Baptists We Should Know: Rufus Burleson, 1823–1901

Dr. Mark Rasmussen

Rufus Burleson was born in August, 1823, near the town of Decatur, Alabama. At age sixteen he accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and was baptized the following Sunday by William Holcombe. At age seventeen he went off to Nashville University to study law. The Lord spoke to his heart, and Burleson laid aside his aspirations in order to pursue a life of ministry. That same year he was licensed to preach at the First Baptist Church of Nashville. He was forced to withdraw from the university due to poor health, but he diligently studied the Word of God along with Greek, Hebrew, and Bible history as he recuperated.

After regaining his health, he finished his education through Nashville University while establishing several schools in Mississippi. Burleson then went to receive another diploma at the Western Baptist Literary and Theological Institute in Covington, Kentucky. Burleson was an example of someone who was in the ministry while preparing for the ministry. During his seven years in college and seminary he preached almost every Sunday, and scores of people were converted.

After leaving seminary, Burleson was called to the First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas. Although he was only there for three and a half years, the church became the largest in the city and paid off a large debt during his pastorate.

In 1851 Burleson was elected president of Baylor University. He left his church because he felt the need for a great Baptist university. He was a believer in co-education and trained thousands of young men and ladies at Baylor University.

Burleson was a man who was fixed with a purpose, full of courage, and yet amiable and generous. God’s hand was on Burleson and the churches in which he pastored. He led many people to Christ, including General Sam Houston, the first President of the Republic of Texas. Burleson was the president of the Baptist General Commission of Texas from 1892 to 1893. He helped establish the Peabody Education Fund and a state teacher’s training school. Burleson passed away in Waco, Texas, on May 14, 1901.