Biographical Sketch of Lewis Sperry Chafer

by C. F. Lincoln

The Reverend Lewis Sperry Chafer, D.D., Litt.D., was born at Rock Creek, Ashtabula County, Ohio, on February 27, 1871. He was reared in a devout Christian home, his immediate ancestors having been faithful ministers of the gospel.

His father, the Reverend Thomas Franklin Chafer, was graduated during the presidency of Jacob Tuckerman from Farmer's College, College Hill, Cincinnati, and from Auburn Theological Seminary with the class of 1864. He was born in the year 1829 and died during the fifty-third year of his life, in 1882, when Dr. Chafer was eleven years of age. William Chafer, the father of Thomas Franklin Chafer, and the paternal grandfather of Dr. Chafer, was born in York, England, and moved to the United States in the year 1837, when his son Thomas was eight years of age. He took up residence in the state of Kentucky and was long dedicated to farming in that section of the country.

Dr. Chafer's mother was Lois Lomira Sperry. She was born at Rock Creek, Ohio, on June 3, 1836, and died in the fall of the year 1915 at the age of seventy-nine when Dr. Chafer was forty-four years of age. Her father, Asa Sperry, was a licensed Welsh Wesleyan preacher, though he was a harness-maker by trade. Ann Sperry, of Irish descent, was the maternal grandmother of Dr. Chafer.

As a boy, Dr. Chafer attended the public schools of Rock Creek until he attained the age of twelve years. After that, from 1885 to 1888, he attended New Lyme Institute of New Lyme, Ohio. There was an orchestra or choral society at that institution and as a young student he was there first introduced to the serious study of music, in which art he became remarkably proficient. Later, when his widowed mother had removed to Oberlin, Ohio, for the education of her three children, as a young man Dr. Chafer attended Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music from 1889 to 1892. It was at Oberlin that Dr. Chafer met Ella Loraine Case, a devoted student of music and a deeply spiritual-minded young lady who later became his beloved wife and faithful lifelong companion and coworker. At this time Dr. Chafer began travelling as a gospel singer with Evangelist Arthur T. Reed. This ministry continued for a period of about seven years, though during that time he was engaged to direct gospel music for other evangelists also. On April 22, 1896, Dr. Chafer was united in marriage to Miss Case whose home was in Ellington, Chautauqua County, New York. She at once took an active part in the ministry to which her husband was devoted, laboring with him as soloist and accompanist at the piano; in both of these services she was exceptionally gifted and thoroughly trained. In 1897, the year following his marriage, Dr. Chafer began his service as an evangelist, ministering in this work until the year 1914 both by preaching and singing. In the year 1900 Dr. Chafer was ordained to the gospel ministry by a Council of Congregational Ministers in the First Congregational Church of Buffalo. In 1903, due to his having taken up residence in East Northfield, Massachusetts, his ministerial relationship was removed to the Presbytery of Troy, New York. At that time Dr. C. I. Scofield was pastor of the Congregational Church of Northfield, which had been organized by D. L. Moody, and there was cemented between the two men a closeness of fellowship in the gospel that grew into an intimate companionship in the teaching ministry which lasted until Dr. Scofield's death in 1921. When Dr. Chafer moved to East Northfield he began at once his service as music leader, along with Ira Sankey, D. B. Towner, George Stebbins, and others, in the great Moody Summer Bible Conferences. Mrs. Chafer was official organist for the conferences. In the winter Dr. Chafer travelled out of Northfield in an ever widening evangelistic ministry, and his service in the Summer Conferences brought him into close touch with most of the great conservative Bible teachers of that period. In the year 1906 Dr. Chafer moved his ministerial relationship from the Troy Presbytery to that of the Orange Presbytery of North Carolina, and in the year 1916 he himself took up residence in East Orange, New Jersey. Some time after this, after a remarkable spiritual experience in the study of Dr. Scofield in Dallas, Texas, he definitely dedicated his life to an exacting study of the Bible. After an exceedingly fruitful Bible-teaching ministry which took him on repeated occasions to nearly every state in the union, Dr. Chafer removed to Dallas, Texas, in the year 1922, for the principal purpose of establishing the Dallas Theological Seminary. In the year 1924 the school was founded with the cooperation and advice of Dr. A. B. Winchester of Toronto, and Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas of Philadelphia. Dr. Chafer was President of the Seminary from its beginning until the time of his death.

