Pastor, author, and consummate theological biographer, William Buell Sprague was born in Andover, Connecticut in 1795. He graduated from Yale College in 1815, and enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary, receiving his degree in 1819.
Sprague’s first pastoral charge was with the Congregational Church in West Springfield, Massachusetts, where he served from 1820-29. In 1829 he accepted a call to Albany, NY, to serve as pastor at Second Presbyterian Church. A beloved pastor and eloquent preacher, Sprague’s forty years of ministry in Albany were also marked by tremendous literary productivity.
His publications include sermons, biographies, historical pieces, lectures, and an important volume addressing a biblical and historical view of the origins, effects, and fruits of a Holy Spirit-originated revival, Lectures on Revivals (1832; re-published by the Trust in 1958, and in a re-set edition in 2007). The book also includes valuable essays on the subject from leading ministers who had personal experience of revival in their ministries.
A first-rate bibliophile, Sprague’s personal library contained a massive collection of pamphlets, sermons, and other fugitive pieces of biographical and historical material often lost to future generations because of their ephemeral nature. His foresight for preservation of this material came to fruition in what is probably his greatest literary legacy to the Christian church—the massive nine-volume, Annals of the American Pulpit, published between 1857 and 1869. The volumes record the history of the major denominations and religious groups in the United States through to the mid-nineteenth century. They are particularly valuable for the number of primary source documents included which give testimony to the vitality of Christian piety and its outworking in the lives of individuals, churches, denominations, and the nation. The volumes are a moving and spiritually enriching collection of biographical, historical, theological, and pastoral observations. They remain of enduring value for understanding the advance of Christ’s church in America.
In 1869, at the age of 74, Sprague left his church and after a peaceful retirement died in 1876.[Adapted from James M Garretson’s biographical sketch in Volume 1 of Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry.]