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Abram Herbert Lewis's Biography (Books)

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In 1908 at the funeral of Dr. Abram Herbert Lewis, his pastor, Dr. Edwin Shaw said of him:

"Although he took so eminent a place in so many fields of activity, yet that which most distinguishes him, was the recognized fact that he was "the representative Seventh Day Baptist of his age." If some stranger wanted to know about our people, he was told to write to A. H. Lewis. Were we invited to present our views and position as a denomination before any body or organization of men, why, we sent A. H. Lewis. "

Certainly no man has so well represented either Seventh Day Baptists or the distinctive doctrine of the Sabbath. In his early years he wanted to become a lawyer and enter politics or follow a military career. His great grandfather had been a captain in the Revolutionary War and his grandfather had died in the War of 1812. But God had other ideas for his life, and the gifts which might have made him successful in law or military strategy, he used in his study and arguments for the Sabbath and his campaign against error and indifference.

A. H. Lewis was born November 17, 1836 in Scott, New York. His parents believed that education was of paramount importance and that schooling could not begin too early. To do less than one's best in school or to neglect books was a sin. He grew up in an atmosphere of deep religious belief and practice. Young Herbert recalls a time when he was sent to the barn to call his father to breakfast. As he came into the barn he heard conversation and thought that his father had a visitor, but he soon discovered that his father was in the midst of fervent prayer and paid no attention to him until finished. He had often heard his father pray at the family altar and in public worship, but when he found such devotion in the barn, it made an indelible impression upon him.

In 1847 the family migrated to Wisconsin, settling first at Milton and then moving north to Berlin, where his father became leader of a group which in 1850, was constituted as a church. Opportunities for education were limited, but young Herbert made the most of books and lyceums. It was during this time that he was influenced by a brilliant skeptic and spiritualist physician. Lewis went through a period of doubt as he began to question his faith in the Bible and orthodox Christianity. He even asked that his name be dropped from the roll on the grounds that he was not in harmony with the beliefs of the church, but his pastor and his church supported him through this period. When he had sifted all of the ideas through, he emerged stronger than ever and was able to speak to the skeptics with greater understanding.

In the fall of 1856, Rev. William C. Whitford, the new pastor at Milton was visiting Berlin and found A. H. Lewis working with a thrashing crew. He crowded into the narrow space where Herbert was measuring the grain from the thresher, and "amid the din and clatter of machinery," he made an earnest plea with him to go to Milton Academy to continue his studies. For several years, Lewis was associated with Milton as both student and assistant teacher. In 1860, he gave the valedictory as a graduate and the following year he gave the commencement address at the beginning of the Civil War which filled the land with a spirit of conflict. His subject was "Why Our Young Men are Skeptical." He gave three reasons for this skepticism: (1) The law of reaction. In the days of Puritanism the few did the thinking for the masses, but the reaction has come in which every man thinks for himself; (2) Ignorance about religion, due to the sudden, modern growth of science and material wealth; (3) The susceptibility of the mind to the influence of delusive philosophy. Not only did this reflect on some of his own experience, but it targeted the audience for much of his later preaching and writing.

On his twenty-fifth birthday in 1861, Abram Herbert Lewis was ordained to the gospel ministry at the request of his home church in Berlin. After ordination he left for Alfred, New York where he enrolled in college and theological studies which gave him the grounding for his life ministry in Sabbath promotion work. His biographer, Theodore Gardiner, wrote that Lewis had expressed his "dominating desire to help the world in some radical and specific way." Sabbath reform was this one dominating desire in his ministry. He had a deep-seated conviction that neither Seventh Day Baptists nor any others who had written at that time had grasped the larger conception of the importance of the Sabbath, or of the relation of the Sabbath to Christianity. He once said, "There is nothing in the Sabbath unless there is much more in it than either its friends or its enemies seem to apprehend." Much of what had been written was based upon assumption, inaccurate quotations from early writers, or upon unjustifiable paraphrasing and there pain-stakingly he did his research with the firm conviction that the Sabbath question had in it principles which would bring great spiritual results.

Lewis was in great demand as a lecturer, and traveled widely to get his message across. In 1881, he was a lecturer at the Summer Assembly at Chautauqua, New York where he spoke on the subject, "Sunday Laws, Past and Present." In printed form it was circulated to some six to eight thousand people at Chautauqua and later circulated to thousands more in tract form.

