Brethren Archive
Saturday November 17, 2018

Short Bio from "The Christian Portrait Gallery"


EVANGELIST, PASTOR, TEACHER.                                   

11th July 1817 ~ 5th March 1889


"I shall walk through the valley of the shadow of death;
I shall walk through the valley in peace:
For Jesus will Himself be my Leader,
I shall walk through the valley in peace."

SUCH was the song with which the saintly Denham Smith passed away from this scene of sin and death, to be forever with the Lord. Thousands will recognize how perfectly it accords with his unique life and ministry, familiar to them through a lengthened course of years.

In the calling home of this beloved Christian, the Church of God on earth lost one of its brightest ornaments, and one of its most faithful servants; one who unswervingly followed his Lord, and counted it, throughout his ministry of fifty years, his highest joy to spend and be spent in his Master's service.  That ministry, so redolent with the savour of Christ, endeared him to many thousands in this and other lands, who never had the privilege of his personal acquaintance or of his vide voce exposition of the Word.

Whilst widely known by reason of the eloquence, simplicity, power of imagery, choice of language, and force by which in pulpit and on platform, he preached the Gospel or expounded Scripture doctrine, Mr. Denham Smith is still more extensively known by the activity of his pen, not only in prose but in sacred verse.  His literary attainments were of a high order, and in early life were exhibited in works of no mean merit.  As a hymn-writer, Mr. Denham Smith will be long known by the sweet combination of poetry and doctrinal truth, as shown in such hymns as “Just as thou art,”  “Jesus, Thy dying love I own,”  “Communion with the Lord,” and others.

Joseph DENHAM SMITH was born on 11th July 1817.  He had a happy childhood, and possessed a buoyancy of spirit which never forsook him.  His widowed mother, a devoted Christian, longed for his early conversion; and abundantly were her prayers answered.

At the age of sixteen he first preached the Gospel; and many were thrilled by his lifting up of Christ.  Hearing of Ireland's need, he determined to settle in that land; and there for many years spent a happy and blessed life in pointing sinners to Christ. In 1841, he commenced his more recognized public ministerial career at Newry, where his memory is still held in affection and gratitude.  Thence he removed to Kingstown in 1848, and devoted himself to the pastorate of the church that he was instrumental in planting in Northumberland Avenue, and which was destined to prove so remarkable a centre of spiritual life to multitudes.

In 1859 a wave of blessing rolled over the north of Ireland, whence the work spread to other parts.  In August, 1859, Mr. and Mrs. John Morley, of Clapton, visited Ireland, to see the beauties of Wicklow and other places of interest.  Mr. Denham Smith remarked, “But you will not return, will you, without seeing something of the remarkable revival?”  “We had not thought of seeing it,” said Mr. Morley; “but we will consider it.”  Accordingly, accompanied by Mr. Smith, they visited Belfast, Ballymena, and other places which formed the centre of this blessed work.  Mr. Denham Smith rejoiced in the wondrous movement, and received a fresh baptism of power from on high as the result of the visit.  This was evidenced by a remarkable outburst of spiritual blessing on September 9 in his church at Kingstown, which continued for many months with notable blessing to literally thousands of souls.  Services were commenced on board the four express boats then running between Kingstown and Holyhead, which were remarkably owned of God.

Thousands were brought under the saving power of the Holy Spirit. These were by no means drawn from the poorer classes only; but included people from all sections of society, many of whom are now prominent servants of God.  Mr. T. Shuldham Henry, since then a well-known preacher of the Gospel, was converted to God through the instrumentality of Mr. Denham Smith, whom he was induced to hear in January, 1860.

From Kingstown Mr. Smith now went forth with a yearning heart for souls, to commence services in the Irish Metropolis, the Metropolitan Hall being taken, where meetings were held that will be borne in everlasting remembrance by many who shared in the blessing vouchsafed therein; the abiding fruit of these gatherings may be found in many parts of the world to-day.  Thousands flocked together in the morning, and remained hour after hour—many without refreshments—until ten and eleven at night.  Careless ones were awakened; anxious ones led into peace; and persons of all classes rejoiced in a newly-found Saviour.

