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Written by David Montgomery/Afton Richards   

Dear Friends,

The following is one of the most moving articles I have ever read. I have spoken to several who were eyewitnesses of this event. Reading this always affects me and I am sure it will move you as well.

DM

The Last Mile

by Elder Afton E. Richards

The Banner of Love--February 1977

A sermon preached by Elder Homer Warren on Saturday afternoon, Aug. 13, 1966 at the Panhandle-Okla. Association, according to mental notes made of the sermon by A.E. Richards...

My brethren and sisters of this association of the Baptists of this area of Texas and Oklahoma; I feel that it is through the Providence of God that my wife and I are privileged to be with you at this time. I have prayed that I might be able to make this trip. As you know my wife and I both have been in very poor health and it has been a matter of doubt with us, if we would be here at this time.

I was born and raised and spent much of my time in the red hill country over near Elk City, Okla. Also my wife came from that country. And we have been anxious to come back this year and visit with you. This afternoon I would like to relate to you some of my experiences in life, and some of the dealings of the Lord with me. Sometimes I feel that I have not accomplished very much in my ministry, but I have learned a lot. I have learned a lot about myself and about the Lord. And especially how poor and unprofitable I am and how great God is.

As a boy I can remember that I knew nothing about the Primitive Baptists, or about any one else, religiously speaking, as far as that goes.  At one time I became interested in the Lord and started out to find the right church, but I couldn't find it. And finally I gave up looking for it.

I remember some great meditations I had as a boy, long before I found the church. I had some great and serious thoughts but I didn't realize what they meant to me. I thought I was just a day dreamer. I well remember the first time I heard the truth. Just to have some place to go, I went to church and heard Elder Hamp Richards preach. I was greatly impressed with what he had to say. Right then, I felt that I had found the church. I knew that what he had preached was the truth. I don't know how I knew it, but I did. Something about his manner, and his speech, I was convinced that he had to be preaching the gospel of Christ. And all of my studies since that time have proved to me that he was right.

When I began to have further thoughts about the Lord and the church, I was in great trouble. And when something from the Lord told me that I must preach His gospel, my trouble of soul became almost unbearable. I said that I just couldn't do it. I remember one thing particularly that hit me like a bright shining light. I was reading in the book of Exodus where the Lord gave Moses a work to do, and Moses tried to tell the Lord of his inability to talk to the people. He said, "I am of slow speech and stammering tongue, and if I try to talk to the people they won't hear me." The thing that hit me hard was that I had used almost these same words in talking to the Lord. Only, I didn't know that Moses had used them. And then look at the great work that Moses did for the Lord. This not only humbled me, but it filled my soul with much fear and trembling.

As I began to speak in the name of the Lord, with some encouragement from the ministers and pastors around me, how many times did I say to myself, "I can't do it."  And finally, I moved to another country, and told my wife, time and time again, "don't tell anyone that I ever tried to preach." And she didn't. But, how strange, the first place we went to church, there was someone that knew me and I was called on to speak. So the Lord had followed me, as I tried to run.

I have had some happy occasions. I have had some sad ones. And I have taken out and quit, but I couldn't get any peace in my soul. One thing I have learned in trying to preach the gospel, is to wait on the Lord, and trust in Him to lead my mind.
I will recall how I learned this lesson. One time I was going to church, and it was the custom of the pastor to call on some one to go before him. And I felt he might call on me. So I found me a text, and I studied hard on it. I ran references on the subject, and I had me a sermon all fixed out and prepared, and to me it was really a good one. When we got to the church, what a great disappointment I had. The pastor didn't call on any one to introduce for him. When preaching time came, he got up and went into the stand and began to preach. My disappointment was so great. But I didn't know what the pastor had in mind. He talked about 15 minutes and then sat down and called on me. I got up and entered the pulpit with all confidence. But, of all things, my big sermon had left me, and I couldn't think of any of the good things I had in mind. And then I said to myself "Well, I will quote my text, and maybe it will come to me." And then I couldn't think of how it went. And then I said to myself, "Well, I will turn and read it." And then I couldn't think where it was, and couldn't find it. After much embarrassment, I took another subject and talked for a little while on that. Here the Lord had taught me a great lesson. Then quite some time later I was called upon, and went into the stand with another subject in mind, and then just as I began to speak, this subject that had left me so suddenly before, came to my mind, and I took it and talked on it, and felt like if the Lord had ever blessed me, he did at that time.

About this time Elder Warren paused momentarily, turned a little pale, reached-up with his right hand, and rubbed his left chest, right over where the heart is, and then said, "Brethren, you will have to pardon me, and let me rest a minute." Then he talked slowly for a minute or two, then resumed his regular manner of speech. Then he turned from talking experimentally, and began to speak on a doctrinal line, talking for about 30 minutes or more, richly establishing the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, and his rich and free grace to poor sinners. And then he closed out his sermon:

Brethren I want you to pray for me and my wife about this trip. Really, we were not able physically to come. And my wife tried to persuade me against it. Knowing this, I felt I had to come, realizing that maybe this would be my last time to see you. Pray for me and my family about this trip. I may not ever see you again. I don't know. In face, I may not even get home. But you pray for me that I may be reconciled to His will.

As he sat down, Eld. Tate who had been appointed to follow, walked into the stand and quoted a few verses of scripture and then sat down. Then the large congregation, all in a systematic way gave Brother Warren, and Brother Tate their hands of fellowship. Part of the time Brother Warren sat in a chair on the pulpit, and then he got up and stood. The congregation was dismissed, and right soon Brother and Sister Warren prepared to leave and go to their motel to rest. Just as he walked out of the door to leave the meeting place, he reached for the door facing to brace himself, those by say, then he slowly slumped to the floor-dead. He was given artificial respiration, but nothing helped. After a few minutes, a doctor arrived and pronounced him dead.

"Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord."

This seemed to be the consensus of the many hundred people who had witnessed this vivid page in the book of time, "If there ever was a man who confessed the Lord before men, this man had done it this day. If there ever was a man who had preached the pure gospel of the Son of God this man had done it this day. If any person could pick the circumstances of his death, how would it compare with this?"

In this world, we hear much said of the importance of the matter of "How we walk the last mile." Well, this is the way this minister of the gospel walked the last mile, and it was witnessed by several hundred people. As I stood with the others with bowed head, that August afternoon, in the hot sun, we witnessed his blind wife being brought to the stretcher where he lay, putting her hand first on the leg of his now lifeless, body, and then moving to his head. The ambulance attendant and the Chief of Police, who too, had worked with his prostrate form a few minutes earlier, "doing what they could" the towel was raised from his face, and she ran her hand over his face, the only way she had of "seeing" him for the last time. Also I had observed a young men, perhaps 19, who had labored so diligently with him, this young man being a trained lifeguard, and he gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it was to no avail. He asked the doctor, almost apologetically, "What could I have done that I didn't do?" "You did fine son," he said, "But he was dead by the time his body hit the floor."

And as they rolled his body into the ambulance to take and prepare it for burial, someone beside me said, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away," and then paused. And I could not help but finish the quotation and I also had tears in my voice, "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

--A. E. Richards

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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.