JUSTIN OLIN EDMONDS was born in Clarendon, Rutland county, Vt., Sept. 17th, 1810. From that place his parents removed to Hartland, Niagara county, N. Y., where they have resided ever since, and still survive among the oldest and most respectable inhabitants of the town. They have lived to see a numerous family of children and grand-children grow up around them, nearly all of whom have embraced Christ, and been added to his people. They are themnelves members of the Baptist church in
that vicinity, highly respected among the brethren for intelligence, integrity, and devotedness, and, in particular, "given to hospitality." Few ministers or missionaries, who have had occasion to travel in that region, are ignorant of their names, or strangers to the free-handed and warm-hearted generosity which ever beneath their roof spreads the bounteous board and smooths the comfortable couch for all the Saviour's friends.
Olin was one of the youngest of the family. No record has been preserved of his early religious history. The subject of most faithful training, it is certain that he "knew the scriptures from a child;" and deep and lasting convictions of their truth must have been wrought into his mind by the influence of his parents' example, and by the intercourse with christians of eminent piety, for which such ample opportunity was afforded at his father's house. As might have been expected, through boyhood and youth he not only maintained a moral character unusually free from spot, but manifested an invariable and profound respect for all the doctrines and institutions of religion. To the latter he gave, as he had opportunity, a ready support. He was deeply interested in the Sabbath school long before his own heart had felt the power of divine truth, and engaged personally in the work with an ardor of enlightened zeal, which might afford to many who bear the christian name at once the keenest of rebuke and a model worthy of all imitation.
He was hopefully converted to Christ during the winter of his 21st year, and made a public profession of his faith in the month of March following. Very soon after his connexion with the church, he appears to have had impressions of duty in relation to the work of the ministry; but being unable to solve the question satisfactorily to his own mind, he said nothing on the subject to his friends, and silently prosecuted the course of mental training which he had already begun, and which he knew would be equally useful to him, in whatever form of christian labor he might ultimately engage. About two years after, as we learn from his diary, his religious feelings experienced a special and very interesting revival. He seems to have been led to deep and thorough searchings of heart, to have reviewed his former course of life at the foot of the Redeemer's cross and in the light of the judgment-throne, to have been borne down beneath an overwhelming sense of unworthiness, and, with a contrite and broken spirit, to have laid himself down, as a living sacrifice, on the altar of Christ. "And now," writes he, June 2d, 1833, after recording the exercises of a Sabbath day of more than usual interest, "O Lord God, thou hast brought me into existence, and been my Preserver from my youth up. Thou hast multiplied thy blessings on every side. while I have been a wicked and rebellious subject, and have broken thy law, which is holy, just, and good, times and ways without number. O Lord God, I have so deeply sinned against thee, and sinned against so much light, that it would be most just in thee, and thy throne would be perfectly guiltless, shouldst thou send me now to hell. Glory be given to thy great name, that I hope for better things. And now.
Lord God, here I give myself up unconditionally into thy hands, soul and body, for time and eternity, praying thee to strip me of all selfishness, and make me wholly thine. Convinced as I am, that nothing but thy sovereign grace can make me meet for the society of 'the saints in light,' I thus give myself to thee, praying that thou wilt wear me out in thy service, and then admit me to the joys at thy right hand, for the great Redeemer's sake. Amen." From this time onward, we discover most distinct and affecting evidences of spiritual advancement, of more and more lively devotional feelings, deeper anxiety for the conversion of the impenitent, and greatly increased activity in the cause of Christ.
In the fall of that year, "at the request of his pastor and other friends, and also from a conviction of duty" he related to the church his exercises in relation to the ministry. He still felt doubts, but was willing to receive the advice of his brethren, and desirous that they should divide with him the responsibility of decision. They were quite ready to assume their share of the burden; and after a second trial of his gift, they licensed him "to preach the gospel, wherever he might be cast in the providence of God." He almost immediately received invitations to the pastoral charge of churches, who were interested in his first efforts, and discovered in him the promise of far greater success. But such were his views of the qualifications requisite for a high degree of usefulness in this sacred work, that nothing could induce him to listen to these proposals. He felt that he must first be "taught the way of the Lord more perfectly." This conviction was so pungent and clear, and so intimately blended with those exercises which had pressed him into the ministry, that he could not doubt as to its having the same origin. Accordingly, in obedience, as he believed, to the Divine will, he made immediate arrangements for entering the Seminary at Hamilton, and commenced his studies with the Freshman Class, in the spring of 1834.
