President Francis Wayland was born in New York City, March 11, 1796. His parents (who were natives of England) were characterized by great integrity, industry, robust sense, earnest moral convictions, and an almost passionate love of civil and religious liberty. The father, Francis Wayland, Sr., at the age of thirty-five, gave up the business of a currier and devoted himself to the gospel ministry, laboring as pastor of the Baptist churches in Poughkeepsie,
Troy, Albany, and Saratoga Springs.
The son, while showing no marks of precocity, was manly, faithful, and industrious. The schools of that day seem to have been nearly worthless. The memory alone was exercised, and the only motive employed was fear of punishment. Of one of his early schools he wrote, late in life, "The only pleasure I have in remembering this school is derived from the belief that boys of the present day are not exposed to such miserable instruction." He adds, "Perhaps my experience was not altogether lost; it has at least served to impress me with the importance of doing everything in my power to bring whatever I attempted to teach within the understanding of the learner." When he was eleven years old he came under the instruction of Mr. Daniel H. Barnes, and for the first time he found himself in the presence of a real teacher.
At the age of seventeen he graduated at Union College, then under the presidency of Dr. Nott, and at once began the study of medicine, which he completed three years later. During the last year of his medical studies he became a Christian and united with the Baptist Church. Feeling that he was called to the ministry, he entered, in the fall of 1816, the Andover Theological Seminary. Here he was chiefly under the instruction of Prof. Moses Stuart, for whom he always cherished a grateful and reverent affection. At the end of a year he left the seminary to become a tutor in Union College. It is probable that nothing could have been a better preparation for the life which Providence had assigned him than this position. The four years which he spent in teaching the various college studies and in learning sermon-making from the wise and eloquent Dr. Nott, he always regarded as of inestimable value.
In 1821 he was called to be the pastor of the First Baptist church in Boston. Here, notwithstanding the drawbacks of a weak church and an unattractive delivery, he became recognized as a man of great moral force, of almost unerring sagacity, of progressive spirit, as a master of thought and expression, and a leader in action. His sermon on "The Moral Dignity of the Missionary Enterprise," in 1823, and that on "The Duties of an American Citizen," in 1825, were but the expression of powers matured by silent study.
In 1826 he accepted a professorship in Union College, though he did not intend permanently to leave the pastorate. A few months later he was called to the presidency of Brown University, and in February, 1827, he entered upon what was to be the great work of his life.
The college was at a very low ebb in funds, in discipline and scholarship, in library, apparatus, and in all of the appliances of education. The new president entered on his work with a high ideal and with a resolute determination to make the college the best possible. The lecture-room became a place of eager inquiry and discussion. He aimed not alone to explain and establish his views of the truth, but above all to lead his pupils to exercise their own powers. An eminent graduate once said, "Six words that he said to the class were worth more to me than all the words I ever heard beside, -- Young gentlemen, cherish your own conceptions."
The late Hon. B. F. Thomas, LL. D., one of the judges of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, expressed the sentiment of many pupils when he said, in 1855, "A quarter of a century has passed since I left these walls with your blessing. I have seen something of men and of the world since. I esteem it to-day the happiest event of my life that brought me here, the best gift of an ever-kind Providence to me that I was permitted for three years to sit at the feet of your instruction." Feeling dissatisfied with the old text-books, he prepared lectures on all the subjects which he taught. It became remarked at the bar and in the pulpit that a graduate of Brown University might be known by his closeness of reasoning and his power of analysis. The enthusiasm created within the college spread through the community, and led to the enlargement of all the means of instruction.
But the impression deepened in the mind of the president that the college was fulfilling but a part of its mission. It was giving a disproportionate amount of attention to the classics and to mathematics; it was confining its blessings almost exclusively to candidates for the professions; it was ignoring the progress of human thought and knowledge and the demands of the productive professions, as well as the boundless diversity of character and aim on the part of students. These views, slowly maturing, led to a reorganization of the university in 1850. Place was given to the more modern studies, larger liberty of election was allowed, and the wants of the industrial and productive classes were especially regarded. The results within the university attested the wisdom of the changes, and the progress made in college education in America during the past thirty years has all been along the path in which he led the way. During all these years the moral and religious good of the students was the object of his untiring solicitude. He preached in the chapel weekly sermons prepared expressly for the students. He often attended the students' prayer meetings; he counseled and prayed with them in private; he especially welcomed and nourished every revival influence. Not a few of his pupils, rescued from worldliness and unbelief, were led to lives of high devotion and benevolence.
In 1855, after more than twenty-eight years of untiring labor in the presidency, he resigned, feeling imperatively the need of rest, and unwilling to hold a position of which he was not in the fullest sense discharging the duties. A year later, under the most profound sense of duty, he served as pastor of the First Baptist church in Providence, and continued for a year and a half labors which were more taxing to him than his labors in the presidency had been.
The remainder of his life was devoted to such religious and humane labor as his strength permitted. He bestowed much time and care upon the inmates of the State Prison and the Reform School. His only recreation was the care of his garden. Preserving the clearness of his mind, and his sympathy for his fellowmen, he continued until Sept. 30, 1865, when he died from an attack of paralysis.
His labors in authorship were abundant; he published eighteen volumes, among which were the "Moral Science," "Political Economy," "Intellectual Philosophy," two volumes of sermons, "Life of Judson," "Domestic Slavery considered as a Scriptural Institution," etc. He also published about fifty sermons, addresses, etc. The "Moral Science" has had a circulation of 150,000, and has been reprinted in England and Scotland, and translated into Armenian, Modern Greek, Hawaiian, and Nestorian.
As a preacher, he was in his earlier years somewhat elaborate, highly wrought, and rhetorical. With the advance of time, his style became exceedingly simple and direct, sacrificing everything to clearness, pungency, and force. His conception for the moment of religious realities was intense beyond expression. His most marked intellectual characteristics were his love of truth and his clearness of conception and expression. His love of liberty for himself and for others was broad and eager. His hopes for human advancement were unresting. his own words, once uttered in private conversation, "I go for the human race," expressed the spirit of his life. The trait which towered above all else was his profound and unwavering devotion to duty. In the just and striking words of his pupil and successor, President E. G. Robinson, "To him, ought and ought not were the most potent words that could be spoken."
He held intelligently, firmly, and conscientiously the doctrines of evangelical Christianity and the distinguishing principles of the Baptist denomination. But he rejoiced to labor, wherever it was possible, with his brethren of other Christian bodies, in promotion of the interests of religion and humanity. Dr. Wayland was one of the greatest men to whom our country has given birth.
He was twice married; his second wife survived him seven years. Three sons survived him, one of whom has since died. A memoir of his "Life and Labors" (2 vols.) was prepared by his sons, Francis and H. L. Wayland. _______________
[William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881, rpt. 1988, pp. 1221-1223. — Scanned by Jim Duvall.]
A Letter from Francis Wayland to W. R. Sprague on Revivals in Religion - 1832.
A Bio of Francis Wayland by James O. Murray, 1891 - (Google Books).
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