Robert Gamaliel Pearson

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

1847 - 1913



Renewed denominational interest in this gifted son of the church has been occasioned by the announcement that he is hereafter to be a professor in our Theological Seminary, teaching the English Bible and Evangelistic Methods. The accompanying sketch of his life and labors will therefore be widely read and enjoyed:

He was born and reared five miles from Starkville, Miss., the home of his childhood being on a farm, where he learned many of the homely, practical lessons that have been of such value to him in later years. His early education was received in the country school near his home, until ten or twelve years of age, when he was sent to Starkville. His preparation for college was received at the military academy in Aberdeen, Miss. In 1869 he entered Cooper Institute, of which Rev. J. L. Cooper was then president, and was graduated from there in 1875. This was an institution that met a great need of the young men in that state who were struggling for an education in the trying years that followed the war. From here he went to Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., where he took his theological course. His classmates there were R. V. Foster, J. M. Hubbert, F. P. Flaniken and W. T. Dale. He was converted when a little child, not more than six years of age, and a few years later united with the Cumberland Presbyterian church, of which the beloved A. C. Harris was then pastor. Dr. Pearson's impressions and convictions that he should preach the gospel date back to his early boyhood. He joined New Hope Presbytery at Mayhew, Miss., in 1868, and was licensed to preach by that body in 1869, Dr. G. T. Stainback, of dear memory, officiating. By ordination he was set apart to the full work of the ministry by this presbytery in session at Woodlawn, Miss., in December, 1873. During his entire college course he spent his vacations assisting pastors in evangelistic, then called, "protracted" meetings, mostly with country churches. Thus he learned how to preach by preaching, and would recommend this same course to all young men in the ministry. After the first two years in college thus spent, he was called by the church at Tupelo, Miss., for one Sunday in each month, which appointment he filled regularly during the last two years in college, thus earning the money with which to gain an education. After he graduated, Tupelo became his first pastorate, in connection with three other churches--Baldwin, Sherman, Okolona--with headquarters at Tupelo, where he remained until 1879.

In 1878 he was married to Miss Mary B. Bowen, of Oxford, Miss. Miss Bowen was at the time of their meeting a teacher in Union Female College, Oxford, from which she was graduated during the presidency of Dr. C. H. Bell. In 1880 Mr. Pearson succeeded Rev. A. Templeton as pastor of the church at Columbia, Tenn., where he remained two years. He then became associated with the beloved Dr. A. J. Baird in the evangelistic and pastoral work of the First Church of Nashville, Tenn., where in delightful accord they worked together during the year 1882. They alternated in their work every three months, one devoting his time to pastoral work in the city, the other going out into the field at large in response to calls from other churches. Then, the field worked, would return to take up the work of pastor, and the other went forth into the fields white to the harvest. At the end of the year Dr. Baird's health failing, he resigned. After Dr. Baird's resignation, Dr. Pearson entered upon evangelistic work exclusively, feeling an abiding conviction that this was the service unto which his Lord had appointed him.

He began with meetings in his own denomination, and with no thought of anything beyond this; but the blessing of the Lord upon the preaching of his word speedily extended the work beyond all denominational boundaries. At the call of his own church he would go to a town or city, and, beginning in a simple, quiet way, in a small building, would soon find the interest in the services extending from home to home, and church to church, until other pastors and church officers would come voluntarily to offer their larger buildings and request co-operation. Almost from the beginning the work in this way became interdenominational, and this was soon followed by united calls for union meetings. Thus assured by tokens unmistakable that the Lord himself was leading, he followed on to know and to do the will of him who had called him and set him apart into this work. Accompanied by his wife, who in a quiet way has had prayer and Bible study meetings with the women, he continued this general evangelistic work to the close of 1902. His labors have largely been confined to the Southern states, though he has journeyed as far west as Colorado, and spent several years in Missouri and Texas, laboring also in some of the cities in Illinois and Indiana. In Brooklyn and Chicago and New Jersey work with the blessing of the Lord was done, but the rigor of that climate in their midwinter services, and the severe colds contracted, led him to decline further calls there, believing that it was with his own people more especially that the Lord would have him labor.

