The history of the race is the history of individuals. And if "history is philosophy teaching by example," then biography must be the philosophy of life set forth in concrete form.
In every character, as in every face, there is that which distinguishes it from all others. And yet the elements of which true manhood is made, and the principles underlying all real success, though not so clearly seen, perhaps, in every case, are nevertheless essentially the same in all.
"For we are the same our fathers have been;
We see the same sights our fathers have seen;
We drink the same streams, and feel the same sun,
And run the same course our fathers have run."
As saith the Preacher: "That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and there is no new thing under the sun."
One has suggested that the lives of Christian men make up a sort of appendix to the Acts of the Apostles. Certainly they are a sort of new but yet well authenticated gospel in which are clearly revealed the Lord's saving and sustaining presence and power and grace.
In poetic fancy it may be true that
"From yon blue heavens above us bent,
The gardener Adam and his wife
Smile at the claims of long descent;"
but in actual fact it is certainly true that, in the making of men, ancestry matters much. "Blood will tell" — and training also. This is seen in that, along the course of the centuries, it has come to pass that preachers' sons have attained to pre-eminence as statesmen, and jurists, and journalists, and financiers, and philosophers, and teachers, and orators, and poets; and yet, have they not forgotten the God of their fathers, but have kept the faith even down to old age, and have gone out of life softly singing:
"I hope to see my Pilot face to face,
When I have crossed the bar."
O, to be sure, occasionally a wayward son of a preacher undertakes to convince the world that he has not the religion and piety of his father, and he gives indisputable proof that he has neither his father's sense nor strength. But Samuel Howard Ford was not| one of these exceptions to what is so evidently the rule.
Dr. Ford was the son of a Baptist preacher; he was "the worthy son of this noble sire." His ancestors were members of the famous Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol, England; and in this city his father, the Rev. Thomas Howard Ford, was born about 1790. Thomas Howard Ford was a man of no mean scholastic attainments. He studied the ancient languages under Dr. Burnett, and he was well trained in the theology of the Puritans.
In what year he came to the United States seems not to be known; but his name appears in associational minutes in both Illinois and Missouri in the early years
of these States. He preached in St. Louis for a short time; and, then, in 1844, he was called to what was, at that period, if not now, the more important pulpit of the Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri.
In this center of intelligence and culture his learning, character and eloquence attracted large congregations of the most influential people. Among those who sat under his ministry at that time were to be found such men as Dr. William Jewell, the founder of the great college which now bears his name at Liberty, Missouri; and Rev. Robert S. Thomas, D. D., professor of Languages and Moral Science in the Missouri State Iniversity, and later president of William Jewell College; and also the Basses, and the Harrises, and the Hardins, men whose names are prominently and inseparably associated, not only with the religious, but also with the educational, political, and industrial history of Missouri.
And that he was a minister acceptable, honored beloved by these mighty men of high intelligence and broad culture and sterling integrity, is sufficient evidence of Thomas Howard Ford's personal piety and pulpit power. Called, when he was only about sixty years old, to cross over the River and appear in the presence of the King, his last words heard on were, "Happy! happy! bless the Lord." His body rests in "God's Acre" at the old Richland Church Callaway County, Missouri.
Samuel Howard Ford was born in England, February 19, 1819, and probably in London. At an early however, he was brought by his parents to this country and to Missouri. The family home was near Columbia, the father being pastor in Columbia and also
at Little Bonne Femme Church in Boone County, Missouri. Here both his father and mother died.
He was educated at the Bonne Femme Academy, near the church of that name, in Boone County, Missouri, and at the Missouri State University in Columbia.
Baptized by his father he united with the Little Bonne Femme Church; and in 1840, when he was twenty-one years old, he was licensed by his church to preach. In 1843 he was ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry. For sixty-five years he was an able minister of the New Testament.
Not without criticism, however, was the work of the educated and brilliant young man. As he tells it himself: "A man came to me by special arrangement, and with solemn countenance told me the brethren were feeling somewhat doubtful about my preaching. 'What is it?' said I. 'Well,' said he, 'you must not think hard, but the brethren suspect you of studying your sermons!'
"I said nothing. 'Would you be willing,' said he, 'to preach from a text selected for you?' 'Well,' said I, 'perhaps so.' So he gave me the prodigal son's, 'I will arise and go to my Father,' and the rest of it. This was just before the hour I was to preach. As it happened I had preached on that subject only a short while before. So I took the text selected for me, and that settled it. Never after that did the brethren suspect me of studying my sermons."
The young preacher's first regular pastorate wai in Jefferson City, Missouri. Here he labored for two years. Then for two years he was at the old North Church in St. Louis. From St. Louis he went to Cape Girardeau, where, in connection with his work as pastor,
he established the Washington Seminary. This institution, under the management of various teachers, was successfully conducted up to the opening of the Civil War.
