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Significant Scots
Christopher Anderson

ANDERSON, CHRISTOPHER. — This excellent divine, who, in spite of many obstacles by which his career was attended, and his position as minister of a sect little noticed and scarcely naturalized in Scotland, won for himself a respected name both as an author and minister, was born in the West Bow of Edinburgh, on the 19th of February, 1782. His father, William Anderson, iron-monger in Edinburgh, was not only prosperous in business, but esteemed for his piety and integrity. Being of delicate health, Christopher was sent in childhood to Lasswade, where he was reared in a comfortable cottage, and educated in the village school; and on his return to his native city, being intended for business, he was first apprenticed to the trade of an iron-monger; but not liking this occupation, he was subsequently entered as junior clerk in a thriving company called the Friendly Insurance Office. Hitherto he had been of rather a gay and thoughtless turn of mind, and was attached to those meetings for music and dancing which, at this time at least, and in such a city as Edinburgh, could scarcely be attended by the young with impunity; and this, with the religious training he received at home, produced within him that struggle which often constitutes the turning-point of the inner and spiritual life. "In the early part of 1799," says his biographer, "when about seventeen years of age, he was sometimes alarmed at the course he was pursuing, and shuddered at the thought of where it must end; but would not allow himself to think long enough on the subject, lest it should cost him those pleasures which he knew to be inconsistent with a godly life." This state did not continue long. He was in the practice of attending public worship at the Circus, lately opened by the Independents, and there the new style of preaching by Mr. James Haldane, the pastor of the church, as well as that of Rowland Hill, Burder of Coventry, Bogue of Gosport, and other distinguished English divines who officiated there during their occasional visits to the north, aroused his inquiries and confirmed his scruples. He abjured his former indulgences as incompatible with the Christian life, and joined in membership with the congregation meeting at the Circus. Scruples soon rose in his mind upon the views on Christian baptism held by the Scottish Baptist church, with which he could not wholly coincide, and conceiving that those of the English Baptist churches were of a more enlarged as well as more scriptural character, he was baptized into that communion in March, 1801, at the age of nineteen. A few others of the Circus congregation joined him in this step, and for this, he and they were excluded from the membership of their church as followers of divisive courses, and left to follow their own devices.

To a mind so sensitive, and so much in earnest as that of Christopher Anderson, this event was of paramount importance. He had shown his sincerity by forsaking the allurements of the world, and joining a cause so new and unpromising in Scotland as that of which the Haldanes were the leaders; and now he had made a sacrifice perhaps still greater, by foregoing the privileges of their communion, for the sake of certain convictions which he regarded as of Divine authority, and therefore not to be concealed or tampered with. He and the few who had seceded with him, stood solitary and apart, although surrounded by thousands of professing Christians; and while the multitudes crowded to churches where congenial ordinances awaited them, their only remedy was to retire to "an upper room." This they did, and amidst these meetings for mutual prayer and religious conference, in the absence of a regular ministry, the humble efforts of Christopher Anderson were peculiarly acceptable to the little flock. The result was easy to be guessed at; here was a minister in embryo, as well as the nucleus of a congregation. Mr. Anderson, indeed, had previously been so far prepared for the assumption of the sacred office, as to have resolved to devote his life to the work of a missionary to India; but the verdict of his medical advisers, who convinced him that his constitution was utterly unfit for an Indian climate, and the growing necessities of that small community with which he was connected, naturally turned his thoughts into another channel. The emergency was evidently at home, and to find his field of labour he had only to cross his own threshold. With this conviction, he resolved to become the spiritual pastor of the small flock with which he had allied himself; and in so determining, it is not easy to estimate the full value of the sacrifice. At the age of twenty-one, he must reverse his habits, commence a life of study, and encounter the difficulties of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, although he had neither liking nor natural aptitude for the acquirement of languages. And when all this was done, he must deliberately devote himself to a life of poverty and self-denial, for the people of his ministry would in all likelihood be too few and too poor to afford him that decent subsistence which is justly deemed so essential to the clerical office. He commenced with the necessary step of relinquishing his clerkship in the Insurance Office. "Were I to continue in my present situation," he writes, "I should in all probability succeed to an income of 300 or 400 a year, but this is of no account in my estimation compared with being more immediately employed in the service of Christ. * * * Emolument in this world I freely forego. The riches of it I neither have nor want; may I be but of some service to God before I go to the grave!" He entered the necessary studies at the university of Edinburgh in 1805, and as his time was brief, and the case urgent, he attended during a single course the classes of Greek, Logic, Moral Philosophy, and Chemistry. As it was judged necessary that his theological training should be conducted in England, and under the community to which he belonged, he repaired to Olney, and afterwards to Bristol, in which last City he attended the Baptist college. The course of education he now underwent was of that practical kind which the dissenting bodies in England have for the most part adopted, in which their students are employed in itinerating and preaching while attending the several classes. In this way Mr. Anderson acquired experience in the duties of his calling over an extensive field of action, and the acquaintanceship of many of those eminent divines with whom English dissenterism at this period abounded. As little more, however, than a twelve-month was occupied with this probation, it may be guessed how few his opportunities must have been for the study of theology as a science, especially for the service of such a hard-headed reflecting people as the Scots; and how much was still to be learned and acquired by his own unaided application.

