by Michael D. (Mike) Greene
Saturday, January 15, 1815 was a bright but cold day. John left his home to visit and preach for one of his father’s old friends some distance from their humble rented cabin.
His lovely wife, Anna, who had a beautiful singing voice, was called to cheer a dying neighbor with her songs. She took her infant child in her arms, left the three older children in the care of her younger brother and sister, and set out on her mission of mercy to the nearby cabin.
Late in the evening, the cry dreaded by all went out; “FIRE!” Anna seized her infant child and rushed to the cabin where the children had retired for the night, only to see the little cabin engulfed in flames.
Only a mother could understand her fear as she, in terror, called the names of the children. Her younger brother and sister had survived, but only one of her children remained. Two had perished in the fire. The heart-broken mother refused to be comforted.
Word was quickly sent for John Smith to return home. When the messengers reached John the next morning and gave him the sad news he immediately set out for home.
But the thoughts he had on the return journey were not the same as those which had captivated his mind just a few hours earlier. He could see the dreams of prosperity now in ruins. He thought of his beloved Anna, and how her heart must be breaking. He turned to his faith for some solace.
But his religion offered little solace or comfort. The thought that the two beloved children were not of the elect, and therefore damned to a devil’s hell broke through the gloom that weighed so heavily on Smith’s grieving heart and mind. How could he console his grieving wife if she had these thoughts, if he himself found no comfort in their faith?
“‘I can give her no her no consolation!’ thought he. ‘If I tell her that our babies are glorified, the thought that possibly they were of the non-elect will only aggravate her woe.’ His own faith was bewildered by this thought, which haunted him like an evil specter as he rode along. He tried to persuade himself that non-elect persons do not die in infancy; but his mind would not accept the subterfuge. He dreaded, therefore, to meet his wife’s look of anguish, and to hear her ask the question, ‘Are our children among the elect of God?’ For the time being, every other grief was lost in this; and in the confusion of his mind, his faith in that harsh doctrine of his Church yielded up its strength forever.”/1
His dear Anna, thought no such thoughts. She was simply burdened with guilt and asked her husband “Can you ever forgive me for leaving home as I did last night?”/2
Smith immediately began to again make plans to find fortune in this new home. He found some melted coin in the ruins of the burned cabin. This he sold for seventy six dollars. He knew that with this and his strength and unconquerable will, all would be well and his dreams of fortune and plenty might yet find fruition.
But no sooner had the ashes of his children been committed to the earth, Anna grew sick and died. Her earthly remains were buried near the ashes of her children.
In a few days, the young Smith himself was stricken by a lingering sickness. Days passed into weeks and weeks into months as Smith lay on the bed of sickness. Many gave him up for dead.
After four months he began to recover. But he was never the man of robust health he once was. When he was able, he went to see his children who had been in the care of friends. He knew he could never care for them and left them forever in the care of those who had accepted them as their own.
He determined to return to Kentucky. He took stock. He had come to Alabama seeking his fortune with fifteen hundred dollars, 85 hogs, 50 cattle, a wagon and a team of horses, a wife and four children.
Only the wagon and team, one cow and two children remained and the children had been given over to friends. Even the clothes on his back he had through the generosity of a friend.
The cow was sold and the money used to pay the physician’s bill. Smith loaded his few simple articles of cabin furniture on the wagon and quitting the scene of his terrible sufferings, began his solitary journey back to Kentucky./3
Never again would such dreams of grandeur and wealth come to the now humbled Smith. The one thing he had left was his undying faith in a loving God. But his faith in one tenet of Calvinism had suffered a mortal blow.
“My children are happy, for they were innocent,” he reasoned. He returned to his former home in Stockton’s Valley. His family and friends wept at his story and welcomed him back into their hearts again./4
Yet emotional turmoil was not over for John Smith. His faith in one tenet of Calvinism was gone forever, but others were yet to be tested and found wanting to his logical and scripture filled mind.
1/ Williams, John Augustus, Life of Elder John Smith, Reprinted by Gospel Advocate Co., Nashville, TN, 1956, pg. 80.
2/ Ibid., pg. 81.
3/ Ibid., pg. 85.
/4 Ibid., pg. 86