Pioneer: Sarah Smith

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Sketch No. 4—Sarah Smith


Sarah Smith, familiarly called Mother Smith, was born in Summit Country, Ohio, Sept. 20, 1822. Her maiden name was Sauer. From her own autobiography this sketch is principally written. Her education was very limited, the whole of her schooling amounting to less than three months after she was twelve years of age. It seems she never learned to write in script, but drew the Roman-print characters with a pencil. Her letters used to come to the Gospel Trumpet Office “printed” in this way.


She was catechized and taken into the Lutheran denomination at fourteen years of age, without the experience of salvation. She had no knowledge of what it was to pray because the preacher did it all. She was reared, however, in strict morality and had a disposition to be good, but did not know how. In March, 1842, during a terrible storm in which she feared she would be killed, she cried to God for mercy and became deeply convicted. Shortly after this, upon the earnest entreaties of one of her brothers who was dying, she again fell on her knees and soon the burden of sin was gone. She manifested great joy, and it was always characteristic of her when testifying to praise God, often clapping her hands and shouting or jumping. Her spiritual standard was too high for the cold, formal religionists among whom she lived, and she was of course opposed and persecuted. This only drew her nearer to God.


Soon the Lutherans rejected her, as they allowed none but the preacher to pray. Then the Evangelical preacher took her name without her knowledge. She often wondered why God’s people should be so divided, and as far as she knew her heart she never had a party or sect spirit, but was at home with the people of God anywhere.


Shortly after her conversion she discovered an element within her heart that gave her trouble. She had not heard a sermon on sanctification, nor did she have that privilege for the next seventeen years. She did not know that her heart was carnal. Satan could never make her doubt her justification, but she was always wanting something she did not receive in justification. She found no help in the denomination. To use her own words, “There never was a sectarian preacher that could preach the whole Bible and there never will be.” Her light, her help, and her progress were all the result of secret prayer. She read in 1 John 4:18 that “perfect love casteth out fear,” and this caused her to seek for perfect love. She was very timid and man-fearing. She did not know how to be sanctified, but the want in her heart resolved itself into a desire for perfect love. She had an altar of prayer in a woods and for three months daily sought the coveted experience. By this means her heart became adjusted to all the divine will including a possible entrance upon evangelistic work. She reached the point where from the depths of her soul she could say yes to all the Lord might ask of her, and then and there, in that woods, in August 1859, she was sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost. She received her perfect love, and from that day fearlessness of men or devils was always one of her qualities.


When she was sanctified, it was yet four years until she should hear a sermon on sanctification. Everybody that knew her knew how fearful she had been, and to see the boldness which she now manifested was their utter astonishment. When she would give her testimony, one would say, “When we hear you talk, we just feel as if we never had any religion.” Another one, “Your testimony is like lightning and thunder.”


Thus the Holy Spirit led her, not only into sanctification, but into the understanding that when she was born of the Spirit, she was also born into the church of God of which Christ is the head. The Evangelicals wanted her to labor exclusively for them, while the M. E.’s offered her a circuit and a license to preach if she would go with them. She said no, she was free to go when and where God would send her. “They never got their yoke on me,” as she expressed it, “but what I would break out and go to work. In every meeting where God was working and souls were being saved, there was my work.’ God showed her step by step that the denominations were not the church that Christ built.


It was about this time that the holiness people of the country began to form associations. At Jerry City, Ohio, near where she lived, a small band was formed, and she was their acknowledged leader. Gradually the Lord led her in a mysterious way. A brother handed her a copy of the Gospel Trumpet containing an article on the one church. That was just what she was looking for. Finally the Holy Spirit brought her out of all denominationalism, including the holiness association, and then she was free. In January or February, 1882, God sent Brother Warner to Jerry City, and through him Mother Smith received light on the spiritual Babylon of the Revelation and how God’s people had been held until God called them out of Babylon, etc. Bro. A. J. Kilpatrick was also sent there. About twenty took their stand, declaring their freedom from the sects.


The time came that Mother Smith was to go into the field and help publish the glad tidings to perishing souls. She got under the burden and wept. She was now sixty-one and had the objection that she was too old, had no education, etc. She and her husband were at this time living with their eldest son, and her husband would therefore be provided for should she go; but he was opposed to her going. She told the Lord he would have to make her husband willing. It was a hard struggle, but in her struggles Mother Smith always got the victory, and so she said to her husband, “I am done with housework.” He asked, “How soon are you going?” He said he had a cow to sell and that if he could sell it, he would give her the money. In about two hours he had sold the cow and she had the money. This was one of the many instances of how God opened the way for Mother Smith and answered her prayers.


