Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 21, 1961
NUMBER 33, PAGE 1,12-13a

"William Wesley Otey --- March 14, 1867 - November I, 1961"

Cecil Willis, Akron, Ohio

In Genesis 25:8, these words are penned, chronicling the death of Abraham: "And Abraham .... died in a good old age, an old man, ind full of years, and was gathered to his people." These words very well express the passing of another great man, W. W. Otey, of Winfield, Kansas. It is probable that the next few months, yea even the coming years, will witness many words being penned about this stalwart soldier in the Lord's army.

His Early Life

William Wesley Otey was born March 14, 1867, in Pulaski County, Virginia, the sixth in a family of seven sons and three daughters, His parents were J. W. and Sarah A. Otey. W. W. Otey (as he was known during all his public life) was born shortly after the great conflict between the states. In his early childhood, he heard many stories of blood and battle yet so fresh on the minds of those thousands who fought in that great struggle. His father was a hard working man, being what we would call a tenant farmer. He supplemented his earnings by carpentering, as did brother W. W. Otey.

J. W. Otey moved almost every year. Thus W. W. Otey and his brothers and sisters had little opportunity for education. In fact, brother Otey's formal schooling lasted only about four or five months. Yet his life has made a tremendous impact upon the lives of thousands of members of the Lord's church through his preaching, and more especially, through his writings in religious periodicals, books and tracts.

There were few books in J. W. Otey's home. W. W. Otey could only remember a few spelling books, two readers, two arithmetic and the Bible. No newspapers came into this home. So the Bible was about the only thing there was to read. As we think about it, this might not be such a tragedy! Gradually, brother Otey learned to read. At fourteen years of age he read the Bible through. This brother Otey regarded as the greatest and most important event of his life. I think I remember brother Otey telling me that he learned to write his own name after he was married. Yet one cannot call brother Otey an uneducated man. He, like so many other great preachers of this and past generations who had little or no formal education, was certainly an educated man.

Brother Otey's parents obeyed the gospel in the 1850's. But in their moving about, they seldom had the opportunity to hear gospel preaching. Otey said he only heard three or four sermons by gospel preachers before he was married. When he was about twenty, W. W. Otey sent word to J. T. Showalter, the father of G. H. P. Showalter, that he wanted to obey the gospel. Brother Showalter came and baptized him. Otey and a few others began meeting in a school house, and from the beginning, the chief work of teaching and making public talks devolved on him.

His Marriage

One of the most beautiful things about brother Otey's life was his tremendous devotion to his wife of more than seventy years. In his later years, brother Otey liked to tell of the first time he saw Minnie Showalter. He wrote of this first time he met her: "I turned in the direction of the girl, who was perhaps 8 or 10 feet distant. Our eyes met and held a brief moment as if by magic. If I were an artist I could paint that girl as true as if I had a living person beside me." One year after this first meeting they were married. Brother Otey probably made many mistakes in big life, as we all do, but he made no mistake when he married Minnie Showalter. Brother Otey wrote me a few months ago that Minnie Showalter was the only girl "I ever even walked with." And as he told of those touching scenes, he added, "Even now I am trying to type these lines through blinding tears of which I am unashamed."

Eight children were born to brother and sister Otey, of whom seven yet live. The Otey's in 1955 had a nice celebration observing seventy years of married life. The Governor of Kansas wrote them a letter of congratulation. But on July 23, 1956, sister Otey died. The last four years of brother Otey's life were exceedingly lonely years. But he did not complain. He only longed to be absent in the flesh, and present with the Lord.

His Preaching

Brother Otey proclaimed the gospel by word and pen for over seventy years. He was never what some might call a "professional" preacher. In fact, very few of his seventy years of preaching were spent in what we would call full-time work. Most of the time he supported himself with his own hands. He had a sturdy constitution. Much of the time he farmed during the day and preached at night — and that at his own charge. When over seventy years of age, brother Otey ceased "full time preaching," having spent about ten years in Oklahoma and Texas in full time work. He came back to Kansas and bought a farm. He and sister Otey saved a little money, most of which they earned with their own hands after they were eighty years of age, They bought a modest home and moved into Winfield, Kansas, in September, 1953. Here they lived their last days in as much comfort as this modern age can provide. Yet they lived a very simple life.

The greatest single work that brother Otey ever did for the cause of Christ was to attempt to stop digression. Of course, once digression has set in or the seeds of digression have been sown, no man can prevent the harvest. But brother Otey did a wonderful job of defending the truth against innovationists. After lengthy negotiation involving more than a year of writing letters, brother Otey forced J. B. Briney to debate him in Louisville in 1908 on the instruments of music and missionary societies. Briney was at this time the outstanding debater among the liberals in the church. Brother Otey was not too well known at this time. He was yet relatively young, only 41 years old. Briney was a seasoned debater. Otey was a beginner. This debate marked one of the first times any reputable man in the Christian Church attempted to uphold his innovations in public debate. Briney probably agreed to meet Otey in Louisville because he thought it would be impossible for brother Otey to get endorsement in Louisville. But the necessary endorsement was secured and finally the debate was conducted. Immediately it was printed, and has since been a classic on the subject. It was reprinted in 1955 by the Gospel Guardian, Brother Otey never held many debates — only four or five. But the Otey-Briney Debate will cause his name long to be remembered by conservative brethren.

