Elijah Craig was the first pastor of the "Old Crossing" church, and, while he was not as usefull to the cause of Christ in Kentucky as many others of the pioneers, he deserves to be remembered for his eminent services among the early Baptists of Virginia. He labored and suffered much amid the fiery persecution that tried men's souls in the old mother State, and few preachers in the Old Dominion were more laborious and useful than he.
Elijah Craig was the son of Toliver Craig, and a brother of the famous Lewis and the eccentric Joseph Craig. He was born in Orange county, Virginia, about the year 1743, was raised up in his native county, and like his brothers, received but a limited education. He was awakened to a knowledge of his lost condition, under the preaching of the renowned David Thomas, in the year 1764. The next year, he and others were encouraged, by Samuel Harris, to hold meetings in his neighborhood, for the encouragement of the young converts, and their mutual edification. Elijah Craig's tobacco barn was their meeting house. Here Mr, Craig began his ministry, as did several other young men, who afterwards became valuable preachers. As has been related elsewhere, Elijah Craig traveled into North Carolina to get James Read to come and baptize the young converts, himself being one of them. Mr. Read returned with him, and baptized as many as were approved for that ordinance. Elijah Craig was among those baptized: this was in the year 1766, and a year after Mr. Craig began his ministry, He now devoted himself to preaching with great zeal. He was ordained, in May, 1771, at which time he became the pastor of Blue Run church. Some time after this, the sheriff came to where he was plowing, arrested him, and carried him before a magistrate, on the charge of having preached the gospel contrary to law. He was committed to jail, where he was fed on rye bread and water. He preached to the people through the grates during his imprisonment. It was during the trial of Mr. Craig, that a certain lawyer, advising the Court to release him, said in substance: "The Baptists are like a bed of camomile; the more they are trodden the more they spread." This proved true; their preaching through prison grates enkindled their own enthusiasm, and produced a greater effect on the people than if the preachers had been at liberty. After remaining in Culpeper
jail one month, Mr. Craig was released. After this he was honored with a term in Orange county jail, for a similar breach of the law. His constant labor in the ministry, and his close application to the study of the Bible, in a few years, developed, the tobacco-barn exhorter into one of the most popular and influential preachers in Virginia.
During the fierce and long continued struggle for religious liberty, Mr. Craig was frequently sent by the General Association, and General Committee of the Virginia Baptists, as their delegate to the Legislature, to aid in forwarding that object.
Another, and perhaps the greatest evidence of his popularity, was evinced in electing him to a singular and exalted office, among modern Baptists. In the year 1774, the question was sprung in the General Association of Virginia Baptists, as to whether all the offices mentioned in Ephesians 4:11; were still in use in the churches of Christ. After a long and heated debate, the question was decided in the affirmative, and the Association proceeded at once to elect and consecrate two Apostles for the north side of James river; the lot fell on John Waller and Elijah Craig. Samuel Harris was appointed an Apostle for the south side of James river. These Apostles exercised no real authority, and their office was about equivalent to that of an Evangelist, appointed by our modern General Associations. It had however a pretentious name, and found so little favor among the churches, that it was discontinued at the end of one year's experience. These three men were the only Baptist Apostles who have lived since the death of the original twelve. Elijah Craig continued a career of eminent usefulness till 1786, when he removed to Kentucky. This move was unfortunate, both for the cause of Christ and himself. He was an enterprising business man. The new country offered excellent facilities for profitable speculation. The. temptation was too strong. He was soon overwhelmed in worldly business. He bought one thousand acres of land, and laid off a town on it, at first, called Lebanon, but after:wards, Georgetown. The speculation succeeded. He erected a saw and grist mill, then the first fulling mill, the first rope works, and the first paper mill in Kentucky. It seems that he had no intention to abandon the ministry, but vainly imagined that he could serve God and mammon both. He became irritable, and indulged a spirit of fault finding
He wrote two pamphlets, one to prove that a settled pastor of a church is not entitled to any compensation for his services in that capacity. The other was titled "A Portrait of Jacob Creath." They were both written in a bad spirit, and the latter is said to have been exceedingly bitter. This not only involved him in much trouble, but threw the whole of Elkhorn Association into confusion, and resulted in much harm to the cause of Christ. But it would be unprofitable to follow him through his varied and annoying conflicts. He continued to preach till near the time of his departure. He was accused of no immorality except his petulant fault finding; and it is confidently believed that he was a child of God, and a sincere man; but he allowed [S]atan to take advantage of the weakness of the flesh, and do him much harm. After saying he was considered the greatest preacher of the three brothers, John Taylor proceeds to speak of him as follows:
"In a very large association, in Virginia, Elijah Craig was among the most popular, for a number of years. His preaching was of the most solemn style, his appearance, as a man who had just come from the dead, of a delicate habit, a thin visage, large eyes and mouth, of great readiness of speech, the sweet melody of his voice, both in preaching and singing, bore all down before it; and when his voice was extended, it was like the loud sound of a sweet trumpet. The great favor of his preaching, commonly brought many tears from the hearers, and many, no doubt, were turned to the Lord by his preaching. He was several times a prisoner of the Lord for preaching. He came to Kentucky later than his brothers. His turn for speculation did harm every way. He was not as great a peacemaker in the church as his brother Lewis, and that brought trouble on him. But from all his troubles he was relieved by death, when perhaps he did not much exceed sixty years of age, after serving in the ministry, say forty years." 1 _________________
1 History of Ten Churches.
[From J. H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. I, 1885; rpt. 1984, pp. 87-89. — jrd]
Baptist History Homepage