DEAR BRETHREN--It becomes my duty to
inform you, officially, of the death of one of your members since
your last regular meeting--Rev. H. R. Smith, who died at his home
in Clinton, Henry county, Mo., on the 26th of January, 1872.
J. G. DALTON, S.C.
Which, on motion of Rev. A. A. Moore, was ordered to be spread upon the minutes, and a committee of three appointed to prepare a suitable minute relative to the Rev. H. R. Smith; and that Rev. J. A. Prather be chairman of said committee.
The Moderator appointed Revs. A. A. Moore and J. T. A. Henderson on the above named committee.
[Source: Minutes of Lexington Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, April 3, 1872, page 4]
The special committee appointed to prepare a suitable minute relative to the Rev. H. R. Smith, deceased, presented the following, which was unanimously adopted by a rising vote:
WHEREAS, God, in His all-wise, and, to us, inscrutable providence, has called from his labors in the Church militant to his reward in the Church triumphant, Rev. Hugh R. Smith, a member of this Presbytery; therefore,
Resolved, 1st--That in the death of Rev. H. R. Smith the world has lost a philanthropist, one who was ever ready to sympathize with, and endeavor to assist, fallen and afflicted humanity; the cause of Christ at large one of its able defenders and earnest advocates; the Cumberland Presbyterian Church one of the able, earnest and successful defenders of her doctrines and usages; his Presbytery one of her safe counselors and vigilant guardians; his congregation a most devoted and successful Pastor; and his family a devoted husband and kind father.
Resolved, 2d--That Bro. Smith was a pattern of devotion and industry, ever evincing a faith in God, and a courage to overcome all obstacles in the way of his usefulness, which should be recommended to, and emulated by, those who are younger in the ministry.
Resolved, 3d--That this Presbytery bow with humility to the will of God in this afflictive dispensation of His providence.
Resolved, 4th--That a copy of these resolutions be furnished to the Banner of Peace and The Cumberland Presbyterian for publication; and that a copy be furnished to the widow of the deceased, therewith tendering to her and the family the condolence of this Presbytery, and commending her to the merciful care of the widow's God. Jno. A. Prather, Chairman.
On motion of Rev. J. H. Houx, it was ordered that 11 o'clock next Saturday be set apart for this Presbytery to hear a funeral discourse in memory of Rev. H. R. Smith, that Rev. J. A. Prather preach said discourse, and Rev. A. A. Moore be his alternate.
[Source: Minutes of Lexington Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, April 4, 1872, pages 5-6]
The hour set apart to hear a funeral discourse in memory of Rev. H. R. Smith having arrived, the Presbytery heard said discourse, preached by Rev. A. A. Moore.
[Source: Minutes of Lexington Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, April 6, 1872, page 15]
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1872, page 127]
It was an excellent maxim, which prevailed among the ancients, that nothing should be said of the dead, except that which is good. It arose from a benevolent desire to bury the faults of a man with his body, and to preserve only the memory of his good deeds.
How fortunate then is it when we find a character of which only good can be said! It is not pretended that Mr. Smith was without faults and failings. Since the days of the first pair, such a character has not been found ; but it is true that, occasionally, in the history of the race, one has been found who possessed the frailties common to our humanity in the smallest possible degree.
The natural disposition of a man and his temperament, together with the influences that surround his early years, contribute very greatly to the development of the character which his mature manhood exhibits.
Happily for Mr. Smith, the influences which molded his early life were of the very best character. His parents and ancestors, for three generations back, were all pious, upright, and exemplary people. They were Presbyterians of the Scotch-Irish stock, and their first home in America was in the neighborhood of Philadelphia. His grandfather had often sat under the stirring ministry of Whitefield and the Tennents. The family moved to North Carolina, and in a few years thereafter, upon the opening up of the "Cumberland country" for settlement, they emigrated to Tennessee, and settled in Rutherford county. In this county, and in the neighborhood of Fall Creek, Mr. Smith was born, on the 24th of November, 1803. Mr. Smith, it will be seen, came into the world in the early days of the great revival, and in the country where it prevailed with greatest intensity. It continued on up to the time when he became capable of forming an intelligent judgment on the true character of the scenes which transpired all around him. I transcribe his own words. Speaking of the extraordinary physical exhibitions by persons who came under religious influences, he says: "These scenes I witnessed from boyhood up until I became a man, and after much serious reflection, I am clearly convinced that they were not the offspring of hypocrisy or wild enthusiasm, though hypocrites and enthusiasts might have been amongst those thus affected. I give the following as the chief reasons why I came to the conclusion that the work was genuine and of God. First. The doctrines preached from the pulpit, under which these occurrences took place, would legitimately lead to genuine conversion. Second. These meetings were seasons of deep solemnity among Christians, and much earnest prayer to God for the aid of his grace in the conversion of sinners. Third. The views expressed by those under these influences and exercises were generally as follows: The most exalted views of God's glorious perfections--the suitableness and all-sufficiency of the atonement; the most soul-humbling views of their own unworthiness, and entire dependence on God's grace for their salvation; and extolling the goodness of God in their deliverance from the thraldom of sin. Fourth. The consistent walk and triumphant death of those converted on such occasions. From my general observations, I am satisfied that the number of spurious professions was far less in proportion to the number at these meetings than at revival-meetings of the present day."
