Thomas Smyth

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Our post today comes from a biographical sketch written for the PCA Historical Center by Barry Waugh. Our thanks to him for permission to use this portion for today’s blog post. Click here to read the full article.

He Sold the Books!

smythT_150As with many ministers and theologians, Thomas Smyth was afflicted with bibliomania. His symptoms appeared early in his life. As a young child, he was a voracious reader and while at Belfast College he worked as the librarian. Reading and cataloging were not sufficient to alleviate his love for books; he had to own them as well. He wrote in 1829, “My thirst for books, in London became rapacious. I overspent my supplies in procuring them, at the cheap repositories and left myself in the cold winter for two or three months without a cent …” (Autobiography, 39). Dr. Smyth’s comments on his developing bibliomania are reminiscent of Erasmus and his practice of buying books first, and then, if any money was left, he bought food. A few years later as he entered his ministerial service in Charleston, he specifically purposed to develop a theological and literary library similar to Dr. Williams’s Library in London. Over the years, he accumulated about 20,000 volumes. One unusual book in his possession was a Hebrew Psalter with the autographs of Jonathan Edwards, Edwards’s son, and Rev. Tryan Edwards, who gave it to Dr. Smyth. The Grand Debate and other original documents of the Westminster Assembly were procured at great cost, as well as forty works by members of the Assembly along with ten quarto volumes of their discourses. Dr. Smyth’s compulsive, though purposeful, book buying may have been a point of tension for he and his wife. In a letter written by Margaret to him in the summer of 1846 she informed him of the expenses they were incurring due to the addition of three rooms to their home:

“I tell you all this now as a preface to a caution, not to involve yourself too deeply or inextricably in debt by the purchase of books & pictures; of the last, with the maps, we have enough now to cover all the walls, even of the new rooms; & the books are already too numerous for comfort in the Study & Library. … But I would enter a protest not only against books & pictures, but all other things not necessary & which can come under the charge of extravagance. Do be admonished & study to be economical.” (Autobiography, 384f).

It should be noted that one of the reasons the three rooms were built was to accommodate Dr. Smyth’s ever-growing library; one of the new rooms was thirty feet long and intended for his use. As Dr. Smyth’s health continued to deteriorate, he made the difficult decision to sell over half of the volumes of his library to Columbia Theological Seminary. He was concerned that since he could not take full advantage of his magnificent library it would be best that ministerial students have access to the books. The actual sale was dated May 28, 1856 and the seminary contracted to pay the Smyths $14,400 for the volumes. The seminary organized the collection in a special area designated the Smyth Library. Dr. Smyth continued to add to the collection by donating other books so that by May of 1863, the special collection contained 11,845 volumes, and by the time a posthumous inventory was taken in November of 1912, the number was over 15,000. Even though he had sold and donated thousands of volumes to Columbia Seminary, his remaining library was still large, but it was reduced once again when a fire, in 1870, burned about 3,000 books. Though the affliction of bibliomania can become all-consuming, it is certain that many Presbyterian ministers trained at Columbia Seminary benefited from the collection gathered by Thomas Smyth.

Words to Live By:
Suffering a similar affliction (though my own library paled in comparison), I found some years ago that the best way to temper the disease was to realize that I was responsible before the Lord for each volume I purchased. Was it a truly necessary purchase? Would I in fact read it, or at least use it in a way that would justify the expense? Pastors typically need the resources of a good many books and so it is never a foolish expenditure when they are first wisely chosen and then wisely and well-used. Software programs for the study of the Bible add new abilities for search and access, and even make it possible to carry an entire library on a single laptop, tablet, or even a phone.

