2023 English and Greek Bible Reading Plans

I found a plan for reading through the Greek New Testament in one year over at Lee Iron’s site several years ago, but it was a pdf and needed to be updated each year. I loved this plan so much, I made my own for reading the English Bible through in one year as well. Two principles are at work:

  1. Chapters longer than 38 verses are broken into two readings; The whole-Bible reading plan has you reading about four chapters/readings per day, with a few tweaks here and there so that the daily chapter breaks make the most sense;
  2. Extra day(s) added at the end of each month in order to build in space in case you fall a day or two behind.

For my English Bible reading I use a NKJV single-column Bible. The plan is arranged in Hebrew canonical order (Law, Prophets, Writings), and not the typical English Bible order (which follows the Septuagint). I switched to Hebrew canonical order several years ago and have loved the effect it has on my reading through the OT.

For the Greek NT, I read the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine text which (rightly!) places the Catholic Epistles immediately after Acts, rather than the Pauline epistles. I love reading James, Peter, John, and Jude up front, rather than towards the end of the year. I wonder how our theology might shift if we gave slightly more prominence to these books than we typically do. I use this plan to get through the Greek NT in a year, but you could use it to read through the NT in English as well if you’d like.

So, for that tiny group out there who hopes to read through the the Bible following the Hebrew and old Greek canonical order in 2022, here are a couple of plans to print out and check off as you go:


Francis and Charlotte Grimké in the A.M.E. Church Review, 1885–1887

The A. M. E. Church Review (1895)

The African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church Review was first published in 1841 under the title “The Church Magazine,” but stopped after eight years (Daniel Payne, History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1891), 147–53). The magazine was revived in 1884 under the editorship of Benjamin Tucker Tanner as the A.M.E. Church Review and published quarterly. During these first few years, Francis Grimké published several articles in the Review. I have found four, only one of which has ever been made available before.

“Colored Men as Professors in Colored Institutions” (October 1885)

“The intellects of our young people are being educated at the expense of their manhood. In the class-room they see only white professors. Vacancies occur, but they are filled only by white men; the effect of which is unconsciously to lead them to associate these places and the idea of fitness for them only with white men.” (142–43)

This is a powerful article, written while Grimké was a trustee of Howard University, a role that he had been serving in since 1880, alongside Frederick Douglass and many others (Alumni Catalogue of Howard University, with List of Incorporators, Trustees, and Other Employees, 1867-1896). The school was experiencing controversy about leadership and hiring faculty, and Grimké took to the pages of the Church Review to publicly criticize the president of Howard (see James M. McPherson, “White Liberals and Black Power in Negro Education, 1865-1915,” The American Historical Review 75.5 (1970), 1364–67, available on JSTOR). In the article, Grimké argues for a kind of “affirmative action” (anachronistic, I know), and even the principle of reparations for slavery. The article was reprinted in 1970 under the title “Black Teachers for Black Schools” in anthology Black Nationalism In America, edited by John H. Bracey, Jr., August Meier, and Elliott Rudwick (available to check out online on archive.org).

Here are a few quotes:

  • “In the second place, we are excluded because of caste prejudice. I say this in the full knowledge of the fact, that in these institutions there are those who profess to be our friends; who were, many of them, identified with the anti-slavery movement, who bear the name of Christ, and are under ordination vows as ministers of the gospel. All this is true, and yet this accursed prejudice exists. Abolition simply meant freedom for the slave as a man. Christianity, as interpreted by the actions of the great majority of white professors in this country, means recognition of the negro, but in his place,— as an inferior. The election of a colored man as professor in these institutions, means something more than was contemplated in the abolition movement, or is conceded by a spurious, but popular Christianity; it means equality ; it means social recognition. This, our white brethren who make up the faculties of colored institutions are not ready for, and are determined not to have, if they can possibly prevent it.” (145)
  • “There are some signs of progress. Two years ago, when the case of Professor Wiley Lane came up before the trustees of Howard University the principle was laid down that in colored institutions the preference should be given to competent colored men; which was strongly controverted by the president, who maintained that no consideration whatever was to be accorded to colored men, on account of their color, even in their own institu­tions. At the last meeting of the board the same principle was again laid down, and met with hearty applause. This is one step of progress. The principle was also advanced that colored institu­tions were to be conducted in the interest of the colored race; that when vacancies occurred the colored man was first to be thought of, and the white man only when it was impossible to secure competent colored men. “ We must decrease in these institutions, but they (i.e., the colored people,) must increase,” said a white trustee in addressing his white brethren” (148)
  • “To all that has been said, it may be objected that as colored men we have no right to complain, since the money for carrying on these institutions is furnished by white men. In answer to this I would say, First, the poverty of the colored man is no fault of his. For two hundred and fifty years the white man has been enriched by his toil. Though he may not furnish the money directly, there­fore, it does not follow that he is not entitled to it” (148–49).

