Clara Tear Williams: 1858 - 1937
Clara Tear Williams was born near Painesville, Ohio, and grew up on the homestead inherited from her Christian ancestors who emigrated from the Isle of Man, situated between England and Ireland. At the age of thirteen, the love of God was shed abroad in her heart, and her teen years were spent in increasing consecration. During her late teens, Clara began assisting others in gospel meetings, at which time she penned "Satisfied." Later, she traversed several states, from town to town, as a circuit riding preacher.
At the age of thirty-six, she married William H. Williams. This spiritually well-matched couple gave their lives to the Lord's work, and at times, traveled as circuit riders together. They had three daughters. After participating in the joy of leading many individuals to the Lord Jesus Christ, Clara went to be with Him at the age of seventy-eight.
From the unpublished Life of Clara Tear Williams: Spiritual Heritage of Kindness
An anecdote of Clara's godly mother: Mary Evangeline Searl Tear was about three years of age when her mother died, leaving her father to take care of Mary and her two brothers. Later, when her father remarried, the new step-mother gave out such unkind treatment that it was necessary for the three small motherless children to be brought up in other homes. Yet, when this self-absorbed step-mother was in her "unhappy old age," Mary lovingly took her into her home to care for her.
A Testimony of God's Forgiveness-An Excerpt
"In the fall of 1882 when I was 24 years of age, Sister Mary De Pew, a very successful evangelist in the Wesleyan Methodist church, asked me to accompany her for the winter's work in the state of Indiana. I consented to go and made ready. As the time approached I shrank from going, and the day before I was to meet her at the train, there came into my heart the feeling, ‘I cannot go.'
"Then it was suggested, ‘Perhaps it will be made clear by your becoming sick.' Very soon I did not feel well and the next day sent a message that I could not go. For a time I felt no condemnation and was planning how I would work for the Lord near home. About the time I should have taken the train it came over me that I had been guilty of falsehood. I was not so sick but I could have gone if I had really wanted to.
"Oh, the agony I suffered! I felt God had forsaken me. It was the first time I had failed to walk in the will of God, and the light of Heaven in my soul was changed to the blackness of night.
"After groaning and tossing for a time, it was plain to me that my only hope was to confess what I had done. To confess to my parents cost a struggle, but when I did it, my dry burning eyes were flooded with tears, and there came the sweet assurance that the Lord had forgiven me.
"I believe this is the only time in these nearly sixty years that I have failed to walk in the will of God as best I have known it."
Circuit-Riding Preachers: Treasures-Their Bible and Hymn Book
After their dramatic conversion to Christ in 1738, Charles and John Wesley began "circuit-riding," traversing Great Britain on horseback to preach the gospel and strengthen believers. They carried little more than their greatest treasures-the Bible and their book of hymns.
This practice was faithfully continued in the United States, characterized by what Peter Cartwright wrote in his autobiography: A circuit rider endured "storms of wind, hail, snow, and rain; climbed hills and mountains, traversed valleys, plunged through swamps, swollen streams, lay out all night, wet, weary, and hungry, ... slept with his saddle blanket for a bed, his saddle bags for a pillow." Though often very young, they were truly dedicated: "Of those who died up to 1847, nearly half were less than 30 years old."
These servants of the Lord-saddlebag preachers-were so daring that it was commonly said on nights of bleak and ominous weather, "The only ones out tonight are the dogs and the Methodist preachers." Clara Tear Williams was also a circuit-riding preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
John Wesley's journal of 1777 contains details of his impressions of the Manx people of the Isle of Man during his outreach there: "As it rained, I retired after service into a large malthouse. Most of the congregation followed and devoured the Word. It being fair in the afternoon, the whole congregation stopped in the churchyard, and the Word of God was with power. It was a happy opportunity."
Of the Manx men, Wesley notes, "The greater part of them were present at five in the morning. A more loving, simple-hearted people than this I never saw. [The island] is supposed to contain nearly thirty thousand people, remarkably courteous and humane."
Clara's great grandfather John Tear (1760-1841) was converted at the age of sixteen when he heard John Wesley preach on the Isle of Man. In 1826, he emigrated with his son's family to America.
