The Forgotten Founder–William Williams

Founders Journal 77 · Summer 2009 · pp. 19-30

The Forgotten Founder–William Williams

Tom J. Nettles

What seems to have been true from the beginning, still is true today. In 1911, Charles H. Ryland wrote, “The least known of the members of the faculty at the outset was Dr. William Williams.”[1] In 1909, George Boardman Eager, fifty years after the Seminary’s founding, could still assume the relative anonymity of Williams in saying, “I desire to speak today of this least known of the founders.”[2]

The Least Known

This incognito status, something of a historical disaster, may be explained by three factors. One, Williams was added as the fourth man to the original faculty only after the position was refused twice by E. T. Winkler. Winkler, though only thirty-six, had attended Newton Theological Seminary, had served as editor of two Baptist newspapers, had been corresponding secretary for the Southern Baptist Publication Society, had served as pastor of several churches, and presently held the pulpit at First Baptist Church, Charleston. Boyce badly wanted Winkler, but Winkler’s attachment to his church overwhelmed the pull into Southern Baptists’ virgin voyage into theological education.

Two, Williams’ ecclesiology became a bit troublesome among many churches in the South. No doubt can be harbored that Williams affirmed the historic Baptist view of the composition of a church–only believers immersed in the triune name were church members.[3] In special cases, however, Williams believed that members could be received into a Baptist church whose immersion, as a believer, had been given in a non-Baptist setting. This set off inflammatory remarks and attitudes in some segments of church life and put the seminary in a defensive posture on the issue, even though Williams was the only one that held this position.

Three, the remembrance of Williams was crushed beneath several historical factors that played strongly into the historical discussions of the seminary. Williams died of a bronchial disorder before the move to Louisville. This reality gives an almost pre-historic atmosphere to any discussion of Williams. From his original assignment as professor of church history and polity, he was assigned the task of teaching systematic theology in 1872, his true love. Boyce’s move to Louisville, however, put a double load on Williams as he resumed also many of the duties of his former field of teaching. That Boyce was the original professor of systematic theology and that he taught that subject for ten years after the death of Williams has given cryptic character to what could have been Williams’ greatest contribution to the young school. The coming of C. H. Toy in 1869 and W. H. Whitsitt in 1872, and the subsequent notoriety that has surrounded their seminary careers made discussion of Williams a dispensable historic item.

Four, Williams’ heavy schedule of teaching allowed him to publish only two items. One was the Apostolical Church Polity and the other was a short history of the Southern Baptist Convention. The polity book shows the skill of an author that had command of language, syntax, logic, and compelling style. He moved freely and pertinently between scriptural data and historical data. He used a wide variety of authorities and witnesses to the topic from both historical and contemporary sources. The book is worthy and valuable but small and on a subject that would give him a limited readership. The historical survey, an insightful look at the dynamics between northern and southern Baptists in the years preceding the division, appeared as an appendix to the 1871 minutes of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Though all these factors and the mysteries of providence have conspired to envelop Williams in anonymity, his intrinsic talent and fervent stewardship of the gospel are worthy of recognition and genuine gratitude. When Charles Ryland spoke of Williams’ relatively subdued beginning he went on to say, “But if least known to the great Baptist public at the time of his installation, he soon became, I had almost said, the best loved of them all. He was a great preacher and an exceedingly clear and discriminating lecturer. A student said of him: ‘He is a beautiful illustration of the words, If thine eye be single thy whole body shall be full of light.'”[4]

Preparation of a Full-orbed Gospel Minister

Williams was reared in a Georgia home of genuine piety where regular family worship took place and where he, after being converted in early years, often led in the exercises. His parents were refined people, of high social standing, and of deep commitment to divine truth. Williams’ father attained a notable success in the cotton business and provided liberally for his family. Williams entered Franklin College (soon to be the University of Georgia) in 1828 when he was seventeen and graduated when he was nineteen. He and his brother came to work in the cotton mill business with their father and attained reputations for their business aptitude. In 1845, Williams married and decided to pursue the law as his vocation. He attended Harvard Law School, graduated in three years with distinction, had an opportunity for a career in Boston, but because of his wife’s health and on the advice of a doctor, he moved south. Soon he set up practice in Montgomery, Alabama, won a dramatic case in his first trial and for five years ascended in the estimation of the entire legal profession for his adroitness and clarity of legal understanding and argument.

