Robert Annan (1834-1867), ‘Dundee Christian Hero’;
Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Collection (Dundee City Council).

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. he who has beleived shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”

Mark 16:15-16 (NASB)

Dear friends, I am sorry to have missed last weeks instalment of the Robert Annan story due to ill-health. This post is quite long and took longer to write, hence its appearance on Monday. I do hope you read it completely and that it inspires and challenges you as a servant of Christ.

After receiving the gospel Good News and salvation Robert’s heart was gripped by the urgency of his expected duty, to share this great treasure he had found with other lost souls. It was a matter of life and death. But Robert wasn’t the only soul with a holy ghost fire in it, there was an evangelistic group of young men in Dundee who met regularly for prayer and Bible study. These firebrands for the Gospel took their message out into the streets and homes of Dundee, where they ministered to the needs of the sick and poor. Soon after his conversion Robert joined this group of evangelists, throwing himself wholeheartedly into their work. He quickly became their leader in all they did for Christ. A brief record of Robert’s private notes survived from this period, telling us much of his new faith:

1. I am not what I once was; but by the grace of God I am what I am, an empty sinner depending on Christ, a full and present Saviour.

2. My creed is this: Ruin by the Fall; Redemption by the Cross; and Regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

3. My knowledge of Scripture is small, for it is not long since I was plucked as a brand from the fire; but I am hungering to know more, and God by His Holy Spirit will teach me the truths contained in His glorious Gospel. I feel myself nothing; and can do nothing; but I go forward looking up to Him who has said, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” (Psalm 81:10).

4. I have seriously weighed the difficulties I must meet in the service of God; and in His strength I will bear the cross with every faithful follower of Jesus has borne. This has been a matter of earnest prayer, and I firmly believe that God is with me. I see nothing before me but to fight the Lord’s battles; but leaning on His arm I shall hold up the Banner of the Cross, and hope to obtain a humble place in His service.”

At this stage in the story I feel a need to answer those who question the above personal statements; these are not the words of an uneducated or weak man. Robert Annan was certainly not weak! Nor are they the words of a drunk who has found a cure, they are the words of a man who has found something more important and more profound than the answer to a social need. These are undoubtetly the statements of a man who has met with God.

In his daily life Robert was a stonemason, just as his father was. He withstood much cruel jibing and open criticism for his faith, but Robert stood firm and calm as a beacon for his Lord amidst the cruelty of his work colleagues – he was not ashamed of the gospel or his Lord (Romans 1:16). Robert grasped every opportunity to immerse himself in the Word of God; his Bible was his constant companion wherever he went, and could be seen at lunch breaks reading the Bible intently. It was noted he was more interested in devouring his Bible than his lunch before him! His hunger for the Word led him to spend whole nights in study and prayer over it, going without sleep. On one occasion he went a whole three days without sleep to urgently study his Bible. Saturday evenings were spent in hours of preparation for the Sunday Sabbath, from which we can learn much today. As well as deep Bible study and prayer Robert sought God further in fasting – on one occasion fasting for three weeks, after which his minstry was greatly blessed.

The new Robert was notable by his compassion for the lost and needy, particularly for the very poorest members of society. It wasn’t unusual for Robert to arrive home with some hungry soul in tow for a meal. The most stunning proof of his compassion for souls was the eleven times he dived in to the River Tay to rescue drowning individuals, two in one day alone. He was honoured by the Dundee Humane Society in the presentation of a medal during a civic ceremony. But Robert’s primary love was preaching the Word of God, specifically the Good News of salvation in Jesus.

Tyndal Wynd looking down to the Royal Arch and the docks, Dundee.

He was often found in the streets and wynds of old Dundee, mostly where the poorest could be reached with the Gospel. Frequently he was moved on by the Police or henchmen hired by publicans whose tavern he preached outside. Robert simply lifted his stool and moved a few yards and continued preaching to the crowd who followed him, much to the anger of the publicans – he was becoming a nuisance to business. One day he was badly harrassed by the police who refused him any place to preach, they must have thought they had won when they saw him return home. Robert went in his door and went up stairs, opened his bedroom window and preached to his followers from there. In the evenings Robert would preach by invitation at indoor meetings anywhere in Dundee; indeed it was not unusual for him to run two miles across fields to the nearby village of Lochee and then preach the message. On Sunday mornings he preached in one of three favoured streets (Fish Street, Couttie’s Wynd or Tyndal Wynd), and he would return in the later afternoon to preach a second time.

Fish Street, Dundee.