Clara's grandfather William Tear (1784-1866) was among the first to emigrate from the Isle of Man to seek a new home for his large family in America. He sold Balla Thur, one of three ancestral Tear Estates on the island, and came to America with his wife, Joaney Gawne Tear (1784-1858), and their six children, Judy, William, John, Thomas, Margaret, and James.
The Tear family came to Fairport by way of the Erie Canal and Lake Erie. They settled in Leroy Township in Lake County, Ohio, in 1826 upon the farm where Clara was born.
A Strong Heritage: Ancestral Homestead
Clara Tear Williams was born near Painesville, Lake County, Ohio, on September 22, 1858. She was the second child and only daughter of Thomas Tear (1820-1894) and Mary Evangeline Searl Tear of Lewis County in New York. Clara's only brother, Charles, was four years older than she was. Clara and her brother were raised on the homestead inherited from their ancestors who emigrated from the Isle of Man.
Although the American Civil War (1861-1865) was fought during Clara's formative years-from age three to seven-she doesn't mention its impact on her life. Her unpublished autobiography focuses on her spiritual life and service to Christ and, in fact, does not mention any historical events.
Clara was not a physically strong child and there was doubt that she would reach womanhood. As a result, she was frequently kept home from school-much to her "great grief."
A Changed Heart
Having been trained in a manner that cultivated a sensitive conscience, Clara was only thirteen when she felt she was headed in the wrong direction and that her heart was growing harder and harder. She knew that if she did not soon come genuinely into submission to the Lord, she might never! She stated, "One night the matter was settled and as I started up the aisle toward the altar the love of God came into my heart."
Clara's salvation experience was not overly emotional; she characterized her rebirth as not so noticeably strong as it was real. Afterward, she saw the evidence within her heart in her newfound love for God's children. She testified, "Before, I wanted to shun them, now my heart was drawn toward them. ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brothers.'
The Lure of the World: "Failed to Keep the Blessing of the Lord"
For most, the world's allure never beckons more strongly than during those particularly susceptible teen years. Clara was also not exempt from such youthful folly and passions. As a teen, she confessed that she "failed to keep the blessing of the Lord and a place of amusement became more attractive."
But the Lord had not forsaken her. Rather, He was moving within her, allowing her to realize that the worldly enticements would only leave her with a burning thirst. In vain, she tried to satisfy her hunger by "feeding on the husks around" her. Clara came to a definite point when she felt she had been lured and cheated enough by the world's deceits.
A Higher Level
After attending a meeting when Clara was just seventeen, she heard the Lord's voice calling her to a higher level:
As we drove from the church and I looked back at the unworldly appearing [gospel] workers ..., knowing as I did that they were despised, the question came forcibly: Would I be willing to give up the world with its fashions and pleasures and fully follow the Lord? My heart responded, "Yes," and there flowed through my being a flood of glory that was inexpressible. Not a word was spoken, and while I believed I had received the cleansing of my heart, I was kept from testifying to it.
Nevertheless, her pastor perceptively noted that she had "taken advanced ground." Clara stated, "From that time I believe Jesus was first in my life."
Life out of Death: Persecution and Rejection
Her young acquaintances also noticed the change in Clara, and as one would expect, it was not always well received. Her popularity declined, but she overcame that oft-enslaving idol of youth-the admiration and acceptance of her peers.
She remembered how "the trifling giddy young people" at school no longer liked her, and she suffered "some small persecutions." How blessed she was to learn their "true loyalties" so soon.
Stricken with Regret
Early in Clara's Christian life, a devastating event occurred, triggering a crisis of consecration. Clara had been provided an opportunity to share Christ's saving grace with two of her classmates:
I was walking with two of my schoolmates when the [revival] meetings were the topic of conversation. The young man said, "We'll not go into that, but if Miss Tear would preach to us we would listen." I do not remember what I replied, but it was little if anything. My tongue seemed tied. What were my feelings when a few months later I learned that this young man and woman were both in eternity?
She was stricken with regret and turned desperately to seek the Lord.
Clara's Wonderful Counselor intervened in the resultant struggle in her heart through touching words from the hymn "I Need Thee Every Hour." She said, "The Holy Spirit burnt into my soul my awful need of His abiding presence.... From that time I knew what it was to ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness.'"
How gracious the Lord was to turn such a great loss and her accompanying sense of abject failure into eternal gain.
