“When I came to New Bedford [Massachusetts] in 1887, the Horse Cars, and the living as well as the dead went as far as the cemetery; … for when we arrived down town the conductor shouted, “This car goes to the cemetery.” I did not accept his invitation however, for, like our Master, I had “come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”1
Only thirty-five years of age upon arriving in New Bedford, James Brierly had already established himself as a Christian Scientist ready to help and heal others. As a boy — long before he had heard of Christian Science — he had even thought of becoming a missionary.
Finding a Calling
The son of English immigrants who were religiously inclined and loved the Bible, James was born (1852) and raised in Millbury, Massachusetts. He enjoyed attending Sunday School, prayer meetings, hymn sings, and church services at the First Congregational Church; and it was here that he heard reports of missionaries to Turkey. But this would not be his calling.
He attended public schools in Millbury, becoming known as a peace-maker. After leaving high school he attended Howe’s Business College in Worcester, Massachusetts. The principal of the College, Mr. Howe, hired James to take charge of his book and stationery store, a position he held until going into business for himself in Derby, Connecticut. But this would not be his calling.
James Brierly married Ruth Agnes Harrison, of Tiverton, Rhode Island, in 1877. Mrs. Brierly had been sickly since childhood, and the first seven years of their marriage saw her treated unsuccessfully by many physicians desperate to help her find relief. Thankfully, though, when visiting her parents in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1884, her mother suggested she go to a Christian Scientist for treatment. Mrs. Brierly resisted, but when she finally agreed to go, she found herself free from pain. When she arrived back home a wonderful change had taken place in her. Little did the Brierlys know that their lives were taking quite a turn.
It wasn’t long after Mrs. Brierly’s healing that she and her husband began investigating more of Christian Science. About this time, too, their business failed and it appears they lost just about everything. Mr. Brierly recalls, “Left with nothing but faith in God and a few dollars, which with some borrowed money, I paid Mrs. [Mary Baker] Eddy for the Primary course in Christian Science, which my wife and I took that same year [September 1885].”2 James had found his calling.
Mrs. Eddy wrote, “The trials encountered by prophet, disciple, and apostle … await, in some form, every pioneer of truth.”3 She was a pioneer and understood what that meant. James Brierly was her follower. He, too, had the pioneering spirit — ready and willing to stand with his teacher; to take Christian Science where it was still unknown and misunderstood; to help in those early days of the infant movement to disseminate its message through the public practice of healing and teaching others; and to courageously answer its vocal and adamant opponents.
Right after class the couple moved to Worcester, and James opened an office for his practice in the parlor of their home. There being no Christian Science services nearby, the Brierlys attended a local protestant church for several months, until the first Sunday in 1886, when James felt compelled to follow Paul’s admonition, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness?… Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord.”4 His strong desire to better understand the Scriptures in order to better impart the Truth to others led to a period of deepened study of the Bible and Science and Health; and by the spring of 1886 he began holding Sunday meetings on Christian Science in his parlor, the first ever held in Worcester. These continued until he and Mrs. Brierly moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts.
A Remarkable Demonstration of Christian Science Healing
The Brierlys began holding Sunday meetings on Christian Science on the first Sunday after arriving in New Bedford in January 1887. In September of that same year the Christian Science Bible School was organized, and Mr. Brierly served as Pastor.5 In October he went to Boston to take Normal Class from Mrs. Eddy at the Massachusetts Metaphysical College, and in December Mrs. Eddy awarded him the advanced designation of C.S.D.
The following May, the Brierlys were severely tested. Mrs. Brierly, expecting a child in two months, became critically ill. The physician and nurse in attendance for a premature birth delivered the tiny child which was considered a “blue” baby, having inadequate circulation. The situation for mother and child was precarious at best: the mother survived but had no milk for her baby son, and all efforts of the concerned physician and nurse to bring about proper circulation and get the baby to take food failed. After several days, Mr. Brierly took over practical as well as prayerful care of mother and child, placing the baby in bed with its mother and feeding his son with diluted cow’s milk, and soon had them both in good health.
There had been dire predictions in this case, someone even taking the opportunity to write the local newspaper accusing Mr. Brierly, not a qualified physician, of planning to handle the whole care for his wife during the birth, and stating that mother and baby may not live. To this Mr. Brierly simply replied with the facts, and shared the successful outcome of the ordeal. How appropriate are Mrs. Eddy’s words here: “In every age, the pioneer reformer must pass through a baptism of fire. But the faithful adherents of Truth have gone on rejoicing.”6
A Worthy Spokesman
In addition to this instance, at a period when there was much opposition by physicians and members of the clergy to Christian Science and its healing practice, James Brierly was particularly helpful in answering these objections and engendering a friendlier attitude toward Mrs. Eddy and her discovery through articles in the local New Bedford press. He had a proven record of healing, and an ever-growing understanding of the needs of his fellow man. One of these articles written at a difficult time for the movement didn’t even mention Christian Science, but gave a clearer sense of God as divine Principle, rather than person.7 Titled “What is God,” it brought this response from Mrs. Eddy on the back of her card, “Your article will do good. In haste affectionately.”8
James Brierly’s pioneering work did much good in establishing Christian Science in Worcester and New Bedford. A brief biographical sketch in the Longyear collection concludes, “Mr. Brierly was extremely modest, with a keen sense of humor; he was absolutely loyal and devoted to his Teacher, Mrs. Eddy. His many years of service, healing and teaching, bore the rich fruits of ‘unselfed love.’”9