March 25: Robert Smith

A Watchful Shepherd After God’s Own Heart
by David Myers

It is true that Today in Presbyterian History has already posted two articles on Robert Smith, one on October 3rd and a second one on December 27th. So why post another one on this early Presbyterian pastor on March 25, 1751? The answer is that he was indeed that important in the church history of early America.

Summing up what we had written before, Robert Smith had been born in Ireland and emigrated with his parents to the American Colonies when he was around seven years of age. His parents were farmers, tilling the rich land around about 40 miles west of Philadelphia along the Brandy wine River. An early conversion to Christ through the Gospel preaching of George Whitefield brought him new life in Christ. An equally early call to be a servant of the Lord brought him to Samuel Blair’s school in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he received gospel training to prepare him for the pastoral ministry.

It was on this day, March 25, 1751, that Robert Smith was installed the pastor of a double call, in Leacock and Pequea, Pennsylvania. After a while, he left the Leacock congregation to concentrate on the spiritual field ready for harvest in Pequea, Pennsylvania, where he was to minister for the next 42 years.

It was here that the title of our post was proven to be true, as he was “a watchful shepherd after God’s own heart.” It was said that he made it his gospel business to enlighten the understanding . . .

In this ministry, he had the loving support of his wife, Elizabeth Blair, the sister to his friend and former teacher, Samuel Blair. They were married May 22, 1750 and through the years, enjoyed the arrival of seven children. Two died in their early years, two became doctors, and three followed their father into the spiritual ministry of others. The latter three included Samuel Smith, who became the second professor succeeding John Witherspoon at Princeton . His brother John would both pastor and become the first president of Hampden-Sidney College down in Virginia. William served as the pastor of a Presbyterian church before he switched his allegiance to the Reformed Dutch Church in New Jersey. In all three cases, however, the godly ministry of Robert Smith’s echoed in their ministry to saints and sinners alike.

Robert Smith was a strict Calvinist with an earnest adherence to the Westminster Standards. As such, he was recognized for his conviction by becoming the second Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. He was elected a trustee of Princeton after that school of prophets was begun, and was faithful to his call to educate students. In fact, it was after he had been present at such a meeting that he fell from his horse, returning home after the week’s meetings. An elder of a nearby church found him, with his horse grazing near his body, and took him to his own home. He would die soon afterwards and is buried in Pequea’s church cemetery, east of Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Words to Live By:
If you are a member of a Presbyterian church with such a pastor like Robert Smith, pray much for his ministry to you and yours (Remember Ephesians 6:18, 19); serve the Lord in the area of your spiritual gifts, (Remember 1 Peter 4:11), and obey his spiritual leading as Scripture commands. (Remember Hebrews 13:17)

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