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Preach Christ! Preach this Gospel!

smythT_150The Pastoral Charge delivered by the Rev. Thomas Smyth to the Revs. James Henley Thornwell and Francis Patrick Mullally, was delivered on this day, May 4th, in 1860, upon their installation as co-pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina. [This is the same church where Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is now pastor.]

thornwell02Though a brilliant theologian and teacher, much of Thornwell’s career was conflicted by his competing desire to actively minister to God’s people in the pastoral setting of the local church. Thornwell’s first service came with his installation in 1835 as pastor of the Lancaster, Waxhaw, and Six Mile Creek churches of Bethel Presbytery. By 1838 he left to assume duties at the South Carolina College, serving there as Professor of Rhetoric and Philosophy for two years, until the conviction of his calling brought him again to the pulpit, with his installation at First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, SC in 1840. One year later, South Carolina College again called upon him, now to serve as both chaplain and professor. This arrangement met the compelling interests of both callings and he remained at SCC from 1841 to 1851. A brief pastorate at the Glebe Street Church in Charleston, SC ended with a return to SCC as president, until in 1856 he accepted a call to serve as Professor of Systematic Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary. During most of his years at Columbia he also served as stated supply at the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, until that post was made permanent in 1860, as detailed in the charge here presented by the Rev. Thomas Smyth. Rev. Thornwell died but a few years later, on 1 August 1862.


mullallyFrancis Patrick Mullally was born around 1830 in Tipperary, Ireland and taught at the Villa School in Mt. Zion, Georgia for nine years. He attended Washington and Lee University Law School and Columbia Theological Seminary, leading to his first pastorate at First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, SC. This pastorate was apparently interrupted by the war, during which time he served as an army chaplain. Between 1865 and 1904, Rev. Mullally served in ten separate locations, with a transfer of credentials to the PCUSA in 1889, and residing finally in Pelham Manor, NY, where he died on 2 Jan. 1904.

Rev. Smyth in his pastoral charge likens the somewhat unique co-pastoral relationship of Thornwell and Mullally to that of a marriage, in which the two partners must learn to work together, to always speak and think well of each other:

It has been said that such a co-pastorship requires for its perpetuity of peaceful communion, as much grace as the matrimonial co-partnership.”

It is an apt analogy, though one we might otherwise have escaped us. Smyth also notes that in principle he disagrees with the idea of a co-pastorate, but that in this case he rejoices, given Thornwell’s gifts and abilities and in light of the freedom this arrangement will provide Thornwell in his professorial duties:

“Disapproving of it in the abstract, I rejoice, however, in this instance of such a double relation, and highly commend the wisdom of this church in securing for themselves, the community, the Seminary, and the church at large, the benefit of your practical and experimental pulpit ministrations, free from the cares of pastoral responsibilities.”

The pastoral charge presented here begins in good Presbyterian fashion with a laying of the groundwork. Smyth succinctly, yet convincingly explains the nature and order of ordination to office in the church. He states:

“Ordination does not create an office.  It does not impart fitness for an office… It does not confer authority upon the office or officers,…Ordination therefore, is the solemn ratification of this ascertained call of Christ, by His church,…   The importance of ordination is, therefore, apparent.  No one ought to take upon himself the office of the ministry without a lawful calling.”

[It is in this introductory section where a few distracting printer’s errors crept into the original text. The proof-texts provided are obviously in error when they cite Acts 45!]

Smyth’s pastoral charge surveys the scope of pastoral career, its pitfalls and challenges, but rises to it’s high point with it’s definition of the Gospel and a rousing clarion call to preach “this glorious Gospel of good news”:

“Preach Christ as set forth in the Gospel—the sum and substance of God’s testimony, and the author of eternal salvation to all who believe upon him.  Preach the Gospel as a creed or doctrine, that it may be intelligently received by a faith of which assurance is an element and exercise, compelling to a willing obedience the heart and the life.—Preach the doctrines of the Gospel as all converging and concentrating in the person, character, work, and offices of the one mediator between God and man; in Christ and him crucified; in Christ as God manifest in the flesh, and reconciling the world unto himself—not imputing unto sinners their trespasses.”

