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 Issues | Church History | John Taylor Smith


Great Churchman No. 15

John Taylor Smith (1860-1938)

by E. L. Langston

Bishop of Sierra Leone and Chaplain-General

Published by Church Book Room Press

Early Days

What happy memories the name of Bishop Taylor Smith brings to us who once knew him! How he was loved, revered and respected! He arrested and captivated all with whom he came into contact. There was divine grace and understanding in all that he did and said. He was not in the accepted sense of the word a scholar, nor did he possess high intellectual attainments. He was just an ordinary man with a simple and ordinary education, yet he was called to preach and to influence kings and princesses, diplomats, admirals and generals, as well as the humblest in the land. All loved him and profited from his life and influence. What then was there about this man that made him such a blessing and benediction wherever he went the world over? To answer this question is the reason of this short biography. I think we shall find it in studying closely the spiritual crises that came to him at different periods of his life.

Born in Kendal, Cumberland, 1860, he was brought up in the Sunday School of the parish church; and it was there he received his first impressions of God and of His love, as well as from the home training and piety of his godly mother.

It was at the age of eleven that he became deeply distressed about his own soul’s welfare. Usually he was very frank and outspoken, and would run to share his boyish problems and perplexities with his mother; but in regard to this all-important matter he became peculiarly reticent. Not to her, at any rate, would he confess his anxiety, lest she should be disappointed, for he had a notion that she had long thought him to be a child of God, and he did not wish to disappoint her. For six months therefore the lad remained under deep conviction, during which time he was so miserable that he often cried himself to sleep—“looking,” as he afterwards said, “for Christ and not finding Him.” Then one summer evening the text, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My Name, He will give it you,” came to him with a personal appeal, and in faith he asked and received.

Sixty years later—then Bishop Taylor Smith—he referred thus to the circumstance: “I was troubled, not over sins that I had committed, but over sin. I saw my own sinfulness, and longed for a way out of the mire in which I felt myself to be entrapped. I shall never forget those days. Many a time I flung myself despairingly at my bedside and cried, ‘Lord, the odds are so great as to whether I shall ever get to Heaven that I wish I had never been born.’ On one occasion (during the night I had been in great distress of mind) I was gazing out at the early dawn just visible above the grey horizon, when peace came. The joy was indescribable; all doubt, all fear, went, and perfect peace, the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, came! Since that day I have never once lost the belief that ‘I am His and He is mine’. Never once has doubt as to my salvation distressed me. I am Christ’s—I know it; therefore, I do not and will not fear.”

As a boy, his intense longing for communion with his newly-found Friend led him to form the habit of rising early (often at dawn) so that he might spend a “Quiet Time” alone with God. This “Q.T.”, as, later, he familiarly termed it, resolved itself into no formal series of spiritual exercises such as the saying of set prayers or the reading of certain portions of the Bible. It was in the fullest sense of the word a time of communion—the happiest period of his day—when he came face to face with His Lord and Master and enjoyed a heart-to-heart talk with Him, learning His will, and seeking His guidance concerning the happenings of the day. Undoubtedly this daily practice was the source of his remarkable spiritual development, as also, in after years, of his unusual power in dealing with men.

Right from the commencement of his spiritual life he was always out to win souls for Christ. At times he was deeply disappointed that his efforts were fruitless. Then, on a never-to-be-forgotten day, when he was fourteen years of age, God gave him his first soul. Here is the account of that happy event as related by himself.

“The lad was passing through a period of anxiety as to his soul’s welfare. The superintendent had spoken to him, also his teacher, but all to no avail. I went home and all night (remembering what I had myself suffered) my thoughts dwelt on that poor fellow. In the morning I went to the superintendent and asked if I might speak to the boy. He said, ‘You had better not. It can do no good, and you may only do harm.’ I returned home feeling that, whatever anyone else said, I must speak to him, and speak I would. At last my opportunity came. I sought him out and went for a walk with him in the country, talked to him, and, at length, going together into an empty house, we prayed earnestly. He went home, no longer in the bondage of sin, but rejoicing in Christ as his Saviour. Never shall I forget the joy I felt. I also went home, and kneeling down in my great flush of happiness at having won one jewel for my Master’s crown, I prayed to die—‘Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace.’ Of course, the Lord knew better than to answer it. He had other work for me to do, other souls for me to win for His honour and glory.”

Now that he had tasted the joy and luxury of winning a soul for Christ, it ever became the passion of his life to lead men and women and children into the glorious experience of salvation from sin.


>>Chapter 2: Youth and Manhood

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