What will your obituary read? The memoirs of James H. Brookes

James H. Brookes

I was researching some figures in Church History and came across James H. Brookes, a Presbyterian minister who led the Niagara Bible Conferences – an interdenominational meeting committed to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. From Chapter 12 of his memoirs:


Many and many a time Dr. Brookes has been asked: “How did you obtain
your mastery of the Scriptures?” His answer was to the point: “By studying it.”

His idea of Bible study, however, was very different from that of most men. So familiar was he with the Scriptures, that it has been said in all seriousness by admirers: “If all the Bibles were destroyed, Dr. Brookes could produce one from memory.”

On one occasion, while preaching at a conference in Asbury Park, New Jersey, the editor of a New York semi-religious publication was present. He had heard of Dr. Brookes’ marvellous power of quoting the Scriptures, and he determined to test it.

On a note book, during the sermon, he jotted down every verse quoted. Utterly amazed, the man went to Dr. Brookes after the sermon, and pointed out that he had quoted verbatim, almost a hundred separate Bible texts; giving not only the words, but the chapter and verse.

From his earliest youth Dr. Brookes was a Bible student.

As a child he had been expected to learn and quote much Scripture; and his mother was scrupulously careful that the quotation was faultlessly exact. She held that to misquote in the slightest degree was something almost a sin. It was God’s Word, she said, and must be studied, and repeated exactly, or not at all.

(Alas, how would her soul be torn if she heard some of the wretched misquoting of the Scriptures — where any is quoted at all — in many pulpits, even Presbyterian pulpits, today! A sermon was heard by the writer in a St. Louis Presbyterian church, in 1897, in which the Savior was “quoted” as saying certain words which no man, even with a magnifying glass, can find in any portion of the New Testament.)

The influence of that training was marked throughout Dr. Brookes’ career. The Bible was his vade mecum (a handbook or guide that is kept constantly at hand for consultation). He pored over it. He, so to speak, absorbed it. He knew it, and he knew everything worth knowing that had been written about it.

He kept himself thoroughly posted, too, as to the work of the destructive German critics (and their servile American “Men Fridays”) whose hope of recognition and worldly success, in the former country — and to a growing extent in our own— lies in their power to win notoriety, and gather about them a following.

There have been certain deluded men who have ignorantly implied that Dr. Brookes knew little but the English Bible.

It would not be charitable, though doubtless true, to say that he could have taught them Hebrew, Greek and Latin. But it is only a simple fact to state that he was an expert scholar in ancient languages. While in German and French he laid no claims to a profound study, as in the ancient tongues, yet he could easily read both those languages. He studied the German theological professors’ “sensation”-seeking utterances in the original, something which (let it be said under the rose) it is to be doubted if many of their subservient followers in American seminaries can do, with all their I’m-holier-than-thou air of philologic eruditeness.

This acknowledged champion of the Plain People’s English Bible knew all that they did concerning the Bible in the original [languages], and a great deal more, in numerous instances. Having delved deeply into the roots of words, and the textual study of men and times, he was fully equipped to battle with the destructive Biblical critics in their own camp. He saw through the pretensions of many alleged great textual scholars, and despised their lofty and exclusive assumption of sacred learning….

On blank pages of his Bibles, and on the margins of the printed pages, in small, perfect penmanship, he wrote down with the utmost care the rich results of his life-long labors. Only a photograph can adequately describe those marvellous “notes,” and only the multitudes who “heard him gladly,” and the greater multitudes who have read his books in many languages, know the value of them.

To make himself certain as to the use of any one word, he thought nothing of reading the entire Bible through for that particular purpose. If the word appeared three times that fact he established for himself. He believed in being his own concordance. (It should be added here, that he was urged scores of times to
write a concordance.)

It was often his custom to read the Bible through three or four times during a summer vacation.

When he wished to fortify himself as to any doctrine from the Bible, he, of course, read the Bible through with such especial end in view. The passages were carefully marked.

When he reached the end of Revelations, every text bearing on the topic was at his tongue’s end. He had gone to the court of last resort, and all was settled.

The results of that tremendous labor would then be written down, briefly and beautifully, in a portion of his Bible. Dr. Brookes was constantly urging men
to study first the Bible itself, and then the books about the Bible.

He believed too many preachers, young and old, held the books “about the Bible” to be far too important.

Yet he was a great bookman, and his library was a “thing of beauty.” The four walls of his large study were crowded with theological lore, and to the day of his last illness he kept close watch on new works, and secured all the worthy ones.


Williams, David Riddle. James H. Brookes: A Memoir. St. Louis: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1897.

Read it online free at Google Books 

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