Nuggets from Phillips Brooks

brooksPhillips Brooks, who died on this day in 1893, was a great American clergyman; he was ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1859 and served as a parish priest until two years before his death, when he was elected as Bishop of Massachusetts. He is perhaps best known today as the author of the Christmas carol ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’.

I have on my book shelf a long out-of-print book called ‘Lectures on Preaching‘, which were delivered by Brooks at Yale Divinity School in 1877. I consider it to be one of the best books on preaching I have ever read (the only book I would put higher than it is Donald Coggan’s Stewards of Grace [1958], also long out of print!). Here, in no particular order, are a few nuggets from the book; if you can get your hands on a second-hand copy, it is well worth reading for a preacher. (Note that when Brooks wrote this book, no one was thinking about the ordination of women, hence his exclusive use of male terms for preachers).

Whatever else you may count yourself in the ministry, never lose this fundamental idea of yourself as a messenger.  As to the way in which one shall best keep the idea, it would not be hard to state; but it would involve the whole story of the Christian life. Here is the primary necessity that the Christian preacher should be a Christian first, that he should be deeply cognizant of God’s authority, and of the absoluteness of Christ’s truth…

Definers and defenders of the faith are always needed, but it is bad for a church when its ministers count it their true work to define and defend the faith rather than to preach the Gospel. Beware of the tendency to preach about Christianity, and try to preach Christ…

I must not dwell upon the first of all the necessary qualities, and yet there is not a moment’s doubt that it does stand first of all. It is personal piety, and deep possession in one’s own soul of the faith and hope and resolution which he is to offer to his fellow-men for their new life. Nothing but fire kindles fire. 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…

I think that there does rise up before a clear picture of the man who ought to be a preacher. Full of the love of Christ, taking all truth and blessing as a trust, in the best sense didactic, hopeful, healthy, and counting health, as far as it is in his power, a part of his self-consecration; wiling not simply as so many men are, to bear sickness for God’s work, but willing to preserve health for God’s work; and going to his preaching with the enthusiasm that shows it is what God made him for. The nearer you can come to him, my friends, the better preachers you will be, the surer you will be that you have a right to be preachers at all…

These are only from the first two chapters, which are more general in nature; there are some excellent specific suggestions about preaching as well.

O everlasting God, who didst call thy servant Phillips Brooks to the ministry of preaching, and didst give him wisdom, charity, and eloquence that he might speak the truth with grace and power: Grant, we pray, that all whom thou dost call to preach the Gospel may steep themselves in thy word, and conform their lives to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Tim Chesterton

Family man; pastor of St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Ellerslie Road, Edmonton; storyteller; traditional folk musician and occasional songwriter. Email me at timchesterton at outlook dot com.

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