Project Canterbury













Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

THERE is no essential connection between genius and human greatness. When we speak of a man as endowed with genius, we are not saying, that he is a great man because of his genius. We can call up, by an effort of memory, an imposing procession of poets, painters, musicians, soldiers, statesmen, men of letters, men of affairs not great really, though their achievements were great. That is, we know men not great themselves who have done great work. A great poem is or may be a thing entirely apart from the poet himself. And it will always be true that often in wonderful deeds we find no trace, no image nor reflection of human character. Think of men who have planned and fought great battles which have changed the currents of human history, whose lives nevertheless reveal no trace of anything [3/4] heroic. By reflections of this sort, you learn how easy and how necessary it is to distinguish between a life and a work! The life and the work are not one: they differ from each other. We are compelled to speak of one in one way and of the other in another way.

The oratorical temperament rarely coincides with greatness of character. There is, often, something fatal in the gift of eloquence to its possessor. He carries within him a fire that he can communicate. It is a fire that runs along the invisible chain that binds a man to other men. It flashes forth from the burning eyes and is felt in the tone of the voice even when no articulate sound is uttered. It is a wonderful gift, this gift of eloquence: few gifts are like it. Under the sway of the great orator the crowd will feel every conceivable emotion and will do anything that men in masses ever attempt--and yet how rarely is the great orator, a great man! How often is he vain, weak and irresolute in action. There is a profound difference, then, between work, gifts [4/5] and the character of the worker. We are sometimes amazed at the difference.

To-day I ask you to do homage with me to a man of great gifts whose character it is quite difficult to disentangle from his work. Without possessing unmistakably the temperament of the orator, he was, nevertheless, a divinely ordained preacher. He and his work; his being and his action were blended or welded into one, so welded into one that whatsoever noble thing he did or said was noble because it was in marvellous harmony with the nobility of his own being.

Phillips Brooks was born in Boston, the 13th of December 1835. Like so many hundreds of Boston boys, he was sent to the Latin School, and after due preparation he entered Harvard University and completed his academic course in a creditable way, though not, as I believe, in a way specially distinguished; after he received his degree, he spent a little time in the Latin School as tutor. But he soon relinquished the irksome duty he had undertaken [5/6] and entered the Theological Seminary of Virginia, near Alexandria. His life in Virginia seems to have been very agreeable as well as profitable. When the days of preparation were ended he was soon ordained. The ordination took place in 1859, and he began the work which he had solemnly chosen.

He started with every possible advantage. His natural constitution was superb. Tall and massive, with a noble head, well rounded and large, with a fine, mobile expressive face and lustrous eyes, he always met with a gracious acknowledgment and recognition. He could not be lost in a crowd, for he could look down upon any crowd. Nobody looking at him could, for a moment, suppose that he was an ill-balanced or onesided creature, or that he could be led away by fads. He looked like a man who had no "schism" within himself. He carried with him the air of a well constituted, harmoniously ordered man, a man whose body, mind, affections were in harmony, so that they moved together and were not forever jostling [6/7] and quarreling with each other. A splendidly organized man, we cannot say that any one gift dominated him or his life. He was not addicted to abstract studies, nor to speculative pursuits. The charm which some men feel for mathematics, for scientific investigation, for the theory of the world, for the intellectual system of the universe did not touch him, at least not distinctly nor conspicuously. He might have become a man of letters had not the unseen fires of God glorified his soul, and had he not heard the divine voice calling him to the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When Phillips Brooks entered upon the work of the Christian ministry he made a complete consecration of himself in the spirit of a man with a great commission, and not with a mere profession. He surrendered himself entirely to the work he had undertaken with all the energy of his rich and noble nature. Without any misgivings or half-heartedness, or sophistical jugglings with his own conscience, without [7/8] any reference to the common platitudes about the value of the ministerial commission, he felt in his deepest soul that the work he had to do was glorious. It filled him with an exuberant sacred joy at the first, the same exuberant, sacred joy remained with him to the last. It was never a drudgery nor a routine, but always an inspiration. He lived in his work as all great artists live in theirs.