Little did she know that she was destined to be the “mother in Israel” of a little company of evangelists who should be together more than four years planting the truth in many places in ten States and in Canada.


Her evangelistic work dates from 1885. She first attended the assembly at Beaver Dam, in north central Indiana, early in October. At Fort Wayne she met Brother Warner and Sisters Nannie Kigar and Frankie Miller and others who were on their way from Williamston, Mich., to the Beaver Dam meeting. Brother Warner told Mother Smith and the sisters named that he had prayed for over a year for a company of singers who would constitute a part of his company. In the following winter Mother Smith assisted in a series of meetings near Beaver Dam and in southern Michigan. It was near Bangor, Mich., that the accession of a young brother, B. E. Warren, completed Brother Warner’s company, a full quartet of singers, Mother taking a high tenor. A meeting held at Walkerton, Ind., the following April (1885), was their first one held together, and from this point their four years and more of itinerant work began.


What was accomplished by this brave little band of Christian workers, preaching and singing full salvation and deliverance to the captives, only heaven can reveal. Their visit to my home in Illinois I have ever since regarded as the brightest spot in my memory. Wherever they went, their presence meant a crisis for the denominations, in the loss of many of the spiritual ones among them, so that, religiously considered, the community was never after quite the same as before. Space forbids my telling of how wonderfully God used Brother Warner’s company, of the marvelous healings, deliverances from danger, etc. They scattered the fire here and there and brought salvation and joy to thousands. To this work Mother contributed her part faithfully.


After Brother Warner’s company ceased traveling together, Mother Smith continued doing what she could for the Master. She was almost always to be seen at the larger camp-meetings. Many will remember her glowing testimonies. She tells of some remarkable answers to prayer, even after quitting the evangelistic field. One of these I shall let her describe in her own words, quoted from her Life Sketches, a pamphlet published by the Gospel Trumpet Company, but now discontinued.


“One Easter Monday in the year 1892 we had a terrible fire in the oil-field. It was fearful indeed. It seemed for a while as if the whole country would be burned over. There had been no rain for several weeks, and it was very windy and everything was dry. One man who had been pumping oil set some waste oil on fire and the wind carried the blaze into the woods and then it rapidly spread just like fire does in a dry season. On it came until it reached our farm, and there was some timber and also an oil-well and a number of tanks with several hundred barrels of oil, and the ground around these tanks covered with oil. The fire soon reached the oil on the ground and blazed up into the tree-tops. The wind was blowing a fearful gale and carried sparks across a ten-acre field and set the woods on fire across the road. My son and his wife were watching the building s and putting fire out at different times about the strawstack. I made the remark that I did not care about seeing another such a fire until I could sail above it. The smoke was so thick and black that when it would go down, we would have to close our eyes and hold our breath until the wind would raise it again. The men who were pumping oil on the farm worked around those oil tanks until they were surrounded by fire, and seeing that it was impossible to put out the fire or protect the oil tanks they came back and said they could do no more.


“I was standing looking on and saw that the tanks must go, for the blaze was all around them. When those men said they could do no more, then I said in my heart, ‘Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,’ and I rebuked the fire in the name of Jesus. In a few minutes the fire went down around those oil-tanks. One man said to the others, ‘Do you see that fire go down around those tanks?’ And they marveled and said they never saw the like before. It was no long until another gale of wind came and carried the fire in another direction. Then I said ‘Now, Lord, this fire can not be put out without rain; now, Lord, send rain,’ and I started to the house just across the ten-acre field, and before I arrived, it commenced to thunder, and the clouds began to come from the west. My dinner was waiting for me. I sat down to eat and before I had finished, the rain was pouring down and the fires were put out.”


From the same pamphlet I quote some of her last words to the public, as follows:


“Soon I shall go to my home, never to come to see you any more, and now will preach my last sermon. When you take your last look at me and lay me away, remember your mother’s tears and prayers, and follow me as I followed Christ. Remember, there are but two ways spoken of in the Bible, one is the narrow way, the way of holiness which leads to heaven; the other is the broad road that leads to eternal destruction. Which one will you choose?”


She lived to the good old age of eighty-five years. On Sunday evening, March 1, 1908, she departed this life. Her last words were, “Lord Jesus, take me quickly.” Thus this “mother in Israel,” so faithful to her high calling during a long earthly pilgrimage, passed to her reward.

by A. L. Byers
Byers, A. L. Sketch No. 4-Sarah Smith. Gospel Trumpet, 26 February 1920, 5-6.


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