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Written by J.H. Purifoy   


Snow Hill, Ala., August 1888 

ELDER J. R. Respess--Greatly Beloved:--I have felt impressed to write something of my life, whether of the Lord or not T cannot say, but I hope it is. It may be that my work is nearly done. I hope so, at least sometimes, that my departure is at hand; and if so, I would love for my children to know after I am gone of the dealings of the Lord with me.

Affectionately, J.H. PURIFOY.

I was born at Snow Hill, Wilcox county, .Alabama, 9th September, 1837, of Primitive Baptist parents. If I have ever been born of the Spirit, and thus made a new creature in Christ, the work of grace, in my conviction for sin, began in my 7th year, but I had no felt evidence of the pardon of my sins until I was about 16 years old. Between those two ages I had at times great trouble of mind in reference to my future state. saw and felt that I was not prepared to die and meet God in peace. Yet I greatly desired to be prepared, and was willing to do anything that would bring about that great, result. I verily thought that I could do something in that direction that would be pleasing to God and in my favor. The thought that I was a justly condemned sinner, and that hell was my doom and portion forever so weighed upon my mind that I was often in the deepest distress, and for relief I begged the Lord to have mercy upon me. In my distresses I kept aloof from company as much as possible, desiring to be alone, and I frequented solitary places in secret to beg the Lord in prayer to save me, hoping that he would hear my prayers and give me relief. I prayed because I could not help it. The urgency and necessity of my case from the heart-felt view of my sinful nature and lost condition compelled me to pray, but. time and again my prayers failed to bring the much sought for and desired relief. I had fondly hoped that surely the Lord will hear the prayer of such a distressed soul as I, but as he seemed not to hear me nor regard me, the distress of mind became greater, till at length I was made to feel that there was no mercy for me; no salvation; that I was too vile, too wicked for the Lord to heal' me. So the thought occurred to me that if I would do better, live right and do right, then the Lord would regard me with favor. I did my best then to change my conduct and to control my temper, disposition and tongue, but that, too, was a complete failure. Seeing that my prayers and my attempted reformation had utterly failed to bring me relief, I now felt convinced that I was surely lost and that forever, and justly, too. I had now reached the point of keen despair where I could no longer pray, but gave up to be lost. Never can I forget that day. As I was plowing in the field that spring morning, a day that was bright, pleasant and clear, yet for a while it was the gloomiest day to me of all the other days of my life, for I felt not only lost and undone forever, but felt also sure that the Lord was going that very day to strike me down suddenly in death and swiftly send me down to eternal ruin and misery. I was alone in the field feeling that I had not a friend on earth nor in heaven. I was, so miserable and sad ill heart that all nature seemed to look sad too, and to be sorrowing over me. The sun, though it was shining brightly., seemed sad and dim; the trees looked sad, and the staging of the birds was intensely sad, and I was looking and expecting every moment to drop down dead in my tracks, when all at once the scene was completely changed: The burden, the heavy burden of guilt, condemnation and woe, was gone, and I felt as light as a feather. There was joy and gladness in my heart, for I felt that God for Christ's sake had forgiven my sins, and that he was my friend all the while and I did not know it, and that Jesus was my Saviour. From my heart I felt to love God, his people and everybody. A new song was in my mouth, a song that had never been there before, even praises to God for the great things that he had done for me. All nature now looked lovely; the sun looked glorious; the trees looked glad, and the birds, it seemed to me, sang sweeter than I had ever heard them before. It seemed, too, that my troubles were all at an end forever. I wanted to tell everybody what the Lord had done for me, and thought when I got home I would be sure to tell mother; but after awhile something seemed to ask, "What is all this about? You think this is religion, but it is a mistake; it is nothing but .the mere imagination of your own mind." I believed it enough to be greatly distressed and troubled in mind about it often, fro/n that day to this. I may be deceived, thought I; it may all be a delusion. Feeling thus, I earnestly prayed the Lord to undeceive me if I was deceived. Many are the times that I have prayed that prayer, and I cannot say now that I have ever received a positive answer to it; doubts still assail me. When the burden of doubts came upon me I had no desire to tell any one, not even my mother, what was on my mind. For nearly two years I was struggling with my doubts, and had come to the conclusion that I was deceived sure enough, when all at once I was made to feel a desire to be baptized. That desire grew upon me, though I tried my best to overcome it, feeling so unfit for baptism, until it became an irresistible longing, and forced me to the church for relief, where, after telling in a confused and, t~, me, unsatisfactory way the exercises of mind ill part of what I have writ. ten, I was received and baptized. But in baptism, while I was relieved of the burden to be baptized, I did not feel that joy and gladness that I have seen and heard of in others. I felt oppressed and burdened with some inexpressible something I could not tell what, but something seemed to say to me. "just as you have been put under the water so you will have to put others under it." I felt, too, that perhaps I had deceived the