I have introduced these extracts from an intelligent eye-witness, in order to furnish some reliable evidence to readers of the present day, whereby they may form a correct estimate of this extraordinary chapter in the religious history of that period.
A great many versions of those scenes which attended the great revival have been published, to the great prejudice of religion and the injury of the visible Church. The reasons advanced by Mr. Smith for his own conclusions are philosophical, scriptural, and satisfactory, and may be summed up briefly in this general idea: that the genuine fruits of Christianity were borne by those people, and that in death their true conversion was fully vindicated.
In his fifteenth year, Mr. Smith, by profession, connected himself with the Church; Rev. David Foster was pastor of the congregation at that time. Mr. Smith accompanies his account of this event with a great many very interesting details, but we have not space for them here. No less interesting is his account of some of the revival-meetings of that year (1818). It seems that the whole country was awakened on the subject of religion--that camp-meetings were held in almost every neighborhood, and that the people, in great crowds, would go from one to another--often stopping by the way for religious services; and that all classes of society became deeply engrossed in the all-important matter. Those were grand days for the triumphs of the followers of the cross. When al whole community enlists under the same banner, the contest is short and victory certain.
I would like to witness one more deep, thorough, and all-pervading revival of religion, before my time closes up in this world.
After a long and painful struggle on the subject of his call to the ministry, Mr. Smith was taken under the care of the Nashville Presbytery as a candidate in October, 1821. Naturally modest, and even diffident, but very partially educated as yet, we can very well understand the great reluctance that was manifested by him before entering upon the important work of preaching the gospel; but having made up his mind that it was his duty to go forward and try to do what he could, he was not the man to falter in his purpose, or to evade responsibility. This trait of character will come out with great prominence in the course of this narrative. Apprehending, from the very outset, the magnitude of the work that lay before him, he applied himself with unfailing diligence to the matter of his literary education and theological advancement. He pursued his studies for two years, and was then licensed as a probationer for the ministry. According to the programme of the times in those early days of the Church, Mr. Smith was assigned to a circuit, and his traveling companion was the late Rev. S. M. Aston. The years that followed was but a repetition of the experience of his contemporaries, and of those who came after him. There were periods of discouragement and despondency, followed always by great freedom in the pulpit and refreshing seasons of spiritual comfort. Very many excellent meetings were held in the bounds of his operations, and many precious souls converted to Christ. In the midst of his first year's labor on the circuit, I find the following in his journal: "I devoted all the time I could to reading, for I delighted in the exercise, especially by Bible, and such other books as would afford me profitable information." This is but a straw, it is true, but it gave promise of what was afterward abundantly realized, from the unwearied industry and diligence with which his preparation for his work was carried on.
In the fall of 1824 Mr. Smith's father, with his entire family, moved to Missouri, and settled in Clay county. The young preacher immediately entered upon the duties of his profession in his new home. In the following spring (1825), he attended the McGee Presbytery, then the only one in Missouri, and was received on his letter from Tennessee. He was ordered upon a very extensive circuit, and so employed his time for the ensuing six months. I take the following from his journal: "At this Presbytery I first saw Rev. Finis Ewing, and acquired that high respect for him as a talented minister, and strong attachment to him as a fiend, which was increased by many years' intimate association in his own house, in the work of the ministry and in the judicatures of the Church." At the spring session of Presbytery in 1826, Mr. Smith was ordained--Rev. R. D. Morrow preaching the ordination sermon, and Rev. Finis Ewing presiding and giving the charge. He was again ordered upon the circuit in Cooper and Saline counties, and continued in this service for the next six months.
After his ordination, we notice another exhibition of the insatiable desire which seemed to possess him to extend his literary and theological attainments, and thus qualify himself better for the grave duties of his office. It was his desire to attend Cumberland College, and take a regular, thorough course in that institution, but the call for preachers was so urgent in this State, at that time, he was dissuaded from doing so; but that disappointment of his hopes only strengthened and confirmed his purpose to labor the more diligently at home, on the circuit, and wherever else he might be, and bring himself up to the very highest standard of qualification that could possibly be attained.
In the following year Mr. Smith returned to Tennessee, on business for his father, but made it convenient to attend the only Synod in the Church at that time, which met in the town of Russellville, Kentucky, in November, 1827. At this session of Synod the Barnett Presbytery was organized, being the second one in the State of Missouri, and it was at this session also that the question was submitted to the Church through the Presbyteries, whether the highest judicature of the Church should be a delegated Synod or a General Assembly. The next year we find Mr. Smith again on the circuit. About this time he speaks of having met old Father King at a camp-meeting in Ray county, and refers to the sermons delivered by him on that occasion as being very stirring and effective. He was a powerful man on occasions of this sort. Mr. King's person was very striking and commanding--large, strong, and rugged, he exhibited force and power in every lineament of his face, and every movement of his body. He possessed an imperious will, and ruled, where he thought he ought to rule, with an iron hand.
