Earthen Vessel 1895:
David Smith, Of Bilston
Dear Brother,—At your request I am penning a brief outline of my life and connection with the cause at Broad-street, Bilston, to accompany photo in the Earthen Vessel & Gospel Herald. Our family record makes known the fact that I was born in a village called “the Lye,” in the county of Worcester, March 25th, 1859. When quite a child, I remember my grandmother taking me to the Primitive Methodist Chapel, where she stood a member; the excitement, varied exclamations, and attitudes of the worshippers, filled my infant mind with dread, imagining some fearful calamity was about to happen. It was with difficulty I could be persuaded to accompany her again. Some time after, however, my parents removed to Bilston, and attended the newly formed cause at Broad-street. My father having been convinced some time previously—
(while attending a revival service in a Methodist chapel, the preacher said, “Last week, at ———, I converted 500, and by this time next week I will convert 500 more in the ‘Lye.'” My father said , whether audible or not I cannot say, “Then you won’t convert me,” and immediately left the building)
—that universal redemption had no place in Scripture, and that salvation by grace, through the merits of Christ, applied alone by the power of the Holy Ghost to all God’s chosen, predestinated sons and daughters, was the declared will of God, he from that time till his death became identified with the lovers of a free grace Gospel.
My mother (though a Methodist at heart) regularly attended our chapel with my father, while they resided in Bilston. Consequently, at a very early age, I was introduced to the Sabbath-school at “Bethesda,” where, “to the honour of some old teachers still living, and some who have gone home to glory,” we were well instructed in the letter of God’s truth. The teaching made such an impression on my mind, that, though not more than eight or nine years of age, I wrote to one of the female members (a mother in Israel, now in her 79th year, and still in active fellowship with us), asking how the views we held could be harmonised with the teaching of Christ in Matt. 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men,” etc.? my note being handed to the then pastor (David Lodge). In an interview, he answered my query. This, with subsequent years of faithful and earnest instruction, confirmed my mind that the doctrines usually termed Calvinistic were supported by the full weight of Biblical testimony.
My heart as yet was untouched; I was a stranger to the inward power of God’s truth, and, though mercifully preserved from gross and outward sins, felt quite at home in worldly company and amusements. Billiard playing had become a passion with me when quite a youth, and most of my spare time was given up to it. The letter of truth I knew, and occasionally contended for it, but was destitute of its power. It pleased God in His mercy, through a conversation with a godly minister, to shew me where I stood, and how contrary my life was to my profession. After this the things once delighted in lost their charm, and soon after, at the age of 17, I was baptized with several others, including one who afterwards became my wife.
Soon after joining the Church, I was removed in the providence of God to Kidderminster. My business there (with the exception of market days) left me with a good deal of spare time on my hand, which I devoted to reading and study, without any thought that the information gained would be used in any public manner. At that time I contributed “News of Churches” and other matter for Earthen Vessel and Cheering Words. A correspondence was opened between your late father (C. W. Banks, the then editor of the above magazines) and myself, in which he urged me, if opportunity presented, to go out and speak in the Master’s name.
Just about this time a class was formed in connection with the General Baptist Church in Kidderminster; the object being preparation for supplying village churches, and conducting cottage meetings. Each member in turn had to preach before the members of the class, who had liberty to criticise manner and matter. I wrote just before the formation, asking your father whether he would advise me to join, and, in reply, he said, “Yes, if you can hold your own.” In consequence I became a member, and very shortly afterwards preached before the class, from the words, “Ye must be born again.” It is needless to say that the criticism was very severe, especially upon the doctrine advanced. However, it led to my receiving an invitation to preach at a village—viz., Chorley, in Salop. It came about in the following manner:—
One morning my sister, who helped me in my business, was coming down to the shop, and was accosted by a minister, who said to her, “I have made an error in my engagement list, and am down for two places, and your brother must take one of them.” I was staggered when my sister told me, as I had never seen the man before in my life. It transpired that he had heard of the sermon preached on the new birth, as mentioned above. After consultation with friends at Bilston, and passing through the usual anxiety with the pros and cons, and prayer to God for direction, I went and preached my first sermon to a regular congregation at the Baptist Chapel, in the village named above, in the summer of 1880. Incidents in connection with this first attempt led me to the conclusion that the Lord had never called me to preach the Gospel, and I returned home in anything but a pleasant frame of mind, and determined it should be my first and last time. What was my surprise (you may well guess) to receive a communication the next morning from your father; the import of which was: “Will you hold yourself in readiness to go and preach at Whitestone, near Hereford, next Lord’s-day?” O, what anxiety I passed through lest I should run without being sent! It was with trembling I went the following Saturday to fulfil the second engagement. The kindness of the friends at Whitestone, and a degree of liberty in speaking, encouraged me to believe the matter was of the Lord. Soon other doors opened, and invitations to supply came from Olbury, Willenhall, Birmingham, Halesowen, Chorley, etc., which were filled to the best of my ability. The orthodox method of preaching before the Church where I stood a member, and being sent out by them, was not followed in my case. Personally, I dreaded the ordeal. A little opposition was shown by one or two; consequently I had occupied the pulpits at most of the surrounding churches of truth before preaching at Bilston. This I did, however, in the end of the year 1881, taking for my text a part of Rom. 10:15, “And how shall they preacher except they be sent?” A month’s engagement to fill the pulpit, ‘followed by a three months’, terminated in a call to the pastorate, April, 1882.
“Many days have passed since then,
Many sorrows I have known;
But have been upheld till now,
Who could hold me up but Thou?”
It is worthy of note, the few who opposed (with the exception of one who became a firm friend of mine) left and joined themselves to various religious bodies, where they still remain, although there are other places of truth within walking distance. Thus for nearly fourteen years I have laboured in word and doctrine, in this corner of the Lord’s vineyard. These years have neither been all bright, nor all cloudy,—adversity and prosperity have both been passed through. We have at one time cried out, “Who hath believed our report?” Anon, we have rejoiced when seals have been given to our ministry; but under every circumstance a deep, fervent, unbroken affection has existed between the church and myself. From my settlement as their under-shepherd until now, uniform kindness has been shown me; and when the strain and tax of business and preaching became too great, they willingly gave me one Sunday a month away, which affords me an opportunity of visiting and preaching the Gospel of the grace of God in other parts. Whatever the future may bring about, my attachment to this place and people will ever remain. The place were I learned to lisp the Saviour’s name; the school where my mind was instructed in God’s Word; the fathers and mothers in Israel who taught me; the baptistry wherein I professed my allegiance to Christ; the sanctuary where my wife and I were united in double bonds in the flesh and in the Lord; the pulpit wherein I have received divine help and joy hundreds of times; the aged friends, lovers of the truth of the living God, who have held up my hands with their prayers; the younger members, who are my spiritual children; and last, but not least, the manifestation of the Divine Presence,—make “Bethesda” a sacred, hallowed spot to my soul.
“There my best friends, my kindred, dwell,
Their God, my Saviour, reigns.”