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Joel P. Sayers, s/o David & Elizabeth (Phillips) Sayers; m. Martha Phillips
Elder Joel P. Sayers
I was born March 23, 1812, in Green County, Georgia. My parents, David and Elizabeth Sayers, (my mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Phillips) moved when I was four or five years old, to Morgan county, G., where they lived five years, during which time I attended school part of one year, and learned to spell and read well in the spelling book. I had but little educational opportunities after that time, going to school only at intervals of two to four weeks at a time. I was the oldest son of my father, consequently had to aid him in all the work to raise a large family until I was in my twentieth year. My father taught me three very important lessons, viz.: to be honest, truthful and industrious, which I have tried to keep almost sacred up to the present time.
On the 23d December, 1833, I married Martha Ann Phillips, daughter of Henry and Nicy Phillips, of Meriwether county, Ga. We were both Baptists at the time of our marriage. We had born to us seven sons and three daughters, of whom two are dead, one son and daughter.
At the age of about seven or eight years, I had serious thoughts about death and hereafter, and I, as other children, thought that all good people after death went to heaven, and that the bad or wicked people went to hell. I was then conscious that I was not a fit subject for heaven, which gave me great trouble and concern at times, and I promised myself when I became older that I would do better and get religion. At the age of twelve or thirteen I promised myself that I would commit all the sin that I intended to commit by the time there was to be preaching at my father's house at night by Elder John Landers, an aged and very respected minister of the Yellow River Association. The text he used was, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom," and although the text is as fresh in my mind now as it was then, yet I cannot tell anything he preached. If I then thought anything about my former promises that I would get religion, I have no recollection, yet I had serious reflections at times, and thought I would at some future time get religion. About these times I heard the Methodists preach often, and they would preach that the Spirit would strive, and if an individual would yield he would be saved, but if he resisted, the Spirit would take its everlasting flight from him, and damnation was sure; and I really believed it. Also, at a class-meeting a class-leader came around and put his had on my head and told me I was a free agent, and also I believed that. I understood the definition of the term "free agent" to be this: that I could get religion and go to heaven, or refuse and go to hell, and I believed that. I then went to Rock Bridge Church, Gwinnet county, Ga., a Baptist church, Elder Luke Robinson pastor, also clerk of the Yellow River Association. His text is still as fresh in my memory as it was then, and as precious; and a great portion of his preaching is as fresh in my feelings today as it was then; and it looked like he preached all day to me, and I could not help crying. At conference several came forward and joined the church, and it seemed that all cried and I cried. It was a day full of joy to the church; I cried and desired to be a Christian. I still believed I could and would get religion at some future time. I had not gotten my fill of sin. I set a time to go to a camp-meeting and there I intended to get religion, as I still believed I could, and went into the altar believing right then and there I would get religion; but oh! instead of getting religion I went off feeling worse than ever, and all my former impressions of getting religion left me, and I could not even pray; and I left there in a worse condition than when I went there. Still believing I could get religion, I went to a Campbellite camp-meeting for the purpose of getting religion, and went to the altar and came out as before, still thinking and believing I could get religion when I pleased. I now come to the conclusion that there was time enough, and I decided that I could get religion on a dying bed, if I did not get killed, or die suddenly. I was settled down right here firm in that belief. Just two years from the time I was at Rock Bridge Church I went there again— Still I had been there frequently in the meantime— the same preacher was there, and took my case and told my impressions, promises and failures better than I could possibly have told them up to that time. When he got there he stopped for some time and then said: "Now, sir, you don't intend to turn to God; you think you intend to turn, but if you intended to turn you would be turning." Now it seemed impressed on my mind that he told the truth, and there I felt determined to try, and as I walked home I thought that I would try to pray after I arrived at home, and went off to find a place to try to pray, but I never knelt to try to pray. I still believed I could get religion when I pleased, and wanted to be the next one to get religion, but the next day I returned to meeting with this resolve, that if the minister offered an opportunity I would ask him to pray for me. The opportunity was offered and many went up, and I started to go up, and just before I reached him it seemed something said to me, "It is too late now, the day of grace is passed; you have committed the unpardonable sin;" and I then and there saw what a great sinner I was, justly condemned, and could not see how God could remain just and save such a great sinner as I was. I went on and gave him my hand, and it seemed like he never prayed for me; he seemed to pray for the rest of the people, but not for me. After I left there, every opportunity I could get I read the Bible when no one knew it, for I did not want any one to know I was reading the Bible. Wherever I read in the Bible I could see my own condemnation just and right in the sight of God, and that God could not remain just and save such a sinner as I. In this distressed condition I tried to pray, and my prayers looked like they sunk to the earth, and that God would not hear me. Then I saw my fate was sealed. I tried to pray to God to keep me from sinning any more, and if I went to hell it might be for the sins I had already committed.
