The Preachers of Brooklyn: No. 1 Bishop Littlejohn


We propose during several ensuing weeks to give critical and biographical notices of the most prominent of our Brooklyn preachers. We shall endeavor in our literary criticisms to be just and impartial, and all denominations will be equally the recipients of attention. We commence with the Rev. Abram N. Littlejohn, whose recent election to and acceptance of the new Bishopric of Long Island, has rendered him the most conspicuous clergyman in the Church to which he belongs. It may be interesting at the outset to give our readers a brief sketch of:

The History of the Episcopal Church on Long island.

The services of the Church of England were first introduced into Long island in the summer of 1702. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, which was established by Royal charter on the 16th June, 1701, sent the Rev. George Keith as its pioneer missionary to America. In a letter to the Society he thus speaks of the island: "In Long island there are not many Quakers; it is a great place and has many inhabitants, English and Dutch; the Dutch are Calvinists and have some Calvinistic Congregations; the English some of them Independents, but many of them no Religion but like Wild Indians. There is no Church of England in all Long Island, nor in all that great continent of New York Province, except at New York Town. Upon Mr. Keith's representations, the Rev. Patrick Gordon was appointed missionary to Long island in 1702. He was styled Rector of Queens County. On the 3d of April, 1703, he writes to the Secretary of the extreme desire of the people in several places to have Church of England ministers sent to them, particularly at Oyster Bay and Hempstead. In January, 1705, the Rev. John Thomas was settled at Hempstead, and also supplied the adjacent towns. In July, 1704, the Rev. William Urquhart began his ministry in Jamaica, which then included Newtown and Flushing. In the S.P.G. Report of 1706 it is stated that Her Majesty, Queen Anne, was pleased to allow the Churches of Hempstead, Jamaica, Westchester, Rye and Staten island each a large Church Bible, Common Prayer Book, Book of Homilies, a cloth for the pulpit, a Communion Table, and a Silver Chalice and paten. The stipend of the early Missionaries of the Society was L50 a year and a parsonage. In 1734 a church was built in Hempstead, which was consecrated the following year. its fifth Rector, the Rev. John H. Hobart, D.D., afterwards became Assistant Bishop of New York. In 1734, Grace Church, Jamaica, was consecrated, and in the list of its Ministers we find the Rev. Samuel Seabury, afterwards the first Protestant American Bishop. In Flushing an Episcopal organization was formed in 1702, and in 1761 it obtained a charter of incorporation with the title of St. George's Church. At Newtown a building was erected in 1734, repaired in 1760, and a charter granted with the title of St. James's.

In Brooklyn Episcopal services were regularly established some time before the Revolution, probably as early as 1766. While occupied by the British army, services according to the usages of the Church of England were held in the Dutch Church in Fulton avenue. The Rev. James Sayre officiated from 1778 to about the time of the evacuation in 1788. He was succeeded by the Rev. George Wright, who conducted the services first in a private dwelling, standing where No. 43 Fulton street now is, then in a barn on the corner of the present Henry and Poplar streets, and afterwards in a small building erected by the British, and fitted up for the purpose, on the corner of Fulton and Middagh. Subsequently a frame building, previously occupied by the Independents, built on a part of the Episcopal burying-ground in Fulton street, was consecrated as a church by Bishop Provoost in 1787. It was incorporated under the title of "The Episcopal Church of Brooklyn." In January, 1793, under the Rectorship of Rev. Samuel Nesbitt, this church was reorganized under its present name of St. Ann's. It is therefore, the oldest Episcopal church in Brooklyn, and began its corporate existence on the 22d of June, 1795. In 1804 a stone edifice was erected on the corner of Sands and Washington. It was consecrated 30th of May, 1805, by the Right Rev. Benjamin Moore, and has had many successful ministers, as Dr. Felters, Dr. Henshaw, afterwards Bishop of Rhode Island, Dr. Henry U. Onderdonk, afterwards Bishop of Pennsylvania. During his pastorship the present edifice was erected, the walls of the previous church having been greatly damaged by the explosion of a powder mill. Dr. McLlvaine, Bishop of Ohio, was the highly popular Pastor from 1827 to 1833. For more than forty years St. Ann's was the only Episcopal parish in Brooklyn. Then the parishes of St. John's, Christ Church, Calvary, Grace Church, St. Lukes, St. Mary's; St. Mark's E.D., were successively organized, until the "City of Churches" can now boast of over thirty flourishing churches and chapels of the Episcopal communion. And about a quarter of a century ago witnessed the commencement of:

