I first met G. I. Williamson in the Logos Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I think it was 1976 or 1977. The store was in an old house just a short walk south of Harvard Square, on the street leading to the Lars Anderson Bridge. Things change. The bridge is now the Anderson Memorial Bridge. The street is now John F. Kennedy Street;[1] I cannot recall what it was named then. And the store is not visible on Google maps; it’s probably long gone.

G. I. was not present in the flesh but in spirit. I was among a small minority of evangelical students at Harvard, and I was moving towards an even smaller minority by becoming a Calvinist. At least one person at the store was sympathetic to Calvinism, and he recommended G. I. Williamson’s The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes. Published in 1964 by the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, it was a paperback volume with a plain blue cover. I have since obtained a copy of the second edition, published in 2004. P&R at least had the decency to provide it with a glossy cover sporting an architect’s rendering of Westminster Abbey.[2]

But the old plain-blue-covered edition had a delicious sense of subversiveness about it. It was so obviously not a slick production of a major publishing house. The type resembled the output of a typewriter. If only it were mimeographed and collected as loose pages in a plain Manilla envelope, the impression would have been complete that this was a publication the authorities would gladly have suppressed.

G. I. made a powerful impression on me. He engaged theological questions like Valiant for Truth in The Pilgrim’s Progress. He could roar like a lion at great powers like the Roman Catholic Church. For example, he puts Rome and the Jehovah’s Witnesses together in their insistence that authoritative interpreters—themselves—are needed to understand the Bible: “Rome and the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect agree in their basic attitude toward the Word of God. The psalmist said, ‘Your word is a lamp . . . and a light’ (Ps. 119:105). But Rome and other false religions call that light ‘darkness.’”[3]

G. I. not only grounded me in the doctrines of the Reformed Faith. He also contributed to my growing desire to unite with a church that held to the Westminster Standards. This eventually led to my joining the RPCNA congregation in Cambridge. When I graduated, married, and moved to Morgantown, West Virginia, my wife Betsy and I joined the OPC mission work there, which is now Reformation OPC.

At the time, I did not know much of G. I.’s life story. The bare outline is told on his Wikipedia page[4] and on his own webpage.[5] He was born on May 19, 1925. A member of the “greatest generation,” he served in the Army in World War II. I never heard him speak about his military service, but I did hear him speak about his love for playing his clarinet or saxophone. It was the “big band” era, and he particularly enjoyed playing together with others in the saxophone or clarinet section. He was converted at age 21, went to Hope College and Drake University, and attended Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, from which he received a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1952.

My life was eventually to intersect with G. I.’s, but I have come close to his path at both the beginning of my life and now as I draw near to its end. I have been living in western Pennsylvania for over 33 years, not far from where G. I. went to seminary, and not far from where he first began to minister as a seminary student. G. I. wrote the following account of his encounter with Miss Margaret I. Duff at the United Presbyterian Church in New Bedford, Pennsylvania:

I was serving as a student pastor there and have a vivid memory of Margaret who was then attending the New Bedford UP Church because she was there to help care for an aging aunt and uncle. I was then in the last year and a half of my time as a student of theology at the Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. I attended classes and stayed at the seminary from Tuesday through Friday, and then taught a youth club on Saturday, preaching twice on Sunday. By that time in my study I was struggling with the effects of a lack of unity in doctrine among the professors there. I’m sure this must have been evident to Margaret, because she bluntly asked me one day if I would mind if she gave me written criticism of my preaching. Somehow God enabled me to say “Sure, I’d appreciate it.” And she began to do this. She evidently felt that I might have a promising future with some better influences. I also remember that she gave me a few books by Machen and other Westminster Seminary men. Those proved to be life-changing, along with the discovery of a proof-text edition of the original Doctrinal Standards of the UPCNA (the Westminster Confession, Catechisms and Testimony of 1858). I did challenge her to become a member of the New Bedford UPCNA, because I soon came to the conviction that the UPCNA was in need of doctrinal recovery, and I felt that her considerable influence would be enhanced further if she were also a member. Not long after these positive developments in the direction of my life, I was ordained at the Westminster United Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa where my parents (who both came from a UPCNA beginning in Pawnee City, NE), were members. And soon after that I received a call from the UPCNA in Fall River, Mass.[6]

Margaret Duff played a similar role in G. I.’s life to that of Pietje Balthus in the life of Abraham Kuyper.[7] Each woman was unmarried, and each was well schooled in the Reformed faith. Their living faith impressed and influenced the men who for a time pastored them. The fruit of their faithfulness was greatly multiplied in the lives of the men for whom they played the role of Priscilla to Apollos.

