Isaac Tipton Reneau
The Life Of Isaac T. Reneau
Isaac Tipton Reneau was one of those quiet, modest heroes of the gospel who have been almost forgotten in the sections of country where they lived, labored, and suffered so much for the cause of Christ. Many who delight to give honor to whom honor is due have never heard of him. It is earnestly desired by this sketch to bring this man of God to the attention of the present generation. Isaac T. Reneau was born on December 9, 1805, on Wolf River, in Clinton County, Ky., and was reared in the mountains among a sturdy mountaineer people. In spite of the rough and untutored people with whom he grew up, he attained an eminent degree of culture and education which made him a power among his fellows. Early in life he had a thirst for knowledge and resolved to get an education. There were very few schools at that time in the most favored communities, and none among the mountaineers of Kentucky and Tennessee. These great disadvantages were like insurmountable obstacles in his way, yet with dogged perseverance he pursued his studies until he was sufficiently qualified to teach school. He began teaching in his own neighborhood, and was a success as a teacher from his first effort.
When he was twenty-five years old, in 1830, he began teaching at Clear Fork, near Albany, Ky. He was very successful with this school and won a wide reputation as a teacher and especially as a grammarian. He was known as the best English scholar in Southern Kentucky. He acquired a very thorough knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages. After teaching for some years, he decided to become a physician. At that time a young man who desired to become a doctor did not go off to college or to a medical school, but sought out some successful physician and made application to him to study under him and learn the practice under the guidance of an experienced doctor. Young Reneau made application to read medicine under Dr. Jourdan, who at that time lived in Overton County, Tenn. This was in 1832. Dr. Jourdan was not only a successful physician in that country, but was also a preacher of the gospel.
Reneau made a trip home after several months, and heard that Elder John Smith ("Raccoon" John Smith) had come into that country to preach. When the announcement was made that Elder John Smith would preach on Saturday and Sunday, young Reneau, who had heard something of Elder Smith, decided to hear him preach. He had earnestly sought religion for eleven years; and he had been an earnest, prayerful seeker so long without having an "experience of grace," as it was called then, that he was beginning to despair and to doubt the Christian religion. He had been brought up under the delusion that no one could understand the Bible without supernatural aid. He had never heard anyone preach the simple gospel; so he was very much pleased to hear the plain, simple truth preached by John Smith and was impressed with his earnest exhortation for people to obey the Lord. He listened with more than ordinary interest.
The next day he sought a conversation with Elder Smith. This led into a fuller knowledge of the truth; however, he was not fully persuaded to obey the gospel. Later he had a number of conversations with Dr. Jourdan, and finally, on June 12 of the same year, he made the good confession of his faith in Christ and was baptized by Dr. Jourdan in Ashburne's Creek, in Overton County then, now Clay County. He continued to read medicine under Dr. Jourdan and began the practice within two years. He studied the Bible about as much as he studied medicine. He was not satisfied simply to practice medicine, but wanted to preach the gospel.
On May 15, 1835, he delivered his first public discourse. Previous to this he had been talking to all who gave him opportunity about the Lord Jesus Christ. His experience as a teacher and his new-found knowledge of the gospel gave him a great advantage over the denominational preachers in that country. He soon became one of the foremost preachers in his section. Lovers of the truth admired him and denominational preachers feared him. He was married to Miss Mary G. Wood, of Clinton County, Ky., on August 28, 1838. He reared a family of ten children. Many of these have grandchildren who are now respectable citizens where they sojourn.
He made many sacrifices for the truth and built up many churches in that section of the country. It is sad to know that many of the churches which were established by him, and others greatly strengthened by his labors, have in some measure departed from the faith. Many preachers are now living off the churches which he, in great sacrifice and suffering, established. Many of them do not know of Brother Reneau, and others do not give honor to whom honor is due. Few preachers, with the meager advantages that he had, have done the good which he did. Oftentimes he was eloquent in his appeal to people to obey the gospel. He was logical in his arguments and systematic in the arrangement of his discourses, and appealed to the Bible as the only source of authority in all matters of religion. His earnestness impressed all, his logical arguments convinced many, and his fervent exhortations persuaded not a few.
He delivered a sermon in the courthouse in Tompkinsville, Ky., in the spring of 1858, on the subject, "No Baptist Church, as Such, in the Days of John the Baptist." This discourse was printed in pamphlet form in Bowling Green, Ky., in 1859, was given a wide circulation, and did much good in refuting the errors of the Baptist Church in that country. The following paragraph shows how he dealt with his subject:
These strong claims and arrogant assumptions of the Baptists carry within themselves the seeds of their own mortality. While they are aiming the deathblow at all other denominations, they are annihilating their own claims to be the only true, original church. For, notwithstanding there are numerous sects and conflicting parties among the Baptists in general, and these all as discordant as confusion itself, yet they all claim a kind of hereditary inheritance in the same "old chain." But what is still more astonishing and soul-confounding is that these different divisions of the Baptist Israel will not commune with each other as Baptist sisters of equal rights and of equal claims to descent from the same original Baptist parent. These Baptist sisters, alias Baptist parties, accuse each other of illegitimacy, and alternately debar each other from the Lord's table because they are illegitimate and "out of order." This is literally so, according to their own showing. Witness, if you please, the present condition of the three Baptist parties of this and the adjoining counties. The Missionary Baptists will not commune with the anti-Missionary Baptists. They look on them as heretics. The regular, high-toned, Calvinistic Baptists will not commune with either of the other two parties of Baptists, because they look on them as having "departed from the faith," as having "gone out from us, because they were not of us." And, vice versa, neither of the other two parties of Baptists will commune with them, because they are heretical and "out of order."
In his unique way he dealt a deathblow to the Baptist Church in that section. He preached all over Southern Kentucky and the northern counties of Tennessee. It was largely through his labors that the church at Celina, Tenn., was established and developed into a strong church. His last trip from home to preach was to Celina, Tenn. This was in January, 1885. He labored faithfully with very little encouragement. He was deprived of the association of other preachers to a large extent, as he labored in a section of the country where but few preachers visited. He felt keenly his isolation from other preachers of the gospel, and was always encouraged when any of them came into his country and home.
He spent his last days in Albany, Ky., where he had lived all of his life. He died on August 9, 1885, aged seventy-nine years and eight months. His ashes lie in the cemetery in Albany, Clinton County, Ky., but his soul reposes with God who gave it. When the list of obscure heroes of the primitive gospel is made out by Him who never slumbers nor forgets his own, the name of Isaac T. Reneau will occupy a very prominent position. May the Lord be praised for such a man and for the great good that he did while on earth.
Biographical Sketches of Gospel Preachers, H. Leo Boles, c.1932, p.116-119
Directions To The Grave of Isaac T. & Mary G. Reneau
Isaac T. and Mary G. Reneau are buried in Albany, Kentucky. The Irwin Cemetery is located outside of town in the Irwin Cemetery. From Albany, head south on Hwy. 127. Turn left (east) on State Hwy. 696. Just after crossing State Hwy. 1076, the cemetery will be on your right. Go to the end, and enter the entrance of the cemetery. Go to the back of the cemetery, and go up the stairs on the right. Look for two obelisk type markers close together. This will be the Reneau plot.
GPS Location of the Grave
or D.d. 36.670833, -85.069354
Photos Taken 05.2011
Courtesy of Scott Harp
Special Thanks: To Tom L. Childers and C. Wayne Kilpatrick who assisted your web editor in locating the grave of Isaac Reneau, and for the photos that appear on this page.