By Cecil Willis
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 later was 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 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 1951 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 re-wrote, 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. Bro. 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 Bro. 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, Bro. 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.
Bro. 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 2 years ago Bro. 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.
Bro. 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, Bro 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.
Bro. Otey liked to read biography. But he wanted nothing written about himself that was biographical in nature while he lived. I prevailed upon Bro. 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 is 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 man, keep up the fight!” May God help us as we do so.
Truth Magazine VI: 4, pp. 6-8