Man Of God
A man of influence and accomplishment, Alfred Ellmore in the first quarter of the twentieth century was one of the best-known preachers among Churches of Christ. A man of considerable ability, Ellmore wrote five books, composed numerous poems and proverbs, and served as president of Gunter Bible College for ten years. Above all else, Ellmore preached the good news of Jesus. This is the story of yet another forgotten man of God.
According to G. H. P. Showalter, "Alfred Ellmore was born near Frankfort. Indiana. August 11, 1838. He was the eighth child of a family often children. His parents were a mixture of English, Welsh and Irish blood. His father, in his younger days, owned a small farm, but because of sickness and going surety for others he was broken up."1 Ellmore was born in a log house to Eleazor and Rachel Elmore2 and grew up in relative poverty. His father was an uneducated man known for his knowledge of the Bible. Ellmore remembered his mother as "uneducated in books"3 yet keeping a home filled with love. "The best earthly gift that children can have is Christian parents. The offspring of such parents inherit in a goodly degree the trait of piety, and, being born with such inclination, it is easy for them to be led into the way of life; and no matter how obedient the children, they can never do too much nor pay too great a reverence to their parents while they live, and after they pass away, the fond recollection of them should be the rich fragrance of flowers of gratitude, early sown in the hearts of the children."4
According to F. D. Srygley, Ellmore attended school in an "old log schoolhouse in which he never so much as saw a text-book on. English grammar."5 His early educational opportunities were meager.
Samuel Otterman immersed Alfred Ellmore in 1857, when he was 19 years old. Later he would regret only that he failed to become a Christian earlier in life. "If I were young again," Ellmore wrote,
Instead of waiting until I was nineteen, I would go into the church at the age of fifteen. I would educate in the Bible, but in little else. At the proper age, I would marry. In selecting a companion, I would take a woman strictly of the Christian faith; I would not risk any other; and I should wish to know something of her stock. And then, no matter what else I did, I would preach the gospel. There is nothing to be compared to this; oh, no, sir, nothing. I would not be a "professional," or sickly, fawning, indolent, plug-hat clergyman. No, sir; I'd be mad, I'd preach. I'd preach the gospel, if it interfered with every human hindrance in the land.6
Ellmore loved preaching and as a young man wanted to preach. As F. D. Srygley would recall, Ellmore "could not relieve his mind of the feeling that he had a talent, and if he buried it, God would hold him responsible." Struggling with this burden. Ellmore "opened the New Testament at random one day, and his eyes fell upon the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew." As he read the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30), Ellmore "was so aroused that he could not rest." At the age of 27 he entered a school taught by John C. Ridpath and spent the next three years learning and, alternately, teaching. Meanwhile he grasped every opportunity for conversation about religion. "This," Srygley wrote, "was the beginning of his life and his work as a preacher."7
Ellmore preached his first sermon in March 1865 and soon was preaching all over the Midwest and into Canada, in "meetinghouses, schoolhouses, dwelling houses, opera houses, storehouses, halls, depots, courthouses, sawmills, on board ship in the Atlantic Ocean, in groves in the woods, on goods boxes in the streets, and under tents and brush arbors."8 It was not unusual for Ellmore to preach four times in one day. He went everywhere preaching the Word.
Writing for the Papers
Ellmore developed extraordinary gifts as a writer. In about 1867 he began contributing to Benjamin Franklin's American Christian Review and continued to write for it until John F. Rowe began the Christian Leader in 1886. Ellmore held Benjamin Franklin in very high regard and named one of his sons in his honor.
