Sermon by the Rev. J. K. Murphy, in memory of Sergeant Jones Bradbury of the 99th Regiment, Penna. Vols., delivered in Calvary Church, Rockdale, PA., May 7th, 1865
[ NOTE: Thanks to the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University for providing an electronic copy of the pamphlet from which this text was extracted. ]
"I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course." - 2 TIM. iv. 7
These were words, uttered by St. Paul, brethren, towards the close of his eventful and laborious life. They were "written as well as uttered for the consolation and assurance of a beloved friend, who under the strong impression that his days were nearly numbered, and that the hand of violence was already prepared to cast him down. A second time he had been brought before the Caesar, Nero, for the crime of being a Christian, and, in the course of this trying interview, had seen enough to convince him, in the conduct of failing friends and bitter enemies, that the result of this final persecution, was to be his speedy removal from earthly scenes and concerns. As a Roman citizen, to which proud title he had in self-defense laid claim, he could avail himself of many privileges, and ward off, for a while, by due course of law, from his devoted head, the stroke he saw was coming, but the hated name of Christian, which he also dared openly to confess, would, he knew well, sooner or later seal his doom. And so it proved. Though he died in no ignoble way - by crucifixion, or strangling, or by drowning, or the lions - as slaves and foreigners were always made to suffer, he yet died a martyr's death, beheaded by the executioner's sword, soon after he wrote to Timothy, these words of faith and a good conscience. "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course." And St. Paul's life, my dear brethren, had, indeed, been, from the moment he became a Christian, a protracted struggle with fierce and unrelenting enemies. At once he seems to have been called by God, to a position in the Church where he was exposed to all the dangers and trials of a ceaseless conflict. His very conversion was the signal for the beginning of a warfare from which there was no discharge until death brought him release. He encountered foes, and endured persecutions, wherever, in the providence of God, he turned his steps to carry the gospel of his blessed Master. Scenes of savage hate, and dogged resistance, and actual hostilities marked the progress of his whole career in planting the cross, either among the heathen or his own countrymen. From one town he barely escapes with his life, by being let down secretly outside its walls, by night, in a basket. From another, not long after, he is dragged out senseless by a maddened multitude, who had stoned him, as they supposed, to death. At one time he is chased from city to city as a renegade and a malignant, at another time he is roughly thrust into a dungeon as a rioter and a scoffer. Now he fights with beasts, as he expresses it, at Ephesus, beasts in the guise of men, and again he faces the lion, as he calls him, in his palace at Rome, the infamous emperor, from whom the Lord alone could deliver him. How he struggled manfully with external hardships, and what he suffered in pursuing the course set before him, his own words afford us the best description: "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one, thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep, in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in. perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."
Nor does even this representation, give us all the struggle, concerning which St. Paul could cheerfully make the remark of the text, in his survey of the past, in his review of victories won.
The blessed Apostle, with all his devotion, with all his holiness, was still a man, subject to like passions as we are. He was no exempt from that Christian warfare which we all have to maintain who are soldiers of the crucified, even though we are not called upon, as he was, to resist unto blood, striving against sin. There was a time, in his Christian experience, when he could not say, "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course." There was a prolonged period, during which he had a perpetual, inward, unseen strife to continue, with the world, the flesh, and the devil. He had, many a time, to contend against insidious foes, that lay lurking in the corners and hiding places of his own nature. He was no stranger, either to the assaults of temptation to sin, from without, nor the searching trial of fears and infirmities within. He felt, for example, as so many others have done, the dangerous promptings of uplifting pride, so dangerous, that there was given him, he himself tells us, expressly to counteract them, a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him into humility. He felt, too, the constant risings of his carnal nature, against the control of the Holy Spirit, in his heart - risings so strong, that it became his habit, as he once declared, "to keep under his body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when he had preached unto others, he himself should be cast away." He felt, too, oh! how strongly, the still living energies, and convulsive throes, of the old tempers and lusts, which he had crucified and sought to kill within him, when he first surrendered his soul to Christ. Even when he delighted, he says, in the law of God,, after the inward man, he could still see another law in his members, warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into temporary captivity to the law of sin, which he so much abhorred. So fierce was the conflict, sometimes, between his renewed heart, and the remains of the old man, which still lingered in the flesh, and in his members, that he could only relieve himself by the agonizing cry, "Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
How much all this spiritual warfare, all the incessant oftentimes unseen battling within himself, must have been in St. Paul's memory when drawing near to his rest, he looked back and said for himself, so thankfully, "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course." Yes! yes! the recollection of lusts subdued; of affections restrained; of desires checked; of pride reduced; of temptations resisted; of evil habits uprooted; of so many fiery attacks of Satan defeated; by watchfulness, by striving, by prayer, by the knowledge of God's will, above all, by the aid of the Holy Spirit's aid and grace, the recollection of all this, must, indeed, have made him feel, in his last hours, like " a conqueror, and more than a conqueror, through Him who loved him." Blessed Apostle! thine, indeed, have been victories won, under the Captain of our common salvation, well deserving, as thou art about to lay hold on eternal life, to be called by thee, a course finished, a good fight fought.
