SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
PREACHER AND WITNESS
Thou shalt tell me in the Glory
All that thou hast done,
Setting out alone, returning
Thou shalt bring the ransomed with thee;
They with songs shall come,
All the golden sheaves of harvest
T. P.; translated by FRANCES BEVAN.
"WHO of us appreciates aright the privilege, the
responsibility, the solemnity of bringing the Gospel to our fellow-men?
'Evangelists' are as definitely the gift of our ascended Lord as are Pastors
and Teachers (Eph. iv. i i); but the privilege and duty of making known the
Gospel are not limited to Evangelists. No Christian therefore need wait for any
human sanction for 'ministering the word of life' to a fellow-sinner. But here
a caution is most necessary. We must never forget the solemnity of such work.
Let us take heed that no levity marks either our words or our spirit as we make
our appeals or give our testimony. We may come down to our own level as it were
when reasoning with others about their conduct or their attitude to the dread
solemnities of life. But no one of a reverent spirit can fail to be distressed
by the flippant language in which 'the glorious Gospel of the Blessed God' [2
Cor. ii. I 7 (Weymouth)] is sometimes ' huckstered.'"
These words of Sir Robert's throw light on the manner and the spirit of his ministry of the Word. Looking back on the many times one heard him speak, one realises that in a sense he never came down to the level of his audience. However simple the language and illustrations when taking a mission hall service, for instance, the realisation of the majesty of the truths he was proclaiming never left him. He disliked the expression " the simple Gospel " - miserable words he called them, however true in one way.
He often said that he was not a preacher of sermons, and seldom if ever took a text. He liked best of all to expound a portion of Scripture, such as one of the great passages in the Epistles to Timothy and Titus, or one of the Lord's miracles of healing, or the Gospel as portrayed in the story of the Good Samaritan, which tells how a helpless sinner for whom the law and "religion" could do nothing might be saved.
I remember him saying that he could not understand any man standing up with the Bible in his hand and failing to be interesting. He told how a friend, a general in the Army, had said: "Give me any page you chance to open of one of our military hand-books, and I'll undertake to speak upon it in a way that will interest soldiers : how is it that with that wonderful Book in their hands the parsons and ministers succeed in being uninteresting?" My father's own explanation was that the theological colleges taught their students to read the Bible through the coloured glasses of either superstition or rationalism, and did not teach them to understand the book of human nature.
A letter from a stranger is of interest here : "You and I have much in common. Ever since Harrow and Oxford days I have wondered why there is not more sanctified common sense amongst Christians. 'The foolishness of preaching' is by no means the preaching of foolishness." Another letter says : " It is most kind of you to undertake my services next Sunday. I very jealously guard our pulpit, and ask only those who I know will have something to say, and the ability to say it, and will do so in the help of God without fear or favour." Some of Sir Robert's Church of England friends by the way pressed him to accept appointment as a Lay Reader in order that he might have further opportunities for helping them. His diaries suggest that he was a little surprised at the situations in which he sometimes found himself; e.g., "Preached in Eldon Parish Church at the morning service. Was seated by the 'altar' till I went into the pulpit. . . . Conference sermon in the Church. Procession of parsons, some twenty in all. I wore LL.D. gown and hood and came last with the Rector!"
Even to the humblest gathering in the worldly sense he loved to bring the great truths of the Faith, above all to magnify the grace of God in Christ. His addresses were not lacking in humour, but were always deeply reverent in tone. At times he would startle the hearers by sudden bangs on the table or reading-desk as he inveighed against "religion," which could be one of the greatest curses the world had ever known; Christianity, he would explain, was not a "religion" at all, but a revelation and a Faith. He was never content with giving "a simple Gospel address" when he realised that many of his hearers were already Christians. He would then often speak chiefly to them, afterwards turning to the unsaved with words such as: "And now if there are any here who are strangers to all this . . ."
