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William Henry Houghton
William Henry Houghton, fourth president of the Moody Bible Institute was born on 28 June 1887, in South Boston to John William Houghton and Carrie Maude Grant of Nova Scotia. In 1901 Houghton was converted at the age of fourteen in an evangelistic meeting in Lynn, Massachusetts. His interest in dramatics and theatre initially led him to spend two years with the Keith Vaudeville Circuit as an actor. However, at a 1909 revival service in Brooklyn, New York, he came under the conviction that he was leading a disobedient life. He surrendered himself absolutely to the will of God. This decision turned him away from his theatrical career, and he quickly enrolled in the Pentecostal Collegiate Institute (now known as Eastern Nazarene College) in North Scituate, Rhode Island. His commitment to serving Christ changed the whole course of his life.
After less than a year at Nazarene College, Mr. Houghton joined Mr. Reuben Torrey as a song leader. His relationship to Mr. Torrey greatly deepened Mr. Houghton's devotion to God's Word, a characteristic that he retained and evidenced throughout his ministry. Mr. Houghton, although noted for his pastoral and leadership accomplishments, was also a songwriter and poet. His booklet, Rhymes from a City Tower, contains seventeen poems that are dedicated to the people that he loved and served in four cities - Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Boston.
Mr. Houghton married Adelaide Franks in June 1914. Unfortunately, Mrs. Houghton fell suddenly ill and died in 1916, leaving Mr. Houghton a widower and the father of two children, Adelaide Maude and Everett Arthur. However, on 14 December 1918, Mr. Houghton married Elizabeth Andrews and a year later, on 8 December 1919, Firman Andrews Houghton was born to the couple.
Mr. Houghton was called to his first pastorate at the First Baptist Church of Canton, Pennsylvania in 1915. This church also ordained him. He stayed there until the fall of 1917 when he resigned to begin an evangelistic work in New York and Pennsylvania. This brought him to New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in the spring of 1918 where he led a month-long series of meetings at the local Baptist Church. The congregation was so impressed by Mr. Houghton's abilities that they extended a call to him. He accepted; and stayed in New Bethlehem for slightly more than two years before moving on to his next pastorate, the First Baptist Church of Norristown, Pennsylvania in the fall of 1920.
Ministry in Norristown flourished under his leadership. The same can be said of his next pastorate at First Baptist Tabernacle of Atlanta, one of the great evangelical churches of the South. During his four-year tenure in Atlanta (1925 - 8), the church there added two thousand people to its rolls. From 1930 - 4 he served as the pastor of the well-known Calvary Baptist Church in New York City. This church was a focal point for youth activities during his pastorate. It also served as the headquarters of the New York Youth Christian Center.
Mr. Houghton was a man full of ideas and energy. In addition to his pastoral responsibilities in Canton, New Bethlehem, Norristown, and Atlanta; he could be found speaking at Bible conferences, establishing Bible institutes, and even leading an evangelistic campaign in Ireland. His innovativeness and ambition are also evidenced through his establishment in 1932 of the New York Summer School of Theology. This school provided pastors of small churches with three weeks of quality theological instruction from eminent scholars and professors from around the country.
Mr. Houghton received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity Award from Wheaton College in 1931 and Bob Jones University awarded him a Doctor of Law Degree in 1942. Early in 1934, Dr. Houghton's career began again to take a different course. Dr. James Gray, then president of the Moody Bible Institute, held a Moody Bible Institute conference at the Calvary Baptist Church where Dr. Houghton was serving as pastor. During this conference, Dr. Gray heard Dr. Houghton preach and proclaimed of him, "There is the man to follow me at the Institute." Therefore, on 16 August 1934, the Institute's Board of Trustees extended an official offer to Dr. Houghton to be the Institute's next president. He accepted; and with the announcement of his acceptance, it was said that he was the only man in the nation who was qualified for the task.
Succeeding Dr. Gray on 1 November 1934, Dr. Houghton became the fourth president of the Institute. This was a position well suited for Dr. Houghton. First, he was a man who proclaimed and upheld the authority of Scripture. Second, he was a man who believed that soul winning was the real business of the church. Biographer Dr. Wilbur Smith wrote, "Two primary passions possessed the soul of Will H. Houghton, from the beginning of his ministry to the end…evangelism, and the study of the word of God." He brought to the Institute a strong commitment to the Word of God at a time when Neo-Orthodoxy and other liberal trends challenged fundamental doctrines.