I cannot help associating the words of the aged and dying St. Paul, which we have just dwelt upon, with the struggling Christian life, and the heroic Christian death, of the beloved friend, in special commemoration of whom, I have assembled you here this evening.
I cannot feel that it is derogatory, in any wise, either to the character or to the work of the exalted Apostle, to take his language, descriptive, though it be, of his own abounding labors and peculiar trials, and use it as expressive of the sense and estimate we all have of the career and experience latterly of the more humble disciple of Jesus, whose taking away we now mourn. It is true, that as one star differs from another star in glory, so do God's saints differ from each other in the life of the resurrection, and more, also, in the life they are now led to live, by faith in the Son of God, but still, in these things, at least, all are alike. All have shared the same evil nature under varied providential circumstances. All have lived in the same wicked world. All have contended with the same great enemy of souls, and all have shared in the same saving help from the Spirit of all grace. "Whatever be the measure of their attainments, whatever may have been the outgrowths of the divine seed implanted in the breasts of all alike, it is not they, in any case, that have brought forth fruit, or wrought righteousness, or obtained victories of faith, but rather the Spirit of Christ which was in them. The lowliest Christian triumphs in the great battle of life, by the assistance of the same all-sufficient ally, that of old helped martyrs to suffer, and apostles to establish throughout the world the kingdom of the Redeemer. It was no improper suggestion, then, that filled my mind with the ideas, and brought the words of the text to my lips, when I heard of the sudden death of Jones Bradbury, "he has fought a good fight; he has finished his course." I thought not only of his earthly calling, as a soldier in the cause of his imperilled country, nor merely of the self-sacrifice he had just completed, as a patriot, and as a good man giving his life for the maintenance of the sacred political principles he professed, but I thought, also, of that other vocation, wherewith he was called, his enlistment under the banner of the crucified Christ, the constant, ceaseless struggle he has had to maintain, in manfully fighting since his baptism, against sin, the world, and the devil. Many know and appreciate, perhaps, his devotion, his earnestness, his fearlessness, his cheerful endurance, and his courage in death, as a member of the mighty array that has triumphed gloriously over all the adversaries of our Government; but few, perhaps, know and understand, none certainly knows as God knows, his faith, his humility, his earnestness, his patience, his painful efforts, his agonizing struggles, as a member of the host of God's elect, that overcomes the world by the victory of faith. Ah! the hardest fought fight our dear friend departed had to pass through, was not that alone with miserable men that were in rebellion against their own lawfully constituted authorities, but it was one with foes that contested for the possession of his soul and body as prey captured for the dominion of Satan, the arch rebel against God.
