This page will be devoted to the beliefs and theology of Francis Haydn Williams whose views changed radically over the lengthy period of his lifetime, a time of great social, economic and intellectual upheaval. The content of this page will,hopefully, grow over time as we persuade different people to contribute material and critique William’s views on Christianity and Christian liturgies. To offer some notion of the intellectual and religious ferment FHW lived through I append this time line of 19th century apologetics.
I append below a copy of the “discourse”, not sermon, which was “preached” at Flowergate Old Chapel, Whitby. This “preached discourse” is in response to a request for opinions on the aspects of Nature as related to the theory of a Beneficient Creator, and the doctrine of Incarnation
The discourse was preached in November 1902 when Haydn Williams was 66 years old.
Haydn Williams begins, as as many preachers did and still do, with a selected quotation from the Bible in this case The Old Testament, The book of Psalms, verses 1-
Haydn Williams in the pulpit of Flowergate Old Chapel, photographer unknown.
This is the greatest utterance in the Bible. The Writer has courageously faced the solemn problem of man’s origin, and his relation with the Power of which he was one of the multitudinous products, in common with inferior orders of Nature. He came to the only possible solution of a competent and an honest mind – that the problem is insoluble.
No greater blessing, of a negative character, can come to a man. It lifts him out of the quagmire of so-
How much greater and truer is this man's conception the Power than that of Jesus, who taught men to pray, "Our father who art in heaven -
Making allowances for the crudeness of the metaphors in this psalm, we have in it an anticipation of the latest conclusions of religious and scientific agnosticism:-
It is clear that the anthropomorphism of the Psalm is metaphorical, and far removed from the crudeness which characterises so many of the utterances of Jesus and Paul. "Thou layest thy hand upon me" is clearly a mere metaphor of the closest and warmest contact. Lovers know what it means.
How is it that, in the face of the vast results of modern research into the physical world, the teaching of the Nazarene prophet about our “Father in Heaven" still holds such sway?
It is the pathetic need for consolation that demands the reiteration of the exploded belief. Man, in his misery here, and in his hope of a better life beyond the grave, clings with tenacity to belief in heaven quite detached from the scene of his wretchedness and failure. That heaven, so fondly believed in, he thinks is presided over by a Father -
“The way of Providence is a little rude. The habit of snake and spider, the snap of the tiger and other leapers and bloody jumpers, the crackle of the bones of his prey in the coils of the anaconda these are in the system and our habits are like theirs. You have just dined, and, however scrupulously the slaughter-
Similar passages may be cited from Huxley, Winwood Reade, Stuart Mill, Tennyson, and others showing a consensus of judgement on the part of competent and honest thinkers that the presentiments of the world of nature defy the belief that the Power is love and beneficence.
Every form of existence, from the crude matter of the the crystal, the jellyfish and the reptile, up to a Jesus or a Shakespeare, is an embodiment or incarnation of God (the Power). The notion that there was anything exceptional in Jesus of Nazareth, other than his personal character qualities, is a survival of the belief in myths, such as that which fabled Minerva as springing from the brow of Jove. It matters not who the father of Jesus was. He was himself “and none but himself can be his parallel.” Other great men have had an irregular birth. The mothers of Homer and Erasmus were equally free with the men they loved. The the Power heeds not the conventional restrictions which Civilisation finds so necessary in the relation of the sexes, and sometimes produces exceptional genius unconsecrated by the parental proprieties of matrimony.
The elevation of some minds, in competence and range of power, is apparently, the result of fortuitous causes. Adaptations and superiorities in nature are produced, it would seem, by the operation of laws, acting without any design or designer. The births of “illegitimate” men of genius, as all others, take place as the result of the sexual attraction and erotic desire.
If Jesus of Nazareth was specially designed, so was Nero. If the skylark was designed, so was the tapeworm. The argument from design proves too much. A conscious, omnipotent and benevolent Creator would never have made such “a piece of work as man” with the necessity of an alimentary canal and its attachments.
The writer of this 139th Psalm could not have held the personality of God. His thoughts are consistent only with a diffused and omnipresent force. And the notion of personality applied to the “Creator and upholder” of Nature, is surely unthinkable.
Personality means (or involves) limitation in space, and a definite form. These notions cannot be associated with the inscrutable power that is everywhere present, and everywhere operative in all forms of energy, whatever be the character or their moral effects.
Our only course, then, is the frank acknowledgement of our absolute ignorance. The knowledge is “too wonderful for us, it is all too high, we cannot comprehend it.” The admission of our mental inability to grasp the terms of the problem, and to work out an intelligible result, is the first step to a true emancipation from “theology.” That system of guesswork about the inscrutable has been called, with singular ineptitude, “The Queen of the Sciences”! Poor Queen, discrowned, dethroned, sitting among the ashes of the martyrs’ fires; a pale, shrivelled, unsightly thing: -
The writer of this discourse has often told his congregation to clearly understand that, when he speaks of God, he means the inscrutable Power, whose ways are “past finding out.” Paul when using
these words (Romans xi, 33) was writing in the vein of the 139th Psalm, but, with the ineptitude that so often marred his teaching, he associated even those words the license of affirmation as to the attributes and ways of God.
What, then the course to be followed by the moral man who desires to make the best of his earthly life -
Philosophy and Theology have been both “found out.” Both give merely guesses at the solution of the insoluble problems presented by Nature, Man, and the Power. The emancipated wise man will copy the example of Socrates, as thus described by G.W.Lewes: -
“Defeated in his endeavour to penetrate the mysteries of the world without, he turned his attention to the world within. For physics he substituted morals. The certitude which he failed to gain respecting the operation of nature had not shaken his conviction of the certitude of the moral truths, which his conscience irresistibly impressed upon his attention…. Moral certitude was the rock upon which his shipwrecked soul was cast. There he could repose in safety. From its heights he could survey the world, and his relations to it.” -
The Power, being thus entirely and for ever inscrutable, the injunction to “love God with all your mind and heart,” etc., is mere fancy. To love any being you must know sufficient of that being’s personal qualities to admire them and value them. It may be fearlessly said, notwithstanding all the glib use of Biblical phraseology, there is not a single human being who loves God, in any intelligible sense. The thought and the phrase originated in man's pathetic craving for a lovable, almighty being, on whom he could rest his wearied heart, in the midst of life's miseries and disappointments. It would be presumptuous to deny the existence of such a being; it would be still more presumptuous to affirm it as a conviction of the intellect.
“The Power,” in Matthew Arnold's belief, “makes for righteousness.” In other words, the more nobly we live the more do we co-
Yes, Death may be the gate of a nobler life.
We will live in the hope it, while doing all life's duties and charities for their own sakes, and without a thought of Heaven as a reward.
“The primal duties shine aloft like stars;
The charities that soothe, and heal, and bless.”
1 O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139 Verses 1-
J.S. Bach’s setting of Psalm 136
Wikipaedia’s take on Psalm 136
For more on Emerson click
TED illustrated talk.
More on the fascinating Winwood Reade
More on Matthew Arnold
For more on Noel Paton’s picture, “ Mors janua Vitae.”
Clearly FHW considered himself an expert on Christian Sects. He promises the sermons will be “sympathetic.”
A crisp diagrammatic overview of the importance of religion in the Victorian period
All you need to know about sermons in the Victorian period
The growth in the publication of sermons
Internet searches suggest that Lewes was a man of divers respected opinions,he thought Kean a great actor.for instance.
However,I was unable to find a biography.
Paul, Romans 11:33 King James Version.
33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!