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Francis Huston Wallace was educated in a series of private schools, including Upper Canada College in Toronto, where he was head boy in 1868-69. He enrolled in University College, Toronto, the following year. Although he was not impressed with the quality of teaching, he graduated with a first and a gold medal in classics in 1873 and secured an MA a year later. Wallace and his family had assumed that following graduation he would enter Knox College and become a Presbyterian minister. During his second undergraduate year, however, he became greatly distressed about his spiritual condition and his vocation. He agreed with his father as to the absolute necessity of a conversion experience as the foundation of a truly Christian life, but he was deeply depressed by his failure to achieve it.
Fortunately, at this juncture he was befriended by several perceptive and sympathetic Methodists. Inspired by their counsel and by participation in Methodist services, he eventually felt "his heart strangely warmed," as had John Wesley, and he became "gloriously happy in the joy of salvation." Despite his father's anger and grief, Wallace rejected the Westminster Standards, adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1647, and the prospect of becoming a Presbyterian minister. His Methodist friends quickly decided that he would be a valuable recruit for the Methodist ministry, and with their encouragement, he was accepted as a local preacher in 1873. Nathanael Burwash, the founding dean of theology at Victoria College in Cobourg, hinted at an eventual appointment in the college. Wallace enrolled in Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, N.J., in 1873. After graduating in 1876, he proceeded to the University of Leipzig, then a leading institution in biblical studies attended by many foreign theological students, where he spent a year. He would return to Germany in 1911-12 to study at the University of Berlin and, in particular, to enroll in the course offered by the eminent and radical church historian Adolf von Harnack, whom he later privately described as a "Unitarian of the highest type."
Wallace was ordained in the Methodist ministry in 1878 and subsequently appointed to pastorates in Peterborough, Toronto, and Cobourg, positions in which he acquired several prominent lay supporters and the friendship of Samuel Sobieski Nelles and other members of the teaching staff at Victoria College. In 1887 he was appointed professor of New Testament literature and exegesis in Victoria's faculty of theology; he began teaching the following January. Wallace was a member of the faculty until 1920 and its dean from 1900. A respected and committed teacher and administrator, he helped to shape the development of the faculty and the theological outlook of many in the Methodist ministry in Canada, during a period of profound intellectual upheaval - a generation influenced by Darwin's writings, the development of higher criticism in biblical studies, and growing awareness that Christian theology is a transitory construction, as are other forms of human thought. By 1920 Victoria's faculty of theology and the Methodist community in general had come to accept the implications of contemporary biblical scholarship and were probably more distressed by the moral implications of World War I than by arguments about Genesis and prophecy.
At Victoria, from 1892 located in Toronto, this process of adjustment was marked by two controversial incidents and facilitated by Wallace's own approach to biblical studies and his constructive appointments to the faculty. He played no formal part in the first issue, the resignation of his friend and colleague George Coulson Workman in 1891. He concluded, however, that Workman was a Unitarian and therefore unsuited to instruct Methodist theological students. Again, in 1909 his friend George Jackson, newly appointed professor of English Bible, was threatened with dismissal for stating publicly that the account of creation in Genesis is not a historical one. The dispute was resolved through a statement prepared by John Fletcher McLaughlin, Workman's successor, and signed by the entire faculty of theology. It declared that, "so long as our theological professors maintain their personal vital relation to Christ and Holy Scripture, and adhere to the doctrinal standards of our own church . . . they must be left free to do their own work," a position later accepted by the General Conference of the Methodist Church.
A quiet, firm, but tolerant scholar, Wallace believed that the New Testament is "all alive with the experiences, difficulties, struggles, antagonisms, heresies, arguments, appeals, eloquence of the men and times to whom Jesus Christ spake." Historical study enabled Christians better to understand "the living realities of the Bible and of Christian experience." Wisely and perhaps deliberately, he left public controversy to others. His preaching was scholarly and balanced, and he welcomed changes in the role of the church. Wallace did not neglect his duties as a minister. He was a strong advocate of the establishment of the deaconess order in the Methodist Church and an effective supporter of union with the Presbyterian and Congregational churches, achieved in 1925. His home was a hospitable place where he welcomed each generation of students. Above all, he strove to make Victoria's "work in theology equal in scholarship to that of the very best institutions on this continent." He left his colleagues and his students with a "memory of good words and good deeds" that would help constructively to shape the college's role in theological education.
Wallace was married in 1878 to Joy Wilson, the daughter of Bishop Edward Wilson of New Jersey. She died in 1918. His eldest son, Edward Wilson Wallace, was a missionary to China and became Chancellor of Victoria University. His daughter Muriel taught in Peterborough, Ontario and at Bloor St. Collegiate Institute, and his son, Paul, was a professor of English at Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania. Two other children, Dorothy and Polly, died at an early age.
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- Finding Aid 3170 from the United Church of Canada Archives is available on request.
- Photographs described in the Photograph Database. See links in applicable Series and Files: http://archival-photos.vicu.utoronto.ca/