After providing for his family Robert saved any spare money towards financing evangelistic tours of the surrounding regions, these often lasted about two weeks. The first tour was across the Tay in the Kingdom of Fife, his father’s home county. A short exerpt of Robert’s writings gives a flavour of his message:     “You remember, friends, that when I was last here I sang “Lord Lovel,” acted the part of a fool, and did my best to entertain you with vanity. I have come on a different errand this time, and will sing to you other songs. I was then employed in the Devil’s service, but now I am in the service of Christ. At that time I was making merry on the way to Hell, and I was helping to make you merry in the same way; but now I am happy in Jesus, and on the road to Heaven, and I have come to try and persuade you to go with me to Glory.”

It was clear to any listening that Robert was not a trained minister in his common clothes and plain speech. He never attempted to apologise for his straight talking preaching style, but instead penned the following defense of his preaching:    “We come to speak to you because –  

1) We tremble to think of your present unhappy condition as sinners. “God is angry with the wicked every day.” (Psalm 7:11).

2) we wish to prevent your future misery. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31).               

3) We wish you to enjoy the pleasures of religion, both in this world and in the next. “Wisdom’s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:17).                               

4) We wish to see souls saved, because it is for the glory of God. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill towards men.” (Luke 2:14).                                                                

5) We wish it for the good of others; for when once you are saved, you will be a blessing to your friends and others. “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” (Psalm 66:16).                                                              

6) We do it for our own sakes, for it brings us great happiness to labour for the salvation of our fellow men. “In watering others we are watering ourselves.” (Proverbs 11:25).”

Another notable part of Robert’s ministry was that of writing letters for the Gospel, to unsaved or troubled aquaintances. One such letter was this one, written to a Christian friend trying to remain in his worldly pursuits while serving God:

MY DEAR — I trust you will not be offended at me speaking so faithfully to you about your soul. I have been watching for signs of grace in you, but can see none. God forbid that i should be uncharitable; but, you know, the Lord Jesus says a tree is known by its fruits. Now, the things I have seen and heard concerning you are inconsistent with the grace of God. The Word of God tells us that they who are friends of the world are enemies of God. If God be God, serve Him. A divided heart God will never accept. I hear of professing Christians who spend six or seven hours dancing, or in singing foolish songs, and never spend an hour with God in their closets. Shame on them! I would not give a straw for their chances of Heaven. Oh now, for your very life, have done with all such things as these, and get holiness to the Lord. And if once you are filled with the Spirit, you will have pleasures that will last forever. Yours in Jesus, ROBERT ANNAN.                                                  

In this chapter we have reached the peak of Robert’s ministry, next week sees us approaching the end of his service and life for his Lord and Saviour.

14 thoughts on “The Dundee Prodigal – The Birth of an Evangelist

  1. Incredible. The work of God in His life is evident.

    May we treat our service to God as a matter of “life and death”. May we meet God like how Robert did. May we hunger for His Word daily that we desire it more than anything else.

    His story, his life is such an inspiring account of living for God. 🙏❤️
    Thank you for sharing. It inspires me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deborah your comments fill me with excitement and gratitude to our Father God, who lead me many years ago to Robert’s story. The dusting off my old manuscript was His plan for “such a time as this” to encourage His children. May He guide and bless you richly my dear sister.

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  2. Thank you. Valuable indeed are written records from the past. Same God Who even in our 2021 world where the Gospel is ridiculed has not changed. The Message in our day is even more URGENT. Souls going to hell and the King returning. We must be the blazing LIGHTS in the darkness not just as evangelists but in all aspects of life. Particularly with what we write, sing or how we live! Your sharing is inspirational

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    1. Thank you Faye for your valuable encouragement. You are so right, the story of Robert is hundreds of years old, but the message of Redemption is still the same today…and even tomorrow! We have a responsibility as saved souls to pluck more from from the fires of Hell, before the time is done. May our Father God bless you richly my dear sister.

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    1. Thank you Andy (and family), Robert’s story is definitely an alarm call to believers today to get busy for the Gospel…time is short!
      The Engineer is busy building up a head of steam in the engine, the Train is nearly ready to leave this earthly station, let us fill the carriages with souls for the journey.
      God bless the BerryBunch today and throughout this week.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this series; I enjoyed it Alan. Love this post recording how the Gospel compel him to change and serve him from rescuing souls on the river to letter writing which to me is like 1800s WordPress lol

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is quite an eye opener reading about his letter writing; something that is not done nowadays. Yet I remember letter writing was still done when I was a lad, how times have changed – but He has not changed!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Time has changed so much! I remember it was just 18 years ago writing letters home from Iraq but then one of our church kids join the Marines 5 years ago and they just email lol

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