Amongst those from England who visited this work in Dublin was Mr. Benjamin Scott, Chamberlain of the City of London, who wrote as follows:–

"The work may be said to have commenced at Kingstown, on September 5, 1859, and the conversion of almost the whole crews of the Cambria, Telegraph, Scotia, and Eblana (steamers crossing the Irish Channel) followed.  Meetings for praise and prayer were held by the crews of the several vessels, whenever they were in harbour.  The cabins were soon found to be too small for the numbers attending, and preaching from the deck of one or other of the boats moored alongside the quay was commenced on Sunday afternoons; and the scenes witnessed on the shore of Lake Galilee in the days of our Lord's earthly sojourn were reproduced in the harbour at Kingstown.

Conversion invariably attends these services; as few as one and as many as sixty-nine have been reported as the result of a single meeting; and on the anniversary of the outbreak of the work, it was announced that some three thousand known conversions had resulted in the space of twelve months.  Many of the conversions have been of a remarkable kind.  Roman Catholics of all classes—including ladies and gentlemen moving in the highest and best circles in Dublin; young men and women from the shops and warehouses; sailors, soldiers, and children of tender age---have alike professed change of heart, and have manifested that change in the life."

As might be expected amidst such scenes and services as these, Mr. Denham Smith soon felt that he could no longer be bound by  denominational bonds.  Accordingly, he retired from the pastorate of his church at Kingstown, in order to take his stand as a servant of the Church at large.   It was, however, the deep desire of his friends, on his leaving Kingstown, to secure the continuance of his labours amongst them; and, in accordance with this, it was decided to erect a suitable Hall for religious services, so that Dublin might be “a centre of evangelizing effort,” in which building Mr. Denham Smith would have the “privilege and joy of the co-operation and fellowship of various devoted ministers and servants of Christ.”  In this way was erected Merrion Memorial Hall, Dublin.

Shortly afterwards, Mr. Denham Smith visited Paris and Geneva, where crowded meetings were held.  The hymns that proved so useful in Dublin were translated into French by Hon. Elizabeth Waldegrave and others.

About this time Mr. John Morley invited Mr. Denham Smith to visit London for the purpose of preaching the Word, and giving an account of the work of God in the sister island.  In Freemasons’ Hall was held a series of meetings, which are even now fresh in the memory of many.

Mr. Denham Smith frequently re-visited London.  Drawing-room and other meetings were held at Upper Clapton; the Manor Rooms, Hackney; St. James's Hall; Hanover Square Rooms; John Street Chapel (Hon. Baptist Noel's); Sadler's Wells Theatre, and other places; with remarkable results; and an iron building was subsequently erected at Upper Clapton, in which he was the first to conduct a series of services.  This became a permanent centre of spiritual life and activity; and the “iron room" eventually gave place to the commodious Clapton Hall, in which Mr. Denham Smith continued to minister in the Gospel during the months of May and November each year, until the beginning of the illness which terminated his earthly course.  This large building was invariably filled when he preached there.

He likewise visited several provincial towns in England, amongst others; Liverpool, Leamington, Brighton, Hastings, and Chichester, also various counties in Ireland, preaching the Gospel with the same wonderful blessing that had followed his labours elsewhere.

