Retired Bible professor Dr. Harold Willmington reflects on his legacy

  • Willmington is the longest-serving original faculty at Liberty University and currently teaches a Bible class at TRBC on Sunday mornings.
  • Willmington’s Project SWORD, set for release in January, will be fully accessible and free online for Bible education.


“Now, Harold,” Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr. said on April 7, 2007. “How long have you been with me?”

Dr. Harold Willmington had just turned 75 that day, evident in how his secretary Eva Middleton prepared his office for a small faculty party to celebrate. Dr. Falwell made a point of coming, as Willmington had been with Liberty almost from the very beginning of the school, going from Indiana preacher to the longest-serving original faculty in Liberty’s history.

“Thirty-five years,” Willmington responded.

Dr. Falwell paused a while. “Let’s make a deal—you promise not to foul up, I promise not to fire you.”

The two men laughed and shook on it, but Falwell’s countenance dimmed a bit more seriously.

“You often hear me say that I ask God to give me another 15 years with option to renew,” Falwell said. “I’ll include you in that prayer, too.”

Willmington smiled to himself. How many others had Big Jerry made that same promise to?

“By that time, we’ll be in our nineties,” Falwell continued. “Our boys can help us up on our horses, and we’ll ride off into the sunset.”

Almost six weeks later, Dr. Falwell died at age 73. That sun had set sooner than Willmington expected.

“I thought, what a legacy that man left,” Willmington said, sitting in his office ten years later and reflecting on his friend. “Then I thought, what kind of legacy am I leaving?”

When Willmington first arrived at what was then Lynchburg Baptist College to teach at the  then-Thomas Road Bible Institute, his supreme goal, as he puts it, was “to raise the level of Bible knowledge among God’s people.”

“I think it’s the only way to help America,” Willmington said. “It has to start not only with the unsaved getting saved, but also with revival—when Christians get ready for God. In the Old Testament, we read where (God) said, ‘If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, then I’ll bring revival to the land.’”

About 46 years later, having taught at what’s now the Willmington School of the Bible, the vision has not changed. The means and timeline, however, have changed.

Just last year, the seed of urgency planted in Willmington’s vision in 2007 sprouted into a working reality. Jerry Falwell Jr. called Willington to a special meeting with him, marketing, the provost and others. Willmington laid out his idea and mission to the group. It would be far different from the 20 books and the Willmington Guides he had done before. This would be a series of articles overviewing the entirety of the Old Testament, New Testament and systematic theology.

Today, it is Project SWORD —“Scripture Wisdom Organized and Rightly Divided”— and it is in full-swing development, set for a tentative January release.

The clincher? SWORD will be fully accessible and free to the world online. It would be the most far-reaching free Bible program on the internet.

“I said (at that meeting) that I wanted to reach two groups of people: the faculty, and the church planters,” Willmington said. “It’s nice to sell books, but I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to leave a legacy. And I think this will be my legacy. Not nearly as much as Dr. Falwell’s legacy, but it’s a little thing I can do.”

Willmington left that meeting in 2016 “walking on air,” as he put it. But he later received news that threatened to uproot his work, and take his life with it.

Two weeks before Christmas, Willmington was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He had been given anywhere from six months to a year to live. It wasn’t the happiest of Christmases in the Willmington home that year, but Dr. Willmington made an even more startling discovery than his prognosis through it all.

“There are several kinds of grace in the Bible,” Willmington said. “But there’s a special type of grace that the puritans would call the ‘boiling oil grace.’ You don’t get boiling oil grace until you’re in the boiling oil. Well, God gave me that grace and assurance. I never really prayed that God would heal me, but I did pray ‘Please, give me dying grace.’ But I felt this inner voice saying ‘Do not pray for dying grace.’ I didn’t question it, but I interpreted it as I’m not dying right away.”

In other words, God was not done with him.

It’s been a year since Willmington’s prognosis. He undergoes immunotherapy every three weeks with intermittent CAT scans. He feels no pain throughout his work days, but experiences extreme fatigue. After a few hours of work he will retreat to a back room and rest. When people come in to look for him, his secretary Eva Middleton will say, “He’s in China right now.”

Willmington doesn’t teach classes at Liberty anymore, but he does teach a Bible class every Sunday at Thomas Road Baptist Church, and he can still be found in his office working at Project SWORD.

Willmington speaks about his life and work as if the sunset he is riding toward is another lifetime away.

When I get into the Scriptures to study them, and learn something brand new every time, that gives me the joy and hope,” Willmington said. “I’m part of a worldwide ministry here now.”

The Willmington School of the Bible is headed up by Dr. Rick Raspberry now. Willmington’s son Matt is the director of ministries at TRBC.  Willmington’s wife Sue began her ministry to the deaf at TRBC as director, then established a deaf ministry at Liberty Christian Academy, Liberty Bible Institute and Liberty University. The Willmingtons have three grandchildren — Nathan, Carissa and Abigail — who have all been involved in Liberty to some capacity.

While the world, the school and his family move on with outreach, Willmington’s focus stays with setting a foundation for this generation and leaving a legacy for them to follow.

