The Death of Phillips Brooks — January 23, 1893

P Brooks tombstoneRev. Phillips Brooks (1835–1893) died in Boston 120 years ago today. It is said that Christians throughout the world mourned his death, and his funeral was “like that of a king.” Brooks has been called by some “the greatest American preacher of the 19th Century.”

Yet sorrow soon turned to songs of triumph and praise of God for Phillips Brooks’ life. Over his tomb they would erect these words: “A preacher of righteousness and hope, majestic in stature, impetuous in utterance, rejoicing in the truth, unhampered by the bonds of church or state, he brought by his life and doctrine fresh faith to a people, fresh meanings to ancient creeds.” [Dan Graves in Christianity Today online article, June, 2007]

Brooks was the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts when he died, having also served important churches in Boston and Philadelphia. Most Americans know him as the author of the popular Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem — which he wrote a couple years after visiting Palestine in 1865. While there, Brooks journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on horseback, and there assisted with a midnight service on Christmas Eve. He would later write, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, close to the spot where Jesus was born, when the whole church was ringing hour after hour with splendid hymns of praise to God, how again and again it seemed as if I could hear voices I knew well, telling each other of the Wonderful Night of the Savior’s birth.”

On his preaching, the Encyclopedia Britannica says

In Lectures on Preaching (delivered at Yale University in 1877), Brooks offered his most influential assay of his profession, defining preaching as “the bringing of truth through personality,” by which he meant a kind of radiant optimism. His own eloquence was matched by his commanding, handsome figure, standing six feet four inches tall and weighing (in his prime) 300 pounds. His charismatic preaching became so renowned that he was invited in 1880 to preach at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Royal Chapel at Windsor before Queen Victoria. In 1890 he conducted an acclaimed series of services at Trinity Church, New York City. Several volumes of his sermons were published during his lifetime and posthumously. [online EB article]

At the Trinity Church in Boston (which Brooks helped design) there was no pulpit until 1888, but Brooks preferred to preach from a modest lectern near the rector’s stall, typically only wearing his black academic gown. And later on, during communion, he would preach not from the pulpit but from the chancel steps.

It is said that he despaired of Anglo-Catholic ritualism, and championed more congregational singing. During his childhood, the Brooks family spent Sunday evenings singing hymns. He would grow-up to know over two hundred hymns by memory, and often quoted them in his sermons.

Brooks was also known for his vocal defense of the Trinity as Unitarianism was then on the rise throughout New England.

Phillips Brooks House at Harvard

Phillips Brooks House at Harvard

Brooks was a graduate of Harvard University and the Episcopal Seminary at Alexandria, Virginia. His close ties to Harvard led to the building of the “Phillips Brooks House” in the northwest corner of old Harvard yard (facing the small Holden Chapel). It was was dedicated on January 23, 1900, to serve “the ideal of piety, charity, and hospitality.” The Phillips Brooks House Association remains in operation to this day as a student-run consortium of over 80 volunteer organizations.

Phillips Brooks never married, or had children of his own. Dan Graves, in closing his Christianity Today article, observed that this famous preacher

…loved children and liked to romp on the floor and play with them. He often wrote delightful letters to his young friends. That explains why, when Brooks died on January 23, 1893, a five year old was upset because she had not seen her preacher friend for several days. Her mother told her Bishop Brooks had gone to heaven, and the child exclaimed, “Oh, Mama, how happy the angels will be.”

Yes, but happier yet would the man be, for he would now see Christ. He had written that the Christian’s goal should be “To know in one’s whole nature what it is to live by Christ; to be His, not our own; to be so occupied with gratitude for what He did for us and for what He continually is to us that His will and His glory shall be the sole desires of our life.”


Isaiah blossoms at “Bloom & Grow”

My oldest daughter, Kathryn, a student at Grove City College (PA), has been writing some wonderful blog posts as she studies her way through the book of Isaiah.

Her blog is called Bloom and Grow, and recent posts have included:

Weighed Down” on idolatry — 

I’ve been reading about and studying the topic of idolatry a lot this semester… It’s not something that is fun to talk about because you have to dig deep into your heart and ask the Lord to refine your passions and desires. They ought to be all for him, but we so easily give them to other things… Our idols do nothing but wear us down. We try to fashion them into beautiful things, but that just makes them more heavy.

Never Forsaken” on God’s promise in Isaiah 49:15-16 —

We often write things on our hands to help us remember things. God says that he has engraved us on the palms of his hands. To engrave means to “carve, cut, or etch into; to impress or affect deeply.” You name is impressed into his hands, where it will never be erased.

And a post today called “Love is Here” from Isaiah 54-55.

God’s love is powerful – it can wipe us clean and leave us unashamed. It is steadfast – it will never leave us no matter what. It is fulfilling – it will satisfy us so that we never go hungry. It is compassionate – it will pardon us in ABUNDANCE (an overflowing fullness or ample sufficiency, copious supply; superfluity). It is intricately woven into his word – which will never return void. It has a purpose. It is so great!

Click through to read more.
— a proud and thankful dad (pdb)

Back to College? Beware…

One college student, with Christian convictions will not be allowed to continue her master’s program because of those convictions

“Eastern Michigan University expelled Julea Ward from itsmaster’s program in school counseling,” reports Dr Joseph Horton, “because Ms. Ward refused to undergo a reeducation program to silence her beliefs and to keep her convictions in check when counseling.”

“The flashpoint was Ms. Ward’s refusal to counsel homosexuals about relationships because such behaviors are not consistent with her religious beliefs. The dismissal of Ms. Ward’s lawsuit could have a chilling effect on religious freedom.”

READ his whole article here posted at The Center for Vision and Valuesat Grove City College.

New post at “Bloom and Grow”

In case you didn’t know, my college-student daughter Kathryn writes (once and a while) at her own blog, called Bloom & Grow. I love reading her insights and reflections, and thought you might too. Her latest post was inspired by Sunday’s worship at her church in Grove City, PA.

Amen, Kathryn!
Dad (pdb)

Know the Chalk Trick?

A friend over at Vitamin Z blog quotes from another book I will be adding to my reading list shortly…

The story is told of an atheist philosophy professor who performed a parlor trick each term to convince his students that there is no God. “Anyone who believes in God is a fool, ” he said. “If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove he is God, and yet he can’t do it.” The professor then dropped the chalk and watched it shatter dramatically on the classroom floor.

If you meet anyone who tries this silly trick, take the roof off. Apply the professor’s logic in a test of your own existence. Tell the onlookers you will prove you don’t exist.

Have someone take a piece of chalk and hold it above your outstreatched palm. Explain that if you really exist, you would be able to accomplish the simple task of catching the chalk. When he drops the chalk, let it fall to the ground and shatter. Then announce, “I guess this proves I do not exist. If you believe in me, you’re a fool.”

Clearly, this chalk trick tells you nothing about God. The only thing it is capable of showing is that if God does exist, he is not a circus animal who can be teased into jumping through hoops to appease the whim of foolish people.

Greg Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, p.150, 151