LIFE AND EXPERIENCE OF ELDER LEWIS EDWARDS
March 10, 1812 - November 12, 1894
Of The Primitive Baptist Church
Of Dickenson County, Virginia
Sand Lick, Dickenson Co., VA
August 1st, 1893
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Old Baptist:
Faith and Order: -- I have been impressed in mind for a long time to leave for you and my dear children a short history of my life, and the many sins I have passed through since I have been a pilgrim through this unfriendly world, for the year 1812 to 1893. I, Lewis Edwards, was born in Franklin county, Virginia, March 19, 1812. My parents were Brice and Jane Edwards. I was raised by pious parents, they taught me to be strictly honest and never to use profane language, and I can say now I never swore an oath in my life. My father moved to Patrick county in my 15th year, and though I was called a pious youth, I was a sinner, and sin was sweet to the flesh. I loved the company of young people and their sinful ways until I was about 16 or 17 years old, when my mind began to be troubled about my condition. I saw I was a sinner and not ready to die and the Bible said the wicked should be turned into hell. I became uneasy, for I knew I was a sinner. I became so uneasy and could see not rest; I thought I must try to pray; I did not want any one to know that I was trying to pray. At last I went off in a lonesome dark hollow where I thought no one would see me. There the devil tried to shame me out of it; he said I was too young to begin now; I would be slighted by all my comrades; I might have yet a great deal of pleasure with them, and then thereíll be time enough when I was much older. But I can say bless the Lord, He is above the devil.
I did not know how soon I might be called to die, and then I would be forever gone to that awful place, forever there to dwell. At last I ventured to get on my knees; I didnít know what to say, I could only say, Lord have mercy on me, a poor wretched sinner, I still went to myself and tried to pray, and I never got entirely shut of my troubles until the Lord set me free, though it sometimes wore off and I did wrong. I would make promises to try to do better, and sometimes I would fail, then I would feel dreadful. I went on in that way trying to do something good in the sight of God and failing until I lost all confidence in myself. The Lord spared me until I was 20 years old, and in my 21st year I was married to Nancy Howell, in Floyd County, Virginia, daughter of Benjamin Howell. After, I was married I think it was the blessed will of the Lord to make my condition plain to me in a dream. It was so great I never can forget it.
I dreamed I was going to school with all of my playmates, we were all assembled at the school house, and I saw our teacher, he was an uncommonly large black man. It seemed I was badly dissatisfied with the teacher, and some of the scholars told the
teacher I was going to run away and leave him. I thought he said if I did he would bring
me back and burn me in hell fire. I started to run with all my power, for I expected he would follow me, and I awoke running. When I awoke, none but the Lord can tell my feelings, the dream was made so plain to me. My playmates and myself had been going to school to the devil; he was our teacher. My brethren, I then saw my condition, but feared I had seen it too late. I intended to pray as long as the Lord would spare me, I felt like there was no chance for me. I wandered from place to place in secret places, feeling lost and undone forever until at last I dreamed another dream with a circumstance in connection with the other dream.
I dreamed I was standing at the door of torment and the keeper was standing at the door, one said to the keeper, "let us see the souls of some thatís gone to torment," he opened the door wide and brought out three, set them on the ground, and they burned continually with a blue blaze like brimstone. I thought he said they must go back; I thought the poor creatures crawled back in a place which looked melting hot, and they held up their heads blowing; it looked like their condition was dreadful indeed, beyond expression.
