Yale Leader Timothy Dwight Died in Harness

Dan Graves, MSL

Yale Leader Timothy Dwight Died in Harness

Once when young Timothy Dwight did not show up for dinner, his parents went looking for him, fearing tragedy. They found him under an apple tree, surrounded by Indians. Four-year-old Timothy was instructing the American natives in the catechism. The boy, grandson of colonial preacher, revival leader and educator Jonathan Edwards, would himself become a preacher, an educator and revival leader.

When Timothy died on this date, January 11, 1817, it was at New Haven, Connecticut. He had been there as President of Yale College for more than twenty years. When Dwight became President in l795, students and faculty had drifted far from the Christian faith upon which the college was founded. One Yale student, Lyman Beecher, reported that the college was in a most ungodly state. The college church was neglected; the students were wild and skeptical.

Timothy fired all of the faculty members who favored the anti-Christian ideas of French rationalism. Subsequently, about one third of the student body were converted to Christianity. What was the secret of his amazing influence? For one thing, he answered skeptical ideas head on. His first debate class asked for permission to argue the question "Are the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament the word of God?" This was against college rules, but Timothy assigned the topic anyhow. Every student chose to argue that the Bible was not God's word. With a devastating array of fact and logic, Timothy shredded their arguments. He preached on the subject for six months in the chapel (he also served as college chaplain), and lectured on "Evidences of Divine Revelation."

Apologetics was but one of Timothy's lecture series. He also taught ethics, literature, logic, metaphysics, oratory, and theology. He did all this despite ill health and crippling migraine headaches. As if that were not enough work for a sick man, he wrote articles and poems, some of which exposed the errors of French rationalism. In addition, he wrote hymns, including "I Love Thy Kingdom Lord."

I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.

Under Timothy, Yale caught the spirit of the Second Great Awakening. One tutor, writing how campus life had changed, said "Yale College is a little temple. Prayer and praise seem to be the delight of the greater part of the students..."

Today we see skepticism and moral error taught in our colleges. If Yale President Timothy Dwight were living, he would likely insist that faculty members, administrators, and students must make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and His commandments. Then higher education would again mold honesty and character in the students who are tomorrow's business and government leaders; and once again there might be a Great Awakening in America.


  1. Based on an earlier Christian History Institute story.
  2. Bumsted, J. M. "Dwight, Timothy." Encyclopedia of American Biography, edited by John A. Garraty. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.
  3. Fox, Stephen. "Timothy Dwight." A Symposium on Spiritual Leaders. http://dylee.keel.econ.ship.edu/ubf/leaders/dwight.htm
  4. Vaughn, Zack. "Timothy Dwight." http://www.flash.net/~gaylon/tdwight.htm
  5. Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.

Last updated June, 2007

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