During these years, however, Williams felt an increasingly heavy burden on his conscience for gospel ministry. As early as 1850, he had preached at First Baptist Church in Montgomery on John 7:46, “Never man spake like this man.” He refused a call to that church on the grounds of inexperience and lack of study in theology. This study he undertook, however, with the same commitment to which he formerly had given himself to law; he also began to preach in country churches. His reputation as a preacher and theologian spread and in 1856, Williams received an invitation to succeed John L. Dagg in the chair of theology at Mercer University. His co-teacher, Joseph E. Willet, recalled the impression made by Williams.

He entered upon the work of theological teaching with great ardor. The Theological Department of Mercer had a fair endowment, two able professors, and had sent forth theological graduate for nine years. It promised great success and began to be looked to as the leading school in theology in the South. It opened a broad field of labor, and Dr. Williams began his work with great earnestness and zeal. His fine acquisitive powers was [sic] soon seen in his master of the studies under his charge. His classes found him ever equal to the demands of the subject before him. His clear, logical mind gave him a ready grasp of the great truths which his facility of expression imparted clearly to his pupils.[5]

Williams taught there for three years. He attended the educational conventions that led to the founding of Southern Seminary and served on the committee whose duty it was to nominate professors. Had he not served on that committee, Broadus conjectured that he likely would have been nominated in the first go-round; in light of Boyce’s strong desire for Winkler’s acceptance, however, that speculative point seems unlikely. Nevertheless, he readily accepted the position when asked.

Though his first field of teaching was church history and church government and pastoral duties, Williams taught systematic theology in the years that began in 1861, 1866, and 1872-75. At times he also taught Latin theology and advanced Greek grammar. When he taught for Boyce during Boyce’s absence in the year 1861-62, Boyce wrote Broadus a letter to be shared with the entire faculty. He thanked them their kindness to him during his absence and especially to William Williams for teaching Boyce’s class. “I shall have the comfort of knowing,” Boyce reflected, “that at least one class ought to understand theology.” He commented on Williams’ extraordinary teaching gifts by saying, “What would I not give for his wonderful power to put things clearly before those he addresses.”[6]

The Gifted Teacher

J. William Jones, in the first class at the seminary and author of the enormously helpful book, Christ in the Camp, commented on Williams’ performance in the classroom.

He was one of the best teachers I ever saw. Clear as a sunbeam in his statements, he would make everything at first so plain that it would be a rare instance in which he was not understood; but if he saw a shadow of doubt on the countenance of one of the students, he would quietly ask: “Do you see that, brethren? Well! It is so.” And then he would use some striking illustration, or hold up what he wanted to enforce in some clearer light, so that he was a dull student, indeed, who could not see it.[7]

Other testimony of the clarity and power of his teaching riddles the pages of memories that his students preserved about him. George B. Eager, who entered the seminary in 1872, preserved many of these testimonies including statements from C. C. Brown, John A. Broadus, T. P. Bell, J. C. Hiden, and W. R. L. Smith. Smith’s testimony of Williams’ own style of greatness vibrates with an enthusiastic love for the man and his salubrious effect on all those around him.

Out of the fields of memory his great kindly beaming face shines upon me yet in unspent radiance. You and I and all the boys loved him–yes, genuinely and truly loved him. Our cordial admiration of the luminous teacher, pronounced as it was, hardly kept pace with the true affection that we gave to this winsome, noble man. In the class room we saw the clear shining of his lustrous intellect on all problems, exegetical, speculative and practical. Loyalty to truth, keen insight, brevity and power of statement, with absolute fairness and kindness, these were the qualities of his sweet, undogmatic spirit. How lovely and unconstrained was his abounding courtesy, and how humbly he did decline the office of omniscience. With what patience he waited on the slow apprehension of the student, and how genially but effectively he could dispose of the stupid or impertinent questioner. . . . His presence was summer-time to our hearts, and in our hearts he held an undisputed throne. I fear sometimes he never knew how unreservedly and tenderly we loved him. I never saw a fault in him. I never heard a student smite him with an ungentle word.[8]

The Gospel Preacher

Willliams also was generally acknowledged as one of the most effective and popular preachers among Southern Baptists. Students at Greenville found one of their most entertaining sports to be arguments about who was superior, Broadus or Williams. C. H. Ryland recounted an amusing incident that put this intriguing contest in an engaging light.

