Morton Smith: 1923-2017
By Wayne Sparkman
Morton Smith at the Pulpit 01-18-2007_300dpi

Dr. Morton Howison Smith died peacefully Sunday morning, Nov. 12.

Smith was born on Dec. 11, 1923 in Roanoke, Virginia to James Brookes Smith and his wife, the former Margaret Morton Howison. He was the fourth of five sons. His interest in forestry took him to the University of Michigan in the fall of 1941, but U.S. entrance into World War II interrupted his college education. Enlisting at age 18, he entered the Aviation Cadet program of the Army Air Corps and was called to active duty in the spring of 1943. Smith was assigned to flight training and became a flight instructor. He kept up his interest in flying and owned four planes over the years. In his first year of college he had met his future bride, Lois Virginia Knopf, and as he was never stationed overseas, so by God’s grace they were able to marry on June 30, 1944. His college education concluded at the University of Michigan with the BA degree in 1947.

When he began to explore a call to the ministry, it was the pastor of his youth, the Rev. James E. Moore, who counseled him to prepare for the ministry at Westminster Theological Seminary, and though he began at Columbia Theological Seminary in 1949, he spent a year at Westminster, 1950-51, where he profited particularly from his studies under Dr. Cornelius Van Til and Professor John Murray. Smith and his wife then returned to Columbia Seminary, where he completed his studies.

During that final year at Columbia and in the year following, Smith ministered to a fellowship of Christians who eventually left the Southern Presbyterian Church. When the group decided to affiliate with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, it was a time of personal struggle for Smith, to decide whether to continue with this new church in her affiliation, or to stay with the PCUS. Both Van Til and Dr. William McIlwaine, a Southern Presbyterian missionary, counseled him to stay with his mother Church, to be used of the Lord there.

And so, licensure and ordination to the ministry came under the auspices of Potomac Presbytery (PCUS) in January of 1954 and he was installed as pastor of the Springfield and Roller churches in Sykesville, Maryland. His time there appears to have been brief, for he soon took a post teaching at Belhaven College, 1954-1963. Concurrently with those duties, he managed to earn the Doctor of Theology degree from the Free University of Amsterdam (1962), with a dissertation on Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology. Returning to Philadelphia, he served during the academic year of 1963-64 as visiting professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. Then in 1964 he became one of the founding professors at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, teaching Systematic Theology, and continued there as professor until 1979.

Perhaps most notably, Dr. Smith was a leading voice in the founding of the Presbyterian Church in America, and he served as the denomination’s first Stated Clerk, working initially on a part-time basis until 1978, and then full-time until stepping down from that post in 1988. His final working years were spent as a professor and dean at the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, 1987-2012. In the year 2000, Dr. Smith was elected to serve as the Moderator of the 28th General Assembly of the PCA.

A full biography of Dr. Morton H. Smith can be found in the festschrift Confessing Our Hope, which was published in his honor in 2004. That work also contains a comprehensive bibliography of Dr. Smith’s published works. Of his many publications, perhaps the most significant, yet too often overlooked, is his two-volume Systematic Theology (1994). Pertinent archival collections preserved at the PCA Historical Center include the Records of the PCA Stated Clerk, 1973-1988, and the Morton Howison Smith Manuscript Collection.

The viewing followed by the service will be at 11:00 am Tuesday, Nov. 14 at Cornerstone PCA in Brevard, North Carolina.

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