An utterly unknown youth he took charge of a small parish in the northern part of Philadelphia, but so rapid was the creation and growth of his reputation as an extraordinary preacher that he was invited to the rectorship of the largest congregation in that city before he had completed his twenty-eighth year. The rectorship of that parish had just been resigned by Dr. Alexander Vinton, then admitted to be one of the strongest men in the Protestant Episcopal Church. The interest and enthusiasm awakened by his preaching never slumbered. The people of Philadelphia never became weary of their own delight in him.

[9] The typical, popular preacher is a person for whom it is impossible for me to feel any admiration, and when I first heard of Phillips Brooks and listened to what seemed an exaggerated notion of his merits and power, I said to myself we have a new popular preacher. I had never seen him, but I met him, for the first time, in Philadelphia, about thirty years gone. I soon said to myself, this man is not a mere popular preacher: he is a man of genuine and noble character. I was impressed, moreover, with the fact that he was in no sense a class preacher. He appeared to touch all classes. Plain people and people of fashion, poor men and rich men, young and old of both sexes and of all conditions were equally charmed and strangely moved. This was something both new and impressive: and when I heard him for the first time--it was in this church about twenty years ago--I listened with a sort of bewildered admiration. The preacher and the preaching were different from any thing I had ever heard before. His voice was refined and [9/10] delicate, but not musical. Of his swift, headlong manner of delivery nothing need be said beyond this: that in my judgment it was one of the sources of his power over an audience. I must not, however, occupy your time with these external matters beyond the barest allusion to another distinctive and beautiful trait--and that was the extreme simplicity and modesty of his bearing in the pulpit. He looked entirely like a man who was standing before the people not upon his own but his "Father's business."

And, my friends, he was there indeed, not upon his own but his "Father's business." To him, let it be repeated, the ministry was not a profession but a divine vocation. He was charged with a living message to men. What the message was and how he presented it, it is well worth our while to consider. Every intelligent reader of the sermons of Phillips Brooks notices the fact that they are not arguments addressed to the understanding. He never takes a verse or verses from sacred [10/11] Scripture for the purpose of announcing an abstract, technical theological proposition which he reasons out until he reaches a conclusion which he hopes his audience will adopt. He never advances a theory of predestination, of original sin and the human will, of the nature of Christ's atonement, of the process of conversion and of justification, to be fortified by the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, or the writings of the great theologians of the church. As far as I remember he quotes neither Cranmer nor Hooker nor any great name in support of any opinion. In fact he had no opinions that require support from that source; he lived in another world. He had no interest in the fierce polemic which used to be the staple of all preachers zealous for their own denomination.

Nor in the preaching of Phillips Brooks do we find any elaborate discussion of texts of Scripture. He never rested the force of a sermon upon the issue of a grammatical point, nor did he dwell upon either the errors or niceties of translations of the Bible. There are no [11/12] traces of any special interest in sacred criticism. He calls a psalm a psalm of David, without raising any question of its authorship. No doubt, in lecturing to his congregation week days, he would seek to explain and would comment upon passages from the Bible, but in his sermons you will notice nothing in the form of extended expositions.

Before I proceed any farther let me recall the facts I have already noticed. Here is a great preacher with his superb physical proportions, with his extreme modesty and simplicity of bearing in the pulpit, with an extraordinary rapidity of utterance, who did not preach technical, abstract, theological sermons, nor controversial sermons, nor expository sermons. I do not mean to suggest, that like Gallio, he cared for none of these things: but it is certain that he left the earnest pursuit of them to others: his life was not in them, his treasure was not there. Well enough, important, especially, as some of them are to the well being and best development of the Church, the [12/13] constitution and habit of his mind did not carry him over into that phase of ministerial study. He stood upon another and a higher level, and from this higher level, where he had pitched his tent, he lived and thought and preached. Truths did not come to him by slow or painful processes of reasoning, but they came like flashes of light from the secret splendors of the Almighty. He was not logician: he was seer, prophet, and so was burdened with a message. There was no help for him: the call was imperative and peremptory. He did not, however, seek to escape from it like Jonah, nor to barter it like Balaam. It was his joy and life to deliver it.