In 1806, Mr. Anderson returned to Edinburgh; and having engaged a small meeting house, called Richmond Court chapel, he there assembled the litt1e flock, who had been waiting for his coming. Still, a congregation was to be gathered, for while on the forenoons of Sabbath his stated audience mustered from fifty to seventy persons, those in the evenings, when chapels in Edinburgh, as elsewhere, are commonly crowded, were not above two or three hundred hearers. As for the real congregation who would have joined in membership out of this miscellaneous assemblage, they did not amount to more than fourteen or fifteen. "I cannot as yet decide," he writes in this state of matters, "as to whether it would be my duty to settle here for life. A sphere of usefulness is what I desire, and it still must require time to ascertain whether it is such a sphere. I think another winter will show me how I ought to proceed, if it does not appear sooner." This hesitation on account of the doubtful state of affairs was increased by the avowed wish of many of his friends in England to secure his services among them as their pastor. At length he received a regular call from his congregation to be their minister at the close of the year, and although it was signed by only thirteen persons, he felt it his duty to comply, and his ordination took place on the 21st January, 1808. Thus brought to a decision, he laboured with diligence and faithfulness; and although slowly, the cause to which he had engaged himself continued to grow and prosper, so that in ten years the handful over which he originally presided had swelled into an attendance too numerous for the small chapel to contain. In 1818 he accordingly moved from Richmond Court to Charlotte chapel, a larger building, formerly belonging to the congregation of Bishop Sandford, which he purchased, and altered to his own taste and convenience. While his ten years’ labours had been so successful, his cares had not been exclusively confined to the city of Edinburgh. His missionary zeal, through which he had originally devoted himself to the ministerial work, still continued unabated; and although he could no longer hope to traverse the opposite side of the earth in the conversion of Hindoos and Parsees, he found that there were people within the limits of the four seas equally benighted, and in need of his apostolic labours. The success, too, which had attended the evangelistic enterprises of the Haldanes and John Campbell in Scotland, encouraged him to follow their example, more especially as a lull had succeeded, so that the good work needed to be renewed. With all this he had been impressed so early as the period of his ordination; and, on accepting the ministry of the congregation of Richmond Court chapel, he had stated to them his purpose of itinerating from time to time as a preacher in his own country and in Ireland. Accordingly, his first tour for this purpose was to Perthshire, in March, 1808, and his second to Ayrshire soon after. In August and September of the same year, he made a preaching tour through Ireland; and in 1810 another in the north of Scotland as far as Dingwall. Finding, however, that the length and frequency of these journeys were likely to be prejudicial to the interests of his own congregation in Edinburgh, he organized a home mission for the support of a few itinerants in the Highlands, the expense of which, in the first instance, and the responsibility in after years, rested wholly upon himself. This society, which existed for seventeen years, and was productive of great benefit to the more remote districts of the Highlands, had found in Mr. Anderson so generous a benefactor, notwithstanding the limitation of his means, that at the closing of its accounts, his pecuniary advances to it as secretary, amounted to 240, independently of his periodic liberal donations. The sum above-mentioned was a fourth of the society’s whole expenditure. A still more distinguished achievement was his originating the Edinburgh Bible Society, the plan of which he adopted from that of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He had visited London in May, 1809, and being struck with the efficiency of the parent society, and the harmony which it promoted among the various divisions of Christians by whom it was supported, he was anxious to form a similar institution for Scotland, which he happily accomplished in 1810.