In 1828 Mr. Smith again went to Tennessee, to attend the Synod, which met in the town of Franklin. It was at this session that the subject of the proposed change in the form of government was discussed and decided. Mr. Smith's account of the proceedings is full of interest. We quote a part of his statement: "Several different times had been appointed to take the final vote, yet the members did not seem prepared, and it was put off from time to time. Finally it was agreed that there should be a night session, and that the oldest minister present should preside, and deliver an address to the members. Rev. J. B. Porter was called to the chair, and after a very affecting talk, all were requested to join in prayer; instantly the whole Synod were on their knees--intense earnestness was exhibited by every one present--a great awe pervaded the house, and after a long and solemn petition was sent up tot he throne of heavenly wisdom, the members arose, and the vote was taken in deep silence. The proposition for the General Assembly was carried by a large majority, and accordingly the first Assembly of the Church was ordered for the ensuing May, to meet in Princeton, Kentucky."
We find Mr. Smith a member of the first Synod held west of the Mississippi River, which was in October, 1829, and which met in the town of Potosi, in Washington county, in this State. It was always a point of duty with Mr. Smith to attend punctually the judicatures of the Church.
The death of his father, a little before this time, devolved on the hands of Mr. Smith the duty of attending to the farm and temporal affairs of the family. This matter for awhile abridged his preaching opportunities. During this period he gave his Sabbaths to two or three congregations, and lessened the limits of his travels. And here again we find another exhibition of his insatiable desire to extend and enlarge his literary and theological attainments, as a means to the full accomplishment of his mission. He procured the necessary books, and commenced the study of the Hebrew and Greek languages, and for years persistently kept up these studies, so that he became very expert in reading the understanding the Scriptures in the original tongues in which they were written. This was a pursuit of knowledge under difficulties worthy of all praise, and worthy to be imitated by the rising ministry of the Church. First, there was an abiding and deep-felt want of preparation for his important work--then there was a resolute purpose to supply that want as far as possible, and then there was the inherent force and energy that was necessary to carry out this purpose, and the thing was accomplished.
Thus, while in the midst of laborious duties in the pulpit, and on the farm, in the care of his father's family, he continued his studies, and in time became one of the most learned theologians in the Church or in the country.
How many of the three thousand preachers, who have been brought into the ministry from time to time since the organization of the Church, can furnish a parallel to Mr. Smith in these respects?
In this connection, it is due to the memory of a good man to state that Mr. Smith's uncle, Andrew Robertson, of Clay county, afforded him material aid in the prosecution of his general studies, and also in the performance of his ministerial labors. Mr. Robertson was an elder in the Church, was very well off, and his hospitable roof was the home of Mr. Smith for a number of years. For a considerable time, about this period of his ministry, Mr. Smith's health became greatly impaired, and he contracted his travels and circuit-riding--taught school in the week and preached on Sabbath. He had already commenced the benevolent work of instructing and training the young men who were coming into the ministry in the Barnett Presbytery. Mr. Smith performed a great deal of this sort of gratuitous labor in the course of his long life, and herein he has rendered a service to the Church which cannot be very well estimated.
Among those who were at one time or another under his immediate training, we notice the names of Wiley and William Clark, Epler, Prather, C. A Davis, and others.
Ever true to his convictions of duty, notwithstanding his impaired health, we find him on his way to the General Assembly, at Princeton, Kentucky, in 1835, making the long journey on horseback. By way of showing with what system and economy of time Mr. Smith performed so much labor, I introduce from his journal the following: "It was an important object with me to properly divide my time between the study of the Scriptures, preaching, and the study of science. In the forenoon read and studied my Bible until preaching-hour, and then performed that duty; the afternoon I devoted to the study of whatever science or language I might be engaged in; late in the evening I heard the lesson of the candidate who might be with me, and after sundown retired for secret prayer and meditation."
This brief extract discloses the secret of his great success. Time was economized--system pervaded all his multifarious labors--secret prayer and meditation was an essential part of his daily duties. By these appointments, and under these arrangements, a resolute, honest man will achieve wonderful things. There is a purpose well defined, a pluck to execute, and a faith in God for results, that will always reap an abundant harvest in this life, and lay up large treasures for the life to come.
It will be perceived that Mr. Smith has now been in the ministry about twelve years, and yet up to this time there is no account of his marriage. What a strange history for a preacher! Why, if he had been some self-important fellow, who thought a year's service on the circuit had made him a great preacher, he would have been married ten years ago. But Mr. Smith was a wise man. He waited till his preparation for his great work was well forwarded before his incumbered himself with the care of a family. If he had followed the example of most of his predecessors in the ministry, he would have married early, and then there would have been so study of Hebrew and Greek, no thorough reading of Church History, no enlarged learning in general theology, and really no great and good preacher, such as he became, and thereby blessed the Church and the world.
