[excerpted from Christianity Today [original series], December 1930, pages 8 - 9]
"A Wise Masterbuilder,"
by the Rev. H.H. McQuilkin, D.D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Orange, NJ
"Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia has sustained an irreparable loss in the death of this great scholar, inspiring teacher, stalwart defender of the faith. He was master of more than 30 languages and always carried on his investigations in the original tongues--a thing that scholars like even Prof. Driver of Oxford could not do.
"For fifty years he had ferretted out every fact that has any bearing on the Old Testament Scriptures. Toilfully, open-mindedly, eagerly he ransacked the treasures of knowledge. The results of his search brought assurance that the Christian has a sure foundation for his faith in the Sacred Word.
"He taught first in the Western Theological Seminary at Pittsburgh, where the writer was one of his 'boys,' as he always called his former students. Then for thirty years he shed the light of his brilliant attainments on Princeton Theological Seminary. When the control of Princeton was shifted, he, knowing intimately all the inside workings of the matter, was constrained by his conscience and convictions, and at great sacrifice materially, to withdraw and take the lead in founding Westminster. His family testify that his year in the new institution was the happiest of his life. Here as a wise masterbuilder, he laid the foundation of a theological school that is destined to strengthen and enrich the entire Protestant body with its positive, emphatic, triumphant testimony to the faith of the Reformers.
"His name will forever remain entwined with Westminster's. From her portals he went home to God. The splendor of his fame and faith will linger with the faculty and students of Westminster like some superb sunset against the sky, and will surely raise up men and women of faith throughout the Church to aid in maintaining and expanding the work he loved so well."
by the Rev. L. Craig Long, pastor of the Benedict Memorial Presbyterian Church, New Haven, CT.
"Many hearts have been filled with sorrow during the past week because God has called Home one of His faithful servants. Those who shall miss him are those who have loved him, and who have looked to him for more than fifty years, as one who has been able to build up intelligent faith in those who studied in his classes, in the accuracy and infallibility of the Old Testament.
"Dr. Wilson began his theological study more than fifty years ago, and has held professorships in three Seminaries: Western, Princeton, and finally Westminster. As a student, he realized the great need for a type of Biblical scholarship which would be objective and thorough in dealing with facts that could be known only by exhaustive research over the whole range of the ancient languages related to the Bible. He faced the need, and answered the call. In his preparation, he mastered some twenty-six languages; to these he added many others in his later study. Babylonian, Ethiopic, Phoenician, all the Aramaic dialects, and Egyptian, Coptic, Persian, and Armenian, Arabic, Syriac and Hebrew, were just some of those which he learned in order that he might read for his own study the original manuscripts, versions and copies, from which our translations have come.
"When asked, on one occasion by Mr. Philip E. Howard, Publisher of the Sunday School Times,--'Professor, what do you try to do for your students?' He instantly replied, 'I try to give them such an intelligent faith in the Old Testament Scriptures that they will never doubt them as long as they live. I try to give them evidence. I try to show them that there is a reasonable ground for belief in the history of the Old Testament. Whenever there is sufficient documentary evidence to make an investigation, the statements of the Bible, in the original texts, have stood the test.'
"The writer of this brief tribute is but one of thousands of Ministers who owes much to Dr. Wilson for the part that he had in the establishment of his faith in the Bible. One of his greatest contributions was made, when after Princeton Seminary had been reorganized by the General Assembly, he became an inspiration and a leader, with Dr. Machen and Dr. Allis, in the establishment of Westminster Theological Seminary.
"The Hymn printed on the front-page of this Bulletin ('When I survey the wondrous Cross'), is one which holds great meaning for many who have known and loved him. It was sung on two occasions as a favorite. The one time was on the first commencement day of the New Seminary, when thirteen young men were receiving their diplomas. It was after Dr. Wilson, a veteran soldier of the cross, had given final charge to these, his last students, that the hymn was sung. In closing he said, 'Fight the good fight of faith'. . . . 'Until we meet at Jesus feet'. . . . A summer past, the second year of the Seminary opened, Dr. Wilson met one class, and then 'went Home.' Not much wonder that many who attended his final service in Westminster on Tuesday, October fourteenth, had a new meaning placed upon the old hymn 'When I survey the wondrous Cross,' when it was again sung that day by the Seminary quartet. Only a man like Dr. Wilson could so perfectly prove by example that the words of this hymn were the feelings of his heart. A few of us who knew him intimately, and who received new Christian courage at each hand-clasp, shall miss his living faith, as we thank God that He spared him for such a long life of service for Presbyterianism. Let us pray that his students and followers may follow in his footsteps of faith, singing, with sincere meaning the words--'When I survey the wondrous Cross.' "
[a leaflet published by Westminster Theological Seminary]
On Saturday, October 11, 1930, the Rev. Robert Dick Wilson, Ph.D., D.D., LL.D., Professor of Semitic Philology and Old Testament Criticism in Westminster Theological Seminary, entered into his heavenly reward.