I now could look over at the young people and wish they could know my condition, and that if they did know my condition they would turn to the Lord before the day of grace passed. I was at that time about seventeen years old, and thought when I became free from my father I would travel through the world and tell the young people how I had sinned away the day of grace, and admonish them not to do as I had done, but to turn to the Lord in the days of their youth. While walking alone in this condition, meditating upon my lost and ruined state, and how miserable I must be forever, and without any hope of ever being delivered, a voice spake inside of me and I thought it was God who spake to me, and said, "Jesus has lived and died, and therefore you can be saved." In my mind I saw that Christ had come into the world and had lived up to the law in every point and died that I might be saved, and now for what Christ had done God the Father could remain just and save me. Then all the burden of gilt and condemnation left me in a moment, and I felt as free from sin as if I had never committed a sin, and of all the thankful beings, I felt in my soul to thank God, for this glorious work that he had wrought in me, a poor sinner; and I still feel to trust that I thank God for it. I never expect to have language to express what I saw and felt at the time; still at that time I did not think it was the Christian hope, but thought that God could be just to save me, and would save me at some future time. The next thing was, I wanted that burden back that I might repent of my sins, but I have never been able to get that burden back, nor feel guilty for the sins that I had committed before that time. Often before I joined the church I would try to take new starts, but could never go only to the place of deliverance. In that condition I now felt willing to do anything that God might require of me. Now the impression to preach came upon me, and I thought it was from God; I felt at that time I was willing to try to preach if it was God's will. After reflection it come into my mind that I was a sinner, and God would not require such a sinner to preach, and that it was from Satan; and I tried to pray to the Lord if so to deliver me from preaching. These impressions and suggestions continued upon me till I went to the church in that condition. I have never been difficulted about which was the Church of Christ; and when I saw the Baptist Church meet together it was the prettiest sight I ever beheld, and I loved the church the best of anything I ever beheld; and I loved them because I thought and believed them to be the people of God. The reason I did not go to the church any sooner was my unworthiness. I was fearful I was not a fit subject to be baptized. Twice before I joined the church I found myself partly rising from my seat to go and join the church. On Saturday before the fourth Sunday in April, 1833, I went before the church at Bethlehem, Meriwether county, Ga., and related a portion of what is above written, and was received, in full fellowship, and was the next day baptized by Elder Creed Caldwell, pastor of this church. At that time there was but one Baptist denomination in the country. When the difficulty came on and a split among the Baptist, I had no trouble about which side I went with, and have none yet. After joining the church the impression to preach still came on me so heavily that I felt compelled to preach; then the suggestion would present itself that Satan was trying to make me preach, and I tried to pray the Lord to deliver me from it, but these impressions and suggestions continued to follow me, and an exercise of mind as I now exercise in the pulpit, and in my mind there appeared to be a congregation before me, and often in sleep I would wake and find myself trying to preach. While having these impressions I tried to pray God to shut my mouth and not suffer me to speak, if not in accordance with his will. I occasionally did exercise some in trying to sing and pray in public, and the brethren began to talk about it and say I had to preach, and I quit, and thought I would not exercise any more publicly. While in this condition, in the absence of the minister one day at meeting, the brethren were singing, there was a power in me that shook my whole system, and I burst into tears, that every one saw it, and I could not help it. I tried to pray God if this was of him that it might rest on the church; that the church might feel it. I then felt at ease and thought I had been relieved of it, yet I felt a sense of duty. In a short time a brother visited me to notify me that at next conference he intended to bring that matter before the church to have me liberated to exercise in public, which he did, and at the next conference the church liberated me to exercise in my own church or any sister church, when invited by them or an ordained minister called on me; and this was on Saturday before the third Sunday in April, 1846, by Walnut Creek Church, Meriwether county, Ga., and on the 27th March, 1847, the same church granted me license to preach wherever my lot might be cast. In 1849 I moved and settled in Tallapoosa county, Ala., and become a member of Ebenezer Church. Sharon and New Fellowship Churches called for my ordination, and on June 29, 1855, I was ordained by Elders R. W. Carlisle and Ebenezer Nelson, presbytery. I then took charge of those two churches. Since then I have served from two to four churches to the best of my ability, with the exception of one year, in consequence of moving (1870), then I had charge of only one church. During all this time of my ministry there has occurred but two difficulties of any note in the churches I had charge of, and there would not have been those difficulties if the churches would have carried out gospel discipline. I can further say I have never sought the care of any church or churches. I have endeavored to be faithful in all my official church duties, from moderator of church to moderator of Association, and have never joined any secret organization.
Yours in hope of eternal life,
Salter, Coosa Co., Ala.
JOEL P. SAYERS.
Source: The Life of Elder Joel Sayers, by Joel P. Sayers, published in The Gospel Messenger, of the Primitive Baptist Church, September, 1888