A Brief View of Dr. William Silkworth, Bill Wilson, and their Beliefs as to Jesus Christ
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The growing understanding of Bill Wilson's Christian journey from his earliest days as a child in East Dorset, Vermont:
Both of Bill's grandparents--maternal and paternal--were active, Protestant Christians in the East Dorset Congregational Church in Vermont. So were Bill's parents. Bill himself first encountered conversion to God through Jesus Christ when he learned of his grandfather William Wilson's conversion and his immediate healing of serious drinking problems.
As to Christianity in Bill's life, a short summary might present these points:
Bill attended the East Dorset Congregational Church, was indoctrinated in salvation and the Word of God by his Christian family members. He studied the Bible, attended Sunday school, heard hymns and sermons and confessions and creeds; and he partook as a viewer in the church's revivals, temperance meetings, and conversions.
Then Bill went to Burr and Burton Seminary in nearby Manchester Vermont. Bill there took a four year Bible study course, was president of the YMCA, attended daily chapel--where sermons, hymns, prayers, and reading of Scripture were regular fare. He attended the Manchester Congregational Church--which had close ties with Burr and Burton. Burr and Burton Seminary—like Dr. Bob’s St. Johnsbury Academy—had been founded and staffed by strong Congregational church members.
Along life’s way, Bill had suffered some deep depressions; and one of the worst happened in his last days at Burr and Burton Seminary where his girlfriend and classmate there (Bertha Bamford) suddenly died; and Bill could not handle the event.
Bill became deeply depressed. He could not finish his graduation. He blamed God. And he turned his back on God--during his many years of excessive drinking. Finally, he began treatments for alcoholism with Dr. Silkworth at Towns Hospital, but things worsened.
However, on Bill's third hospitalization, Silkworth warned Bill that he must stop drinking or die or go insane. But he also told the desperate Wilson that Jesus Christ the Great Physician could cure Bill of his alcoholism. Silkworth himself was a devout Christian and attended Rev. Sam Shoemaker's Calvary Church.
Miraculously, Bill's drinking friend and classmate Ebby Thacher showed up at Bill's apartment, told Bill that he had been reborn at the altar of Calvary Mission, and caused Bill to conclude that Ebby had been cured. Thinking of Ebby's testimony and Silkworth's advice, Bill himself went to the altar at Calvary Mission, accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and wrote in his autobiography that "For sure I'd been born again." However, Bill resumed drinking, desperation, and defeat, but thought that if there were a "Great Physician," he had better call on him for help.
Bill staggered into Towns Hospital for his last visit. He thought, "If there be a Great Physician, I'd better call on him right now." Bill cried out to God for help. Suddenly his whole hospital room was blazing with an indescribably white light, and Bill sensed the presence of the Spirit. In his mind, he said to himself: "Bill, you are a free man! This is the God of the Scriptures." He stopped doubting God, was immediately cured, and was reassured from reading the William James book and from the comments of Dr. Silkworth that he had had a conversion experience—the very type of “vital religious experience” that Professor James, Dr. Carl Jung, Rev. Sam Shoemaker, and Bill himself had believed could bring about cure.
Shortly, Bill was discharged from the hospital. Reverend Shoemaker urged Bill to witness to others. Bill rushed from drunk to drunk, fleabag hotel to fleabag hotel, mental ward to mental ward, and--with a Bible under his arm--told drunks they could be healed if they gave their lives to God.
Several years later, Bill sat down with Rev. Shoemaker in Shoemaker's library at Calvary House. They discussed the events, discussed the Oxford Group ideas Shoemaker had been speaking about, and Bill asked Shoemaker to write the Twelve Steps--which Shoemaker declined to do.
Bill then wrote the Twelve Steps in late 1938 or early 1939, which Bill later wrote for the Grapevine had come from Dr. William D. Silkworth, the book by Professor William James, and almost completely from the teachings of Shoemaker. Recently, Shoemaker's biographer pointed out much of the foregoing.
He told how both Silkworth and Bill had at first insisted that drunks establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and Bill frequently told his own victory story (written up on page 191 of today's Big Book): "The Lord has been so wonderful to me, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people. See Dick B., The Conversion of Bill W.
For more details and further citations, contact Dick B. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 808 874 4876