His Writings

About seventy years ago, brother Otey began to write for religious journals. For over twenty years of this time he wrote for The American Christian Review or the Octographic Review as it was later called. However, he did not agree with everything the Review advocated, and said so through the columns of that paper. Later he wrote for the Christian Leader, Gospel Advocate, Bible Banner, Fellowship News, Christian Worker and wrote many articles for the Firm Foundation during the many years his cousin, G. H. P. Showalter was editor. He wrote for the Gospel Guardian from its first issue till his death. During, these many years, brother Otey wrote perhaps seven hundred articles.

This man with four months of formal education was the author of nine books, seven of which have been already published and well received. In 1908 the Otey-Briney debate was published. In 1910 a Book of Sermons was printed. The 2,000 copy sermon book edition was depleted in a few months. In 1930 he wrote Creation or Evolution. This was enlarged and reprinted in 1938 under the heading, The Origin and Destiny of Man. A later edition of this book was printed by the Firm Foundation.

In 1961 he published Living Issues in which he made a severe attack against "sponsoring churches," and church supported Bible colleges. In 1953 he published Christ or Modernism. Then in 1955, while attending his very sick wife, he wrote a very warm and touching "family book," entitled, The Tree of Life Lost and Regained. Two other manuscripts were completed and likely will sometime be offered to the public. He rewrote, enlarged and revised Living Issues, calling the new work, Living Issues II. This book is needed now! We hope it can be made available ere long. His 1910 book of sermons with several recently written sermons, also will be reprinted whenever possible. All of brother Otey's books now in print are handled exclusively by the Gospel Guardian.

He long was recognized as a good writer. Brother Otey possessed the ability few writers possess — he was able to state in a few, clear and concise words the big issues of his time. He very seldom was misunderstood. His language was simple, but his sentences were pithy. He took pride in the fact that he had never, to his knowledge, been quoted on two sides of the same issue. I think this consistency existed because of an unusual characteristic brother Otey had. He always stated his position on any controversial point in almost the identical words that he used the first time he spoke on that subject.

In his writings, brother Otey always shunned the speculative. He was always very reluctant to state his opinion on uncertain questions. He generally would say, "the writer or speaker does not venture an opinion on this point," or words to that effect.

His Death

Brother Otey's death came on Wednesday morning, November 1, 1961, at 11 o'clock. He had journeyed on this terrestrial ball for 94 years, 7 months and 18 days. It was refreshing to be around an old man who realized that he was an old man. In his later years, he spoke publicly only a few times. He refused to speak more because of his many years. His last public discourse was delivered shortly after his 90th birthday.

About two years ago, brother Otey suffered a light stroke. Afterward he fell twice. He was admitted to the Newton Memorial Hospital in Winfield, Kansas, where he was confined more than a year. While in the hospital he underwent a very serious operation. He felt that the end was nigh. Among some of his last articles was one on "Death" and one on "Heaven." It was consoling to see a man so calm and reposed as he prepared to enter death's doorway. He wanted to die — not because of despondency, but because he was a tired old man and because almost everything he loved and held dear was now on the other side. When one visited him, he could almost pray that God might see fit to grant this aged man his wish, and receive him home.

Shortly before his death, he wrote me: "Now I will state the one thing only with which I am satisfied in my past life: I never taught, practiced, encouraged, or tolerated anything that was not plainly set forth in the Word of God. This fact gives me more satisfaction, I am sure, than would much money." He requested only that he might not be an invalid and a burden upon others for many years. During his last days he was an ideal patient. He was rational up to the day before his death. Then his tired old body would function no more. So his spirit returned to God who gave it.

His Significance

Brother Otey was a very significant man in his generation. He was in the forefront of two valiant efforts to thwart digressive elements. He remembered the beginning of the split over the instrument and the missionary institutions. Then he lived long enough to be forced to witness the inception of division over the same kinds of institutions again. In both of these divisions, brother Otey never hesitated to speak the truth, and to point out error. He said, "If it is not right in his sight to advocate and defend the church as He gave it, then I cannot even imagine what would be right."

It is my opinion that history will assign to W. W. Otey a much more significant role than his contemporaries have given him. The influence of David Lipscomb and others far overshadowed the work of W. W. Otey in staying the hand of apostasy a generation ago. But no man in this age has been more consistently opposed to institutionalism and her threats than W. W. Otey. Perhaps some have been more directly in the line of fire. But Otey spanned two generations. He could speak from experience. To him many listened who would not have listened to one younger and less experienced.

Within a few years, the books of W. W. Otey will be rare and many will be seeking them. His warnings given many years ago will continue to ring in the ears of those of us who will tread this vale of tears for a few more years, as we see the progress and evolution of digression divide our ranks.

Brother Otey liked to read biography. But he wanted nothing written about himself that was biographical in nature while he lived. I prevailed upon brother Otey to write down a few salient facts of life. This he did, and gave this autobiographic material to me. In giving me the material he stated: "I stipulate that none of it shall be published while I am living unless by my consent" With this wish we have complied.

He recently wrote, "I anxiously await the good pleasure of the Father to call me to cease to labor and enter into rest. What would life be without this hope?" God has now granted the request of this battle-weary soldier. He is no more! But though he be dead, yet he shall speak through his writings, his preaching, his influence on our lives, and his works. Surely his works do follow him. He will be missed, but he fought long, hard and well. I know what advice he would give. He would say, "Young men, keep up the fight!" May God help us as we do so.