Master Workmen

By Richard R. Blews

Chapter 6


"'Come with your shield, or on it,' thus would say
The Spartan mothers when into the fray
They sent their sons to dare, to do, or die;
And from maternal lips was wrung no cry
If on those shields their sons at last were borne,
With pale, still faces, for why should they mourn
A. son who yet as worthy hero came
Upon his shield? Without it were his shame!

"Dear noble heart I Bravely you've kept the shield
Of Christian faith on earth's great battlefield!
And now, spent, pale, and silent, you are borne
Home from the conflict. But why should we mourn?
For no defeat is yours, nor yours the shame
Of faithless sons who back from battle came
Without their shields. Bail, conqueror! As you come
Upon your shield to your eternal home."


A train speeding along the Connecticut River valley in the midnight hour suddenly leaves the tracks, hurtles down a steep embankment into the river, a terrible train wreck follows, and many souls are hurled into eternity. That was no ordinary train wreck. The far-reaching providences of God are working -- the mills of the gods are grinding. A young man is clinging to the window of a coach which is half submerged in the rushing waters of the river. That young man is running away from God. The Lord wants him to yield to Him, He wants to harness his energies. He has great plans for him. As he hangs with his life trembling in the balance, in the blackness of the night, he makes a solemn vow, "O God, if you will spare my life, I will surrender myself to Thee and take Thy way." That young man was Walter A. Sellew.

Walter Ashbel Sellew was born at Gowanda, New York, on February 27, 1844, the son of Ashbel and Jane Tucker Sellew. His parents were Quakers, and to the boy they bequeathed that noble heritage of Quaker integrity and tradition which has blessed the nation with so many noble sons. Coming in contact with that great spiritual awakening that swept over western New York and eventuated in the formation of Free Methodism, they were clearly converted and cast in their lot with the infant church in the days of its fiercest persecution. As a boy, Walter was doubly blessed by the solid tradition of the Quakers and the example of personal experimental religion of primitive Methodism.

After completing the course of study in the grade schools of Gowanda, he studied three years at the Fredonia Academy. In 1861 he entered Oberlin College in the days when Charles G. Finney was president. At the end of two years, when the nation was in the grip of the Civil War, he left Oberlin, being too young to join the army. All but three of the members of his class went to war, and the college, like many institutions of learning in those dark days, was practically closed for lack of students.

After attending a business college in Buffalo for a year, he entered Dartmouth College at Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1864 as a junior. At Dartmouth he made a fine record in his studies and was elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa for superior scholarship. Though of only medium size, he was fast on his feet and was a great ball player, being captain of the team. When Bishop Sellew made a gesture with his hand in the pulpit, the writer, having been a ball player, always noticed the first joint of the index finger on one hand which was bent stiff as the result of being hard hit by a baseball. He received his A.B. degree from Dartmouth in 1866, and his Master's degree in 1869.

Although reared in a thoroughly Christian home, he was not converted until his senior year. The account of his conversion is furnished by Mrs. Rebecca Sellew:

So thoroughly indifferent was he that two years of college work in Oberlin under Finney's preaching, where people were swept like a field of wheat under the power of the Spirit, had no effect whatever on him any more than water on a duck's back. His mother, a consecrated, plain Free Methodist, cried when he left for college and he wondered why this was. What she foresaw happened, for he became worldly, joined a fraternity, and smoked cigars. Before his conversion, however, finding that he was becoming a slave to the tobacco habit, he gave up his smoking.

Six months before his graduation from Dartmouth College, returning from Christmas holidays spent in Dunkirk, the train, going along the bank of the Connecticut River about midnight, was suddenly wrecked. Lights went out and the train rolled over into the river. Aroused at that moment by the screams of trapped passengers, clinging to the back of the seat in front of him as his coach toppled over, all his past life, careless and untouched by spiritual things, came before him, a young man of twenty-two years, going into eternity without hope. He promised God right there that if he was rescued he would give his life to Him. His end of the car did not go under water and he got out through a window without a scratch.

When the danger was over, he begged the Lord "to let him off" his promise to Him until after his graduation; but conviction increased, and after a long struggle one night, lying awake until three o'clock, he got out of bed and prayed through to victory. On the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation we visited his suite of rooms in the college hall where he had found Christ.

