Duty made him a relentless tracker of criminals. But the dynamiters would have been more than a little surprised had they known that the man behind the scenes who hunted them down was author of many books on the Bible and the Christian life.
Like most of history's interesting men, Sir Robert Anderson lived a double life. Professionally he was a criminal investigator of the highest caliber. He was regularly called upon to investigate domestic terrorists and serial killers and he held one of the most senior positions in police in all of London. Privately, Anderson was a devout Christian and preacher who rubbed elbows with the Victorian era's most influential men of faith.
Sir Robert Anderson described himself as "an anglicized Irishman of Scottish extraction" and was born in Dublin in 1841. Anderson's father was a Presbyterian elder, but he doubted the effectiveness of his baptism as an infant. In his youth, he never felt adequately converted to Christianity though he experienced occasional fits of both penitence and anxiety regarding his faith. He later grew to hold a callous indifference despite living in a Christian home. Influenced by the Reformed doctrine of election, Anderson came to believe that his eternal fate was sealed; he was either to be damned or saved outside of his own actions.
His faith would take a dramatic turn shortly after his 19th birthday when he attended a Sunday evening sermon with one of his sisters. The sermon was given by John Hall of New York. Anderson was thrilled by Hall's sermon (a bold message of sins being freely forgiven by God's grace), but he also felt the preacher's words were heretical. To prove his point, Anderson "waylaid him as he left the vestry and on [their] homeward walk tackled him about his heresies."
On their walk, the preacher parried Anderson's verbal attacks. He appealed to scripture for support and argued his points in a most compelling manner. Once they reached their destination Hall looked the young Anderson face to face and asked, "will you accept Christ or will you reject Him ?" A long pause followed, and Anderson broke the silence with a sincere acceptance of Christ as his savior. Only a few days later Anderson delivered his first sermon.
Anderson became greatly involved in the Christian revival in 1860's Ireland and had run-ins with numerous influential preachers and evangelists. But Anderson could hold his own among these giants of the faith. After his death in 1918, he was described as the last link to the great Irish evangelists of the 1860s.
As a lay-preacher, Sir Robert Anderson participated in so-called "Gospel Commando Raids" throughout Ireland. These were preaching tours where two or three men would enter a town or county with the objective of preaching the Gospel, attacking strongholds of evil or of apathy and indifference, and leading men and women into new life, light, and liberty. Because of the religious and political climate of Ireland at the time, these men were rarely welcome guests and often refused the opportunity to preach in churches. When met with hostility from the local clergy, these preachers spoke in schools, barns, ballrooms, and in open fields. Anderson and his fellow evangelists were slandered in the Irish press as embezzlers and charlatans, but the bad publicity only increased the size of their crowds. These public gatherings lacked everything a modern revival or service is required to have. There was little music, emotion, or showmanship, but the Gospel prevailed. Anderson had this to say about his preaching:
"It is grand the matter-of-fact way the people take it all. There is no excitement, but when asked, 'do they know the Lord,' they say: 'No, I'm afraid not, but I want to.' They take the truth on the authority of the Word ; and the next thing is: `Would you speak to this person?' Some of them are working for the Lord before they have known Him an hour."
His preaching was particularly effective among the upper-class of Ireland. Anderson was welcomed into the homes of wealthy landowners. Many socialites who were infamous for immoral living were saved as a result of Anderson's Gospel preaching.
These preaching tours occurred after Anderson graduated from college and throughout his early twenties. After this time Anderson drifted into secret service and police work when he was called upon to assist his father in investigating numerous treason trials. At the start of his legal career, there was no Intelligence Department in Dublin and all kinds of secret documents were left unattended in office cupboards in Dublin Castle. Anderson was put in charge of these and his investigations proved quite valuable.
While he was investigating the Fenian movement he frequently had to visit prisons in order to secure testimony from inmates who were within the group. His experience within the prisons and seeing how the inmates were treated lead Anderson into a depression that ultimately motivated him to campaign for prison reform. He would hold many different posts in secret services and ultimately became the assistant commissioner to Scotland Yard in 1888.
No less amazed would have been many a professional burglar could he have come upon the C.I.D. Chief giving a Gospel address in some London mission hall. His life of seventy-seven years was a many-sided one, in some respects unique.
Sir Robert Anderson began publishing books on Christian life and doctrine in 1875 with The Gospel and Its Ministry. His theological output along with his investigative work astounded his peers. He would write 17 books on the Christian faith throughout his life, some of which were written at night after working overtime on police work. As early as 1876 friends marveled at his ability to balance his career while developing himself into a first-rate theologian. His published works were well received and reviewed upon their release, gaining endorsements from famous preachers C.H. Spurgeon, E.W. Bullinger, C.I. Scofield and many others.
Both in speaking and in preaching, Sir Robert Anderson is said to have never come down to the level of his audience. Certainly, he spoke plainly and used comprehensible speech, but the glory and majesty of the Gospel and the Bible never escaped him. He disliked the phrase, "simple Gospel" and never found a man speaking with an open Bible in hand to be boring. He retired from his position at Scotland Yard in 1901 and was knighted that same year.
Sir Robert Anderson's life and faith were rich in many ways. Years after his death his son, when writing about his father's life, described the former police commissioner as a counselor, helper of many, teacher, preacher, and a devoted husband. He had a heart for reaching the souls of English socialites and criminals alike. The depression he experienced when visiting prisoners in decrepit cells would return at the end of his life as the Great War unfolded, but his faith remained unmoved. When he awoke from troubling nightmares he would read his favorite psalms in order to soothe himself back to sleep. At the end of his life, he had this to say about his faith:
"...I feel very lonely at times in view of the loss of nearly all my friends of half a century ago. Moreover increasing deafness deprives me of help from pulpit or platform. But deafness and the lapse of years only make the [BIBLE] more precious. Without the Faith and the Hope old age would indeed be an awful trial!"
On October 13, 1918, Sir Robert Anderson delivered his final sermon, and one month later he fell sick with Spanish influenza. One night, after writing some, and reading his Bible- two of his most beloved activities- Sir Robert Anderson went to bed, dying in his sleep within a few hours.
Sir Robert Anderson lead an interesting and influential life, and this short article only touches its surface. No matter how many amazing deeds the man accomplished, what was always most important to him was his faith and reaching others.
All quotes are from Sir Robert Anderson's biography written by his son: Sir Robert Anderson and Lady Agnes Anderson by Arthur Posonby Moore-Anderson, 1947
The Silence of God: Updated for the 21st Century Reader is set to be released in June 2020. Originally published in 1897, The Silence of God attempted to answer the biggest questions that faced Christianity in the 19th century, and continue to challenge the faith today. The original edition is biting in its content but written in superfluous prose that was typical of the literature of its day. For this and other reasons, The Silence of God can be tedious or difficult for today's reader. The updated version communicates Sir Robert Anderson's thoughts in a contemporary style without watering down or omitting a single argument.
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