“I think what I would like on my tombstone is a statement that Simon Peter made in the book of Acts when he addressed some of the Jews: ‘So David served his own generation in the will of God, and fell asleep,’” Willmington said. “I would like it said of me that Willmington tried to serve his generation in the will of God.”





  • Regina Stevens Johnson TRBI 1975

    Had you on my mind today, been praying for you, our church lifts your name every Wednesday evening. AMEN for Project SWORD, i am sure it will be tremendous blessing. You were already leaving behind a wonderful legacy, but love your heart to follow this call and complete it! Love you, always appreciate your input into my life. Will always be my special Dean Willmington.

  • Dr. Harold Wilmington was my great teacher of God’s Word. I listened to his teachings over and over again every night. I love the way he taught the Bible with such a servant heart. I am a graduate of 2016 Biblical Studies Diploma and have great respect and admiration for him and his family. He always put his personal touch in all his teachings. I loved it when he would share some of his personal stories and experiences with us. I put my youngest son thru grad school at DTS and I noticed his teachings were comparable to the best seminaries in the world. Studying Gods word book by book with a teacher of the Bible was priceless and the greatest experience of my life. Thank you Mr. Bible.

  • Thankful for you Doctor Wilmington God has used you to challenge, encourage and make me hungry for the Word that truly satisfies
    Praying for you

  • Greetings Pastor Wilmington! I am eating lunch with my 93 yr old mom, Alberta, and we began a conversation about people of influence in our lives. Your name came up on both our “lists” and we reminisced about your preaching that always brought glory to God, giving the Scriptures its rightful place as living God’s Word! I can never sing “And Can it Be” without thinking gratefully of you and your family. My Dad, Walter, has been in God’s presence for 32 years. I live near both Mom and Reed in Oregon. Steve is in Colorado with OC International and Beth is in LA. God bless you and your family. JILL ALDRICH

  • Thanks for “The Outline Bible”. I have referred to it many times and have found it to be a great tool in study. I am wondering if you will ever place the book in a pdf form or some other form where I can have it with me as I travel on missions trips. You have served your faith well! God bless,

  • Dr. Wilmington, I’ve been thinking about you more recently as I use the Bible Education I received from you through graduating from The Wilmington School if the Bible every week while preparing my Sunday School lesson. I too have developed a much stronger hunger for the Word of God and credit you for that. Everette Foust brought me by your office so I could meet you and wish you a Happy 80th birthday. We had a picture taken together. I still remember the story about one of your friends buying you two cards, one for 50 years and one for 30 years because he could not find a birthday card for an eighty year old. I want you to know I too am a cancer survivor. I had esophagus cancer and surgery in December 2016. I’m still being followed with the scans but God is good and I have received some of that Boiling Oil Grace. I’m praying for you and hope to see you again when I visit Liberty campus this summer. Keep looking up Dean Wilmington. I will never forget you and consider myself a small part of your Legacy. I will be one to enjoy every part of your SWORD Legacy work.

  • Doctor Wilmington, Thank you for being who you are. I will always have a special spot in my heart for your teaching of the Bible. Perhaps the strongest statement you ever said to me was when you get to heaven you should be able to tell God, I’ve read your Book. It’s the best thing you can tell an author. My wife and I graduated from Liberty on March 4, 1994.I’ve felt like I’ve known you for ever. We traveled to Israel and met Jimmy DE Young and received another blessing. Give my love to Sue and I’ll be Praying foryou

  • Thomas Radcliffe

    Dr. Wilmington was my teacher and helped mold my life and future ministry.

  • Pastor Ron Laughlin

    Dr. Wilmington you are a great Bible scholar it’s because of YOU I can put the word Pastor in front of my name. We named our son after your son, Matthew. God Bless you.
    Pastor Ron Laughlin
    Harvest Baptist Church
    Salem, Ohio
    TRBC 1974 – 1976

  • Your love of the Word was always truly contagious. We were so Blessed to have you as our Pastor for a time to show us the way of Salvation which has provided the Heavenly home for my husband, Don, on Sept. 25,2018. We also admired your choice of a helpmate in Sue who was always at your side and your son, Matt, who is carrying on in the ministry.

  • Many years ago I was going thru the hardest storm of my life . Dr. Willmington came to my mind and not knowing if he would remember me or not I called his office and ask if I could make an appointment with him. When I arrived he took me out to lunch and gave me the best advice any preacher could give . I will not go into the whole conversation , but he became one of my hero’s along with Dr. Wemp , and Dr. Adrian Rogers . This man has forgotton more about the precious Word of God than I will ever attain . I was pastoring a growing church and preaching 35 weeks a year as an evangelist . One thing I will share with you , he said “Son you have got to make a choice between pastoring and and being an evangelist . Tho it still took a few years to decide I finally did . After 45 years of ministry I still can recall all the wisdom AND knowledge of that day we meet and broke bread together ! 3 cheers for you Sir !

  • Good post! Thanks!

Leave a Reply to Doug Rowland Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *