Secret Service Theologian


BIOGRAPHY - Chapter One

Erin, the tear and the smile in thine eye
Blend like the rainbow that hangs in the sky.
- - Irish Song.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. -Psalm xxiii. 6.

I change, He changes not,
The Christ can never die;
His love not mine the resting place,
His truth not mine the tie.

"AN anglicised Irishman of Scottish extraction". My father’s description of himself. Born in Dublin of Ulster stock, his youth was spent in the part of Ireland now known as Eire. Called to the Irish Bar he was early side-tracked into Secret Service work in connection with the Fenian movement of those times. When this led to his crossing the Channel to England it was, as he afterwards expressed it, with a return ticket in his pocket. But from that day his native land knew him only as a visitor. First in the Home Office, then at Scotland Yard, and finally in retirement, he remained a Londoner for the rest of his life. Duty made him a relentless tracker of criminals. But the dynamiters would have been more than a little surprised had they known that the man behind the scenes who hunted them down was author of many books on the Bible and the Christian life. No less amazed would have been many a professional burglar could he have come upon the C.I.D. Chief giving a Gospel address in some London mission hail. His life of seventy- seven years was a many-sided one, in some respects unique.
Robert Anderson was born in 1841 at his parents’ home in Mountjoy Square, Dublin, whither his father, Matthew Anderson, had come from Londonderry as a young man. The appointment of Crown Solicitor for the city was given to my grandfather by the government of Lord Beaconsfield. An elder of the Irish Presbyterian Church, he served first in the old Mary’s Abbey congregation, of which my father was a member in his youth, and afterwards at Kingstown, now called Dun Laoghaire. When living in Dublin one of his duties was that of Seneschal of the Manor of Mary’s Abbey, where he used to hold a Manor Court; an appointment which he owed to Lady Harriet Cowper, for whom he acted in legal matters. Her first husband had been the famous Count D’Orsay, who made several gifts to my grandfather, including a bronze equestrian statuette of the Iron Duke, now in my possession, modelled by himself in 1848.
D’Orsay was born in Paris in 1801. Known as the last of the “Dandies,” unusually handsome and well-dressed, he was looked upon as “the mirror of of fashion and the mould of form.” An accomplished painter and sculptor, he was an intimate friend and supporter of Louis Napoleon. By a coincidence the St. Mary’s Abbey estate had belonged to my mother’s family for about a hundred years from the time of King James the Second. Drogheda House, their Dublin residence until 1822, was on the property.
A family friend, Professor Pierce Simpson, gave his impression of Matthew Anderson in these words : “I used to regard him as the Lord Chancellor and Primate of Ireland rolled into one, and to hear him say prayers was enough to make a saint out of a sinner.” My grandmother, before her marriage Mary Lee, also came from Derry, where an ancestor, Samuel Lee, won fame as a leader of the freemen of the city, the ‘Prentice Boys, in the siege of 1689.
“Five generations have since passed away,” wrote Macaulay, “and still the wall of Londonderry is to the Protestants of Ulster what the trophy of Marathon was to the Athenians.” And H. V. Morton says: “I suppose that no other city except perhaps Limerick has such a single-minded memory of its history. You cannot live even for a few hours in this city without hearing the story of the Closing of the Gates of Derry. They tell it all over again with just pride; how the thirteen 'prentice boys shut the gates in the face of a Catholic army sent to win the town for James II; how Derry declared for William of Orange; how the town endured the worst horrors of starvation and disease for one hundred and five days. . It was one of the most gallant defences in the history of siege warfare."
And now in 1945 one reads of our own King George VI and Queen Elizabeth being taken on a tour of the walls. No doubt they heard once again the great story of" No Surrender," and of how at last the relief ships bringing food broke the boom across the Foyle.
" It is never possible," writes Morton, "to feel that Derry is an ordinary city. Look where you will and you see the wall and a peeping cannon. The memory of 1688—89 is as vivid as though the smoke of Roaring Meg was still blowing from the walls."
Assuredly, as I listened to my grandmother’s tale and gazed at the portrait of the Rev. George Walker, the heroic acting Governor, my childish impression was that she had been through the siege herself. Another coincidence is that an ancestor of my maternal grandmother, William Gardner of Coleraine, was killed when in command of a company of the defenders; another of my mother’s forbears, Henry, third Earl of Drogheda, commanded a regiment of Foot in the Battle of the Boyne shortly afterwards.
My father was educated privately in Dublin and later in Paris and Boulogne. On leaving school he began a business career in one of the Dublin breweries, its owner being a rich and sonless friend of his father’s. But after eighteen months he turned from this and at the age of eighteen entered Trinity College, familiarly known as T.C.D. In 1862 he graduated B.A. with Moderatorship and Medal, being awarded the LL.D. in 1875. The earliest diary I have found is for the year 1861, the brief entries in which often include items such as : "Read for five hours; cricket." He was keen on Rugby football too, playing half-back, I think.
The College Historical Society at T.C.D. corresponds to the Union Societies at Oxford and Cambridge, the membership being reciprocal. My father became Auditor (President), and it was one of the chief interests of his ‘Varsity life. A number of his contemporaries became prominent in after years, some of them famous. A close friend, David Plunket (Lord Rathmore), wrote a few months before my fathers’ death:
"Your references to the past helped me, like Clarence Mangan’s poor old battered Barmecide, to 'call up many a gorgeous show which the pall of oblivion hides' of the gay days when you and Tom Snagge and Ashbourne and FitzGibbon and Freeman Wills and Lecky, and many another more or less famous Argonaut, sailed out with me from the old T.C.D. harbour on life’s journey. You and I now alone remain. And you carry on still with all your remaining canvas set. More power to your elbow and to your brave heart!" [Those mentioned in this letter all became well-known personages: Sir Thomas W. Snagge, D.L., LL.D., Judge of County Courts; Edward Gibson, 1st Lord Ashbourne, Lord Chancellor of Ireland; Rt. Hon. Gerald FitzGibbon, P.C., Lord Justice of Appeal; Rev. Freeman Wills, M.A., author and dramatist; Rt. Hon. W. E. H. Lecky, O.M., LL.D., D.C.L., historian and philosopher.]
And my father himself said: "I cherish pleasant memories of those years. Religion and politics are the bane of Ireland, but the politicians and priests had not yet poisoned the life of the country. In Trinity, Orangemen and Romanists, 'ferocious Radicals' and high Tories, mixed together and discussed their differences with the courtesy and kindness of Irish gentlemen." In the light of this, it is interesting to find his diary for 1898 recording a "T.C.D. Dinner" in London at which there were present Mr. John Redmond, the Irish Nationalist leader, and Sir Edward Carson, the Ulster Unionist. Mr. W. E. H. Lecky was in the chair, and others in the company were Lord Rathmore, Sir Robert Ball (the astronomer), Sir Thomas Snagge and Canon Teignmouth Shore. The 1900 diary also mentions the dinner, when those present included Lords Morris, Iveagh and Londonderry, Sir Dennis Fitzpatrick and Dr. J. B. Crozier, Bishop of Ossory and Ferns.
But to return to the early years, the 1861 diary records a short time spent in London as a law student at the Temple. An entry for 5th February reads: "Went to the House of Commons and met Williams; got into the Lords' to hear the Queen. Dinner with W., then down to the House where heard Disraeli, Russell and Bright." In his reminiscences he related how he came to hear the Queen's Speech that day, the last occasion on which Queen Victoria read her Speech herself for after the Prince Consort's death in that year she never again did so. The future Assistant Commissioner used to make friends with the police on duty in the House and through them obtain members' orders admitting to the Gallery. A police officer, a fellow Irishman, put him up to the adventure of getting into the House of Lords along with the "faithful Commons." However, "if we catch you," said he, "it's not in the House of Lords ye'll find yourself; but we'll not catch you if ye do what I tell you." Admitted to the Lobby my father found himself in the middle of a group of M.P.s waiting there. When the Speaker's procession, followed by some of the leading members of the Lower House, had passed, the waiting group closed in with a rush. "Had I been as anxious to keep out as I was to get in," the story proceeds, "nothing could have stopped me. I was almost carried off my feet, and it was not until I found myself inside the Lords' that I was able to raise my hand to take off my hat."
