Very little is known concerning the history of James Read, before his conversion to God. According to his own account, he was in very early life the subject of much alarm, under the consciousness of his guilt, as a transgressor of the Divine law. He seems, however, to have entertained, on the subject of religion
generally, very incorrect ideas. It was not until 1756, he being then about thirty years old, that he submitted to the sway of the Prince of peace. His conversion took place in North Carolina, under the ministry of Elder Daniel Marshall. Up to this period, his opportunities for mental improvement were quite limited, insomuch that, at the time he entered the ministry, he could neither read nor write. Under the tuition of his wife, he was soon able to peruse the pages of unerring truth.
Although he was in many respects unqualified to instruct in spiritual things, as an evangelist he was successful in winning souls to Christ. His spirit was stirred within him, when he beheld the thousands around him exposed to ruin; and he lifted up his voice in simplicity and godly sincerity, declaring the gospel of Christ. He traveled extensively both in North Carolina and Virginia. Indeed his talent seems to have been peculiarly suited to itinerant labor. In company with Samuel Harriss in one of his journeys, seventy-five, and in another more than two hundred, were buried with Christ in baptism.
It is painful to be compelled to state, that for some impropriety of conduct, he was excluded from the fellowship of his Christian brethren. After the lapse of two or three years, when satisfactory evidence had been afforded to the church of his repentance, he was restored to their affections, and to the full exercise of his ministerial functions. To the end of his course he exhibited a blameless life, and was made of God useful in his cause. Notwithstanding the piety and success of this man of God, he was evidently in some things enthusiastic. He was too much inclined to regard his impressions as immediately from heaven. To this he was subject from childhood. It is partly to be accounted for from the fact, that he was almost altogether uncultivated, and that the early part of his life was passed in a time of comparative ignorance.
His death took place in 1798, in the seventy-second year of his age, having been more than forty years engaged in the ministry. His end is said to have been most triumphant. He was willing to leave the world, because he expected to be with Christ. In taking his departure, he said to a friend: "Do you not see the angels waiting to convey my soul to glory?"
=======[From James B. Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, 1859, pp. 26-27. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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