Remembrance of our loved dead is God implanted in the human mind. We forget their faults, and fondly cherish their excellencies. The commemoration of their virtues is grateful to loving hearts, and profitable to others. The labors, sacrifices, and sufferings of the good, enlist our sympathies; their success stimulates others to overcome similar obstacles, and endure like trials. If unspeaking and cold statues could excite Roman youths to imitate the deeds of their ancestors, how much more should the record of the consecrated life and self denying labors of a Christian minister stimulate those aspiring to the same high office to deeds of noble daring and patient suffering in the same kind Master's service. It is, therefore, with pleasant anticipations that we give a brief sketch of the life and labors of our deceased beloved brother, Samuel P. Chesnut, D.D.
He was born in Todd county, Ky., July 13, 1831, and died June 19, 1889.
Early in life he manifested that strong faith in the efficacy of prayer which characterized his whole life. When seven or eight years of age, it was told him that his mother was dying. The lad knew only One who could restore his mother to health. Leaving assembled friends with his mother, he went out alone to pray. See the grief-stricken boy down upon his knees. See the wistful and tear-stained face raised to heaven. See the child's hands clasped in agony; listen to that childish voice as he prays: "O great and good God, please spare my dear mother's life. Good God, if you only will spare my mother, I will give my whole life to thy service!" The mother recovered. And who shall mockingly say, "It was not at the intercession of the boy," who prayed in faith nothing doubting? Who does not love to think that the loving Father smiled upon the child and sent the Healer?
Look again: An old woman, who has passed fourscore years, is lying upon her death bed. A strong man, a Christian minister, is bowed beside that bed. With uplifted face he pleads: "Spare my mother a little longer if it seem good to thee; if not, not my will, but thine be done." See the aged and trembling hand take hold of the son's. Hear her feeble utterances: "My dear son, long years ago God spared my life in answer to your prayer. I have lived to see you all that my heart could desire; a noble man of God; a Christian minister. And now my work is done, my race is run, and I am only waiting, ready, willing."
All who knew Dr. Chesnut will bear witness that he was faithful to his early vow, and that he was a man of prayer. To prepare himself more thoroughly for his life work he entered Cumberland College, Princeton, Ky., during the presidency of Dr. Richard Beard, of hallowed memory. The diligent application and Christian deportment of the ambitious student won the commendation, and received the friendship of the old president which was never impaired. Dr. S. G. Burney, says: "My first meeting with Dr. Chesnut was at Princeton, Ky. He made a favorable impression upon my mind as a young man of promising usefulness." After his graduation, Cumberland College was abandoned by the church. An attempt was made to resuscitate it, and in the re-organization of the faculty, young Chesnut was elected to a professorship. Thus as a student and professor, he laid a foundation for extended usefulness in high literary attainments.
He soon followed Dr. Beard to Lebanon to receive theological instruction, and was the first graduate from the theological department of Cumberland University, July 18, 1858. He was deeply impressed with the dignity and responsibilities of the Christian ministry, hence he availed himself of every facility for preparation afforded by his church. Would to God that all who aspire to speak for God unto the people would imitate his example in this respect. Would that they realize that the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should learn the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
Thus equipped, he was selected by the Board of Missions for the pastorate of the mission at Clarksville, Tenn.
He found a weak band of twenty-five souls, an unfinished house, with a debt of four hundred and fifty dollars, hanging over it. Infusing his own spirit into the discouraged membership, they followed his lead, and finished the church edifice, Chesnut paying two hundred and fifty dollars himself. The membership was more than doubled, all things indicated success, and they were on the eve of declaring the congregation self sustaining when all was converted into gloom and disaster by the war between the States.
On the fall of Fort Donelson, the Federals occupied Clarksville, and converted their house into barracks, and subsequently appropriated it to the "contrabands" for church and school purposes.
He returned in 1866. The building was unfit for use and greatly damaged, the membership much weakened in numbers and financial ability. No aid could be obtained from the Board of Missions; yet, says he: "We determined to make a faithful effort, believing that through the help of our brethren and the assistance of the great Head of the church, we would succeed." His faith staggered not at the herculean task. He clung, with all the love of a fond parent, to his first charge. For the little church he loved so well, he is prepared to sacrifice, and bend all the powers of body, mind, and spirit, to overcome almost insurmountable obstacles. With no assurance of support save that arising from the righteousness of the cause and his trust in divine Providence, he boldly went forward. Again he collected the scattered sheep, repaired the house of worship, and gathered in a congregation from the hedges and highways.
Considering the obstacles to be surmounted, and the difficulty of resuscitating a congregation always feeble, and now almost dead, his success was remarkable. Let our young men learn from him what a determined will and a consecrated heart can accomplish.
In 1870 he left for others to reap where he had sowed, having given about twelve years of the prime of life and over one thousand dollars of his money to the mission. He then became proprietor and editor of the Banner of Peace. This responsible and trying position he filled with credit to himself and the edification of the church.
In 1873 the General Assembly authorized the Board of Publication to consolidate the church papers by purchase. Although this policy was contrary to his own judgment, he yielded to the voice of his church, as expressed by its highest court, and sold to the Board of Publication the Banner of Peace. It was his purpose to retire from journalistic life, but he was strongly urged to purchase and edit the Ladies' Pearl, a periodical started by the Rev. W. S. Langdon in 1852. He increased its circulation threefold, enlarged and improved it in many respects, yet for want of a more general appreciation by the church, it entailed financial disaster. The severe strain of journalistic life for so many years, combining with other causes, resulted in nervous prostration, and he was compelled to bid adieu to his dear Pearl. After a year's rest from mental labor he felt able to enter upon the work of the ministry. Death found him preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Dr. Burney says: "As a preacher his manner was simple and forcible. Although an educated man he attempted no exhibition of learning in the pulpit. His object was to proclaim the truth, giving unto his hearers their portion in due season." What a graphic portrait of a faithful minister of Christ? No thought of self; his learning made subservient to simplicity and force; fidelity to God and man his aim. Dr. Burney says: "He was faithful in his attendance upon the judicatures of the church; a good and affectionate presbyter." He represented his church as a corresponding delegate to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, South, and of his address Dr. Stewart Robinson, the moderator, said: "It was one of the most comprehensive and able addresses ever delivered before that body; and he was a man that any church might be proud of."
The writer ever found him true in friendship, pure and noble in sentiment, generous in action, and steadfast in his convictions of duty. He held in supreme contempt all duplicity and hypocrisy, and his denunciations of such things were often so severe that he incurred the displeasure of some. He was hospitable in his home, liberal to the enterprises of his church, and the friend of the orphan, the widow, and the needy. But it seemed good to Him who knoweth best to say to the faithful friend, the devoted husband, and consecrated servant, "Come up higher." Happy hour when the once old, but now young mother and the praying child met in the "home beyond." It was meet that such a man should pass away without protracted suffering. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them."
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, December 5, 1889, page 2]
Report of Committee on Deceased Minister
Name: S. P.Chesnut, D.D.
Time of Death: June 24, 1889
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1890, page 37]