The next day the diary records: "Went to House of Commons by boat. Heard FitzGerald and Russell." And later in that year: "Drove down to Moville tandem to see the Fleet. Went on board Revenge, where the Admiral was receiving the Corporation: good feed." Does this diary entry forty-two years later (1903) show that there was some reward for his having been a law student in London, for he never practised at the English Bar? "The King's Dinner in Middle Temple. A great function; Sir.R. Finlay, Choate, Duke of Devonshire, Lord Rosebery, Lord Lansdowne. The King present."
Mention has been made of my grandfather being Seneschal of the Manor of Mary's Abbey. A Manor Court exercised a civil jurisdiction such as County Courts used to have. The judge was nominated by the lord of the manor. The idea of holding a mock court occurred to my father, his elder brother, and some of their college friends, a typically Irish performance resulting. The court-keeper was notified of a special session to be held on the chosen evening; and all was found ready, not excepting the presence of a police-constable at the door. One of the actors, who attained fame at the Bar and in Parliament, later a peer, took his place on the bench in borrowed wig and gown; a divinity student, afterwards an archdeacon, was put upon his trial for an assault. The combination of lying and cunning in the evidence seemed true to life, and the speeches were eloquent if not altogether relevant.
The seats allotted to the public were fairly well filled, for an evening sitting and a criminal trial were unprecedented. But when the proceedings resulted in a conviction, and the "judge" announced that before dealing with the prisoner he really must have a smoke, there was a roar of laughter, "in which the accused heartily joined." The public, suddenly realising that they had been fooled, stampeded from the court. It was characteristic of life in Ireland then, said my father, that they were not taken to task for the escapade, which was never reported nor noticed in any way. And the Seneschal first heard of it many years later as he sat by the fireside with his grandchildren playing around him.
Another incident which could hardly have occurred except in Ireland was related by my father long afterwards in his plea for more common sense and imagination in the treatment of youthful criminals. A boy had been brought before a Dublin magistrate who was a man of great force of character and quite unconventional. Although the charge was a petty one the police gave a bad account of the lad, declaring that he had a chance of doing well if he wished, but that he was going wrong and was likely to become a regular criminal.
To the amazement of a friend who was sitting with him on the Bench the magistrate, in blood-curdling language, sentenced the youth to be flogged in the adjoining yard. The friend was then taken to the magistrate's private room from which they could see the prisoner, looking half-dead with fright, while two burly constables were inspecting instruments of flagellation borrowed, presumably, from some police museum. The yard gate, however, had judiciously been left open - for the dramatis persona were Irish and understood their parts - and, seeing his chance, the lad made a dash for it and escaped. "Now," said the magistrate, "we've saved that boy; we'll never see him here again!"
My father's long life of Christian witness and service really began with a deep spiritual experience a few months after his nineteenth birthday. The Story must be given in his own words, written fifty years later, near the close of that life:
"Until I get to Heaven, I shall never know whether I was not a child of God in infancy. My mother regarded me as God-given to take the place of a son who died shortly before I was born, and who was evidently a veritable Timothy (2 Tim. iii. 15, R.V.). She loved to talk to me about him, and his story had a great influence upon me. Even in early years prayer was no mere form with me, and I delighted in reading the Gospel of John and some favourite Psalms. But in due course I was taught that no one who has not been 'converted' can be a child of God, and I had never experienced any crisis of that kind.