The strain of this work has told upon his physical strength, so that finding it impossible to continue in that incessantly as heretofore, he accepted the chair in Cumberland University, and looks forward with pleasure to his work of teaching the young men there.

A few years ago Dr. Pearson published a book of Bible readings, "Truth Applied," which has had a large sale, and was adopted by a seminary in New York as a text-book on practical preaching. Since 1888 Dr. Pearson has made his home in Asheville, N.C., where he spends his summers. He goes to Lebanon in the coming spring, beginning his work there the first of April. Not merely by successful experience as a preacher and evangelist, in which relations he excels, has Dr. Pearson fitted himself for his new work but in many other ways he has been unconsciously preparing for the labor he is henceforth to perform. A close observer at all times, he spent six profitable months in Europe and the Orient, visiting many Old World cities, among them Athens, Constantinople, Alexandria and Cairo. A cholera epidemic prevented his entering the Holy Land, but on board the steamer he caught glimpses of the cities along the shore.

The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him some years ago by Cumberland University. Dr. Pearson has been much in demand as a teacher and worker in summer Bible schools at Asheville and elsewhere, and is perhaps the most widely known preacher in our denomination.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, January 22, 1903, page 111]

For a period of six years, Robert Gamaliel Pearson, D.D., an eminent evangelist and Bible scholar, was Professor of English Bible and Evangelistic Methods in the Theological School. He began this work in 1903 and continued until May, 1909.

Dr. Pearson was born in Mississippi, June 9, 1847. His Quaker parents had come to that State a short time before from North Carolina. His literary education was received for the most part at Cooper Institute, in Mississippi. He received the B.D. degree from Cumberland University in 1876. Then followed two pastorates, one in Tupelo, Mississippi, the other, in Columbia, Tennessee. After this, for one year, he was co-pastor with Dr. A. J. Baird, of the First Church in Nashville. Then for a number of years he gave himself to evangelistic work, in which he had much success and on account of which he became nationally known. His health failing, he and Mrs. Pearson spent a year abroad, the time being given to travel in France, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, and Italy.

Dr. Pearson's stay in Lebanon is described by one of his colleagues, Dr. F. K. Farr, whose words are quoted by Mrs. Pearson in a sketch of her husband's life. Among other things, Dr. Farr says: "It was a source of great satisfaction to the Faculty and all the friends of the Theological Department of Cumberland University, when, in 1903, Dr. R. G. Pearson consented to take up the work of the Chair of English Bible and Evangelistic Methods. It was almost entirely a labor of love on Dr. Pearson's part; the institution, with its limited income, was not able to promise him an adequate salary. Dr. Pearson's rich experience was freely placed at the service of his students. His methods and outlines of classroom work were original with himself and their merit was proved by the results. In the difficult task of Faculty criticism at 'rhetoricals,' Dr. Pearson led his colleagues."

During three summers, 1910 to 1912, Dr. Pearson gave Bible lectures at the Montreat Assembly in North Carolina. He died in Columbia, South Carolina, in March, 1913. He was a Professor in the Columbia Theological Seminary at the time of his death. In 1890, a volume of his sermons was published in Nashville under the title, Truth Applied. A second volume of his sermons, edited by Mrs. Pearson, was published in Richmond, Virginia, in 1913.
[Source: Bone, Winstead Paine. The History of Cumberland University, 1842-1935. Published by the author, 1935, pages 240-241.]


Pearson, R. G. Evangelistic Sermons. Richmond Press, Inc. Printers, 1915. [1 copy in archives]

Pearson, R. G. Truth Applied, or Bible Readings. Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House, 1889. [2 copies in archives]

Pearson, R. G. Truth Applied, or Bible Readings. 2nd ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House, 1890.

Pearson, R. G. Truth Applied, or Bible Readings. 3rd ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House, 1890.

Pearson, R. G. Truth Applied, or Bible Readings. 4th Ed.. Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House, 1892. [2 copies in archives]

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Updated May 27, 2009