A friend, a scoffer, whom he dreaded to meet, said soon after this, "Well, Sellew, I hear you have got religion." "Yes," was the reply, with details as to what had led up to it. Instead of ridiculing, the friend made the unexpected remark, "I wish I had the courage to do the same."

The Free Methodist church in Dunkirk at this time was small and the members for the most part elderly. So he joined the Presbyterian church, going there on Sundays and to the prayer meetings at the Free Methodist church, where alone he found help and food for his soul. After three years of this unsatisfactory procedure, he decided to "lodge where he took his meals" as he expressed it, and he joined the Dunkirk class. He often remarked in reference to taking up his cross that he might have shrunk but he never dodged.

On the sixtieth anniversary, while going across the campus, Dr. Lord, one of his old professors, made this remark: "Bishop Sellew, something happened here which made a great impression on me. I was going by the ball diamond one evening when the church bell rang, and I heard you say 'Boys, you'll have to get some one in my place; I'm going to prayer meeting!'"

The matter was summed up at an anniversary class banquet by a fellow classmate, Mr. Lane, a banker of Lombard, Illinois. He said, "We have been busy making a living, but Sellew has been living a life."

After his graduation he returned to Gowanda where he studied law for a year. He abandoned law to enter the employ of his father in the firm of Sellew and Poppell, manufacturers of farm implements and oil well supplies.

In 1872 he was ordained as a minister and in 1873 began his ministerial career as a supply pastor on Gowanda, Collins Center, North Collins, and Leon circuit. During this first year as pastor he married Jennie Peters of Mechanicsville, New York, an estimable Christian woman, who blessed his life with a helpful companionship for twenty-two years. She passed away in 1895. In 1874 he was received as a regular clergyman by the Genesee Conference and was sent to be pastor at Tonawanda where he served one year at a salary of $278. He was then transferred to Rochester, New York.

In 1876 he accepted the call of the church to Spring Arbor, Michigan, to take charge of the Spring Arbor Seminary. After two years as principal, he was transferred to the pastorate at Dunkirk, New York, at the same time becoming a member of the firm of Sellew and Poppell and assuming an active part in the management of the firm. For a period of seven years he was pastor in Dunkirk and at the same time preached in various nearby towns.

In 1884 he established and as principal took charge of the Gerry Seminary in Gerry, New York. Feeling that his work was in the ministry rather than in the field of education, he turned all his energies to the preaching of the gospel, serving as pastor at Allegheny during 1888 and 1890; at Buffalo in 1890. He was then elected district elder, serving the Bradford District from 1891 to 1892; the Oil City District from 1893 to 1895; the Pittsburgh District from 1896 to 1897; the Bradford District again in the fall of 1897. In 1898 he was elected bishop at the General Conference in Chicago, serving eight consecutive terms until his death in 1929.

The home-going of Bishop Sellew was ideal. He did not suffer any sickness to impair the active functioning of his body; his mind was keen and alert to the last. His end always reminds the writer of the close of the long life of John Wesley who was past eighty-six years before he began to notice a weakening of his physical powers. Wesley wrote the following on his eighty-eighth birthday: "For above eighty-six years I found none of the infirmities of old age; my eyes did not wax dim, neither was my natural strength abated. But last August I found almost a sudden change. My eyes were so dim that no glasses would help me. My strength quite forsook me, and probably will not return in this world. But I feel no pain from head to foot; only it seems nature is exhausted, and humanly speaking, will sink more and more, till 'The weary springs of life stand still at last.'

In 1791 Wesley planned his usual journey through England to begin on February 28, but on February 20 he was taken with his last illness. His end was beautiful. He lingered only three days after taking his bed -- no pain, only a sense of weakness.

The Sunday before his passing Bishop Sellew dedicated the new church in Toronto, Canada. He gave an address to the Sunday school of unusual appeal, and preached twice with much vigor and help of the Lord. On Monday he returned to Jamestown with his plans completed and tickets secured to go to California at the end of the week to hold special services during the winter. But a cold turning to congestion of the lungs suddenly stopped the beat of his heart which for eighty-five years had driven the agile human machine. Peacefully the white sail faded into the West and Walter A. Sellew was with the immortals. How ideally Wesleyan was his departure:

"My body with my charge lay down

And cease at once to work and live."