“The Defects in our Ministry, and the Remedy” (October 1886)

“Intelligence, virtue and piety should be possessed by all who aspire to the sacred office, and only such should be allowed to enter. Against all others the door should be shut” (157).

This article was written the following year, and argues for the need for “intelligence, virtue, and piety” in the ministry. It’s a fascinating example of how Grimké anticipated the fatal weakness in W. E. B. Du Bois’s notion of the “Talented Tenth” (which Du Bois would come to acknowledge later in his life).

Here are a few quotes:

  • “In point of intelligence, in point of character, in point of piety, there are various defects, which call for very decided action on the part of those who hold the keys of admission to the sacred office in our various denominations” (154).
  • “Our seminaries and schools of learning have greatly increased the number of intelligent Gospel preachers amongst us. Still, there is yet a vast amount of ignorance in many of our pulpits.” (154)
  • “Third. There are grave defects in point of piety… it is just here where Our greatest danger lies. In the movement which began some years ago, in the direction of intelligence, so much emphasis was laid upon the training of the intellect that heart culture has been driven, almost entirely, into the background. This is especially noticeable among the younger men who are now entering the ministry. Their ambition seems to be scholarly rather than to be good; to be smart rather than holy; to shine intellectually rather than spiritually” (155)
  • “Hence, not unfrequently we find ministers who have been expelled from one denomination, because of some immorality, received with open arms by others. The effect of that is to encourage a class of men that every denomination, of whatever name, should combine to crush out. A man who is morally unfit to occupy the pulpit of one denomination should be morally unfit to occupy the pulpit of every denomination” (157)

“The Secret of Power in the Pulpit” (1887)

“The way to get power in the pulpit, therefore, is to be filled with the Holy Ghost, to preach in dependence upon the Holy Ghost. The reason why there is so little power in many of our pulpits is because we do not honor the Spirit; because we rely too much upon ourselves, upon our eloquence and ability as preachers, and too little upon the Divine Spirit, forgetful of the fact that whatever may be our gifts and endowments, all will go for naught unless accompanied with the baptism from on high.” (177)

This article quotes an anecdote from Dwight L. Moody. The earliest published version of the story that matches Grimké’s quote I’ve found in the London Christian‘s account of Moody’s meetings held in Scotland, reprinted from the Edinburgh Daily Review. The series started in January 1882 with “Messrs. Moody and Sankey in Edinburgh” (January 5, 1882) and went on for months. Grimké’s quote matches an excerpt from the article “Mr. Moody in Glasgow” (June 22, 1882). The anecdote was widely reprinted in American papers in the years following, and it is likely that Grimké read it there.

It is interesting that Grimké was willing to cite Moody so favorably in this article. Just one year before, Grimké had written a scathing critique of Moody and his segregated Jim Crow “revivals,” after experiencing one of them in Jacksonville where Grimké was pastoring at the time (see Francis Grimke, “Mr. Moody and the Color Question in the South” (1886)). It is also interesting, because the editor of the A. M. E. Church Review, Benjamin Tanner, was also critical of Moody’s segregationist practice, but nevertheless, this positive reference to Moody made it into print.

Decades later, Grimké was also very outspoken against the racist shortcomings of well-known evangelists (see, for example, “Evangelism and Institutes of Evangelism” (1916), “‘Billy’ Sunday’s Campaign in Washington, D.C.” (1918), “Letter to the Committee on Evangelism” (1918)”).

