Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
ROBERT G. KIMBROUGH
(pages 297 - 302)
Robert G., the youngest son of Elder Duke Kimbrough, by his third wife, Eunice (Carlock) Kimbrough, a daughter of Christopher Carlock, was born .July 24, 1806, in Jefferson County, Tennessee. Young Kimbrough was brought up to farm-life, with such educational advantages as a preacher's son would have in the community where he was brought up, one hundred years ago. He tutored some in a Methodist college at New Market, having what studies he could carry in the meantime, but, finding there were objections to having a Baptist teach in the school, he resigned his position, at the same time ending his college days. The rest of his education he dug out at home and by dint of hard study in the school of life and experience. His first serious religious impressions were on this wise: His oldest brother, William (a half-brother), many years his senior, was on a visit to his father's home. He had just made a profession of religion and was all aglow with his new-found hope. By request of his father, he told before the entire family his Christian experience, which made a deep impression upon Robert. At the same time he heard Elijah Rogers preach "one of his soul-stirring sermons, which greatly increased his interest on the subject of religion." He stifled his convictions, however, and went on in his unbelief and indecision till he came under the influence of a great revival, at the age of twenty-five, when he fully resolved to "seek the Lord." The second Saturday in June, the darkest and the brightest day of his life, the light of God shined into his darkened soul. The following Saturday he was approved for baptism, and the next day was baptized by Elder Augustine Bowers into the fellowship of the Mill Spring Church, Jefferson County, Tennessee, with twelve other converts. Standing on the bank of the river, witnessing the scene was a vast throng of people, and his venerable old father, whose deeptoned, solemn "Amen," to each immersion, made the occasion memorable. After some months of prayerful study and struggle of mind with reference to a call to preach, his impressions ripened into a decision, and he answered, "Here am I; send me." He was licensed to preach, December, the first Saturday, 1833; and at the July meeting (first Saturday), 1836, he was ordained to the full work of the ministry, by a presbytery consisting of Elders Duke Kimbrough, John Lockart, Augustine Bowers, and James Kennon.
January 23, 1836, he was married to Lemira A. Wheeler, a daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Wheeler, of Campbell County, near Jacksboro, Tenn. They had seven children, four of them dying in infancy, two sons and a daughter living to become members of a Baptist church.
Elder Kimbrough's first efforts at preaching were in Jefferson County. But it was not long till he received an appointment, with Brother J. S. Coram, from the East Tennessee General Association, to do mission work and to preach to the destitute in the counties of upper East Tennessee. After another year or two these brethren were appointed by the same body to do similar work. He then left his native county, moving to Jacksboro, the county seat of Campbell County, where he taught for one year in the County Academy, and organized a Baptist church, which he served as pastor in connection with a small interest at Fincastle, a nearby village, where the anti-mission influence had reduced the church to a membership of five. Both these churches were built up and strengthened by his ministry, and he had the pleasure of baptizing something like a hundred persons 'during his one year' stay in the county, some of them being Methodists. In 1811 he moved to Knox County, and became pastor of two large country churches, Third Creek and Beaver Ridge. The last mentioned was the largest church in the Tennessee Association, having a membership in 1846 (Benedict) of 258; Third Creek being the third largest, with a membership of 221;.
These churches were blessed under his ministry, Beaver Ridge especially, receiving large accessions to her membership.
In 1847 he accepted a commission to be an assistant to his brother, Bradley Kimbrough, in raising money to endow Union University, at Murfreesboro. He continued in this work about fourteen months, laboring mostly in East Tennessee and North Alabama. At one church he told the people the Baptists were wanting $50,000 for Christian and ministerial education, whereupon an anti-mission and anti-education preacher said "I have now found where the missionaries' bank is; Bob Kimbrough has let the cat out of the wallet."
