Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 435 - 440)
Reuben Ross was born May 9, 1776, in Martin County, North Carolina, near Williamston, the county seat of said county. He was the youngest of six brothers and the ninth in a family of ten children. He was a son of William and Mary (Griffin) Ross, both of North Carolina. His grandfather, whose name also was William, at ail early day, emigrated from Roanoke, Virginia, to Martin County, North Carolina. The Ross family is of Scotch descent, several persons of this name, as tradition has it, having left Scotland together, in very early times, crossed the Atlantic and settled in Virginia - their descendants emigrating to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and other parts of the country. Of the six brothers of this family, three - Martin, James and Reuben - became Baptist preachers, and three became soldiers in the war of the Revolution. To win the independence of the colonies William Ross, the father of Reuben, was patriotic enough to sacrifice his entire property. "Poverty is generally regarded as a calamity, but Reuben Ross rejoiced in his youth, in his manhood, and in his old age, that his father became poor by cheerfully surrendering his estate to help forward the Revolutionary contest. When an old man he was heard by the writer to say: I was always proud that my father became poor by spending his estate to carry out the principles of the Declaration of Independence." (J. M. P.; This deprivation was a handicap to young Ross, in a way, making it impossible for him to go to school much in his youthful days. "Nine months of schooling, interspersed through a period of seven years, a few days at a time," constituted the sum total of his education in the school-room. But Reuben Ross had "superior intellectual endowments, and ambition, which enabled him to throw off encumbrances and rise above the circumstances of his lot-to become in time a preacher of distinction, popular alike with the learned and the unlearned." He had also the inestimable advantage of piety and religious instruction in the home, both his parents being exemplary Christians and Baptists. He never knew anything but to believe in the truths of the Christian religion, and was often the subject of religious impressions; his mother's nighttime "whisper-prayers," overheard by the lad, never ceased to haunt him. But he never gave himself to God until after his marriage. In his twenty-second year he was united in marriage to Miss Mildred Yarrell, who as a bride became a member of the Ross family, and in the providence of God soon obtained a joyful hope in Christ. The young husband strangely discouraged his wife from making a public profession of her faith. He had become fascinated with the dance and other worldly amusements, and while believing in a general way in the Bible and in Christianity he had come to look upon religion as something "solemn and gloomy, suited, not to young persons, but to those in the declining years of life, no longer able to enjoy the gaieties and pleasures of the world." Just at this time the sudden death of a boon-companion set him to thinking about the uncertainty of life, the danger of procrastination, and the awfulness of death, judgment and eternity, to one out of Christ; and on his knees he earnestly implored God in his great mercy to spare his life and give him a chance to repent, believe and be saved. Long and bitter was his struggle with doubts and darkness and the fatalistic beliefs that had been instilled into him from his youth. But at last the light dawned and peace came, and with him "old things had passed away, and, behold! all things had become new." He related his experience of grace before the brethren of the neighborhood church, of which his wife had already become a member, was approved for baptism, and was baptized by the pastor, Elder Luke Ward. He was soon "licensed" to preach, and in 1807, just before emigrating to Tennessee, he was ordained to the full work of the ministry by a council composed of Elders Joseph Biggs, Luke Ward and James Ross. The young preacher having decided to seek a home in what was then considered the "far West," the brethren of the church said, "He must, at once, be set apart and ordained to preach the gospel, that he may be qualified to build up churches and administer the ordinances in the land whither he is about to journey."
He commenced his journey westward "toward the distant Cumberland." with other emigrants, May 6, 1807, and on the 4th day of July, 1807 , he reached the town of Port Royal, in Montgomery County, Tennessee, where he "preached his first sermon west of the mountains, to an audience seated on tire ground under the widespreading branches of a shady tree." Here he taught school for three months, and joined the Red River Church.