Although a minister of the smallest, the latest, and the least influential of all the sects in Scotland, Mr. Anderson was now acquiring note and influence in the religious world, which, however, he valued only as the incentive to further action, and the means of opening a wider sphere of Christian effort. He was, therefore, encouraged to enter a new field—that of authorship, by publishing a "Memorial on behalf of the native Irish, with a view to their improvement in moral and religious knowledge through the medium of their own Language." This work, originally a small pamphlet, the result of his observations during a prolonged tour in Ireland in 1814, afterwards expanded into a duodecimo volume. Another similar effort was in behalf of the Highlands. At the meeting of the Edinburgh Bible Society, on the 22d of March, 1819, he laid upon their table a MS., entitled, a "Memorial respecting the diffusion of the Scriptures, particularly in the Celtic or Iberian Dialects." This statement deservedly elicited the following resolution of the society’s committee:—"As the facts contained in these pages are such as should come before the eye of the public, and must be of service for some time to come, in regulating, as well as increasing, the zeal of those who desire the general diffusion of the Word of God throughout our native country; that the manuscript be returned to Mr. Anderson; that he be requested to prepare the same for the press and immediate circulation, and that the first copy of this memorial be transmitted to London, for the committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society." The commission Mr. Anderson gladly fulfilled; and, after the publication of his work on this subject, the diffusion of Irish and Gaelic Bibles from the stores of the British and Foreign Bible Society was beyond all former precedent. Before this, however, he had made every effort that such a boon should not be useless, by having the poor Highlanders taught to read. His tour throughout their country, and especially beyond the Grampians, in 1810, had shown him not.only the spiritual, but intellectual destitution of the people, while his benevolent heart was impatient until a fit remedy was applied. Accordingly, as soon as he returned from his tour, he opened a correspondence with Mr. Charles, of Bala, the originator of the "Circulating Day-Schools" in Wales; and having learned from him the educational plan pursued in that principality, and the benefits with which it was attended, he saw its fitness for the Highlands of Scotland, where the population was still more widely scattered. To draw out a benevolent plan, and proceed to execute it, was one and the same act with Mr. Anderson, and accordingly he convened a meeting of the friends of the Highlands, in the Edinburgh Exchange Coffee-house, presented his views and proposals, and was rewarded by seeing them carried into effect by the formation of "The Caledonian Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools," afterwards called "The Gaelic School Society." To this interesting institution his paternal cares were devoted for several years until it was firmly established, by an annual journey through the Highlands, for the inspection of schools, and attending to the applications made for schoolmasters.—The condition of Ireland once more occupied Mr. Anderson’s attention, and, in 1814, he again made a missionary tour in that island. On his return, he published on the following year, a "Memorial in behalf of the native Irish." The effect of this work was startling: such was the amount of new information which he produced on the subject, the force and truthfulness with which he detailed it, and the cogency of his reasoning and appeals in behalf of unhappy benighted Ireland, that several benevolent societies in behalf of its people owed their origin to this production, while other similar societies, already in existence, were taught from it to alter and improve their rules according to the real state of circumstances. As this work was solely in reference to the education of the Gaelic-speaking Irish, he found it necessary to write a second upon the subject of preaching, and this he did in 1819, by his "Diffusion of the Scriptures in the Celtic or Iberian Dialects," afterwards enlarged by many additions into a volume, entitled "The Native Irish and their Descendants." Until these works were published, the British public was not generally aware that of the 196 islands composing part of Ireland, 140 of these, inhabited by 48,000 souls, were in a miserable state of spiritual destitution and wretchedness. The length of interval that occurred between these publications was too mournfully filled up, as the following extract from one of his letters to his talented and distinguished correspondent, Charlotte Elizabeth, will sufficiently explain: "But why, you will say, were the Sketches of 1828 so long delayed? Ah! that is a tender question; but since you also have been in affliction, and apparently much of it, I feel the less reserve, and can therefore go on. Did you observe a book advertised at the end of the Sketches? If you have ever chanced to see it, the dedication will explain more than I can now repeat, and yet it does not explain the whole. A beloved wife and three much-loved daughters are there mentioned; but ah! my friend, this was not the end. Two sons survived—but they also are gone, and the father to whom they were so much attached was left to plough the deep alone. But no, I am not alone, for the Father is with me, and I am often, often, a wonder to myself. The truth is, these two volumes, particularly the first, were composed amidst many tears—often fled to in order to keep the mind from falling to staves, and the Lord Jesus himself alone hath sustained me. The first volume was never read by the parties to whom it is dedicated; and as for the second, I often yet see my last, my beloved sole survivor, only four and a-half years of age, running into the room, and saying; ‘And are you writing to the poor Irish yet, papa?’ ‘Yes, love, I am writing for them.’ ‘Oh, you are writing for them!"

