Elder Randall, Free Will Baptist Founder

Dan Graves, MSL

Elder Randall, Free Will Baptist Founder

Elder Randall drew his breath with difficulty. It was 1808 and the founder of the Free Will Baptists was dying of tuberculosis. "Brother Randal, don't you sometimes long to die, that you may get into heaven?" asked a minister who was visiting him.

"No," replied Elder Randall. "For I am in heaven now, and have been through all my sickness: I have enjoyed the presence of God through it all, and that is heaven to me."

As a young man Benjamin Randall had thought he was a Christian, while actually there was resistance to Christ in him. He went to hear the renowned evangelist George Whitefield, who was preaching in New England, but only to find fault; He accused the evangelist of being nothing but a noisy ranter who tried to play on people's emotions.

His attitude changed on September 30, 1770, however, when a man rode by announcing that Whitefield was dead. "As soon as his voice reached my ears, an arrow from the quiver of the Almighty struck through my heart; and a mental voice sounded through my soul, louder than ever thunder sounded through my ears. The first thoughts that passed through my mind were, 'Whitefield is now in heaven, and I am in the road to hell. I shall never hear his voice any more. He was a man of God, and I have reviled him, and spoken reproachfully of him. He has taught me the way to heaven; but I regarded it not...'"

This was a crucial moment in Benjamin's life and led directly to the work for which he is famed. For over two weeks, he lived in terror, crying constantly to God for mercy. Not until he believed a Bible verse found in the letter to Hebrews, chapter nine, verse 26, did he find relief. "But now once in the end of the world has he [Christ] appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Such peace came over Benjamin that he began to leap with joy. "Ah, it seemed if I had ten thousand souls, I could trust them all with Jesus. I saw in him a universal love, a universal atonement, a universal call to mankind, and was confident that none would ever perish, but those who refused to obey it."

He became a member of the Congregational church that he had attended most of his life. However, his reading of the scriptures led him to believe that Baptist doctrine was more accurate. He was baptized as an adult and joined the Baptists. In 1777, he felt God was calling him to become a Baptist layman preacher. But his spiritual migrations was not yet over. Two years later, having decided that his denomination's strict Calvinist views about Predestination (that some men are chosen beforehand by God to be saved, and others to be damned) were out of line with true Bible teaching, he left, becoming the main leader of the Free Will Baptists in the Northern states.

Benjamin rode thousands of miles a year, winning converts. He was the single most influential force in putting the Free Will Baptists on the map of the Northern United States. Even in his last illness, his concern was all for Christ. He wrote to his people, "For Christ's sake, my brethren, let us be little, humble, cross-bearing disciples. See to it, that we do not get any new-fangled, heady, wordy, tonguey doctrine of men, which leads from Christ instead of leading to him."

On this day, October 22, 1808, a friend asked the dying Benjamin how he was doing. "All I wait for is my Father's command, and my soul will then leave this body," said the old saint. Minutes later he was dead.


  1. Buzzell, John. Life of Elder Benjamin Randal; principally taken from documents written by himself. Hobbs, Woodman and Co., 1827.
  2. Mead, Frank S. Handbook of Denominations in the United States. Nashville: Abingdon, 1980.

Last updated June, 2007.

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