It is now somewhat more than six years since I first became acquainted with Jones Bradbury. Though he had long been a resident of this neighborhood, previous to that time, I scarcely knew him, even by name. He was then, as he has often said, a stranger, not to the knowledge, but to the practice of what is good, and a thoughtless, perhaps reckless follower of much that was evil. With a restless, unsatisfied heart, he had become a companion of those who have forsaken the sanctuary, and left God out of all their willing thoughts. But, to conform to the words of the prophet, Ezekiel, "When, the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, all his transgressions that he hath done shall not be mentioned unto him, in his righteousness alone shall he live." Only to magnify the mercy that saved him, do we allude to, or even think of the depth out of which God's grace enabled him to return. In some way he became attached to a Bible class, successfully taught at that time, and long afterwards, in my parish. He became deeply interested in the counsels and teachings of the lady who was its instructor. With an unusual number of other young men, members of that same class, he was drawn gradually into the safe and holy ways of religion. Sixteen others besides himself, of that class, I may mention, are entered in the books of this church, as having been from time to time candidates for confirmation, by the Bishop, and afterwards communicants of this congregation. All the blessed fruits, doubtless, of the faithful lessons in God's words there received. Without the least excitement, in the calm pursuit of the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, after earnest, patient inquiry, and with a full consciousness of all the responsibilities it involved towards God, and before men, he took his stand in our community, and in the face of all his former associates, as an avowed Christian. The Church, and its services, and its ministries, became the object of his ever-increasing interest, attention and delight. Though often, apparently, a creature of impulse, generous, affectionate, unsuspicious impulse; though subject to many untoward irreligious influences; feeling, frequently, the returning force of old habits, "links," as he wisely called them, that would tie him back again, if he were willing, to his old life; though oftentimes sorely tempted, frequently cast down in spirit, through his manifold infirmities, he still persevered bravely, continuously in his adopted course. And in many emergencies that I have known, where his principles have been tried by a grievous strain, he has not only borne the test well, but has brought no reproach whatever upon the name of Christian which he had assumed.
It seems only yesterday, but five years and more have gone by, since our dear brother departed, knelt three times at these rails, at short intervals, to receive, first, from my hands the sacrament of baptism, afterwards, from that lamented and beloved prelate, Bishop Bowman, the rite of confirmation, and then afterwards from me again his first communion. Never shall I forget the modest, humble, submissive, childlike look he had, when I poured upon his brow the few drops of water, that gave him entrance into the fold of the Church of Christ. I have baptized many an infant, but it struck me then, that I had never baptized one that had more the look of a little child than his was for the time. If any countenance ever expressed meekness, a subdued spirit and entire self-surrender to God, his then did. The very earnestness with which he gave my hand almost a painful pressure, as he knelt at the font, and of which he seemed utterly unconscious, impressed me with a sense of the truthfulness of his profession, the strength of his determination never to be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified. Can I ever forget either, his pleading, penetrating look at the good Bishop who confirmed him, the erectness with which he stood to renew to him his vow, the humility with which he bowed for the blessing then conferred? Or shall I ever fail to remember the flushed face, and tearful eyes, that turned up to me as he took, for the first time into his hand the cup of the Supper of the Lord. All these occasions marked a blessed season of strengthening and help, doubtless, to him, as they proved, certainly, a period of great comfort, as well as solicitude, to those who were watching for his soul.
One other incident, long ago, in connection with our dear friend, gone, has impressed itself indelibly on my mind. On the Sunday following the fatal fall of the fort of Sumpter, in 1861, he and two others of my congregation, the very first in all the neighborhood, had made up their minds to go at once to offer their services to the Government - the pioneers of the great throng that has since gone out from among us, to help arrest the traitorous insurrection which was then virtually begun. The next day they left for the city, and enrolled themselves as United States volunteers. That night they returned to Rockdale; they spent a portion of the evening at the parsonage; they joined with me in prayer; they partook of the Holy Communion. To this hour, the hymn, "Inspirer and Hearer of prayer, Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine," is associated with that extraordinary occasion. We all joined in singing it at parting. None loved that hymn more than Jones, none tried more heartily than he that evening to sing the words,
Three months of service passed away, but the conspiracy of wicked men against our good and beneficent government was only beginning to bear its dreadful fruits of carnage and destruction. I spent, during that time, a day of pleasant and profitable conversation, with our dear friend, at a military station on the beautiful banks of the Chesapeake bay. I remember him telling me he was using his leisure then, in reading carefully parts of the Old Testament, with which he was not yet familiar.
He did not hesitate to offer himself for a further service of three years, when three months were proved to be far from sufficient. A large portion of that time he spent as one of the immediate guardians of the capital. Detailed from the Army of the Potomac, his company had little to do for many months, but keep watch and care over some of the stores of the Government. But active duties began with him soon after the disasters of the peninsula. Many a blood-stained battle field in Virginia did our friend have to engage in, when once this sad time was reached. Mercifully preserved, for some months he continued unhurt; a slight wound sent him home, however, for a short furlough of rest. Returning to his duties, he soon met with that direst of all the misfortunes of the war, death not excepted. It is enough to say he was for six weary months a prisoner at Andersonville, Georgia, to suggest to you the dreadful nature of the trial he underwent. Cruelty, exposure, starvation, all the horrors that have ever been, described, of those inhuman prison keepers, and of that accursed place, were fully confirmed to me by tales that he told me out of his own, experience, and with his own mouth. Strong man that he was, he was reduced by his miseries to a scurvy-smitten skeleton, only partly clothed with the rags which his infamous jailors had left him. But that long period of inhuman, indescribable wretchedness, did not pass away unimproved by him as a Christian and a friend. A sick and dying man, from the neighborhood, has sent to his family letters and a diary kept in that place, in which the most grateful mention is made of the kindness and constant nursing care which Jones Bradbury exercised towards him in his weakness and distress. He writes as if Jones had led to thoughts of God, and hopes of heaven, at the time when he was doing all he could for the poor failing body.