On the 26th of January, 1837, Mr. Smith was married to Miss Harriet W. Hart, in Clay county, the marriage ceremony being performed by the Rev. John Linville.
Mr. Smith details an interesting matter that came under his observation about this time. He had frequently preached to a congregation in the Platte country, which now had no regular supply, on account of his own bad health and the inability of other ministers to serve them. The elders called a meeting to consider the matter of holding the annual camp-meeting. As far as could be learned, there was no prospect whatever of ministerial aid at the proposed meeting, and the majority were in favor of passing it over for this year. One of the elders insisted that they should go forward, and that the Lord would send help. Still objections were urged, and finally the elder referred to said they must have the meeting; that his own children and those of his neighbors were unconverted, and they might not live thus to another year, and that if no one else would join him, he would move on to the ground, and hold prayer-meeting with those who might come. Mr. Smith, hearing of this state of things, got up out of a sick-bed and went to the meeting. Several other preachers attended; all the usual campers were on hand; a vast crowd of people came up every day, and a great revival was the result. Over one hundred professed religion, and all of the old elder's children, through whose pertinacity the meeting was finally held. Mr. Smith speaks of it as an occasion of surpassing interest. All through the journal referred to so often, events of this character are described, and I would love to transcribe them here if space would permit.
In the year 1840 the wife of Mr. Smith died, after a lingering illness, and in a few months he commenced a more extended sphere of preaching service, spending most of his time in what was then known as the Platte Purchase. He speaks of the camp-meeting the next year at the same place where the old elder said there should be one the year before, if he had to maintain it himself. This second meeting was also a great success, continuing twelve days, and resulting in nearly one hundred professions of religion. From this time on, for many years, this new country, called the Platte Purchase, now including six populous counties, was the field of Mr. Smith's labor. He married again in 1841. The name of the lady was Davidson, and he settled near the home of her parents in Henderson county, and spent his time in preaching and teaching, very much as he had done at his old home in Clay county. It was at this new home where he built a house for his young preachers to occupy while he taught them literature and theology. Notably among those instructed at this place, were J. A. Prather, now an able and efficient minister of Lexington Presbytery, and the late Dr. C. A. Davis, of Memphis, Tennessee. Thus the years passed on, Mr. Smith continuing to preach every Sabbath to several congregations within reach, and every winter with one or more young candidates occupying that same little room built by Prather and Davis, and receiving daily instructions from the indefatigable old minister. A large number of congregations was built up and permanently established under his ministry. No man of the denomination was more industrious and pertinacious in the pursuit of his great calling. But afflictions and sorrows came to his household, the same as to other men's. In March, 1852, his wife died, leaving four small children to his care. This was a terrible affliction to him under the circumstances. It served for awhile to paralyze his energies and to block up the way to his future usefulness in the ministry. But he never was long without a field to work in and a way to get to it. He made temporary arrangements for the care of his orphan children, and proceeded with his usual labors. At the end of about three years Mr. Smith was married to Mrs. Linville, widow of the late Rev. John Linville. Soon after this event he commenced to labor in the city of St. Joseph as a missionary, under the direction of the Platte Presbytery. He continued in this work till early in the year 1859, when he resigned. During the period of his labors in this city, very considerable progress was made toward building up a good congregation. A church-house was built, and the foundations of future success were well laid--the Church having increased from ten to forty-six. In this connection he speaks of the failure of the Presbytery to meet their obligations with him for pecuniary support, in terms a little more bitter and emphatic than was usual with him.
From St. Joseph Mr. Smith moved to Independence, in the Lexington Presbytery, in the fall of 1860. The next year will be remembered long and painfully in this part of Missouri, as the beginning of the great Civil War between the North and the South. Inasmuch as Mr. Smith became somewhat involved in the difficulties during and after the war, I hold it to be just to his memory to let him speak for himself in this connection. At the beginning of the struggle, in 1861, he uses this language: "After much reflection and prayer to Almighty God, that he would guide and protect me, I determined to take no active part in the conflict, but remain at my post as a minister of the gospel; do all I could to sustain the Church; to handle nothing of a political character in my pulpit exercises, and to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified, among the people to whom I should preach pending the existing troubles." This was the purpose with which he set out at the opening of the war.
As the war progressed, and the bitterness of feeling between the two sections of the country became intensified, no man was allowed to stand on neutral ground. First one side, and then the other, would endeavor to force men into position--not respecting the calling of the preacher any more than if he were anybody else. Under this state of things, nearly every minister in the city, except Mr. Smith, had to leave his home and his country to avoid absolute violence, and at a later period he was the only preacher left in the town. His position now became one of peculiar danger and trial. His own conscience justifying him in all he did, he felt it would be cowardly to fly from the threatened danger, where there was so much for the minister to do. Here was a city of five or six thousand inhabitants, with no preacher to bury the dead, to open the doors of the Church on the Sabbath, to visit the sick and pray for the dying, except himself; and the question was, should considerations of personal safety send him away from these sacred duties? He determined to remain, and no man passed through the late war who was more mercilessly persecuted and abused than he was by the Federal authorities who were in power in the country. With no word or act to which exception could be taken by the most super-loyal, yet he was left no peace. Order after order was directed to him by the military commander of the post, to close his church unless he would preach the cause of the government from the pulpit. This he never did, and no amount of threats could make him do it.
