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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

Youth & Manhood

At the Kendal Grammar School, Taylor Smith received a sound average education, but so far as information is available he revealed no outstanding scholastic abilities such as would have marked him out as a boy who might in the years ahead become a world figure. While at this school, however, he learned many valuable lessons which stood him in good stead in later life; among them, to discipline himself, to give ready obedience to orders, and thoughtful consideration to the needs of others. He also developed moral and spiritual courage, for despite the jeers and laughter of his companions, he regularly knelt down in the dormitory to say his prayers and undauntedly held on to his Christian principles.

John Taylor Smith was in every way a normal, happy youth, in whom there was no trace of the religious prig. He regarded it as part of his Christian duty to keep his body fit. To this end he formed the habit of practising daily suitable physical exercises, he engaged in swimming, and revelled in open-air life and recreation. He also strove to develop his mind by reading and study. He served God with a single heart and was intensely happy. Healthy in mind, body and soul, he found that his appreciation of life, and his capacity to enjoy it, were enhanced. It was not surprising therefore that other lads welcomed his company, were influenced by his words, and accepted his leadership.

It would appear that he left school at an earlier age than would now be the custom, and immediately afterwards he linked up with the Kendal branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association, enthusiastically participating in the cycling tours and climbing expeditions arranged under its auspices. The temporal things, however, though recognized by him as important, were always a minor consideration; to serve his Master was his main objective. He never missed an opportunity to engage in soul-winning, whether by button-holing the individual or in connection with evangelistic missions. Before he had reached manhood, he had received many calls to public service in respect of the latter.

It must not be supposed, however, that in these early days he did not meet with those who would gladly have destroyed his faith. In his everyday mingling with men and boys he heard infidel ideas discussed, and he was urged to read Bradlaugh and Tom Paine in order to give explanations of some of the queries and statements contained in their pamphlets. “I will not tell you what the titles of those leaflets were, but they were startling,” he told an audience in later years. “I remember taking them to a clerical friend and asking him to help me deal with the difficult questions and statements contained in them. Instead of discussing them with me, he threw the pamphlets into the study fire, saying, ‘You are too young to bother with these things’. He drove me to myself, he drove me to God, and he drove me to my Bible, and I registered a vow then that if I could be of service to any young man in my future life, God would take my life and use it. Yes, I sanctified myself for young men struggling, as I was then, after holiness.”

Had John Taylor Smith followed his own inclinations he would have embarked at once on full-time Christian ministry, but two circumstances influenced him against dwelling too much upon the possibility of this course. He realized that he could not at that juncture ask his father for a second education, and he had a feeling that, however successful he might be in the lay work he was doing, he lacked the ability to become a successful preacher. Therefore, by his father’s arrangement, he went into partnership with his elder brother in the firm of J. & J. T. Smith, Jewellers and Silversmiths, Kendal, determining to continue his evangelistic work during his free time.

Was his desire for wider service a leading from God, or was it prompted from within himself ? The united testimony of those who knew John Taylor Smith in those days, as in his mature life, is that he had an implicit belief that God would give direct guidance where such guidance was earnestly and obediently sought.

It was in Carlisle Cathedral, on St. Paul’s Day, that John Taylor Smith heard the voice of God calling him to yield himself to do His will in the ministry. That day was an unforgettable day in his spiritual history. Like Isaiah of old, he saw the “Lord, high and lifted up,” and like Jeremiah he heard the voice of God speaking to his innermost being—“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee . . . a prophet unto the nations.”

And he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, for he wrote: “After that direct message, I decided without hesitation to enter the ministry.” In after years he declared: “From the day on which I responded to the call to service, God’s blessing has never left me; in all things He has truly been with me to deliver and to preserve.”



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