In 1848 he moved to Marshall County, locating at Cornersville, where he spent most of his remaining days, when not away from home on a missionary tour. He now accepted an agency under the appointment of the Foreign Mission Board, and was the first agent the board ever appointed for Tennessee and North Alabama. He traveled over most of this territory, generally on horseback, making his own appointments, preaching not only in churches but in schoolhouses, private houses, in groves, anywhere, in order that he might reach the people with his message. His desire was to preach the gospel to sinners wherever he might find them, and to stimulate the churches to send the gospel where it was not, that the whole world might hear it. Many churches and individuals responded to his appeals for money; some had their suspicions and doubts, and turned a cold shoulder. During his missionary operations he had frequent opportunities to help his preaching brethren in protracted meetings, in which line of work he had many seals to his ministry. After eleven years of seed-sowing, and a little reaping, in the foreign mission work, he returned to the pastorate, taking charge of the Mount Zion and Marshall churches. In 1868 he traveled as agent for the Home Mission Board. By request of the General Association he moved to Murfreesboro, and taught a class of young ministers for two years. In 1872 he took charge of the Marion Church, in Cannon County, witnessing a goodly number of additions to the church. In January of the following, year he moved back to his farm in Marshall County, where he finished his course, dying peacefully at his residence, near Mars Hill, on the 22nd day of July, 1879, aged 73 years.
"Resolved, That our church has lost a devout and earnest member, the community a good citizen, and the cause of Christ a zealous and able minister of the gospel; that we regard Brother Kimbrough as a Bible Christian, sound in his doctrinal sentiments, unswerving in his defense of the gospel, etc. Done by order of his church." Signed by the moderator and clerk.
1. During one of his missionary campaigns with Brother Coram, in Roane County, as they were on a still hunt for Baptists they chanced, one day, to meet up with a gentleman, to whom they made known their business. He informed them that the lady of the house near by was a missionary Baptist. They rode at once to the house, and at first found no one within, but soon they heard some one coming down stairs, who proved to be the lady of the house. They told her who they were, that they were Missionary Baptist preachers. She immediately wept profusely, at which they were greatly surprised, but, calming herself, she told them that when she heard them enter the house she was upstairs on her knees praying to the Lord to send Missionary Baptist preachers to her house. and that when she found two already in her house her prayers were answered sooner than she expected, and she couldn't help; but weep. The husband was an elder in the Cumberland Presbyterian church, but was glad to help arrange for a meeting in an old house near by. He took the preachers as his guest and the meeting began and continued for some days. One evening, when the man of the house was out, Brother Kimbrough, feeling a little mischievous, bantered Brother Coram for a discussion on certain controverted points of doctrine. "All right," said Coram, humoring the joke and himself wanting some fun. Said Kimbrough to Coram: "I suppose, sir, you are a Baptist preacher?" He acknowledged that he was. Then said Kimbrough: `For the time being I am a Presbyterian preacher, and I attack you on your strange doctrine, that only immersion is Scriptural baptism, your opposition to the baptism of infants, and your close communion." So the argument began, but as Coram was pressing the argument and forcing his opponent, not unexpectedly, to surrender one position after another, the man of the house came in, and seemed to want to help Brother Kimbrough to stand his ground; in a little while, however, he turned the matter over to the combatants, to knock it out in their own way. Kimbrough got his whipping all right, and enjoyed it immensely, as did also the woman of the house.
2. As Elder Kimbrough was traveling in Alabama, in the interests of Union University, he met up with a man by the name of Kitchen, and inquired of him the way to Elder Roach's. Mr. Kitchen was an enthusiastic Whig, and was more interested in politics than religion. So his first question to Brother Kimbrough was, "Where are you from?" and his second, "Whom are you for - how do you vote?" Dodging a little, and wishing to give the conversation a turn, Elder Kimbrough replied: "I am for the Lord Jesus Christ; he is my candidate. I think we all might be for him. Are you a Christian?" "Yes. sir." "Are you a, preacher?" "Yes, sir." "Well, light and come in. I just left the table; there is plenty, and you must eat." Brother Kimbrough insisted on being directed to Elder Roach's, but Mr. Kitchen positively refused to give him directions till he should "eat," insisting that it was his custom to "feed the preachers." He introduced the preacher to "the old woman," his wife, who would not hear to his eating a common dinner with the family, but directed him to a chair till she could make suitable preparations, saying: "I will not set the like of this before a preacher. I was raised to feed the preachers, and I glory in it. Take a chair. I will boil the coffee, sir." The dinner being replenished with coffee and other "extras," Elder Kimbrough sat down to a hearty meal. While he was eating Mr. Kitchen talked and walked around the table, expressing his gratification, wondering at and admiring the physical "build" of the preacher, for he was "put up from the ground." The dinner finished, Elder Kimbrough got his directions to Preacher Roach's, and went on his way rejoicing.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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