Editor’s Word: One Solitary Life

There is a piece of prose that has grown in popularity since its inception in 1926. It is simply titled, “One Solitary Life.” I first came across this in 1971 while taking a New Testament survey course at Anderson University. It is quoted by H.I. Hester in his book, “The Heart of the New Testament.” He attributed it to Phillips Brooks, but Brooks was not the author. Over the years, it has been recorded by various singers like Bill Anderson, Robert Goulet and others. It has appeared on Christmas cards, in magazines and books, and on digital platforms. President Ronald Reagan read it to a group of children gathered at the White House in 1982. He said, “I think it describes the meaning of Christmas.”

There are several versions of the composition (I stopped counting at 15), each slightly different from the other. Throughout the years, even to the present, it is often ascribed to an “unknown author.” However, the author was a Baptist pastor named James Allen Francis. He became a pastor at 21 and served in ministry until his death in 1928 at age 64. After writing the first version, while serving as pastor of First Baptist Church of Los Angeles, he made some minor changes to it the following year. It is reported that the original version was part of a sermon he preached.

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