Arthur, William
1819-1901; e.m. 1838

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WM preacher, missionary and author, he was born on 3 February 1819 at Glendun, and grew up at Kells, Co. Antrim and Newport, Co. Mayo. Despite his Anglican background, he offered for the WM ministry and was trained at the Hoxton Theological Institute. He served at Gubbi in Mysore, India from 1839 (described in his first book, A Mission to the Mysore, 1847) until eye trouble forced him to return in 1841. After a period of convalescence, he remained in London, involved in advocating missions, then served in Boulogne and Paris, 1846-1849. In 1851 he was appointed a WMMS Secretary. Despite continuing ill-health, which included problems with his speech, he maintained a very active ministry and this enabled him to influence national and international thinking within Methodism and beyond. He was a supporter of temperance (through the United Kingdom Alliance) and Sabbatarianism and an opponent of slavery and Roman Catholicism, opposing Gladstone's Home Rule Bill of 1886. He was closely associated with the development of the YMCA, the Evangelical Alliance and the first World Methodist Conferences. He was appointed to the Legal Hundred in 1856 and was President of the WM Conference in 1866. From 1868 to 1871 he was President of Methodist College, Belfast. His other interests included philosophy, spirituality, Roman Catholicism and politics and he was a gifted linguist.

The most influential book in his considerable literary output was The Tongue of Fire (1856) on the role and importance of the Holy Spirit. It ran to 18 editions in three years and was translated into many languages. It has been suggested that Arthur's views on revival and renewal, expounded in person during a visit to America in 1855 and in the pages of his book, contributed to the gathering pace of revival in America at that time. He retired to Cannes in 1888 where he died on 9 March 1901.


'He was a man of rich and varied culture, and his evangelical devotion well matched his culture. He might well be desacribed as one of the makers of modern Methodism… As an apologist he wielded a forceful and a philosophical pen. And his pasion for evangelism, at home and abroad, has been a far-shining benediction.'

Dinsdale T. Young, Stars of Retrospect (1920) p.80

  • Methodist Recorder, 14 March 1901
  • T.Bowman Stephenson, William Arthur: a brief biography (1907)
  • N.W. Taggart, The Irish in World Methodism 1760-1900 (1986)
  • N.W. Taggart, William Arthur, First among Methodists (1993)
  • John N. Brittain, 'William Arthur's The Tongue of Fire: pre-Pentecostal or proto social gospel?', in Methodist History, 40:4, July 2002, pp.246-54
  • Oxford DNB