Choosing Her Path: Worldly Ambition-Subtle Temptation
Clara had aspirations for her future: "My ambition was to make teaching my life work." She felt teaching would supply security and held the prospect of getting the education that her poor health in childhood had prevented. And it would satisfy her desire to "dress well" and "associate with nice, intelligent people."
However, for Clara, attaining these goals became a subtle temptation. Her dilemma was one every serious pursuer of Christ has faced. If she were to give herself and her dreams to the Lord without reservation, He may require everything.
"Why Not Be Content?"
God was indeed calling Clara into a deeper consecration. She knew that in order for her to gain more of Christ, she must yield more of herself. Yes, she had been drinking of the Fountain that never fails, but now she was being drawn to drink deeper:
While I had given myself to the Lord, it now seemed infinitely more to consent to His taking possession, and control of my entire being. I had already taught a term of district school and my ambition was to make teaching my life work. I would earn enough by teaching in country schools to enable me to secure a fine education.
I could dress well and be able to associate with nice intelligent people. Now if I abandoned myself to the Lord and took my hands off He might lead otherwise.
Was I willing to be separate from this proud wicked world, and live only to please God? To be like Him, despised and rejected of men? It seemed for two days and nights I could not say yes. The suggestion came that I had at times been much blessed of the Lord and had been living a good life, why not be content? But it was very clear that to draw back meant darkness and perdition.
Dying to Self
Upon quenching the fiery dart sent to tempt her into yielding to complacency, Clara would not draw back from obedience:
On the following Tuesday I returned to the meetings. As I sat in the evening service I came to a point where the matter had to be settled, and finally my heart said, "Perish every fond ambition all I've sought or hoped or known." I died to the world and self and faith was spontaneous. When there was a request for those to stand who had received the cleansing I rose to my feet and as I did so, the glory came. I have never attempted to describe it.
I had been very timid, never could pray in public and could give only a few words of testimony. Now my tongue was loosed. The fear of man was gone. I felt like a bird in the air. Oh, it was wonderful.
Her struggle ceased-she relinquished her future plans and ambitions, giving her life unreservedly to spreading the gospel full-time.
Very soon after this I was called to public service. It came on three successive days. The Lord talked to my heart. The scripture was John 15:16. "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain. Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, He may give it you." I told no one of my call because I was confident no one would believe it. I remember my mother having said that Clara could not tell what she knew. A few days after this experience I commenced teaching my second term of country school and soon began to fail physically.
A Life of Service
Her Faith Tested: Tuberculosis
While waiting for the Lord's direction, Clara continued teaching. However, she soon suffered severe illness. She wrote, "A cough was sapping my strength; my arms became so weak that I was obliged to rest before I could finish combing my hair, and some of the time in school I could scarcely speak above a whisper."
Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with the dreaded tuberculosis. She later said, "My family despaired of my life, but I knew that the Lord had work for me to do and I would recover."
During her long convalescence, Clara learned how to enjoy the Lord more consistently day by day and to be satisfied with Christ alone. She related, "My full heart found increasing expression in song, prayer, and testimony." When her health was restored, she began to serve in gospel meetings, traveling throughout other states, often with another Christian worker named Mary DePew.
When Clara was just eighteen years old-only five years after being saved-she was serving as a worker at a gospel meeting in Troy, Ohio. After the meeting, she was requested to write a poem for a new hymnbook. Going back to her room that night, she began reflecting on her satisfaction in Christ and His abundant provision in her life and quickly wrote a poem before retiring to bed. The very next morning, Ralph E. Hudson, the compiler of the new hymnbook, wrote an accompanying tune. Thus, the jubilant hymn "Satisfied" was published, providing a sweet opportunity for Christians to express abundant satisfaction with their Savior in song.
A Surprising Victory-for Her Mother
In the late 1880s, Clara was needed at home to care for her mother who had become very feeble. At the same time, Clara continued to minister at services, but only at towns within the distance that she could drive her buggy. Clara's mother gained a real spiritual victory just before she died on October 21, 1887. Clara testified, "She had been a quiet retiring woman, but now she was inspired and preached with surprising strength of voice to those who visited her. Soon she restfully fell asleep."
That same year, Clara was asked to help compile a hymnbook entitled "Sacred Hymns and Tunes" along with other committee members such as A.T. Jennings, A.W. Hall, N. Wardner, S.A. Manwell, E.W. Bruce, G.G. Rich, H. Ackers, and W.S. Schenck.