Phillips Brooks was preeminently a child of this century. He felt all the questionings and shared the impulses of our modern life, as well as the vast complex and complicated mechanism of our social and public organization in its fierce, onward march. Before him, as before all other men who think and feel, were the two awful mysteries of God and the world. These [13/14] two awful mysteries--God and the world, or God and man--confronted him, as they confront only large and generous minded, generous hearted men. We know well enough how men are wrestling with them now; what pain and travail are about if not within us. We know how many are moved and shaken. What discordant sounds strike the ear! Sometimes it would seem as if our age had lost the key note of its own music. God has become here and there a vague name standing simply for almighty force, or law, or intelligence without will, or will without intelligence. Here He is the dark background whence issues the universe, and back to which it must fall. There is endless movement but no ending. Between the God of all such thinking and the soul of man there can be no moral relations. No prayer, no thanksgiving, no consecration upon the part of man to the shadowy infinite nothing is possible. At best it is but a blank mystery which can have no intelligible meaning to any finite creature. The mechanism of the world [14/15] itself is not good, and man suffers under the disability of wretchedness, misery, futile endeavor, lost energies and hopeless aspirations.

Other men persist in thinking of God and the world as if He were a colossal, omnipotent human being, living outside of his creation and attending to its life and movements as a skilled mechanician; and they think of man as a sort of refractory creature who must be disciplined by wholesome lashings and scourgings, or else handed over to the tender mercies of the evil one who gloats over his victims and finds some compensation for his own in the miseries of others. Life is, I say, in this great rolling sea. No port is in sight: the night too, is long and no dawn appears to arouse the hope that all will be well.

Every man has to answer for himself; every man must know how he looks upon the mystery of God and the world. The answer drives men wide asunder, parting those who had been friends. The roads diverge. The travellers are lost to each other; meeting no [15/16] more. Some are lost in the everlasting frosts which not even the sun can melt, others hear the doors of some monastery closing upon them forever: others still abandon all serious thought, and others find the way of peace and rest. Now we all know how Phillips Brooks faced the mystery of God and life: how it appeared to him; how it touched and then poured in upon his deepest soul a flood of light which has remained with him forever since! The awful depths of God were still awful, the wisdom of God was still a wisdom that no mind could fathom and no tongue describe, but forth from out the darkness came the light which is the light of the soul, and in that light he saw light. To him, consequently, God was altogether glorious in revealing Himself in Christ. In the revelation of His fatherhood He has sent His Son. Jesus is the expression of the Father's love and mercy and goodness, the image of the Father, the brightness of His person in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. He is the [16/17] divine Son, and His mission to men is the mission to the creatures who themselves are created in the image of God and are therefore also children of the most High. Man is the child of God. He may be ignorant, willful, debased, wicked: he may lose sight of and forget who he is and what he is, but nevertheless be he what he may, he is and must continue to be God's child. There is something in him which finds its meaning only in God. There is that in him which can be made pure and bright and good and strong because it is related to the purity, the brightness, the goodness and the strength of God. And this was the great message of Phillips Brooks to his day and generation. You are the children of God! God has made you for Himself. He is above, beneath, around and within you. This is the true explanation of your being. This is a very simple message--but all great messages from God to man through his servants are simple. Paul's message was simple enough: so were the words of the prophets, [17/18] and so is the word of the Lord Jesus. The message, of God to man, I say, is simple, but mighty and glorious; it is simple, as the mother-elements of the world are simple; the source of life and movement, but it is impregnated with power to create heroic endeavor and to inspire men and to change human histories.

Let me state in his own words an epitome of the underlying idea of our great preacher. In this way he begins one of his more celebrated sermons, the text being, "The Spirit of man is the candle of the Lord."