church, and that made me sad. The thought that I was deceived in myself was bad enough, but to think that I had possibly deceived others, especially the Church of Christ, was a serious trouble to me. On the day I offered myself to the church for membership after I left the meeting house on my way home I felt troubled in mind, fearing that I had done wrong, and the trouble so increased that I sought out a lonely place in the woods that afternoon, and falling prostrate with my face to the ground I lay there for an hour or two begging the Lord to show it to me if I had done wrong so that I might tell it to the church and not suffer them to baptize such a deceived and unworthy creature; but no satisfactory answer came to me, only I felt that I must be baptized, unworthy as I was. So from the day of my baptism on I have not been free from burdens. Doubts, fears and a keenly felt sense of unworthiness made up one burden, and then impressions of mind about preaching, beginning as I came up out of the water, made up another burden; and the two together' made me so gloomy that I had but little enjoyment of any kind long at a time. The world had no charms for me, and I was not fit to be with the people of God. I longed for seine of the old members to talk with me, and encourage me if they had confidence in me, but they did not, and this rather confirmed in me in the belief that I was too unworthy to be with such good people; so I reached the conclusion that I was nothing but a miserable hypocrite, and that it was my duty to confess it to the church and have them exclude me, and I went to a conference meeting fully determined in mind, I thought, for that very purpose; but when the time came for me to make my case known to the church something seemed to ask me, Do you not love these brethren and sisters who have received you into their fellowship? Yes, was the answer that came from the very bottom of my heart.; yes, I love them, and cannot help it. Then the inquiry went on, "Can you, then, give them up and go back into the world and by that conduct give the lie to your heart and say that you do not love them?" That was a hard question, and I did not know how to answer it. Then the next question was, "Do you not love Jesus, your Savior?" To which I was again compelled to say yes; and then, Can you feel to give up Christ and go back to the world and in that way say that you do not love him? Have you done anything that can make you worthy of heaven? Can you do anything to make, on worthy of a place there? No, no, was the answer, well, then, if you cannot make yourself worthy of heaven do you think that you can make yourself worthy of church membership? Where is your worthiness for heaven? Jesus, I said, is my worthiness for heaven if I have any worthiness at all. Well, then, if Jesus is your worthiness for heaven is not he your all-sufficient worthiness for church membership, too? Upon this such a heavenly light and feasting seemed to fill my soul that I was content to remain in the church as long as they could fellowship me and bear with me. From that day to this the subject of. church membership has never troubled me. My only trouble in that direction is to know of a truth whether Jesus is my worthiness for heaven, and feeling to hope and believe that he is, my whole trust is in him, and him alone, as my worthiness for church membership. Along about that time, and in my 19th year, I was sent to the Jefferson Medical College, in Philadelphia, Pa., and remained there till I graduated in medicine. Returning home I began my career as a doctor of medicine. I soon became cold as a church member, and my mind was taken up with the desire to rise high up in the medical profession, and to make money, and get rich. As I grew in coldness in church matters doubts of all kinds assailed me. I doubted the reality of the religion of .Christ; I doubted the genuineness of the Bible, and went so far in this temptation of skepticism as almost to doubt the very existence of God. I was in the midst of thick darkness. At times I was in the light of revelation it seemed, but soon was in darkness again; still, love for the people of God never left me. It seemed to be the only ]ink that bound me t(, them. Then at times the impression that some day I would have to preach came on me with much force, but feeling that it was a mere whim of the brain I would pa.-:s it by as speedily as possible. While in this cold and declining condition the war between the States came on, and 1 saw theft if I did not go into it voluntarily I would be forced to do so, or I thought so, and preferring to go as a volunteer rather than as a conscript I entered the Confederate Army as a soldier in the spring of 1862. But having no desire to run the risk of my life as a soldier, and being opposed to the war as a needless measure for perpetuating our rights under the Constitution, and wishing also to keep up my profession as a physician, I sought for and obtained a commission as Assistant Surgeon , and held that position to the end of the war. A three years' army life was not very well calculated to give a cold, doubting, skeptical church member much spiritual warmth and comfort, yet at times I seemed to have both, and my faith seemed to be strengthened to trust more and more in God for protection and care over me, especially when a prisoner in the hands of the enemy. To add to my indifference in church matters the church at home, the church of my membership, got into confusion and disorder ill regard to secret institutions and alien immersion; and the labor of the Association to remove the disorder failing, the church was dropped from the Association. This was the state of things when I returned home at the close of the war. I made an effort to get the church to acknowledge her error and return to the Association, but they refused. This condition of things led them at last to unite with the New School Baptists, against which I labored, but finding that