A host of friends gathered to honor his memory at the funeral service held at Jamestown, New York. Rev. M. B. Miller, of the Oil City conference, a life-long friend and associate in the administration of the general affairs of the church, preached the funeral sermon from the fitting text "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." We quote a part of the discourse giving the prominent traits of his character.

And the first that I will mention is his preeminent Christian Manliness. He was so the man of God, so truthful, so free from intrigue, so honest in his convictions, that he could scarcely understand what guile, deceit, or prevarication was in the case of others; for he was just what he seemed to be, he was just what the people took him to be; he was just what those who knew and loved him wished him to be. He was loving and lovable. It can be truthfully said of him that "gentleness had made him great." Like the Christ whose he was, and whom he followed, our brother went about doing good. Bishop Sellew was a Christian gentleman.

Then, in the second place, connected with this, was Thoughtfulness. He was preeminently a thoughtful man. He did not go through the world with eyes and ears closed, but he saw much, he heard much, he read much. He thought much about the people whom he met, of the incidents encountered. We who have heard his missionary addresses knew full well how observing and thoughtful he was. He thought much of the history of the Bible. He thought much upon the subject of religion, especially upon his personal connection therewith, and the connection of those near and dear to him therein; and he formed his conclusions concerning that upon which he thought carefully; and having done this he adhered to them with tenacity. With Bishop Sellew things were never settled until they were settled right. He wished "no guess for a dying pillow."

But notwithstanding his apparent gravity, his associations were pleasurable to him. He enjoyed the society and fellowship of friends, especially of those with whom he was intimate. He was one of the most delightful of companions to those who knew him well.

In the third place, permit me to speak of our departed bishop as a Theologian. Reared by a godly mother he early in life was thoroughly instructed in the great doctrines of the Bible. These he greatly loved, these he held most tenaciously into the end. He was well read in the Word of God, well read in the theologies of the Christian church, and what was well, he studied what he read, thought of what he read. The study of the Bible was food to his soul, he was refreshed, stimulated, quickened, elevated, and enlarged by it; and this brings us naturally to look upon him as a Preacher of the Gospel. He was a unique minister of the Word. I feel warranted in stating that upon entering his duties as a Christian minister he felt assured of this. That the great duty of a Preacher of the Gospel was twofold: To instruct and edify those already Christians, and to be the means of bringing to repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ those who were still without. This idea seemed to dominate his whole ministry. . .

Bishop Sellew dead? No! he is not dead; he only sleeps. Like these flowers which are shedding forth for us their sweet perfume in this solemn presence, his life will yield us sweet memories, holy influences, and give forth an aroma like the rose through years yet to come. Thank God for Christ; for the Christian religion; for what it can make of a man, and help him to be and to do!

Such was Walter Ashbel Sellew, such was his life, such was his work, such was his reward: "Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!" Farewell, thou Man of God, Bishop of the church, Shepherd of the flock, Brother Beloved! Thou hast attained the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense; thou hast entered within the veil! Farewell, "until the day break and the shadows flee away," when we hope by grace, to enter with thee into the joys of our Lord, when our voices will mingle together in the song of Moses and the Lamb, and with the redeemed of all ages join in the Grand Doxology of Redemption: "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father: to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."

Bishop Sellew, farewell!

Another largely attended service was held in the Free Methodist church at North Chili, New York. There he was laid to rest in the historic cemetery near his fellow "soldier of the cross," Benjamin T. Roberts; there to await the resurrection morn.

A Versatile Man of Wide Interests

Walter A. Sellew was a versatile, many-sided man whose activities embraced every interest of the church. In the words of Bishop Pearce: "All the interests of the church he served so well will greatly miss his extended and able administration. What departments of life he filled with credit! He was a devoted Christian, a gentleman of culture, a skillful financier, a ready parliamentarian, a superior citizen, a delightful host, an engaging conversationalist, a powerful preacher, a practiced administrator, a greatly beloved homemaker, a true churchman esteemed and honored."

The experience gained by Mr. Sellew as a partner and administrator in the firm of Sellew and Poppell gave him a valuable training in business which was of immense value to the church. Much of the church business naturally fell to him. As a business man he had few equals. Foresight, accuracy, precision in details, scrupulous honesty marked his long career. By his keen vision and business tact he pulled the church through many a financial strait. Many times he secured large loans for the church on his own responsibility. Rev. George W. Saunders, accountant at the publishing house for a number of years, made this statement: "Having been so closely connected with him for some years in all the financial and business interests of the church, I learned to admire his clear judgment, his sincerity of purpose, his impartiality in decision and perfect honesty in all details."

