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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

The Great War and After

With the declaration of war in August, 1914, the Chaplain-General’s department became very active. Men had to be selected in haste to accompany the British Expeditionary Force. To such, on the 6th August (two days after the outbreak of war) the Bishop wrote:—

“I cannot but write to you a few lines as you go forth to your unusual ministry. . . . Take to all your comrades in the service (regardless of rank) a loving message, by life and by lip, of Jesus Christ, a personal Saviour, who has identified Himself with us that we might be made like unto Him, partakers of the divine nature.

“Tell of His birth at Bethlehem—Emmanuel—God with us!

“Tell of His death at Calvary—God for us!

“Tell of His heavenly gift at Pentecost—God in us!

“I think I can hear you making reply, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ He says, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’

“You will not misunderstand me if I add one brief word of warning—it is concerning your own personal life. There will be many who will never hear your sermons, but they will read your looks, your life, your actions, and will thereby be greatly helped or hindered. See to it that they find faith, and hope, and joy, and the love which never faileth, as they behold in you Christ’s representative. At noon each day, let us specially remember one another, and increasingly pray that Christ may be magnified in our bodies, whether it be by life or by death. Unto God’s gracious mercy and protection I commit you—the Lord bless you and keep you!”

In a letter which he wrote to The Times he made the suggestion that when the hands of the clock pointed heavenward at noon each day, everyone throughout the Empire should pause for a few moments and breathe a prayer for the troops. He also issued a special prayer printed on a small card for the use of the men in all the armed forces. On one side it read:—

                A SOLDIER’S PRAYER

                 Almighty and most merciful Father,
                Forgive me my sins;
                Grant me Thy peace;
                Give me Thy power;
                Bless me in life and death, for
                Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

                 From the Chaplain-General.
                  August, 1914.

On the other side was the Lord’s Prayer.

With the signing of the Armistice in November, 1918, new problems presented themselves for solution by the Chaplain-General. The officers and men of H.M. forces, while not yet released from duty so that they might return to their ordinary occupations, were no longer facing the horrors of the battlefield, and their minds, being relieved from immediate danger, were likely to be subject to serious reaction, unless the situation was carefully handled. Efforts were therefore made by the military authorities to provide diversion for the men by means of recreation and concerts, but when they had done their utmost, time still hung heavily, and the temptations to excess in various ways was rife.

The Chaplain-General fully recognized the seriousness of the situation, and urged upon his chaplains the necessity of making use of the Church Parade and other meetings held by them with the men, and so to present the facts to them that these lads would obtain a balanced outlook on life which would carry with it a recognition of their duty to God and to their fellow-men. He did not merely emphasize the need for his chaplains to put these matters before them; he himself undertook an extensive tour of the camps and stations during which he endeavoured, by public utterance and by personal conversation with officers and others, to remove the menace which threatened the nation.

Knowing that the officers could exercise a strong influence over their men for good or evil, he yearned over them and desired above all things to enrol them in the service of his Lord and Master. It became known among them that the Chaplain-General did fearlessly speak individually to both officers and soldiers concerning their souls’ welfare, or to correct harmful moral tendencies, and, consequently, in some cases they would try to dodge him, or, if that were impossible, they would plan to be ready for the attack. Usually, however, the Bishop captivated them. For instance, a story is told of a visit made by the Chaplain-General to Gibraltar. Prior to his arrival, the officers had been somewhat perturbed lest the visitor should buttonhole them and cross-question them as to their mode of living, and they were therefore most anxious to avoid him. In less than forty-eight hours after his arrival, however, they were tumbling over each other in their eagerness to have an intimate talk with him!

As opportunity offered, the Chaplain-General continued to visit his chaplains at their stations in various parts of the world, travelling often on the troopships with the soldiers and ministering to them; while in the “between time” spent in the homeland, when he was not occupied with official duty at the War Office, he was in great demand at holiday camps convened for public schoolboys and others, as well as for a host of public engagements throughout the country.

Having reached the official age for retirement—sixty-five—in June, 1925, he relinquished the post of Chaplain-General which for twenty-three and a half years he had occupied with very marked success. In most quarters the news of his pending retirement was received with great regret. He had not, of course, pleased everyone. There were some among the military officers and others who had resented the Bishop’s Evangelical outlook and his direct attack on sin; but he was held in high regard by his chaplains throughout the world, and at a conference of regular chaplains held almost immediately after the Bishop’s retirement, the new Chaplain-General (the Rev. A. C. E. Jarvis) paid high tribute to the work of his predecessor:—

“We are too near to the work of Bishop Taylor Smith to appraise its value, so we will not attempt it; but this we all know—throughout the twenty-three and a half years’ occupancy of the office he was dominated by one all-absorbing purpose. He lived only for one thing, the glory of God, and its corollary, the salvation of the souls of men. Thus we are in possession of a great spiritual heritage. It is for us to conserve it, and, if possible, to bring it to fuller fruition.”

It was during the year 1925 that King George V conferred on him the honour of a knighthood and he was invested K.C.B.


>>Chapter 7: Diversity of Interests

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