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Born in Henrico County, Virginia, August 13, 1783.
Died in Franklin County, Kentucky, May 5, 1839.

By Frederick W. Eberhardt, D. D.,
Frankfort, KY (1913)

Kentucky Baptists have a worthy history. No one among the makers of that history is deserving of more appreciation than the subject of this sketch. While he did not belong to the notable group of pioneers who blazed the way through the wilderness for a free gospel, he was closely identified with them; and, taking up their work, he gave himself untiringly to the task of maintaining the purity of that gospel and of organizing the Baptist forces of the state for an intelligent, comprehensive and efficient campaign of spiritual conquest. His memory should be cherished, and the achievements of his remarkable life should not be forgotten.

He was the son of Theoderick Noel, a noted Baptist minister of Virginia, who was a member of the council that ordained John Taylor (History of the Ten Churches, page 29). According to Spencer, Silas received from his father a good English education. Later, by his own efforts he became a fair classical scholar and a proficient student of law.

The date of his coming to Kentucky is uncertain. He settled in Frankfort and practiced law. Whether his marriage to Miss Maria Waring April 23, 1805, took place before this time I cannot learn. The Warings were a distinguished family. John N. Waring, Attorney General of Kentucky, was her brother. The marriage was evidently happy. Thirteen childern [sic]were born to them. Mrs. Noel's memory, together with her husband's, is held in tender remembrance by her grand-children. In his youthful days Silas was somewhat given to the popular dissipations of the time. On one occasion he came home with a large sum of money won at cards, and laughingly poured the entire amount into his wife's lap. Without a word she rose letting the money fall to the floor and left the room. This so mortified him that he never touched cards again. His conversion took place about 1810. He was baptized by the elder Hickman, then pastor of Forks of Elkhorn church. The first direct account or his ministerial labors available is the following, copied from the Franklin County Court Records, February 15, 1813: "On motion of Silas M. Noel, who produced credentials of his ordination and of his being in regular communion with the Baptist Society and having taken the oath of fidelity, a testimonial is granted him in due form." Spencer places the beginning of his pastorate of Big Springs church, Woodford county, in this year (1813). He is in error, however, as to the duration of his ministry with this church. Instead of the one year Spencer assigns Noel he must have pastor at least three years, because John Taylor joined the church in 1815 while he was pastor (History of the Ten Churches, page 187). In l814 preached the annual sermon before Elkhorn Association, then in session with Mt. Pleasant church. I Peter 2:25 being the text.

In 1816 he was appointed by Governor Slaughter. Associate Judge of the Circuit Court, Judge Davidge, whom he had baptized a few years before, being Chief Justice. This is the Davidge who caused the trouble in Big Springs church and in many associations by his published Arminian views (The History of Ten Churches, page, 183). Now for a time Noel gave up the ministry though he continued his interest in Christian work. Through his efforts the church in Frankfort was organized, February 26, 1816, the first of any denomination in the capital city. The following extracts from the records are of interest: "At a meeting or a number of Baptists at the home of Simon Beckham, in the town of Frankfort, to consult on the propriety of establishing a church in this place, Brother S. M. Noel was requested to act as moderator.... Resolved, That Silas M. Noel, D. James, John W, Woolridge, Charles Buck and James Dudley be a committee to prepare a constitution or church covenant and submit same to the next meeting for inspection." (Church Records, Vol, 1. page 1.) At the second Preliminary meeting of which Noel was again moderator, the constitution prepared by the committee was adopted and February 25th was set for the organization. The constitution on which the church was organized was written by Noel; and, in spite of many attempts at revision, after ninety-seven years is still the working basis of our body. When the set time had arrived and the brethren had assembled for organization, "Brother Silas M. Noel had delivered a very refreshing sermon from Acts, second chapter and the last clause of the 26th verse, 'And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch'" (Church Records, Vol, 1, page 3). The text is noteworthy in view of Noel's unfaltering antagonism to that so-called reformation which used this statement as a shibboleth. This meeting was held in the Assembly Hall of the Statehouse and there they "became a church of the humble Lord Jesus with all the rich paintings around us" (History of the Ten Churches, page 188). John Taylor was the first pastor of the Frankfort church. According to a custom of that early day the church on April 27, 1816, "agreed unanimously to invite Brother S. M. Noel to attend us with Brother Taylor." He declined the invitation and for the next two years attended the meetings, frequently acting as moderator, but still retaining his membership with the Big Springs brotherhood. The records show that on January 25, 1818, he was received by letter into the Frankfort church, and two days later his wife Maria and sister Francis were received.