Dr. Wilson was a notable scholar. Where others were content to take the results of philological investigation at second hand, he had recourse to the sources. His linguistic attainments were broad and deep. He was at home not only in Hebrew and Aramaic, and of course in Latin, Greek and modern languages, but also in Babylonian, Arabic, Syriac, and other tongues. His knowledge of the Old Testament was profound.
He devoted all of this vast learning to the defence of the Holy Scripture. He believed with all his mind and heart that the Bible is true, and he supported his belief with a wealth of scientific material which even his opponents could not neglect. Only a short time before his death he was engaged in an answer to a notable monograph, published at Oxford, which had recently devoted itself to a consideration of his views.
His was greatly beloved as a teacher and as a friend. With the simplicity of a true scholar, he was always ready to cast reserve aside and receive his students into his heart. He called them his "boys", and they responded with affection as well as with respect.
But great as were Dr. Wilson's achievements throughout a long and fruitful life, his greatest achievement was his last. It was the achievement by which, putting selfish considerations and unworthy compromise of principle aside, he left his home at Princeton and entered the Faculty of a new institution devoted unreservedly to the Word of God.
Many arguments might have been adduced to lead Dr. Wilson to remain at Princeton Seminary after the reorganization of that institution in 1929. He was at that time in his seventy-fourth year. An honorable and advantageous retirement awaited him whenever he desired. He had a good salary and a comfortable home. He had the friends that he had made at Princeton during a residence there of nearly thirty years. Might he not retain these advantages without being unfaithful to the cause to which he had devoted his life? Would not the new Board of Princeton Seminary keep in the background, for a time at least, the real character of the revolution that had been wrought? Would not the doctrinal change be gradual only, as at so many other institutions, formerly evangelical, which have conformed to the drift of the times? Could he not, meanwhile, serve God by teaching the truth in his own class-room, no matter what the rest of the institution did? Could he not round out his life in peace? Could he not leave to younger men the battle for the Faith?
Those considerations and many like them were no doubt presented to Dr. Wilson in very persuasive form. But he would have none of them. His Christian conscience, trained by a lifetime of devotion to God's Word, cut through such arguments with the keenness of a Damascus blade. He penetrated to the real essence of the question. He saw that for him to remain at Princeton would be to commend as trustworthy what he knew to be untrustworthy, that it would be to lead Christ's little ones astray. He knew that a man cannot have God's richest blessing, even in teaching the truth, when the opportunity to teach the truth is gained by compromise of principle. He saw clearly that it was not a time for him to think of his own ease or comfort, but to bear testimony to the Saviour who had bought him with His own precious blood.
He did bear that testimony. He left his home at Princeton, and all the emoluments and honors that awaited him there. He cast in his lot with a new institution that had not a dollar of endowment and was dependent for the support of its professors upon nothing but faith in God.
Dr. Wilson was supremely happy in that decision. He never regretted it for a moment. He entered joyfully into the life of the new seminary, and God richly blessed him there. Then, having rounded out more than the allotted period of three-score years and ten, a Christian soldier without tarnish of compromise upon his shield, he entered into the joy of his Lord.
His example is a precious possession for those whom he has left behind. He is, indeed, no longer with us in bodily presence. His great learning is with us only in his writings and in the knowledge of the Bible that he imparted to his host of students throughout the world. But the power of his example will not be lost. Westminster Seminary, by God's grace, will ever be true to the Lord Jesus, as this beloved teacher was true. Trustees, Faculty and students will be moved always to sacrifice themselves for an institution to which Dr. Wilson gave so much.
His example will touch also the hearts of those throughout the Church who love the gospel that he loved, and who know that that gospel cannot well be preached unless there be a school of the prophets to train men to preach it in all its purity and all its power. The Seminary that was so dear to Dr. Wilson's heart, and in whose founding he had so large a share, will not, we think, be allowed to call now in vain; but gifts will pour in from those who, like Dr. Wilson, have hearts full of gratitude to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.