"The essential connection between the life of God and the life of man is the great truth of the world: and that is the truth which Solomon sets forth in the striking words which I have chosen for my text this morning. The picture which the words suggest is very simple. An unlighted candle is standing in the darkness and some one comes to light it. A blazing bit of paper holds the fire at first, but it is vague and fitful. It flares and wavers and at any moment may go out. But the vague, uncertain [18/19] flaring blaze touches the candle, and the candle catches fire and at once you have a steady flame. It burns straight and clear and constant. The candle gives the fire a manifestation-point for all the room which is illuminated by it. The candle is glorified by the fire and the fire is manifested by the candle. The two bear witness that they were made for one another by the way in which they fulfill each other's life. That fulfillment comes by the way in which the inferior substance renders obedience to the superior. The candle obeys the fire. The docile wax acknowledges that the subtle flame is its master and it yields to his power: and so like every faithful servant of a noble master, it at once gives its master's nobility the chance to utter itself and its own substance is clothed with a glory which is not its own. The disobedient granite, if you try to burn it, neither gives the fire a chance to show its brightness nor gathers any splendor to itself. It only glows with sullen resistance, and, as the heat increases, splits and breaks but [19/20] will not yield. But the candle obeys, and so in it the scattered fire finds a point of permanent and clear expression."

All through his preaching this idea is perpetually recurring, We never grow weary of it, because of its own inherent fullness, and because it is enforced with a wealth of illustration, with a variety of statement, with a beauty of diction sometimes poetic, and often eloquent, which charmed not only the crowds that heard, but continue to charm the thousands who, alas! must know him henceforth only through the medium of the printed page. The love of God in Christ shines like a steady sun by which the glorious work and world of God are revealed. He seeks to win us to Christ and to goodness through the avenues of nature itself. The glory of the Lord is in all His works. The sea and the mountains, rivers and streams, the flowers by the wayside, the great sun and stars, the shadows of the ending day, all the marvels and beauties of Creation seemed to be the vast theatre in which he moved about while [20/21] contemplating life and man. He glorified nature with a sort of divine-human interest. This O man, is the world God has made for us. How glorious it is O child of God. It is the workmanship of thy Father who calls thee to the assertion of thy childhood in thine actions, in thy hopes and fears, in thine affections, in all that thou canst be here and hereafter.

Phillips Brooks was keenly alive to the moral miseries of our time, and to the strength of the forces drawing men away from God, yet with the sublime audacity of a personal conviction he never swerved from the faith that the godlike in man under the sway and power of the spirit must conquer. He looked steadfastly upon life with a sort of triumphant joy. Full of the love of Christ, I marvel that it has been said of him, from time to time, that he did not preach Christ sufficiently or definitely. I grant that he did not preach much about Christ: that he did not "set him forth" as a sort of mechanical Saviour, nor try to tabulate [21/22] the various kinds of works and offices achieved and exercised by our divine Lord. He did not preach much about Christ, but he preached Him incessantly, the living Lord, the Christ within, the hope of glory. I know no preacher whose preaching is more full of the spiritual Saviour, the light, the guide, the hope of man. His hold upon Christ spiritually acted upon his fine personal traits and helped to make his view of God and man full of brightness, of that light in fact, which shines from the truth itself.

So, too, it has been said that his religious optimism and his preaching failed to set forth adequately, the guilt of sin, the inherited depravity of man and the condemnation of the sinner. My friends, he was not the advocate of a lost cause. Undoubtedly he did not view the world as under a curse: undoubtedly, he did not brood over the misery and the failures of man, nor did he regard religion as a hardship distasteful to the natural man. He never could have written anything, nor spoken to a congregation [22/23] anything like this, for example, which is a brief extract from an Advent Sermon of another great preacher who was the advocate of a lost cause. "Such, too," said the late Cardinal Newman when he was Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin, in Oxford, "are the feelings with which we now come before Him in prayer day by day. The season is chill and dark and the breath of the morning is damp, and worshippers are few, but all this befits those who are by profession penitents and mourners, watchers and pilgrims. More dear to them that loneliness, more cheerful that severity and more bright that gloom than all those aids and appliances of luxury, by which men now-a-days attempt to make prayer less disagreeable to them. True faith does not court comforts." Now all this is beautiful in phrase, and there is a low soft music in it. But no such tone, no color like this can be heard or seen in the sermons of Phillips Brooks: for his ground idea of all service, of the call of God to man was different. Newman looked [23/24] to the past, he clung to it passionately, and the ground, when he preached that Advent Sermon, was beginning to give way under his feet, while the present, to his eye, was charged with clouds heavy with threats of disaster to the Church of God.