On the fourth day in February, 1821, Frankfort church again extended an invitation to him, "and Brothers Fall and Clay are invited and requested to labor in the ministry at our stated meetings as may be suitable to the pastor and themselves" (Church Records, Vol. 1, page 62). A rather unusual church proceeding occurred some months before this call that deserves notice, as it was the means, doubtless, of giving to Kentucky Baptists one of their greatest leaders. At the January meeting of this year (1821) it was agreed "that Brother S. M. Noel be and he is hereby called upon to say why he has declined the labors of the ministry and why he should not resume them." At the March meeting, "in answer to the call of our church at our last meeting, Brother Noel proceeded to address the church and council. He occupied the pulpit until two o'clock. After a recess of one hour the church convened. Brother Noel "occupied the pulpit during the afternoon." The day following "the church and council convened according to adjournment." Brother Noel occupied the forenoon and concluded his address. The church then adjourned. The council organized with John Scott in the chair. The members of the society were invited to the usua1 privileges. After a recess of one hour the council convened and proceeded to business and reported to the church as follows: 'We, whose names are hereto affixed being a committee called on by the Baptist church at Frankfort to give our opinion in regard to the case of Brother S. M. Noel, why he has suspended his labors, and having assembled at Frankfort the 22nd and 23rd days of March, and having heard the reasons assigned by him, report as fol1ows: We are of the opinion that the reasons given, however forcible in other matters, are not sufficient to justify the suspension. We therefore recommend to the said church that she request Brother S. M. Noel to resume his labors in the ministry" (Church Records, Vol. 1, page 53f). The report was signed by George Waller, P. S. Fall, John Scott and Jacob Creath. Having then accepted the call extended in October, the church began a career of marked prosperity. In 1824 there is a record of another call to the pastorate which he accepted. Porter Clay was called to assist in preaching. It was in connection with this two-fold invitation that the remarkable ceremony of installation and ordination occurred which so aroused the ironical indignation of John Taylor (History of the Ten Churches, page 192). According to the same authority he soon after gave up the Frankfort pastorate and went "into the better business. . . . preaching the Gospel far and wide with marvelous effect. . . . For about three years past I suppose he has baptized more people than any other man in Kentucky. His labors seem blessed in whatever direction he takes" (History of the Ten Churches, pages l83, 187). However, in 1826 and in 1828 there is a record of his again accepting the calls of the Frankfort church. During this time the church was blessed with a continuous revival and the first meeting house was erected. At the same time he also ministered to the churches at Stamping Ground and Great Crossings. During one year, at the latter place, he baptized 359 persons. In 1839 there is a record of a unanimous call extended him by the Frankfort church with a stipulation "of $500 per annum for his services." This he did not accept and he died shortly afterwards. He was undoubtedly the greatest man among the many notable men the church has had to serve her as pastor -- a man of splendid native endowments, of true culture, broad scholarship, an eloquent preacher, an able theologian, a deeply spiritual pastor, a wise counselor and a zealous evangelist -- one well worthy of the commendation of the old pioneer who knew him well and loved him. "Mr. Noel's literary accomplishments, together with his zeal in the gospel, with his great success therein, has procured him the high appellation of double (D.D.). The high powers at Lexington, authorized to make Doctors of Divinity, a year or two back has saluted him with a flowing diploma. But it is pleasant to see that these high-flying trifles does not prevent his yet going into the thickets to invite the poor, the halt, the blind and lame to seek the salvation of God.... Who is so far destitute of the wedding garment, and his poor little soul so cramped up by little creeds that he cannot reach out his hand of love and say, Brother Noel, go on and prosper. God bless the heavenly man; may he thus press on unto the end" (History of the Ten Churches, page 188).