It was here that two members of this committee became personally acquainted with him; an acquaintance, which, as they were class-mates, naturally ripened into intimacy, and laid the foundation of a friendship which continued without interruption until the time of his death. One of them, in particular, was his room-mate in the last years of their common course, and can, therefore, speak with the greater confidence of his habits and character, both then and since.
Few of his fellow-students were so generally,or so "favorably known throughout the body. He was not noted for any extraordinary brilliancy of parts, though his mind was vigorous and sound, and by dint of application, he maintained a highly honorable standing in all his studies, and in some (especially in tho Mathematics, for which he had contracted an early fondness,) he stood among the first in a class more than usually distinguished for zeal and proficiency in this branch of collegiate education. But it was his moral and religious character that rendered him most conspicuous. As a man of principle, of generous affections, and of high christian attainments, he may truly be said to
have been among his compeers "a burning and a shining light." It must be acknowledged that his temperament was favorable to a high degree of moral culture, while he possessed all those elements of natural sensibility which, properly regulated, give at once beauty and force to character - the harmony of their development was the most admirable feature of the whole. You found in his moral composition every thing you could wish, and nothing in extremes - nothing ill-balanced or out of proportion. Constitutionally cheerful, no one but himself ever accused him of frivolity. Discriminating in his selection of associates, and strong in his attachment to friends, he had nothing of the spirit of exclusiveness about him: he despised or hated no man. Spontaneously generous, his principles made him consistently, (and if we may so speak,) economically so. He carefully husbanded his resources, not for his own, but for the benefit of others. To do good did certainly appear to be, naturally, his delight. It apparently cost him less than most of us selfish mortals, to deny himself a gratification or endure an actual hardship, for another's good. To injure another was not in his heart: an injury done to himself, he was quick to feel, and slow to resent. The anger that "reigns in the bosom of fools," in his bosom found never more than momentary place, scarcely ever, even that. Though from his natural activity, he engaged with great zeal and earnestness in those affairs which constitute the important business of the little world of college, yet his zeal was always tempered with moderation, and in his earnestness, he never lost possession of himself, or forgot the courtesy due to an opponent. Says one who was for years his most intimate companion: "I can truly say that I never saw him give way to the spirit of anger, and never but once discovered even the appearance of any such emotion. Then, at a marked and doubtless intentioned insult, his face suddenly flushed with feeling; but while every eye was fixed upon him in expectation of some expression of resentment, he remained for a moment perfectly silent, and then, having completely mastered his passion, rose, and ventured a mild but manly remonstrance against the injustice done him. I need hardly add, that his course was as successful as it was magnanimous." In action, Mr. E. was prompt without being rash, persevering without being reckless, resolute without being stubborn. While, therefore, he was proverbially efficient, he was never guilty of those imprudences, which are often as mischievous as malice itself, and occasion the bitterest regrets even in minds conscious of no evil intention.
We have spoken of Mr. E. as a man of principle. He was always to be relied on. His engagements, of every kind, were not merely met with fidelity, but (a rarer virtue) with scrupulous punctuality. He had none of that sort of magnanimity, which, disdaining minuteness, forgets to be honest, and is at last forced to be mean. He never dodged a creditor, or forgot a promise. He never colored a statement, or stooped to carry a point by management and intrigue. His character was transparent as
crystal, his word more sacred than a written bond.
The same conscientiousness was shown in relation to all his duties as a student, and in his strict observance of all the regulations of the Institution. In this respect, we commend him as a model to all young men in similar circumstances. He cared nothing for the unpopularity of such a character among the ill-principled and ill-advised; and every imputation on his motives he despised as the coinage of a narrow or an envious mind. Nor did he feel absolved from these obligations by any considerations of personal convenience, or even of interest. When his less thoughtful associates would sometimes urge him to omit some minor duty, to which perhaps he could not attend without some slight sacrifice or considerable inconvenience, he would reply: "No, these laws are for the general good, and every social obligation binds us to observe them strictly. Individual interests must be subordinated to the common weal."