He was thoroughly at home with audiences of the Mission Hall type, and his visits were greatly appreciated as shown by very many letters such as the following: "I know it will help you to hear that much blessing has followed your labours at the Hall. One poor woman, who has been a great sinner, said to a friend of mine: 'Oh, I could have thrown myself at dear Dr. Anderson's feet and told him what my precious Saviour has done for me. It seemed as if every word he uttered was for me, for me."
"I shall always remember Sir Robert Anderson addressing a meeting at - . There had been quite a revival among the country people during a mission by Mr. Fegan; but they were slow of mind, and I wondered if when Sir Robert spoke they would follow him. But he spoke with the most beautiful simplicity. The youngest present understood, and all were deeply touched by his words."
My father was a frequent speaker at Ranelagh Hall for the Misses Hurst. "Some of the very best and happiest Sunday evenings were when he was taking the meeting," was their testimony. A letter to Lord Blythswood tells of an address to men in the Paget Memorial Hall in London in 1915. The writer says:
"We have had a rich day with the men this afternoon. Of all Sir Robert Anderson's visits this is the best one by far. It was a time of great and very solemn power. I never remember a time when the men sat so spell-bound. Sir Robert discoursed upon the man at the Pool of Bethesda. It was truly a men's address, faithful, rousing, tender and remarkably appealing. Glad to say we had 75 present, and didn't they sing! Sir Robert was greatly helped, and was evidently touched and moved himself into real brotherliness and helpfulness . .
That he did not undertake such work more lightly at the close of his life than in earlier days is beautifully shown in this letter in May (only a few months before his Home-call) to Mr. Wilson Heath:
"I am deeply touched by your kind and gracious letter - all too kind and gracious. And yet your testimony to my words on Sunday tends both to humble and encourage me. What you wrote about your recent mission led me to make this visit a very special subject of prayer, lest I should in any way hurt the good work begun. As that exquisite poem Ezekiel has it 'I had rather stand a prophet of my God than bear the palm of any other triumph.' And as the years go by I feel increasingly the solemnity and the privilege of ministering the Word of Life."
In the light of this a letter from Mr. J. W. Walton (composer of a tune for the hymn Safe) is of special interest : "The last time I saw Sir Robert," he wrote, "was one Sunday afternoon at a little service which he addressed. Portions of the talk I still have in memory. Oddly enough I remember the expression upon his face more than what he said. It was one of such absolute sincerity." Another testimony came from Colonel Granville Smith of the Coldstream Guards: "Your address last night was undoubtedly a new revelation to many of the listeners, judging by their faces. We have already been told of the great value it has been."
Very frequently he was a speaker or chairman at public meetings, those touching the inspiration of the Bible or the Hope of the Lord's Return making a special appeal to him. At a Prophetic Conference in 1894 he said : "The Coming of Christ is not some strange thing that faddists have imported into Christianity. It is part and parcel of Christianity. No one has any right to call himself a Christian who denies the Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ." In that address however he gave a warning against fixing dates in connection with that Coming, saying that someone had sent him a copy of a prophetic magazine published fourteen years previously and giving the names of 120 writers, many of them men of eminence in the Church, who were unanimous in believing that the end of the world would come before the year 1890. He then went on to say: "You ought not to be merely a person who holds the doctrine of the Advent; if you are a Christian you should hold it as a living hope in the heart. . . . Get hold of this that every Christian is a man with a secret. If word came to you to-morrow morning that you had come in for a hundred pounds, think how such a secret would affect you. All day long those about you would see something strange in you; they would say, 'He has some secret; I wonder what it is.' But would a hundred sovereigns lying at the Bank for you be a greater thing than this - the riches of Christ that cannot be measured, that you are His own, and that He is coming for you? . . . Here is the secret to carry with you into your daily life, behind the wash-tub or in your kitchen. Here is the secret of the Lord with them that fear Him."