When Alexander Campbell made his first decided impression upon the religious thought of Kentuckians through the debate, with McCalla at Washington, in the fall of 1823, two former preachers of the Frankfort church, Jacob Creath and Philip Fall, espoused his cause. But it was Silas M. Noel who became in many respects Campbell's most formidable opponent. "Frankfort church, of which Silas M. Noel was pastor was the first Baptist organization in Kentucky that took action against Campbellism. The pastor saw the evi1 of Campbell's teaching and induced his church to send a 1etter to Franklin Association to endeavor to induce that body to take a decided stand against Campbellism" (Spencer's History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. I, page 611). There is on record another letter of Frankfort church to the association dated the Friday in August, 1823, which preceded by the one mentioned by Spencer several years. The following extract will show how alert was the mind of Noel to catch the drift of the so-called reformation: "On the other hand the painful collisions and distressing differences between those of the same order are such as should humble us and should excite us to double diligence. The cause of some of these distractions should be searched out and if possible removed. We think these polluted streams should be traced to their source. Can any society be preserved in harmony where the ministry entertain various and conflicting views in regard to the plan of salvation? It is folly to expect it. Other causes may lead to confusion, but this is certainly and clearly a never-failing source of schism and distraction. We lay it down as a principle not to be controverted that in order to preserve the peace, unity and purity of the church there must be a oneness of sentiment among the preachers in regard to the Gospe1 truth. We consider a second proposition equally clear: that in order to preserve the oneness of sentiment among ourselves, our views of Gospel truth should be plainly inscribed in every church constitution and in the constitution of every association. Nothing short of this deserves the name of constitution. Were churches and associations thus organized, there would be no collisions among ministers about doctrinal views unless men should so far trifle with themselves as to subscribe solemnly to a charter which they do not believe to be true. To guard against folly of this kind and other disorders, we consider a third proposition true and incontrovertible, that every society should have a compendium of discipline under which offenders of every grade might be easily arraigned, reclaimed or censured.

"No member should be allowed a seat either in church or association until he has given his unqualified assent to the constitution. Having done this he could neither speak, preach nor write, or publish doctrines at war with that instrument without becoming a traitor to his own government. His doom would be certain; his fate inevitable. Here then is the paladium of your peace, where you may rest secure against turbulent, revolutionizing spirits, and against erroists [errorists] of every hue." (Church Records, Vol. 1, page 77). This letter was written by Noel at the request of the church, as was also that of August, 1827, from which the following is taken: "The novelties and innovations of the day have not annoyed our peace. We are satisfied with our name, our faith and our order. In regard to natural things, every day may bring its peculiar discoveries, but in reference to spiritual things (or the things of salvation) God has made no new revelations, and of course there are no new discoveries. All that we can know concerning redemption by the blood of Christ was revealed near eighteen hundred years ago. This knowledge we desire and none other" (Church Records, page 131). Through Noel's clear insight into the real drift of Campbellism and his gifted pen, together with his uncompromising loyalty as a leader, Franklin Association was saved from the schism that weakened so many of the district associations, almost disrupting some. At the call of Frankfort church the association met in the special session which Spencer says was probably the most important held in Kentucky. Again Noel wrote the circular letter which appears in full in Spencer's History, together with the "Thirty-nine Articles," and need not be quoted here (History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 1, page 624f).