The pressure of these numerous and heavy domestic bereavements, which his sensitive heart felt so keenly, that at their height they had suddenly whitened his hair and furrowed his brow with the premature tokens of old age, compelled him gradually to withdraw from the toil of public business, and betake himself more closely to the retirement of his study. It was not, however, for the sake of indulging in melancholy, or even in literary indolence, for his work, entitled "The Domestic Constitution," was written during his attendance on the sick-chamber, and finished after his third visit to the family grave. Of this volume a new edition was subsequently prepared, with the following enlarged title, by which its bearing is better understood: "The Domestic Constitution; or, The Family Circle the Source and Test of National Stability." But the chief subjects of his study and research during the remaining period of his life, were the materials for his principal production, "The Annals of the English Bible." This voluminous work, like many in similar cases, originated in a single and temporary effort. The third centenary of Coverdale’s translation of the Bible having occurred in 1835, Mr. Anderson preached upon this subject on the 4th of October; and as he had made it for some time his particular study, the historical facts he adduced in the pulpit were so new, and withal so interesting to most of his hearers, that they earnestly requested him to publish the sermon. It was printed accordingly, under the title of "The English Scriptures, their First Reception and Effects, including Memorials of Tyndale, Frith, Coverdale, and Rogers." So cordial was its reception by the public, that he was advised to prepare an enlarged and improved edition; but on resuming his investigations for this purpose, new fields successively arose before him, so that not merely days, but whole years, were finally needed for the task. In this way, many a pamphlet has unexpectedly expanded into a folio. The very difficulties, however, as they grew and multiplied, only endeared the task to the heart of Mr. Anderson, and stimulated his enterprise, so that after he had fairly embarked in it, the great purpose of his life seemed to be unfulfilled until it was fully and fairly finished. He had previously, indeed, contemplated a history of all the translations of the Bible that had been made previous to the nineteenth century; but as this would have involved the history of almost every country, and been too much for any one mind to overtake, he contented himself with the English department of the subject, which he soon found to be ample enough. From 1837 to 1845 all his studies were devoted to it, while his researches extended through the library of the British Museum, the Bodleian at Oxford, the Univeisity library and others at Cambridge, the Baptist Museum at Bristol, and many private libraries and collections, from whose stores he filled whole volumes of note-books, which he arranged and turned to account in his study at home, after each pilgrimage of research. The result was a most voluminous publication, which the impatience of the general reading public scarcely cared to encounter, and therefore, when it appeared, the demand for it was, as it has still continued to be, extremely incommensurate with its merits and importance. But still, the "Annals of the Bible" is one of those works which possess a strong and lasting, though silent and unobtrusive, influence. Upon a most important subject it has gathered together those materials that hitherto were scattered over the whole range of English history and antiquarianism, and were only to be met with incidentally; and it serves as a store-house to the theologian, in which he finds ready to his hand what would otherwise have cost him whole days or weeks of tiresome investigation. In this way, it will continue to be reproduced in a variety of forms, and be conveyed through a thousand channels of religious public instruction, where even the name of the work itself, and its diligent meritorious author, are either passed without mention, or utterly forgot.

Amidst all these labours as an intinerant preacher, founder and secretary of religious societies, correspondent of foreign missionaries, and earnest pains—taking author, Mr Anderson’s diligence as a minister continued unabated; and it was rewarded by the increase of his little flock into a numerous congregation, and the esteem of the most eminent religious characters in Britain of all the different denominations. Annoyances, indeed, not a few he had to encounter among his own people during the decline of life, when the love of change had introduced new men and new measures among them; but into these congregational misunderstandings we have no desire to enter, not only as they were so recent, but so exclusively confined to the denomination among whom they originated. They were sufficient to darken his closing days with sorrow, and make him complain of the ingratitude of those to whom his life and labours had been devoted. But still the promise given to the righteous was verified in his case, for his end was peace. He died at Edinburgh on the 18th of February, 1852, within a single day of completing the seventieth year of his age.

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