Probably the image most Adventists have of Elder John Byington is based on the only photograph they’ve ever seen, which portrays the aged patriarch as a silver-haired, balding, bearded, wrinkled, scowling preacher in a black frock coat and white shirt buttoned tightly around his neck.
But John Byington, the first president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, was so much more. A loving family man and successful farmer and businessman, Elder Byington was also a social radical. More than just a token abolitionist, new evidence presented in this biography indicates that he actively assisted fugitive slaves along the famous Underground Railroad.
Far from being an administrator only, to a significant degree, Elder Byington remained a circuit-riding revivalist preacher throughout his life. Every year, he set out to cheer the discouraged, reconcile differences, urge repentance, and build faith and unity by holding revival, testimony, and prayer meetings. By preaching short homilies about heaven, grace, prayer, conversion, and perseverance, Elder Byington helped the early Adventist Church grow stronger congregations and a tightly unified, rapidly growing denomination.
This intriguing biography reveals a man who followed traditional models of leadership, yet did not shy away from the important issues of his day. His passion for encouraging the members and his commitment to ministry helped him make enormous contributions to the mission and development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.