Hezekiah Smith, D.D. - Fortunately for the writer of this sketch of Dr. Smith, the materials for doing it are abundant in the interesting memorials furnished by Dr. S. F. Smith for Dr. Sprague's "Annals," and in the centennial discourse of the late Dr. Arthur S. Train, of Haverhill.
The birthplace of Hezekiah Smith was Long Island, N. Y. He was born April 21, 1737. His college life was spent in Princeton, N. J., where he graduated in 1762, under the presidency of that prince of pulpit orators, Rev. Samuel Davies. He was ordained at Charleston, S. C., but assumed no pastoral charge at the South, although he preached constantly as opportunity presented. In 1764 he came to New England, and preached for some time in the west parish of the town of Haverhill, Mass., to a Congregational church, where his labors were greatly appreciated and much blessed. As, however, he was a most conscientious Baptist, it could not be expected that he could long sustain such a relation as this. The circumstance which led him to make Haverhill the scene of what proved to be a most successful ministry is thus related by Dr. S. F. Smith:
"Mr. Smith now resolved to return to New Jersey, where severa1 of his relatives resided. The day was fixed for his departure from the scene of his labors and successes. In the morning several young persons came to visit him, deeply affected by the prospect of losing their loved and revered teacher, by whose instrumentality they had been brought to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. They exhibited their ardent affection towards him, and expressed the wish that he would baptize them. Still they found him fixed in his determination. Notwithstanding, they ventured to utter their conviction that he would soon return and be their minister. He replied, 'If I return, your prayers will bring me back.' The same day he proceeded to Boston, and the day following commenced his journey to Providence. But after he had advanced eighteen or twenty miles, the words were impressed with unusual weight on his mind. 'Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.' Stopping his horse, he mused awhile on the occurrence. He soon proceeded, but was shortly after arrested again by the same passage. Yielding to the impulse, he turned his horse, and rode back to Boston. Here he found two persons, sent by his friends in Haverhill to solicit his return. He readily accepted their invitation, and went back the next day to Haverhill, where he was received with many expressions of affection and gratitude."
The church in Haverhill was organized May 9, 1765, and its pastor publicly recognized Nov. 12, 1766, and he held that position for forty years. Faithful to the trusts that were committed to his hands, he felt it to be his duty no less than his privilege to preach the gospel in the regions beyond the field of his own special cultivation. Accordingly, acting under the direction and by the advice of his church, he would start out, accompanied by one or two of his members, to make evangelizing tours through destitute sections of New Hampshire and the district of Maine. Returning from these towns, he would call the church together, as the apostles did in primitive times, and rehearse the wonderful things which God had wrought by their hands. Persons holding Baptist views, but living too far away from any church of their own faith and order, would be brought into vital relations with the Haverhill church. In the course of time the population would increase in the places where these persons lived, and there would be encouragement to form Baptist churches out of these scattered materials. "Thirteen churches" we are told were thus established by the action of the Haverhill church and the evangelizing labors of its ministers and members.
In connection with such friends of religious freedom as Backus, President Manning, his friend and college classmate, and others of kindred spirit, he labored incessantly to have the Baptists delivered from the oppression which they suffered from the standing order. He took, moreover, the deepest interest in the prosperity of the new college which had been established in Rhode Island, and at one time was absent nearly nine months collecting funds for it. When the war of the Revolution broke out, he was appointed chaplain in the American army. Here he was brought into terms of intimate relations with Gen. Washington, and enjoyed the confidence and friendship of that great and good man. As soon as he could be released from his duties in the army he gladly returned to his beloved church, and took up his ministerial and pastoral work where he had laid it down. Preaching in the sacred desk, and from house to house, literally "in season and out of season," making his evangelical tours through different sections of New England; his coming was everywhere hailed with delight, now in the "backwoods" of Maine, now among the grand old hills of New Hampshire, and now attending the meetings of the corporation of Brown University in Rhode Island; such is a picture of the life of one of the busiest ministers of his times. "He often expressed the wish," says Dr. S. F. Smith, "that he might not outlive his usefulness, and his desire was graciously fulfilled. He preached for the last time, among his people, on the Sabbath, from John xii. 24: 'Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.' The sermon was unusually impressive, and a revival of religion followed, to which it seemed introductory. On the Thursday succeeding he was seized with paralysis, and spoke no more. His life-work was finished and its record complete. He lay a week in this condition, and died Jan. 22, 1805, in the sixty-eighth year of his age and the forty-second of his ministry."
It is not difficult to assign the place which Hezekiah Smith will always be regarded as having held among the Baptist fathers of New England. It is safe to say that no man did more than he to give character to the denomination which had to fight every step of its way in securing for itself a foothold, and at last a permanent home in the Eastern States. There was no good cause in which he did not take an interest. He lived a most useful life. Like one of kindred spirit who came after him, - Dr. Baldwin, - the summons to depart and be with Christ came suddenly, but found him prepared for it. Devout and loving hands laid him away in his grave, with many of his own parishioners sleeping by his side, and his own dust mingling with that of the friends of his youth and the co-workers of his riper years.
[From William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881, reprint 1988, pp. 1065-66. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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