Sir Robert Anderson (1841–1918)
Howard A. Barnes, Bromborough, Merseyside
Christian magazines like this one do not normally contain articles describing the life of a man who was a spymaster, a chief police detective, a knight, and a prolific author on Bible topics, but this really is a suitable description of Robert Anderson, who died 100 years ago, leaving a wonderful inheritance of still-in-print Christian books on a wide range of important topics. He is better known as ‘Sir’ Robert, a title conferred on him following his retirement, aged sixty, after thirty-four years of successful and high-profile public service. Another mark of his public standing following his career was that his portrait was hung in London’s National Portrait Gallery in 1916.
Robert Anderson was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 29th May 1841, into a Christian family of Scottish descent. His father, Matthew, was a senior civil servant employed as the provincial Crown Solicitor for the city and county of Dublin (long before the days of the Irish Republic). It was at the time of the Irish ’59 Evangelical Revival that Robert’s sister was converted at gospel services being conducted in Dublin by Joseph Denham Smith – author of the well-known hymn, ‘Rise my soul! Behold ‘tis Jesus’. She persuaded 19-year-old Robert to accompany her to one of Denham Smith’s meetings. He went, but was not particularly impressed, or, in his own words later, ‘the meeting only disappointed and vexed me’. However, salvation came the following Sunday evening through a sermon in his own Presbyterian church. The preacher, in Robert’s own words, ‘boldly proclaimed forgiveness of sins, and eternal life as God’s gift in grace, unreserved and unconditional, to be received by us as we sat in the pews. His sermon thrilled me, and yet I deemed his doctrine to be unscriptural. So I waylaid him as he left the vestry, and, on our homeward walk, I tackled him about his heresies . . . At last he let go my arm, and, facing me as we stood upon the pavement, he repeated with great solemnity his Gospel message and appeal: “I tell you”, he said, “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 homewards with the peace of God filling my heart’.
In his early Christian days in Ireland, Robert became acquainted with many well-known Christians, among them G. F. Trench, C. H. Macintosh, Henry Grattan Guinness, Horatius Bonar, etc., even the famous English preachers Richard Weaver (‘The Converted Collier’) and Harry Moorhouse (‘The Boy Preacher’). He was active in the gospel in Ireland, preaching not only in churches, but – in his own words – ‘in schoolrooms, court-houses or jury rooms, in private houses, cottages or barns, once at least in a ballroom, at times in the open-air . . . We are living in the pilgrim fashion’. He recounted stories of God’s work, such as the one about a man who ‘said that a week ago he was the vilest wretch in the country, but now saved’.
On leaving school, Robert had at first embarked on a business career in a large brewery, but, after eighteen months, he left and went into higher education. After studying at Boulogne and Paris, he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity College Dublin in 1862 as a medal winner. After further studies he was called to the Irish Bar as a solicitor in 1865. Very soon afterwards, he was assisting the provincial Irish Government in the prosecution of treason charges against the so-called Fenians (the Irish Republican Brotherhood), the forerunners of today’s Irish Republican terrorists. At that time, he wrote a well-accepted summary of the Fenian movement from secret documents. This work involved running spies (his most famous being Thomas Beach, who masqueraded as Major Henry Le Varon ‘the champion spy of the [19th] century’ who infiltrated the Fenian movement in America for twenty-one years), and Anderson earned quite a reputation in the area. Indeed, it was his inside knowledge of Fenian conspirators that led to his appointment as Irish Agent at the British Government’s Home Office in London. It was a very dangerous time, with a bombing campaign being carried out on the mainland, especially in London.
Anderson (by now Dr Robert Anderson) progressed well in police work, and he eventually became an Assistant Commissioner at the famous Scotland Yard police headquarters, from 1888 to 1901, and head of the newly-formed Criminal Investigation Department (CID). At the time, the capital was experiencing great panic because of the ‘Jack-the-Ripper’ serial murders. He led the CID until 1901, when he was knighted on his retirement at sixty in recognition of his fine work, being made a ‘Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath’ in the King’s Birthday Honours List. As an important public figure, he had become close friends with many members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as knowing the great Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone.