The Gerry Orphanage and Old People's Home at Gerry, New York, stand as a monument to his generosity and his humanitarianism. It is another evidence of the practical side of his religion. There was a sentiment in the Genesee Conference that an effort should be made to establish such an institution. Accordingly Mr. Sellew introduced a resolution to the conference in 1885 at Parma Center, New York, which eventuated in the present institution, so well-known in Free Methodism. In 1888 he transferred the Gerry Seminary property, which he then owned, to the trustees for the Orphanage and Home. [20] the Seminary property consisted of eight acres of land, one large two-story building with a barn and other smaller buildings. In 1898 a separate building was constructed for the aged. In 1905 a fine farm was purchased to furnish much of the living for the institutions, and from time to time generous amounts have been given as an endowment. . During the years his philanthropy to this institution of mercy was large and he was ever its guardian angel.

He was an ardent proponent of missions and for a long period of years was president of the Missionary Board. Rev. W. B. Olmstead, formerly Missionary Secretary, who was associated with him for more than thirty years on the Missionary Board, made this appraisement of his work:

"Concerning his relation to our missionary interests much might be said. First, he had a knowledge of the work which few possessed. He knew the field. Several times he had been to China and Japan and once to Africa and India, at which time he and Mrs. Sellew continued their journey around the world. In 1907, he organized the South Africa Mission Conference. He also knew the missionaries and many of the native Christians on the various fields and was familiar with their trials and difficulties. Then, he knew to a remarkable extent the problems in connection with the administration of the missionary work. Second, Bishop Sellew possessed the missionary passion. He was not only informed, he was interested. No missionary task was too great for him to undertake. The missionary interests weighed heavily upon his heart. He loved the work and made personal sacrifices to assist in carrying it on. Third, he was a source of strength and power on the Missionary Board. When confronted with trying and difficult problems we instinctively turned to him for counsel and advice and his opinion was always valuable. His influence was far-reaching. Fourth, his prayer life and devotion to God and to the church were especially outstanding in his missionary activities. His prayers were unique in their simplicity and power and will never be forgotten."

He took a personal interest in the Olive Branch Mission in Chicago. When in Chicago, he regularly visited the mission not only to give Sister Everhart, its founder, his wise counsel but to preach salvation to the unfortunate and outcast. A member of its board of directors, auditor of its accounts, sub-treasurer of its funds, during a long period of years he watched over its interests as carefully as though they were his own.

One of the impressive features of his character was the simplicity of his life. Descended from Quaker ancestry, he held to many of their ideals of simplicity and plainness in manner and personal appearance. Although always immaculately attired, something would have been lacking without his clerical vest. It fitted into the other-worldly pattern of the man. He was one of the most consecrated and practical Christians it has ever been our privilege to meet. His religion entered into everything he said or did -- his eating, his sleeping, his dress, his conversation, his business. Like his Master, his was a life of self-denial in behalf of others. He practiced daily self-abnegation. He did not follow the modern trend in living up to the limit of his means but he sought to be a benefactor to mankind by denying himself.

He had an innate aversion to all sham and show. His personal conception of stewardship was that nothing be spent for mere display. Like Bishop Roberts, he was opposed to the lavish expenditure and display which the undertaking profession has brought into vogue. Knowing his convictions, we could not but admire the fortitude of his good wife who had carried out his desire to bury him in an inexpensive casket -- not because means were not available but for the sake of a principle.

"For what are trappings after all
But camouflage and sham?
By character I stand or fall --
Not what I wear but am."

Again the writer was reminded of John Wesley who made the following provision in his will: "I give six pounds to be divided among six poor men, named by the assistant, who shall carry my body to the grave; for I particularly desire there may be no hearse, no coach, no escutcheon, no pomp, except the tears of them that loved me, and are following me to Abraham's bosom. I solemnly adjure my executors, in the name of God, punctually to observe this."

