Honoring A.G. Freed by James R. McGill

     A.G. Freed (1863-1931) was born in Indiana as the third child in a family of six children. He graduated from Teachers’ College and received his M. A. degree. He then took two years of additional graduate work at Valparaiso University.  Freed accomplished all this by the time he was 24.  In 1887 he enrolled in a school of preaching and graduated in the spring of 1888.

     After doing some preaching in Indiana, Freed responded to an invitation from D. S. Nelms, in a letter published in the Gospel Advocate, to come to Essary Springs, Tennessee, to establish a college.  The community is located in the southwest part of the state, just north of the Mississippi border.   The school opened in 1889 and flourished for six years.

The Move to Henderson

     In 1895 Freed received an invitation to become president of West Tennessee Christian College, located in Henderson, Tennessee, north of Essary Springs, and to merge his school with the Henderson college.

     The powerful influences of the missionary society and those who advocated the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship, forced Freed to accept E. C. McDougle as his co-president.  McDougle was the epitome of the religious liberal—an advocate of the “new hermeneutic” which held that “we must interpret the Bible in the context of our modern times.”

     Freed was forced out in 1905 and moved to Denton, Texas, just north of Dallas. There he served very effectively as president of a new Christian college, until he contracted typhoid fever and gave up his work there.

     In 1907 he returned to Henderson with plans to start a college to replace the one that had ceased operation.    In 1908 Freed opened the new college.  He chose N. B. Hardeman, one of his former graduate students, to be his vice-president.  In 1919 the board of directors named the school Freed-Hardeman College.

     By 1923 the two men were constantly at odds.  Hardeman claimed Freed was “set in his ways” and not open to standardizing the curriculum to correspond to what other schools were doing.  Historian C. P. Roland, who was present through all the conflicts, stated that the board of directors required both men to leave.

     Freed went to David Lipscomb College in Nashville where he served as vice-president and principal of David Lipscomb High School under President H. Leo Boles.  After having been president of four colleges over a 35 year period, for the first time Freed was in a secondary role.

     In 1927 a group of Christians brought Freed and Hardeman together where the two men were reconciled.

  1. G. Freed continued to preach at many places and to engage in religious debates. His preaching stayed with the basics and relied on logic more than on appeal to emotions.  Usually his lessons were thirty minutes or less.

     In 1931 his long-standing desire to have his book published became a reality.  Sermons, Chapel Talks, and Debates was published by the Gospel Advocate Co.

      Freed continued to be active in teaching and preaching until the fall of 1931, when he became seriously ill and entered Nashville’s Vanderbilt Hospital. He had exploratory surgery and was found to have inoperable liver cancer.  As he was being rolled into the operating room, he was heard reciting to himself, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  (Psalm 23:4).   He died November 11, 1931.  He was 68.

Defining Freed

     What kind of man was Freed?  Those who knew Freed or those who heard him preach and debate often held very opposite views.  Freed’s biographer, Ancil Jenkins, based on an interview with E. R. Harper, quoted the famous Baptist debater, Ben M. Bogard, as saying, “…A. G. Freed was the meanest…man I ever met.”  My own father, not then a Christian, heard Freed debate, and he shared Bogard’s appraisal.

     To my great surprise, a couple of years after I heard my father’s negative view of Freed, I received a totally opposite impression from a Christian pharmacist in Bruceton, Tennessee.  He had attended Freed-Hardeman College when Freed was president.  He told me:

“A. G. Freed was the most wonderful man I have ever known.  He was always cheerful.  He greeted every student each morning as they entered the building.  He was friendly, genteel and humble.  If ever I would expect to see anyone in heaven, it would be brother Freed!”

     For years I talked to everyone I could find who had known Freed.  Finally, I went to C. P. Roland.  He was a teacher and administrator at the school when Freed was president and for many years thereafter.  He explained that Freed was normally just the way the pharmacist described him.  But in his debates or in his preaching, when he was refuting religious error, he was merciless.