Broadus and Williams were easily the greatest preachers of the faculty. Many and impassioned were the discussions held by the students in the vain effort to decide the supremacy. I can best explain our dilemma by relating an incident. Soon after the Seminary session opened, Dr. Richard Furman, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Greenville, had a protracted illness, and Professors Broadus and Williams were secured to fill the pulpit alternately morning and night. Witt, of Virginia, my room-mate and a devoted admirer of both men, was greatly puzzled to decide which he liked the better. One Sunday night, after hearing Broadus in the morning and Williams at night, he came bursting into our room, and cried, “Oh, Ryland they beat each other every time.”[9]

Others contribute similar observations about Williams. Jones recalled, “As a preacher, I have rarely heard his equal, and the students felt fortunate, indeed, when they had the privilege of hearing him in the pulpit.”[10] Joseph Willet, his colleague at Mercer, said, “However successful as a teacher, Dr. Williams was pre-eminent as a preacher of the Gospel.” He served as pastor of the Penfield church during his time at Mercer. His sermons rarely surpassed a half-hour in length but because of the clarity of his diction, the plainness, simplicity, and unostentatious nature of his language combined with the earnestness of his delivery he needed no longer to make a profound impression on his hearers. He also preached briefly at Crawfordsville where the noted orator A. H. Stephens attended church. Stephens remarked that he “knew no preacher in the State of such commanding power.”[11] Broadus wrote that he had “extraordinary power in the clear and terse statement of truth, and when kindled in preaching or lecturing he spoke with such intensity as is rarely equaled.”[12]

George Eager told of the experience of hearing Williams preach on the text “Marvel not that I say unto you, Ye must be born again.” Both the voice and the composed manner of the preacher fixed Eager’s attention fast, who “followed him with growing impression of his lucidity, earnestness, self-possession and power as a preacher unto the climactic, unexpected, but most effective close.” Williams “eliminated all unnecessary and irrelevant questions about the mystery, and shut us up to the consideration of the nature and necessity of the new birth.” J. C. Hiden, C. C. Brown, E. J. Forrester all commented on the lucidity, simplicity and earnestness of his preaching and how thoroughly natural, conversational, and limpid the delivery was. “Every sentence was a rifle ball,” so Forrester recalled, “that went right to the mark.” Among many other remarks, E. C. Dargan commented on Williams’ “consuming earnestness that glowed in all his speech, and shone with splendor in the intense light of his wonderful eyes and the strong lines of his rugged but intellectual face.” After noting some characteristics of his voice, Dargan pointed to his main characteristic as “the depth and fervor of his convictions and the remarkable clarity of his thinking and reasoning. This notable combination gave him an eloquence that was the delight of his audiences.” Dargan believed that Williams came closer than any preacher he had heard to the definition of eloquence as “logic on fire.”[13]

Eager also recalled the powerful culmination of application provided in the last sermon that he heard Dr. Williams preach. The text was “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Before daylight the next morning, Williams’ house was in flames; efforts to save it failed and the house and all its contents were lost. Eager stood beside him as they looked on the great loss, and remarked, “Well Doctor, I reckon you little thought you would be called so soon to illustrate your sermon in this way.” Williams replied cheerily, “It’s all right. Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”[14]

The Systematic Theologian

As a teacher of systematic theology. Williams fit precisely Boyce’s vision of a theological education that set forth clearly the doctrines of grace. Williams loved these powerful biblical truths and used all his native and acquired argumentative skills in showing his students their beauty and spiritual usefulness. The manner of recitation and testing demanded that students take very accurate notes. A. J. Holt, a student from Texas, studied under Williams in the academic year 1874-75. His notebook is in the archives of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary library. The following observations are made on the basis of that notebook.

