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Paul Melton

The 2020 Coronavirus pandemic infected around 21 million people in the United States last year and claimed the lives of approximately three hundred fifty thousand. Today’s anecdote from the life of “Raccoon” John Smith takes us back to 1833 to the raging cholera epidemic in Kentucky to the house of John and Nancy Smith. 

In 1833, the scourging cholera swept through the counties of Northern Kentucky. Language cannot describe the terror which seized the people. Persuaded that it was contagious, many fled from the infected towns and districts,  and  hid  from  the  destroyer  among  the  pines  of  the  mountain solitudes. Whole households were scattered in sudden panic. They fled, not caring where; their houses were abandoned, open and tenantless; and sometimes a corpse was left unsheeted in the silent chamber. Many when they saw the shadow of the coming pestilence, hastened home, and watched in awe till the plague had spent its fury, and the anxious days were over. In some  parts  of  the  country  farmers  that  lived  on  the  public  roads  shut  in their trembling families, and turned the belated traveler or terror-stricken refugee  from  their  doors.  Some were seen to stand like sentinels before their threshold, with gun in hand, and warn off the importunate that came for refuge or assistance. Farm gates were locked, entrances were barricaded, and the beseeching cries for help was unheeded.

 It was during those months of terror that Mrs. Smith (“Raccoon” John Smith’s wife), alone one night, with her children, was aroused by some travelers that were fleeing from the cholera. They begged for shelter and rest till morning. The good woman took them in, and made them as comfortable as she could.

 In the morning, after they were gone, she began to fear that she had exceeded the requirements of hospitality, and had opened her own door to the plague, and exposed herself and her loved ones to the contagion. When her husband returned home that day, she told him what she had done and how anxious she was to know whether she had done right or wrong.” Nancy,” said he, “you did exactly right, though we should all have to die for it. If we must die, let us die doing good.”  (This quote is taken from The Life of Elder John Smith by John Augustus Williams)

 There is wisdom in isolating ourselves when a perilous pestilence invades the land (Proverb 27:12).  However, shall we allow fear of the pestilence to deter us from doing right?  God has convoked the dominical assembly, and it must not be forsaken (Hebrews 10:25).  This holy convocation is convened by the Most High.  As Acts 20:7 states in the original Greek and as Young’s Literal Translation accurately expresses, “And on the first of the week, the disciples having been gathered together to break bread.”  Who gathered them on the first day of the week for the purpose of breaking bread?  Was it not God?  Was it not the Lord who summoned them?  Was it not He who said, “Do this in remembrance of me”?  The church in Corinth should have been congregating for this purpose (1 Cor.11:20, 33). All the members of the one body must assemble to break from one loaf (1 Cor.10:17).  

     What audacity some church leaders have shown in usurping the throne of God (after the manner of the “man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3,4) and counteracting the heavenly summons to gather on the Lord’s Day.  Again, what audacity!  No mortal man, no spiritual leader or civil power can overturn God’s ordinance of congregating on the first day of each week.  Penalties will be imposed. Some may become ill and possibly die.  However, as one dear sister in her feebleness expressed to me a few months ago, echoing the words of Acts 21:13, “For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die . . .for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Seeing Paul’s resoluteness and determination to journey to Jerusalem, the disciples desisted from impeding his departure and said, “The will of the Lord be done” (v.14). Such is the steadfastness of the faithful who will not, for any reason, violate God’s directives (Daniel 6:10; 3:16-18). 

     I commend all our loving brothers and sisters who gathered in keeping with the Lord’s command during this pandemic, and that held high the golden rule in taking every precaution in their assemblies to prevent contagion. For those who fearfully forsook the assembly barricading themselves within the walls of their domicile, as pure as their intentions may have been, they did not show love to God or mercy to their brethren by so doing. Agape love takes every safeguard to protect those around us, while at the same time adhering to God’s heavenly statues (1 Co.13:4-6; Jn.14:15). I plead with all those who forsook the assembly during these difficult days to repent that this deed might be forgiven. Let us resolve to never allow anything to impede our presence before the Lord at the assembly He has convoked. 

     What a blessing and inspiration to see brethren who care enough to “consider one another to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. . .” (Heb.10:24,25). What splendid love demonstrated by our brethren who wore protective masks to the assembly, maintained social distancing and practiced the most vigilant hygiene during this crisis.  To those congregations who met in open fields, barns, at a brother’s house or who continued to meet at the church house, may the Lord bless you! We comfort you with the noble words of “Raccoon” John Smith directed to his wife, “You did exactly right, though we should all have to die for it. If we must die, let us die doing well.”

In the words of our Savior, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Mt.16:25).

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The Ancient Faith website is a thematic collection of scholarly yet simple Bible essays and sermons, many of which were composed by Restoration preachers such as J.W. McGarvey, Moses Lard, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Campbell. These courageous men of faith through hours of Bible investigation studied themselves out of denominationalism, asking for “the old paths” (Jer. 6:16) and seeking to return to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We hope you will join with these men in their fervent plea to restore “the ancient order,” “the ancient gospel” or, as it was sometimes called, “the ancient faith.”