In Cape Girardeau Dr. Ford suffered the loss of his first wife by death. He then removed to Paducah, Kentucky. Here again he combined the work of pastor and teacher, becoming the principal of one of those seminaries, or academies, which were so necessary to, and which did so much for, the mental development and training of the youth of the Southland before the day of the public school.
And here once more he suffered; the second great sorrow of his life falling upon him in the loss of his second wife, who, dying, left an infant son. This son, Howard Ford, is at this writing, April, 1912, a beloved and honored practicing physician at Gilliam in Saline County, Missouri.
He once told an intimate friend, Dr. J. C. Maple, that it was this affliction, the death of his second fe, that drove him into the work of an editor. He said, as reported by Dr. Maple, that he found that he must have work which would absorb his thoughts all the time, to save him from the effects of the constant grief which seemed to be eating away his heart and consuming his brain.
In 1853, and it appears in connection with his duties as pastor of the East Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Ford became associated with the late distinguished John L. Waller in the editorship of The Western Recorder; and also of a monthly magazine, published in Louisville, called The Western Baptist Review. The name of this latter publication was later changed to The Christian Repository.
In 1859 the Southern element among the Baptists of Missouri, becoming greatly dissatisfied with Dr. William Crowell's editorial management of the Western Watchman, the only Baptist periodical in the State at the time, made an attempt to establish a new paper. And in 1860 Dr. Ford was employed to write the editorials for this new publication. The arrangement was that while remaining in Louisville and continuing his editoral work there, he was to furnish a specified amount of "copy" for the new paper, "The Missouri Baptist," as it was called.
In the fall of 1860 he came to Missouri, and attended the meeting of the "Baptist Convention of Southern Missouri." This was the last meeting of that body.
"At the close of this meeting, which was held that year at the Goshen Church near Oak Ridge in Cape Girardeau County," says Dr. Maple, "I went with Dr. Ford to Louisville, Kentucky; and we held a protracted meeting of fifteen days at Fisherville, some eighteett miles from the city. We preached alternately in the meetings; and here I heard Dr. Ford preach to his own people, as he was the pastor here, preaching one Saturday and Sunday in each month."
"The sole purpose of every sermon," continued Dr. Maple, "was to impress on the minds and hearts of the people the truths of the New Testament, who heard Dr. Ford only on special occasions hardly appreciate his profound knowledge of the plan of salvation and the deep longings of his great heart that men and women might believe and obtain that endless life promised to all who receive the Christ."
At the beginning of the war between the States Dr. Ford promptly cast his lot with the South. In
Spencer's History of Kentucky Baptists, vol. II, page 191, it is recorded of him that, "He left Kentucky privately, and hastened to share his fortune with the Southern Confederacy. He was a member from Kentucky of the first Confederate Congress."
What constituency he represented in this Congress, and how long he served, are matters concerning which information is very meager. But certain it is that in the dark days of that fratricidal war he preached for a time in Memphis, Tennessee; and, then, for two years, he was pastor of the St. Francis Street Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama.
Soon after the war he returned to Memphis and became the pastor of the Central Baptist Church in that city. Here he was pastor seven years; and here, perhaps, his most successful work as pastor was being accomplished, when ill health forced him to resign. Under his leadership the membership of the church increased from seventy-five to four hundred and fifty; and an elegant and commodious meeting-house, costing $75,000, was built. Here, indeed, in many ways, God let His seal to his ministry.
Here in Memphis also in 1868 he was called to face the horrors of yellow fever. His family was spending the summer in Kentucky, and he was just on the eve of leaving to join them there for a short vacation, when the fever was declared epidemic. And then it was that his unfearing courage and unselfish devotion to his high calling flamed forth. Instead of seeking personal safety and selfish pleasure by joining his loved ones in Louisville, as he had planned to do, he at once changed his purpose, and stayed with and ministered as he was able to the sorely afflicted people of the stricken city.
One familiar with the facts has testified concerning that trying time: "Day after day, from morning until late at night, and often-times to far into the night, he went from house to house, making no distinction as to the position or race or color, cheering the faint, consoling the bereaved, nursing the sick, and speaking words of faith and hope to the dying; and in several instances, remaining with the sufferer even after physician and nurse had fled, until death had claimed his victim, and then seeing that the most decent burial was given the body which the circumstances would permit."
As her friend and pastor, as well as the friend and pastor of her distinguished husband of blessed memory, he was at the bed-side of the late Mrs. J. R. Graves, when she passed away; and received from the dying mother her little babe, only a few months old and carried it in his own arms to the home of Mrs. Judge Turley, a member of his church. Brave he was; and "the bravest are the tenderest."