Williams began with the reality of divine revelation, including a discussion of the relation between reason and revelation, proceeded into proofs of the existence of God, the Attributes of God, the Trinity, the Person of Christ, the Person of the Holy Spirit, the decrees of God, man in state of innocence, the fall and its manifestations in present human nature, the divine scheme of redemption, and issues in eschatology. Ecclesiology is not in the discussion because that subject constituted one of the four academic departments of the seminary, also taught by Williams. Williams always stated the doctrine, the biblical background of the doctrine the differing viewpoints concerning the doctrine, a presentation of that which he believed biblical, refutations of erroneous views, and answers to objections to the true presentation.

After defending the protestant view of the authority of the Bible in doctrinal formulation Williams issued a caution.

Students must guard against studying the Bible professionally. Study it with devotion so that its truths may not only be comprehended by our intellect but be felt by our hearts. Let us begin with our minds divested of all prejudice and be earnest in our desires for truth. Let us also exercise the proper humility. It is too frequent that a man may be led to reject one doctrine because he can not reconcile it with another. It is not our place to reconcile.

On the subject of evidence for revelation, Williams argued for a structure of evidence that included the claim to revelation, the nature of the teaching, the character of the teacher, and supernatural verification that a supernatural message had been presented [miracles]. At the close of that discussion he included this interesting argument.

Let it be remembered if you overthrow miracles you overthrow Christ and his doctrine because he avowed that he wrought them by the power of God. In view of the wonderful character of Christ, the rejection of his testimony and the disbelief in his miracles is more wonderful than to accept his testimony and receive his miracles. The proposition here depends upon the character of the witness. These are some obvious things [Jesus lived etc. perfect character] Now Christ either possessed this character or the evangelists have performed the most wonderful feat the world has ever seen and it is wonderful that infidels do not exalt these men. It has been justly said that to delineate character truthfully and to sustain it under all the changing scenes of the narrative is one of the rarest gifts of genius. What writer of fiction ever tried to sustain a perfect character…. Where did these men get the conception of this character which is even now in this age above our comprehension. A mind can never originate an idea above its conception, and they could never have invented such a character.

On the question of divine omniscience, Williams rejected the Socinian view that future free volitions are impossible to know; he refuted also the view of middle knowledge set forth by Luis de Molina. He argued biblically for an exhaustive omniscient foreknowledge built on the eternal decrees of God, that this poses no insuperable difficulty for the ideas of sovereignty and human free agency, and that this view alone meets all the criteria set forth by Scripture. He made four proposals concerning the knowledge of God.

  • 1st God’s knowledge is intuitive, not discursive, i.e. it is not acquired by observation, experience, deduction, inference, or any process of reason.
  • 2nd It is simultaneous & not successive, i.e. it does not come to him by portions at different times. It is one simple indivisible intuition beholding all things in their essences and relations as ever present & hence it must be eternal & independent.
  • 3rd It is universal, i.e. all comprehending. It embraces all things & all events whatsoever in all their connections & relations & hence must be immutable.
  • 4th It is infallible. It is perfectly and absolutely free from all errors and mistakes.

In his discussion of the attributes of God, Williams sought to anticipate other theological issues that would arise. For example in his discussion of Justice as a divine attribute, he anticipated the discussion of penal substitution.

Answer is that it is the vindication of law. That being so, the punishment of sin results from the holiness of God. Shown in this way. From the infinite holiness of God — he must infinitely hate sin just as from his infinite love to that which is holy. So he must hate and infinitely hate sin because directly opposed to his nature. If he did not love holiness he would cease to love himself and if he did not hate sin he would hate his own image for sin defaces his image. But from the necessary hatred to sin and its perfect opposition of his nature necessarily follows the punishment of it. God’s infinite holiness must necessarily hate sin and from the hatred of sin necessarily follows its punishment. Men will admit it all but will reply, “But God is a being with infinite power and therefore he can, if he choose, not punish sin.” Answer. Not to punish sin is not an object of power but it is a moral act. That belongs to God…. In Jesus Christ Justice and mercy meet and the divine law is satisfied.

