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Welsh outlook


Vol. 14, No. 8 Aug. 1927

David Williams, 1877-1927 : An appreciation.

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the author meant, whether he agreed with him
or not. His work as a commentator is charact-
erized bv scrupulous fairness and an entire free-
dom from idiosyncracies, and herein again David
Williams himself is revealed in his work.
Every important view is stated honestly, the
difficulties are never slurred over and the exposi-
tor leaves us in no doubt at all concerning his
own opinion. He is free from idiosyncracies in
the sense that he keeps to the main issues, refus-
ing to spend his energies fighting mere shadows
or expatiating on largely irrelevant minutiae.
And constantly he warns his readers against the
dangers of pressing either language or logic too
far in interpreting the great passages of scrip-
ture. He had a keen eye for what was funda-
mental and independence, fairness and strength
stand out as the characteristics of his work as a
He took little part in denominational or
academic politics. In that respect he was quite
unlike his friend Dr. Thomas Rees, another of
our recent and profound losses. David Williams
was a little impatient with the routine and drudg-
ery of committee work and all his spare time and
energy were given to preaching. For every
dozen who have read his books there are hundreds
who will treasure the memory of his vigorous
and inspiring preaching. Here again the secret
lay in his grip of the essential content of the
gospel and in the intensity and honesty with
which his whole personality expressed itself in
his message. It was best to hear him in the
ordinary Sunday services rather than in the great
preaching festivals of his country. More than
once he expressed to the writer his fears concern-
ing the kind of ministrv which he had perforce
to exercise, viz., that of an Itinerant preacher
who came one day and mavbe created a real
impression but was not there to follow it up
afterwards. No one had a greater horror of
the merely emotional appeal or a more burning
scorn for anything like tricks of oratory in the
In preaching again, he knew what was of
first rate importance and what was not: and all
sermons of his which one can now recall dealt
with matters that were really central for faith
and life. Though the cast of his mind was
philosophical and theological, he had no use for
a theology which could not be preached and
much less for one which had no bearing at all
upon life. It is this that makes his two
Pauline commentaries so valuable and alive.
David Williams was himself in full accord with
the great principles of freedom and spiritual
autonomy for which St. Paul fought so strenu-
ously in the first century, nor were they to him
so much dead theological lumber but living prin-
ciples to be appi;ed to life to-day One remem-
bers how in a recent Church Assembly he
attacked the proposal to enforce total abstinence
on elders by a mere rule-it was not for nothing
that David Williams had read his Galatians-or
how last year at the Liverpool Whitsuntide meet-
ings he refused to regard Christian salvation as
a series of negations and abstentions rather than
a positive enriching and enlarging of life in every
After St. Paul the Johannine writings in the
New Testament had attracted him and this, too,
was intelligible enough to those who knew David
Williams. To intellectual vigour and a passion-
ate insistence on the practical expression of
religion in life he added something of the
mystic's sense of the inward and sacramental
character of life. Early last year the present
writer spent a night under his hospitable roof
and his host then declared that he was going to
read the poets much more thoroughly than he
had previously done, because he added "they are
the people who see most deeply into the real
meaning of life." His Davies' Lecture (1920)
on "The Spiritual Gospel" was the fruit of his
study of the Tohannine writings, but it has not
been published. And among the reasons, which
deterred him from publishing, was one that
reveals his intellectual honesty his mind was
still uncertain about some critical problems con-
cerning -the Fourth Gospel and so the lecture has
not been printed.
His last and undoubtedly his greatest written
work is his article on "Jesus Christ" in the new
Welsh Dictionary of the Bible (1925). The
value of that immense undertaking will be judged
by half a dozen of its most important articles and
among these that of David Williams will hold a
pre-eminent place if only in virtue of its subject.
He was himself a trifle disappointed that so little
attention, even of a critical or hostile nature, had
been paid to it when it first appeared and that
the journals of his own Church only referred to
it in that off-hand appreciative manner, which
showed that it had not been read at all. It
would be an excellent way of honouring his
memory if that article could be published separ-
ately in book form as was done with Dr. San-
day's contribution on the same great theme in
Hastings's "Dictionary of the Bible" some years
ago. This last literary product of his pen
shows how admirably qualified David Williams
was to interpret Jesus Christ to the mind of his
age. Though fullv aware of the fact that
Biblical Criticism had made dogmatism no longer
possible on some points, he cordially welcomed
all the hVht it had thrown on the background
of Christ's life and ministry. Criticism had for
him no terrors, for the truth is unassailable
and the supremacv of Jesus was not for a
moment in doubt for David Williams.
It is unnecessary to dwell at length upon those
qualities of character which caused him to be so
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