His religious character was equally interesting. His diary affords abundant proof, that while laboring diligently for the cultivation of his mind, he was not negligent of his heart. A few weeks after entering the Institution, he made the following record: - "Am convinced, that the advice of some friends, 'not to trouble myself much about my heart while studying, but to pursue my course with rigor, and afterwards attend to the cultivation of piety,' is bad, and am determined not to follow it." His resolution he was happily enabled to carry out. His fellow-students can never forget how uniform and punctual was his attendance on all the public means of grace. He loved the sanctuary. It was his practice to record, at the close of every Sabbath, the names of the preachers to whom he had listened through the day, together with their texts, and some brief comment respecting the religious effect of the discourse on his own mind. When they were of more than usual interest, he would write out a full abstract of them in a blank book kept for the purpose. Several of these books, neatly and closely written, are found among his papers. His place in the prayer circle was rarely vacant; and there was no religious exercise in which he manifested greater freedom, or engaged publicly with greater willingness, than that of prayer - a pleasing proof, that it was an exercise to which he was no stranger in private.
His piety was active. It wrought outward, as well as within him, and sought the salvation of others, as well as his own. He showed how much of direct christian labor may be accomplished, consistently with the diligent prosecution of a course of preparatory training. The promptitude with which he set himself to do whatever his hand found to do, is illustrated in the following incident, which may be taken as a specimen of the man. He arrived in Hamilton, and entered the Institution, May 3d, 1834. The next day, being the Sabbath, he attended worship in that village. By the following Sabbath, he had found his way into a destitute region about twelve miles distant, where he proposed the organization of two Sabbath Schools at different points. A week
later, we find the following entry in his diary: "May 18, Lord's day. To-day, went to attend the Sabbath schools which I had agreed to meet. Found the prospects quite encouraging, more so than I expected. Organized one school in a district, where a Sabbath school was never held before, and where I met several very wicked young men, who were not ashamed to show that they were servants of the devil, and meant to serve him faithfully. They, however, treated me with some civility, and professed a wish to attend the school. Their motives are known to the Searcher of hearts, and O may His Spirit make use of the school as an instrument for their conversion. Felt that I had in some measure the presence of my Lord, and O 'tis sweet!" Here we find him with his summer's work laid out and an efficient beginning made, in less time than most young men would have required, to get over the novelty of the scene and ascertain that there was even an opportunity for them to labor directly in the Saviour's cause. These schools he continued with great success through the season, and, it would seem, subsequently increased their number, for under date of Sept. 28th, he writes: "Closed three of my schools today, at the last of which preached by request to a crowded assembly. My labors in B. have now closed for the present season. I have no reason to regret having been there during the past summer, although it has been attended with some inconvenience and some slight sacrifice." His labors were indeed "not in vain." His name is still spoken in that place with interest and affection, by those who received spiritual benefit from his instructions.
We next find him at the head of a class in the Hamilton Sabbath School. It was while laboring to gather the children of the vicinity into that school, that his attention was drawn to the Irish Catholics in and about Hamilton, large numbers of whom were at work on the Chenango Canal, then in process of construction. Like his Divine Master, "when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad like sheep having no shepherd." He went among them, and found them not only entirely without religious instruction, but given up to the most vicious indulgences, especially on the Sabbath, "assembling in different huts, carousing, and wallowing in filth." On his first approaches, they were, as he expresses it, "wild as patridges;" but he soon convinced them that he was a friend, and came to do them good. After a while, he obtained their consent to visit them regularly, to instruct their children, and even to preach and distribute books among their shantees. He and another brother of congenial spirit, faithfully occupied this field until the close of the academic year, with what results eternity must reveal. They felt the counteracting influence of the priest, and seem not to have been sanguine of effecting much. The last reference made to these labors in the diary, is in these words: "Aug. 16. Have continued until now to spend my Sabbaths among the Catholics. We have found them uniformly kind, willing to receive
us, and even anxious for our coming. Still, I have but little expectation that they will be permanently benefited. Their hearts appear almost callous to the impressions of truth. Now I must leave them, at least for a time. May the Lord sanctify the feeble efforts which have been made, to the enlightening of some precious souls, and thus get glory to his own great name."
He was soon after selected superintendent of the Hamilton Sabbath School. This office introduced him to a wide field of usefulness. He became generally known in the community, and during the rest of his stay in Hamilton, enjoyed a large share of the public confidence. His visits were almost exclusively of a religious character, and in many families are still mentioned with interest and gratitude. His memory is fragrant, and wherever the trace of his influence is to be met, the eye rests on it with satisfaction and delight.