Williams gave many pages of notes on the person of Christ, clearly affirming the orthodox conclusion of a single person incorporating two perfect natures, the human and the divine, this one person deriving his personhood from the fact that the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, assumed our nature into that personhood so that two complete natures subsisted in that one person. This doctrine held immense consequences in Williams’ theology, not only for proper worship, but for soteriology. Holt recorded Williams’ concern about this in some candid remarks made before lecture one day. “I am extremely anxious,” Williams urged, “that you should have clear conception of this subject. i.e. of the person of our Savior. Ergo, question as much as you like, and let us understand it if it takes a week. Too many think that these are metaphysical facts and it is not worth while to bother about them.”

On issues of the will, depravity, election, reprobation, atonement, perseverance, and providence Williams consistently set forth the Calvinist view as opposed to the Arminian view in the most thorough and urgent manner. For example, he believed that Arminian objections did not address the scriptural evidence brought forth by the Calvinist in defense of these doctrines. Their objections, as he said on several occasions, “are not to evidence but to the doctrine.” They dispute the doctrine, not on the basis of evidence, so Williams believed, but because the doctrine is too hard: “The doctrine that is hardest for us to admit after all is that we are clay in the Potter’s hands and that God is absolutely sovereign.” In his statement of the doctrine of election, Williams intended to defend five component elements.

Statement of doctrine — God’s eternal and unchangeable choice of certain persons to salvation of his sovereign will. Points are 1. eternal choice. 2 unchangeable choice, 3. choice of persons, 4. choice to salvation, 5. choice grounded on his sovereign will.

In his extended disclosure and defense of these five elements, Williams compared Arminian and Calvinist views and introduced his students to the ever-expanding theological connections of the doctrine of election.

Calvinists say that election is founded upon God’s good pleasure and Arminians believe that this election is founded upon man’s foreseen repentance, faith, and perseverance. With regard to founding it upon the foreseen repentance etc, it subverts God’s sovereignty, by placing the actions of men out of his control and making him dependent on the actions of men. We haven’t exhausted the evidence in favor of Calvinism. The evidence for Calvinism does not rest merely upon specific passages of Sacred Scripture in its favor some of which I have cited… It is involved in and bound up with what the Sacred Scriptures teach in reference to God’s absolute sovereignty and dominion, with what they teach in reference to God’s universal and all embracing providence extending even to the minute events of the falling of a sparrow, and with what the Sacred Scriptures teach in reference to man’s total depravity, with what they teach in reference to the nature and extent of Christ’s atonement and with what they teach in reference to regeneration.

Other aspects of Williams’ lectures would continue to show the thoroughly clear and systematic method that he used in class. They would also demonstrate how every aspect of his thought on biblical doctrine found its integrating point on God’s demonstration of His glorious wisdom in the sovereign and invincible manner in which He saves justly condemned sinners. Had Williams lived to publish a systematic theology textbook as Boyce was able to do in 1887, one year before his death, he would not be the forgotten founder.

The Death of William Williams

In January, 1877, John A. Broadus wrote George Boardman Taylor, a Southern Baptist Missionary to Italy. Among other items of mutual interest he reported on the state of health of William Williams. “Doctor Williams went down last spring with incipient consumption. At Asheville, N. C., he got better during the summer, and he is wintering at Aiken.” Broadus knew that his getting better was only temporary and feared that “he will never teach again.” He described Williams as “a noble man, of great abilities, and is the finest lecturer I have ever known. His lectures on Systematic Theology, the last two or three years, were something wonderful for clearness, terseness, power.” Broadus simply acknowledged what Boyce had said in 1862, “What would I not give for his wonderful power to put things clearly before those he addresses.”[16]

The overload that Williams had taught since 1872 combined with regular preaching in country churches, little exercise, a less than vigorous constitution, and intense mental strain “wore him out more seriously” than any of his colleagues were aware. Probably in late fall or early winter of 1875, he slept in a small room that had a window minus one pane of glass. He caught cold and progressively became worse but would not stop his work.