I have felt a kinship to G. I. because of his brief pastorate in Fall River, Massachusetts. It was there that he developed the lessons that became The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes. Fall River is about twenty miles from my boyhood home in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. I was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, around the time when he was pastoring in Fall River.

While I was settling down in Morgantown, West Virginia, in the early ‘80s, G. I. was ministering in a congregation of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand in Silverstream, NZ, his second pastorate in New Zealand, with a pastorate at an RPCNA congregation in the States sandwiched between. He would return to the USA for good in 1984 to become pastor of Bethel OPC in Carson, North Dakota, where he would serve until his retirement in 1993. He always spoke highly of the RCNZ (the “Z” must be pronounced “Zed” in the British style). He believed that the RCNZ had solved the problem of Reformed and Presbyterian ecumenicity by adopting the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism as their doctrinal standards, thus showing in ecclesiastical practice that the same faith was taught in the Presbyterian standards and the continental Reformed standards.

In due time I was ordained as an elder at Reformation OPC in 1985. I met G. I. in the flesh at the 1989 General Assembly at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA. Sort of. At the opening worship service in the Old Main Chapel, I saw someone who looked like he might be G. I. I do not know why I thought so, because I do not think I had ever seen a picture of him. This was the era before internet usage became widespread. There was no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and even email was relatively new. At any rate, I must have whispered to someone, “Is that G. I. Williamson?” and was informed that it was so. I did not realize at the time how much I had idolized him. I do not recall now whether I approached him to introduce myself. Probably not—he was too high above my station.

At that Assembly there was a bit of a shake-up in the membership of the Committee on Christian Education. I was nominated to the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training by Charlie Dennison, at that time the historian of the OPC and a well-respected minister. Charlie had gotten to know me because he served on the session of Grace OPC, Sewickley, Pennsylvania, which was the overseeing session of the mission work that became Reformation OPC. I attribute my election to the SMT to the reputation of Charlie Dennison.

At any rate, being elected to the SMT put me in close contact with G. I. Williamson. Very close contact. At my first meeting of the SMT in October 1989, five or six presbyters were crammed into a small meeting room at the old denominational office building at 7401 Old York Road, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. My sitting in that small room with G. I. and the other brothers seemed to be an example of the Peter Principle: I had risen to the level of my incompetence. Whether for good or ill, I did not give up but entered into the business as well as I could, still in awe of G. I.

The only person I ever heard address him by any name other than G. I. was Tom Tyson, then the General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education, who occasionally addressed him as “Jerry.” Tom used to tell a story about going to one of his professors at Westminster Seminary when he was nearing graduation. He was feeling unsure of his ability to expound the Word to God’s people. The professor attempted to bolster his confidence by saying something like, “You know much more about the Bible than they do.” Tom was less than encouraged.

Tom had gotten to know G. I. when they were both pastors in the RCNZ. As I recall, G. I.’s church did not have an evening service (at least for a time), and G. I. lived near enough to come to Tom’s church and listen to him preach. He gave Tom actual feedback about his preaching. The critique was often painful, but Tom, a humble man, received it and made changes. He said that G. I. had taught him how to preach.

By the time I began serving on the SMT, G. I. was already fired up about helping elders and ministers to serve God more faithfully. He admired the Canadian Reformed Churches for publishing a periodical for their officers, Diakonia. It had just begun publication a year or two earlier, and G. I. was chagrined that the OPC had not yet seen fit to do something similar. G. I., elder David Winslow, and I ended up on a subcommittee to consider producing periodic study materials for elders and ministers. This subcommittee eventually recommended that the CCE should publish a periodical, the name of which, Ordained Servant, G. I. himself had chosen.