"As time went by my conviction deepened that 1 had not been 'converted.' But owing doubtless to my early experience and to the restraints of a Christian home I continued to lead 'a religious life.' And I had occasional fits of penitence and anxiety. But they were transient; and their after-effect was to make me increasingly callous, the hardening process being intensified by the influence of that other doctrine that my eternal destiny depended entirely on whether I was 'elect,' and therefore nothing I could do would affect the issue.
"Such was my condition in 1860. But in that memorable year of Revival new spiritual longings were awakened in me by the conversion of one of my sisters through attending services which J. Denham Smith was holding in Dublin. Owing, however, to my experience of such periods of anxiety I refused even to acknowledge a desire to go to a meeting. But on a certain evening when my sister very specially wished to be present her promised escort failed, and I got credit for unselfish kindness by offering to accompany her. The meeting only disappointed and vexed me. The sermon brought no comfort or help and some of the hymns offended me: for, owing possibly to my being ecclesiastically Scottish, certain popular hymns do not suit my spiritual digestion.
"The fact of my sister's conversion still held me, however, and I cherished the thought that the next Sunday services in the Kirk might bring me blessing. But the morning service left me more discouraged than ever; and I made up my mind that if the evening one brought no relief I would give up the quest, and seek to enjoy life again as best I could.
"The evening preacher was Dr. John Hall, afterwards of New York. His sermon was of a type to which we are now accustomed, for he boldly proclaimed forgiveness of sins and eternal life as God's gift in grace, unreserved and unconditional, to be received as we sat in the pews. His sermon thrilled me. Yet I deemed his doctrine unscriptural, so I waylaid him as he left the vestry and on our homeward walk tackled him about his 'heresies.'
"My first point was that he had no warrant for saying that there was forgiveness for sinners without first ascertaining whether they had repented. This he met by quoting Scripture to prove that repentance was not contrition; nor was it a work preparatory to coming to Christ, but a change produced by believing the Gospel as the Word of God. . At last he let go my arm, and facing me as we stood upon the pavement he repeated with great solemnity his message and appeal: 'I tell you as a minister of Christ and in His name that there is life for you here and now if you will accept Him. Will you accept Christ or will you reject Him?' After a pause - how prolonged I know not - I exclaimed, 'In God's name I will accept Christ.' Not another word passed between us, but after another pause he wrung my hand and left me. And I turned homeward with the peace of God filling my heart."
A letter dated 9th October i86o gives the date of the great decision. Writing to one of my father's sisters, a friend - Henry Neilson - said: "Our walk home was indeed a happy one, for Bob told me that last Sabbath evening God the Spirit had opened his eyes to see Jesus as his Saviour. Glory be to Him Who ever is faithful to answer prayer." That other influences had been preparing him for the crisis is indicated by a letter to his mother some time later.
"I was very sorry not to have been at home when Mr. Parke was there. He was one of the few clergymen I knew in old times who seemed to care for souls. When he was with us before I was greatly struck by his speaking about the Lord Jesus constantly while at table. And I remember well the last words he said to you before leaving, 'Somehow I am sure that I shall hear of a blessing in your family.' We were then all unconverted."
It was not long before my father entered upon his lifelong ministry as a lay-preacher of the Gospel. He thus describes the occasion
"One day soon after my conversion I received a letter from a friend telling me that he was unable to keep an engagement to address a Gospel meeting, and asking me to take his place. The messenger waited for an answer and I promptly replied that I could not take such a position. But then I fell a-thinking. I had been praying that God would give me work to do for Him; might not this be the answer? So I hurried after the messenger to tell of my change of mind. And the next day I preached my first Gospel sermon."
He was certainly not unacquainted with sermons. Forty-five years afterwards, writing on " Preaching: Past and Present" in the Nottinghamshire Guardian he said "The days of great preachers are past. In all the churches the men are but few who could rivet the attention of a congregation for an hour. Is there a preacher who could hold an audience for two? Yet a sermon that lasted three full hours is one of the memories of my childhood. The preacher, I need not say, was a Scotsman, the great Dr. Duff, the Church of Scotland's first missionary to India. Child though I was, I remember how his hearers hung upon his words."