In January, Boyce and Broadus began including reports on Williams in their correspondence. “Dr. Trescot told me today that Dr. Williams is seriously sick–feverish, night-sweats, cough–for some time,” Broadus reported. The doctor did not think it advisable that Williams be expected to teach. Broadus made several suggestions as to how the classes could be handled. Boyce was upset. “I fear Dr. Trescot is right. I have been uneasy about Williams for some time.” He saw little merit in most of Broadus’ suggestions and proposed that Williams’ course be handled by assigning text book reading for private study with an examination at year’s end. “I do not think any of you should burden yourselves to take these subjects and especially to lecture upon them.” Soon, Broadus responded with an arrangement for teaching that avoided Boyce’s objections for the most part and included pertinent information about efforts to help Williams.

We have a pretty good arrangement about Williams’ classes. Whitsitt did study Church History and takes that. Toy will hear recitations in Dick. They will send for Pond’s Patristic Theology. Dargan and Ebeltoft will read Augustine’s Confessions without a teacher. Trescot begged Williams to go for 6 weeks to Florida. Williams finally told him no money. Werne offered to furnish it, $125, but Williams hesitated to receive. Through Toy I have this afternoon arranged, that Seminary pays Williams’ expenses, $125, and Werne, of his own accord, will refund the money to Seminary. I have sent Williams check for that amount, and hope he’ll go. Trescot thinks he can return (from Madison, Fla.) by 1st April, able to lecture that month. Lungs slight affected, and change of climate will probably stop it.[17]

Williams went to Florida but found that he was deeper in sickness than he knew. He wrote Broadus on March 23 that he should remain longer and should not attempt to teach or hold examinations. He also needed fifty dollars. By April he reported that he was considerably better and would be home by the twenty-second. On April 26, Broadus reported to Boyce that Williams was not better but worse, he never expected him to lecture again, and believed he might live a year. Special financial arrangements, as well as whiskey, were provided from month to month. In July, Williams reported to Boyce that he was getting stronger and hoped yet to do service. By August, Willliams had practically abandoned hope of recovery. Broadus commented, “This shows that he cannot last long, and also that he is like to be very sad, till so near his end as to rest exclusively in religious hopes.” In addition to making many special arrangements for money Broadus noted, “We must do something, for our dear friend is evidently in very trying circumstances.”[18] Broadus saw him again in September and observed that his appearance was “wonderfully improved. I never saw him look better.” Well, who would not with such a radically changed life style–He “quit tobacco and nearly quit coffee, quit work, rode morning and afternoon, also walked, played croquet a great deal (very fond of it), and slept all night.” Both his appetite and digestion proved excellent, his weight had increased, and his doctor said his lungs were better. Though Williams was confident of recovery Broadus wrote, “Between you and me it is a melancholy delusion. He coughs now every minute, slightly. I don’t for a moment believe he will ever be able to work again.” Broadus made complicated financial arrangements to help Williams and his family settle to Aiken on the doctor’s orders. Boyce was glad to hear of the improvement, but, like Broadus, feared the cough.[19]

By January, Williams clearly had no chance of teaching again or of recovery to health. Boyce was grieved to have his “fears confirmed” and sought merciful arrangements for him. He favored the trustees “making him Emeritus Professor, and paying salary, for life, or for one year.” He wanted this to be a policy for others–“It is what other institutions do.” His only doubt was whether they would give full salary, but he was firm that they “put Williams beyond reach of dependence upon others.”[20]

Four days after John Broadus’ lectures at Rochester Seminary closed, William Williams died. William A. Mueller summarized, “Though the trustees granted him a leave of absence in 1876, the ravages of tuberculosis laid him low at last, and on 20 February 1877, Professor William Williams died at Aiken, South Carolina, at less than fifty-six years of age.”[21] Broadus, who observed, “Whoever knew a man more completely genuine, more thoroughly sincere, more conscientious in all his doings,” called the fatal illness “the fell ravages of consumption.”[22] Boyce came from Louisville to Greenville, where the funeral was held, to take part and Broadus preached from a text pre-arranged by Williams, “My Times are in His hands,” Psalm 31:15. Broadus made two points: 1. The text was preeminently true of our brother, in which he included a summary of the life of Williams; 2. This text is also true of those who remain to mourn his loss. J. S. Dill, who saw William Williams only in his casket recalled vividly the funeral and especially Broadus’ conclusion to the sermon.