We quote following paragraphs from Rev. J. T. Logan, editor of the Free Methodist (Memorial Number, February 15, 1929):

"He was a thorough Free Methodist. He had no apology to make for the existence or work of the Free Methodist Church. He heartily believed in her doctrines and in her issues and defended both with ability when occasion demanded. We are safe in writing that no prominent man in our church was ever more grieved at any evidence of departure from the 'old landmarks,' or because of a disposition of any to violate the provisions of the Discipline, than he. He had no sympathy with compromise measures, but stood foursquare for the clear-cut, radical, burning truths of the gospel. His sermon before the last General Conference contained a faithful warning to the church, and he urged them to hold to the old line and not become worldly.

"Another commendable trait of his character was his strict observance of the sanctity of the Lord's day. He would not use the street cars or trains on Sunday even to go to church. No milkman stopped at his door on that day to deliver milk. He would not use the telephone or open his mail or send letters on that day, nor would he mail letters on Saturday that had to travel and be handled on Sunday. When a telegram arrived on Sunday, he would courteously inform the messenger boy that he would call for it himself on Monday, and he testified that in every such instance it was about something that could just as well wait as not. He did not make this a hobby and deal in terms of condemnation of those who did not see as he did in these things, but meekly, strictly, and consistently regarded the sacredness of the holy day and kept his conscience inviolate in these matters. All honor to the good bishop for his wholesome example in this respect."

In middle life he suffered a nervous breakdown, due to heavy burdens and especially on account of worry. It was the period when, in addition to his other duties, he was bearing almost lone-handed the financial strain of establishing on a stable basis the Gerry Orphanage and Home. From this experience he learned a lasting lesson -- not to worry. He who was by nature fearful and worried when ominous clouds hung overhead became one of the finest examples of implicit trust in God we have ever seen. He often prayed in this strain: "O Lord, this is Thy work. We are merely Thy servants." In his advanced years, when he was dispatching the business of the Oil City Conference (of which he was a member) with the keenness and alertness of a young man, he was asked the secret of his undiminished powers. He replied in his pointed style: "There are two reasons -- I eat abstemiously and I refuse to worry."

After the passing of his first wife in 1895, he was felicitously married to Rebecca E. Muse of Oil City, Pennsylvania, two years later. With her qualities as a home-maker and his gifts as a conversationalist, their home was a model of Christian hospitality. Deeply devoted to the cause of Christ, she became the companion of his travels, and her solicitous care for him undoubtedly lengthened the years of his service until he rounded out a cycle of fifty-five fruitful years in the ministry, the last thirty-one years as bishop.

Of all the Christian graces which adorned the character of Bishop Sellew, the one which appealed to the writer most was his humility. In my conception of his character this grace stood out preeminent above all his fine qualities and cast its mellowing influence over his whole life.

This was manifest at his last visit to the district quarterly meeting of the Oil City District, just a few weeks before his death. Naturally it was the writer's wish as district elder to have him preach Sunday morning. But he replied that he had come to his own district meeting (he was a member of the Oil City quarterly conference) to hear his district elder preach and to enjoy once more the testimonies of the pilgrims of the district on which he had formerly been elder. He even declined to consecrate the elements, saying it was the elder's duty. He then took the bread and began to pass it. The spirit of the Lord fell on the communicants and he was moved to tears. It was a beautiful sight to see him, under the anointing of the Lord, give the communion first to his devoted companion. The writer never saw the deep of Bishop Sellew's nature so broken up. That which cast a halo of glory over the whole scene was Christlike humility.

It was this element in his spiritual composition which gave such charming simplicity to his manner; which gave him an inherent distaste for show and sham; which made it a pleasure to retract from a position which he afterward saw was not well taken. Humility was not a veneer on the outside but was a component part of the inner life of Walter A. Sellew. His humility made him great. God's favored temple is the humble heart. He frequently requested his friends to call him "Brother Sellew" rather than "Bishop Sellew."

As a Writer and Preacher

He published "The Life of Clara Leffingwell," which is also a history of our missionary enterprise in China, since she organized the work in that field under the Free Methodist board. It is also a history of the Boxer Rebellion, as she lived through those eventful times and had many unusual experiences during the rebellion.

He was a strong advocate of the ordination of women. For twenty-five years there had been controversy in the church over this question. He published a pamphlet on this subject which was so favorably received that the church finally legislated to ordain women ministers.

When an octogenarian he was honored by an invitation to give an address before the Chautauqua Assembly. His speech entitled "The Obligations of Civilization to Christianity" received very favorable comment in the press. It was published in expanded form in a book. This represents Bishop Sellew at his best both in thought and style.