“The Pulpit in Relation to Race Elevation” (1887)

“Of all the influences at work in the uplifting of our people there is none that is comparable to the pulpit—to the power of an intelligent and virtuous and pious ministry” (425).

This is an earlier and shorter version of an address that he delivered five years later at the Ministers’ Union in Washington, D. C. in 1892. The latter address is included in The Works of Francis Grimké, Volume 1 as “The Afro-American Pulpit in Relation to Race Elevation.” This earlier article has never been available until now, and it is interesting to compare Grimké’s development of this theme over these years.

“I would say to all of our brethren in the ministry, especially to those of us who are living in the South: Let us pause and consider how much there is to be done, and try to realize the importance of the position we occupy in relation to this work. We have opportunities for usefulness such as no other class of men possess. Let us be faithful to these opportunities, conscientiously using them not for the furtherance of private or personal ends, but for the general good…” (427).

“At Newport” (1887)

The Review also published a poem by Mrs. Charlotte F. Grimke, “At Newport.” This poem has been reproduced and referenced in a number of places, and I give it here in its original form:

Francis J. Grimké, “Wendell Phillips,” (February 24, 1884)

(image: Wendell Phillips and Francis Grimké)

Wendell Phillips (November 29, 1811 – February 2, 1884), one of the greatest white abolitionists of the 19th century, died on February 2, 1884. He was memorialized across the entire country, including in Washington, D.C. On February 5, a meeting was held at the Berean Baptist church “to make arrangements for holding a memorial meeting testimonial to the memory of Wendell Phillips. Among those in attendance were John Brooks, senator Blanche Bruce, and speeches were delivered by Alexander Crummel and “Rev. Frank Grimké.” Grimké was also appointed to the committee for “speakers” for the upcoming memorial service (“In Memoriam of Wendell Phillips,” National Republican (Washington, D.C., February 6, 1884).

Sunday, February 17th, Grimké delivered a sermon on the life and character of Wendell Phillips. The sermon was very well received:

“Quite a number of citizens and sojourners have requested Rev. Frank J. Grimke, to repeat his sermon delivered last Sunday. He has consented to do so, and next Sunday morning at 11 o’cl.k. the subject on the life and character of the late Wendell Phillips will be presented by the eminent and able pastor of the 15th street Presbyterian Church” 

“Sermon on Mr. Phillips,” The Bee, Washington, D. C. (February 23, 1884)

On Sunday, February 24, another memorial service was held in the evening at the Congregational Church, with music and speeches, including an address by Frederick Douglass. Francis Grimké also preached his sermon again:

“Rev. Dr. Francis J. Grimke, pastor of the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church, repeated by request last Sunday his sermon upon the life and services of the lamented Wendell Phillips, text II Samuel iii, 28. Without exception it was one of the most able, eloquent and finished discourses that was ever delivered. Dr. Grimke held his audience spellbound throughout; and so thrilling were his descriptions o the high character of Wendell Phillips, and of his heroic devotion to his God-assigned duty, that at times there were but few dry eyes in the large congregation. Afflicted sight prevented me from taking notes. By the kindness of Mrs. Grimke, in accordance with my request, a copy of Dr. Grimke’s great sermon on the sublime subject was furnished me… A movement is on foot to publish the Doctor’s sermon in pamphlet form, so that it may go before the millions in the United States, whose freedom Mr. Phillips suffered and labored so much to establish. Dr. Grimke is the Newman of the District.”

“National Capital. Wendell Phillips Memorial Services—Dr. Grimke’s Sermon” The New York Globe (March 1, 1884).

