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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 Journey's End

A large part of the Bishop’s last year of service was spent in Canada and the United States in connection with the D. L. Moody Centenary celebrations. The president of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Dr. Will H. Houghton, invited the Bishop to be the principal member of a delegation from Great Britain. From the beginning of January to the end of April, 1937, special meetings were conducted in Chicago, Detroit, Buffalo, Toronto, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and other large cities in the eastern half of the continent. At each centre the Bishop addressed great audiences. At the never-to-be-forgotten meeting held on Moody Day (February 5th, 1937) in the Coliseum at Chicago, he addressed 15,000 persons, and it is estimated that at least a further 5,000 clamoured in vain for admission.

At the conclusion of the Moody celebrations the Bishop returned to England for the summer months, and then went back to the U.S.A. in the autumn for the second part of the programme in the West. In the midst of an exceptionally busy programme, however, he was suddenly taken ill at San Francisco with what proved to be double pneumonia and heart trouble, and it was necessary for him to be removed to hospital without delay. The position was very serious. Three nurses were in attendance upon him continually, and his medical advisers realized that even if he were to recover, which was very doubtful, a long period of time would elapse before he could hope to continue his journey. At the Moody Bible Institute, 1,100 students and faculty members came together for prayer on his behalf, and following that first united prayer meeting, consecutive groups of people at the Institute continued to pray daily from 5 a.m. till 11 p.m. In England and elsewhere much prayer, individual and corporate, was offered for the Bishop; with the result that a miracle was wrought, and after only sixteen days’ illness he was again engaging in public service. The doctors who attended him admitted that it was nothing less than a miracle.

Leaving America on December 7th, the Bishop set sail for Australia—his fourth visit to the Commonwealth. He took part in the Katoomba Convention and presided at the C.M.S. Summer School at Lawson, while as the guest of Archbishop Mowll of Sydney he preached several times in St. Andrew’s Cathedral. At Melbourne he participated in the 150th anniversary celebrations of the discovery of Australia and also broadcast on a number of occasions. He preached his last sermon on Australian soil at Perth before embarking for the homeward journey early in March, 1938.

On board the S.S. Orion he was as active as ever, and quickly endeared himself to the passengers. He addressed a number of informal gatherings as well as preaching on the Sundays to great and increasing congregations. On the fourth Sunday on board (March 27th) he had a crowded programme, giving his last address at a late evening service. While showing signs of being fatigued, he spoke with the utmost earnestness, urging decision for Christ without delay and using in this his last talk the expression, “Do it now; for though we expect to arrive in England next week, none of us can know if he will ever get there.”

The next morning at the breakfast table he quietly passed away. Almost at the moment of his seizure he was speaking happily of the experiences of the previous evening. At 6.30 on that same day (Monday, March 28th) the Burial Service was read on one of the first-class decks, the Dean of Brisbane and two other clergymen officiating. Lyte’s never-dying hymn was sung, “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,” and as the sun disappeared in Adria the remains were slipped from underneath the Union Jack and committed to the deep.

Under the auspices of the Keswick Convention Trustees and the Children’s Special Service Mission, a Memorial Service was held in All Soul’s, Langham Place, London, while similar services were held at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, at the Royal Military Chapel, Wellington Barracks (conducted by the Chaplain-General), and at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, Australia.

                                                                                *     *      *      *

What was the secret of the marvellous influence of John Taylor Smith’s long, varied, and busy life? How was it that the boy, brought up in comparatively humble circumstances and giving little early promise of subsequent greatness, became such a benediction to the Church of God, not only in Great Britain, but the whole world over?

The ultimate secret was surely that he was a man full of the Holy Ghost. In his early days he prayed: “Lord, if it be possible, prove the possibility of the divine in the human.” God took him at his word, and from the moment he yielded his all, he never provided for or consciously recognized the self-life. As a man full of the Holy Ghost, he was also full of wisdom and grace, of faith and power. No one ever came into touch with Bishop Taylor Smith without being the better for it. There was always in him a quiet dignity, a sweet spirit of reasonableness. Whenever he stood up to preach, people were conscious not so much of the preacher as of the message. He spoke with authority, as a man sent from God and impelled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Let each one of us take to himself the concluding portion of a letter the Bishop wrote to his prayer partners: “May we share together by prayer and fellowship His unfolding opportunity to witness to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the victorious indwelling and overflowing of the Holy Spirit.”

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J. Taylor Smith
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