Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 377 - 384)
Three miles south of Morristown, on the brow of a hill a overlooking the old Moore residence, now owned by W. G. Taylor, Esq., is a grave where sleeps the dust of one of East Tennessee's ablest and most noted preachers of a former play. The tombstone bears the inscription: "In memory of Rev. Ephraim Moore; born July 1, 1793; died August 5, 1875." He was born near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was a son of Samuel and Ann Moore, and the oldest of four children. Elder Moore was of Scotch-Irish descent, a man of passionate nature and disposition but firm and uncompromising in principle. His face shows firmness of character and intellectual strength.
He was educated almost altogether in the school of experience, and - was truly a self-made man. The loss of his father, in early life, put upon his shoulders the responsibility of supporting his widowed mother and the younger children, depriving him of the opportunity of attending school. While still an inexperienced youth he left his native state and came to East Tennessee to battle with the wilderness and build his fortunes. Here his mother married a second time, and young Moore went to live with his "Uncle White," near Bull's Gap, where, in his teens, he courted and married a Miss Nancy Lane, cousin of Elder T. J. Lane, a sensible, industrious and capable young woman, who became the mother of his ten children.
Soon after his marriage the adventurous boy-husband se cured land in Jefferson (now Hamblen) County, near the present site of Morristown, where, according to family tradition, he left his young wife and child and went to fight the Indians, in the War of 1812, and where he afterwards lived and built up a handsome estate.
Young Moore was brought up in the faith of the old school Presbyterians, and observed to some extent the prescribed rules, but was not religious. His heart went after pleasure and folly. He often reproached himself for being a "fool's fool"; that is, a "fiddler." But it pleased God to arrest him in his pursuit of folly and fun and bring him to a better mind. The circumstances of his conviction and conversion are as follows: He was attending a Methodist meeting at the old Sulphur Spring camp-ground. The preacher, a Methodist, made some assertions that happened to cross his ingrained prejudices, and he found himself saying emphatically to himself: "It's a lie! It's a lie!." But the Holy Spirit was sending arrows of conviction through the "joints of the harness" to rankle in his soul till he should cry mightily, "What shall I do? What shall I do?" and turn to God and be healed by the Great Physician. For months he groped in darkness and was as the stricken deer. Restless and wandering he had gone out into the field, he knew not why. Putting his hand on an ear of corn as it hung upon the stalk, he stopped and stood motionless for a minute, when something seemed to say to him: "Go to the house and get the Bible and read it." He did so, and at once his eyes fell upon John 6:28, 29: "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" with the Christ-given answer: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." "Is not this for me?" he said. "Then why can't I take it? I will." On that radiant Sunday morning he passed out of darkness into light and appropriated to himself the promised and offered blessing of salvation. Reading the Bible for himself he soon settled his doctrinal and denominational difficulties and applied for membership and baptism at the hands of Bethel South Church (now the Morristown First), and was baptized, we presume, by Elder Isaac Barton, who was pastor of the church at that time. He preached his first sermon, it would seem, without knowing or intending it, on this wise: It was at a prayer meeting service. No one had been appointed to conduct the meeting, or maybe the appointed leader was absent. The older brethren present hesitated or dclined [sic] to take hold of the situation. Brother Moore however, took the Bible which, of late, he had been diligently reading, and proceeded to read the parable of the sower, making comments as he read. He had "liberty" as he read and expounded the Word, and the people gave attention. The brethren soon told him he must "preach for them again." So he had been "preaching" without intending to do so, and was thus providentially led into the ministry. Doubtless he was licensed to "take a text" or "exercise a gift" in the usual way, but the church records covering this period are lost, and we are left to conjecture.
Just at this time, throughout the state, the question of missions and methods, the so-called "societies" and "institutions of the day," with the deeper question of the Atonement, whether limited or unlimited; that is, who and how many are entitled to have the gospel preached to them? was to the front among Batpists [sic], and others as well, threatening to divide the denomination. Moore was preaching "free salvation to all who will believe the gospel" and world-wide "missions," and his zeal soon got him into trouble with his church and precipitated a "heresy trial," which had a far-reaching effect. The question at issue was: "Is salvation for the elect only? or, is there salvation for all?" It was a question, on the one hand, of the divine decrees, and, on the other hand, of "preaching the gospel to every creature." Moore was a redoubtable champion of the doctrine of a free salvation to all who will believe, against the so-called "hardshell" dogma of "particular, eternal and unconditional election and reprobation." The old school Baptist, the hyper-Calvinist, reasoned: "According to the Scriptures there is salvation only for the elect. It will avail nothing to preach to the non-elect. Therefore we will preach to the elect only, "feed the sheep," and God will do the rest." "A nonsequitur, a fallacy, a begging of the question," replies the moderate Calvinist, who has read the commission to "go preach" and believes in missions and the use of means to accomplish the divine purposes. But Moore believed that the germ of the fallacy in the anti-mission conclusion of his hardshell brethren was in their anti-Scriptural premise, namely, that the Atonement in Christ was limited, that God was a i.e. specter of persons, and not the benevolent Being the Scriptures represent him to be. Moore's advocacy of these view being offensive to many of his ministerial brethren, and, presumably, to a majority of his church, it was decided to call a council to consider his offenses and advise the church. The accusations and rumors of heresy were brought forward and duly canvassed. Moore's defense of himself seemed unanswerable, and was almost satisfactory to the council till the question was asked: "Have you read Dewees' book? and do you endorse it?" The answer was: 'I have; and so far as I understand it, endorse it." This was enough. Dewees was suspected of leaning towards Arminianism, and his book was particularly obnoxious to Elder James Kennon, who was "prosecutor" in the case, a good man, but of strong predestinarian sentiments. His influence in the council determined the action of the body in the condemnation of Moore, who was accordingly excluded from the church. Justice requires it to he said, however, that the church as a body was not quite satisfied with its action in the matter, and finally, with the exception of a small fragment, came over to Moore's side of the question, and after a few years, through the influence of Woodson Taylor, the pastor, restored him to fellowship. Meanwhile, however, Elder Moore had been received into the Clay Creek Church, Cocke County, and was preaching to the church - with entire acceptance. Following is a copy of his license to preach: "January, first Saturday, 1833. The Baptist Church ,of Christ at Clay Creek, now in session, do liberate and license our brother, Ephraim Moore, to take a text and exercise His gift wherever the Lord in his providence may cast his lot. Done by order of the church. Daniel A. Hurley, Clerk." The same year the church called for Brother Moore's ordination and sent a committee to West Tennessee, then to North Carolina, to secure a presbytery. Elder Garrett Dewees, of North Carolina, responded to the church's call, and accordingly "ordained Ephraim Moore and Joseph Manning to the full work of the ministry, May, first Saturday, 1833."
