Alexander Anderson

1764 - 1804

Presbyterian Minister


[Rev. T. C. Anderson, D.D.; Smith's "History of the Cumberland Presbyterians;" "Life and Times of Finis Ewing."]

MR. ANDERSON did not live to witness the organization of the Cumberland Presbytery in 1810, and, properly speaking, therefore, was never a Cumberland Presbyterian. But for the reason that he was fully identified with the difficulties from which the Cumberland Presbyterian Church arose, and, had he lived, without doubt, would have been connected with it, and furthermore as he is considered to have been eminently worthy of such a memorial as these sketches are intended to preserve of their several subjects, he receives a place here.

Alexander Anderson was born in Orange county, North Carolina, October 28, 1764. His father, James Anderson, was a Scotch-Irish emigrant who settled in Orange about the middle of the eighteenth century. James Anderson subsequently married the sister of General James Mebane, of revolutionary memory. Alexander Anderson was the eldest son of this marriage. His mother was a member of the Presbyterian Church, and the son was brought up in the faith and according to the usages of that Church. The Sabbath was observed as a holy day. The Bible was read, and the Catechism was studied; these were the principal exercises of the Sabbath.

Having been thus religiously instructed, and raised by a pious mother, Alexander's mind in early youth was brought under religious impressions, but at what period, and under what circumstances, he became experimentally a subject of religion is not now known. It appears that he did not attach himself to the Church till after his marriage. His wife was a Miss Phebe Hall. She was also of Scotch-Irish descent, and a member of the Presbyterian Church.

Shortly after his marriage he became a member of the Presbyterian Church himself, and immediately established the Christian and Presbyterian usage of holding prayers in his family. From the beginning he was remarkable for his power in prayer. A Church was organized in his neighborhood, and he was chosen a ruling elder, and became one of the most active and influential men in the congregation. This was the Hawfield's congregation. It was one of the congregations of which Rev. William Hodge had charge previous to his removal to Tennessee.

In this congregation Mr. Anderson lived and labored until he became the father of six children. In the fall of 1797 he emigrated to Tennessee, and settled in Sumner county, three miles south of Gallatin.

Here in the midst of what might be called, almost without exaggeration, an interminable forest, with an immense undergrowth of cane, he literally "began in the woods." A house was to be builded, a field to be cleared and fenced, and the cane to be cut and burned; and then the plowing of the new ground would have terrified a man of this generation. Still the crops produced compensated for the severe labor. Twelve or fifteen barrels of corn, and ten wagon loads of pumpkins, per acre, were common in the fall gatherings.

Mr. Anderson and his wife became members of Shiloh congregation. The old meeting-house was situated about a mile from Gallatin. He was also elected a ruling elder in that congregation. The first pastor was Rev. William McGee. He was succeeded by Rev. William Hodge, who had left his old charge in North Carolina and settled in Tennessee. Mr. Hodge served the Shiloh congregation for many years after the disruption in 1810.

Mr. Anderson's piety was not of the fashionable type--a piety which can be kept out of sight during the business of the week and brought out on Sabbath for exhibition--but it was a living principle which reigned in the heart, subjugating the lower and baser passions, and developing itself in a godly life and Christian activity, and in sympathy with the souls of men. Consequently, when the great revival of 1800 began to develop itself in its wondrous-working power, he at once recognized the presence and power of God, and entered earnestly into the work of its promotion. By exhortation, singing, prayer, and conversation with serious persons, he made himself eminently useful. Says my informant:

"No secular engagements could keep him from his place in the prayer-meeting, the more public service of the sanctuary, or the camp-meeting. Wherever God's people were assembled for his service there was Mr. Anderson in the midst ready to do, or try to do, whatever duty seemed to demand. Blessed with a melodious voice, he could sing like a seraph; in prayer he talked with God, and pleaded with him in most melting strains for the salvation of sinners; in exhortation he drew the penitent to Christ, and subdued the stouthearted, and constrained him to humble himself before god. These labors were so effectual that the impression soon became general in the Church that he was destined for a higher work."