I could not influence them to do as I wished them to do, I very foolishly made up my mind to go with them and share their lot, whatever it might be. For eight years I was a prodigal in wandering away from my Father's house. Then I came to myself, and waked up as it were out of a long sleep; no more worthy to be called a son, I came back to my Father's house willing to be as one of the hired servants; and since my return I have had to endure several times the taunts and the sneers of the home son, but feeling that I do not deserve any better treatment I do not wish to complain of it. I feel to rejoice in the hope and belief that the Father has received and welcomed home the wayward prodigal. If so, that is enough. In returning I had to go twenty miles or more to find a Primitive Baptist church, the nearest to me, where I joined and was received on confession of faith. There I was liberated to preach, and obtained a letter of dismission, and finding a few Old Baptist members holding letters we called for a presbytery, and were constituted a church of the Old School Baptist order and faith. In about a year after, I was set apart to the full work of the ministry. My first impression about preaching was at my baptism, in my 18th year, but I felt so sure that it was not of the Lord that I felt it to be my duty to resist all such impressions that came on me, with increasing power, from time to time. ! had no desire or inclination to be a preacher, though when under strong impressions to preach I would think and feel that I would not mind being a preacher if I could only preach with great ability, as I had heard some do. If I could be just such a preacher as Elder A or B, thought I, then it would be delightful to be a preacher, but as I could see no possibility of such a thing in me I tried to banish all thoughts of preaching from my mind. Once the church of my early and first membership, before she lost her identity as a Primitive Baptist church, liberated me to preach, and I flatly refused to submit, believing that my impression, s were not of the Lord, and that it was my duty to refuse, and determined that I never would submit till I felt that God had called me to the work. But after playing the prodigal, and getting back home, the impressions that I would be compelled to preach came on me with greater power than ever; so when I was liberated the second time I felt afraid to refuse, dreading the judgments of God. And the first time I tried to preach, which was in August, 1875, I had a great dread of it, fearing that I was about to attempt something that I ought not to do, and for which I felt no qualification or ability at all, but to my surprise and joy I had good light and liberty both in speaking, so much so that I thought I would never dread it any more. But in this I was greatly mistaken, for my dread was greater the second time than the first, because my mind was completely shut up, and I made a miserable failure. Then great trouble of mind followed, and I felt sure that the Lord had never called me, and there was my failure as the evidence of it so plain that there could be no mistake about it; and after a most painful exercise of mind over it a whole night and a good part of the next day I determined never to attempt to preach again unless I was positively compelled to it, and that I would confess to my church that I was deceived in the matter and had unintentionally deceived them, and ask them to forgive me. At that moment something seemed to say to me, "Yes, you can quit, that is for awhile, but quit if you dare, for the moment you do so the severest judgments of God will be sent upon you, and the very first stroke will be to take your little and only daughter from you." To which my response in heart was, "Lord, if that be so, let every time be a failure rather than that. Let me ever be abased, and be kept in humble submission to the Divine will rather than that my disobedience should bring suffering upon others, especially on my own family." From then till now I have been afraid even to try to quit preaching, though I have often desired to quit. I soon had the care of four churches, and endeavored to attend them regularly and at the same time keep up my business that I had been in for some years, viz., the practice of medicine, merchandising and farming. My business at that time was fairly prosperous, and I had begun to accumulate seine in property; and as the churches I served were very weak, both financially and numerically, I fondly hoped that I could continue to prosper in my business so that I could attend the churches at my own charges, and expense, and for about five years I managed to hold out pretty well, though I had ceased to accumulate any, but after that time I began to lose rapidly in business, and many who justly owed me would not pay me, and among that number there was more than one professed Old Baptist. This put me in debt for a considerable sum, and the thought was suggested, now as you have been defrauded out of what was justly due you, and out. of enough to more than pay your debts, make over what property you have to your wife, and' ill that way pay your debts, and legally defraud your creditors. The thought and suggestion was so abhorrent to me that I said, no, not for a moment would I think of such a thing; that all I had was subject to my debts, and that every dollar, without any compromise, that I owed must be paid if it took the last bit of property that I had in the world, and put me and my family out of doors without a home to shelter us, for my creditors had sold to me ill good faith, looking upon me as an honest man, and they depended upon my honor to pay them. So honor being dearer to me than all I had I held all subject to the payment of my debts, and had my creditors then, at that time, forced and pressed me to a full settlement, and my little property had been put under the hammer, it would in all probability have taken all, about, to have