The bulk of his ministry occurred in the state of Texas. Yet Angus McAllister Stewart was born, reared, educated, licensed, and ordained in Georgia – meaning Georgia Free Will Baptists are a primary source of influence on the Free Will Baptists of Texas, especially in East Texas and Central Texas where Stewart labored profusely.[i]
As an evangelist, Stewart engaged in revivals that over a century later appear both numerous and successful.[ii] He traveled, not only promoting the work of Free Will Baptist churches, but also education. He pastored churches in Texas, Georgia, Minnesota, and perhaps elsewhere. These churches include, in Georgia: Pleasant Grove and Pleasant Springs in the Chattahoochee Association; in Minnesota: Champlin, Hennepin County; in Texas: Bright Light and Bryan in Brazos County; Lone Star and Rape’s Chapel[iii] in Cherokee County; Evergreen in Grimes County; Beckville Clayton, Tatum, and Union Chapel in Panola County; Good Hope and Union Springs in Rusk County. Some of the churches organized by Stewart are found on pages one and two above. Not listed in the previously referenced newspaper article, Evergreen Church in Grimes County must be added to the list of churches organized by A. M. Stewart, bringing the total to about 19 churches believed to be organized by him.[iv]
A. M. Stewart was a man of letters, but apparently never an author. The theology of Stewart is not known to be set down on paper, unless it found be in the Articles of Faith of the Texas Free Will Baptist Association organized in1878. As the founder and primary leader of the Texas Free Will Baptists at the time, it is likely that he produced the Articles of Faith or at least heavily contributed to the document. On the other hand, it is possible that the articles were copied from an older source. Though the minutes of the first session of the Texas Free Will Baptist Association are not available, the articles in 1894 and later minutes likely represent the articles originally adopted by the association. These Articles of Faith are both succinct and biblically-oriented. The statement is limited to five articles; one each on God, Free Will, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Bible.[v] The statement consists mostly of quotations or references to biblical texts. Article 1, for example, is basically a quotation of 1 Timothy 2:5-6. Article 5 is a quotation of 2 Timothy 3:16. This provided the foundation for the doctrine and practice of the early Texas Free Will Baptists. The Constitution, Church Decorum, Government and Ordinances documents provide further detail and insight into the faith and practice of early Texas Free Will Baptists.
With the understanding that A. M. Stewart founded the first Anglo-American Free Will Baptist work with historical continuity, we may pronounce him the “Founding Father” of Free Will Baptists in Texas. There was a prior “spontaneous” work that emerged from the “Regular” Baptists that had a brief existence circa 1850 in the area of Sabine County, Texas.[vi] The African-American St. Paul Freewill Baptist Church in Lancaster, Texas preceded Stewart’s church in Panola County by 6 years. Other Anglo Free Will Baptists entered Texas independently of Stewart and also started churches that have continued to the present – albeit arriving later than he. Nevertheless, through his life and ministry, Angus McAllister Stewart made an original and lasting contribution to the founding of Free Will Baptists in Texas.
His work is done. He kept his faith. The Panola Watchman reminded its readers regarding this “man of God, friend of all mankind” who was “loved by all with whom he had acquaintance”
Weep not that his toil is over;
Weep not that his race is run.
God grant we may rest as sweetly,
When, like his, our work is done.
[i] Joseph Apperson, moderator of the 1894 session of the Texas Free Will Baptist Association and pastor of New Prospect in Cherokee County, was also already an ordained minister in Georgia before he came to Texas. His father David J. Apperson served as moderator of the Chattahoochee United Free Will Baptist Association about 30 years.
[ii] Some of the revivals lasted three weeks, perhaps longer. Stewart at times had charge of the music – “The choir under the direction of Mr. Stewart aids in the services with splendid music – and he also engaged noted singers of the day, such as W. C. Frasier and J. E. Thomas. See The Bryan Daily Eagle, Friday, Vol. 18, No. 148, May 16, 1913, p. 2 ; “The Revival,” The Bryan Daily Eagle, Vol. 3, No. 125, Tuesday, April 26, 1898, p. 4; “The Revival,” The Bryan Daily Eagle, Vol. 3, No. 132, Tuesday, May 4, 1898, p. 4; “Continued Meeting,” The Bryan Morning Eagle, Vol. 4, No. 129, Wednesday, April 26, 1899, p. 3.
[iii] I have not located Rape’s Chapel in Cherokee County or elsewhere, but the assumption is that it was located in Cherokee County, Texas.
[iv] Evergreen at Keith in Grimes County was organized by Stewart in 1895. W. T. Wood was the first pastor. See From the Red to the Rio Grande, p. 283.
[v] For example, neither apostasy nor feet washing are mentioned – though feet washing is briefly addressed the 29th statement of the “Church Decorum.”
[vi] The Free Will Missionary Baptist Association was formed by churches that withdrew from the Sabine Baptist Association. The Sabine Association was not “Primitive,” but was opposed to Missionary Societies, Fraternal Orders and (apparently) held to a general Calvinistic soteriology. In contrast, the Free Will Missionary Baptist Association adopted the name “Free Will” and held the distinctives of Free Will Baptist theology – general provision, the free response to the universal call of the gospel, open communion and apostasy, as well as adopting pulpit affiliation (i.e., exchanging pulpits with different orders of Baptists and/or other denominations, which neither the Anti-Missionary Society, Missionary, nor Primitive Baptists would do). – Flowers and Fruits from the Wilderness, Z. N. Morrell, 1872, pp. 192-93.