William H. Vail's Five Points of Calvinism Historically Considered

We have previously noted here on this blog that the first person known to have coined the TULIP acrostic is Cleland Boyd McAfee (1866-1944), who did so in 1905. Following up on earlier research by Wayne Sparkman of the PCA Historical Center, which cites a 1913 article in The New Outlook by William H. Vail as the source for this historical reference, we have recently added Vail and his June 21, 1913 article to Log College Press. The article is a brief, fascinating survey of TULIP’s origins and how other Presbyterian and Reformed theologians historically understood and made use of the Five Points of Calvinism (from the Synod of Dort to Jonathan Dickinson to contemporaries of Vail).

But also of interest to our readers is to know the answer to the question: Who was William Henry Vail? He lived a rather remarkable life. Born on August 4, 1845, in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, he first studied at Blair Academy (founded as a Presbyterian institution), and then went to Princeton (at that time known as the College of New Jersey), from which he graduated in 1865 (his senior oration topic was on William the Silent). He further studied at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University, from which he received his M.D. in 1868. He practiced medicine from 1869 to 1886. Later in life he served as Secretary and Treasurer of Blair Academy; as a director of the Belvidere National Bank and of various railroads; as a member of the Board of Trustees of Lincoln University (Pennsylvania); and as a Presbyterian ruling elder and Sunday School Superintendent.

Founded in 1854, Lincoln University is regarded as the first degree-granting black college in America. In 1898, Dr. Vail, who had received a large inheritance, donated the funds to construct Vail Memorial Library (in 1972 the building was converted into an administrative office building and renamed Vail Memorial Hall), which is a lasting reminder of his legacy to that institution.

He maintained an active involvement in ecclesiastical and alumni affairs, participating in the 1912 Princeton Centennial Celebration. In 1915, at the age of 70, to celebrate his 50th reunion, he walked 50 miles from Newark to Princeton, New Jersey. A 1935 New York Times article highlighted the fact that Vail was the oldest living auto driver in New Jersey. The picture we have of him shows him walking in the 1937 Princeton P-rade. At the time of his death on December 31, 1943, he was at 98 the oldest living Princeton alumnus. He attributed his longevity to brown eggs, brown sugar, whole wheat bread, baked beans, and walking.

Such is a brief sketch of our author. To return to the article, which is both of historical significance in documenting TULIP’s origins, and important as an historical survey on the Five Points of Calvinism, it is now available for you to read for yourself. Be sure to check it out here.