paid me out of debt, but my creditors were kind and lenient with me, so that I have paid the greater part of my debts without having to sacrifice my properly in home and land. By the mercy of God I still have a home for my family. For the first five years of my ministry, I struggled hard to serve churches and at the same time keep up my business, but in serving the churches and attending associations, in addition to that of taking from one to two tours of preaching away from home and in other states every year, caused me to be away from home so much, that I could not give the personal attention to my business that was necessary to make it successful, but I hoped and believed that as that time was given to the service of the Lord's people, that my affairs at home would be so blessed of the Lord, that I would sustain no toss in my absence; and when I was brought to realize my sad situation, it was a terrible shock to me, and my bitter and murmuring thoughts were: "If I had neglected my business to gamble, to loaf and tramp around, and spend my time in drunkenness, and upon lewd women, I could not expect anything but disaster to my business, but to give so much time to serving the Lord's people, and then have to suffer as an evil-doer, was more than I was prepared for; and it made me have hard thoughts against God, and to feel in heart that He had deceived me, or else that I was under an overpowering delusion of mind, that was leading me on to ruin; or, that Satan himself had me in his power, and that soon I would be down in the lowest depths of poverty and misery. Then it was that. I felt that I could not Speak any more in the name of Jesus; that I must, in duty to myself and family, give up preaching, and take hold of my business again in person and work out of debt. But, 'quit if you dare,' rung in my heart as it did at the time already mentioned and every other time that I seriously thought of quitting. To add to my distress, and the belief that I was in a deluded state of mind, or under the destroying influence and power of Satan, I was deeply impressed that I must give up all--business, home, and all else of this world--and give myself and all my time to traveling and preaching. It is impossible for me to describe in words the agony and bitterness of soul which followed that impression. Deeply in debt, my business once prosperous, and the support and comfort of my family now ruined, and the impression that I must give up all to travel and preach continually to a people that had very little sympathy, if any, for such a course, made up a bitterness of soul that I cannot describe. In my distress, I wrote to a precious brother, who had devoted a great deal of his time to traveling and preaching, hoping to get some comfort and encouragement, but instead of that, he wrote in substance that if I did give up all to travel and preach, and my experience in it should turn out like his did, that it would only get me deeper in debt, and that the brethren would be the first to condemn me for being in debt, and the last ones to help me out of debt. This only added to my distress; so I said to myself, I cannot, and I will not do it. I was willing to give up all my churches but my home church, preach to that and revive my business--as I was still afraid to try to quit preaching altogether--get out of debt, and then if I could be so prosperous as to have a good property--annual income above expenses, and the support of my family--so that I could travel and preach at my own charges, and not feel and be dependent on others; and besides, be able to help destitute brethren and sisters, and thus go ministering to others--both in spiritual and temporal things--that would have been gratifying indeed, both to the spirit and the flesh. I was willing to go in that way. But to lay down all in the condition I was in was more than my fleshly nature could submit to. So, in my great and exceeding bitterness, I desired to die, and earnestly begged the Lord to kill me, and in a little while after, that prayer was near enough answered by a serious accident, in being thrown violently backwards to the ground on my head out of a wagon, off, and together with a high seat on the back end of the wagon box, or body, on which I was sitting, and which went over with me, that it brought me to the very door of death. As I came to myself, I thought I was dying, and, though suffering so intensely with pain, and gasping for breath, I rejoiced in the thought that the Lord had heard my prayer, and that in a little while I would be out of all the troubles of this world, and especially the thought occurred to me that all trouble about traveling and preaching will soon be over. The only regret I felt, was that of being carried dead to my family, and the distress it would give them; but, my own distress was so great, that it outweighed all else, and it seemed sweet to die. But as I revived more and more, and saw that it was not death, this thought came: It is the Lord showing you how completely you. are in his power, and how severely he can punish disobedience, stubbornness and rebellion, and how he can compel obedience, and the question, as though a voice had asked it, came into my mind: "Which had you rather now do, or be done to you, give up all and devote all your time to traveling and preaching, or be paralyzed and thrown upon your family a helpless cripple and invalid the rest of your days ?" "Lord, anything rather than that," came as a reply from my heart. For about a month after that, I was confined to my bed, and during that time I was made to feel as dependent on the Lord for my daily bread as I am for the salvation of my soul. I was made to feel more and more, too, that necessity was laid upon me by the Lord, to give all my time to traveling and preaching--not only among the churches, but in destitute places--relying on the promises of God for support while thus engaged. And while it was, and still is, sorely trying to the