He began the address (at Forest Gate) from which these words are taken by saying that he liked a meeting of the kind because one could speak freely. Had he been expected to give what is called an address he was not sure that he would not have lost himself on the way, for he had no address to give. He was a busy man speaking to busy people, although he doubted whether many of them were as busy as he was just then, for recently he had been unable to get rid of his work until close on midnight. He had many similar meetings, but there were also often opportunities of speaking to students. In my own Cambridge days and afterwards he was one of those several times invited to the Sunday evening meetings of the C.I.C.C.U. (Cambridge InterCollegiate Christian Union) for 'Varsity men, and sometimes to the similar gatherings at Oxford. At Trinity College, Dublin, his alma mater, meetings were arranged for him by Mr. Everard Digges la Touche, whilst the diaries record visits to most of the Student Christian Unions at the London hospitals and colleges. And many other openings for witness amongst the more educated classes came his way. But no invitation was refused if it was possible to accept, although it frequently meant long train journeys across London at night in all weathers, even when he was getting old and was a victim to chronic catarrh and not infrequent attacks of influenza.
The pages at the end of his diaries sometimes give a list of places visited for meetings during the year. To detail these would partake too much of a geography lesson. In addition to those already mentioned one finds Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bedford, Bournemouth, Glasgow and very many other centres. Addresses were often given for the Bible League and at Protestant Congresses. Meetings of a different kind include for example one of about 100 working-class men belonging to a Hoxton Brotherhood, and a Kensington Workhouse gathering where there was "a large attendance of old men and women," to whom he,spoke on John iii. i6.
At the beginning of this memoir I suggested that the term unique might be applied to my father's life-story. May not the word be used to describe an occasion in Belfast in March 1905? Two lectures were delivered on the same day to "large and interested audiences" according to the Belfast News Letter. In the afternoon the subject was "The Bible and Modern Criticism," the chairman being the Rev. Professor Leech, D.D., of the Presbyterian Assembly's College. The Lord Mayor, Sir Daniel Dixon, Bart., D.L., presided at night, when the lecture was on "Our criminals and how to treat them." The audience included the Commissioner of Police and local Magistrates. The Lord Mayor explained that Sir Robert was paying a visit to the city in order to give a helping-hand to the Shankhill Road Mission amongst the non-church-going classes of the community.
A few years later by the way another Lord Mayor of Belfast, a namesake and personal friend - Sir Robert Anderson, Bart. - paid a visit "down under." On his return he wrote to my father: "I could not tell you how often I was asked if I were t;he Sir Robert who wrote the books, when of course I had to offer a proper explanation. I do not think there is a man in England who would receive a better reception than you if you went to Australia and New Zealand. Your books have a wide circulation and are greatly appreciated."
Invitations to the United States and Canada came from various friends and others. In 1906 Dr. A. C. Dixon (himself a Baptist) wrote: "Yesterday I was requested by five pastors - one Methodist, one Congregational, one Presbyterian and two Episcopalian - to write you and learn whether it would be possible for you to visit Boston and give a series of lectures on the Bible and Modern Criticism." Sir Robert was often a speaker at the annual conferences held at Mildmay. The successive superintendents who resided in the Garden House were all friends of my parents - Mr. James E. Mathieson, Captain Francis L. Tottenham, Captain the Hon. Reynolds Moreton, R.N., and Colonel James F. Morton. Mr. Mathieson evidently felt that his countrymen in what used to be called North Britain were in need of enlightenment, as witness a letter to my father dated 6th April 1888:
"I have taken the Free Assembly Hall in Edinburgh for October 9th, 10th, and 11th, for a Conference on our Lord's Second Coming, with the full concurrence of Horatius and Andrew Bonar, John Riddell of Glasgow, Prof. Alec Simpson, Dr. Elder Cumming and others. . . . We propose a very simple programme, and for speakers Presbyterian ministers chiefly, so as to gain the ear of Scottish Christians. I would much like you to take some part, being (as you are) a kind of Presbyterian broke loose, rather like myself! I hope you will encourage me in this venture to give testimony concerning the blessed Hope & my rebellious and gainsaying countrymen North of the Tweed. . . . I was in Edinburgh assisting at the ministerial Jubilee of Horatius Bonar. His brother John (a good Free Church Minister in Greenock) is 86, Horatius is 8o, and Andrew, who was present and spoke sweetly, is 76."