“Preach this Gospel—this glorious Gospel of good news—first and last, every way, and every where, in public and in private; in the pulpit and by the press; to the living and to the dying; to the lost and the saved.  Preach it in every method and variety of manner and of matter.  Yours is a model pulpit, and let yours be model preaching, and the practical exhibition of its manifold diversities of form.  Preach expositorily, textually, topically, doctrinally, practically, spiritually, apologetically, casuistically.  Many men, many minds, many tastes, and in all the love of variety, novelty, and fresh originality.  Become all things to all to win, and please, and profit all.”

Concluding the text is the charge to the people. Smyth is brief in his words to the people, yet to the point. It is interesting to note that in the last paragraph, he says his own days must surely be short. Born in 1808, he would have been only 52 or 53 years old at the time, and was but four years older than Thornwell. Yet he outlived Thornwell by eleven years and died in 1873.

It will also be noted from the title page that the larger portion of this pamphlet is missing, namely, the sermon by Dr. John L. Girardeau. The text of that sermon would have occured on pages 1-27 of the pamphlet, but is missing from the text on hand at the PCA Historical Center. Efforts are being made to locate a copy of the missing text.

Smyth’s pastoral and congregational charges serve as excellent models for pastors who may be themselves called upon to bring a charge someday to minister or people. For those who do not know the Presbyterian system well, this text provides a wonderfully brief, yet complete education into the nature and substance of ordination, pastoral responsibility, and congregational duty. In short, it is a message which well-deserves reprinting here, one which has been overlooked for too long.

To read the text of Rev. Smyth’s pastoral charge, click here.

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smythT_150Bring the Books!

Thomas Smyth was born on June 14, 1808 in Belfast, Ireland, the sixth son of Samuel and Ann Magee Smith.  Thomas’s father was English, a prosperous grocer and tobacco distributor, and an elder in the Presbyterian Church.  Samuel had changed the spelling of his surname to “Smith,” but in 1837, Thomas would return to the traditional “Smyth” at the General Assembly in order to avoid confusion with another Thomas Smith.  His mother, of Scottish ancestry, exercised a great influence on Thomas by encouraging his love of reading and instructing him in the Christian faith.  Thomas’s education began at the Academic Institution of Belfast, and then he went on to study at Belfast College where in 1829 he graduated with honors.  It was at the age of twenty-one that Thomas made his profession of faith in Christ while living in Belfast.  He then moved to London to attend Highbury College, but he was not able to complete his program there because he moved with his parents to the United States in 1830 where he lived with his brother in Patterson, New Jersey.  His brother, Joseph, had done well in his new homeland and earned his living in manufacturing.  Joseph was a member of the Presbyterian Church and Thomas attended services with him.  To complete his ministerial training he enrolled in the senior class at Princeton Theological Seminary and graduated in 1831.  It was in 1843 that Princeton Seminary, at the recommendation of Dr. Samuel Miller, conferred the Doctor of Divinity upon Thomas.  Dr. Miller thought that Rev. Smyth’s considerable academic pursuits and many publications justified his being awarded the D.D. despite his not having met all the jots-and-tittles normally required for the degree.

As with many ministers and theologians, Thomas Smyth was afflicted with bibliomania.  His symptoms appeared early in his life.  As a young child, he was a voracious reader and while at Belfast College he worked as the librarian.  Reading and cataloging were not sufficient to alleviate his love for books; he had to own them as well.  He wrote in 1829, “My thirst for books, in London became rapacious.  I overspent my supplies in procuring them, at the cheap repositories and left myself in the cold winter for two or three months without a cent …” (Autobiography, 39).  Dr. Smyth’s comments on his developing bibliomania are reminiscent of Erasmus and his practice of buying books first, and then, if any money was left, he bought food.  A few years later as he entered his ministerial service in Charleston, he specifically purposed to develop a theological and literary library similar to Dr. Williams’s Library in London.  Over the years, he accumulated about 20,000 volumes.  One unusual book in his possession was a Hebrew Psalter with the autographs of Jonathan Edwards, Edwards’s son, and Rev. Tryan Edwards, who gave it to Dr. Smyth.  The Grand Debate and other original documents of the Westminster Assembly were procured at great cost, as well as forty works by members of the Assembly along with ten quarto volumes of their discourses.  Dr. Smyth’s compulsive, though purposeful, book buying may have been a point of tension for he and his wife.  In a letter written by Margaret to him in the summer of 1846 she informed him of the expenses they were incurring due to the addition of three rooms to their home:

I tell you all this now as a preface to a caution, not to involve yourself too deeply or inextricably in debt by the purchase of books & pictures; of the last, with the maps, we have enough now to cover all the walls, even of the new rooms; & the books are already too numerous for comfort in the Study & Library.  …  But I would enter a protest not only against books & pictures, but all other things not necessary & which can come under the charge of extravagance.  Do be admonished & study to be economical (Autobiography, 384f).

It should be noted that one of the reasons the three rooms were built was to accommodate Dr. Smyth’s ever-growing library; one of the new rooms was thirty feet long and intended for his use.  As Dr. Smyth’s health continued to deteriorate, he made the difficult decision to sell over half of the volumes of his library to Columbia Theological Seminary.  He was concerned that since he could not take full advantage of his magnificent library it would be best that ministerial students have access to the books.  The actual sale was dated May 28, 1856 and the seminary contracted to pay the Smyths $14,400 for the volumes.  The seminary organized the collection in a special area designated the Smyth Library.  Dr. Smyth continued to add to the collection by donating other books so that by May of 1863, the special collection contained 11,845 volumes, and by the time a posthumous inventory was taken in November of 1912, the number was over 15,000.  Even though he had sold and donated thousands of volumes to Columbia Seminary, his remaining library was still large, but it was reduced once again when a fire, in 1870, burned about 3,000 books.  Though the affliction of bibliomania can become all-consuming, it is certain that many Presbyterian ministers trained at Columbia Seminary benefited from the collection gathered by Thomas Smyth.

Words to Live By:
Certainly for the pastor as well as for the scholar, books can be tools. But like all other things in life, they can also become a hindrance, even an idol. Perhaps the best antidote to this problem is to maintain a close conscious sense of our responsibility before the Lord to use for His glory all that He has entrusted us with. 

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mooreTV02Thomas Verner Moore was born on February 1, 1818, in Newville, Pennsylvania, a small town in Cumberland county, near Carlisle, PA. Completing his preparatory years, Thomas initially attended Hanover College, in Indiana, studying under the esteemed Dr. Blythe. Perhaps it was to save on expense that he then returned home to complete his collegiate education at Dickinson College (1838). He worked briefly as an agent of the American Colonization Society in 1839 before leaving to prepare for the ministry at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

In the Spring of 1842, Rev. Moore was installed as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Carlisle, PA, though he only held this post for three years, resigning because of some church difficulties. Then in 1847 he accepted a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Richmond, Virginia.  During his Richmond years, he served as moderator of the seventh PCUS General Assembly, when it met in Nashville, in 1867.

He remained at Richmond through the duration of the Civil War until 1868, when his frail health prompted him to accept a call to the First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Presumably it was thought that the change of climate might help in his recovery. He continued his ministry there in Nashville until his death, on August 5, 1871.

Thomas Verner Moore was a prolific writer and he served for many years as the editor of The Central Presbyterian.

Words to Live By:
From the closing words of Rev. Moore in one of his addresses, delivered in 1846:

“And though your names may never gild the flaunting page of history, or your record be engraved on the monumental marble to mark the spot that enshrines your dust, yet you shall have a more enduring memorial in the glad hearts you have cherished, and the sad hearts you have cheered, and more enduring still in that dread and awful scroll whose words of flame have been written by the finger of the Almighty : whose seals shall be opened in the terrific scenes of the judgment, and whose pages shall be unfolded in the retributions of eternity.”

May your lives be lived to the glory of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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