As pastor Elder Moore served Clay Creek for several years, Friendship about ten years, Warrensburg some twenty-five years, also other churches. But he did not seek the pastoral care of churches. He was a man of affairs, a great doctrinal preacher and expounder of the Scriptures, a man looked up to and prominent in the councils of his brethren. "As a theologian and a thinker he was a man of ability. He believed in grace, and could come as near as any man drawing the line between the extreme of Calvinism, on the one hand, and the point on the other hand, where Arminianism would subvert the doctrines of grace." (W. A. Keen.) He had a special fondness and ability for discussing at length the great doctrines of the Bible, sometimes prolonging the sermon two or three hours. Take, for example, this outline on "The Kingdom of God," which I find among his sermon notes: "A kingdom implies four things: 1. A King; 2. Subjects; 3. Laws; 4. Territory." The discussion of that subject, as Ephraim Moore would discuss it, would require from two to three hours. His famous sermon on The Dispensations of Law and Grace, or The Two Covenants, required four hours (generally two Sundays) for a full discussion. The "notes" I find on this subject correspond most strikingly with my boyhood recollection of "Uncle Ephraim's" three hours' discourse on the Abrahamic Covenant, with the stopping place in the discourse, the offering up of his son Isaac, and his promise to "resume" at that point in his next discourse.
The triumph of Moore's theology, in the "battle of the giants," particularly in East Tennessee, through the 30's and 40's, is seen in the deliverance of a joint convention of representatives of the Holston, Tennessee, Nolachucky and East Tennessee Associations, called to meet with the Pleasant Grove Church, Cocke County, August 25 and 26, 1843. In the revision by this body of our Articles of Faith, "Article 7" was made to read: `That the blessings of salvation are made free to all by the gospel, and that nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner on earth but his own voluntary refusal to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, which refusal will subject him to an aggravated punishment, the final resolution stating, "that none of the above articles shall be so construed in their meaning as to hold with the doctrine of particular, eternal and unconditional election and reprobation." This was a large and widely representative body of East Tennessee Baptists, and its deliverance was unanimous.
Among Elder Moore's associates in the ministry I mention Elder Joseph Manning, a "true yoke-fellow." They were like the law and the gospel, each the complement of the other. Moore, for the most part, was an Old Testament preacher. representing the rigor and justice of the law; in Manning were united the sweetness and tenderness of the gospel. They labored together a great deal in protracted meetings and in other ways; together they founded the Big Creek (Del Rio), Pleasant Grove, and other churches, and were the principal founders of the East Tennessee Association. Many an association did they attend together, riding horseback long distances, even to West Tennessee, to meet with their brethren in council-talking together as they journeyed about the Master's kingdom. But their earthly toils are ended; they rest from their labors, and talk together up there, perchance, as they walk the streets of gold, of their toils and triumphs in the Master's cause on earth.
He had passed his eighty-second milestone when his travels and labors ceased. From the minutes of the East Tennessee Association (1875) I give the following brief extract: "Our association was organized with four churches and 169 members. The preaching of Elder Moore was very acceptable and very powerful, and though his sermons frequently lasted two or three hours they were attentively listened to, and `believers were added to the churches, multitudes, both men and women.' Churches were organized and added to the association till the `little one has become a thousand,' now numbering thirty-two churches and 2,540 members. In this Elder Moore had a great part. He was thirteen times moderator of the association, and a preacher for over fifty years." Signed by the committee: "J. Manning, A. A. Vinson, Sr., J. Kenyon."
Among the descendants of Ephraim Moore in the Baptist ministry in the State are his grandsons, Elders P. H. C. and J. F. Hale, two of our best preachers, and his great-grandsons, Tom and Arthur Hale, who are making good as younger ministers and pastors of Baptist churches.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
[ Return to Index ]
HTML presentation of this material is
Copyright © 2002 by Rose-Anne Cunningham Bray.
All rights reserved.