It is difficult to find, even in history, a more sublime exhibition of moral heroism than was shown by Mr. Smith during all those dark years of the war. With a thousand bayonets in the town, any one of which was liable to be ordered to pierce him through at any moment, he still held on the even tenor of his way, and would not depart from his proper duties as a minister of the Gospel of Peace. In the midst of these terrible trials, we will see how he spent his time and demeaned himself generally. We quote from his journal: "I spent most of my time in my study, engaged in prayer and reading the Scriptures, to stay my mind upon God, to be prepared to preach on Sabbath, and to meet with resignation any trial to which he in his providence might suffer me to be subjected."
With an unfaltering purpose to do his duty, as he understood it, and with an unshaken reliance on God as the source of all his strength, he pursued the even tenor of his way, and thus passed through the long years of the terrible war. The authorities finally became convinced that he was honest in his purpose to remain neutral during the contest, and they tolerated him in their midst; and he went about among the people doing good on every hand. And when a battle was fought in the town, he would wait upon and pray with the wounded soldiers of both parties, in many cases to their great satisfaction and comfort. He records several instances where wounded soldiers fell under his care, and became seriously concerned on the subject of religion through his exhortations and prayers.
One trial he records in his journal in terms of strong reprobation. A certain minister of the gospel was chaplain to the post, and this professed follower of Him who preached a gospel of peace to all men, wrote inflammatory articles for the city papers, pointing to Mr. Smith as being dangerously disloyal to the government, because he would not preach politics from the pulpit. The evident purpose of the articles was to induce the commander of the post to expel Mr. Smith from his pulpit and from the city. These inflammatory appeals had their effect upon the commander, and accordingly, on the following Sabbath, a peremptory order was issued to Mr. Smith, commanding him to pray for the government, for the success of the Union army, and for all officers and others in authority. This whole proceeding was really for the purpose of placing Mr. Smith in a position to afford them a pretext to banish him from the city. But he was equal to the occasion. He divined their true object, and met the emergency with firmness and skill. Upon the opening of the morning service he explained to the congregation the nature of the order he had received. Several officers of the army were present, including the commander who had issued the order, and at the usual time of prayer in the exercises Mr. Smith uttered the following prayer, which was written out and preserved in his journal:
"O Lord, our Heavenly Father. Bless our beloved government, which thou hast given to us, to secure to us the inestimable privilege of civil and religious liberty, the right to worship thee and pray unto thee according to our own conscientious views of thy righteous will--none having the right to molest or make us afraid. Sustain it and perpetuate it to the end of the world, and make it a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Bless the President and his Cabinet, the Congress, and all the rulers and officers set in authority over us, of every grade and in every department. Make them all holy and good men, that they may rule in righteousness, in order that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness. Enable them to adopt wise and righteous counsels, to sustain the union, peace, and prosperity of our nation. Give success to all their constitutional and righteous efforts to sustain and perpetuate the pure and liberal principles of our government as our fathers handed it down to us. Forgive our national sins. Remove the curse of war from us, and restore peace to our afflicted country; and may thy will be done by our government as it is done by angels in heaven."
While Mr. Smith was reading from the pulpit the order under which he was acting, the commanding officer was greatly mortified and confused, and told some of the friends of Mr. Smith afterward that the chaplain and a few other persons had urged him to this unseemly act. But after this experiment upon the conscience of the stern old preacher, he let him along, and attended the services of the Church regularly.
We come now to a more severe trial than any of the preceding ones, which this excellent man was called on to endure.
After the close of the war, but while the State was still under military rule, a convention of the State, without authority, as was held by the late Edward Bates, who was President Lincoln's Attorney-general, passed an ordinance as an amendment to the State Constitution, and had it passed upon by the people under test oaths, and under the rule of the bayonet, requiring that all ministers of the gospel should take a prescribed oath before a competent officer, and file it with certain officers of the county, and receive from such officers a certificate to that effect, which said certificate should be the preacher's authority for preaching the gospel, performing the rites of matrimony, and other professional duties. To this illegal, unconstitutional, and infamous requirement Mr. Smith utterly refused to submit. Nearly the whole clergy of the State refused likewise. Very many of them did not pretend to preach while the law was in force. On the contrary, a majority of them disregarded the law. One Catholic priest, in Pike county, made a test case of the question involved; carried it through the courts of the State and to the Supreme Court of the United States, which last-named tribunal declared it to be in contravention of the Constitution of the United States, and therefore null and void. But it was several years before this decision was reached, and in the meantime Mr. Smith and other ministers were indicted in the Criminal Court, and held to answer for the grave offense of preaching the gospel of peace to a wicked world. They were arraigned in the courts side by side with thieves, robbers, murderers, gamblers, and prostitutes.