We have dwelt with greater length upon the time which he spent at Hamilton, because, as now appears in the inscrutable Providence of God, this was to be the principal field of his earthly labors, and because his example, instructive to all, addresses itself with peculiar force to christian students. It is a happy circumstance, that though his spirit was released at a far distant point, his body now sleeps among those scenes with which it was conversant during the period of its highest activity. There, though dead, he yet speaketh; and his voice is to you, O young men, the favored sons of the church, the chosen heralds of salvation: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."
He was graduated from the Theological Department of Hamilton Institution, in August, 1839, but prosecuted studies as a resident graduate several months longer. He was married, Jan. 15, 1840, to Miss Philena Spear, daughter of Dea. Abraham Spear, of Palmyra, a companion every way fitted to promote both his happiness and his usefulness. They found a home in the family of his brother, Mr. James Edmunds, Jr., then Steward of the Education Society, intending to remain there until Mr. E. had completed his contemplated course of studies. The writer of this sketch sat at the same table; and it is not without an affecting sense of the vanity of human expectations, that he recalls those scenes, so recent as hardly to seem past. The two brothers had married sisters; and all the four were there gathered under the same roof, in the prime of life, united in the closest bonds of affection, pursuing the same great ends, and with every prospect of long and happy lives spent in the Redeemer's service. Three of that four now lie side by side in the "Cemetery-grove," under the shadow of those trees to which they so often walked in company, and within sight of the Institution with which they were all connected by such interesting relations. Brother J. O. Edmunds closed the eyes of his wife on Jan. 16, 1841, just one year from the day of their marriage. During her protracted and painful illness, her husband watched beside her with
unwearied assiduity. The fatigues and vigils of that trying season, were too much for him. His frame, before, a model of robust vigor, never wholly regained its elasticity, but by a steady decline, at first gradual, but more rapid toward the the close, sank to the house appointed for all living.
After a few months, spent successfully in an agency for the Education Society, Mr. Edmunds accepted a call to the pastorate of the Baptist church in Jersey city, near New-York, where he remained until his failing health obliged him to relinquish preaching altogether. The books in which, with characteristic accuracy, he kept the records of his brief career, as well as the style of his written discourses, exhibit abundant evidence of the ardor with which his work was prosecuted, and of the high standard of ministerial excellence which he had set before him. The record of his success is written in the history of a revived and strengthened church, on the hearts of many who through his instrumentality are made possessors of the Christian's hope, and, we trust, in the Lamb's book of life.
On leaving this dear people, he made a short visit to his friends in Western New-York, and then, in the fall of 1842, bade them, as he foreboded, (alas! with too much reason,) a final adieu, and went into a southern state to pass the winter. He found a home in the western part of Virginia, at the house of Dr. Grady, and his father, of Snickersville, a Christian and a Baptist.
His letters during the winter were so cheerful, as to encourage among his friends the hope that his diseases had been effectually checked, and would soon be thrown entirely off. Nor did anything occur to disturb this expectation, until April last, when a letter was received from Dr. Grady, containing intelligence of his having begun again to fail, and with so much rapidity that there was but little probability of his ever returning north. His brother was at that time confined to the bed-side of a dying wife, but without delay despatched a messenger (Mr. Samuel Ward, then a theological student at Hamilton,) with directions to bring Mr. E. immediately home, unless indeed it should be too late to do so with safety. Mr. Ward found him even lower than he expected, and felt some doubts as to the propriety of removing him; Dr. G. also was exceedingly reluctant to have him set out while so feeble. But the strong desire which Mr. Edmunds felt, to see his old home once more, and to be buried by the side of his beloved companion, overcame the kind scruples of his friends; and, having drawn from the Dr. an opinion that he would probably be able to endure a slow and easy journey, and perhaps be even benefited by the change of scene and air, he at length concluded to leave a house, whose inmates had manifested the tenderest sympathy in his sufferings, and where every thing had been done for his comfort which professional skill could dictate or christian kindness devise. On the evening of the fourth day after leaving Snickersville, they put up for the night within six miles of Alexandria, having come only fifty miles. At this time, writes Mr. W., "he seemed less