I have not found any record of the sermon being published “in pamphlet form,” but the text of the sermon was published in The People’s Advocate (March 8, 1884), a Black-owned newspaper in Washington, D.C. I have searched the literature on Grimké, on Phillips, and everywhere I can think of online, and have not found this sermon even referenced, let alone available to read. I have transcribed the sermon and am making it available here for the first time:


First, this sermon is possibly the earliest recorded sermon by Francis Grimké (I’m not sure what can be found in the archives at Howard University). The earliest sermon in Carter G. Woodson, The Works of Francis J. Grimké is from 1892. This sermon is nearly a decade earlier. A search of Henry Ferry’s dissertation doesn’t pull any published writings earlier than 1885. The only caveat to this claim is that a summary of a short Christmas message by Francis Grimké had been recorded and published in 1881 (see “Friend of the Poor and the Suffering”: A Christmas Sermon by Francis Grimké (1880)). With that one exception, this is the earliest published material by Francis Grimké, that I’ve found so far.

Additionally, this is the first of a number of biographical addresses that Grimké gave in the decades to come. Grimké honored Black figures like Daniel Payne (in 1893), Alexander Crummell (1898), and Frederick Douglass (1898, 1907, 1908), but also white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison (1905), John Greenleaf Whittier (1907), and John Brown (1909). This address predates these other addresses by nearly a decade (or more).

The address also demonstrates that Grimké’s “progressivism” or “radicalism” was not a later development in his life, but had been there from the beginning. You can see one facet of this in the way he praises Phillips’s willingness to countenance armed self-defense by Black people:

One of his favorite mottoes or sayings, and one which of late years he frequently wrote in autograph albums was “Peace if possible, but justice at any rate.” So intensely did he feel on this subject, that he even went so far as to advocate the right of the slave to take the life of his pursuer. “You say that this is bloody doctrine, anarchical doctrine : it will prejudice people against the cause. I know it will. Heaven pardon those who make it necessary. Heaven pardon the judges, the merchants and the clergy who make it necessary for hunted men to turn when they are at bay and fly at the necks of their pursuers. It is not our fault. I shrink from no ques­tion, however desperate, that has in it the kernel of possible safety for a human being hunted by twenty millions of slave-catchers in this Christian Republic of ours.”

As Malcolm Foley has highlighted, Grimké would later argue in his own time for armed self defense against lynching (see Malcolm Foley, “The Only Way to Stop a Mob: Francis Grimké’s Biblical Case for Lynching Resistance” in Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present, 196–218).Wendell Phillips may have been one early influence (among others, I’m sure) on Grimké’s thought.

The address also shows us one possible factor in the formation of Grimké’s character, and that is his following the example of abolitionists like Phillips. Grimké would be praised later in life for his courage and his uncompromising resistance to white-supremacy, wherever it may be found. These are among the traits that Grimké explicitly praises Phillips for in the address. That Grimké would go on to exhibit these same characteristics in his own long career shows how the legacy of abolitionism was carried on in the next generation.

“His Opposition Was Not to Christianity”

Finally, the address is significant for abolitionist studies more broadly, particularly the historiography of abolitionism among evangelical historians. Grimké notes how in Phillips’s own day, “Men called him fanatic, infi­del, traitor.” This reputation has stuck with the abolitionists, particularly among “orthodox” evangelical historians, namely, that abolitionists were somehow less Christian, less orthodox, less faithful to the Bible than their pro-slavery or “moderate” but anti-abolitionist counterparts. One example of this is Timothy L. Smith’s, Revivalism and Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War (1957), which repeated a false report about Phillips from 1859:

Isabella Bishop told of attending a Gar­risonian convention in Boston in 1858 at which Wendell Phillips de­nounced both George Washington and Jesus Christ as traitors to humanity, the one for giving us the Constitution, the other, the New Testament.

Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform, 180; citing Isabella (Bird) Bishop, The Aspects of Religion in the United States (London, 1859), pp. 81-92.

Yet, as soon as as Bird’s account was published, several friends of Phillips took to the pages of The Liberator to defend their friend in “Defamation Refuted”:

We the undersigned, well acquainted, and most of us long acquainted, with Wendell Phillips, and familiar with his views and opinions on the subject of slavery, pronounce the above language and sentiments, attributed to him by the author of ‘The Aspects of Religion, &e., to be entirely destitute of truth, completely at variance with his well known sentiments concerning Christianity and its author, and concerning Washington, and wholly opposite to his frequent and unvarying language, both in public and in private, during his whole life.