As Mr. Mathieson suggested, my father was somewhat of a free lance. Speaking on the platform of the Evangelical Alliance on one occasion he remarked, "I say honestly that, while I would go hundreds of miles to bring a sinner to Christ or to bring a Christian nearer to Christ, I would not cross the street on a snowy day to bring a man into my Church. . . . Oh, if we could but get nearer to the Lord Jesus Christ, and if we could but realise the meaning of the words that He loved the Church and gave Himself for it, and that all real Christians are in the Church He then went on:
"I think Sunday morning is the right time to ask guests in your house where they want to go and worship. But with regard to all ordinary intercourse with Christians just leave this question aside. There are two ways to promote unity. One is by outward organisations; that is the sheep-dog method. The other is by having One Shepherd. And if only we would think more about the Lord and less about our 'isms' and our Churches, we should find ourselves without realising it at one with our brethren. And what a power it would be ! I do feel this very solemnly that, while in the evil influences which prevail around us there is a tremendous power of unity, it is sadly lacking in vital Christianity. . . . God's purpose is not to exalt the Church, whether the Brethren or the Church of England or the Baptists or you or me. God's purpose is to exalt Christ. And the more you have Christ in your heart and life the more you will fall in with this great purpose. And this will be, as far as you are concerned, the realisation of the Lord's solemn prayer that we all might be one."
Beyond all else my father was a man of the Book, and he loved to talk over the Bible with some kindred soul such as Miss A. R. Habershon, who compiled a valuable concordance of The New Testament Names and Titles of the Lord of Glory, for which my father wrote a preface, and whose help in various ways was of great value to him, or even with some beginner, learned or unlearned, no less than in more formal Bible Readings. The latter were often held in private houses and were a very interesting feature of those days. Those invited either came to dinner first or joined the party afterwards. Amongst the homes opened in this way were those of Lady Jane Taylor, Georgina Lady Seafield, Colonel Granville and Lady Blanche Smith, Mr. T. A. Denny and Lady Hope, and our own.
The friends taking part in the discussions or attending as listeners included the Revs. Sholto Douglas, Marmaduke Washington, Mervyn Clare, Mitchell Carruthers, Marcus Rainsford, J. J. B. Coles, and Dr. Bullinger; also Mr. Richard Mahony, Mr. J. E. Mathieson, Col. H. Bentinck and Countess Bentinck, the Herbert Trittons and Edward Trotters, Mr. and Lady Anne Campbell, Gen. Sir Robert Phayre, Col. H. G. MacGregor, Miss Emma Bland, and Dr. A. T. Schofield, who had Readings of a slightly different character in his own house also.
Another type of Bible Readings sometimes addressed by my father used to be held for the staffs of London business houses, such as Derry and Toms, Peter Robinson, Lewis and Co., Selfridge's, and Whiteley's. Amongst his many other interests were the Lawyers' Prayer Union, the Victoria Institute, the Prophecy Investigation Society; and he was a strong supporter of the different Protestant societies. He was a vice-president of the Alliance of Honour which for over forty years, including both world wars, has done a great work for personal and national purity. His interest in Mr. Fegan's Boys' Homes and in Mr. Wheatley's work is mentioned elsewhere. Dr. T. J. Barnardo in asking him to join the Council of his Homes wrote:
"So now, my dear friend and brother, whom I have known almost all my Christian life, don't refuse this request if you think it possible to accede to it." He not only accepted the invitation, but took a keen personal interest in the great work, often attending the prayer meetings at Stepney Causeway. A kind letter to myself from Pastor D. J. Findlay, of Glasgow, thanking me for the first edition of this memoir, gives a striking impression of Sir Robert:
"THE TABERNACLE, ST. GEORGE'S CROSS,
"8th December 1919.