Diakonia was the template for Ordained Servant, both in layout and content. G. I. was most concerned to encourage elders to visit the members of the congregation, a well-established practice in the Dutch Reformed churches. He was the natural choice for editor, a post which he filled with distinction from 1992 to 2005.

During these years my sons were growing up, and in due time they were introduced to G. I.’s exposition of the Shorter Catechism, a book (originally in two volumes) that has aided many children—and adults—to grasp the essentials of the Reformed faith. There they encountered Shorty, the stick figure who illustrates a number of points of doctrine. I learned that Shorty had been drawn by Tom Tyson, but I am sure that G. I. was responsible for conceptualizing what Shorty would do.

In the mid-90s some presbyters in the OPC were wondering whether it was time for the OPC to establish a denominational seminary. As I recall, the Rev. Jack Peterson brought that question to the CCE as a newly elected member of the committee. Jack, G. I., and I were appointed to a subcommittee to consider whether a denominational seminary or some other means of assisting with the training of ministers would be feasible and effective.

We realized that to grapple with the issues involved would require a face-to-face meeting, and it was still the pre-Zoom era. Because Jack and G. I. were retired, and their schedules were more flexible, they offered to come to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, where I was by that time employed at Geneva College. During their visit, Betsy and I entertained G. I. and Jack for dinner; it was the only time that either man was a guest in my house. I felt like we were entertaining royalty.

We met in their room in the Lark Motel, as I recall. We had set the meeting to begin in mid-morning, and when I arrived, Jack and G. I. said that they had decided to pass the time before the meeting by taking a stroll around the Geneva campus. While there, they had run into the Rev. Robert Johnson,[8] a minister of another Reformed denomination, who naturally had asked them why they were in town. I asked, “What did you say to him?” I cannot remember whether it was G. I. or Jack who replied, “You never tell Robert anything,” but it was the sentiment of both of them.

The three of us concluded that establishing a denominational seminary would require a substantial initial expenditure as well as a permanent increase in the World Wide Outreach budget. So we recommended establishing an educational program that would offer specific courses at the seminary level to supplement seminary instruction, particularly in areas that we thought existing seminaries were not covering well. This became the Ministerial Training Institute of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Among the courses that we knew must be offered was a course on the Westminster Confession of Faith. And the SMT could think of no better instructor than G. I. Williamson. Beginning well into his retirement, he offered the course for about fifteen years and was always in demand.

I learned from G. I., Jack, and other fathers in the faith that the church should not be ruled by committees. We should do our committee work with a consciousness of serving the church. We should recognize that sessions, presbyteries, synods, and assemblies are the divinely ordained means of governing the church, and committees owe their existence to these judicatories. One outworking of this view was bringing major new initiatives to the General Assembly for approval. The 1999 GA approved the establishment of Ministerial Training Institute of the OPC.

In the months leading up to that Assembly, my session and I had been going through a particularly trying time that took a personal toll on me. Even now, I do not think it is appropriate to go into any of the details, except to say that G. I. became aware of the situation. When I met him at the Assembly, he embraced me and spoke some simple words of encouragement. It was an unexpected blessing, a light in a dark time.

G. I. was always a plain-spoken man in committee meetings. He could be counted on to speak up if someone suggested doing something that was not strictly above board. He was also conscious of the people he served in Carson, North Dakota, even as he was making decisions affecting denominational ministries. One year he objected to a proposed increase in expenditures—I think it was for staff salaries—because his flock in North Dakota, who were funding those expenditures through their contributions to World Wide Outreach, were having a tough year and were not getting raises.

It is not that G. I. was always all business. At one meeting, it had been planned that the committee would go out to dinner at Williamson’s Restaurant, which was a modest but formal restaurant in the vicinity of the denominational offices. At the time, Paul MacDonald, an elder from Maine, had been serving for many years as the secretary of the committee. There had been some mix-up about the reservations, and someone made a quip about the possibility that we would have to go somewhere other than G. I.’s restaurant. G. I. said, “That’s ok, as long as we don’t go to Paul’s restaurant.”