April 2, 1808, Spring Creek Church, formerly an arm of Red River Church, or the Fort Meeting-house Church, was organized as a separate and independent body, and extended a call to Elder Ross to become pastor. This call was accepted, and in March, 1810, a twenty-nine years' pastorate was begun. He and his wife uniting with this church, held their membership here a great many years. About the year 1837 this church ,joined the Red River Association, of which Elder Ross became moderator, and continued as such for several years. This association, and the churches composing it, becoming more and more Calvinistic and non-missionary, preaching only to "elect sinners" - the sheep already in the fold, and neglecting or ignoring the Lord's command to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" - and Elder Ross becoming more and more evangelic in his views, and evangelistic in practice, it was finally agreed that there should be a peaceable division of opposing and belligerent elements, the result being the organization (October 28, 1825) of the Bethel Association. Of this association Elder Ross was moderator from its origin to the year 1851, when the "infirmities of age prompted him to tender his resignation." .
In a very fine address delivered in the chapel of Bethel College, Russellville, Kentucky, May 9, 1861, and reported for the Louisville Courier-Journal, and quoted in Borum, and elsewhere, Dr. Samuel Baker pays Reuben Ross this high tribute: "The wide influence which he secured by his great powers of expounding the Scriptures seemed like a magic charm. As a preacher he was earnest, devout and solemn. His enunciation was peculiarly dignified, and his expositions, his expostulations, his entreaties, and his appeals were framed after the best models of those good men who, in primitive times, declared in our own tongue the wonderful works of God. With an untiring hand, and for almost forty years, he bore the ark of God into the darkened corners of Logan, Todd and Christian counties, in Kentucky, and Robertson, Montgomery and Stewart counties, in Tennessee - and wherever the ark rested there was a blessing from God. When such a man has moved before the public eye, engaged their understandings, warmed their hearts for forty years, his exit from the world must cause a deep sensation in all ranks. And it was so. In the full possession of his faculties, in the eighty-fourth year of his age, amid the most hallowed and triumphant sentiments of his faith, he was called to resign his soul into the hands of his Redeemer. He died in 1860, and was buried at his old home, in Montgomery County, Tennessee. As a mark of respect and veneration the Bethel Association has erected an appropriate monument to his memory, and his son, James Ross, of Montgomery, Tennessee, is engaged in writing his biography."
(This promised "biography" - Life and Times of Elder Reuben Ross, with Introduction and Notes. by Dr. J. M. Pendleton - was published in 1882, and reads like a romance. The author has greatly enjoyed its perusal.)
Years after the funeral obsequies and the above address, at the suggestion of a ministers and deacons' meeting, a large number of the relatives and friends and acquaintances of the loved and lamented Father Ross met at the old homestead, in order to hold some befitting memorial service in connection with the monument which had been erected to his memory. "The occasion was one of deep and impressive solemnity, full of heart-touching reminiscences, which found utterance in the silent tear, rather than the pomp of ceremony. It was a congregation of mourners, composed of the children and grandchildren of brethren and friends of life-long acquaintance, met together to pay the last earthly tribute of respect and veneration to a father in Israel." (Western Recorder, July 1, 1871.)
Dr. J. M. Pendleton, in his Introduction to the Life and Times of Elder Reuben Ross, uses these finely descriptive. and eloquent words: "There was in the expression of his eyes and in the features of his face a union of intelligence, gentleness, solemnity, greatness, majesty. In his sermons were combined exposition, argument and exhortation. He had no knowledge of the languages in which the Scriptures were originally written, but the Spirit who indicted the Holy Oracles dwelt in his heart, sanctifying his large common sense and making him a great interpreter of the divine word. He was a born logician. His appeals were generally fine specimens of impassioned eloquence, and at times their power was transcendent and irresistible. They carried everything before them.
The intonations of the preacher's voice were melting, finding their way to every heart; his deep emotion was seen on the quivering lip and in the tearful eye, while the whole face was in a glow of ardent excitement. I have seen the wonders of Kentucky's great cave, the thousand objects of interest in our centennial exposition, the magnificent scenery of mountains and vales, the wild, dashing, thundering waters of Niagara, and I have stood on the shore of the Atlantic, where wave after wave has rolled in majesty and power; but I do not remember anything that has impressed me more deeply than a sight of Elder Reuben Ross, with a countenance full of dignity, solemnity, anxiety, tenderness and love, entreating sinners to accept Christ and salvation."
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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