From 1886 until 1893 Ellmore contributed to the Christian Leader. While Ellmore had been close to Rowe and his son, Fred, he saw them as soft and compromising, especially since they worshiped with a congregation in Cincinnati that used instrumental music even though there was no acappela congregation in that city. This did not sit will with Ellmore who wrote, "If there were but one congregation in the United States which worshiped as did the primitive church, I would hold my membership in that church," Ellmore wrote; "and were I so remote from it that I could but seldom, or never meet with it, I would send [it] my fellowship, and my Christian greeting, and do my praying at home. And if there were no such church, and I were a preacher, I would go immediately to work and create such a body."9
In 1893 Ellmore joined W. J. Rice in editing the Gospel Echo. In his first article, "Inaugural," Ellmore set the theme for his work with the Gospel Echo. After some hesitation, and much meditation, I have consented to become a co-laborer with Bro. Rice in the work of the gospel through the GOSPEL ECHO. And in assuming a work every way so responsible as that of teaching the public the things pertaining to their present and eternal welfare, and knowing the weakness in general of our common humanity, and that in particular of myself, it is with faltering pen that I undertake the task.
It was with many misgivings and with much hesitation that I, 28 years ago entered the ministry; and all along these toilsome years I have felt that mine was a heavy load; and instead of my burden growing lighter, it seems to increase with the lapse of time. But likely this is the case of every man who is striving to do his whole duty. And when we get to the summit of life's mountain, and look toward the western horizon, and take into account the very short time (at the longest) allotted us here, and the great amount there is to be done, the worth of each day seems of priceless value.
It is in the hope of being instrumental in doing good, MUCH good, that I enter with Bro. Rice into the work, and I feel that our prayer should be "Nearer my God to Thee." And I am not unmindful that we shall need, not only the grace of God and the comforting influence of the Holy Spirit, but we shall need also the prayers of our Father's faithful and devout children in our behalf, and I believe we shall have them.
We shall aim to keep the paper as true to the gospel as it has always been; and we shall strive to enlarge its usefulness by extending its circulation, and putting into its columns the best things we know. True we want to build up the paper, but this we do not wish to do by pulling down any other paper which is striving to be loyal to our King. The ECHO shall not be the rival of any other paper. "Live and let live" will be our principles. We shall strive to deal fairly with every man of every creed, and we shall endeavor to keep The Way open to all.
We shall not make a specialty of any one thing to the neglect of any other thing pertaining to the Master's work, unless in our judgment some things have been more neglected than some other things; and, there are, we believe, two things which have been sadly neglected, viz.: the supporting of true ministers, and the cleansing of the sanctuary. We shall keep a vigilant critical eye upon these, but we shall not knowingly leave other things equally as important undone.
And now, brethren and sisters and neighbors and friends-for we shall strive to benefit all of every class who come within our Circle, shall we have your good wishes and your support? Let us labor together in faith, in hope and in love. Let us strive to induce every one under our influence to enter into that rest that remains to the people of God.
We shall make effort to furnish you a paper that you will have no misgivings of putting into the family circle, and one that you will not be ashamed to put into the hands of your neighbors, nor afraid to show to the enemies of the Cross of Christ. Please give us a lift.
By 1895 Ellmore had relocated the Gospel Echo and his family to Covington, Indiana. He continued to edit the Echo, a four-page weekly in newspaper format,10 until 1901 when the paper ceased publication and merged with the Gospel Advocate.
Ellmore first appeared in the Gospel Advocate in the issue of 21 March 1901, stating his views on four significant issues that would occupy the agenda for his "Gospel Echo Department" during the next several years. On "Sect Baptism," Ellmore wrote that, except for those explicitly baptized for remission of sins, all converts previously baptized should "be reimmersed for the remission of their sins." On "Order of Worship," Ellmore believed that Acts 2:42 gave the proper order for Christian worship as for the "Sunday School," "It is another society and one of which the New Testament knows nothing." Ellmore argued that Christians should "transfer the Sunday school into the worship and give to every child who is able to read a New Testament ... have the bishops and others who are safe teachers to spend fifty minutes, more or less, upon the lesson: continue the worship without intermission to the close." Ellmore objected to any human society as a means of doing "mission work": "The Lord made the church for this work."11
Ellmore offered his first book, Which Is the True Church?, in 1877 "as a reconciliation, pointing the reader to a balm for this heartaching and soul-longing disease; that it may be instrumental in the union of all true believers in the one faith and one Church."12 In 1892 Ellmore published his most popular and enduring book, Maple Valley Poems, which went through a number of editions and was widely read during Ellmore's lifetime. In his poem. "God's Nobleman," Ellmore celebrated preachers of God's good news.
