Wilson, Alpheus Waters


February 5, 1834 - November 21, 1916
Alpheus Waters Wilson was born to the Rev. Norval Wilson and Cornelia L. How-land in the City of Baltimore, Maryland, February 5, 1834. He was educated at Columbia (now George Washington) University, and entered the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1853. Four years he served as junior preacher and two more as pastor of circuits. He served an apprenticeship, from which he graduated a master indeed.
In 1857 he married Miss Susan B. Lipscomb, his life companion and helpmeet, who preceded him but a few years in the church triumphant.
From 1859 to 1870 Mr. Wilson was a supernumerary member of the Conference, ill health causing him to take this relation. During part of the time he practiced law, demonstrating that the highest success was within his reach in this noble profession; but as soon as possible he returned to the pastoral ministry, where his heart had always been.
The history of the Baltimore Conference following the period of the Civil War is that of heroic adherence to principle at the cost of all things. No truer or more complete sacrifice of self was made by the Scottish ministers who formed the Free Church in the days of Chalmers, McCosh and Guthrie. They left their churches, parsonages and salaries for conscience sake, and in 1866 a majority of tire Conference declared its adherence to the cause of the Southern Methodist Church and was received as an or-ganization. Dr. Wilson’s leadership in these trying times was both wise and courageous.
In 1870-’73, Dr. Wilson was presiding elder of the Washington District, in 1873-‘77. pastor of Mount Vernon Place Church, Washington City; and from March, 1877, to May, 1878, be was pastor of Calvary Church, Baltimore.
In 1878 he became Secretary of the Board of Missions, then impoverished and
ill-organized. He spared not himself in the huge undertaking of creating a missionary conscience throughout the Church. He stirred the Annual Conferences by his mighty eloquence and initiated the advance movement that has gone on with increasing force and volume to this day.
In 1882 he was elected Bishop. From the retirement of Bishop Keener in 1898 to his death in 1906 he was Acting Senior Bishop.
As a Bishop Dr. Wilson attained his greatest effectiveness. His greatness as a preacher would have lacked its appropriate field within the limitations of a pastoral charge. He had not the talents of a Beecher or a Spurgeon; his appeal was not of the popular kind, nor was his range in preaching so wide as that of great pastors. Intensity, sublimity, prophetic insight, fervor of spirit, command of Biblical material, perfect diction, a voice of marvelous richness and reach, combined to make of him a very great preacher, especially to preachers. Bishop Hoss declares that he was the greatest preacher he has ever heard. The late Bishop Tigert, if under appointment to preach at a subsequent service the same day, would avoid hearing him because of the emotional reaction that he thought unfitted him for preaching. His parting message to the General Conference contains the following self-interpretation: “Through it all (that is, his ministry of sixty years) I have tried, first of all, to maintain the character of a Methodist preacher, than which there is none higher on earth. I have sought to preach the gospel, only the gospel: I have act cared for side issues that have been raised. I have paid little attention to opposition of the world. I have implicit faith in the power of the truth when it makes its appeal to he consciences of men in the sight of God, and I have drawn my lessons and my inspirations from the word of God and from that only.”
Bishop Wilson was a great administrator as well as a wonderful preacher. He seemed without effort to understand every situation. He was the readiest of men. Nothing disturbed his poise or provoked him to hasty utterance. He journeyed around the world thrice, visiting the missions of his own church and other churches. Thrice again did he visit the Orient to se how his brethren did there in every city. Once he visited South America; and several times, whether as Missionary Secretary or Bishop, he visited Mexico.
He did not succeed well as a writer. Composition was laborious to him and the mechanical use of the pen irked him. He read extensively and was well informed on many subjects, especially theological; but his contribution to the thought of the world was through his sermons. His printed lectures are not easy reading. His mind was saturated with the Scriptures, which he read daily in the original tongues. He habitually spent long periods each day in prayer. He was never in haste, never pausing in his work. lie might well have characterized his own life in the words of the psalmist (Psalms, XVI:8)

‘I have set the Lord always before me,
Because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved.”
He died November 21, 1916. His hope had long been in Christ and he was more ready to go to be with him than ever he had been to set out on one of his long journeys. His facial expression had acquired a singular spiritual beauty and his features often lit up with a serene smile that proved the inner purity and rest of his soul. He must have known that he was regarded as a great man, but his thoughts were always so centered in the greatness of God and the pre-eminence of Christ that self entered not into his mind. He walked with God; he thought of little save God; he is now with God.

Source: Journal Louisiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1916, pages 59-60, by. F. S. P.

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