A Fresh Message-for Clara
In the summer of 1888, Clara was serving at a camp meeting at Blodgets Mills, forty miles north of Syracuse, New York. Opposing opinions were held by the various groups represented at the camp. Clara testified of the Lord's mercy and grace:
The day before the first service in the evening, I was sick with a cold and under sore temptation. ... I doubted if I was able to go out to the first service in the evening but bundled myself up and sat back in the congregation. I do not remember who the speaker was but when he finished he called on me to follow him. I obeyed and illumination, strength and voice came.
From that time our God took hold of things. It was said there was scarcely a meal time when all the Syracuse people were at the table, some would be in the woods groaning before God.
One of the bitterest opposers confessed publicly how she had persecuted her pastor and said, "If he was here I would ask his forgiveness." Another strong woman, daughter of perhaps the leading opposer ran over the seats in her haste to reach the altar.
At one time when I was to speak, I was so burdened I could not get a thing to give to the large congregation waiting. As I went up into the stand the text came, ‘Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?' And when I spoke, the message came. It was as fresh to me as to the people.
A Restful Charge-toward Her Father
In the spring of 1891, Clara's father was very ill, and she also needed a time of rest. She moved back home to Painesville, Ohio, to help her brother take care of her father. Later, her brother and his young family moved to a nearby house so that Clara and her father would have more quiet than her three active young nephews could allow.
Though caring for her father during the week, Clara continued ministering the word on weekends as a circuit riding preacher. She would leave on Saturday mornings to drive her buggy twenty miles to Middlefield where there was a parsonage for her and a barn for her horse. After preaching to the Middlefield congregation the next morning, she traveled ten miles to minister in Windsor Mills in the evening, and then she would begin the fifteen mile trek homeward on Monday morning. Sadly, at the end of 1894, her father died.
Open to the Lord-for Marriage
With no more filial duties, Clara was able to travel more extensively in the Lord's work, often with a companion named Bertha Grange, who also accompanied Clara in song-Bertha sang alto, and Clara soprano.
When Clara was thirty-six, Clara became acquainted with William Henry Williams-a foreman in the Brown Bounell Mills in Youngstown,Ohio, who was also a lay preacher and a Sunday school teacher. He had been a profane, godless young man, but after turning thirty, he had a profound reconsideration of his life and came under intense conviction of his sinful state. A timely word from a faithful Christian leader drove William to go home, pray, and confess his sins. Pacing the floor, he flung open the door of his heart, believed into Christ, and was saved.
Clara relates their story:
It was simply a friendly Christian acquaintance and what was my surprise when after retiring one night there came to me the revelation that that man was to be my husband. I loved the work of an evangelist and being now free from temporal care, I looked forward with much pleasure to devoting my life to that work. My first reaction to the suggestion was, "Oh dear, I thought I was done with the subject of marriage." But I was not my own and trusted the Lord to work out His purposes.
Not long after ... I received one or two kindly letters from Mr. Williams and later a proposal of marriage.
The next May, 1895, we married.... I could see afterward that the Lord knew I needed a home. I have never doubted this leading of the Lord or regretted following it.
William worked faithfully to earn their living, at times as a mill foreman and also as a school janitor. This spiritually well-matched couple gave their lives diligently to the Lord's work.
Starting a Family: The Lord Is Faithful
The following May 1896, the couple was blessed with their first daughter, Grace Evangeline. Physically weak following the birth, Clara was advised to save up for possible medical expenses. However, both she and William had become accustomed to living economically for many years in order to give all they "could spare for Jesus' sake" in obedience to the command, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth."
In prayer about the suggestion to "lay up for future need," Clara received this answer: "It came to me clearly from the Lord, that if we planned for trouble it would come." So they continued to give generously to the Lord's work. Clara later testified, "My covenant keeping Lord was faithful to His child and brought me through beautifully." Ten days after giving birth, Clara's health improved, enabling her to care for her baby, and she was also able to proclaim, "We were not left in debt." A year later, in July 1897, a second daughter, Beulah, was born.