In 1869 or '70 Dr. Ford returned to Missouri to make his home in St. Louis; and for more than thirty years he was a potent factor in all denominational work in the State and beyond the State. He knew personally, and numbered among his personal friends, most of the leaders of the Baptists [sic] hosts in America, during the last half of the Nineteenth Century and in the opening years of the Twentieth.
He was a constant attendant at the meetings of the General Association of the Kentucky Baptists, and also of the Southern Baptist Convention. Of this latter body he was for years one of the vice-presidents. He was at the last meeting of the old Triennial Convention; and he was also in the earliest meetings, and
one of the most loyal supporters, of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Through all the years of his residence in St. Louis, he rarely, or never, failed to meet with the Missouri Baptist General Association, and on the floor of this body there was no man who was heard with a more deferential interest. Ever conservative and conciliatory, where principle was not involved, his eloquent voice was always heard pleading for harmony, peace, and for progress.
Soon after his return to Missouri some good brethren conceived the idea of moving William Jewell Collegee, then struggling for existence, to Kansas City, chaging its name, and making of it a sort of University. But when he was approached on this subject, though feeling that he would have to stand almost in his opposition, Dr. Ford, with his characteristic courage and readiness to contend for what he conceived to be right and to oppose what he thought to be wrong, entered a most emphatic and forceful protest.
Ah, in his younger days, he had been the friend associate of Dr. William Jewell; and he had been made by that far-seeing and public-spirited Baptist his messenger to make known to the General Association, and through the Association to all the brotherhood, his purpose and plan to establish a Baptist College for Missouri. And so, moved by his innate loyalty and his clear insight into denominational affairs and his unselfish devotion to their best interests, his final answer to the influential brother, who persistently sought to gain the support of his influence in favor of the proposed removal, was: "Doctor, I can never consent, I cannot forget when and how the college was founded
by Dr. Jewell, my friend; and I shall ever oppose change of location and of name."
And standing thus immovable, with his distinguishing unfaltering firmness for what he felt right, to Dr. Ford perhaps more than to any other man, is due the credit that there is today that magnificent institution, "William Jewell College, Liberty, Missouri."
As editor and author Dr. Ford attained to no mean rank. The Christian Repository, for fifty-five years owned and published by himself and wife, Mrs. Sallie Rochester Ford, recently deceased, his third wife, was the medium through which Dr. Ford gave to the world the best products of his brain. He was a vigorous thinker, and wielded a facile pen.
His major works were, "A Brief Baptist History," "The Great Pyramids of Egypt," "Historic Mile Stones," "Complete Ecclesiastical History," and "What Baptists Baptize For." These books have had a wide circulation. His last literary work was preparing for the press the second edition of his "Baptist History," published only a short time before his death.
He wrote instructively and entertainingly on a wide range of subjects, touching the religious issues of the times in which he lived. He delved understandingly into the history of the past; and he was especially familiar with the Baptismal and Romish controversies.
He was well prepared and ever ready to "earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to Saints." And the cause of truth did not suffer in his hands even when he crossed swords in polemic warfare with such redoubtable champions of error as
Alexander Campbell, Nathan L. Rice, and Bishop Spalding of the Roman Hierarchy.
He knew no fear nor hesitancy when "the truth as it is in Jesus" was under fire. His constant declaration was, "I believe, therefore I speak. And I know whom I have believed." And his love for the truth, and his ability and readiness to defend the truth, did not wane, but the rather waxed, as the physical feebleness of multiplied years came down upon him.
Of this he gave a never-to-be-forgotten illustration in the great National Baptist Convention in St. Louis in May, 1905. Rising before that mighty assemblage of representative men, he courteously but most adroitly, with a few well-directed and masterful and ringing strokes of "the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God," utterly demolished the position taken by a dear brother, who wears a beloved and honored name, but who, violating all the proprieties of the occasion, and taking advantage of his opportunity as an appointed speaker, went out of his way to utter sentiments which Dr. Ford felt, and many others felt, were out of harmony with the teaching of the New Testament, and ought not to be allowed to pass unchallenged. Hundreds of Baptists thanked God that afternoon for the "old man eloquent" who had convictions, clear cut and well defined, and who had the courage of his convictions!
Speaking of his last days the Central Baptist of date, July 13, 1905, said: "He attended the meeting of the Kentucky Baptist General Association held last month at Russellville, where marked attention was shown him, and where he spoke by invitation a number of times. Though feeble in body, his old-time mental
vigor returned to him, and he spoke with all the force of his earlier years.
"His loved ones were with him as the end approached, but no one dreamed that the death angel was so near. His son noticing a little unrest asked him if there was anything he desired. His reply was, 'No, I have all that I can wish for, except that I want to cross over the River.' And thus ended his eventful and useful life in his 87th year.
