Gypsy Smith (1860-1947)

His Life and WorkI

By Himself

Introduction by Rev. Dr. Alexander Maclaren
Table of Contents

There is little need for any introduction to this book, but my friend Gipsy Smith having done me the honour of asking me to prefix a few words to it, I gladly comply with his request. I have at least one qualification for my present position, namely, my long and close knowledge of the man who here tells his life-story, and I can say with absolute confidence and sincerity that that knowledge has discovered to me a character of rare sweetness, goodness, simplicity, and godliness, and possessed of something of that strange attractiveness with which popular beliefs have endowed his race. But the fascination is explicable on better grounds than magic spells; it is the charm of a nature which draws others to itself, because it goes out to meet them, and is loved because it loves.

The life told in this book has its picturesque and its pathetic sides, but is worthy of study for deeper reasons than these. It witnesses to the transforming power of Jesus Christ, entering a soul through that soul's faith. A gipsy encampment is the last place whence an evangelist might be expected to emerge. Almost alien to our civilisation, with little education, with vices and limitations inherited from generations who were despised and suspected, and with the virtues of a foreign clan encamped on hostile ground, the gipsies have been all but overlooked by the Churches, with one or two exceptions, such as the work of Crabbe half a century since among those of Hampshire and the New Forest. But the story in this book brings one more striking and welcome evidence that there are no hopeless classes in the view of the Gospel. We are accustomed to say that often enough, but we do not always act as if we believed it, and it may do some of us good to have another living example of Christ's power to elevate and enrich a life, whatever its antecedents, disadvantages, and limitations. Gipsy or gentleman, "we have all of us one human heart," and the deepest need in that heart is an anodyne for the sense of sin, and a power which will implant in it righteousness. Here is a case in which Christ's Gospel has met both wants. Is there anything else that would or could do that?

For another reason this book deserves study, for it raises serious questions as to the Church's office of "evangelising every creature." Gipsy Smith has remarkable qualifications for that work, and has done it all over the country with a sobriety, transparent sincerity, and loyalty to the ordinary ministrations of the Churches which deserve and have received general recognition. But what he has not is as instructive as what he has. He is not an orator, nor a scholar, nor a theologian. He is not a genius. But, notwithstanding these deficiencies in his equipment, he can reach men's hearts, and turn them from darkness to light in a degree which many of us ministers cannot do. It will be a good day for all the Churches when their members ask themselves whether they are doing the work for which they are established by their Lord, if they fail in winning men to be His, and whether Christ will be satisfied if, when He asks them why they have not carried out His commands to take His Gospel to those around them who are without it, they answer, "Lord, we were so busy studying deep theological questions, arguing about the validity of critical inquiries as to the dates of the books of the Bible, preaching and hearing eloquent discourses, comforting and edifying one another, that we had to leave the Christless masses alone." This book tells the experience of one man who has been an evangelist and nothing more. May it help to rouse the conscience of the Church to feel that it is to be the messenger of the glad tidings, first of all, whatever else it may be in addition! May it set many others to bethink themselves whether they, too, are not sufficiently furnished "for the work of an evangelist" to some hearts at least, though they have neither learning nor eloquence, since they have the knowledge of One who has saved them, and desires through them to save others!


November, 1901

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