Robert Elliott Speer

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Robert Elliott Speer
Robert Elliott Speer

(1867-09-10)September 10, 1867
DiedNovember 23, 1947 (1947-11-24)
(aged 80 years, 74 days)

Robert Elliott Speer (born Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, 10 September 1867 – 23 November 1947[1]) was an American Presbyterian religious leader and an authority on missions.


He was born at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania on 10 September 1867. He graduated from Phillips Academy in 1886 and from Princeton in 1889, and studied at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1890-91.

He became active as an itinerant recruiter for the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) from 1889-1890.[2]

In 1891 he was appointed secretary of the American Presbyterian Mission. He visited missions in Persia, India, China, Korea, and Japan in 1896-97, and in South America in 1909 and later made similar tours. In Princeton he was greatly influenced by Arthur Tappan Pierson. Under his leadership the foreign missions of the Presbyterian church became remarkably successful. He retired in 1937.

He died on 3 November 1947 in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania and was married to Emma Doll Bailey in 1893 and together they had five children.


Although he published two articles in The Fundamentals,[3] he is often considered a liberal because he sided with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and opposed John Gresham Machen during the anti-liberal/modernist controversies of the 1930s.[4][5] He is quoted to have said that Karl Barth offered "an essential recovery of aspects of truth which will not so easily be lost again."[6]


Speer wrote numerous sermons, articles, pamphlets, and books among which biographies, biblical commentaries and Christian living. Most deal with missionary principles and practices but some tackle controversial social problems.[2] He coined the famous four principes of Jesus which became embedded in Moral Rearmament[7] and in the Alcoholic Anonymous[8] as the "Four Absolutes" or the "Four Standards". Basing his views on his own biblical research, Speer regarded these four principles as one of Jesus' key teachings: Purity, Honesty, Unselfishness and Love.[9]. While the initiator of those movements, Dr Frank Buchman, held Robert E. Speer in high regard[7], he used a version of the four principles which had been reworked by Pr Henry Burt Wright from Yale.[10]


  • The Man Christ Jesus (1896)
  • A Memorial of a True Life: Biography of H. M. Beaver (1898)
  • The Man Paul (1900)
  • Presbyterian Foreign Missions (1901)
  • Missionary Principles and Practice (1902)
  • The Principles of Jesus (1902) (on line text)
  • A Memorial of Horace Tracy Pitkin (1903)
  • Young Man's Questions (1903)
  • Missions and Modern History (two volumes, 1904)
  • The Marks of a Man (1907)
  • Christianity and the Nations (1910)
  • The Light of the World (1911)
  • South American Problems (1912)
  • Studies of Missionary Leadership (1914)
  • John's Gospel (1915)
  • The Stuff of Manhood (1917)
  • The Christian Man the Church and the War (1918)
  • The Gospel and the New World (1919)
  • A Missionary Pioneer in the Far East (1922)
  • Seeking the Mind of Christ (1926)
  • The Unity of the Americas (1926)
  • Some Living Issues (1930)
  • The Finality of Jesus Christ (1933)
  • Five Minutes a Day (1943)
  • George Bowen of Bombay (1938)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lefferts A. Loetscher (1974). "Speer, Robert Elliott". Dictionary of American Biography. Supplement Four 1946-1950. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  2. ^ a b Gerald H. Anderson (1998). [Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions "Speer, Robert Elliott (1867-1947), Presbyterian mission administrator"] Check |url= value (help). Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  3. ^ Chapter 28 "God in Christ the Only Revelation of the Fatherhood of God" (originally, Chapter III Volume III, pp.61-75) and Chapter 54 "Foreign Missions, or World-Wide Evangelism" (originally, Chapter IV Volume ?, pp.64-84)
  4. ^ 1933 Book review
  5. ^ Machen-Speer Debate–Historic Event in Presbyterian Church Christianity Today 3.12 (Mid-April 1933): 19-2
  6. ^ Piper 2000, p. 50.
  7. ^ a b Boobyer, Philipp (2013). The Spiritual Vision of Frank Buchman. Penn State Press. p. 22. ISBN 9780271062945.
  8. ^ "Origins of Moral Inventory, Moral Inventory backdrop". The AA Original Way Group website. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  9. ^ Robert E. Speer (1902). The Principles of Jesus. New York: Fleming H. Revell. p. 33-35.
  10. ^ Dick B. "The Four Absolutes - Their Source, Application, and Significance". website, your global resource for AA history. Retrieved 24 May 2018.


Religious titles
Preceded by
The Rev. William Oxley Thompson
Moderator of the 139th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
Succeeded by
The Rev. Hugh Kelso Walker