In the meantime the visit of Mr. Rice to the revival ministers in the Green River and Cumberland countries occurred. His counsels to these ministers and the congregations in their great exigency have often been referred to. They have become matters of history. One of the young men encouraged, in conformity with his counsel, to look forward to the ministry, and to try to prepare for it as well as his circumstances would permit, was Mr. Anderson. It would have been an appalling undertaking to any ordinary man. At home were a wife and a family of seven children. None of the children were able to do much in the cultivation of the farm. The country was new, and severe labor was necessary for the support of a large family. His education was limited. To come up to the requirements of the Presbyterian form of government in relation to probationers for the ministry was simply impossible. There were no schools; and had there been schools in abundance, he had no time to spare. Yet the Church was calling; and the providence and Spirit of God seemed to be calling in like manner. What was he to do? The congregations were suffering, and could not be supplied with the word and ordinances, unless extraordinary measures were adopted. The friends of the revival resolved to step over the chasm which seemed to be before them. They did so, and Mr. Anderson was one of the first that was called out. He and Finis Ewing and Samuel King were encouraged to make such preparation as they could with a view to the ministry. At the meeting of the Transylvania Presbytery, in October of 1801, the case of these men was brought before that body. They were not then received as candidates for the ministry, but were licensed to catechise and exhort in the vacant congregations, and directed to prepare discourses to be read at the next sessions of the Presbytery. At the next meeting, which is supposed to have been held in the spring of 1802, Mr. Anderson was received as a candidate by a bare majority, whilst the others were rejected by the same bare majority. In the fall of 1802, however, they were all licensed to preach as probationers.

In May of 1803 Mr. Anderson was ordained at Shiloh, Mr. McGready preaching the ordination sermon, and Mr. Hodge giving the charge. At his licensure he was appointed to a field of labor extending from Russellville, Kentucky, to Shelbyville, Tennessee, embracing the central district of Tennessee and the south-western portion of Kentucky. Of course his whole time and strength were called into requisition in supplying the wants of so extended a field.

It is difficult for us to appreciate the self-denial and moral heroism of a man placed in such a situation. His farm had been but newly opened; at home were a wife and seven or eight children. Human reason inquires, How could he leave his home, and thus commit himself to a work of such magnitude, and a work, too, which in a pecuniary point of view promised so little remuneration? Still he did confide his earthly all to God, and went into the work. His mission, however, was soon fulfilled: he died in 1804, a year and four months from his licensure, and nine months from his ordination. His death occurred in Kentucky, and his remains now lie about midway between Elkton and Russellville, in that State. The disease which carried him off overtook him while engaged in his appointed work. He was considered a great loss to the revival interest in the Church.

In relation to the acts of the Presbytery in his advancement to the ministry my informant says:

"They knew their man; they knew what he could do in exhortation, and prayer, and other religious exercises: nor were they disappointed. He drew crowds wherever he preached, and the writer has heard old veterans of the cross repeat large portions of his sermons after he had been in heaven half a century. There are yet a few old mothers in Israel lingering upon the shores of time who still weep at the mention of the name of Alexander Anderson. No man has ever made such a record in Tennessee in so short a time. That reputation still survives.

"The good providence of God has been around his family, too, till this day. His widow lingered with the children through fifty years, but she always had a comfortable home, and the kind regard of all who knew her. Two of his sons [Rev. T. C. Anderson, D.D., and Rev. John Anderson] have been active ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. One of his grandsons, [Rev. S. T. Anderson, D.D.] in the prime of life, is also a respectable minister of the same Church. All of his children have been members of the Church. Those who have gone died in hope. Two still linger awaiting the summons which shall call them home. All will doubtless meet in heaven. God will take care of the family of the faithful minister, whatever may be the term of his service."

The sketches given in these paragraphs of the promise and reputation of Mr. Anderson as a preacher, if tradition is reliable, are not overwrought. In the days of my boyhood his name was a household word within the circle of my own family connection. They were nearly all identified with the revival interest, and Mr. Anderson was always spoken of as an attractive and lovely preacher, and his early death was deplored as a great calamity, and a remarkably dark providence, all the circumstances being considered. In my early ministry I met the echo of these sentiments wherever I went within the bounds of his labors. I was trained up to respect his character and revere his memory. And whilst I write this imperfect tribute to his unusual worth, the impressions are still vivid in my mind which were deeply wrought there sixty years ago, in the days of my early boyhood.