The leaders of the "Reformation" evidently looked upon Noel as their most formidable opponent. They considered him "perhaps the most learned preacher of the Baptists of Kentucky." They looked upon him as the champion of sectarianism and Frankfort church as the principal stronghold to be captured. In the winter of 1828-9 the noted John Smith visited Frankfort for the first time. "I was called on," said he, "to go up to the capital of the state and storm the sectarian fort of Dr. Noel. No one was there to help me as far as I knew but Philip S. Fall." From his own account the "storming" was not very successful. Some time later he went again and rudely forced himself upon Noel’s hospitality, a fact of which he seemed rather proud. "He was hopeful in spite of the opposition of Dr. Noel. The standard of the Apostolic Gospel might be planted at the capital of the state. He hoped, too, that he would meet with a more favorable reception from the people than before. When he reached the city he inquired at once for the house of his opponent; and on his way thither met the doctor in the street. 'Brother Silas,' said he, 'I am on my way to your house; you may not want me to come, but I am going anyhow, and I expect to be well treated.' 'I will indeed be glad to see you there, Brother Smith,' replied Noel, for he was a courteous and kind-hearted gentlemen" (Life of Elder John Smith, pages 277, 279). Smith was eager to debate with Noel, but the latter was wise to see how this would only advertise the new movement and declined the challenge. But by his writings and sermons, and by his personal influence, he continued until his death a staunch defender of the Faith, so that "there was not in the state a more powerful opponent of the Reformation."

"It is interesting to note that in spite of the schism which resulted in the defection of many, and that several churches were granted letters to unite with other Baptist associations, there is, nevertheless (from 1825 to 1834), a good gain in membership of Franklin Association, mostly by baptism. It is never a mistake to contend earnestly and lovingly for the Faith" (History of Franklin Association, page 6).

It is particularly noteworthy that one so strongly imbued with the principles of Particular Baptists should be such a staunch advocate of the cause of world-wide missionary endeavor. A long letter, undated but written about 1822, addressed to Franklin Association, contains a strong arraignment of the teaching that "the grace purchased by Christ and necessary to salvation is free to all men." This letter was probably written by Noel; if not, it at least received his endorsement (Church Records, Vol. 1, page 80f). There is no inconsistent [sic] in the two positions, however. The Christian's attitude toward missions is not dependent upon his ability to reconcile the deep things of God, but rather upon his willingness to obey a Divine command. Silas M. Noel was never slow to obey such a command.

As early as 1813 he began in the Gospel Herald to urge the cause of Home and Foreign Missions. During his pastorate at Great Crossings he preached frequently to the Indians and baptized a number of them. At Frankfort there were more colored members of the church than white. It should be remembered also that he was the moving spirit in the organization of the Kentucky Baptist State Convention, which in the later form this year (1912) celebrates its diamond jubilee and which is one of the great missionary forces of the Baptists of the world. At his call "Frankfort Association," auxiliary to the Kentucky Baptist Convention, "was organized with one thousand and fifty-three members." By request of the meeting he delivered a discourse on "The Necessity of a Common Effort Among Friends of Religion to Send the gospel Speedily and Statedly to all the Destitute Places in the State." The next year, March 29, at Bardstown, the convention was organized and Noel was the first moderator. This body, the forerunner of our General Association, was avowedly missionary, and as such was bitterly opposed. Even the Frankfort church, under the influence of the Dudleys, voted in 1833 that it was inexpedient to be represented in the convention. Nevertheless Noel continued ardently to support both the cause and the measures. The list of questions appended to the minutes of Franklin Association for 1833 was written by him. The enquiries, eleven in number, concerning the duty of the church to aid in sending Bibles and preaching to every creature at home and abroad, comprise an unanswerable argument in favor of making the Gospel known to the ends of the earth" (History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 2, page 292).

What has been said about the first missionary organization in Kentucky indicates also Noel's interest in the unification of the Baptist cause in the state. He was a prime mover in the organization of Franklin Association and many times its moderator. His desire for the harmonious efficiency of this body is well expressed in the letter of Frankfort church to the association, then, in session at Salt River, 1822, extracts from which have already been made.

