Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Smith, George Vance
SMITH, GEORGE VANCE (1816?–1902), unitarian biblical scholar, son of George Smith of Willington, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, was born in October, probably 1816 (he himself was not sure of the exact year), at Portarlington, King's and Queen's Cos., where his mother (Anne Vance) was on a visit. Brought up at Willington, he was employed at Leeds, where his preparation for a college course was undertaken by Charles Wicksteed (1810-1885), then minister of Mill Hill chapel. In 1836 he entered Manchester College (then at York) as a divinity student under Charles Wellbeloved [q. v.], John Kenrick [q. v.], and William Hincks [see Hincks, Thomas Dix]. In 1839-40 he was assistant tutor in mathematics. Removing with the college to Manchester in 1840, he pursued his studies under Robert Wallace [q. v.], James Martineau [q. v. Suppl. I], and F. W. Newman [q. v. Suppl. I], and graduated B.A. in 1841 at the London University, to which the college was affiliated. His first ministry was at Chapel Lane, Bradford, West Riding, where he was ordained on 22 Sept. 1841. He removed to King Edward Street chapel, Macclesfield, in 1843, remaining till 1846, when he was appointed vice-principal, and professor of theology and Hebrew, in Manchester College. On Kenrick's retirement in 1850 from the principalship Smith was appointed his successor. In 1853, on the removal of the college to London, John James Taylor was made principal, and Smith professor of critical and exegetical theology, evidences of religion, Hebrew, and Syriac. He resigned in 1857, went abroad, and obtained at Tubingen the degrees of M.A. and Ph.D. In 1858 he became Wellbeloved's assistant and successor at St. Saviourgate chapel, York.
In 1870, after Kenrick had declined to serve on the score of age, Smith accepted Dean Stanley's invitation to join the New Testament revision company. His participation in the celebration of the eucharist in Henry VII's chapel, Westminster Abbey, on the morning of the first meeting of the company (June 1870) led to much criticism. The upper house of the Canterbury convocation, on the motion of Samuel Wilberforce [q. v.], passed a resolution condemning the appointment to either company of any person 'who denies the Godhead of our Lord,' and affirming that any such one should cease to act; a similar resolution was rejected by the lower house (Feb. 1871). Smith bore all this with an inflexible and irritating calmness. His work as a reviser was diligent and conscientious, though he was often in a minority of one. In 1873 the university of Jena made him D.D.
In July 1875 Smith left York for the ministry of Upper chapel, Sheffield, but in September 1876 he was promoted to the principalship of the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen, an office which he held till 1888, combining with it from 1877 the charge of Park-y-velvet chapel, Carmarthen, Retiring from the active ministry, he resided first at Bath, and latterly at Bowdon, Cheshire. Among unitarians his position was that of a mild conservatism; hence he was more at home in Carmarthen College than he had been in the atmosphere of the Manchester College. He died at Cranwells, Bowdon, on 28 Feb. 1902, and was buried at Hale, Cheshire, on 4 March. He married (1) in 1843 Agnes Jane, second daughter of John Fletcher of Liverpool, by whom he had three sons and one daughter; and (2) in 1894 Elizabeth Anne, daughter of Edward Todd of Tadcaster, who survived him.
Besides sermons and lectures, singly and in collections, his chief works are:
- 'The Priesthood of Christ,' 1843 (Letters to John Pye Smith, D.D.; two series).
- 'English Orthodoxy, as it is and as it might be,' 1863.
- 'Eternal Punishment,' 1865, 12mo; 4th edit. 1875 (reprinted in 'The Religion and Theology of Unitarians,' 1906).
- 'The Bible and Popular Theology,' 1871 (3rd edit. 1872); revised as 'The Bible and its Theology as popularly taught,' 1892, 1901.
- 'The Spirit and the Word of Christ,' 1874; 2nd edit. 1875.
- 'The Prophets and their Interpreters,' 1878.
- 'Texts and Margins of the Revised New Testament affecting Theological Doctrine,' 1881.
- 'Chapters on Job for Young Readers,' 1887.
- 'Confession of Christ what it is not, and what it is,' 1890.
He translated in an abridged form Tholuck's 'The Credibility of the Evangelic History Illustrated,' 1844; 'The Prophecies relating to Nineveh and the Assyrians, translated … with Introduction and Notes,' 1857; and in 'The Holy Scriptures of the Old Covenant,' 1857-62 (a continuation of Wellbeloved's work), I and II Samuel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentations. To J. R. Beard's 'Voices of the Church' (1845) he contributed 'The Fallacy of the Mythical Theory of Dr Strauss.'
[The Times, 4 March 1902; Services at Chapel Lane, Bradford, 1841; Manning, Hist. of Upper Chapel, Sheffield, 1900 (portrait); memoir (by present writer) in Christian Life, March 1902; information from Rev. G. Hamilton Vance.]