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Paul Melton

The title of this article summarizes the insightful anecdote taken from the life of “Raccoon” John Smith, as recounted by John Augustus Williams in his biography entitled, Life of Elder John Smith (1908). It regards the pandemic Smith faced back in the year 1833:

He [“Raccoon” John Smith] was seized with a fearful dysentery. For  some  days  he  struggled  with  the  disease,  which  many supposed to be cholera; but he finally reached his house, though prostrated in body and mind. It was not till June 26 that he was able to preach again; and then, and for some time afterwards, he could only sit in a chair and talk in his weakness to the people. During the period of his convalescence, he talked daily to the people, who came from bedside watchings and burials to hear him. His only theme  was  the  gospel;  and sinners,  aroused  by  the  fearful  judgments  of  the  Lord,  listened  to  his invitations as the only voice, amid the wailing in the land, that was pleasant to their  ears.  Wherever  he  went,  they  were  ready  to  hear  and  to  obey. As sick as he was, he went into the water, sometimes twice a day and immersed. Thus, in the five or six weeks that he was at home watching anxiously over  his  family, but disregarding  himself, he immersed almost three hundred persons with his own hands  In  fact,  during  the  two  months  of  July  and  August, within the bounds of a few counties in Northern Kentucky, more than one thousand  were  added  to  the  church  under  the  labors  of  Smith  and  other faithful  preachers,  who  toiled,  through  pestilence  and  sickness,  for  the salvation of souls. (p.431)

Times of pestilence, especially epidemics in which sickness steals away the lives of those around us often incite the sinner to look upward. Aware that God often uses famine, disease, and the sword to discipline the Christian and awaken the sinner, hundreds in “Raccoon” John Smith’s day sought the Lord and turned to the truth. Faithful preachers were not only available but actively engaged in saving these disquieted souls from spiritual death during a time when physical death prevailed (James 5:20).

     Sadly, in our day, the spiritually infirm are recurring in droves to psychology and modern medicine, which attempt to find a cure for spiritual ailments through drugs or human wisdom. Others are seeking assistance from religious charlatans who daub soul-wounds with consoling words, and numb people to the necessity of repentance. As Jeremiah wrote in the long ago, “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jer.6:14). In such a time as this, the church of our Lord must keep her light shining, her doors open, and never let her evangelistic efforts wane.

     Admittedly, personal evangelism becomes increasingly difficult due to social distancing. Yet souls are dying on every hand without the Savior! Let us redeem the time “for the days are evil” (Eph.5:16). Henry Thayer defines the Greek term translated “redeeming” as “to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good, so that zeal and well doing are as it were the purchase money by which we make the time our own” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1977, p.220). When the persecution arose against the congregation in Jerusalem, this did not deter their evangelistic efforts. They found a way.  Although scattered abroad, “they went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

     May the Lord give us the courage to invite our occupational and academic acquaintances to study the Bible with us, and the initiative to seek out contacts at funerals and other places of encounter in order to reason with them “of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). Let us expand our presence through the internet, television, and newspapers. Let us boldly proclaim to the world the gospel of the kingdom, for we are the glorious church of the Lord, undenominational, which extols His glory throughout all ages world without end (Eph.3:21).

     Let us rekindle the flame and become increasingly bold in sharing the good news, especially during these perilous times that underscore human mortality and catalyze the receptivity of the sinner to the gospel of Jesus Christ. May the fire burning within Jeremiah’s bones cause us to say, “I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jer.20:9). May history record of our day that the pestilence came, and thousands turned to the Lord.

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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.”