The Church of the Holy Trinity

A description of this magnificent edifice with its Chapel and Rectory, built in the style known as decorated English with flamboyant tracery.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of April 24, 1847, contained a full account of the opening services. The Tower and Spire were completed last year and the occasion was celebrated by commemorative services and a discourse by Dr. Drowne on December 18, 1867. The foundations had been commenced as long ago as August 1814. The Chapel was opened for public services on Trinity Sunday, June the 7th, 1846 and the Church on the third Sunday after Easter, April 25th 1847 under the Rectorship of Dr. William H. Lewis. On the 23d of September, 1856, it was consecrated by Dr. Potter, Bishop of New York. And at Easter 1860, the Rev. Abram N. Littlejohn became Rector, amid the heavy discouragements of a debt of $65,000, and it is mainly to his untiring zeal and energy that the church owes its present freedom from embarrassment...

Sketch of the Life of Bishop Littlejohn.

Bishop Littlejohn was born in Montgomery county, New York, on the 13 of December, 1824. He graduated at Union College in 1845, was ordained Deacon, March 18th 1848, at Auburn, by the late Bishop De Lancey of Western New York. He officiated at St. Ann's Amsterdam, New York, for one year, at St. Andrew's, Meriden, Connecticut, for ten months. On April 10th, 1850, he became rector of Christ Church, Springfield, Massachusetts, where he remained a little over a year. On November 10th, 1850, he was ordained Priest. In July, 1851, he entered the Rectorship of St. Paul's, New Haven, where he continued until the spring of 1860, when he became rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Brooklyn. In 1856 he received the degree of D.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, in consequence of a lecture on "The Philosophy of Religion" (Which we shall notice under the next head) which he delivered in Philadelphia. In January, 1858, he was unanimously invited by the Board of Trustees to the Presidency of Hobart College, Geneva, new York. For ten years he was Lecturer of Pastoral Theology at the Berkeley Divinity School, Middletown, Connecticut. He is a Trustee of St. Stephen's College and of the General Theological Seminary, besides being an active director of various Missionary and Charitable Boards. On the 11th of November Dr. Littlejohn was elected Bishop of Central New York at the Episcopal convention at Utica. He declined the appointment and on November 19th was elected Bishop of Long Island, which he accepted. Had he not done so, it had been decided to elect him to the Bishopric of Albany, to which Dr. Doane, son of the late Bishop of New jersey, is appointed. We proceed to criticize the characteristics of Bishop Little-john.

As A Theologian and Philosopher

His pen has never been long idle. For a considerable period he contributed regularly to the American Quarterly Church Review. Among the best known and ablest of his articles are reviews of "Sir James Stephens' Lectures on the History of France, "Cousin's History of Modern Philosophy," "The Character and Writings of Coleridge," "The poems of George Herbert," and "Miss Beecher's Bible and the People." Among his occasional discourses are his "Address Delivered at the Dedication of the New Grounds of the Evergreen Cemetery of New Haven, July 29th, 1856. " The Ministerial Gift, a Sermon preached before the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of Connecticut, June 12th, 1855;" and a Sermon preached before the Society for the Increase of the Ministry, May 12th, 1861." All of these discourses are distinguished by eloquence of language and logical precision of thought. Many passages are marked by a pathos which is the more effective from being wholly inartificial. He rises without effort to the highest aspects of his theme. He speaks, moreover, with a moral dignity and authority which in these days of clerical levity and pulpit Joe Millerism, is impressive to the hearers whilst it is becoming to the preacher and marks him as a man fit for the "good work" of a ruler in the Christian Church. "I ask attention" he says in his address at New Haven, "to the moral uses of a cemetery, I have shown that the purchase and adornment of these grounds are acts due to the dead. I would now show how they affect the living. This spot will be to the living a memorial a remembrance of the dead. Today we see it as nature made it; trees, turf, water, and swelling mounds. It has not other associations that are common to any similar place. We only feel that here the rain has descended and the light shined, and the wind blown.

 The mattock and the spade of the grave-digger have not as yet broken the virgin sod. it is an open page in the volume of nature with no line upon it, no soil of tears, no trace of life's woe. it will not be so long. We know that a few years will people it with the dead, and blanch these young graves with marble. We know that deep furrows will be ploughed here, and that they will be wet with weeping. O then, when the youngest here shall be old, and when the oldest shall fall asleep under these sacred shades; when enriched by all imaginable associations with the departed, and solemnized by the grief's and sundering of one generation; when it shall be a familiar sight to see mourning groups gathered at the new-made grave, sobbing their heart-breaking farewells, and lingering and lingering as if all their treasure was here; O, yes, when it will be a common thing to see those who shall come after us wandering along these avenues now stopping to gaze, and now to inquire, and now to spell out, on tablets moldy with age, the faded record of births and deaths and ties and relationships; then, indeed, will it be a thing of power over the living; then will the sad and sobering wisdom which immortality breathes from the grave creep after them like a shadow from the other world, into the busy scenes and occupations of life."