Our preacher did not believe that this is an accursed race, and that religion must be largely penitential, and that sackcloth is the proper garb for a soul trying to win salvation. He felt indeed the wretchedness of sin and the poverty-stricken character of many human lives, but instead of saying to his hearers, you are a miserable, worthless, guilty lot, not fit to live in this world and sure of damnation in the world to come, he said, you are children of God; bad as you may be, there is a feeble light within you, and you may hear the voice of Jesus--the voice of God calling you to Himself. Come forth out of the mire, quit all your evil ways, and return to your Father, to our Father. Recognize the holiness, seize the life of true children of God. Lift up your hearts, [24/25] behold the true light, which lighteth every one that cometh into the world. Brethren, I speak and appeal to you as to reasonable men. Which of the two modes of address is the likelier to win men to allegiance to Christ, to awaken a love of God and goodness, to create and deepen the sense of sin? Which of the two has the ring of the true gospel of grace, mercy and peace? Which of them is founded upon a truer conception of human nature and of the way in which the spiritual interests of the world are to be better advanced?

In this great preaching Phillips Brooks spent thirty years of a noble life. He pursued his course with the consecration of an apostle. Admired by all, or by only not all, to some he was an inspiration. Men and women listened to him who had but little interest in any recognized form of Christianity. Wheresoever he went he found crowds of eager listeners. The interest in his preaching never waned. The good he did is known only to Almighty God. I place him among the foremost of preachers. [25/26] He is one of a small number to be found in the first rank, to be accorded the high honor of a great prophetic messenger in the Church of God. When moreover, I consider what he really was, how he hated all meannesses of politicians whether in Church or State, how his soul abhorred all that is base and low, how generous and sincere and brave he was, I say to myself this man may have been a great preacher, but he was a greater man.

His career culminated in 1891,--in his election and consecration to the Episcopate in the Church. He was the unmistakable choice of the clergy and people of Massachusetts. He was the pride and joy of Boston without regard to creed or party: his blameless life, his positive virtues, the eminence of his services to the Christian people not only pointed to him as the proper person to be chosen to the highest office known to our Church, but it seemed incongruous to many that any one else should be thought of. No sooner had he been elected, however, than the voice of calumny, and doubts [26/27] of his fitness for the office of bishop began to be heard. In a little while a determined and bitter opposition to his consecration took on definite form. I will not speak of the futile and pitiful efforts of certain persons to prevent his consecration. He at last discovered that his life could not be all sunshine. Flattery had not been able to spoil him: the applause of a great people had not left a stain or spot upon his heart, and now for the first time in his life he heard the sound of depreciation and loud clamor that he was unfit to be a bishop in the Church of God reached his ears. Of the motives and methods of all who sought to thwart the will of the Church in Massachusetts and to prevent his consecration I will say nothing. I might not have referred to the subject at all had it been a secret or a forgotten episode--but it was very public and has already passed into the history of the Church. There it will remain.

In the culmination of his career I cannot refrain from bringing to your notice the strange [27/28] parallel between the experience of Phillips Brooks and that of Archbishop Tillotson, some two hundred years ago. John Tillotson, dean of Canterbury, dean of St. Paul's, and finally Archbishop of Canterbury, was esteemed generally the greatest preacher of his time. He cut himself loose from the pedantries fashionable in English pulpits, and adopted a style which delighted the people of London. It was simple, direct, literary, and the preacher dealt with topics which were much in the public mind and he soon reached the public heart. His career as a preacher lasted about thirty years, and the general admiration of him never diminished. London did more than listen to him; London was won back to the Church of England. No praise seemed too extravagant. It was claimed that he was without a peer in the annals of sacred eloquence. His command of the English language was thought to be so great that Dryden "frequently owned with pleasure that if he had any talent for English prose, which must be allowed to have been a [28/29] great one, it was owing to his having often read his Grace's writings. . . . Mr. Addison considered his writings as the chief standard of our language, and accordingly marked the particular phrases in the sermons published during his Grace's life time as the ground-work of an English dictionary." [* Birch's Life.] So great was the impression produced by the character and quality of his sermons, that edition after edition was issued and for three generations at least the religious people of England read them with unflagging interest and admiration.

