Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
Dr. A. D. Sears
Dr. A. D. Sears was born in Fairfax County, Virginia, January 1, 1804. He was of English descent, his paternal and maternal grandfathers both coming from England and settling in Virginia at an early day. Leaving his native State, he went to Kentucky and settled in Bourbon County in the year 1823. In 1828 he married Miss Annie B. Bowie, whose native State was Virginia, but whose ancestors were from Maryland. To this union were born four children, two sons and two daughters, all of them dying in infancy, except one daughter, Marietta, who married John N. Major, of Christian County, Kentucky.
Dr. Sears was brought up, religiously, under the handicap of "deistical influences," and as he came to grapple in his own strength with the problems and mysteries of life, providence and destiny, he was naturally, though perhaps unconsciously, influenced by the "pride of life," or the fancied wisdom and self-sufficiency (?) of the natural man; thus he became "skeptical" and greatly prejudiced against the Bible. "Denominational differences," in evidence about him, further aroused his prejudice, and as for the Baptists, he could scarcely tolerate them, especially their practice of immersion, which he considered vulgar and indecent. He had also brooded long and gloomily over the death of his two infant sons, which had been taken from him, as he thought, by some ruthless hand, "in the space of twenty-four hours." Thus musing and murmuring, as in a wilderness of doubt, as in a Gehenna of horrible darkness and unspeakable agony, he met a Methodist minister with a Bible in his hand, who, greeting him, said: "A.D., there is comfort for you here." Replying to the minister, he said
"I need it; for if this world were a keg of powder, I would strike a match to it, and we would all go to hell together." About this time, in his thirty-third year, he became interested in the subject of religion, and began to read the Bible and along with it the writings of Andrew Fuller, and without ever having heard a sermon from a Baptist preacher decided that a Christian is one who is "born again," also that Scriptural baptism is the "immersion of a believer in water." He and his wife "rode twelve miles on horseback to the nearest Baptist church, but neither of them had ever seen anyone join a Baptist church, and had to ask a man in the churchyard how to join." (A family tradition.) And so it came to pass that on the 19th of July, 1838, following his new light and his convictions of duty, he was immersed by Elder Ryland T. Dillard "in the waters of Elkhorn," at Bryant's Station, Kentucky," his wife being baptized at the same time.
From the day of his baptism he had "solemn impressions of mind" on the subject of preaching the gospel and the needful preparation for that duty. He did not mention his "impressions" to anyone, however, but was unexpectedly called on to lead in public prayer, was soon "licensed" to preach, and in a few months was "ordained" by the church he had joined - the ordaining council (Elders R. T. Dillard, Edward Durnaby, Josiah Leake) meeting at David's Fork on "Saturday before the third Sunday in February, 1840," and on that day solemnly setting him apart to the full work of the ministry. By the following Thursday he had become engaged in a protracted meeting with Elder James M. Frost at the Forks of Elkhorn, Franklin County, Kentucky. Plunging into evangelistic service he held meetings at Frankford, Georgetown, and Flemmingsburg. He served as a supply-pastor at Stamping Ground and the Forks of Elkhorn. He became missionary of the Bracken Association, and with Flemmingsburg as his place of residence he held protracted meetings and itinerated here and there, looking after the destitution of three or four counties. In the first year of his ministry he preached 366 sermons and baptized many converts. In April, 1840, he held a meeting at Shelbyville, Kentucky, witnessing 149 professions of religion. He held other successful meetings, with smaller churches in the country. On invitation he visited the First Baptist Church of Louisville and, the last week in July, 1842, he commenced an eight weeks' meeting, baptized 125 persons, accepted a call to be pastor of the church, served the church as pastor seven years, baptizing into its fellowship upwards of three hundred persons, and resigned the care of the church July, 1849. He became general agent of the General Association of Kentucky, and held meetings at Henderson, Hopkinsville and other places, baptizing something over 250 converts. In July, 1850, he accepted the care of the Hopkinsville Church, remaining with the church up to the Civil War, and baptizing into its fellowship about 300 persons. During the war he spent four years in the South, supplying different churches, and, under the auspices of the Southern Board of :Missions, preaching to the Confederate army.
Dr. Sears became pastor at Clarksville, Tennessee, in January, 1866. He continued pastor of the church a little more than a quarter of a century, doing monumental and lasting work. During his pastorate the church grew from a membership of twenty-five to a membership of 350, and erected a handsome and commodious building in which to worship, at a cost of $25,000. Clarksville was his third and last pastorate; Louisville and Hopkinsville were the others. The twenty-fifth anniversary of his Clarksville pastorate was celebrated with appropriate ceremonies, in January, 1891. The speakers of the occasion were his old-time friends, Dr. W. H. Whitsitt and Dr. T. T. Baton. Another occasion of interest, during this remarkable pastorate, was the celebration of the golden wedding (1878) of the pastor and the pastor's wife. "The venerable pair received many attentions and valuable presents; the occasion was one of festive joy."
Both as a pastor and as an evangelist; Dr. Sears has had marked success. He baptized more than 2,000 persons, and witnessed considerably more than that number of conversions under his immediate ministry. He had an analytical mind, was a conscientious and industrious student, was a painstaking and methodical sermonizer, was a straightforward and lively speaker; his style was clear, crisp and pointed; his sermons were short but meaty. He was a good organizer and a devoted pastor, had a sunny eye, refused to grow old, or rust out or die at the top, or at the center. When the writer last saw him, at the age of 82, perhaps, he was erect, vigorous, still in his palmy days, preaching twice a Sunday without fatigue. Five years later he was still virile, and his "popularity with his people as great as ever." In the spring of 1891 the church remodeled their church home. Looking over the work being done, Dr. Sears twisted his foot on a small piece of lumber lying in the way and fell, breaking his hip. He died from the effects of this injury, June 15, 1891, being 87 years, 7 months and 15 davs old. Dr. W. H. Whitsitt conducted the funeral services, the Knights Templars, in which order he had been Grand Commander of the State, having charge of the services at the grave. He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Clarksville, Tennessee. His beloved companion survived him several years, dying on Christmas day, 1894, at the age of 97, having lived "within the term of office of every President of the United States from Washington's last term to the first term of President Cleveland." His daughter, Mrs. Major, fell asleep in 1898, and was buried beside her beloved father. His living descendants are: W. H. Major, D.D., pastor Capitol Avenue Baptist Church, Atlanta; Mrs. John S. Nisbett, missionary of the Southern Presbyterian Church, in Korea; Charles Lee Major manager American Baptist Publication Society's business, Chicago; Clarence Riley Major, business man, of Clarksville, Tennessee.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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