In spite of his popularity as a speaker, it was his writing that most firmly marked his ministry. After an extended lecture tour which severely taxed his health, he wrote that it was hopeless to think of doing our work in Sabbath reform by living teachers. It must be done by printed matter. From 1870 until his death in 1908, A. Lewis wrote 11 books, 25 pamphlets and tracts, and was editor of 5 periodicals. In his spare time he wrote hundreds of letters and articles, all without a computer or word processor!

Although his primary focus was on the Sabbath, Lewis was by no means limited to this topic. His book, Letters to Young Preachers, is filled with practical advice on all phases of the ministry. His Bible studies and Sabbath School classes in Plainfield, New Jersey were so popular that teachers from other churches in the city came for help in their own teaching.

On November 6, 1908 Abram Herbert Lewis died with his most popular book, Spiritual Sabbathism, unpublished. Fortunately his son, Edwin H. Lewis, edited it for publication in 1910. Almost his last words were: "Shall we cease to strive? Shall we be silent because men are indifferent and heedless of our message? We must not yield, We must press the battle till the sun goes down, and rest on the field while darkness gives an hour to renew strength. Right and truth will not always wait with pinioned arms upon the scaffold. Wrong and falsehood cannot always usurp the throne and the seat of justice. God standeth ever behind his own, even though they see Him not. Our faith must see Him in spite of darkness. Our souls must feel His presence though disappointment heap hindrance on every hand. We must not falter. God helping us, we will not."

From the life and teachings of A. H. Lewis several important lessons can be gleaned for those who follow:

1. The importance of the family which encouraged him both spiritually and intellectually.

2. The church and its pastor who refused to give up on him during his period of skepticism, which when honestly faced and refuted by strong faith, often makes one stronger and more equipped to effectively present the truth.

3. The responsibility of recruitment of those who show promise.

4 Lewis had the vision that if only people were presented with the Biblical facts of the Sabbath and the traditional basis for Sunday, they would accept the Sabbath. Nonetheless, he underestimated the power of tradition and inertia in religious practice. Many saw the validity of the Sabbath but relatively few changed their practice.

5. He understood the power of the printed word and the importance of getting quality books and publications in places such as seminaries and colleges.

6. He targeted his audience. The Outlook periodical (1892-1897) was written for students in seminary, pastors and professionals. The Light of Home (1885-1889) was for the family and had a strong temperance emphasis with support from the WCTU. TSS


- The Sabbath and Sunday, 268 pages, 1870. This book was enlarged and published in three volumes as follows:
-- Vol. I Biblical Teachings Concerning the Sabbath and Sunday, 144 pages, 1888.
-- Vol. II Critical History of Sabbath and the Sunday in the Christian Church, 583 pages, 1886, 1893.
-- Vol. III A Critical History of Sunday Legislation From A. D. 321 to 1888, 279 pages, 1888.

- Paganism Surviving in Christianity, 309 pages, 1892.
- The Catholization of Protestantism on the Sabbath Question, or Sunday Observance Non-Protestant, 60 pages, 1897.
- Studies in Sabbath Reform, A Complete View of the Sabbath from the Standpoint of the Bible, 126 pages, 1898.
- Swift Decadence of Sunday; What Next? 273 pages, 1899.
- Letters to Young Preachers and Their Hearers, 230 pages, 1900.
- Seventh-day Baptist Handbook, 64 pages, 1887.
- Spiritual Sabbathism, 224 pages, 1910.

The following series of 16 page tracts were published under the supervision of A. H. Lewis as the Corresponding Secretary of the American Sabbath Tract Society. Most of these were probably written by Lewis.

1. The Sabbath and Spiritual Christianity
2. The Authority of the Sabbath and the Authority of the Bible Inseparable
3. The Sabbath as between Protestants and Romanists; Christians and Jews
4. Reasons for giving the Sabbath a Rehearsing
5. The Sabbath of the Old Testament
6. The Sabbath and the Sunday in the New Testament
7. The Sabbath from the New Testament Period to the Reformation
8. Sunday from the Middle of the Second Century to the Protestant Reformation
9. Outline History of Sunday Legislation
10. The Sabbath since the Protestant Reformation
11. Sunday since the Protestant Reformation
12. Various Reasons for Observing Sunday

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