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Past and Present
Rev. William Smith

A bluff and somewhat comical, but good man, once said to me “Do you not know that some Christians are like young wasps, as big when they are first hatched as they ever are afterwards ?” This was said in reference to a young man a few months converted, who was spoken of as an exhorter of much promise. It seemed to imply the belief that the young man would never be anything more in point of talent and usefulness than he then was. With regard to him, however, it did not prove true. He afterwards labored for many years in our ministry; and although not one of the most polished, was, nevertheless, one of the most ingenious and forcible preachers among us. Still this odd observation proves true in a great many cases. If applied to their piety and usefulness, it is too true that many are, when first converted, all they are ever after. Surely this is not right; for if “ light is sown for the righteous,” it ought, if properly tended and guarded, to bring forth in time a plentiful crop. But on the score of talent and ability for public usefulness, without implying any censure, certainly some attain their intellectual and professional growth much sooner than others. Some very eminent men, instance Dr, James Dixon for one, are reported to have been very slow in rising to their meridian altitude; others, of whom Dr. Jabez Bunting was an instance, seemed to shoot up to meridian splendor at once. Of the last mentioned class, considered as a preacher, must be placed the highly respectable man whose name stands at the head of this paper—William Smith.

The writer can well remember what a talk there was in our little Canadian Methodist world during the Conference years of 1827-8, about a young man, connected with a number of respectable families in our church and ministry, who had returned from the academy in the States, and was astonishing the natives with his powers as a preacher. This young man it was our privilege to see, hear, and form the acquaintance of for the first time during the winter of 1829, under the following circumstances:—During the interval between the two dates above mentioned we had been called out under the direction of the Presiding Elder, and were travelling at the date last mentioned on what was then called the Belleville circuit, which not only comprehended the village but included the townships of Sidney, Thurlow, Rawdon, and as much of Huntingdon, Hungerford, Madoc and Marmora, as was then, settled, with also the front of Tyendinaga, and the Mohawk Mission in the Indian Woods. Between extra preaching for several days, and a severe cold, we had induced a pleuritic affection, that placed us quite hors de combat for a time, and induced our physician to both bleed and blister us. Being incapacitated for work, myself and another young man planned an excursion across the Bay on the ice to Mississauga Point, on the opposite side, for the purpose of hearing the brother who was attracting so much notice in the Hallowell circuit, which then included the whole peninsula, or the whole of the Prince Edward District, some thirty-five appointments in the four weeks, the supplying of which a brother remarked was “more like horse-racing than anything he could think of.” The laborious Ferguson, and the popular Smith, were the circuit preachers.

About an hour before dark, we stepped into our cutter, and were soon gliding across the Bay, We arrived at the school house at a somewhat early hour, and took a seat not far from the huge fire of burning logs that were piled up against the chimney back—stoves were scarce and wood was plenty in those days—but we carefully concealed all that was clerical in our habiliments in the ample folds of our fear-nothing coat. A large congregation soon assembled, There was then a numerous class in that neighbourhood, under the care of “Father Yantassel,” the old Dutch leader. After some time, a middling-sized, very dark-eomplexioned young man, some twenty-six years of age, with black, glossy hair, keen eye, and sharp features, nose and chin—made his appearance in riding trim, booted, spurred, and gaitered, with his broad-leafed hat in his hand, and saddle-bags on his arm. Having dropped his wrapper, he revealed his white neck cloth and single-breasted, round-skirted coat, and stood forth the preacher of the evening. His text was Galatians iv. and 6, And because ye are sons, Godh ath sent forth the Spirit of his Son in your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” Surely the “ Spirit of Adoption” was ably expounded and eloquently commended on that occasion. Mr. Smith’s matter was weighty and important, but not recondite and far-fetched. He was clever, but not profound. His great strength lay in his command of language and volubility. It was this that carried away the people. His style was chaste and elegant, approaching the florid, and his utterance, though distinct, was unusually rapid. It was the utterance of acknowledged truth, in a sharp, clear, shrill voice, with very considerable force of diction, and youthful heartiness and energy, that constituted the charm of his ministry at that period.

