One Solitary Life
Author: James Allan Francis, 1864-1928*
Genre: Sermon Excerpt, 20th Century
Reading Time (for story text): approx. 3 minutes
*A reader alerted me to the fact that this sermon may have originally been written and preached by Phillips Brooks, pastor and author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” The words are attributed to him in this 1952 newspaper. I will continue to research this, but if you have any additional information, please contact me.
Dr. James Allan Francis was born in Nova Scotia, Canada. He became a pastor at age twenty-one and served in ministry for the remainder of his life. His first pastorate was in New York City at the Riverside Baptist Church, and after serving in other varied pastorates in the East, he came to Los Angeles in 1914.1
Though he had a busy life as a pastor, Francis was able to publish a handful of books: Drops from a Living Fountain (1895), Christ’s Mould of Prayer (1924), and Christ is All And Other Sermons (1928). His publications are full of passionate encouragement for Christians to know their Lord, to rely on him, and to follow his example.
Francis’ most famous words, now known as “One Solitary Life,” originated as part of a sermon that he delivered on July 11, 1926 to the Baptist Young People’s Union at a Los Angeles Convention.2 A friend transcribed the message titled “Arise, Sir Knight,” and Dr. Francis published it that same year in a collection called The Real Jesus and Other Sermons.
Since one section of the sermon was particularly popular, minor changes were made to the original words in order to circulate them independently. This adapted version was first published around 1930 by The American Baptist Publication Society and was titled “Jesus — A Brief Life.” This is the version that follows.
Over time, Francis’ powerful description of Christ came to be known as “One Solitary Life” (the last words of the passage), and it was most often circulated during the Christmas season. Truly, it is remarkable to consider how Christ’s birth proved to be predictive of how he would spend the rest of his life on earth — in great humility.
Interestingly, Francis’ passage was so widely circulated that, along the way, it’s authorship fell into obscurity. In fact, to this day, the words continue to be credited to an anonymous author. Perhaps this anonymity is fitting. After all, Francis’ purpose was to turn attention to one particular man and his “one solitary life.”
1 “Historian Tracks Down Description of Christ.” Los Angeles Times. December 1, 1973, p. 32.
2 Francis, James Allan. The Real Jesus and Other Sermons. The Judson Press, 1926, p.121.
The Text of the Sermon:
Here is a man who was born in an obscure village as the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in another obscure village.
He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty and then for three years was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never owned a home.
He never had a family.
He never went to college.
He never put his foot inside a big city.
He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where he was born.
He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of his divine manhood.
While still a young man the tide of popular opinion turned against him.
His friends ran away.
One of them denied him.
Another betrayed him.
He was turned over to his enemies.
He went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed upon the cross between two thieves.
His executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth while he was
dying, and that was his coat.
When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today he is the center of the human race and the leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon the earth as powerfully as has this one solitary life.
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