When Charlotte Mason said, in her first volume, “I know of no better help in the [Bible] teaching of young children than we get in Canon Paterson Smyth’s Bible for the Young,” she echoed the sentiments of thousands of others in the English-speaking world (p. 251). Mason’s simple advice to mothers in religious instruction – read a passage, have the children narrate, and then talk it over – aligned nicely with Paterson Smyth’s own ideas as enumerated at the beginning of each volume in his own series on children’s religious education.
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John Paterson Smyth did not set out to become a widely-known figure in popular Christian thought. Rather, he followed a path typical of Church of England pastors of his day. He was born and grew up in Ireland, graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1880 with highest honors. The following year he became curate of a Dublin parish, his appointment coinciding with the introduction of a new Bible translation to congregations. This translation met with a great deal of concern from parishioners, who distrusted any change in the Biblical language to which they were accustomed. Paterson Smyth rose to the challenge, and began to preach about the methods and accuracy of the new translation within the context of his expository sermons. A publisher from his congregation noticed the curate’s skill in explication, and encouraged him to publish his sermons in written form. That book, How We Got Our Bible, appeared in 1886.
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This done, the books sold well, and launched Paterson Smyth’s writing career, which grew over subsequent decades to include multiple series of books, some of which went into 40-plus printings. Among these was the Bible for the Young, which brought to life the stories of the Old Testament and the Gospels, and helped even the most inexperienced teachers feel confident as they guided their students. Published between 1901 and 1908, the series addresses not only the Biblical text, but also relevant application to students’ own lives, as well as social issues of the day.
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In the midst of this work, Paterson Smyth was elected canon (in 1906) and moved with his family to Montréal (in 1907). His religious work in Ireland had included a great deal of preaching, pastoring, and developing solutions to some contemporary societal problems. He worked to develop funds for the support of elderly women, provided opportunities for urban residents to escape to the seaside, and fought for temperance. His ministry continued in Canada, and he wrote a number of additional books there, as well. Having faced the tragic loss of several children, his later work, especially following the First World War, reflects a renewed focus on the life of the world to come, and resonated deeply with readers.
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Upon his death, on Valentine’s Day of 1932, Paterson Smyth’s colleagues remembered his accomplishments in the pulpit and on the page, but they also remembered a man who was droll and quick-witted, and never failed to help anyone who needed it, whether congregant or beggar on the street. His work lives on in the modern era, perhaps with less popularity, but with no lesser impact.
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Researched and written by Sarah @sarah.b.brown

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