In his preaching he did not deal with theoretical abstractions; he was the prophet of the practical. His sermons were examples of simplicity and orderly arrangement. When you heard him speak you carried the sermon home. In his writing, as in his preaching, he was direct, pointed and pungent. He never used words for mere ornament. The following contribution illustrates this directness, characteristic both of his writing and his preaching.

Death and Resurrection

Death is an enemy. It is a penalty for sin. Its terror grips humanity as no other one event. The dread of it puts bitterness into every anticipation of life's pleasures and worldly enjoyments. It casts a shadow over the young. It darkens the doorway of married life. It brings a sad frown on the brow of the successful business man. Its rate of discount on the value of money is extremely large, and, if given any latitude whatever, becomes almost a panic to old age. Its rust mars the beauty of every condition of human existence.

In satisfying divine justice, Christ must encounter the dreaded enemy of man. He must share with sinful man this penalty. The innocent suffer with the guilty to discover salvation. The full price must be paid. Whatever effect the thought of death may have had on the life of Christ, it is not disclosed in the Bible. If the cross cast its dark shadow over His growth and manhood, that fact finds no expression from Him in word or deed. We may imagine that it was a minor cause of His habitual sadness, but the Bible does not substantiate the supposition, though it may have been true. There came a time, however, when Christ was brought face to face with this monster, and in the garden He cried out, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me." He merged His human will into the will of divinity and He died the death of the cross. Had death really conquered Him? It seemed so. His disciples said, "We trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel." The Jews thought so. They said, "He saved others, Himself He cannot save." The Roman official reported to his superior that he was dead. Of Pilate it is said, "And when he knew it he gave the body to Joseph." To all the world it appeared that death had triumphed over the Christ of God.

For three long days darkness and despair covered the world, and then came the resurrection. Christ burst the bonds of the grave and appeared before the world as its greatest Conqueror. He conquered the Roman empire, broke its official seal certifying to His death, defied its authority, put its army in contempt and openly triumphed over its world-wide power. He conquered the whole Jewish nation with its tremendous ecclesiastical authority and its historic and sacred traditions. His resurrection ended its prestige. Henceforth Judaism must acknowledge Christianity, its religion must accept salvation through Christ, or it must be lost.

His triumph over death was also the conquest of sin. Sin had reigned since Adam, but now its power to hold a soul under bondage was broken, and whosoever willed to do so could be free from the law of sin and death. Sin shall no more "reign in our mortal bodies." "Sin shall not have dominion over you." Who can estimate or conceive the value to sinful humanity of this glorious victory?

Through the death and resurrection of Christ the saints of God have attained to this heritage. They may triumph over the world, the flesh and the devil, and they may be resurrected to newness of life. For the world and the worldly minded, "the end of these things is death," but those who accept this wonderful redemption offered through Christ shall prove the absolute truth of the Scripture which states that, "Now being made free from sin and become the servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life."

The passing of Bishop Sellew marks a historical divide. He was the last in official position of those personally acquainted with the stirring events which brought forth Free Methodism. He stood as the last binding tie between the original generation of Free Methodists and the present. In this respect, his loss to the church is unique and irreparable.

His sermon the last Sunday morning of the General Conference at Rochester, New York, was a fitting farewell for the last general gathering he would ever attend. As an introductory remark he said, "I am probably attending my last General Conference." His text was "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." His central thought was that peace and joy come as a result of inward righteousness and righteous living; not from temporal things. One of his statements will never be forgotten by those who were present, "We do not have much trouble with God, because there is only one God and we live so far from Him. We have more trouble with our neighbors because there are more of them and we live nearer to them. We have still more trouble with ourselves because there is more of us and we are closer to ourselves." Feeling this was his farewell to the General Conference, like Moses, he gave his parting advice to the church -- to guard against the encroachment of worldliness, to walk humbly and to preserve the spirit of unity. May the church remember his admonition, "When we lose the glory, we are done." It was a fatherly message such as a fond father gives to his sons. It is unfortunate that the conference did not take a stenographic report of this farewell message for preservation.


We present an estimate of Bishop Sellew by his life-long friend and colleague, Bishop A. D. Zahniser.