greatest, noblest men of earth,
Since Peter, John, and Paul,
Are not the men of noble birth,
Such as the world would call;
Not those of military fame,
Who've slain their thousand-fold
But those who wear a greater name
Than kings, who're crowned with gold.
heard such blow the trump of God,
While standing 'neath the trees,
Where many felt the chastening rod,
And fell upon their knees.
It seemed the rocks would cry;
And wished the world in one short hour,
Might hear it 'ere they die."
In 1912 Ellmore published Gems, Proverbs and Allegories, and in 1914 Sermons, Reminiscences Both Pleasant and Sad, and Silver Chimes. His Sermons and Sayings in 1918 included not only Ellmore's works but also sermons by such men as N. L. Clark, John T. Hinds, G. H. P. Showalter, and Don Carlos Janes.
President of Gunter Bible College
At age 74 in 1912, when most men of his time were retired or dead, Ellmore continued to preach and write almost nonstop, and added to these tasks the presidency of Gunter Bible College. Ellmore served Gunter until 1922, when he returned at 84 to his home in Covington, Indiana.
Finishing His Course
In his last years Ellmore wrote for the Gospel Advocate, Christian Leader, Firm Foundation, and Christian Worker under the heading of "Wheat and Chaff." Ellmore's articles were frequently featured on the front pages of these journals Often Ellmore wrote in memorable proverbs or aphorisms.
The vindictive tongue grows keener by grinding upon the hearts of the defenseless."14
One reason why many are not persecuted for their religion is, the kind they have is so poor that nobody wants it."15
A Christian should treat everybody courteously; but just talking kindly to the hungry man out of doors is not sufficient. Feed him.16
Alfred Ellmore lived a long, full life, celebrating his eighty-seventh year and sixtieth year as a preacher in 1925. In December 1925 Ellmore suffered a broken hip during a fall; about a week later his life ended. His death was recorded on the front page of the local Covington newspaper. Ellmore's son-in-law, Ben J. Elston, delivered the funeral sermon and his earthly remains were laid to rest in Mount Hope cemetery near Covington, Indiana.
1 G. H. P. Showalter, biographical sketch of Alfred Ellmore in Ellmore's Gems, Proverbs and Allegories (Austin: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1912).
2 Early in life Alfred changed the spelling of his family name, adding an "l" to make "Ellmore." According to family legend, he wanted all to know which El(l)mores were his descendants.
3 Dorothy Brenton, The Life and Generations of Alfred Ellmore (1987).
4 Brenton, Life and Generations, 3.
5 F. D. Srygley, Biographies and Sermons (Nashville, 1898).
6 Brenton, Life and Generations, 6-7.
7 Srygley, Biographies and Sermons, 132.
8 Srygley, Biographies and Sermons, 133.
9 Gospel Echo (1893); the exact date is unclear on the clipping in Ellmore's scrapbook
10 One issue of Gospel Echo (7 no. 29 [25 July 18951) survives intact in the Library of Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis.
11 Gospel Advocate 43 no. 12 (21 March 1901): 186.
12 A. Ellmore, Which Is the True Church? (Oskaloosa, Iowa: Central Book Concern, 1877), 4.
13 A. Ellmore, Maple Valley Poems (1892), 148.
14 "Wheat and Chaff," Christian Leader 27 no. 34 (13 August 1913):1.
15 "Wheat and Chaff," Gospel Advocate 65 no. 11 (15 March 1923): 265.
16 "Wheat and Chaff," Gospel Advocate 65 no. 16 (19 April 1923): 390.
-by Terry Gardner, Faith And Facts, Vol. 30 No. 2, April, 2002, pages 103-109
Ellmore Family Picture Outside Tent