flesh to I)e away from home and family so much; to see my business, under which and by which I lived and prospered so long, and had a comfortable living in sight all the while, now gone, and perhaps forever, then felt compelled to go forth with nothing in sight but God's promise, or to sell all that I had, pay my debts, and then if there was anything left, live on it as far as it would go. Yet I went, trembling, depending on the promises of God, and he has not failed me, though at times it seemed there would be failure. Neither have I nor my family lacked for anything that was absolutely necessary to us, but lie does not make pets of us, for he has put me on a course that is extremely mortifying to the flesh. I have been made acquainted with sorrow, grief, hardships, crosses, losses and many disappointments. To go and see nothing in sight but a promise of support, is something that my nature is so unaccustomed to; and to be made dependent on others, through whom God carries out his promise, looks so uncertain, and is so humiliating to my fleshly nature; and then to feel that I am altogether a most unprofitable servant, and can see but little, if any, good that I am doing; and then, too, to meet occasionally with coldness and downright opposition from brethren, and see them in places harbor and believe false reports concerning me, that some malicious and injurious person has industriously circulated ahead of me; all this and more too, that might be mentioned, make up a heavy burden to one who has sacrificed all that is dear in this life, naturally to labor alone for the good and happiness of others--especially for the household of faith. If I had the general sympathy and encouragement of our people, as the church and people of God, in what I feel compelled to do; if they felt about it, and saw it as I am made to feel and see it, then they, as a people, would help me bear the heavy burden that is so heavy at times that it seems it will crush me to the earth. Still, everywhere, nearly, I go, I find precious true and tried brethren, and many of the churches, that do most willingly and cheerfully stand by me. For such brethren, I do most heartily and fervently praise the Lord. But for such, I could not plow in hope at all; it would then be a life and labor of despair from beginning to end. So, in this way, the Lord convinces me that all my trust must be in him; that I must look to him and him alone for all things, for he alone can open the heart to feel for and minister to the 'wants of those whom he has sent forth to preach the gospel as their daily duty. It is singular and wonderful how the Lord works in this matter. Sometimes a brother whom I have never seen, and whose name I have never heard, perhaps, before, writes me words of cheer and encouragement, and encloses a contribution for my temporal support, and to-aid me in traveling from place to place in preaching. And, sometimes, a brother or sister writes to my wife, sending her a contribution, to let her know that she too is remembered-that she is not forgotten entirely by those to whom I have ministered in spiritual things--and while I feel grateful and thankful to all such helpers, and appreciate it more than I can express in words, still my glorifying is in the Lord, for it was he who put it into their hearts to do what they did. In this way I have been convinced of the presence with me of the Lord, and his care over me and mine. With these blessings, together with the help of a loving companion, who labors hard with her own hands with her needle, and a little rent from a two-horse farm, we still live comfortably, and have in a great measure paid out of debt.

"To God be all the praise."

He has been my help hitherto, and he alone is my hope for the future--both for time and eternity. I have often told the brethren that if it were not for the Lord; that they could and would look on my devotion and sacrifices to them with complete indifference, and see me come to nothing in their service, and my family brought to want, and care no more about it than the enemies of God. In all my travels, I do not remember that I have ever heard one of our preachers tell the brethren from the pulpit, that they ought to do any more for me than to help pay my traveling expenses. I do not remember to have ever heard one say, that in helping along after a godly sort, to not forget that Brother Purifoy and his family have to live like other people, and that as he has been compelled to give up all r the work in which he is engaged, that he needs more than enough to pay traveling expenses. They seem not to remember that at all, nor to think of it, but the Lord does not forget, and he knows that I need more than barely enough to pay traveling expense. So he regulates that, and sometimes, where not a word is said publicly about contributions, just as much is given as when attention is specially called to it. And the Lord does not confine himself to the brethren alone in this matter. He sends some in many places, who do not belong to the church as visible members, and some of other denominations, who minister to me in temporal things. I hope they all are the Lord's in heart, and that I will meet them in heaven. Brethren often get careless and forgetful of their duties to one another, but the Lord, as the keeper of his people, never forgets his promise to them. Mothers may cease to love and forget their babes at the breast, "Yet will I not forget thee," says the Lord.--Isa. xlix, 15. With the eternal God to stand by us, and his promise ever to be with and to supply all our necessities, never forgetting us, ought to be encouragement enough, and may be would be if we knew beyond a doubt that we were doing what he required of us. But we walk by faith only, and know only in part, we see more plainly our weakness, and that our real strength is in God.



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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.