"His funeral was conducted from the family residence at Jennings, Missouri, near St. Louis, on Saturday, July 8th, at 12 o'clock, noon, by Rev. Sam Frank Taylor, and his body was laid to rest in Bellefontaine Cemetery."
In an address before the Missouri Baptist General Association, Warrensburg, Missouri, October 27, 1905, Sam Frank Taylor said:
"I have been asked to speak in memory of our dear Dr. Samuel Howard Ford. How I wish I were able to speak gracefully and graphically of him, even as he has so often spoken generously and with such intelligent appreciation of others on so many occasions similar to this. Possessed of a warm heart, and a glowing imagination, and a splendid diction, and a marvelous faculty for remembering and relating incidents, and a voice which responded to every emotion of his soul, Dr. Ford was, indeed, the very Prince of Memorial Speakers. No one who heard it will ever forget his sparkling, flashing, glowing, magnificent tribute to the 'Williamses in Missouri Baptist History' in his address before the Missouri Baptist Historical Society at Louisiana, Missouri, during the General Association in that town in 1894.
"How grand he was! How true! How brave!
How strong! How eloquent! How genial! How loveable! His the peculiar poetic temperament! His the power to see visions and dream dreams, and to put them into pictures that others might see and dream!
"His soul was full of faith, and hope, and fire. He remembered the past, but lived in the present, with his face to the future. And though, to be sure, he walked the earth, his brow was fanned by the breezes of heaven. No cause for wonderment, then, that he grew old gracefully, and ever drew the younger to him.
"He attended a service at my church, the Lafayette Park Baptist Church, and slept in my house the night before he started to the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Kansas City, last May. And as he was weak in body, I went with him to the station next morning and put him aboard the train; and in my heart I was glad that I could thus be of some little service to him.
"We were alone in my house that night, as my wife and children were away. He was feeble in body, his spirit was strong. His interesting, and genial, and loving talk was of his brethren, and his Master, and the glories of the coming Kingdom. His mind was luminous with the light of the dawning day. He was breathing the air of the Beulah Land. As I think of him now it seems to me he was listening to the nearing music of the angel band, coming to attend him him home; and to my dying day I shall cherish, as a white spot in my experience, the memory of that last evening's communion with the gifted and gracious old man!
"I count it, indeed, as one of the high privileges of my life that I knew him, was admitted certainly in some little measure into the sanctuary of his heart;
and was permitted to have him in my home sometime to minister at least to his physical comfort and pleasure in the radiant evening of his distinguished and helpful life.
"He is gone. But, verily, there is nothing to regret in his going, only that we shall see his face and hear his voice of matchless eloquence on earth no more. In faith he passed away in good old age. His last expressed wish granted, he has 'crossed over the River.' His path, that of the just, hath shone 'unto the perfect day.' His reputation all unsullied, and character of manly strength, have left behind a mellowed afterglow!
"Dead, did some one say? Nay: Samuel Howarl Ford is not dead! Men of his pure and loving spirit never die. They only cease to be on earth any more. They only leave this room of the Father's house to go and stand in the presence of the King. And so I feel that I can close this poor but loving tribute to his memory in no more fitting words than his own, written as he was entering his eighty-sixth year, and voicing forth for us his own victorious faith and conquering hope:
"The weight of years Is pressing
On this feebly beating heart,
And the voiceless accent tells me
I must soon from earth depart.
But that change will be my freedom
Prom all sorrow, sin, and pain,
For now, "for me to live Is Christ,"
And then "to die Is gain."
'My sun Is slowly setting
In the purple-curtained west,
And my many old co-laborers
Long since entered into rest;
And the evening star appearing
Shows me night is very near.
But I view the deepening shadows
With faith that knows no fear.
'They are waiting, blood washed spirits
Of the loved ones gone before;
They are waiting, they are watching
Now at heaven's open door:
And they'll meet me, and they'll greet me,
In that many-mansloned home,
Where I'll see my Savior face to face,
And know as I am known.
'O ye scenes of bliss and beauty,
Break not yet upon my sight!
Only wait until my vision
Can endure heaven's living light:
And ye ocean-peals of praises
Burst not yet upon the air!
Let me wait till in your sights and sounds
My sinless soul can share!
'Now new radiant stars are rising,
Making night as bright as day;
And the blest celestial City
Is not very far away!
For I seem to see the angels,
As they wait with folded wing —
Wait to bear my ransomed spirit
To the palace of the King.'"
[From J. C. Maple & R. P. Rider, editors, Missouri Baptist Biography, Volume I, 1912, pp. 251-265. This document is from the St. Louis [MO] Public Library. — Jim Duvall]
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