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Written by Lee Hanks   

The Gospel Messenger, 1889

I was born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, June 13, 1861, and was the youngest of twelve children, of whom were nine boys and three girls. My parents, William and Frances Hanks, were not members of any denomination. (I baptized my mother last summer.) My parents were extremely poor. My father was badly afflicted and died of consumption when I was a very small boy, leaving a wife and eight children. When my father died we were very destitute; he did not have a hat or coat to wear and we were destitute of provisions. We made one little piece of meat do us from April until late in the fall, and of course had but little meat and but very little bread. I suffered greatly with hunger, and have gone to neighbor's houses and begged for a morsel of bread. I have suffered so greatly that I could eat lard or candles, or almost anything. The first hat I ever had I was going on fourteen. I have had to labor in the winter, and my feet cracked open and the blood would run out on the cold ground. I was turned out without a home at the age of eight years and six months, and have had to wander from place to place and receive the severe abuse of infidels and wicked persons. My clothes were so ragged I have often had to tie them on me with hickory bark. I knew' nothing of the advantages of going to school or even associating with good society, but was looked down upon by those who had superior advantages. I cannot find language in so short a spice to tell of the severe abuse and the sufferings of hunger and cold. My mother was feeble and went from place to place.

At the age of fifteen, while living in Bland County, Virginia, where I had taken my mother, and we had cleaned out an old stable and split slabs for a floor, and we were living in the stable and a portion of the time had to exist on Irish potatoes, I was there enabled one night to see that I was forever lost and to view the justice of God in my condemnation, yet previous to this I had been very moral at times, and had had many serious impressions about my eternal welfare, yet I did not think it would take long for me to get religion (as it was called). But there I saw the elect of God in their glorified state all adorned in heavenly draping and I was cast off with the wicked where I soon had to forever make my abode in an endless perdition with demons. Oh! the deep agony of soul that I was in! My sins were as mountains before me day and night. My heart, I saw was a sink of sin, being deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. I would go away off to find a place to pray, but no place was secret enough for me. I would fall upon the earth and my tongue would cleave to the roof of my mouth. My heart was as hard as adamant.

I tried to cry but could not cry; I tried to pray but could not pray, yet that awful burden was pressing me down as a mighty weight that I could not get rid of. I could not wear it off in society; the more I tried to work the deeper in sin it seemed to sink me. I was brought to see that I was helpless, my strength gave way, and I looked around me and the earth was shrouded in darkness; there were no charms on earth for me. I felt that I should soon die and be forever lost, and I started to go to the woods to pray once more before I died, and my strength gave way and I was sinking down, it seemed. While there in that awful dilemma I cried as I thought for the last time: "God be merciful to me, a poor, lost sinner." My burden was taken away and my whole being seemed robe filled with love sweeter than ever before, and all things in creation seemed to be praising God.

A rain soon came up and I went to an old house in the field and lay down upon a plank, and I looked at my ragged and dirty clothes and it came to me: "These clothes are too filthy for you to wear," for I felt to be clean; I felt that Jesus had cleansed me and clothed me with his righteousness as with a garment. The church was then presented to me as a home for God's elect, and the doctrine of election, predestination, salvation by grace and final preservation and resurrection of the dead was presented to me. I never felt that it was simply an angel that took up its abode in me, and that it was the child of God, but I felt that I, Lee Hanks, was changed; not that I was changed from flesh to spirit, or that my natural appetite for natural food ceased, but I loved things I once hated and hated things I once loved; I had a desire to do right, but evil seemed to be in my flesh so that I could not do the things I desired. I never had stayed under the roof of a Primitive Baptist up to this time; I knew nothing of them.

But there was an irresistible impression for me to leave and go to West Virginia. I knew no one there, but I arose and went, though very poorly clad, and had to beg my way and was looked upon as a tramp. When I got to a certain place I had to stop, and I hired to a Methodist, and soon got to hear Baptists preach for the first time, and it seemed to me that they were the loveliest people I ever saw, and I could say of a truth, these are my people if I were only fit to be with them. But the next Sunday I went eleven miles and told the dear Baptists what I hoped the Lord had done for me, yet I could not see how they could receive me, but to my surprise they did. I was baptized in New river by Elder William Dobbs, October 14, 1877. (I had to borrow clothes of a Methodist to be baptized in.) I there received the answer of good conscience; I trusted and felt that all was well. But soon an impression which seemed worse than I could bear was upon me, bidding me to go and tell of the works of the Lord, but O, how can I? I am too poor! I know nothing but Negro language, such as "gwine," "dis," "dar," etc. I cannot read anything correctly. I am not acquainted with the Primitive Baptist doctrines well enough, and if I was I cannot tell it; I have no education and have such a miserable bad stammer in my speech, hence I could not see a qualification I possessed, and I thought the Lord would not call me.

The Scripture was continually on my mind. "Upon me necessity is laid, and woe is me if I preach not the Gospel." The burden was so heavily upon me I prayed to die to get rid of it, and I went on until my mind was almost gone and I was stricken down in my field in September, 1879. While lying there I was made willing to go and do the best I could, and on the Sunday following I made my first effort, though it was a mighty cross, yet I received an ease of mind. I have been hobbling along trying to quit and trying to talk a little ever since. I was ordained in August, 1886, by Elders J. W. Parker, John Purvis and William Galloway. I am trying in weakness to serve four churches, and have baptized about eighty-three since I was ordained. I have many ups and downs to contend with, and realize more and more of my weaknesses, but I desire a home among God's people while I live, for whenever I travel among them I feel at home, and would to God that I could see His saints united, but while some may be separated here, ere long they will all be one.

Lee Hanks

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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.