Walter A. Sellew, though not of super-size, was blessed with a strong, properly proportioned, well-built physique, and a pleasing address, a rather striking personal appearance. As a youth, he was of an athletic turn, particularly fond of baseball and was captain of the first team in the college from which he graduated. He was ambitious perhaps to a fault and did not seem to realize that there was a limit to his physical endurance and through overwork he suffered a nervous break in middle life, and from this experience he learned lessons that doubtless added years to his life.

According to his own testimony, the young man Sellew was not naturally inclined to spiritual things. He had a severe struggle with unbelief in youth. His mother's prayers, godly example, and the strivings of the Holy Spirit, however, prevailed against the arguments of unbelief and he gave his life to Jesus Christ once and for all. He did not choose the gospel ministry as a career. He had a hard struggle at this point over a divine call to preach. His closest friends seemed to feel confident that he should devote his life to the ministry, and as he sometimes put it he was practically drafted into this field, but he has said since, "Whatever of obscurity or uncertainty there may have been about my original call, I am now certain that I am called to keep at it."

Notwithstanding his high appreciation of culture, as evidenced by the thorough educational preparation he made for his life's work, the young preacher was inclined toward the opinion that a studied, detailed, previous preparation of a sermon did not give proper latitude to the Holy Spirit, and was not the divine plan. In discussing this matter with Rev. R. W. Hawkins, he became convinced that God not only desired him to consecrate his education to Him but also that he use it to the best possible advantage in His service. One of the first sermons which he carefully prepared was from Zech. 11:7, "Beauty and Bands" (strength), which was a masterpiece indeed.

He was a prince among preachers. When he stood before an audience his manner and appearance impressed them. His language was plain, simple and correct. He was a natural orator of a type peculiar to himself. He spoke every word distinctly. He had a wonderful voice that carried out into an audience. He could speak to ten thousand people so that the man on the back seat could hear what he said almost as plainly as the one on the front; he did not speak in a strained manner; he did not declaim; he did not yell at the audience yet he spoke enthusiastically, zealously, forcefully, feelingly, impressively and with authority. He knew how to illustrate truth so as to make it impressive and clear; he never wasted words. A highly cultured, professional man, not a member of the Free Methodist Church, recently heard Brother Sellew preach. He remarked in substance, "That was the greatest sermon I have ever listened to. The sermon and the language would interest, instruct, and entertain the most cultured, yet it was so plain that a child could understand every word and know what was said" . . . His direct style resembled that of John Wesley.

Bishop Sellew was a natural leader of men. He did not seek leadership; but when it was voted upon him he exercised all the authority necessary to function properly in the relation to which he was called, and stopped there. He was never arbitrary but always resolute and determined. He excelled as a parliamentarian. A Presbyterian preacher, moderator of his presbytery, who attended practically all the business sittings of an annual conference, where he presided, said, "Your bishop is one of the most proficient presiding officers it has ever been my privilege to meet." An ex-speaker of the house, in one of our leading states, who attended a session of the General Conference where he presided when an unusual parliamentary tangle was handled in a most skillful manner, said in substance, "Bishop Sellew is one of the keenest parliamentarians that I have ever met."

Beyond the bounds of the Free Methodist Church, Bishop Sellew had a wide circle of friends. He was recognized as one of the leading citizens of Jamestown, N. Y., not only as a churchman but as a business man. This is evidenced by the following resolutions by the Jamestown Ministerial Association.


Death loves a shining mark, a single blow,

A blow, which while it executes, alarms,

And startles peoples with a single fall.

"Bishop Walter A. Sellew, the friend of the people, the efficient minister of the gospel, the Christian of unfeigned faith, the apostle of abundant labors has returned to the bosom of divinity.

"Two great forces claimed him as their own: the church he so faithfully served, and the city in which he lived. Beyond these, people of all churches and of no church vied with each other in paying the honor justly his due.

"The edifying influence he everywhere exerted, the richness of his personality, his unfailing optimism, and his unclouded spiritual atmosphere radiated blessing upon all with whom he came into contact, especially upon his brethren of the ministry by whom he will long be held in sacred memory.

"We pray that the comfort and consolation of our Divine Lord and Master may rest in unlimited measure upon the devoted companion of his years and upon his bereaved and afflicted household.

"'And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.'"


20 For a detailed account see "Hogue's History," vol. II, p. 344.