Oh! Reader, think before it is too late! I then turned and walked away; I seemed to have a load on my back, and in very bad clothing; I was going straight up to a fine house, where sat Col. Jacob Helem at an upper door of his house. I thought I looked mighty low going up to such a fine gentleman, but I thought it was made known to me that he would, in a short time, have to die and go to that dreadful place I had just passed. In a short time, when working in my field, a man passed by me and said, "Col. Helem is dead." My dear brethren, it was dreadful to me, I never will be able to tell my feelings. I then had no hope, my trouble, it seemed, was more than I could bear, I wandered through the wild woods with my Bible in my hands crying, "Lord have mercy on me, a poor sinner, and save me ere I am gone." I had tried all my good works and all had done no good; I saw I was gone unless blessed Jesus was pleased to help me. I thought I was in a strange way that no man ever was in before; I did not think the Lord ever would have mercy on such a wretch as I was. I cried, "Lord, if I must go to torment, let me go a beggar." In that dreadful condition, I went to meeting to see my sister, Sarah Arrington, baptized. We met at the place and after preaching, the church was called together, they began to sing, and their song I never can forget, I was sitting off like a poor criminal, their song was:
"What a mercy is this, what a heaven of bliss,
How unspeakably favored am I,
Gathered into the fold with believers enrolled,
With believers to live and to die."
My feelings I never can tell, it did seem my very soul hungered within me. I would have given all the world if it had been mine, to have had a seat with the true church. I saw my sister baptized, we then started home, it looked like my sister and I were parted; it was a dreadful day with me; we went to my fatherís and staid all night, in the morning we started home. We had to go along a spur of the Blue Ridge, called Wittís spur, just before we got to the top, my mind was off of my condition; when I got to the top my mind returned to my condition and was entirely easy, the next thought was, what is the cause! It seemed like something answered in feelings; "your sins are forgiven." My mind answered it canít be possible, such a wretch as I am can have such good news to tell. In a moment my soul was running over with joy; I felt like all my trouble was gone and I had awoke, in a new world, everything looked new; the trees and the mountains looked new; and I felt new. It was the best day I had ever seen. I had been so lost, and had thought there was no mercy for me, then to be filled with the love of God. Oh, my brethren, I want you to help me praise the Lord for what he has done for me. I want to praise him while I live. I thought I was free from trouble, free from pain of all kind. I could not see what could trouble me, but alas I was badly mistaken. I have found it a world of trouble. I now wanted to go home to my fatherís house and tell them what great things the Lord had done for me. I went to Jackís Creek church, was received; there was an arm of Jackís Creek church given off, called Green Hill, in Patrick County, Virginia, and there I was baptized by old brother John Conner, there was a great revival at Green Hill, and from three to twenty persons were baptized in one day. I was one of the deacons chosen when the church was fully organized. I was delighted with the church and had a great feeling for mourners. I felt like I ought to tell them what a Savior I had found, and exhort them to look to God for he is all in all, so I appointed prayer meetings and we seemed to have a good time. After awhile I began to think seriously about what I was doing, and the greatness of the cause, and whether I was called or not of the Lord. I did not think the Lord would call a man that could not preach, and I had but little learning and hardly common sense, and I began to be badly alarmed, I thought I had dishonored the good cause of my blessed Lord, and I did not think I ever could live in that country where I had so dishonored the cause of my Lord. So, I thought I would leave my native country and go among strangers and it should never be known that I had ever tried to speak in public, but when I got to Russell County, the weight of preaching was worse than in my own country. Often in my mind, I was preaching, then I would shake my head and say in mind, "I never will try any more, I have once done wrong and left my old country to get shut of the great reproach, and I never will try it again." My troubles got worse and I would leave home and wander in Clinch mountain alone, trying to pray to the Lord to show me what was the matter. At last one of my children, about three years old, having clear blue eyes, was suddenly black. It greatly alarmed me, I thought my child was entirely ruined. I did not know what to do, it came to mind to go and pray to the Lord, and if He had anything for me to do, He would make it known by restoring my childís eyes. In a very short time it was all right, though yet I could not believe such a being as I, would be called. I went in trouble day after day. At last my life of religion seemed to be taken away and I was left in a miserable condition. I felt like my peace on earth was gone. In that condition, I promised the Lord if He was pleased to set me free once, more, I would try, let the case be as it may. So, I went to meeting and went home with brother Shadrick Williams, and my trouble was so great I could not stay with him in the house. I wandered from place by myself. At last on Sunday morning, suddenly, as I walked alone, these words came on my mind with such power it nearly took the use of my limbs. The words were: "The day is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those that shall hear shall live." Now the request is granted, what will you do? Now came my trial. Will you do what you promised, or lie to God! Lord, have mercy on me. Lord, I am willing if I knew I was called, but I canít believe; I fear I shall dishonor thy cause.
