Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Kelly, William
KELLY, WILLIAM (1821–1906), Plymouth brother and biblical critic, only son of an Ulster squire, was born at Millisle, Co. Down, in May 1821. His only sister married a Canadian clergyman. He was educated at Downpatrick and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B.A. with the highest honours in classics. Left fatherless at an early age, he became tutor in the family of the then Seigneur of Sark. Though he was brought up as a protestant churchman he had leanings to Puseyism, but became a Plymouth brother in 1841, and shortly after left Sark for Guernsey. At the age of twenty-four he met John Nelson Darby [q. v.], the founder of the Darbyites (a seceding sect of the Plymouth brethren), became Darby's chief lieutenant, and edited his collected writings (34 vols. 1867-83). In 1879 Kelly supported Dr. Edward Cronin, who was excommunicated, in his dispute with Darby on a question of church discipline. Kelly and his party maintained the superiority of individual conscience over church control in matters not fundamental, but they remained true to all of Darby's narrow doctrinal views except as to the baptism of infants. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said of Kelly that he was 'born for the universe,' but 'narrowed his mind by Darbyism.'
After nearly thirty years (1844-71) in Guernsey, Kelly spent his last thirty-five years at Blackheath. He died at The Firs, Denmark Road, Exeter, on 27 March 1906, and was buried near his second wife in Charlton cemetery. He married (1) Miss Montgomery, of Guernsey; (2) Elizabeth Emily (d. 1884), daughter of H. Gipps, rector of St. Peter's, Hereford.
Shortly before his death Kelly presented his library of 15,000 volumes to the town of Middlesbrough.
Kelly was a prolific writer and lecturer on scriptural subjects. From 1848 to 1850 he edited the 'Prospect' and from 1857 to his death the 'Bible Treasury' (still in progress), periodicals devoted to the discussion of scriptural topics from the ultra-protestant point of view. From 1854-6 he contributed to the 'Christian Annotator,' for which Samuel Prideaux Tregelles [q. v.] and Philip Henry Gosse [q. v.] also wrote. As editor he came into contact with theologians of every school of thought, with Dean Alford [q. v.]. Principal Thomas Charles Edwards [q. v. Suppl. I], and others. His writings displayed much logical faculty. A keen critic and controversialist, and an uncompromising opponent of all forms of higher biblical criticism, he obtained a wide reputation as a scholar. His critical Greek text of the 'Revelation of St. John,' 1860 (the first Greek work printed in Guernsey), met with the warm approval of Heinrich von Ewald, the German theologian.
His published works, whose titles fill four pages of the British Museum catalogue, include: 1. 'The Book of Revelation, translated from the Greek,' 1849. 2. 'Lectures on the Book of Revelation,' 1801. 3. 'Lectures on the Second Coming and Kingdom of Jesus Christ,' 1865. 4. 'Lectures on the New Testament Doctrine of the Holy Spirit,' 1867; new edit. 1906. 5. 'On the Gospel of Matthew,' 1868. 6. 'Lectures introductory to the Study of the Pentateuch …,' 1871. 7. 'Isaiah expounded,' 1871; new edit. 1897. 8. 'Lectures on the Earlier Historical Books of the Old Testament,' 1874. 9. 'Elements of Prophecy,' 1876. 10. 'In the Beginning, and the Adamic Earth,' 1894; revised edit. 1907. 11. 'The Gospel of John expounded,' 1898. 12. 'The Revelation expounded,' 1901; 3rd edit. 1904. 13. 'God's Inspiration of the Scriptures,' 1903.
[The Times, 31 March 1906; Memories of the Life and Last Days of William Kelly, by Heyman Wreford, 1906 (with portrait); E. E. Whitfield on Plymouth Brethren and William Kelly, in Schaff-Herzog's Religious Encyclopaedia, new edit. 1908–11; W. Blair Neatby's History of the Plymouth Brethren, 2nd edit. 1902; William Kelly as a Theologian in Expositor, 7th ser. No. 17; Brit. Mus. Cat.; information supplied by Mr. F. E. Race, of Paternoster Row.]