Saturday, June 16, 2012

O.H. Smith: Little Big Man

We Could Use a Little Help Down Here

(What appears below was written in 2002 after a meeting of the PCA General Assembly. It was originally published by the PCANews and last year republished by The Aquila Report. Daddy had a dry wit. One year at GA he and I rode together in a shuttle from the Philadelphia airport to our hotel. A man sitting next to him inquired where he was from, and when he replied, "Pensacola," the man said, "I bet you get good seafood down there." My Dad affirmed that he did, and the man asked, "How do you like your seafood." My Dad replied, "I like mine fried." The man replied, "That's the way YOU like it," to which Daddy replied, "That's what I said." On another occasion he was sitting in a law office waiting room. The female receptionist asked, "May I get you a cup of coffee?" He answered, "I didn't think y'all did that anymore." The man had a hard life, but I never once saw him cry or show much emotion of any kind, which, of course, would be labelled a defect today. He did not put up with fools very well, whether sons or preachers, which put a double whammy on me. Yet he never, ever, gave up on me, though he might well have. I miss him all the time.)

My father, who's been in heaven since 1988, inadvertently taught me about praying to the saints. I was struggling with what to say and do with one of my sons who seemed to be adrift. We met for breakfast one morning, and as I slid into the booth, an involuntary prayer went up from my spirit, "Daddy, help me."

I think of him often. For a time I could not sing "For All the Saints" without tears, but now I can sing with joy: "For lo there dawns a yet more glorious day, the saints triumphant rise in bright array." The cancer riddled body I last saw is not the body that shall be.

If I could have "fixed" my father I would, as would my sons to me, change many things. I could wish he had had such a strong "perfectionist-procrastinating" gene, which he managed by ordinary generation to pass down in an absolutely pure state to his son. I could wish that he, having come up before men were supposed to so communicative, might have talked more. With his fine mind, I could wish he had pressed on to get the education which could have put him ahead. I could wish he had been a better businessman, who had the touch not just for doing a job well but for making money while doing it. I could wish he would have believed in his children's worth a little less and in his own a lot more. Sad to say, my Daddy was only a partially sanctified man living in a fallen world, doing the best he could. I wish my record were as good as his.

But I've been thinking we could use a few more elders like O.H. Smith. By the way his intimates, to the extent he had such, never called him anything other than "O.H." There's not a lot else that can be done with the name his parents gave him, Octavius Hopkins - the THIRD!

Daddy was a churchman whose churchmanship was recognized and honored by those who really knew him. He was a elder for nearly 30 years, a respected though sometime minority voice on his Session. He served as chairman of several pulpit search committees. He had more than one year long term as moderator of his Presbytery. He was elected to the General Assembly's Christian Education Committee and to the Board of Trustees of Great Commission Publications. He was an all but a perpetual commissioner to the General Assembly. He was a confidant and advisor to both ruling and teaching elders. He never thought any work was beneath him. In the very early days of RUM, when a campus minister was found to start  a new work and needed to be moved, Daddy hired the equipment and moved him at minimal expense, though he did not know him. Most important he was a man of faith. He did not always make the distinction between fatalism and trust in Providence as precisely as he should have, but, when push came to shove, he got it just right. As my mother lay in intensive care on life support, and minister and friends came, he said, "God doesn't make any mistakes." After she survived, several years later he lay in the hospital awaiting the confirmation of the cancer diagnosis. My mother-in-law visited him and once again he said, "God doesn't make any mistakes."

When I think about him lately I think about what he might think of some of the matters facing the church today.

I expect he would have little sympathy with the idea that it's just too hard for ruling elders to get to General Assembly. He never thought it was possible to do much for the Lord with that which costs you nothing. He was self-employed and lived mostly from job to job, so any day away from work was for him a day without pay. When he flew to Atlanta or Philadelphia for meetings, he would fly all over the country to get there in order to spare the committee or agency as much expense as possible. He knew, because he had done it, that ruling elders who believed in the work of the Lord could make the time and the sacrifices necessary.

I expect that he would have had even less sympathy for the idea that ruling elders could not be expected to come and to take interest in the Assembly with the kind of business and "wrangling" that can go on there. He would not have wanted more "inspiration" or less work. His view was that by the election of the people Christ had appointed him and elder to care for the Church and that  by the election of his Session Christ had appointed him a commissioner to the Assembly. That was the motivation to do the work, however tedious it might become or however long it might take. One year in St. Louis his son bought a ticket to see the Cardinals on a night when GA was meeting. Asked to go along, Daddy, without condemning anyone else, quietly declined. He had work to do - the Lord's.

I'll have to be honest and say that if he were alive today he would not have been invited to be a ruling elder member of or advisor to any organizations. He wasn't a "player" of sufficient consequence. But I am pretty sure I know what his answer would have been had an invitation come. It would have been a gentle and respectful "NO." He had another view of the way the "system" was supposed to work. He believed a ruling elder should know his Confession of Faith and his Book of Church Order and that he should read his Commissioner's Handbook. Then he should go to the meetings, listen to the arguments, and vote his conscience. I think he had figured out that this was what the Book of Church Order means when it talks about Jesus ruling His Church by His Word and Spirit through men.

Daddy was a little man - in size, in ego, in accomplishments, in importance. My wife reminds me that he would not leave the Church Triumphant to join the Church Militant again, but I think we could use a few more elders of his stature down here.

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