I lost regular contact with G. I. after he retired from the CCE in the mid-2000’s, except that I still heard reports of his work editing Ordained Servant and teaching for MTIOPC. In his retirement he had moved to Sheldon, Iowa, where he assisted in the establishment of a United Reformed church. I saw him twice more while attending GAs in 2015 and 2021 at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, less than twenty miles as the crow flies from Sheldon. He had come over to visit the Assembly. The last time I saw him, he was physically feeble and was assisted by the Rev. Archie Allison, his protégé. Yet he was still mentally sharp and solicitous about the state of the church.

G. I. entered into the presence of his Savior on April 12, 2023, a month short of his ninety-eighth birthday. His funeral was held on April 18, thirty years to the day after his final sermon at Bethel OPC.[9] Mr. Chris Campbell, who had profited from G. I.’s ministry there, composed a poem from the words of one of his sermons. It is a fitting epitaph:

“The Coming of the Son of Man”
based on a sermon on Matthew 24:27
by G. I. Williamson

The sun goes down, it gets dark,
And there’s not a cloud in the sky. 
Then, at eleven or twelve or one o'clock,
The sky fills with light.

Seconds later you hear
The clap of thunder
Because sound doesn't travel
At the speed light does.

There’s no warning, no sign:
Just a sudden flash
Over the plain from east to west,
And the sky is brighter
Than you’ve ever seen it,
Brighter than it ever was.[10]


[1] Google maps, accessed October 30, 2023.

[2] The Londonist, “Will Westminster Abbey Ever Get Its Spire?” https://londonist.com/london/history/will-westminster-abbey-ever-get-its-spire, accessed October 30, 2023.

[3] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, 2nd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 25. G. I. was not exaggerating; he had just quoted from The Watchtower, the principal periodical of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in which it was stated that one who studies the Bible alone, without Jehovah’s Witnesses study guides, “goes into darkness.”

[4] G. I. Williamson, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._I._Williamson, accessed November 2, 2023.

[5] https://web.archive.org/web/20180928121741/http://www.nethtc.net/~giwopc/My_Web_Site/Home_Page.html, accessed November 2, 2023.

[6] G. I. Williamson, email to Mrs. Margaret (Peggy) Graham Duff, wife of the Rev. Donald J. Duff, nephew of the Margaret Duff mentioned by G. I. I have silently corrected several typos and grammatical lapses in G. I.’s text. A shorter selection from the same text appears in Margaret Graham Duff, “Margaret I. Duff: A Life of Sacrifice and Prayer,” in Choosing the Good Portion: Women of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, eds. Patricia E. Clawson and Diane L. Olinger (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2016), 139–46.

[7] Abraham Kuyper, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Kuyper, accessed November 3, 2023.

[8] I have changed the name to preserve a reputation and an ecumenical relationship.

[9] Chris Campbell, personal communication, May 10, 2023.

[10] Chris Campbell, personal communication, May 10, 2023.

James S. Gidley is a ruling elder in Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, Pennsylvania. He serves as a professor at Geneva College, where he is chairman of the engineering department. He is also a member of the Committee on Christian Education and the Subcommittee on Ministerial Training. Ordained Servant Online, December, 2023.

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Ordained Servant: December 2023

Remembering G. I. Williamson

Also in this issue

Elf on the Shelf or Christ on the Cross?

G. I. Williamson’s Farewell Sermon

The Case for the Majority Greek New Testament Text

The Case for the Eclectic Greek New Testament Text

Theological Daylighting: Retrieving J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism

The Voice of the Good Shepherd: Trumpeter of God: Fulfill Your Office,[1] Chapter 9

Letters to a Younger Ruling Elder, No. 10: Be a Presbyter

Neo-Calvinism: A Theological Introduction by Cory C. Brock and N. Gray Sutanto

An Ode of the Birth of Our Saviour

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