Francis Jackson, Samuel May, E. H. Heywood, Wm. Lloyd Garrison, Edmund Quincy, Samuel J. May.

Defamation Refuted,” The Liberator (July 27, 1860).

Echoes of this same treatment of abolitionists appears in Mark Noll’s work, who, though he doesn’t mention Phillips by name, speaks in general about “the party of abolitionists” who he says were “much more worrisome to traditional believers” (The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, 31). Noll acknowledges that “on the question of the Bible and slavery in the era of the Civil War, I have been especially helped by… Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform” (“The Bible and Slavery,” in Religion and the American Civil War, 66). I think that Noll’s treatment of William Lloyd Garrison, his extension to “the abolitionists,” and thus aspects of his overall framing of the “theological crisis,” need correcting, but that is a topic worth its own focused study.

In light of this contested historiography, it is fascinating to see how Grimké defends Phillips on this front:

The North, cringing and coward­ly, to borrow a phrase front Parker, “he cauterized with actual lightning; ” the church, cold, and half apologetic, he lashed with all the fury of his incensed righteousness; the constitution, with its lying declarations, he de­nounced as “the sum of villainies, a league with death and a covenant with hell.” Men called him fanatic, infi­del, traitor, but he cared not. “They call me infidel and traitor,”, he said, “and so I am, to a State that sells its citizens on the auction block, and drives them with the lash to unrequited toil. I am traitor to a church that defends this infamous system from the Bible.” His opposition, you will perceive, was not to Christianity, nor yet to the Bible, but to an apostate and recreant church, which attempted to throw the weight of its great influence against liberty and on the side of oppression.

Grimké is often cited as a figure who held uncompromisingly to Biblical fidelity and racial justice. The fact that he would defend an abolitionist like Wendell Phillips should cause evangelical historians to pause before assuming such “defamation” without proof.

Further Reading

The research and literature on Wendell Phillips is voluminous. I recommend  starting with a search at your local public library. A few resources that I’d recommend in particular include:

Archibald H. Grimké, A Eulogy of Wendell Phillips (1884) — available free online. Archibald was Francis’s older brother and delivered this eulogy in Tremont Temple in Boston, April 9, 1884.

James B. Stewart, “Heroes, Villains, Liberty, and License: The Abolitionist Vision of Wendell Phillips,” in Antislavery Reconsidered : New Perspectives on the Abolitionists (Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, 1979) — available to check out online.

James Brewer Stewart, Wendell Phillips, Liberty’s Hero (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986) — available to check out online.

Aisèrithe, A.J. and Donald Yacovone (eds.), Wendell Phillips, Social Justice, and the Power of the Past. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2016. — Amazon.

“Slavery Days: Sketch of Theodore Dwight Weld” (1889)

Theodore Dwight Weld (1803–1895) was one of the most important white abolitionist figures of the 19th century. Francis Grimké called him “one of the greatest of anti-slavery orators” (“Centennial of the Birth of William Lloyd Garrison,” The Works of Francis J. Grimké, 92). In 1864, Weld moved to Hyde Park, MA, just outside of Boston, where he helped to open a school. Weld lived in Hyde Park until his death in 1895 at the age of 91.

Maybin W. Brown

Maybin W. Brown (1856–1924) was born in Andover, MA, and started working in newspapers at the age of 14. He joined the staff of the Boston Globe in 1885 as a reporter for the Hyde Park district where he reported until 1893 (“Maybin Brown Killed by Train,” Boston Globe, April 14, 1924). Late in 1888, Brown went to “visit Theodore Dwight Weld at Hyde Park. The veteran of the fight for human liberty gives an intensely interesting interview on his career and that of his co-workers” (“Speaking to Mobs.” Boston Globe, January 4, 1889). The interview is a fascinating sketch of Weld’s life, contains a number of direct quotes from Weld, and is a fascinating glimpse of his life at every stage, from a young boy, until his later years. It also includes a brief tribute from the abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The original can be found here: Maybin W. Brown, “Slavery Days: Sketch of Theodore Dwight Weld” Boston Globe, January 6, 1889.