It is in this unaffected yet effective way that Dr. Littlejohn deals with those solemn topics which have relation to the common sorrows and common destiny of humanity. To those who hear him he is even more impressive on such occasions than to those who read his words. His earnest and unlabored delivery harmonize well with themes that touch the heart. But his sermons are neither all poetry, nor all pathos. He has a searching philosophic intellect and a scholarly method of analysis. In a very small compass he often compresses much of historical review and of sound criticism. For instance, the following extract from his sermon on "The Ministerial Gift" is alike valuable for its literary ability and for its theological truth:

"The dignity and importance of preaching may, in a degree, he said to be those of Christianity itself. Christianity is a record and a speech. The spoken truth is ever more living and potential than the written truth. For this cause, among others, there was always a ministry of some sort a medium of spoken truth; before there was a Bible, a depository of written truth. And so, too, it fell out that a spoken Gospel preceded a written one. Ordinarily God's word is a speech, before it is a life. Preaching moreover is widely representative of the Church's gifts. Beyond anything else, it indicates the average intelligence, activity, and spiritual power of the church. Preaching is always, too, the point of contact with the intellectual tendencies of mankind. Its changes mark the changes not only of Christian theology and Christian society, but those of the greater forms of thought and imagination, as philosophy, literature, and art. Preaching is also a mystery, "a mystery as to its action and its effects, a mystery of reprobation and salvation, 'a mystery,' says St. Cyran, 'not less awful even than that of the Eucharist; for it is by preaching that souls are begotten and quickened unto God, whereas by the sacrament, they are only fed and healed. it must, then, be an object of greatest moment to bring into fullest exercise such a function as this to clothe it with every rightful power, and to guard it against every known weakness. To ascertain whether the preaching of today be what it might and ought to be, it is not needful to compare it with the preaching of other periods.

Among the various forms through which it passed before, and through which it has passed since the Reformation, it may be better than some, and worse than others. it may be better than the preaching of Origin, vitiated with allegories, or that of Nazianzen, over laden with the affectations of rhetoric. it may be inferior, again, to the preaching of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom, whose fervid grandeur, impetuous energy and Scriptural simplicity, redeemed the weakness of a preceding age, and made Constantinople and Antioch the classic grounds of Christian eloquence. It may be better than the preaching of the Mediaeval Church, when, with worship, doctrine, discipline and priesthood, it suffered a common petrifaction. On the other hand, it may be worse, less bold, less trenchant, less a medium and a result of God's word, than the style of those standard bearers of a newly Reformed Church, who were summoned from the silence of the Altar and the constraints of an intricate ritualism, to participate in the excitements of free discussion and pulpit address. So, too, it may be inferior in wealth of condition, and elaborateness of finish, to the preaching of the illustrious divines of the Seventeenth century, while it is greatly in advance, in every essential regard, of that which prevailed in the Eighteenth, when, but too generally, the Prophets, Evangelists and Apostles gave way to Tully, Epictetus, and Plato."

But perhaps the ablest production of Dr. Little-john is his "Philosophy of Religion," which, written in a concise, logical style, is a most masterly argument for Christianity against the free thinkers. it would of itself suffice to establish the author's reputation as a philosopher and divine.

As A Preacher and Pastor.

The new Bishop has few equals among the Episcopal clergy, with whom preaching is not the specialty that it is with some other denominations. His church is always crowded by a refined and decorous congregation and his earnest words are listened to with profound silence and attention. A beautiful organ, an excellent choir, and the "dim religious light" which steals through the stained glass windows and sheds a glory on their sacred symbolism, add to the solemnity of the worship at the Church of the Holy Trinity. The preacher's voice is rich and melodious, he indulges in no tricks of rhetoric, and his manner, though impassioned, is natural not artistic. The sacred teachings of Galilee and Olivet, and the moving histories of Gethsemane and Calvary, lose none of their abiding power when coming from his lips. Out of the pulpit, as well as in it, he is the courteous gentleman as well as the truehearted pastor. A high churchman, he stands aloof from all extremes, and as well by the dignity of his manners as by the solidity of his learning, he has won the affectionate reverence of his congregation, the respect of the community, and the confidence of his brethren of the clergy, who have wisely selected him as the first Bishop of Long island.

Website: The History
Article Name: The Preachers of Brooklyn: No. 1 Bishop Littlejohn
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle December 17, 1868
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