Preston Burr Samuels was not only by far the most influential and efficient preacher in Nelson Association, in his generation, but was among the most valuable ministers in the State. He was born in Nelson county, Ky., Aug. 3, 1810, and was brought up on a farm, receiving only a moderate English education. During his youth and early manhood, he was remarkably fond of popular amusements, engaged in hunting, horse-racing and other sports of the period, and was essentially a bold, daring, wicked young man. He had, however, the redeeming trait of a high sense of honor, and did not swerve from the path of truth and integrity.
On the 15th of December, 1831, he was married to Malvina, daughter of Wm. Newbolt, a man of exalted Christian virtues. This excellent woman was eminently suited to the position she was called to occupy. She was a true wife, "a chaste keeper at home," and an exemplary Christian. But her husband continued his rounds of pleasure and daring wickedness, till he was near 30 years of age. About that period, he was smitten down under the ministry of Smith Thomas, by whom he was soon afterwards baptized into the fellowship of the church now called New Salem, in his native county. He now entered into the service of his new Master with as much zeal as he had formerly served the old. He commenced exercising in public prayer and exhortation soon after he was converted. But, at first, he met with very little encouragement. His pursuit of pleasure and neglect of business had involved him in debt, and this made the people distrustful of him. However, he was a good farmer and a discreet business man, and, now giving himself diligently to business, he soon cancelled his pecuniary obligations.
In 1845, having been ordained to the ministry, he was called to the care of New Salem church, then numbering 117 members. For a dozen years, the numerical growth of the church was slow. But the pastor cultivated its broad territory with great diligence. He did not confine his ministrations to the church, but preached at its outposts, worshipped with the people at their homes, visited them in sickness, sympathized and advised with them in their business perplexities, comforted them in trouble, preserved always among them the same earnest, deep-toned piety, and was always the same cheerful, dignified Christian minister. At length the field ripened, and the laborer began to reap. About 1859, he and J. T. Hedger held a meeting within the bounds of the church, which resulted in about forty additions to its membership; in 1860, he was aided by J. H. Spencer in a meeting which resulted in seventy-seven additions; in 1864, he was aided in a meeting by the same minister, when thirty-two were added to the church; in 1868, J. M. Harrington aided him in a meeting, when over one hundred united with the church, and, in August, 1871, J. H. Spencer again aided him in a meeting, during which sixty were added to the church. During this meeting, he frequently said he felt like this would be his last protracted meeting at this church; and so it proved. The church now numbered 365 members, and was the largest in the Association.
In 1849, Mr. Samuels was called to the care of Cox's Creek church in the same county, to which he ministered one Sabbath in the month, till 1857, after which he preached to it two Sundays in each month the remainder of his earthly life. Here, in one of the most intelligent churches in the State, he enjoyed a pastorate of almost uninterrupted prosperity, about twenty-one years. In his earlier ministry, he served the churches at Mt. Washington, Shepherdsville, Elizabethtown and Rolling Fork, for longer or shorter periods; and during his entire ministry, he aided in many protracted meetings, in which he met with a large measure of success. In November, 1871, he engaged in a meeting at East Fork school house. Here he frequently expressed his belief that this was the last meeting of the kind he would ever labor in, although he appeared to be in his usual health. On the first day of the following January, after a brief illness, he answered to the summons to come up higher.
Mr. Samuels was the most prominent actor in all the business affairs of the Association. He was clerk of that body from its constitution, in 1849, till he was called to succeed the venerable Dr. Vaughan, as its moderator, in 1865. The latter position he continued to fill till his death. In early life, he was justice of the peace for a number of years, and acquired the reputation of being an excellent magistrate.
The character of P. B. Samuels was one to be studied and admired. He was a Christian philosopher, in the full sense of the term. In person he was rather above medium height, very straight, finely proportioned, and dignified in all his movements. His complexion was dark, his hair nearly black, and his physiognomy indicated clear judgment, decision of purpose, and calm, rational benevolence. He was scrupulously neat in his dress, and his whole bearing commanded respect. In conversation he was remarkably deliberate, and always easy and self-possessed. He was an excellent practical business man, whether on his farm, presiding in a court of justice, or occupying the pulpit. As a preacher he was clear, plain, and eminently practical. It was said that he never preached a big sermon, or a little one. He studied the Bible closely, and his theological views were clear, orthodox and consistent. His manner of preaching was a plain, simple statement of truth, illustrated by familiar figures and incidents, and always brought within the comprehension of his hearers. Even in his exhortations, he used no meaningless words or phrases. As a pastor he greatly excelled. He knew all his flock, could call them by name, studied all their wants, temporal and spiritual, and labored diligently to have them supplied, as far as practicable.
[From J. H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, Volume II, pp. 597-599. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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