The Boston Globe, January 6, 1889

I originally stumbled across the interview researching Francis Grimké. Grimké’s aunt Angelina Weld Grimké, who married Theodore Weld in 1838, discovered that she had three Black nephews after her brother’s death, and decided to recognize them as family and help them financially. It was this financial aid that enabled Francis Grimké to attend Princeton Seminary, and his brother Archibald to attend Harvard Law School. This familiar connection between Grimké and “Uncle Theodore” and “Aunt Angelina” is fascinating.

To my knowledge, it has never been transcribed or available (other than in the archives), until now:


At 6 years old, attending school with a Black boy:

His first lessons in this zealous championship of the colored race occurred when he was but six years old, when attending school in Connecticut. A little colored boy was admitted as a pupil, whose lessons were recited separately, and he was also given a back seat, where he was often sent with a [???]. Young Weld had never seen a human being before with a black skin, and the indignities with which he was treated drew immeasurably upon his sympathetic nature, and in him the little Jerry had a champion who bravely stood up for him upon all occasions, even going so far as to sitting beside him, and playing with him in his solitary games, for which he was ostracized and jeered at by the other boys who used to shout at him: “Theodore Weld is a n[****]r.” From that day to this Mr. Weld has been an abolitionist, and in our conversation said he never had any prejudices to overcome. 

On the Lane Seminary Rebellion:

The occasion of the revolt was that a number of students attending college, many of whom were sons of slaveholders, formed an anti-slavery society. The trustees got scared, and the people in Cincinnati were scared too, and the trustees got together and passed rules prohibiting even talking about abolition at the dinner- table or elsewhere. “We were determined,” Mr. Weld said, “we would not submit, and we rebelled and asked for dismissal from the seminary.” 

Assisting John Quincy Adams during his censure vote in Congress:

I went to Mr. Adams—he by the way, was in Cambridge College with my father, and had told me previously that my grandfather had baptised him in the half way covenant when a babe, so when I met him he recognised me as a son of his college mate, and was glad to welcome me. I told him two gentlemen and myself had been appointed a committee to offer him our service in his sudden emergency, and with tears in his eyes, he answered, ‘I am under deep obligations for this great kindness.’ 

The anti-abolitionist mobs in Ohio:

We soon got together in this schoolhouse, and nearly filled it with abolitionists, when the mob got wind of it and came over in body, pushing themselves in, bringing with them sleigh bells, tin pans, cat calls and dogs, one young fellow bringing with him a tin trumpet six feet long, crowding right up beside me. I began to talk when the horn commenced to toot, tin pans to rattle and the sleigh bells to ring, and the men took hold of the dogs ears, which they pulled, and the dogs commenced to bark. All I could do was to stop until they got tired, and then I managed to get in some words, when the din would commence again.

His weddings vows with Angelina Grimké:

“When the time came,” he said, “we arose and took each other’s right hands. I then repeated these words: ‘Angelina, I take you to be my lawful, wedded wife, and promise to love, honor and cherish and in all things to recognize your equality with me.’ I then went on to testify against the against the present laws. She said what occurred to her at the time and we both knelt and prayed. 

Integrating a church service:

Before his marriage Mr.Weld lodged, upon principle, with a colored family in New York. The colored man I boarded with in New York was Rev. Mr. Cornish, a college graduate, whose skin was so light that his color could scarcely be seen, who while a member of the Belleville Church was refused a pew. With my wife and her sister I went the first Sunday to a Methodist church, and I made it a rule if a negro had a seat I would find it out and sit with him. Well, I found a seat and sat down, when an officer of the church rushed to me and said if I would step forward he would show me a respectable seat. I told the man I was satisfied, that that was why I had sat there. 

On meeting Francis and Archibald Grimké:

In 1868 a cloud of the deepest anguish settled over this family circle when it was learned on the death of Mrs. Weld’s youngest brother that he had left as a legacy three children born of a colored mother. The true nobility of her nature quickly asserted itself and formulated her decision, and she at once acknowledged the ties of relationship, which decision was accepted by the husband and sister. She soon afterwards met these intelligent and gentlemanly young men. 