St. George's Hall in Langham Place, London, had been secured for Sunday evening services by Mr. C. R. Hurditch, at which Mr. Denham Smith frequently preached.  On his removal for permanent residence to London, he undertook the responsibility of the double service on the Lord's Day at this Hall in conjunction with Dr. Habershon and Mr. Shuldham Henry.  Since that time he continued to preach in St. George's Hall on Sundays for the greater part of each year, and never without large audiences and manifest fruit in the conversion of souls. Believers were greatly edified and built up in their holy faith, and a considerable church was gathered.  In the spring of 1886, Mr. Denham Smith's health gave way.  Persistent attacks of indigestion weakened his hitherto active constitution, and caused much anxiety to his friends.  His visit to Ireland, with its attendant engagements, was undertaken with difficulty.  A short stay in Switzerland failed to benefit him.  Returning home, his health underwent decided improvement; yet his former vigour was not regained.

During the winter of 1886–87 he appeared at many meetings; but platform exertions were followed by complete prostration.  The month of July, 1887, found him suddenly compelled, by serious and alarming illness, to relinquish work altogether.  It was after four weeks of happy service in Merrion Memorial Hall, Dublin, that on Tuesday, July 26, he closed his long and eventful public ministration.  During a short stay at Shanklin, he enjoyed an interlude of strength, enabling him to take walks in front of his house; but another attack of illness speedily brought him nigh to death.  However, he recovered so as to be conveyed to London, where he continued throughout to be nursed by loved ones; tended by his son Dr. Gilbart Smith; watched over by Dr. Habershon; and seen from time to time by numerous friends, including his old and attached friend Dr. Kidd.

The intense affection of the father for all the members of his family was fully reciprocated by them; each seemed to vie with the other in showing the most devoted attention to his every want in his long sickness.  It fell, however, to the willing lot of his eldest son as physician, and to his two eldest daughters, to bear the chief burden of the care through the eighteen months of his lingering illness; and a lovelier instance of family affection and unwearied devotion has been rarely seen or known.  Often during these months of prostration did the beloved invalid speak of this with pardonable parental pride and gratitude to God.

The phases of disease varied with the passing months, so that during the summer of 1888, Mr. Denham Smith was so far convalescent as to be able to enjoy occasional drives.  But during September, however, his strength again began to fail, and at the beginning of the year 1889, a recurrence of the more serious symptoms took place.  On February 28, in much prostration, he roused to ask the doctor, “Can you give me the shadow of an idea how long it will be?"  “Not long, dear one; only a little while now.”  “Oh, how sweet!—how sweet!”  On another occasion, when in great pain, he said, “God is good—and if the furnace were ten times hotter, I should still say, God is love.”  Again, he remarked, “Don’t you think that if you and I were inside those gates together, and had the welcomes, and saw the joy, it would compensate for all these sorrows and sadnesses?”

Many choice testimonies to the preciousness of Christ were given by Mr. Smith during the eighteen months of his illness.  During the last few weeks, he loved to hear his second daughter softly singing some of the old hymns.  He would say, “They cheer the way down through the valley,” and would join in with the chorus or words, here and there, in his own old way, up to almost the very last.  Even when the voice was gone, it was touching to find him still keeping time with his hand.  His favourite hymns for such times were, “Jesus, Lover of my soul,” “Come, sing to me of heaven,”  “There are angels hovering round,”  “I shall walk through the valley,”  “Beulah Land.”  Usually he was soothed to sleep by them.  One day the doctor said, “You feel as if you wanted to go to sleep, don't you?”  “I feel, dear friend, as if I wanted to go to heaven”; and soon this longing was granted.

All day on Monday, March 4, 1889, he lay as if asleep.  Early on Tuesday morning, those around him noticed the rapidly-failing pulse, and, calling the absent ones, they silently watched for the closing of that life so precious to them.  His wish had long been expressed that he might pass away in his sleep; and this wish was granted.  In perfect stillness, his wife and children, with only one exception, stood around till he quietly, peacefully, and without a sigh or struggle, “passed through the gates” into the presence of his Lord and Master.

Thus we bid farewell to a beautiful life that has gone from us, which for purity, peace, and power, was as perfect as we may expect to find on earth, till the Lord Himself shall return.


From: "The Christian Portrait Gallery" No Date.


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