The conclusion was one of tenderest pathos. The preacher told the story of father’s carriage horses. For years they had pulled in harness together. One died and was hauled away to a nearby woodland. The next morning the other horse was missed from the lot. Search was made and he was found lying beside his old mate and grieving with a broken heart. Tears flowed freely as Dr. Broadus told of the eighteen years in which he had pulled in harness with this servant of the Lord.[23]

On 23 February the faculty wrote an expression of appreciation, placed it in the minutes, and had it printed in newspapers and denominational journal of the South. It is a fitting summary of the usefulness of this great man.

The Faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary desire to place on record an expression of their sentiments in regard to the death of their friend and colleague, the Reverend William Williams, which took place on Tuesday, the 20th inst. at Aiken, S. C.

He was of the number that were present at the foundation of the Institution, and was chosen almost at the start as a member of the corps of instructors. After nearly eighteen years of unremitted toil he has fallen just at the period when his powers and usefulness had attained their completest development. During all these years so full of vicissitudes for our Seminary, we have enjoyed abundant opportunities of learning his worth.

The sweetness and openness of his temper, his abundance and genuineness of his sympathy, and the transparency and solidness of his character rendered him always a charming and most desirable friend.

It is extremely gratifying to our feeling to be able to record the fact that during eighteen years of almost daily intercourse in which we were called on to discuss and decide innumerable questions, frequently of great importance and difficulty, the cordiality of our relations was never for a moment disturbed.

He possessed great fitness for and achieved great usefulness in the position he occupied as Theological instructor. The breadth and clearness of his views, the terseness of his expression, his probity, his force, the depth and fervour of his piety were acknowledged and valued by all his pupils. Few men could have been more successful in acquiring their admiration and affection, and in impressing them for good.

As a preacher, though he was seldom equal to himself on distinguished occasions, and always shrank from them, those who enjoyed his ordinary pulpit ministrations cannot lose the impression of his massive power and engaging clearness and simplicity.[24]


1 Charles H. Ryland, “Recollections of the First Year, 1859-1860 delivered at the Seminary on January 11, 1911, 4.

2 George Boardman Eager, William Williams (Louisville, KY: Baptist World Publishing Co., 1909), 2.

3 See his Apostolical Church Polity. Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publiscation Society, 1874, contained in Mark Dever, ed. Polity (Center for Church Reform, 2001), 528-550.

4 Ryland, 4.

5 Joseph E. Willett, “Rev. Williams Williams, D.D. The Seminary Magazine, April 1892, (volume 5. no. 7) 363.

6 Boyce to Broadus, 16 March 1862; L&F, 39f.

7 J. William Jones, “Reminiscences of the First Session of Our Seminary,” The Seminary Magazine (vol 3, n. 2), 43f.

8 Eager, 20f.

9 Ryland, 4.

10 Jones, 44.

11 Willet, 363.

12 John A. Broadus, Memoir of James Petigru Boyce (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1893), 169.

13 Eager, 11-15.

14 Ibid., 12

15 A. T. Robertson, Life and Letters, 303.

16 Robertson, Life and Letters, 192. Robertson cites a letter from Boyce to Broadus, 16 March 1862.

17 Broadus to Boyce, 16 February 1876; L & F, 222.

18 Broadus to Boyce, 5 August 1876; L & F, 248.

19 Broadus to Boyce, 27 September 1876; L & F, 253f; Boyce to Broadus, 5 October 1876; L & F, 255.

20 Boyce to Broadus, 29 January 1877; L & F, 273.

21 William A. Mueller, A History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1959), 106.

22 Broadus, Memoir, 247.

23 J. S. Dill, “Our Seminary, the transition from Greenville to Louisville,” The Review and Expositor (April, 1931, vol. 28, no. 2), 143.

24 Mueller, 110. Mueller cites Faculty Minutes , book 1, 57-59. See also, “Rev. William Williams,” Western Recorder (1 March 1877), 5.