My troubles were so bad, I told my brother my feelings. He says: "Appoint a meeting at my house next Sunday."
I did so, and that same passage of Scripture was my text. It was with power all week. On the next Saturday, I started to my meeting. Dear brethren, that was one of the times I never can forget. My trouble, none but God, knew I was greatly afraid. I was going to bring a reproach on the good cause of my blessed Lord. I tried to pray to the Lord if I was not called of God, I might be dumb, not able to speak the next day, so I could go home in peace and then I would know I was not called, if the Lord was pleased to answer my prayer in that way. But, it was not to be. My tongue seemed to be soon in a different way to what it ever was in life. It was, I hope, Godís will to show me on that day I had to go. I was made willing to try on that day. I promised the Lord if he would be with me, I would try as long as the Lord let me live. So, I have been trying in my awkward manner ever since. But my beloved brethren, I often think if I have a gift from God, I am one of the least and not hardly worthy of the name of a preacher.
Then in a short time, I bought land in Dickenson County, Virginia, it was then Russell County. In a short time moved to my land near the Sand Lick church. The church was without a pastor, and the church called no one to be their moderator, so I could not refuse and in a short time, they sent for a Presbytery to ordain me and brother Morgan F. Lipps and brother Shadrick Williams ordained me, so by the request of the church, I took the care of the Sand Lick church. In a short time, the Union church in Buchanan County, called on me and I took the care of the Union church and then the Mount Pleasant church was constituted and I was chosen their first pastor. Then, Johnsonís Bottom church was constituted and I was chosen their moderator. Then, the Cedar Grove church in Pike County, Kentucky, called on me and I took the care of the Cedar Grove church. Part of my time there was a considerable number of members received and baptized at all the five church named.
Then, the Union Association was constituted and I was chosen their first moderator. Brethren, I never could tell why it was that I was chosen either by the churches or the Associations, when it did look to me that I was the last and the least of all. It did seem to me nearly any of my brother preachers had a better gift than I, though I tried to always conduct the business of the churches and Associations strictly by my Masterís rule laid down in His word, though with tenderness and brotherly kindness. All my churches have generally treated me with more respect, it seemed to me, than I deserved. My Association never would give me up until I got so old and deaf I could not do the business. Brethren, if I have ever been any benefit in the cause of my Master the Lord is to be praised, for I am nothing of myself. Brethren, I have traveled over the high and rugged mountains, often alone, wandering and thinking could it be possible if the Lord had sent such a being as I am to do such important work as it appeared to me to be. Brethren, if I am saved, I am saved by grace alone, if I ever have preached, God is to be praised; if I have ever done any good in the churches or Associations, the Lord is to be praised, for I am nothing of myself, if I ever had any true hope in the Lord, it was the last day of December, fifty-six years ago. About fifty-five or nearly that time, since I first began to speak in public. Brethren, the Lord has spared me a long time in this poor world of trouble. I often think it wonít be long before the summons will come, then, brethren, it will be well with all the children of God, we then will no more sigh and mourn for fear we are deceived, but then all the children of God will get home to their fatherís house, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, where they will see their blessed Lord, who bled and died to set them free. Dear brethren of the Old Baptist faith, I love you all , you are my people. I want to live with you, I want to die with you, I want to go home with you, there to part no more.
My beloved brethren, Paul says, "eye hath not seen nor ear hath heard the good things that is laid up for them that love the Lord." Brethren, I have went through many trials in this poor world. I lost my first wife the 20th of January, 1860; I have lost three daughters and one son, all nearly grown; I have raised twelve children. I have always been a poor man, sometimes in great trouble, sometimes it seems, for a short time, all my troubles are gone when it is Godís will to speak peace to my weary soul. My dear brethren, I am now about to wind up my little book, many of you I shall never see in this world, but when you read these lines, remember me, and that Jesus Christ died to set the mourning free, and you, my dear children, when you read my little book perhaps years after I am gone to my long eternal home and you are left here in a world of dangers, sorrows and troubles, I want you all to have my little book, and to take good care of it; and think you once heard the old white head preach and tell that Christ died to save the true mourners, I want every one to take care of my little book.
