This is the day that … Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in 1809.
His father, Abiel Holmes, pastored the First Congregational Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and young Oliver grew up “in a library where he bumped about among books.”
And whilst still a youngster he would accompany his father in the horse and jig as they spent the weekend going to various preaching appointments. Along the way father Holmes indoctrinated his son with a rather stern Calvinism.
At the age of 10, however, Oliver “was still afraid of the devil, but the doctrines of transmitted sinfulness, justification, or sanctification, meant no more to him than the mystic syllables by which his friends counted each other out in their games” (Gospel in Hymns, page 520).
On entering Harvard University, from which he would graduate in arts and medicine, Oliver forsook the religion of his parents and embraced the Unitarian heresy. This teaching that reduced the Lord Jesus to a mere example and denied His substitutionary Atonement, was making powerful strides in America at this time.
Even Abiel Holmes was deposed from his church, and the Unitarians took over.
By the age of 29 Oliver was professor of anatomy and physiology at Dartmouth College. Then, in 1847, he went to Harvard Medical School, where he was professor for the next 35 years.
His book, The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table, was first serialized in the Atlantic Monthly (1857). It brought him fame in the literary world.
“Essayist, novelist, poet, wit, humorist, humanist and the raciest of talkers, he became one of the best known and best loved men on both sides of the ocean (Handbook to Church Hymnary, page 374).
He wrote a famous hymn in 1858:
Lord of all being, throned afar,
Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Centre and soul of every sphere,
Yet to each loving heart how near!
O.W. Holmes died on 7 October, 1894. One writer tells us: “in his later years he fell back for spiritual comfort on the great evangelical hymns…”
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.
Tags: congregational, harvard university, novelist, oliver wendell holmes, unitarian, writer
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