Mr. Smith was indicted in the Jackson county Circuit Court, and was arrested and taken before the court to answer to the charge. The case was continued by the State. A large number of his friends volunteered to go on his bail-bond, and several prominent attorneys volunteered to defend him. As it was known there was a test case being carried up to the Supreme Court, the trial of Mr. Smith was not pressed, and it was finally dismissed under the face of an outraged public sentiment.
A more iniquitous measure than this was never perpetrated in a civilized country. It is a foul blot upon the legal records of the State. It is such an infamy as will require ages to wipe it off from the names of those who were the authors of it. The deed recoiled on the heads of its authors, and just so soon as the people could be heard through the legal forms, they swept it from the statute, and consigned to obscurity and to infamy its supporters.
It was occasions like this that brought out into full display the real grandeur of Mr. Smith's character. Ordinarily, he was remarkably quiet, modest, and reserved. But when questions of duty became involved, he knew no compromise--he knew no way but the right way. No considerations of expediency could tempt or swerve him from his plain line of conduct. Firm and inflexible, he never deviated a hair's breadth from what he conceived to be right, and was always prompt to accept the consequences, whatever they might be. With a sublime devotion to duty, and a lion-like courage to discharge it, no earthly considerations could swerve him from his onward course. The motto upon his banner was "Conscience and Duty." He bore it loftily, and even defiantly, above his head, and shook out its folds to the passing breeze, so that every man might see it and know under what ensign he fought. He was a grand old character in these the latter years of his life. He was the stuff of which martyrs are made. The end of these struggles found Mr. Smith far advanced in life. He was still hale and vigorous, however, and as intent in the work of his life as ever.
Some time in the early part of the year 1867 he accepted a call to the pastorate in the town of Clinton, Henry county. There he remained until his death. It was my pleasure to meet him frequently during these latter years of his life. He was always in his place at Presbytery and Synod. No odds how remote from his home the place of meeting might be, he always went, unless providentially hindered. He preached continually down to within a few weeks of his final end. It seemed simply impossible for him to entertain the idea of surrendering his great commission. It had become a matter of habit as well as duty with him to be in the pulpit somewhere, when the Sabbath arrived. If he were traveling or visiting among friends, he would preach whenever he could find a place and an audience.
Mr. Smith died at his home, in Clinton, Henry county, Missouri, on the ____ day of ____, 1871. [sic: 1872]
He died as he had lived--firm in the faith, and with with an unshaken trust in his Divine Redeemer. Such a life as his could have but one end, and that end was full of hope to himself, and full of encouragement to his family and friends, and to the Church, which he so long and faithfully served.
During the last hours of his illness he was unconscious; but before he reached that condition his conversation with his friends indicated an absolute trust and reliance on the promises of the gospel. Not a shadow intercepted the bright vision which pierced beyond the dark valley, and took in the ineffable glories of the heavenly land.
We record another instance of an accomplished salvation. It is only one of many thousands, yet it is one--finished, full, and complete.
In reviewing the character of Mr. Smith, we find many elements of strength and beauty. One trait will appear conspicuous above all others, and that is, his sensitive conscientiousness. When a matter of policy or expediency was submitted to him, the fist suggestion of his mind was to inquire if it was right. That point being settled in the affirmative, he brought to the consideration of the matter a calm, dispassionate, consecutive, and logical method of investigation. He might have been considered slow and cautious in reaching his conclusions, but when once arrived at, he adhered to them with a pertinacity that some of his friends thought amounted to obstinacy. It arose, however, simply from his strong convictions of duty. Whatever he thought was right he could not surrender. He would follow out his views in this connection with undeviating perseverance, and with an unfaltering purpose.
Another striking trait in his character was his great industry in the discharge of his ministerial duties. This was eminently displayed in his laborious preparation for his work--in the systematic employment of his time--so as to accomplish the greatest possible amount of good; and above all was it exhibited in his ardent pursuit of all knowledge that would aid him in preaching the gospel more effectively to a dying world.
His mastery of the original languages of the Scriptures, his general scientific attainments, and his extensive miscellaneous reading, exhibited a degree of industry, and an all-controlling will, that found no parallel among his contemporaries in the ministry. As a learned man he was confessedly at the head of his profession in his own Church in this State.
Moreover, he was always at work; generally, in his earlier years, traveling extensively, and preaching everywhere; and in his later years, always in charge of two to four congregations. He was no idler in his Master's vineyard. When his health failed, he would teach school, and always had one or more of the young candidates under his instruction. Thus he would employ his whole time in the great work of his life.
As a preacher, he was far above the average of his day. With a mind thoroughly disciplined and trained to think, and well stored with all useful knowledge, he could scarcely fail to be entertaining and effective in the pulpit. He was a profound and luminous thinker, and his capacity in this respect was conspicuous in all his public exhibitions.
In his sermons, therefore, he was natural and consecutive in arrangement, clear and logical in the discussion of the doctrines involved, and pointed and effective in their application. Sometimes this application was really forcible and eloquent.
