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Evangelist J. Harold Smith dies of heart attack at 91

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–J. Harold Smith, one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s greatest evangelists, suffered a heart attack and died Nov. 13 in a Knoxville, Tenn., hospital. He was 91 years old.

Smith, president of the Radio Bible Hour, is perhaps best known for his sermon, “God’s Three Deadlines.” Countless thousands of people came to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior after hearing the message, said James Merritt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church, Snellville.

“It was right up there with ‘Pay Day Someday’ as one of the all-time classic messages,” Merritt said. “When he preached that sermon at First Baptist Snellville, 130 people got saved during one service. J. Harold Smith was one of our greatest evangelists and his passing is a great loss to all Southern Baptists.”

Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee, said Smith was “pure and simply God’s man.”

“His love for our Lord Jesus Christ and his anointing for the preaching of the gospel were manifested every time he preached God’s Word, encouraged a preacher boy, and witnessed to an unsaved individually,” Chapman said. “We will miss him greatly. His thundering voice has been silenced, but his witness will live on through the thousands who came to Christ under his ministry.”

Merritt said he and Smith were extremely close. “He adopted me as his grandson,” Merritt said. “And he prayed after I preached at the convention last year.”

On Nov. 17, Merritt will fulfill a promise he made to the distinguished evangelist — he will preach at his funeral.

Smith’s funeral service will be held Nov. 17 at 11 a.m. at Brushy Creek Baptist Church in Easley, S.C. Viewing will be between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the church. Interment will follow at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Greenville, S.C.

Merritt will officiate the service along with B.J. Maddox of Shreveport, La., and Don Witt of Brushy Creek Baptist Church.

Smith is survived by one son, J. Donald Smith of Newport, Tenn.; one daughter, Martha Tiller of Newport; two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Smith was preceded in death by his wife, Myrtice, and their 5-year-old son, J. Harold Smith Jr.

Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn., told Baptist Press that a “great and mighty man has gone from us.”

“He had one of the boldest preaching styles married to and joined with the sweetest spirit of any evangelist that I know,” Rogers said. “He was fearless in his denunciation of sin, but faithful in his proclamation of Jesus.”

Smith was born June 14, 1910 in Woodruff, S.C. He graduated from Furman University with a bachelor of science degree and planned on becoming a doctor.

But on Sept. 4, 1932, Smith accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior in Greenville, S.C. He answered the call to preach and delivered his first sermon on Sept. 17, 1932, at Northside Baptist Church in Woodruff, S.C.

Smith’s first pastorate was a small Baptist church in Conestee, S.C., where he served two years and earned $5 a month.

In 1935, Smith established Radio Bible Hour, a worldwide radio ministry heard on 51 radio stations and four short-wave radio stations.

In 1996, Smith began a television ministry that was aired throughout the southeastern United States.

Radio Bible Hour was also involved in the publication and distribution of Christian literature, Bibles, and the publication of “Your Good Neighbor,” a monthly newsmagazine.

Smith was also a missionary-minded evangelist, supporting 31 home and foreign mission projects, two children’s homes, three seminaries and individual missionaries to Russia, Haiti, Japan, the Bahamas, the Philippines, Central America and Africa.

During his ministry Smith preached more than 70,000 sermons. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Immanuel Baptist Seminary.

Rogers related a story about Smith the day Smith’s wife passed away.

“He called me when his wife died and said, ‘Pastor, Myrtice died and I just wanted you to know that you were her pastor. She watched you on television and loved you,'” Rogers recalled.

Rogers said Smith and his wife grew up together as children and he would walk her to school every morning. “Her house was on the other side of his, so he would wait until she started walking to school and then he would leave his house,” Rogers said. “He told me that she would say, ‘Harold, I want you to walk with me to school today and I’ll walk real slow until you catch up,'” Rogers said. “When she was near death, she told him that she was going to die. She told Harold, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll walk real slow and you can catch up with me.’

“When I learned that he had gone to heaven, I just pictured that man and his wife, walking hand in hand through the gates of heaven,” Rogers said. Condolences may be sent to Radio Bible Hour, P.O. Box 99, Newport, TN 37821.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: J. HAROLD SMITH.

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  • Todd Starnes