A. Bryan, known affectionately as “Brother Bryan.” To introduce him, I would like to take the liberty of quoting from the opening three paragraphs in Dr. David Calhoun’s recent article, which appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of PRESBYTERION:

James Alexander Bryan [20 March 1863 - 28 January 1941]“For years James Bryan walked the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, ministering in the name of Jesus to the people of the fast-growing city–not only to respectable people but also to gamblers, drunkards, and prostitutes. He was the pastor of Third Presbyterian Church, a downtown church surrounded by African Americans, poor white families, Jews, and immigrant workers from Italy, Hungary, Greece, and other countries. Bryan knew the people of Birmingham and they knew and loved him. They called him “Brother Bryan.” To him all people, black and white, native-born and immigrants, poor and rich, were his brothers and sisters.

“James Alexander Bryan was born near Kingstree, South Carolina, on March 20, 1863, two years after South Carolina seceded from the Union. His parents were poor in money, but rich in faith. Every morning and evening the family gathered to sing a psalm or hymn, to read a passage from the Bible, and to kneel in prayer. At his little country school James studied reading, writing, arithmetic–and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. At the town’s Presbyterian church he listened to good sermons. A visiting preacher who made a deep impression on the young boy was Hampden C. DuBose, a student at Columbia Theological Seminary who, during a summer vacation, supplied Bryan’s home church. DuBose became a missionary to China, where he preached, planted churches, and successfully fought the opium trade.

“Bryan studied at an academy in Raleigh and at the University of North Carolina, where he was known for his ability as a public speaker. He went north to Princeton Theological Seminary to prepare for the ministry, arriving in September 1886 with $1.85 in his pocket. The piety of the slim young Southerner earned him the nickname “the saint,” spoken not in mockery but seriously by his fellow students. Bryan loved his professors–William Henry Green, Alexander McGill, Caspar Wistar Hodge, and B. B. Warfield–and loved his studies, especially those in Bible and preaching. In Princeton Bryan worked at the Negro church on Witherspoon Street, teaching Sunday School and often leading the Wednesday prayer meeting. Here among black friends he was at home. Years later when his Princeton Seminary class gathered for its fortieth reunion, Bryan slipped away from the festivities to preach to the people at Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.”

[To read the full article by Dr. Calhoun, please contact Presbyterion Editor, Covenant Theological Seminary, 12330 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141. The annual subscription rate for the journal is $8.50 per year, or you may be able to secure a copy of that issue through Inter-Library Loan.]

Recently I was able to locate and purchase a copy of Brother Bryan’s sermons for addition to the PCA Historical Center’s research library. Apparently this was one of three volumes that were published between 1900 and 1930. Few copies have survived. The first was a slim volume of 53 pages, then another of 72 pages, which we have in photocopy, and the last, our recent accession, is a booklet of 111 pages. From that last booklet, I have selected one sermon to post here today, to give a better sense of Brother Bryan’s ministry and also because this particular sermon has some additional biographical insights:

EVERY LIFE WITHOUT PRAYER IS FAILURE.
(March 26, 1927)

Prayer to God is the lifting up of the soul to God. It is the pouring out of the heart unto God, our Father, in adoration, praise, confession and submission.

Someone asked the question, “What is the need of the Christian Life?” Another person answered, “Love for Jesus Christ.” We know this is true. You cannot love anyone unless you are acquainted with them. You cannot love Christ unless you are well acquainted with Him. You become acquainted by reading the Bible and especially by communing with Him in prayer. The people whose lives have counted for the most in the world have been people who were intercessors unto God.

Think a minute of Moses, how he interceded for God’s people, who had forgotten God. He spent 40 years in the school of prayer in the desert of Midian. It was his prayer life that made his life powerful. Prayer to God is asking what we wish, expecting to receive the things according to God’s will. We go to our Heavenly Father knowing that He will not withhold from us the best things for us.

Think of Elijah praying to God, the heaven’s being shut for three years and six months. I can hear him praying for rain and the heavens opened and the rain came. God’s people in the time of Samuel sent for him and begged that he not fail to pray for them.

Is your life a life of prayer? We have a great many church workers in this country but we need more church prayers. Praying is not saying your prayers. Christ taught us to enter our rooms and pray to our Father in secret. Christ teaches us to pray always.

Paul writes, pray without ceasing. Then he says: “I exhort first of all the prayers, supplications, intercessions be made for all people.” Do you enjoy praying? How much time a day do you spend in prayer? How many people have you on your prayer list? I am sure that I cannot meet the trials, the temptations, the burdens, the sorrows of life, without spending much time in prayer.

Martin Luther said, “I have so much to do I spend the ealry hours of the morning in prayer to God.” If you haven’t anyone else to pray for, pray for the writer of this note.

The calls come thick and fast, day and night. I have just returned from a cottage over the mountain, a father dying in one room, mother and children in sorrow, in the other. Pray for hundreds in that condition. The phone has just rung bringing the news of old people in a certain section of this city, unable to work, without food or fire. Pray to God that He will supply the needs of hundreds; that He will heal thousands of broken hearts. “There are lonely hearts to cherish, while the days are going by. There are weary souls that perish, while the days are going by.”

If Christ felt the need of spending whole nights in prayer and rising before day and going to the mountainside to pray, do you not feel the same need? Certainly you do. Christ is praying for us now. He is the only advocate between God and man. He presents our case to the Father. One of the sweetest recollections that I have of my earthly father is this: he took me to Charleston, S.C., when I was a small boy. Late at night when everything was still in the hotel, I heard a voice; in the dim moonlight that shone through the window I saw my father on his knees. I heard him praying for me. I think of that scene most every day and think of the prayer that I heard him offer. Maybe our children do not need so many material things but they need our prayers and they need to be taught to pray. You cannot have a spiritual life, without prayer.

Will you not pray more? Will you not pray for your own city, for every man, woman and child, that Christ may take His rightful place in every life? Pray that all of the people will be intercessors unto God.

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