R. B. C. Howell, D.D., was born in Wayne Co., N.C., on the 10th of March, 1801, and died in Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday, April 5, 1868. He commenced preaching about 1825, and was ordained, in 1827, in Cumberland Street church, Norfolk, Va., where he labored until 1834, after which he came to Nashville. Here he built for the First Baptist church of Nashville a fine house of worship, and gathered a membership of over 500. He resigned April, 1850, to take charge of the Second Baptist church of Richmond, Va., in which he labored until the 19th of July, 1857, when he returned to the scene of his early successes, where he had acquired the reputation of one of the most learned and eloquent divines in the country. Here his labors were again attended with the same blessings that crowned his efforts in past years, until paralysis obliged him to relinquish the pulpit he had filled so acceptably for more than a quarter of a century. In the earlier days of his ministry he had to contend with the anti-missionaries of his own denomination and with the followers of Alexander Campbell. He was often found in debate with them by voice and pen, and he always acquitted himself as a loyal disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the request of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, in 1854, he wrote a work on the "Terms of Christian Communion," of 456 pages, which ran through several editions in this country and three or four in England. In 1846 he published a work entitled "The Deaconship: its Nature, Qualifications, Relations, and Duties," which was issued by the American Baptist Publication Society, and ran rapidly through six editions. "The Way of Salvation" was his next literary effort, which passed through several editions. A small work entitled "The Evils of Infant Baptism," followed, which caused a good deal of newspaper comment from Pedobaptist denominations. In 1854 he was the author of a work entitled "The Cross," which was published by the Southern Baptist Publication Society, at Charleston, S. C., and the Virginia Baptist Sunday-School and Publication Society, at Richmond. "The Covenants," published by the same societies, was written in 1856. These works evince a high order of learning, and some of them are authorities in the Baptist denomination.
His scholarship was universally conceded. He was educated in Columbian College, Washington, D. C. The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by Georgetown College, Ky., about the year 1844. Besides the works of Dr. Howell just named, he died leaving four others in manuscript, upon which a great amount of thought and labor were bestowed. "The Early Baptists of Virginia," written in 1857, was printed by the American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia, for his children, and is the only one of the four that has been published. As a minister, he was regarded as one of the ablest and most learned men in the South, and no one exercised a greater or more beneficial influence within or outside of the church. His life was unspotted, his Christian course was marked by the highest virtues. His courtesy and kindness of heart made him a universal favorite, notwithstanding the fierce theological debates in which he was often engaged. He was a thorough Baptist, and always jealous of the flair fame of his denomination. Dr. Howell was for many years president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and one of its vice-presidents at the time of his death. He had filled also the post of vice-president of the American Baptist Historical Society. He was a member of the Historical Society of Tennessee, and was president of the board of trustees of the asylum for the blind, an institution endowed and sustained by the State of Tennessee. He administered the ordinance of baptism to an immense number of people, first and last, during the long course of his ministry.
His death occurred on Sunday, about noon, at the very hour in which, for more than forty years, he had stood up for Jesus in the pulpit. For a week before his death he was speechless but conscious. He knew all that was said around him; and when the pastor of the First church of Nashville spoke of the infinite pity and compassion of the Saviour for his suffering servant, he burst into tears. On being asked if he saw Jesus, he answered by pointing first to his heart and then to heaven.
In addition to the positions held by Dr. Howell already mentioned, he was frequently the moderator of the Concord Association and other bodies. His capacity as a presiding officer of deliberative bodies was rare. ===============
[William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; rpt. 1988. Paragraph divisions have been added by this editor for easier reading. - jrd]
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