I annex the following in relation to Mr. Anderson from the Appendix of Smith's "History of the Cumberland Presbyterians;"

"This eminently pious and beloved minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ was born in Orange county, in North Carolina, A.D. 1764. His parents being pious, he enjoyed the high privilege of having been taught the Scriptures from his infancy, and at a very early period he became deeply impressed with a sense of his lost estate, and felt great anxiety for the salvation of his soul. After remaining in this condition for some time, he became the subject of the comforting influences of the Holy Spirit, and took great delight in reading the sacred Scriptures. But being very young, and none of his youthful companions having the same views and feelings with himself, and as he lived in a neighborhood where the life and power of religion were scarcely known, he relapsed into a state of coldness, and caught somewhat of the spirit of his associates. In this condition he remained until the period of his marriage, when he aroused himself from his lethargy, became a man of prayer, and spent his leisure hours in reading the Scriptures and other religious works. For some time he was the subject of much perplexity concerning the reality of his change of heart; but becoming satisfied on this important subject, he attached himself to the Presbyterian Church, and made such advances in piety and religious knowledge that in a short time his influence was felt by all with whom he associated. Such was his zeal for God that many of his friends were led by his example to forsake their sins, and to receive the Lord Jesus as their sovereign Lord, and a flourishing society was established in his neighborhood, and he was made a ruling elder.

"Mr. Anderson removed to Tennessee A.D. 1798, and became a member of the Shiloh congregation. When he heard of the strange work in progress in Mr. McGready's congregations he determined to see it for himself, and was one of those who were present at the camp-meeting [The first camp-meeting ever held in Christendom.] at Gaspar River Church from Shiloh. He was convinced that the astonishing effects upon the people were produced by the mighty power of God. He returned home glorifying God for what his eyes had seen, and his heart had felt; and was zealously and actively engaged in the blessed revival that immediately after appeared in Shiloh and the neighboring congregations. Being often called upon to pray at the social prayer-meetings, and the Spirit within him constraining him to exhort the unconverted to flee the wrath to come, it was soon discovered that he possessed no ordinary gifts, in consequence of which, when the people in the neighboring settlements, who had no minister settled among them, became aroused to a sense of their exposure to misery, they would earnestly entreat Mr. Anderson to visit them, and hold prayer-meetings among them, at which he often exhorted with great power, and his humble efforts were owned of Heaven in the salvation of many precious souls. As the Presbyterian ministers in the country were very few, they encouraged Mr. Anderson and others to visit the distant congregations with license to catechise and exhort.

"Before his removal from North Carolina, Mr. Anderson labored under serious impressions that he ought to preach Christ, but he shrank from the thought, owing to his want of literary attainments and the impossibility of procuring them, circumstanced, as he was, with a helpless family looking to him for support. The exercise of his gifts at the commencement of the revival in the Cumberland country renewed his impressions. Still, however, he could not bear the thought of devoting himself to the ministry; and to quiet his conscience he continued to exhort. This, however, only tended to deepen his impressions. He was in this embarrassed state of mind when he was informed that, owing to the destitute state of the country, the Presbytery were willing to license those who appeared to possess an aptness to teach, although they had not acquired the literary attainments required by the book of discipline; and that if he would present himself as a candidate for the ministry, his want of classical learning would constitute no serious objection. This information deprived him of his chief apology. And although he had a numerous and helpless family depending for support upon his exertions, God having opened such a door before him that he could no longer keep peace with his conscience, he committed his family to the protection of Him who feedeth the young ravens, and clothes the lilies of the field; and he devoted himself to the great work to which he believed the Head of the Church was calling him. Immediately upon being licensed he hired a person to superintend his farm, and he acted as an itinerant preacher, traveling over a large extent of country, exposed to many trials and privations. In this new sphere Mr. Anderson manifested great zeal for the cause of his Divine Master. Nor did he labor in vain, and spend his strength for naught, for such a holy unction attended his ministrations that many, very many, precious souls, through his instrumentality, were savingly converted to God. He continued to labor with great success, and without receiving any, or very little, pecuniary remuneration until the time of his death, which was in February, 1804, and while traveling in Kentucky, proclaiming salvation through Christ to perishing sinners.