I am now in my 82nd year and will shortly have to bid you all farewell, but I hope I shall meet you beyond this vale of tears, where partings is no more. I hope to meet my old father and mother, I hope to see my children. I now say to all my friends when you hear that I am gone, weep not for me, but rejoice that I am gone from the evil to come. Farewell.
I thought I would close my little book, but I am not yet satisfied, I want to more fully set forth my troubles and ups and downs, so I write a few more pages.
Brethren and Sisters, I will give you an account of some of the hard trials I have went through when I moved to Dickenson County. It seemed like I was greatly blessed, I paid for my land and had plenty of property to live on, and in my first wifeís lifetime, seemed to be doing well and had plenty as common poor men. My wife was, I think, a good Christian and would very near always go to meeting with me and encourage me to go and it was a great encouragement to me in my trials while she lived. But, alas, the fatal day rolled around when I had to bid a final farewell for a while, though I believe we will shortly meet again, never more to part. It was a day never to be forgotten, for then began a day of trouble never to end until my eyes are closed in death. I was left alone in a world of trouble, with a family to maintain. Oh, how the lonesome hours passed away, none can tell but those that have tried it. I then thought it best to get me another wife to be with my children when I was gone, trying to preach. So, I found one as near my own age as I could find, and one I was well satisfied with. I had one I would not have given for all the world. I was satisfied with my second wifeís virtues, but in one thing I was deceived. She is a fine woman for an industrious and smart wife, but she did not think preaching would make us a living and I had promised the Lord where He showed me I would do, and that I would try to do his bidding as long as I lived. She was of one opinion and I of another, so we became divided. Then began our downfall, I then began to try to serve two masters; preach some and serve my family some, so dividing the time, and then began our entire downfall.
I wish to say a word to all my brother preachers. If you believe you are called to preach, donít let anything stop you, donít listen to anything, not even the wife of your bosom, nor the cry of your children, but go straight forward, looking unto him that hath said, follow me. Donít do as I have done, but do like the milk kine, when tied to the new cart bearing the ark of the covenant, go straight forward, lowing as they went. To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. I will say to all Godís children, live in duty and donít forget to pray. The Lord has said, ask and you shall receive, he died for his children and has risen for their justification.
Brethren, I was once the owner of 1,000 acres of land, and now I have no home of my own. I have hard times. I do candidly believe that if we had all done our duty, I might have been the owner of all my land, though I never stopped preaching entirely. I did not go as much as I think was my duty. My brother, preacher Samson, was sent as a defender of Israel, and while he kept his hair he could break new withes and new cords; could rend a lion or kill a thousand foes with a jaw bone of an ass, his enemies could do nothing with him until he got his head into Delilahís lap and went to sleep, she shaved off his hair, then the enemy could take him and put out his eyes.
Though Samson was blind, he was not dead. Brethren, there is some hop. Samsonís hair began to grow and his strength returned, and he then did the greatest work in all his life. Brethren, let us never despair. If we are weak, our Lord is strong, and though we may not own land, we have something far better, I hope. I have a blessed God for my help. Brethren, our enemies are thick on every side. We have to fight for the good cause. I have just gone through a hard battle with the enemies of the church. So hard was the battle that it split the church asunder, and they have yet stood on the side of their leader, who preached justification by works. The time has come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but will heap to themselves teachers having itching ears. Brethren, the Lordís word says:
"I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people that shall trust in the name of the Lord."
Though I am very poor and old and deaf, and my case looks like one of the worst almost on earth, but I donít think it is so. I think if I am poor here, I am getting easily home to my Fatherís house, and He is rich. He has plenty laid up in store for all his little children.
Brethren, if I am a child of God, I am a little oneí and if I am a preacher, I am a little one; and if I am saved, I am saved by grace, and grace alone, not for anything in me; and if I am so blessed as to get to that happy world, I will get there through the merits of my Lord.