As to his personal life, in 1873 Anderson married a fellow Christian, Lady Agnes Moore, a sister of the Irish nobleman, the Earl of Drogheda. She was a true help-meet for him, and she herself became a leader in many branches of women’s Christian work in London. They had five children, and one of them, Arthur, wrote his father and mother’s biography in 1947.
He was well-known as a speaker for a wide range of evangelical organizations, including: the YMCA; the Church Army; the Evangelical Alliance; The Prophecy Investigation Society; the Advent Testimony Movement, etc. Dr Frederick A. Tatford (1901-1986) effectively took up the mantle from Sir Robert Anderson in his equally profound interest in prophetic matters – he was editor of The Prophetic Witness – and his wide interest in evangelical societies (FEBA, CEF, etc.), while likewise being successfully occupied with a high-powered full-time job. Drawing up a list of Robert Anderson’s friends and acquaintances at that time is like producing a veritable ‘Who’s-Who’ of Victorian evangelical life, especially those with a prophetic interest, viz. James M. Gray, C. I. Scofield, A. C. Dixon, Horatius Bonar, E. W. Bullinger (Bible scholar and secretary of the Trinitarian Bible Society), author David Baron, Walter Scott, J. C. Ryle (the first bishop of Liverpool), Ada Ruth Habershon, Charles Alexander, A. T. Schofield, J. N. Darby (of whom Sir Robert said ‘the greatest man I ever met’), C. H. Mackintosh, W. E. Vine, Henry Drummond, W. F. Moulton, Bishop Taylor Smith, Bishop Handley Moule, Adolph Saphir, and more.
A friend said of Sir Robert Anderson: ‘On the platform, he appeared warrior-like; in conversation, he was professor-like; in friendly intercourse, brother-like. Throughout his life, he bore the true test of Christian manhood: the better known, the better loved’. One secular historian wrote of him that he was ‘able to work with the quiet patience and efficiency of a spider’.
One of his great achievements, and the thing that he is most well-known for today, is his analysis and exposition of Daniel’s prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks of years, Daniel chapter 9.1 He has shown the fulfilment of this prophecy down to the very day, and this work is often cited by evangelical writers to this day. With the help of the then Astronomer Royal, Sir George Airy, he fixed the date of the decree by Cyrus for the Jews to ‘restore and build Jerusalem’ at March 14, 445 BC. Anderson calculated 173,880 days – accounting for sixty-nine weeks of years on the lunar calendar – and then arrived at April 6, AD 32 as the date the Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem, shortly before his crucifixion!
Some of his major works which are still available today include: Daniel In The Critics’ Den; The Coming Prince; The Silence of God; Redemption Truths (with a biographical sketch of him by Warren W. Wiersbe); The Honour of His Name; Misunderstood Texts of the Bible; Human Destiny - ‘After Death - what?’; A Doubter’s Doubts about Science and Religion; The Bible and Modern Criticism; The Lord From Heaven (a study of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, with a preparatory note by Bishop Handley Moule); Pseudo-Criticism or the Higher Criticism and its counterfeit; and Unfulfilled Prophecy (The Second-coming hope of the Church).
All his books are now out of copyright, since he has been dead for more than 70 years, so there has been a proliferation of his books in-print and on-line. So, for instance, seven books are available from iTunes, and most of his books are even available on eBay, while a good number are available as free downloads!
As to his spiritual affiliation, the well-known Christian biographer Henry Pickering said in his book Chief Men Among the Brethren, that Sir Robert was ‘associated with the assemblies in an “on-and-off” basis during his life but said his heart was always with the assemblies’. In his Dublin days he attended the Merrion Hall assembly and for some time in London he assembled with believers in Camberwell and other places. A few months before his death he explained to Henry Pickering that he ‘would have been much more with “brethren” in later years but for the question of ministry’. The ‘open meeting’ with its many abuses, did not naturally appeal to such an orderly mind. Yet his heart was ever there’.
In his later days, Robert Anderson attended the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Notting Hill, London, where, at one point, the well-known Adolph Saphir was the minister. Sir Robert’s son wrote that ‘I remember hearing my father say that, if I was put with his back to the wall and compelled to make an avowal, he would say he was a Presbyterian!’ However, an appreciation in The Witness following 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.
1 See his book The Coming Prince. 23