Professor, Union Theological Seminary
Born 11 August 1853 in Rome, New York
Died 25 April 1912 in Seoul, South Korea
Buried Knoxboro-Augusta Cemetery, Augusta, New York
Elected 3 November 1900 at age forty-seven
Archivist’s Note: Secretary of the Century Association, 1910
George William Knox was born at Rome, New York, on the eleventh of August, 1853; he was graduated from Hamilton College in 1874 and from Auburn Theological Seminary in 1877, in which year he married Anna Caroline Holmes of Auburn and with his wife sailed for Japan to become a missionary. For fifteen years he worked in this calling, also teaching Homiletics in the Union Theological Seminary of Tokyo, and filling for a time the chair of Philosophy and Ethics in the Imperial University. In 1892 he returned to America and shortly afterwards became pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Rye, New York. While carrying on his pastorate he began to lecture at the Union Theological Seminary of this city, and in 1899 was called to its newly-established chair of the Philosophy and History of Religion. He also lectured there upon Foreign Missions, and in a number of cities upon many topics of present-day interest. For a while he was acting president of the Seminary and an effective member of the Building Committee charged with the construction of its new home at Broadway and 120th Street. He was on many boards of Public Service, and for the year 1910 was secretary of this Association. He was a natural as well as trained preacher and speaker and during his ordained and devoted life there was scarcely a Sunday that he did not preach from some pulpit. At the time of his death, as the representative of his Seminary, he was upon a voyage which led him lecturing, preaching, and learning through India and the far East. He died of pneumonia in the city of Seoul, Corea [Korea], before reaching Japan, where he would have striven to set some coping stone upon the labors of his youth.
Although primarily a speaker, Dr. Knox had written many books in Japanese as well as English. His most important work of a Christian philosophical character is entitled The Direct and Fundamental Proofs of the Christian Religion. Very charming are his Japanese Life in Town and Country and The Spirit of the Orient.
Such is the bare text of this life. The comment will spring up within so many of us who loved him and delighted in the ready sympathies of his mind, its wide information and still broader understanding. Knox was very social, happy in the companionship of his fellows, himself pleasing to all. He was fond of games; billiards and golf were his staple recreations. But everywhere throughout this Clubhouse, in the dining-room at luncheon or at dinner, whenever Knox entered everyone was glad. In conversation, in serious discussion, his faculty of comprehending another’s meaning, sympathizing with it, seeing, if possible, the truth in it, was most genial; while the wealth of knowledge in his own alert mind was sure to furnish further illumination of the subject. He was sufficiently versed in theology and in all systems of philosophy. Admirable was his understanding of the thought of China and Japan. His qualifications for the chair he held in Union Seminary were unique. Equipped with sympathetic understanding of other religions, he could the more clearly distinguish and demonstrate his own Christianity, his own faith of Christ. As in Tokyo, so afterwards in New York, and elsewhere in America, he was a power drawing men to his vital apprehension of the faith that moved and wrought within him.
Knox was essentially an intellectual being, one whose constantly enlarging spiritual nature might pass from strength to strength, from firm conviction to still greater breadth of assurance. In years he was not old, as we Centurions count, while spiritually he was in the flush of mature youth, still capable of further perfecting in knowledge and in wisdom. He would have brought back with him new experience and profounder knowledge from the East, to be consecrated in a work which waved in hope before his mind, and in which he meant at last to order and present his final thought on God and man. If in his last illness his mind held clear, so that he knew this was not to be, his thoughts may have been as those of the old Carthusian: “Thou hast been clinging to one syllable of a great song, and art troubled when that wisest Singer proceeds in His singing. For the syllable which thou wast loving is withdrawn from thee, and others succeed in order. He does not sing to thee alone, nor to thy will, but His.”
Henry Osborn Taylor
1913 Century Association Yearbook