After the lapse of some eighteen or twenty years, and a long season of separation, when on a visit to this country from the States we heard him again on the same text. Although a good sermon, it was far from interesting us as much as when we first heard him. We may have become more knowing and somewhat hypercritical; and the absence of youthful vivacity in him, and youthful fancy in me, may have made some difference ; yet, we are compelled to think, that he preached as well at twenty-six as he did at forty. But then we must remember he preached well, almost faultlessly well, according to its style, from the first. In this we see the truth of the remark concerning him with which we set out.

We may make our boast of Smith as a native Canadian. His parents, I believe, were Scotch, or of Scotch extraction. He was respectably connected, and his manners, though plain and easy, were insensibly polished by intercourse with good society. He had received in early life a respectable business education. His clever abilities developed themselves early, and when quite young he engaged in trade. But being converted to God soon after, and feeling, it is presumed, that a dispensation of the Gospel was committed to him, he gave up business and sought further qualification for his Master’s work by the attainment of a more liberal education. He was one of the first to avail himself of the advantages of that useful institution, Cazanovia Seminary, an institution which has conferred a vast amount of good on Canada, as well as the United States. Smith while there made very considerable progress in science, and very respectable attainments in Greek and Latin, reading and translating the latter especially with great readiness and correctness.

His moral and religious character was as elevated as his intellectual and literary. He was of sterling, though not of a long faced, canting sort of piety. He was serious, without gloom or sadness. Without narrow-mindedness, he was a downright, thorough Methodist of the primitive stamp. A plain hearted, free, unsophisticated man, while the last to make a man "an offender for a word,” he was a fearless reprover of what he thought incompatible with ohristian propriety. The writer well remembers two instances of his fidelity in this particular. The first occurred on the night of our first interview. Being introduced to him, our hearts ran together at once, and he pressed me to come and share his quarters, instead of returning to my circuit. Is there anything more delightful to the youthful itinerant, in his long and lonely rounds, than to meet and spend an evening with a kindred spirit! But to return, when we arrived at the house, our host thinking to do us a kindness, brought his gin-bottle and glasses, and proffered us something to drink. I simply declined, but Smith turned on him with a most withering rebuke, and warned him against what he did not fear to designate “ a soul damning evil.” In this he showed himself quite in advance of public opinion at that time, No wonder that he proved one of the most decided advocates of the temperance reformation when it afterwards commenced. The next instance relates to the free, though serious and becoming manner in which he expressed himself against certain frivolities in dress indulged in by the young ladies (members of society,) of a Methodist family in a very respectable social position. Smith was not one of those who are so much wiser than the fossilated John Wesley, aye, and the Apostles Paul and Peter also, that they regard it as an instance of weakness and narrow-mindedness to give advice on this subject. No. Conscientiously plain himself, he did not fail to exhort Christians to “adorn themselves in modest apparel,” and “not with gold and costly array” as persons “professing godliness.”

Smith was not only an able preacher, but a good pastor— a thorough, systematic, sympathizing visitor from house to house, Having strong natural good sense, with some experience of practical life, he performed the business parts of his circuits well, and was an enlightened and resolute administrator of the discipline of the church, "without fear or favour.” No wonder then he commanded the best stations of the day and Was made very useful in them. One of the most able and eloquent of our living ministers claims Smith as his spiritual father. Ancaster, “York,” Kingston, Brockville, were among the places he filled with great acceptability and usefulness.

We regret to have to add that he left the country of his birth, and went to a co-ordinate branch of the Methodist family in the United States. A rising storm, which he thought might have been avoided, together with the ties and solicitations of an American wife, most likely led to this step. But it is pleasing to know that he continued our friend—that he remained faithful to his ministerial charge—and that he died happily “at his post” His death occurred in the city of Boston, in which he had been stationed some years.

His only sister, his much loved Sarah, shares the joys and sorrows, the toils and consolations of one of our modest and unpretending, but one of our most worthy and truly valuable travelling ministers. Alas, that we cannot use the language of this last sentence any more. Huntington, his brother-in-law, is no more!

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