Partners in Ministry-Circuit Riding: An Earnest Request
In 1901, Clara Tear Williams attended the annual conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church while still serving as pastor of a small congregation in Indiana, Pennsylvania. At this conference, Brother Campbell was asked to accept the work of traveling president, however he would only accept if someone was found to replace him in his Sandy Lake Circuit. A brother was found to replace him, however in doing so, it left the Pine Grove Circuit without a pastor. The members all "earnestly requested" that William and Clara undertake the assignment. Clara stated,
There was no time to consult my husband and the responsibility was very heavy. I was compelled to decide. I knew that Mr. W. was God's man and would accept His will, so after some strong crying to God I felt clear to accept the charge. It was a startling surprise to my dear husband and a heavy cross but he bore it bravely. We had no horse and buggy and the circuit was twenty miles in extent. However when the wagons arrived to take our goods, there was a good horse and buggy to take us to our new home in Dixonville. Brother William Stevens had had an opportunity to buy it for us at a very reasonable price, and kindly waited for the pay which was not long in being provided.
William and Clara served the Pine Grove Circuit in central Pennsylvania from 1901-1906. It included Dixonville and Hillsdale at one end of the circuit and Rich Hill and Spruce at the other. Services were held on alternate Sundays.
When Clara was forty-three years old, their third daughter, Mary, was born on February 28, 1902, in Dixonville: "There were those who thought her coming a mistake but our God saw what a blessing she would be to us through the years." Mary would eventually become a teacher in the preparatory school at Berea College in foothills of the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky.
Testimony of Grace
After Dixonville, they served in Canton and Massillon, Ohio. Sometime during their service in Massillon, their daughter Grace went home to be with the Lord after a two-week bout with double pneumonia. Clara, despite her loss, saw the goodness of God even in all necessities: "[Grace] left a good testimony of saving grace. As everywhere the Lord's children showed us great kindness. In two weeks after her precious form was laid to rest in the family plot near Painesville every bill was paid."
A Satisfied Life
In their advanced years, William and Clara, traveled back and forth between several cities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont. While in Houghton, New York, their first grandchild was born to Beulah and her husband, Harold McKinney. Clara had already been recognized as a hymn writer, as told by George Beverly Shea:
One day I was walking down the main street with my father when he said to me, "Someone is coming toward us, an elderly lady I want you to meet. She is Mrs. Clara Tear Williams...."
Even at the age of eight, I was thrilled and in awe of meeting a hymn writer. To think of being introduced to a person who wrote one of the hymns we loved to sing on Sunday mornings!
Clara's lifetime of satisfaction in Christ had overflowed to many others as she had traversed the Ohio Valley, the Alleghenies, the Catskills, and the Adirondack Mountains, singing and speaking the gospel in church meetings, camp meetings, and serving as a circuit-riding preacher.
Clara and William continued to persevere in serving the Lord until William's death on May 17, 1934, at the age of seventy-nine. Three years later on July 1, 1937, Clara was also called home to be with the Lord at the age of seventy-eight, after having led many individuals to the Lord and penned the hymn "Satisfied" for future generations to enjoy Christ.
A Final Thought: "I Have Found Him!"
While singing "Satisfied," one might assume that the author had spent many long years in roaming the earth, panting "for a drink from some cool spring." In fact, in her quest to find meaning in life, Clara Tear Williams had experienced the familiar, but deep disappointments of fleeting and shallow entertainment, empty accomplishments, and unfulfilled ambitions. A whole world of those desires, however innocently pursued, could not satisfy her sense of longing "for a drink from some cool spring" to "quench the burning of the thirst ... within."
But Clara Tear Williams had heeded the exhortation from Ecclesiastes to remember God in the days of her youth! She was still in her teens when she penned this sweet, insightful poem, often referred to by the exultant first line of the chorus, "Hallelujah! I have found Him!" But for Clara, her title "Satisfied" tells it all. She had discovered this profound truth-mankind was made for God and is truly content only with Him. She "found Him"-a Person-Jesus Christ! She had discovered the One Who could satisfy her deepest need.
In spite of our fallen nature within and the corrupting ways of the world without, there is a yearning for God deep within us-He designed us so! His Spirit witnesses with our spirit, assuring us that only God as the genuine food and drink can satisfy.
When we receive Jesus Christ as Clara did, we also will rejoice that our Redeemer is a "well of water, ever springing"; the "Bread of life, so rich and free"; and "untold wealth that never faileth." Hallelujah! We have found Him!