fatigued than on any previous evening, and retired to rest much encouraged with the prospect of soon meeting his friends in Hamilton. About three o'clock next morning, he awoke me. I found him sitting, on the side of the bed. The first thing he said was, 'I feel very strong.' I told him I was glad to hear it, and he replied that he wanted to go out, and walk around the house for exercise. I told him I thought he needed rest more than exercise. 'Well,' said he, after musing a moment, 'just as you say,' and lay down again. The next morning he referred to this conversation, and added: 'After you went to sleep, I got up and walked out into the garden and all around.' There were circumstances which satisfied me, that this could not be so; and the painful conviction flashed upon me, that his brain had become affected, and that his mind was deranged." This suspicion was soon confirmed, and from this time Mr. Edmunds began very plainly to fail. On reaching Alexandria, they were most kindly received by Elder Kingsford, who would not consent to their going any farther that day, although they felt that the most fatiguing part of their journey was over, the rest being by water and railroad. At his house, the best medical advice was procured for Mr. Edmunds' now suffering body; while nothing could be more adapted to soothe his troubled and excited mind, than the judicious converse of this experienced minister and his excellent lady. Before midnight he was much relieved, the next morning seemed decidedly better, and by eight o'clock was comfortably lying in the cabin of the steamer Columbia, and rapidly descending towards the mouth of the Potomac. To this point he had been looking forward during the whole of his fatiguing and tedious ride, with the feeling that when he should reach it, he should be indeed near his home. Nor did the result disappoint his expectation; but it was his heavenly, not his earthly home, to which he now was rapidly approaching. "So far as the body was concerned," says his kind and faithful attendant, "brother E. seemed comfortable, except for a short time in the afternoon, when he manifested considerable uneasiness; but his mind was disturbed and wandering the whole day. He would frequently ask me, if I had seen his brother James yet, or if I had been to the post-office for letters and papers from his brother. In the course of the day, Elder Adams, of Baltimore, came on board at one of the landing places, but brother E. gave no sign of recognizing him. Early in the evening, we approached the mouth of the river. The wind was high, and the water so rough, that the Captain thought it unsafe to venture out on the Bay, and we anchored in Comstock Harbor, about a quarter of a mile off Cape Lookout. At ten o'clock, I had a bed spread for Mr. E. on the floor, which I thought would be more comfortable than his berth. But very soon after being removed, I found that he was dying. He was at first slighly convulsed, but gradually sank into a state of perfect quietness, continuing to draw his breath more and more faintly until about a quarter before eleven, when he gently breathed his last. So peaceful was his departure, that I could not determine
for some minutes whether he was really gone. It was truly "falling asleep," and, without a doubt, in the Saviour's arms. The day before, he had conversed with Mr. and Mrs. Kingsbird, as freely as the state of his body and mind would permit, and given the most satisfactory evidence, if indeed his life had left any room to desire it, that his hope was fixed upon the sure foundation, and that it was as an anchor to his soul in this dark and stormy hour.
There is something melancholy in the circumstances of his death, on that wild, tempestuous night, in the cabin of a steamboat, surrounded by strangers, and with only one of the many affectionate friends who would have felt it a privilege to stand by his bed-side and soothe his dying pangs. And yet it was pleasingly characteristic of the man, to die in the resolute pursuit of an object on which he had fixed his purpose - an object, too, to which he was drawn, not by his interests, but his affections. It was a suitable end of a career so energetic and self-forgetting as his had been throughout; and he doubtless found it (to use an expression of his own, made but a day or two before,) " as sweet to go to Jesus from a steamer's cabin, as from any other place."
Immediately after reaching Baltimore, Mr. Ward made arrangements for fulfilling brother E.'s dying request, that he should be carried to Hamilton and buried by the side of his wile. This melancholy journey was completed on the afternoon of the sixth day from his death; at which time his friends, having been previously notified, assembled at the tolling of the bell, and proceeded immediately to the interment. It was with an inexpressible feeling of relief and satisfaction, that they saw this precious dust, its mortal toils and weary wanderings ended, laid in its chosen place of rest. Beside him lay his beloved companion, and just beyond, beneath a yet fresh sod, their newly-buried sister: and there the three shall sweetly sleep together till the resurrection morn."
[Thomas Wilson Haynes, editor, Haynes' Baptist Cyclopaedia: Or, Dictionary of Baptist Biography, 1848, pp. 229-238. Document from Google Books. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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