"Mr. Anderson was a man of no ordinary mind. He possessed very clear views of divine truth, and a happy facility of communicating his ideas in an interesting manner to his hearers. He had a commanding voice and a tender accent. While he could thunder the curses of the law like the voice of God upon Mount Sinai, he could moisten his words with tears. Whilst he was a bold man, and could put scoffers to shame, he could also clothe his ideas in the most familiar language, and was an instructor of babes in Christ. He, on no occasion, indulged in controversial theology, but uniformly preached Christ, and him crucified. He carefully cultivated a spirit of love and friendship with all denominations. By all parties he was beloved. By the churches under the care of the revival members of Cumberland Presbytery he was idolized. Therefore, for good and wise reasons, no doubt, he was removed from the walls of Zion, and that, too, immediately before that fearful storm burst upon the Church for whose benefit he labored, and nearly crushed and annihilated all its prospects. The approach of that storm Mr. Anderson saw, and, being a man of a meek and quiet spirit, he frequently expressed his desire that, if consistent with the will of Heaven, he might not witness it. God heard and answered his prayer by removing him from the evil to come. His career was short, but bright; and at the resurrection of the great day many, who will be his crown of rejoicing, will arise and call him blessed."

Such is the testimony borne to the great worth of this good man near forty years ago. A bustling and noisy generation has passed away since that time, but the testimony still stands. "The memory of the just is blessed." This is as true now as it was a thousand years before the commencement of our era. It will be true forever. The examples of her great and good men and women will be the best earthly legacy of the Church in all ages. Mr. Anderson was no doubt taken from the evil to come, but the good name of all such men is better than precious ointment.

I embody here also a paragraph from Dr. Cossitt's "Life and Times of Finis Ewing."

"About this time," says my authority, "the revival party were called to mourn the death of Rev. Alexander Anderson. It seemed an inscrutable providence. He was one of the first of the young men licensed by the Transylvania Presbytery, and the first ordained by the Cumberland Presbytery. His great zeal and eminent usefulness had been witnessed. Of his services to the Church high hopes had been entertained. On his being licensed he had employed a person to superintend his farm, and, from that time to his death, had devoted himself to the work of the ministry. Nor were his sacrifices and labors in vain. A holy unction attended his ministrations; and, during the few years of his ministerial life, he was the acknowledged instrument of saving many, very many, precious souls. He had been much respected and beloved by all who knew him. It is even said that he was almost idolized by those who knew him best; and some have supposed that it was for this reason that the Lord saw proper to remove him to his inheritance on high. He had seen the cloud of opposition rising, which portended the approaching storm, and was heard to express a wish that, if consistent with the divine will, he might not live to witness it. His prayer was answered, and the Church was doomed to mourn. His uprightness and amiability of character had won the confidence and love of all parties. He died at his post while itinerating as a preacher in Kentucky, February, 1804."

We have a single printed sermon of Mr. Anderson. It was published in the Cumberland Presbyterian Pulpit of 1834. I add to the preceding sketch some extracts from this sermon as a specimen of the sermonizing of the young men whose licensure and ordination created such a storm in the Presbyterian Church in the early years of the century. At what time, or under what circumstances, the sermon was delivered is not know. The manuscript was found among his papers after his death. The text is Rom. v. 21: "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."

The preacher introduces his subject by a single remark: "The ruin of mankind by the fall of Adam and redemption by Jesus Christ are subjects of the utmost importance in the Christian religion."

The follows the division. "In discoursing upon the text I will speak," says he:

"I. Of the primitive state of man.

"II. Of his present degraded state.

"III. Of salvation through Jesus Christ.