One practice I know our dear friend kept up throughout all his long captivity. The rebels had robbed him of all that he had that was valuable to him, save one thing; they had, strange to say, left him his prayer book. That prayer book he never failed to bring into daily use in the prison pens of Andersonville. Each morning and evening he read its appointed Psalms in the Psalter, except when the rain, perchance, threatened to spoil the precious page he used. The comfort he derived from the practice, he said once, none can tell. The wonderful allusions so many Psalms seemed to have to his condition, gave him a sense of God's knowledge and remembrance of his low estate, which he could not perhaps otherwise have had. He told a friend that the portion of Psalms arranged for the morning of the day of the month on which he was released from that vile prison stockade, almost overpowered him, they were so wonderfully appropriate. It was the twenty-second day of the month when he first reached the protection of our flag, and felt, even in his weakness, that he would be treated like a man once again. In a little quiet spot he opened his beloved book at the place, and in tears thus read, "Oh give thanks unto the Lord for He is gracious, and His mercy endureth forever. Let them give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed, and delivered from the hand of the enemy." And again, "Hungry and thirsty their soul fainted in them, so they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. "And again, "Though He suffer them to be evil-entreated through tyrants, and to wander out of the way in the wilderness, yet helpeth He the poor out of misery, and maketh him households like a flock of sheep." How consoling to us to think of how much and how often God ministers to the hearts of forlorn ones in their griefs and in their loneliness, by that which is to us, at the same time, the vehicle of common prayer and praise.
A few weeks of recruiting and restoration to health pass away, partly in hospitals, partly in the homes of kind friends, and again the brave man offers himself a third time to the cause of his country. The rebellion is much crippled, but its capital is defiant, and its main army is unconquered. He cannot withhold his hand, nor think of personal quiet, while his country is still a stranger to peace. There is many a thought and many a motive to call him home, but he cannot draw back until all is over. The voice of affection and of kindred is unheeded, in listening to the yet unsatisfied call of the authorities for help. He volunteers this time for the very short remainder of his life. The crowning conflicts of the war are just beginning. The short, sharp struggle for the rebel stronghold. It yields; the retreating enemy is met and severely punished, on his way to some new point of resistance. In that conflict, Jones Bradbury met the messenger that God sent to call him to his rest. Death comes suddenly upon him, but finds him calm, collected and prepared. He is carried from the field a mortally wounded man to linger in acute suffering but a few hours. These last hours are not spent in consternation, dismay, or fear. A person - evidently a Roman Catholic - writing of him to a friend, says of him, in admiration, "he died like a man and a soldier. "In his latest moments he turned his thoughts towards the Christian friend that had brought him at the first to Jesus. To her he wrote in pencil on a sheet of paper stained with his blood, a few feebly-traced lines, that tell of his thankful remembrance of her interest and sympathy for him, of his wish for God's blessing upon her, and of his continued thoughts of her when the clouds of death were gathering around him. Precious memento of Christian regard! Strong assurance to us all, if any were needed, that he had fought to the end of the good fight of faith, as well as wielded righteously the weapons of a carnal warfare; that he had finished the work which God had given him to do, as well as that which he had pledged himself to fulfil as a citizen and a patriot. May his memory long be fragrant and fresh in. our hearts. May his example incite to faithfulness in all our doings and undertakings. May his gentle and unselfish character be particularly a subject of reflection and imitation. And may it be our happy lot to be gathered together with him at "the resurrection of the just" in the last day. The same grace may work in every sinful heart, that wrought in and changed his. And the same Christian progress may be made by us, which was accomplished by him in the short career for which he was spared. He was conqueror, and more than conqueror, through Him that loved him, and so may we be; and we, too, at life's close may say, as he could have said, "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course."