By Thomas Ray
Lewis Lunsford was one of the most distinguished and successful Baptist ministers of the 18th century. He was born about 1753 in Stafford County, Virginia. His youth was marked by the hardships and difficulties that accompany poverty. He was converted sometime during his teens and baptized through the ministry of William Fristoe. It is unknown when Lunsford preached his first sermon, but by the time he was 18, his fame as a preacher was already established.
Although deprived of a formal education, he possessed a superior mind and remarkable oratorical skills. His talents were so great he became known as “the wonderful boy.” Desiring to improve his preaching skills, he often studied by firelight late into the night. Testimonies to Lunsford’s preaching skills provide one of the reasons for his popularity and influence. Robert Semple, pastor and historian, wrote, “Lunsford was a sure preacher. In his best strains he was more like an angel than a man. His voice, always harmonious, often seemed to be tuned by descending seraphs. His style and his manner were so sublime and so energetic that he was indeed like an ambassador of the skies, sent down to command all men everywhere to repent.” Henry Toler, a fellow pastor, said Lunsford “preached as if he would never preach again.”
In about 1774, at the age of 22, Lunsford began preaching in what is known as the Northern Neck of Virginia. His preaching produced results, both favorable and hostile. A minister of the established church preached a sermon identifying Lunsford with the madmen of Munster. He was arrested and found guilty of disturbing the peace. On another occasion, while preaching to about 700 people, a mob arrived armed with knives and clubs determined to silence the preacher and disperse his audience. Turmoil ensued. Lunsford retreated to a nearby house where his friends provided for his safety.
One of the ruffians considered himself an able debater and believed that if given the opportunity, he could defeat and vanquish Lunsford. He was allowed to enter the house and to speak with Lunsford, but when he left, he wore a new face. His friends asked him, “What happened?” He said, “I think you better talk with him yourselves.”
Lunsford, undeterred by his opponents, continued preaching the gospel with great success. He founded the Nomini, Morattico, and Wicomico churches. He became pastor of Morattico where he would remain until his death. His ministry at Morattico was truly amazing. The church was founded in 1778 with 18 members. By 1790, it was the largest Baptist church in Virginia with a membership of 495. When you realize that Baptist churches in the 18th century had between five to ten times as many hearers as members, you can begin to grasp the extent of Lunsford’s ministry. For example, the First Baptist Church in Philadelphia reported they had 82 members and 700 hearers.
Lunsford also possessed the ability to minister to the wealthy and influential members of society. During a six-week period, he baptized four of the wealthiest and most influential families in Virginia. One of those converts was Robert Carter, considered the wealthiest man in Virginia.
If Lunsford’s success at Morattico had been the extent of his ministry, he would have been considered a great man, but his ministry extended far beyond his church. It is estimated that he traveled and preached more sermons than any other man in Virginia. His itinerant ministry carried him into Delaware. He made three preaching tours to Kentucky. He once traveled 120 miles in 50 successive hours to reach his meetings. Often he would rise from his sick bed to preach.
In 1793, the Dover Association was meeting only 18 miles from his home, and although he had been ill, he desired to meet with his brethren. He went and his health appeared so much improved he made extensive preaching appointments. He preached at the Association on Sunday. Before returning home, he fulfilled a preaching engagement on the following Tuesday at the Bruington Meetinghouse. After the service he developed a cold, and even though quite ill, he preached the following day commenting, “It may be improper to attempt to preach at this time; but as long as I have any strength remaining, I wish to preach the gospel of Christ.” He then preached what would be his last sermon from the text, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He started toward home, but his condition continued to deteriorate. Forced to stop at the home of Mr. Gregory, he was immediately put to bed with every remedy applied, but to no avail. He fell asleep in the arms of Jesus on October 26, 1793. He was about 40 years old.
[From Baptist Bible Tribune, November 24, 2010. Used with permission. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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