Further Reading on Theodore Dwight Weld

“Social Intercourse Irrespective of Color”: Lyman Beecher and the Lane Seminary “Rebellion” of 1834

Theodore Dwight Weld, The Bible against Slavery (1838) — available free online

Benjamin Platt Thomas, Theodore Weld, Crusader for Freedom (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1950): available to check out online at archive.org

Passionate Liberator: Theodore Dwight Weld and the Dilemma of Reform (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1982) (Amazon)

Owen W. Muelder, Theodore Dwight Weld and the American Anti-Slavery Society (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011) (Amazon)

“Friend of the Poor and the Suffering”: A Christmas Sermon by Francis Grimké (1880)

(image: Harriet Jacobs; Charlotte Forten Grimké; Francis J. Grimké)

Francis J. Grimké

After graduating from Princeton Seminary in 1878, Francis Grimké began his first run as pastor of Fifteenth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. While in D.C., Francis and his wife Charlotte Forten Grimké renewed their friendship with Harriet Jacobs, the famous author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861). In 1862, Jacobs had recruited Charlotte to travel to St. Helena’s Island in Beaufort, South Carolina to help newly liberated enslaved people. When Jacobs died in 1897, Francis Grimké delivered the eulogy for her (available on JStor). Among her qualities, Grimké highlighted her generosity: “She was also the very of generosity; she possessed in a remarkable degree, what we sometimes call the milk of human kindness. Especially did her sympathies go out towards the poor, the suffering, the destitute. She never hesi­tated to share what she had, with others to deny herself for the sake of helping a suffering fellow creature. There are hundreds, who if they had the opportunity, today would rise up and call her blessed, to whom she has been a real sister of charity, a veritable Dorcas…”

Julia Wilbur Diary, December 25, 1880

On Christmas Day, 1880, Jacobs and Grimké and a few other women (including Mary Chaflin and Julia Wilbur) collaborated to put on a “holiday dinner” for a group of “destitute old freedwomen” (The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, 2: 760). Abolitionist and suffragist Julia Wilbur was present for this dinner and describes the scene in her diary (available online here): “There were 12 women & 12 children there. Dinner set in style in an elegant dining room. Mrs. C.[Chaflin] & niece & one other lady waited on them. It was like a foretaste of Paradise for these poor old ex slaves… Mrs. C. said ‘she believed she was the happiest of them all.’ There is luxury in doing good.”

The People’s Advocate (January 8, 1881)

The whole scene was written up as an article and published in The People’s Advocate as “Our Duty to the Poor–How We Observed it On Christmas” (January 8, 1881). Jean Yellin suggests that it was “perhaps written by Jacobs’s friend Charlotte Forten Grimké” (HJFP, 2:760). The article includes an account of a brief sermon that Francis Grimké delivered to the attendees. The sermon is wonderful meditation on Christ’s care for the lowly and downtrodden, and Grimké highlights how “When he was upon the earth he was the friend of the poor and the suffering.”

Jacobs, Grimké, and friends believed themselves to obeying Jesus’s command in Luke 12: “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsman, nor thy rich neighbor, but when thou makest a feast call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed. For they cannot recompense thee but thou shalt be recompensed in the resurrection of the just.”

I have transcribed the article here, which includes Francis Grimké’s sermon:

Christmas feasts for the poor were not the only occasion of Jacobs’s kindness. In his eulogy, Grimké later recalled other occasions of her generosity as well:

“She ministered to souls, poor and suffering ones, as God gave her the ability. I remember some years ago, it was on Thanksgiving day, how she gathered into her home a goodly company of old people, who were in destitute circumstances, and made a feast for them. And I remember also how happy it made her to see the old people enjoy themselves. It was a real pleasure to her. How her face lighted up as she looked upon their bright, happy faces. She seemed even happier than the old people themselves, though their hearts were overflowing with joy”

Francis Grimké, “Eulogy for Harriet Jacobs

Grimké’s eulogy is a profound and moving tribute to a remarkable woman. I highly commend it to you, in addition to his Christmas Sermon, for your holiday reading: “O Death, where is Thy Sting?: Reverend Francis J. Grimke’s Eulogy for Harriet A. Jacobs