He was not only considered a great preacher but he was known to be a man of the noblest character. Generous, pure, large minded, tender hearted and merciful, he lived upon kind fraternal relations with dissenters or non-conformists. He sought to destroy all bitterness of feeling among Christians, he longed to see the Church of England the Church of the people of England. Such too was the strength of his charity that he never allowed himself to [29/30] be influenced in his estimate of good men by any consideration of his differences from them on the score of their ecclesiastical relations. He had a good word for William Penn: and he could commend the temperate way in which the Socinians contended for their own beliefs.

Now as soon as this noble and distinguished man was made Archbishop of Canterbury an attack was begun upon him which did not cease when he ceased to breathe. It was said of him that he had never even been baptized. It was said of Phillips Brooks that his baptism was of doubtful validity. It was said of Tillotson that he was a Socinian at heart, it was said of Phillips Brooks that he was inclined to be a Socinian and a Pelagian. It was said of Tillotson that he was ready to betray the Episcopate; it was said of Phillips Brooks that he had no respect for the Episcopal order and office. Phillips Brooks was urged to make some explanations about his belief, even, I think, in respect of the Trinity. He refused absolutely. Nothing could move him. His [30/31] beliefs and teachings were to be learned in his printed books--the Church knew his record, and by that record he must stand or fall. Says Tillotson's biographer, "his tender method of treating with dissenters, and his endeavors to unite all Protestants among themselves were represented as a want of zeal in the cause of the Church, and an inclination towards those who departed from it. But how unhappily successful soever they might be in infusing these jealousies of him into some warm and unwary men, he still persevered in his own way. He would neither depart from his moderation nor take pains to cover himself from so false an imputation."

"He thought the openness of his temper, the course of his life, his sincerity, and the visible effects of his labors, which had contributed so much to turn the greatest part of the city to a hearty love of the Church and a firm adherence to the communion of it, in which no man was ever more eminently distinguished than he was; he thought that constant zeal [31/32] with which he had always served such as came to labor in the city, and by which he had been so singularly useful to them; he thought the great change that had been made in bringing men's minds off from many wild opinions to sober and steady principles . . . . All these reasons he thought would prevent his conduct from needing any apology." [Birch, p. 32-34.]

Surely he must be very dull who does not see that all this might have been written of Phillips Brooks. Then again, the Episcopal rule of each was very brief. Tillotson was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, May 31st, 1694. On the 18th of November 1694, Sunday, he was stricken with apoplexy in the Chapel at Whitehall; the following Thursday he died, in the sixty-fifth year of his age. Phillips Brooks was consecrated bishop of the diocese of Massachusetts, the 14th day of October, 1891. Thursday the 19th of January 1893, he fell ill, and the following Monday morning he was taken, by the ordering of [32/33] Almighty God, in the fifty-eighth year of his age. The sorrow for the death of Tillotson we are told was more universal than was ever known for a subject and when his funeral was appointed there was a numerous train of coaches filled with persons of rank and condition who came voluntarily to assist at that ceremony from Lambeth to the Church of St. Lawrence Jewry. His death was felt to be a national loss. At his burial people wept and sighed. King William said of him that he was the best man he ever knew and the best friend he ever had. And in our own time it has been said that he was the best and wisest man that ever occupied the chair of Canterbury.

I need tax your patience no longer. The great Bishop of Massachusetts sleeps these bleak, murky, wintry days in his new made grave at Mount Auburn. Who that was in Boston the day of his funeral can forget the silence of a felt sorrow that rested upon the entire people, or the reverent crowds that filled and surrounded Trinity Church as if a great [33/34] light had gone out and a great life had vanished? When I think of what he might have become as a bishop of the Church my heart fails me; when I think of what he was and what he had done, the hymn sung at the burial service that day comes to me as a psalm of thanksgiving.

For all the Saints who from their labors rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.

The golden evening brightens in the west:
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes the rest;
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the bless'd.

I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me, Write, from henceforth blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: Even so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labors.

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