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Sketches of the Life of the Rev. Dr. ROBERT SMITH, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Pequea, in Lancaster County, in the state of Pensylvania.
DOCTOR SMITH, who was so long distinguished in the churches of Pennsylvania as a preacher of the first eminence, as the superintendant of a respectable academy for the instruction of youth, and as a teacher of theology, was sprung from a Scotch family who had migrated to the city of Londonderry in Ireland, and afterwards passed over to America, while he was yet a child, about the year 1730. His ancestors, both by his father's and mother's side, were substantial farmers; and, for several generations, had been distinguished for a vein of good sense, and fervent piety, running through both families. The first period of Dr. Smith's life furnishes few materials to the biographer. He lived in retirement with his parents on the head waters of the river Brandywine, about forty miles from the city of Philadelphia. At the age of fifteen or sixteen years, he became a subject of that gracious influence which so eminently accompanied the preaching of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, during his first visit to the churches in America. Young Mr. Smith, who had a mind turned to reflection and reading, had his attention powerfully arrested, and his heart deeply penetrated by the truths of the gospel, under the discourses of that celebrated orator, and most pious minister of Jesus Christ. Having become a fervent believer in the doctrines of salvation, he conceived, at the same time, an ardent desire to qualify himself to preach to his fellow-sinners that precious gospel, the ineffable consolations of which he felt in his own soul. His pious parents readily concurred in his desire; and, with their permission, he placed himself under the instruction of the Rev. Samuel A
Blair, who had established a useful and important seminary in Fag's Manor, in the county of Chester, in Pennsylvania. Here he pursued, during several years, first his classical, and afterwards his theological studies, under a man who was inferior to none, in the soundness of his understanding, and the penetration of his mind; who was a profound divine, and a most solemn and impressive preacher. In Mr. Blair, besides an able instructor, and an excellent model of pulpit eloquence, he possessed the advantage of an admirable example of christian meekness, of ministerial diligence, and of that candour, liberality, and catholicism of sentiment towards those who differed from him in opinion, without dereliction of principle, which are among the most amiable features of character that can adorn a disciple, and, especially, a minister of Christ. Under such instruction, and with such an example continually before his eyes, Mr. Smith made great and rapid improvement both in classical and theological knowledge. By Mr. Blair he was much esteemed and beloved; and, in 1750, was, in the same year, licensed to preach the gospel, and married to a younger sister of his preceptor. This lady was distinguished by a sound understanding, uncommon sweetness of disposition, and sincere piety; and was an excellent assistant to him in the education of their common children. To these they both devoted much time, to cultivate in them the habits of virtue and religion, and to infuse into their minds, at the first opening of their powers, the principles of a warm and rational piety. In his absence, she always conducted the daily devotions of the family with a dignity which insured their respect, and with an unaffected fervour which could not fail to touch their hearts. By this lady Dr. Smith had seven children, two of whom died young, two embraced the profession of medicine, and three entered, at an early age, on the sacred ministry of the gospel, and have since filled some of the most respectable stations in the church, as well as in the literary institutions of this country. By a second marriage, with the worthy and respectable widow of the Rev. W. Ramsay, he left one daughter, who, at his death, was very young.
In 1751, he received the pastoral charge of the presbyterian church in Pequea, in the county of Lancaster, in the state, at that time the province, of Pennsylvania; in which station he continued to officiate with great reputation and usefulness till his death. He was ordained by the presbytery of New-Castle; the Rev. Dr. Rodgers of New-York, then pastor of the church of St. George's, and a very young man, presiding as moderator of the presbytery. In 1784, he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the
college of New-Jersey; and seldom has that degree been more deservedly conferred.
