As a young husband and father with one little child we decided to return to attending church on Sunday. In spite of the many weaknesses then in the U.P.C., God brought me to conversion. We can never fully understand all the factors that God uses, but what still stands out is the day that reading Matthew 7:7 brought me almost shouting to God in faith and repentance.
Recently I received a phone call from GI Williamson. He wanted me to review a prepublication copy of his new book A Study Of Biblical Eschatology (Inheritance Publications). I was honored that he would call me and request my help. I had just completed my own book on Revelation and was interested in comparing his conclusions with mine. After reading his book, I was amazed at how, even though we wrote independent of each other, we came to the same basic conclusions on eschatology. I told him I had only one objection to his book—that he had not written it fifty years earlier.
In my circles Rev. Williamson is most well-known for his book The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Study Guide (P&R Publications). At one time, as a young Presbyterian pastor, this was the most important book in my library next to the Bible. He has served as an ordained minister for over 60 years. Part of that time was in New Zealand. He presently is an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and soon will be 90 years old. The following is an interview which Rev. Williamson graciously agreed to do with me for The Aquila Report.
Tell us about your life growing up in America.
I was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1925 the third of five children. What a momentous year that was — not because of me but because of the infamous Scopes trial. My parents both came from old line U.P. (United Presbyterian) stock and were ethical Calvinists. So we were taught that there was such a thing as right and wrong, but the vertical (theological or doctrinal) was sadly lacking. Yes, we were taught to respect the Bible, but I do not remember ever hearing the word Catechism even being mentioned.
I remember reading somewhere in Machen’s writings about “the moral momentum” of our ancestors. Well, we certainly had that. To even dream of some of the ethical calamities that we now see daily was simply unthinkable then. Abortion? Never. Homosexual marriage? Not even thinkable! Yes, there was a deep corruption within me. But even the very cultural climate in which my life began — the 1920s and 1930s — was as light compared to our current darkness. In those days even the general culture seemed pretty much to say that we were living in a Christian country.
Tell us about your conversion experience.
In my teenage years I became a total addict of the Big Band music, the stuff of Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Artie Shaw and others. I learned to play the harmonica, then the clarinet, and then the saxophone. I loved that music (and still do, in a selective sense). I played lead Alto sax in the Arny Liddell orchestra (the summer house band at Riverview Park in Des Moines. By the way, the last time I checked the web site of this Park I could still see my picture as a young man in the center of the saxophone section).
But then came the Second World War and I was drafted. I ended up in a military band. I had a very safe 30 months doing my part for the war effort with my saxophone. My older brother Bob flew B-24 bombers out of Italy. (My younger brother Roger flew fighter jets years later in Vietnam).
However, in some ways the war had a greater impact on me in things that matter than it did on these, my military heroes. There are no accidents in what God plans for us, and the very fact that I was so greatly blessed with a safe military service while others were fighting and dying was used by God to lead me, at last, to consider ultimate questions.
So, as a young husband and father with one little child we decided to return to attending church on Sunday. In spite of the many weaknesses then in the U.P.C., God brought me to conversion. We can never fully understand all the factors that God uses, but what still stands out is the day that reading Matthew 7:7 brought me almost shouting to God in faith and repentance. Then, not much later in time, I knew that God was calling me to be a preacher. After three full years of stress between us, my wonderful wife of 70 years finally said Amen to my calling.
In your view how has America changed since you were a young minister?
If I live to May of this next year, I will then be 90, and it’s hard to take in how great the change has been within my lifetime. During my war-time service in the U.S. Army I had confidence in my superiors. I believed them when they said what they said, and did what they did, because there was integrity in their oaths as there was in my own. Today we see a very serious loss of integrity and it goes right up to the oval office. We hardly know who — or what — to believe. Truth has fallen in the streets. It doesn’t seem to matter to many people.
As I see it, the explanation is not too hard to discern. It has been the failure of the Protestant Churches. When they were sources of light the nation was uplifted. When too many of them became apostate — and began to accommodate unbelief — the whole thing began to spread over the nation. And nothing is going to remedy this but a recovery of more and more faithful churches. And by that I mean churches that still believe in six-day creation — and the second coming of Jesus.
In your view how have Reformed and Presbyterian churches changed since you were a young minister?
This question requires a dualistic answer. In some ways it is very much better. In some ways it is much worse. When I began to study for the ministry in 1949 there was still a lot of moral momentum in the general culture, and even more in many Protestant churches. The utter apostasy that we see today in some once-great churches was still not openly manifested.
When I first heard the name of J. Gresham Machen as a student at Pittsburgh-Xenia Seminary (as it was called then) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, it was by way of mild criticism. ‘Why didn’t he stay at Princeton Seminary and be satisfied with writing?” In those days Clarence E. McCartney was still preaching at the big ‘downtown’ First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. And since I had heard that he knew Machen himself I decided to go down there for the Tuesday noon meeting and ask him about Machen. I did. He spoke so very highly of Machen, and was so openly sympathetic with the stand he took, that I experienced an early lesson in deliverance. Never just take the first thing you hear as ‘the truth.’ Take the time you need to make certain.
Today things are much worse in the sense that apostasy has been progressive. But for that very reason it is no longer possible to ignore it because it is no longer ‘hidden.’
What advice would you give young men who sense a call be preachers?
Find a seminary that still believes and teaches the doctrine of six-day creation as stated in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.
Why did you write your recent book on “A Study of Biblical Eschatology?”
I am thankful to God for the OPC, and for other reformed efforts such as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the United Reformed Churches (URC), but at the same time I am troubled. I’m troubled because of the lack of a clear testimony in two of the foundation doctrines of the Bible. We do not clearly, unitedly and boldly proclaim the doctrine of creation as stated in our Catechism and Confessions. And it is similar with the doctrine of the future. Let me say just a word on each of these.
Sometimes actions speak louder than words. When a church allows several views of creation designed to accommodate evolution, that very fact denies clarity. It says to the members of the church “we don’t really know what happened, or how long it took for there to be a creation.” If we really and truly wanted to have nothing to do with evolution, we would return to the wisdom of our fathers as written in the Shorter Catechism: “The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good.”
That is a brief summation of what God himself tells us in the first chapters of Genesis. Some today say we have to accommodate evolution or we will lose all credibility. I believe the loss of credibility belongs to those who disagree with the plain teaching of Scripture. And I believe the consensus of Bible believers down through the ages, on this doctrine, are far more credible than some of our seminary scholars.
I also believe that God has spoken clearly — and, in a sense simply — about the future. That is why I wrote my rather short book on the subject of eschatology. For years I tried to get this material published but the publishers always said ‘No!’ I think one of the reasons for this was an assumption that this is such an involved and intricate subject, that a brief book must therefore be worthless. My view is the very opposite. The bigger and more involved and intricate the book is — on this subject — the more the seeds of confusion. So I wrote this book over many years to help God’s little (but believing) people to see what he says so clearly and simply.
Thank you Rev. Williamson for sharing these thoughts with us.
Larry E. Ball is a Honorably Retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.