Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 13, 1967
NUMBER 10, PAGE 9b-10a

Rebecca Smith's Broken Heart

Earl Kimbrough

"Raccoon" John Smith was born and reared in a pious Baptist home. His parents, George and Rebecca, held firmly to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith and rigidly taught its precepts to their thirteen children. Consequently, when John sought the Lord in early manhood, he did so after the manner of Calvinism. Not long after a belabored "conversion," he became possessed with a strong desire to preach, and in due time, convinced that a "call" had been received, he began to publicly expound Baptist doctrine. However, his serious study of the New Testament and his insistence upon preaching extensively from its pages (a rare thing in that day) brought stern reprimands from his Baptist brethren.

In 1823, John obtained a copy of the prospectus of a religious paper called the Christian Baptist, in which its editor, Alexander Campbell, was to advocate a restoration of "the ancient order of things." He immediately subscribed to the paper and read each issue with profound interest. He also had occasion to hear Campbell preach. "Through the help he received from Mr. Campbell and an earnest, prayerful rereading of the New Testament Scriptures, Smith saw that the Baptist Church was not the church of his Lord and that the theories which were preached by Baptists were not the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He at once renounced the Baptist faith and embraced the faith of the gospel." (H. Leo Boles, Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preachers, p. 40.)

After having preached the ancient gospel for some years in the vicinity of Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, the busy and sacrificing evangelist arranged to visit Stockton's Valley, the scene of his boyhood and of his early labors as a preacher of Calvinism. He especially wanted to see again his aged mother who was living, at that time, with a daughter over in Overton County, Tennessee. John had not seen her since he had renounced the Baptist faith, but rumors of her son's defection and heresy had reached Rebecca's ears and saddened her Irish heart. Their reunion is vividly described by Smith's biographer.

The old matron saw him coming, and, with all the alacrity of childish joy, tottered out to meet him. She hung upon him in her doting fondness, and poured her tears into his bosom. All the years of his manhood rolled back in a moment as he felt the pressure of her palsied arms around him. He was a child, a tender-hearted boy again, and he wept his pious tears upon her head. He led her gently into the house, but when the greetings were over, her heart turned to its distress. (John A. Williams, Life of Elder John Smith, p. 410. )

The following is William's version of the conversation between Rebecca Smith and her son John, when their conversation turned, as indeed it must, to his defection from the Baptist Church. The incident was related to Williams by Smith himself. Rebecca broached the subject:

"They tell me, John, that you have left us! They say you deny the good Spirit that once gave you peace, and that you tell poor sinners that water can wash away their sins! For a long time I would not believe them; but why didn't you wait till your poor old mother was dead and gone?

"Mother," said he, "I confess that my mind has undergone some change in reference to the doctrines I once held as true; but many of the things that you have heard about me are idle tales. I do not teach nor believe such things. I have never denied the Spirit, nor taught that water can wash away sins."

"But, if you had only lived and preached as you once did, a few years longer, John, it would not have hurt me; I could have died so much happier;" and she burst into a flood of complaining tears.

He tried, with all his heart, to assuage her grief, but his words were powerless. He continued to sit by her side in silence, painfully conscious that he had not the address to wipe away her tears.

"Mother, on your account," he said, at length, "I would be glad if I were still a Baptist; but I could not, then, be true to my convictions of duty. It pains me, beyond expression, to wound the feelings of my mother; and I will now make you, as I regard it, a fair proposition: I will turn back and preach Calvinism as faithfully as I ever did, so long as you live, should I survive you, provided you will agree to answer for me, in the day of judgment, should I be found wrong in so doing."

"Ah, John," she replied, "I can't do that. I shall have to answer for myself in that day, and so must you, my poor boy!"

"Well," said he, "if I must answer for myself then, do you not think, mother, that I ought to believe and act for myself now?"

She mused for some time, and then, wiping her eyes, replied: "I suppose you are right, Johnny; you ought to think for yourself. But you will have to account for it in the great day."

Thus she was reconciled; and, from that time, she did not cease to vindicate her boy to the day of her death. She could not, indeed, comprehend the nature or ground of his apostasy; but she always said that she at least was not responsible for it — that John ought to be left free, for to his own Master he had to stand or fall. (Ibid., pp. 410-412.)

"Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive an hundred-fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life." (Mark 10:29-30.)