"Of the primitive state of man, it is said, he was made in the image of God." In what, however, did that image consist? This is an old inquiry. The preacher considers it in several particulars:

"1. The dignified form of man bespeaks him a noble creature. Not that his body is in the image of God, for God is a spirit, and consequently without bodily form. But man's erect position indicates his high origin, and the dignity of his nature." This thought is expanded: man looks up; other creatures look down.

"2. Man is the most wonderful part of all creation." In this respect he is like God, who is the wonder and admiration of all intelligent beings. Man "is, as it were, the universe in miniature, a compound of heaven and earth--an abridgment of the works of Jehovah--material and immaterial, corporeal and spiritual, visible and invisible."

"3. Man is the miniature likeness of Jehovah in regard to the dignified authority conferred upon him. God governs all worlds with unlimited dominion." Man was made subordinate ruler of this world. God rules all; man rules in his own sphere.

"4. Man was made in the likeness of God as it respects the nature of his soul. The soul is a substance that can exist without communion with, or dependence upon, matter." It can and will exist without the body. This subject is extensively discussed. God exists an eternal spirit without body or bodily parts. Angels exist without bodies."

"5. The soul is invisible. This follows necessarily from its immateriality. Was there ever a man so stupid as to doubt the existence of the soul because he cannot see it?" But God is invisible, and man is like God, in one of his aspects, invisible.

"6. It is also immortal. Nothing can extinguish its existence, but God himself, and he is pledged to perpetuate it in his promise of eternal life to the believer, and in the award of everlasting death to the unbeliever. The immortality of the soul is another feature in which it bears the image of God."

"7. Thus far we have considered the natural or physical image of God in which man was created, and man in his fallen state still retains all this similitude of his Creator, though considerably marred. But the most distinguishing feature of the divine image remains yet to be considered. Man was made in the moral image or holy likeness of God." This point is contested, and our preacher enters into an extended discussion. Reason and Scripture are brought into requisition, and the argument is well sustained.

"8. Man was not only a holy and happy being, but he was exceedingly glorious. How bright, how majestic his appearance! Did the face of Moses shine with dazzling splendor after he had been with God in the mountain? What must have been the appearance of Adam when he came from the forming hand of his Creator, dwelt in his immediate presence, and enjoyed the most intimate communion with him? He was the image of the divine glory."

"9. Man was not only glorious, but the peculiar favorite of Heaven. God dwelt with him in very deed; a free intercourse existed between heaven and earth; there was no need of Jacob's ladder, or Elijah's fiery chariot."

"10. To complete the dignity and happiness of man he was created a free moral agent." Here again the preacher was upon contested ground. I mean it was contested at the time. It is hardly contested now by any of the schools of philosophical theology. However the subject may be explained, very few modern theologians deny, in distinct terms, the freedom of man. The old men did not understand the question--they hardly understood themselves.

Our examination has extended through the first division of the sermon. This will serve as a specimen. It will be readily perceived that the discussion of the various topics was intended to be exhaustive. This was the character of the preaching of those days. The sermons were long. Repeated now, they would weary out the patience of hearers of this restive generation. But the specimen of sermonizing here presented is a sufficient illustration of the ability and great promise of the man. The introduction of such men as Mr. Anderson into the ministry was one of the best results of the old revival of 1800. The Church was practically taught that God was wiser than man in the selection of agencies for the accomplishment of a great work. We educate men now for the service of the Church. We should do it. They ought to be more thoroughly educated than they are. Our education ought to be profound, thorough. It ought to train mind, heart, and body. The Church can impart such an education as this. But after all, if "the root of the matter" is not in the man we will have poor preaching. It is God who makes the good and the great preachers, even among our scholars. The anointing must come from him. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me," said the prophet, "because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn." This is a great mission. The prophet personated the Saviour, and the Saviour is the model of all preachers. Whilst we are struggling for the cultivation of mind, and heart, and manner, when we enter fully upon our work, we must, in like manner, seek not less earnestly--yea, far more earnestly--for the anointing of the Spirit of the Lord God.

[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Second Series. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 27-44]

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Updated March 26, 2013