Dr. Chafer travelled in the ministry of Bible teaching in England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, and elsewhere. He always had a great missionary vision and served on various mission boards and visited mission fields in Europe, Mexico, and all of Central America where his counsel and ministry of Bible teaching and evangelistic service were of wonderful benefit to the missionaries and to the national churches.

Dr. Chafer was the author of many pamphlets and magazine articles and of the following books on Bible themes and doctrines: Satan, 1909; True Evangelism, 1911; The Kingdom in History and Prophecy, 1915; Salvation, 1916; He That Is Spiritual, 1918; Grace, 1922; Major Bible Themes, 1926; and The Ephesian Letter, 1935. These books have been before the Christian public in all English-speaking lands for many years and are still in constant and almost undiminished demand. Multiplied thousands have been blessed in spirit, instructed in the grace of God, and confirmed in the faith and in the assurance of salvation by the clear and forceful teaching set down by his able pen. A number of his books have been, or are being, translated on mission fields into several languages; thus a fruitful world-wide ministry has resulted.

From 1940 to 1952 Dr. Chafer was editor of Bibliotheca Sacra, the oldest theological quarterly in America.

The discipline and training which Dr. Chafer received as a background for the writing of this extensive work on Systematic Theology was that of many years of faithful study. In his early years he was known among Bible teachers as especially given to doctrine and was invited on several occasions to become teacher of Bible doctrine in leading institutes of this country.

When he undertook the professorship of Systematic Theology in the Seminary in Dallas, Texas, he at once gave himself to ceaseless study and reading in that division of ministerial training. He secured and became familiar with an exceedingly large library on Systematic Theology. The exercise of teaching this vast field of truth for many years required him to answer practically every question which students of serious mind could ask.

Dr. Chafer himself said that "the very fact that I did not study a prescribed course in theology made it possible for me to approach the subject with an unprejudiced mind and to be concerned only with what the Bible actually teaches." This independent research has resulted in this work which is unabridged, Calvinistic, premillennial, and dispensational.

In fulfillment of Ephesians 4:8, 11, God gave a beloved "teacher" unto the Church. We are sure that through this treatise on Theology God's purpose in such a gift, as expressed in verses 12-16, will be further fulfilled to the people of God for immense blessing in "the body of Christ."

Addendum (Dallas, November 1953)

Dr. Chafer suffered a heart attack in California in the year 1935. Although that stroke was severe, by observing a careful regimen in his convalescence he recovered and gained strength for an active ministry until 1945 when again he was stricken in California. From this attack he did not have a full recovery, but after a period of time he was able to continue his classroom and platform ministry. A third attack in 1948 further weakened him, but he still continued his public work in a limited way until almost the close of his life.

In May, 1952, after his classes were finished at the Seminary he covered the cities in Pennsylvania known as the Harrisburg Circuit of Bible conferences and spoke at commencement and baccalaureate services at Grace Theological Seminary and Columbia Bible College. It seemed to us who were close to him that this pressing schedule with its nighttime train transfers and closely dated speaking engagements overtaxed his scant strength and carried him beyond the point of possible return to his normal ministry.

However, Dr. Chafer had often manifested that he desired to remain active in the Lord's work until the end. In June, 1952, following his custom in the summer, travelling alone he went to California to visit with friends and to minister with alumni of the Seminary. He reached Seattle and there, after an illness of about eight weeks, he died peacefully on August 22 in the home of his very dear friends, Mr. and Mrs. Robert O. Fleming. A long life of service had come to a close and the servant had gone into the presence of his waiting Lord.

From Systematic Theology. Lewis Sperry Chafer. Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, ©1948, renewed 1978.


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