Uriah Smith was a gifted church leader--a teacher, writer, editor, poet, hymn writer, inventor, and engraver. His family were Millerite adventists, so at the age of 12 he went through the 1844 disappointment. At about the same age, his infected left leg had to be amputated above the knee. In later life he invented an artificial leg with flexible knee and ankle joints.
Along with his older sister, Annie, Uriah left the Adventists for a time to pursue his education. Late in 1852 he became a Sabbath-keeping Adventist. Early the next year he joined James and Ellen White in Rochester, New York, in publishing work. Like his sister, Annie, Uriah was well educated and had turned down an attractive teaching position. In 1853 the Review published his first contribution--a 35,000-word poem entitled "The Warning Voice of Time and Prophecy."
Early printing equipment was sometimes primitive, and Uriah recalled how he used a straightedge and pocket knife to trim the edges of the church's first tracts. "We blistered our hands in the operation," he wrote, "and often the tracts in form were not half so true and square as the doctrines they taught."
When the Review offices moved to Battle Creek in 1855, Uriah became editor at age 23. For much of the next 50 years he served either as editor or on the editorial staff of the Review. In addition to his editorial duties, Smith was elected the first secretary of the General Conference when it organized in 1863. He also was treasurer of the General Conference for one year and taught Bible for several years at Battle Creek College. He is probably best known today as author of Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation.
As editor of the Review, Smith became "pastor" to many Adventists who were isolated and could not regularly attend church services. His wit and his scholarship were evident in hundreds of articles and editorials. His public speaking also blessed many thousands.
Uriah Smith, however, was not free from problems. In 1882 his confidence in Ellen White's ministry was severely tested when he received reproofs for positions he had taken relative to Battle Creek College. Smith considered Mrs. White's letters on the matter only her opinion, because she had not received a specific vision regarding the situation. Ellen White reminded Smith and others that Paul's letter to the Corinthians was inspired by the Holy Spirit, even though he had not received a new revelation for that special time. Mrs. White's letter may be read in Testimonies, volume 5, pages 62-84.
A few years later Smith also positioned himself on the opposite side from Jones and Waggoner at the 1888 General Conference. At that session, the message of Christ's righteousness was presented along with challenges to traditional interpretations of certain Bible texts. Smith had always been a strong defender of the law, and no doubt he felt that the new emphasis lessened its importance. But his problems were further complicated when Ellen White supported the work of Jones and Waggoner. This became another crisis of confidence in the gift of prophecy for Smith. By 1891, however, Smith confessed his wrong attitude, and unity was again established. Ellen White reported, "Brother Smith has fallen on the Rock, and is broken, and the Lord Jesus will now work with him. He took my hand as he left the room, and said, 'If the Lord will forgive me for the sorrow and burdens I have brought upon you, I tell you this will be the last. I will stay up your hands. The testimonies of God shall hold this place in my experience.'"--Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White, vol. 3, p. 473. During this whole time Ellen White continued to express confidence in Smith, while, at the same time, sending him personal messages of reproof.
The last words he wrote, directed to the 1903 General Conference, were: "I am with you in the endeavor to send forth in this generation this gospel of the kingdom, for a witness to all nations. And when this is completed, it will be the signal for the coronation of our coming King."
In 1903, at age 71, Smith died of a stroke on his way to the Review office.