Edwins was the fourth son of Swedish immigrant parents who migrated to Swede Valley, Iowa, in 1868. Due to poverty, at age 16 Edwins left home to seek a trade; at 22 he enrolled in Augustana Academy, Rock Island, Illinois, graduating as valedictorian of both his college and his seminary classes. Gifts as scholar and linguist became important for his missionary career. He was ordained in 1902 and called to a pastorate in Stillwater, Minnesota. When no one responded to a call for volunteers for the newly formed (1901) China Mission Society, Edwins himself volunteered.
Commissioned for China, Edwins married Alfreda Anderholm and sailed from Seattle, arriving in Shanghai in October 1905. After language study in Fancheng, Hupeh (Hubei) Province, the Edwinses journeyed north to Honan (Henan) Province in April 1906, in search of a field of service for the Augustana mission. In consultation with missionaries of the China Inland Mission and others, Edwins was directed to an unoccupied field in central Honan. Moving to Hsu-ch'ang (Xuchang) in 1906, Edwins obtained a foothold in Loyang (Luoyang), Jiaxian, and other strategic centers, where land and property were purchased and groundwork was laid for future expansion. In 1910 the first nine converts were baptized in Hsu-ch'ang.
Among other accomplishments, Edwins started a union language school for new missionaries, initiated a Chinese Lutheran church paper, promoted indigenous literature, and taught dogmatics in the Union Lutheran Theological Seminary near Wuhan, Hupeh, for 20 years. Interned by the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, he contracted typhus, died, and was buried at sea while being repatriated.