He was too wise to insist on uniformity. Nor did he demand that all should speak on the same note. He did see clearly, however, the need of that harmony which brings the varied opinions and practices of individuals into accord through oneness in Christ Jesus. "In the primitive church, the multitude that believed were of one heart and of one soul. By one spirit they were all baptized into one body and were all made to drink into one spirit; having one Lord, one faith and one baptism. Such was the oneness of the church formerly and such were the terms of General Union between her members. Not a paper union, not a union of discordant sounds. It was a union of souls, of kindred spirits, an army of invincibles, whom neither fire or sword could appall or dismay. If we would be a united people, we must be one people, one in faith, one in practice, one in Christian affection, etc." (Church Records, Vol. 1, page 80f).

An early example of this efforts to maintain the spirit of unity in the bond of peace is found in his attitude toward brethren of differing views in the local church. While he was pastor at Big Springs church, the venerable John Taylor, in the absence of his pastor, introduced into the church meeting a query concerning the pamphlet published by Judge Davidge, also a member of Big Springs church at the time. This pamphlet had given offence, owing to its Armenian views, and was afterwards condemned by several associations. "The pastor of the church did not arrive until just before the reading of the business of the day, and on reading the item of the query (which had been laid over until the next meeting) he seemed to manifest considerable displeasure, expressing to this amount that "queries in the church were generally mischievous things" (History of the Ten Churches, page 184). Now it was not because of any sympathy with Arminianism that Noel took his stand, but because he early saw the need of maintaining the spirit of concord among the brotherhood. It is pleasing to note that Taylor harbored no ill will toward his young pastor in this affair.

Noel's most important contribution to the unification of Kentucky Baptist was undoubtedly given to the organization of the General Association. When, after a few years, the first convention, which he had fostered, was abandoned, he refused to accept defeat. "Something must be done," said Dr. Noel, "before the convention was organized, and now that it had failed to accomplish the 'something,' and had been dissolved, the same eminent servant of God and many of his godly compeers were repeating, 'Something must be done.' No isolated efforts that could be made could succeed in restoring harmony and prosperity to the denomination. There must be simultaneous effort, and in the spirit of union and mutual confidence and sympathy. Before the desired ends could be attained. The few undaunted spirits. Determined to make an effort to establish a general meeting among the Baptists of Kentucky. God helped them and they succeeded." When, in 1837, the call was made for messengers to meet in Louisville, for the purpose of organizing a permanent association, the plan advocated by Silas M. Noel in 1813 -- the organization of a general meeting of correspondence -- still appeared to them the most plausible means of accomplishing the desired end" (History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 1, page 567).

He who saw so clearly the need of organization in order to greater harmony and efficiency saw also the need for Christian education. Like Burns of Oneida, so Noel, of Frankfort, understood that evangelization without training was unstable. He was himself a highly cultured man -- probably the first among Baptist ministers in Kentucky to receive the title of D. D. -- and while fully aware of the supremacy of the Holy Spirit in qualifying men for the service of God, he nevertheless realized the need of a better educated ministry. For him to see the need was equivalent to setting himself to the task of supplying that need. Spencer declares "the Kentucky Baptist Educational Society originated in the fertile and consecrated brain of Silas M. Noel." He was the first president of the board of trustees of Georgetown College and contributed $500 toward the first endowment fund.

Here, then, is a man who deserves historical recognition because of his work as pastor, evangelist, defender of the Faith, prophet of a world-wide gospel, architect of the beneficent forces now working for the progress of New Testament principles in the state, and apostle of Christian education in Baptist schools.

Finally it may be said with deep satisfaction of soul that the splendid work of this man was in no wise marred by those defects of character which sometimes weaken the testimony of great men in their day. He was learned but humble. He was strong but tender. He was brave but peaceable. He was loyal but kind and forbearing. He was practical but spiritual.

Under the spreading shelter of a boxwood canopy his dust lies sleeping in the beautiful cemetery overlooking Frankfort. Around him lie the forms of men still renowned for chivalry, statesmanship and culture, but of them all none has wrought more for the upbuilding of the manhood of Kentucky than Silas Mercer Noel, who now rests from his labors, but whose works follow after him.

[From Publications of the Kentucky Baptist Historical Society, W. J. McGlothlin, editor, No. 3, 1913, pp. 3-16.]

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