From his abundant resources he could long entertain the same congregation. It was not with him a limited series of sermons which had to be rehashed every few months from different texts. By some preachers I have often heard the same sermon preached from half a dozen different texts; and herein lies the cause of failure of so many of our preachers when they settle as pastors. Their resources are so limited that they literally preach themselves out in a few months, or a year at most. I know a noted revivalist, who, it is said, has but about twelve or fifteen sermons in his mental treasury. Of course, he is soon exhausted, and must soon move on to other fields of labor. As a revivalist he is a success, but as a pastor he would prove a failure. When a pastor has exhausted his supply, and has no mental training and capabilities that will enable him to create a new series of sermons, he is on the threshold of difficulty with his congregation, or near the end of his employment. A people of even ordinary intelligence will not be fed with chaff, and they will not long submit to being fed with the same mental diet. They must and will have variety; and the lazy drone of a preacher, who expects a congregation to receive and sustain him, when he has almost nothing to give in return, will find himself mistaken in the temper and intelligence of the people. It requires a thorough mental training and discipline, and a long continued course of study and general reading, to qualify a man to sustain himself as pastor for any considerable time.
I have seen a great many experiments of this kind, and a short acquaintance with the man's habits and his mental training enables me to predict with precision the term of his service to the same congregation; and, in nine cases out of ten, the fault will be laid at the door of the people, when he finds himself compelled to leave and hunt a new field for his old sermons.
Mr. Smith had a pleasant manner and bearing in the pulpit. Self-possession, dignity, and reverence, coupled with a fine person and agreeable voice, brought him up to a very high standard of pulpit qualities. His style was exceedingly smooth and flowing--his voice soft, sonorous, and capable of great volume--and his whole manner earnest, solemn, and impressive. He came well up to my beau ideal of a good preacher. He could instruct and edify--he could entertain the mind and impress the heart--he could convince the understanding, and stimulate to action; and occasionally, he could transport the Christian to scenes of ineffable bliss, and could also overwhelm the wicked with his terrible denunciations. In short, he was a workman that needed not to be ashamed. He was a master in his profession--learned, skillful, laborious, honest, heroic, devoted, conscientious, and eminently successful and useful in his day and generation.
By no means the least part of Mr. Smith's work for the Church was his training of the young men for the ministry. He possessed eminent qualifications for this duty. His manners toward the young men were very winning and conciliatory. He would sit by the hour and talk, and explain, and demonstrate; and thus enlist the attention, open the understanding, and impress the truth upon the mind.
His general manners in the social circle were very agreeable. At times he was humorous and gay--could talk and laugh with a will--but always modest, discreet, and circumspect. Nothing vulgar or otherwise unseemly ever passed his lips. In all these respects he was a model of propriety.
No man in the denomination in this country, except Dr. Morrow, within the last thirty years, has impressed his character so deeply on the mind of the Church as has Hugh R. Smith.
He is now dead, but he will speak for years to come through his works for the Church, and especially through those whom he has trained for the ministry. I confess to a strong personal regard for the man, and admiration for his character as a preacher. His ministerial career was characterized by so much singleness of purpose, and devotion to duty, that the admiration of men was not solicited, but simply demanded. The meed of praise could not be withheld.
He was not old when he died; his physical machinery was simply worn out. There was not the suspicion of rust upon a single hinge, screw, or joint. Nearly half a century of unremitting toil had dug his grave; but it had reared for him a monument more enduring than brass or marble, and that monument is found in the sacred memories of thousands who have become sanctified subjects of the better world, and other thousands who are now well on their way to that happy country, through his instrumentality.
As an appropriate conclusion to this sketch, I append the following from the pen of Rev. J. H. Houx, who was long and intimately associated with Mr. Smith in his ministerial labors:
"A month previous to his last illness he spent a night with me. He was in a peculiarly happy mood, and his heart was full of the spirit of his work. He rehearsed some of his recent investigations of difficult subjects, with as much enthusiasm as a man in the prime of life.
"After awhile the conversation turned on his future prospects, and he remarked, that 'when his work was ended he did not desire to remain much longer on earth. At times my heart bounds with joy, when I consider that my work is almost done, and I shall then go home. My only dread of death is the fear of suffering in the last moments of physical dissolution.'
"In this entire interview his peculiarly felicitious state of mind was very striking. He impressed me then that he was finishing up his great life's work, and that he was doing it well.
"In answer to your request, I will state, briefly, my views of Mr. Smith as a preacher of the gospel:
"I regarded him as possessing rare qualifications for the entire ministerial work, especially when it is considered that the prime of his life was devoted to a pioneer work. And those labors were performed amid all the inconveniences and disadvantages which appertain to long journeys, poor accommodations, and meager support, in sparsely settled communities. Under these unfriendly circumstances he attained a scholarship both critical in character and extensive in range. He was very extensively read in profane and ecclesiastical history, possessed very fair grammatical and scientific attainments; was well advanced in the study of the Greek and Hebrew languages, and withal a profound theologian. These acquirements were all accomplished in the midst of laborious ministerial pursuits, and under the other disadvantages above referred to. Such attainments made him a wise counselor in the Church judicatures, an excellent instructor of the young ministers of the Presbytery, and a most able expounder and defender of the doctrines of the Church.
