This Sunday in Baptist History
The father of James Fife was an elder in an Edinburgh Presbyterian Church. When a baby was presented to the church for sprinkling, the pastor, knowing that the mother was not a Christian, questioned who would “sponsor” the child. This lead to an extended church discussion and then a study of baptism as found in the Bible. As a result, the pastor and half the congregation united with the local Baptist church – that included the senior Mr. Fife. Shortly after that, one by one the rest of the family trusted Christ, were baptized and began serving the Saviour.
When a wealthy uncle left his estate to James Fife and his brothers, the siblings left Scotland for Virginia. After serving as engineer for the city of Richmond, James once again took up preaching the gospel, as he had done in the old country. Soon he was the spiritual leader of four churches in Goochland County.
James Fife was a powerful preacher – in part because he committed the entire New Testament to memory. He could quote chapter and verse for any thing he needed, giving him authority which the Church of England vicars lacked. It is said that he preached with unction, and people often responded with great emotion and shouting, although he discouraged extended outbursts.
On this day in 1820 he began a trip to Philadelphia by stagecoach and steamboat to participate in the third annual meeting of the Baptist Missionary Society, which became known as the Triennial Convention.
After eventually settling in Charlottesville, Virginia, Bro. Fife served seven different churches all within about twenty-miles. On one occasion in his latter years, when time came for him to travel to his next appointment, the weather turned bad and a terrible blizzard arose. When his wife insisted that he stay at home, he exclaimed. “Oh, my dear, do not try to persuade me not to do my duty.”
James Fife died on October 5, 1876 at the age of eighty-two. His funeral sermon was preached by well-known Baptist pastor, J.B. Jeter. The man’s text came from the words of Paul, “I have finished my course.”