Few men in the holy ministry have been more useful, or more esteemed than Dr. Smith. He entered it with the purest zeal for the glory of his Redeemer, and the salvation of mankind; and his whole soul was devoted to the faithful discharge of the duties of his sacred office. The predominant character of the mind nay often be better discerned from small circumstances than from those great occasions on which a man, by the inspiration derived from the objects which surround him, may be raised above his ordinary standard; and Dr. Smith, though a man remarkably modest and even diffident in the deliberative assemblies of the church, has been often heard to say that, in the pulpit, he never knew the fear of man. He was so occupied with the solemnity and importance of his duties, that the opinions of men were forgotten: his mind was so filled with the divine presence before which he stood, that wealth, that station, that talents, that whatever is most respected by the world was lost to him in the majesty of God. The character of his preaching therefore, as was to be expected from a frame of mind so habitually devout, was remarkably solemn and fervent. The Holy Scriptures, in which God has been pleased to convey his will to mankind, he regarded as containing the happiest language in which to interpret divine truth to the people. With the sacred volume he was perfectly familiar. And his sermons were usually filled with the aptest allusions and illustrations drawn from this precious source. The doctrines of the gospel he delighted to express in the terms of scripture; those doctrines especially which have been in any degree the subjects of disputation, and the cause of division in the church. An enemy to controversy, he believed that christians were more nearly united in sentiment, than in the expression of their several creeds. In the copious use, therefore, which he made of scripture language, he hoped to gain a double advantage; on controverted subjects, he would create less offence and irritation; and in illustrating and enforcing divine truth upon the hearts of his hearers, he thought that the language of the inspired writers would come home with more authority to the conscience than the finest periods of human eloquence. In this, perhaps, he was not deceived, particularly in that field of labour which he had especially marked out for himself; for he was uncommonly successful in convincing secure sinners, in comforting and establishing believers in the faith of the gospel, and in conciliating the affections and confidence of pious persons of all denominations. Preaching the gospel, and publishing the
grace of the Redeemer, was his most delightful employment; in which he exhibited an example of the greatest diligence and zeal, not only among that people with whom he was more immediately connected as their pastor, but throughout an extensive district of country in every part of which he was often employed in these pious labours. He was, indeed, incessant and indefatigable in the service of his divine master, till, at length, he wore down to a slender thread a constitution originally vigorous; and his death, at last, which took place in the midst of the most active discharge of his duties, was not the effect of any particular disease, but of the gradual waste of nature occasioned by continual and excessive exertions.
Dr. Smith, shortly after his settlement at Pequea, founded a grammar school designed chiefly for the instruction of youth in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages, in which, by his great assiduity both in study and in teaching, he had made himself an eminent proficient. In this school he always employed the most respectable teachers; and its celebrity soon made it the resort of a large number of young men from various parts of the states of Pennsylvania and Maryland, who here received their classic education, and have since filled many of the most honourable stations in church and s tate Along with their literary studies, he took uncommon pains to infuse into their minds the principles of a pure, warm, and rational piety; and he often enjoyed the consolation of seeing his pious endeavours remarkably blessed. With very few exceptions, all who received the elements of their education under his direction have ever proved serious, steady, and uniform friends of religion; and the church still continues to bless his memory for the great number of faithful and successful pastors who have been reared under his care. For many of his classical pupils, as well as others, returned to him from the college to complete their theological studies under his direction, in whom they were sure to find an able instructor and an excellent model of practical preaching. In the pulpit, he opened to them with skill the treasures of the scriptures; he illustrated with clearness the speculative doctrines of religion. But his great excellence as a preacher lay in strong and convincing appeals to the consciences of sinners, in the various knowledge which he discovered in the workings of the human heart, and in the tenderness with which he led the convinced and penitent soul to its true rest and hope in Jesus Christ. Vice he ever reproved with seriousness and dignity, without austerity; and the pleasures and the hopes of religion he recommended to believers with that glow of sentiment and
expression, which could only proceed from a heart filled with the grandeur and consolations of its subject. Beloved and esteemed by all the pious throughout that extensive sphere which he had especially marked out for his ministerial labours, the spiritual father and instructor of many of the clergy, distinguished for his faithfulness, his ability, and unceasing activity in his sacred functions, he was, during a long course of years, regarded with uncommon veneration in the churches. His whole soul was in his duty; and, when fatigued and worn down with active service, as he often was towards the close of life, if a new opportunity of doing good presented itself, the ardour of his mind reinvigorated his debilitated system, and, in an instant, he forgot his weakness. This character of activity and zeal in fulfilling whatever he conceived to be his duty, accompanied him with undiminished vigour to the utmost period of his mortal course. The last act of his life was attending a meeting of the board of trustees of the college of New-Jersey, at the distance of one hundred miles from home, when his constitution was now wasted to a shadow. On his return, in which he suffered extremely both from debility and pain, when he had nearly reached his own church, in which he was about once more to perform a duty ever dearest to his heart, he stopped at the house of a friend* to recruit a little his exhausted nature, He met the family with all that placid serenity which was his custom, and which the habitual spirit and hopes of the gospel alone are calculated to inspire. He requested permission to retire a little to rest, and in a few minutes, without a struggle, calmly and sweetly breathed away his soul, in the act of meditating new services to his Redeemer. And the same smile with which he entered the house seemed to be only fixed upon his countenance by the hand of death.
Such was the end of this excellent man, in the sixty-third year of his age. A rare example of pious activity, and the power of combining numerous duties in perfect order, and in the shortest compass of time. It is difficult, at this distance of time, to give dates with precision, or enter into minute particulars, in the history of a man whose modesty never suffered him to keep, or leave any memoirs of so useful a life. It is of more importance to know, that he hardly ever suffered any of his moments to go to waste. He was a faithful attendant on the judicatories of the church. He was often abroad among vacant churches, and societies of people destitute of the stated ordinances of religion, for the purpose of preaching to them the gospel of salvation which
* Robert Hunter, Esq. of Brandywine.