"The last twenty-five years of his life were devoted to pastoral work, and considering his want of experience in that department of ministerial labor, he adjusted himself to his new position with wonderful facility, when he first entered upon that line of duty. And as evidence of his capabilities in this direction, it is stated, that when he had become old and quite enfeebled, he entered a new field where there was not much Church influence, and built up a strong congregation. This was in the town of Clinton, where he spent the last years of his life,and where he died.
"But the great achievements of his life were performed in that department of labor for which his early training had fitted him so well, and in which the strength of his manhood was expended. His early experience was that of laying the foundation--of expounding and defending doctrines--of instructing and encouraging the Church, in the hopes and duties of their calling. Much of his preparation for pulpit duty was to meet the wants of large and promiscuous audiences--oftentimes requiring a comprehensive statement of the theological status of his Church. To meet emergencies of this kind, he attained to eminent skill. He could entertain and edify the more intelligent, instruct the less informed, and overwhelm the adversary. In the delivery of his sermons, the presence of a large audience would wonderfully stimulate and arouse his powers. Realizing the great responsibility of his position to deliver only the truth as it is revealed, he sought enlightenment from all sources, and especially from the Infinite Source of all wisdom. He studied the Scriptures patiently and prayerfully--read all books that would throw light on the subject under investigation; and by this method he became a master workman in presenting and defending the doctrines and usages of his own Church. He was a champion for the Church--always clad in full armor, he could bid defiance to every foe.
"And yet he was one of the most humble and pacific men in the denomination. He never sought, but rather avoided, controversy; but his known and acknowledged ability as a representative man of the Church, had the effect to deter all opponents from challenging him to the contest. While pursuing the even tenor of his way at Clinton, it became necessary for him to prepare and deliver a series a sermons against some grave errors then rife in the community, and which were damaging to the cause of true Christianity. These efforts exhibited a degree of research and mental vigor, notwithstanding his advanced age, that surprised his best friends and most ardent admirers.
"Sometimes he would preach on special subjects before the judicatures of the Church. One such is called to mind: When quite old and feeble, he preached a doctrinal sermon before his Presbytery which made an indelible impression on the minds of all who heard him.
"In his prayer he made this appeal to God: 'O Lord, thine aged servant is about to attempt to preach again! Help him this one time more. If thou will not assist him, take him away before he makes the attempt.' The appeal was so fervent, earnest, and simple, that all present seemed to feel that divine aid would be realized by the aged preacher. The effort was a masterly one. Many persons went away saying they had never heard such a sermon.
"As already hinted, his habit was to make the most thorough preparation possible under the circumstances, and then he prayed, and trusted in divine aid as implicitly as though he had never thought of his sermon. Another fact in this connection is rather a novel one, in my observation. After the sermon was over, and especially if he had enjoyed unusual liberty, he would retire for prayer, and thank God for the aid received, and prayed for grace that his wicked heart should not become vain. So that every stage and point of his ministerial work was the subject of prayer.
"I will only add one other feature of his preaching, and that as illustrating his great power in his appeals to the ungodly. Sometimes his addresses to the unconverted were utterly overwhelming. Sometimes the sinners would fall as dead men, and would not recover their normal condition until they had accepted the terms of salvation. On one occasion, at a camp-meeting, he preached a sermon on the general judgment, from Revelation XX. 11-15. The effort was so tremendous that there was not more preaching that day, or the following night. Men lay scattered about the ground as though a great battle had been fought. Again and again the mournful expression was heard, 'O that awful sermon!' Several of his friends among the unconverted sent for him, and told him in the most piteous tones, that 'he had ruined them.' One poor man, all alone outside of the altar, was exclaiming constantly: 'O that awful sermon! that awful sermon! It has ruined me, and I am lost!'
"It did seem at times that Mr. Smith could reach up into the very heavens, and grasp the force and power before which sinners would fall as men in a deadly battle.
"He was one of that early type of Cumberland Presbyterian preachers who were raised up and especially qualified for inaugurating a new era in the history of theological discussions on this continent. The great scriptural truth, that there was a possible salvation for all men, and yet security in Christ to the penitent believer, was eliminated from the old theologies by Cumberland Presbyterians. They first flung that banner to the breeze, and they have maintained it aloft with giant hands from that day to this.
"The part which Mr. Smith performed in this stupendous work will never be recorded by mortal pen.
"In the eternal archives above will be found the full history. Peace to thine ashes, thou saintly man of God!"
and usefulness before the Church, as an example for the imitation of our rising ministry."
[Source: Historical Memoirs: Containing a Brief History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Missouri, and Biographical Sketches of a Number of Those Ministers who Contributed to the Organization and the Establishment of that Church, in the Country West of the Mississippi River. By Judge R.C. Ewing. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 219-255]