The effect of the revival was deepened by a series of annual conventions in Dublin, the "Believers' Meetings." Members of all denominations met simply as Christians. Amongst the leaders were the Rev. Marcus Rainsford, Rector of Dundalk and later incumbent of Belgrave Chapel, London, and the Rev. J. Denham Smith of Kingstown. Many years later Marcus Rainsford wrote to my father: "It quite warmed my old heart to read your kind letter and your affectionate remembrance of myself. I have also long since made up my mind that it is full time we children of the Most High God gave up our 'fads' and were determined to know nothing, nothing, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, risen, ascended, and sitting at God's right hand, 'and we in him'"
When sixty years had gone by, Mr. J. W. C. Fegan wrote: "With the passing on before of Sir Robert Anderson we have lost the last surviving link with the notable group of Irish evangelists and teachers associated with the Revival of 1859 and the abounding spiritual activities of the 'sixties."
Nearly all the names mentioned by Mr. Fegan appear in my father's diaries and letters of that period or in later reminiscences: Henry Bewley, Denham Smith, George F. Trench, F. C. Bland, C. H. Macintosh, J. Butler Stoney, R. J. Mahony, T. Shuidham Henry; also Reginald Radcliffe, Richard Weaver and Harry Moorhouse, visitors from England. Others to whom the diaries for 1860 to 1865 refer as preaching in Dublin or visiting the family are the Revs. H. Grattan Guinness, William Haslam and Horatius Bonar. The Rev. Horatius Bonar, D.D., was the well-known Scottish Divine and hymn writer who wrote "Here, 0 my Lord, I see Thee face to face" ; "I heard the voice of Jesus say"; "A few more years shall roll." He preached both in Mary's Abbey Church and in Merrion Hall (the meeting-place of the brethren), and was a welcome guest at the Anderson home, then in Fitzwilliam Square. In a letter to my father from Kelso, dated 27th November 1864; Dr. Bonar wrote:
"My DEAR FRIEND, - Thanks for your letter and for those which accompanied it. They are deeply interesting and I should greatly like to have further accounts of God's work in those parts. . . . You use an expression which I do not fully understand, 'failed in communion.' I think I see your meaning, but I do not find the words in Scripture, and I am afraid of using expressions - or at least of admitting them to constant use - which are not exactly Scriptural. According to the meaning of the original word, a believer cannot be out of communion any more than he can be out of salvation, but he may be out of a sense of communion. However this may be, I still question whether the phrase be a Scriptural one; if not, its frequent use may imprint a wrong idea in the soul, even though there may be some truth wrapped up in it. With my kind remembrances to your father and mother, your brothers and sisters, I am, my dear friend, yours faithfully, Horatius B0NAR."
We still have a copy of Dr. Bonar's book, God's Way of Holiness, with the inscription: "Robert Anderson, Esq., with brotherly regards from H. B., Kelso, Nov. 28, 1864."
One of the leaders mentioned above, Mr. F. C. Bland, who was himself led to Christ by his friend Richard Mahony and C. H. Macintosh, became a man mighty in the Scriptures and a teacher of teachers. During Mr. D. L. Moody's great evangelistic meetings in the Opera House in London, it is said that scarcely a day passed without his spending an hour over the Bible with Mr. Bland.
A reference to the Dublin home came long afterwards when Professor Alexander Macalister of Cambridge University wrote to my mother after my father's death: "Let me with sincere sorrow write a note of sympathy. . . . It is to me the breaking of the last tie with an early period of my life when we were members of the same Church and associates in our earliest intellectual and religious work. He was just two years my senior, and I remember looking up to him as an example of what I should wish to be. I owe the greatest debt of gratitude possible to the Anderson family, for it was in their home I first met my dear wife, to whose wisdom and saintly piety I am indebted for far more than I can express."
Professor and Mrs. Macalister and their family proved exceedingly kind and helpful friends to my brothers and myself in our Cambridge days, and my father was often a guest in their home.
Chapter Two

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