"As your book makes clear to those who did not already know it, your father had two very pronounced sides to his personality.
"I have a vivid recollection of one Sabbath night when he preached here about fifteen years ago. His address was clear as a bell and cold as an icicle to a certain point. Then he told a thrilling story about going home with a poor girl to her garret off Holborn and spending the night wrestling with her soul, which he won before the morning. Then he sent her off to her parents' home in Yorkshire; and later, if my memory is right, she went to - , where she became a happy wife and mother. The story in its detail was one which no young man would have dared to tell; but it was told so tenderly that it completely broke the audience down.
My wife and I entertained - and still entertain - a warm love for the grand old man, and Heaven is richer because he is there."
I do not remember my father ever speaking of that incident. In his 1917 diary there is a note of a meeting at Shepherd's Bush in which he says: "I told the story of B., whom I met in Pimlico and visited in her bedroom, when she received the Gospel. She became a Christian worker in - ."
I have at various times been asked what my father's "religious persuasion" was. Brought up a Presbyterian, he became closely associated with the Brethren in early Dublin days, as did his elder brother and sisters and many of their friends. Some, of our cousins in fellowship at Merrion Hall to-day - Edith Trench and Alice Ida and Herbert Boyd. This last, Sir Walter Herbert Boyd, married a daugter of Sir William and Lady Fry who, with their parents, were also members of Merrion Hall, are others of the present generation of the Frys. For a wlile after coming to London he attended a little mission hall Walham Green, often preaching at the Gospel services there in St. George's Hall. But for many years afterwards up till close of his life he worshipped in Trinity Presbyterian Church, Notting Hill, well known for the ministry of Dr. Adolph Saphir. The successive Ministers of that Church were all close friends - Dr. H. Sinclair Paterson, the Rev. George H. C. Macgregor, Dr. Hugh Falconer and the Rev. Joseph Rorke.
He never held office, but often preached there, and in the pulpit to which he was invited, frequently for Pastor Frank I White of the (Baptist) Talbot Tabernacle, which we young folk attended with our mother for some time until Mr. Macgregor came to Trinity. I remember hearing my father say that, if I was put with his back to the wall and compelled to make a avowal, he would say he was a Presbyterian! "The saint of incisive vision." Thus Pastor F. E. Marsh headed an article in The Prophetic News:
"Sir Robert Anderson," he wrote, "was no visionary man, but a man of vision . . . one like Paul who has had a personal touch with Christ and who has responded to Him, who has not been disobedient to the Heavenly Vision."
After speaking of his keen insight into human nature and merciless criticism of those who criticised the Word of God the article went on: "Those who came into close contact with this beloved servant God know what a kindly heart he had and what a consistent Christian he was.
"He had a specially clear vision of God's Word. He did not follow in the beaten track of received opinions. He studied the Word under the Spirit's guidance for himself. . . . Members of the Prophecy investigation Society, especially the readers of papers at its conferences, had to listen to something out of the ordinary, as he would often tilt over the edifices of their erection. . . . We praise God for the faithfulness of Sir Robert's testimony, for the fragrance of his life, and the aroma of his friendship."
An appreciation in The Witness at the time of his death told how, not many months previously, he had explained to the writer that his main reason for not continuing regularly with the Brethren was their unwillingness to provide intelligent ministry at meetings other than the Lord's Table, and their haphazard way of doing things. The Brethren he thought were strong on ministry and weak on ministers. Yet he expressed his indebtedness to and esteem for "brethren beloved," and had the joy of worshipping with them and helping them as opportunity offered. The article concluded "On the platform he appeared warriorlike, in conversation he was professor-like, in friendly intercourse brother-like; and throughout his life he bore the true test of Christian manhood, the better known the better loved."
Literature | Photos | Links | Home