President Houghton quickly acted to strengthen the faculty of the Institute. This contributed to it becoming one of the foremost Bible schools in North America. Enrollment swelled 70% during his first eleven years as president and circulation of Moody Monthly more than doubled to 75,000. The late 1930's was a time of significant events for MBI and Dr. Houghton. He directed the great D. L. Moody Centenary Celebration that was held in cities across America and Great Britain on 5 February 1937. He oversaw the construction of the twelve-story Administrative Building at 820 North LaSalle Street. This building was dedicated on 4 February 1939 (it was named Crowell Hall on 5 February 1945).
Dr. Houghton was also interested in expanding MBI into new ventures to promote the Gospel. One such venture was the "Let's Go Back to the Bible" chain radio broadcast. Through this ministry, each Sunday afternoon for twenty weeks in the fall of 1938, Dr. Houghton gave a thirty-minute message that stirred one third of America's radio listeners. In addition, he was responsible for encouraging Irwin A. Moon to join the Institute Extension Staff in 1938. This was the beginning of what would become the Moody Institute of Science and its famous "Sermons from Science" demonstrations. Other ventures included the formation of Moody Press through the merger of the Bible Institute Colportage Association and Moody Bible Institute. Also, radio station WMBI began broadcasting full day schedules on its own frequency. Dr. Houghton's 12-year presidency of MBI was relatively short, but its effects have been fruitful.
Dr. Houghton suffered a severe heart attack on 4 June 1946 and on 14 June 1947 entered the presence of the Lord. The funeral service for Dr. Houghton was held at Moody Memorial Church on 20 June 1947 and he was laid to rest in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 1950, Moody Bible Institute named the new nine-story women's dormitory Houghton Hall in his honor, a building that remains to this day.
Leuschner, Martin. "Meet the President." Baptist Standard, 1 July 1935, pp. 195 - 7.
Smith, Wilbur M. "The Man Who Built on the Bible." Moody Monthly, June 1948, pp. 715 - 6, 730, 768 - 9.
Smith, Wilbur M. Will H. Houghton: A Watchman on the Wall. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951
Stewart, Ralph. "Will H. Houghton: An Appreciation, Voicing the Feelings of the Members of the Baptist Tabernacle." Tabernacle Tidings, 16 December 1928, pp. 1 - 2.
Wertheim, E. L. "Dr. Houghton to Become President of Moody." Western Recorder 108, no. 38, 20 September 1934, p. 4.
Whitesell, Faris D. "Will H. Houghton, the Polished Personal Worker." The Sunday School Times, 7 August 1954, pp. 643 - 4.
The Major Writings of Dr. William H. Houghton
- Houghton, William H. Back to the Bible: Let's Go Back to the Bible. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., c1940.
- Houghton, William H. The Living Christ and Other Gospel Messages. Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, c1936.
- Houghton, William H. Problems of Youth: How Shall I Live, Think, Love? New York: Calvary Baptist Church, 19--.
- Houghton, William H. Rhymes from a City Tower. Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, c1940.
- Houghton, William H. Star and Sceptre. Chicago: Bible Institute Colportage Association, c1935.
- Houghton, William H. and Charles T. Cook. Tell Me about Moody. Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, c1937.
Houghton's Life Timeline
1887, June 28
Born in South Boston to John William Houghton and Carrie Maude Grant Houghton.
Converted in an evangelistic meeting in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Experienced God's conviction on his life, committed himself to serve Christ, and enrolled in the Pentecostal Collegiate Institute (now called Eastern Nazarene College).
Married Adelaide Franks who in time gave birth to two children.
1915 - 7
Served as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Canton, Pennsylvania.
Adelaide became ill and died.
Began evangelistic campaign in Pennsylvania and New York.
1918 - 20
Served as pastor of First Baptist Church in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
1918, December 14
Married Elizabeth Andrews.
1919, December 8
Birth of son Firman Andrews Houghton.
1920 - 3
Served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Conducted evangelistic campaigns in Europe.
1925 - 8
Served as pastor of First Baptist Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia.
1930 - 4
Served as pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York City.
1930, September 30
The sixteen-story Hotel Salisbury that housed the church was dedicated.
Inaugurated the New York Summer School of Theology.
Received an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Wheaton College.
MBI conference held at Calvary Baptist Church during his pastorate.
1934, August 16
Received the official offer to become MBI's president.
1934, November 1
Became the fourth president of the Moody Bible Institute.
1937, February 5
Directed the Moody Centenary celebration in cities across America.
Initiated Moody Institute of Science.
1939, February 4
The twelve-story MBI Administrative Building was dedicated.
Awarded the Doctorate of Law Degree by Bob Jones University.
1945, February 5
Administrative Building renamed as Crowell Hall.
1946, June 4
Suffered severe heart attack.
1947, June 13
Passed away at the age of 59.
1947, June 20
Funeral service held at Moody Memorial Church, buried in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
New dormitory named Houghton Hall in his honor.