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Early Preachers of Kentucky
By James E. Welch, Missouri
The Christian Repository, 1856
      I am much pleased, Brother Editor, with the efforts you have, and still are making, to place on record, while you may, some account at least, of the labors and privations of those devoted men who, by the blessing of God upon their labors, planted the first Baptist Churches in Kentucky. Most of them left the “Old Dominion” “in troublous times,” when passing the Alleghany Mountains on pack-horses, or floating in a flat-bottomed boat from Redstone (now Brownsville) to Limestone (now Maysville), or Louisville, was no mere pleasure trip; and when a residence amid canebrakes gave no security that they would avoid the arrow and

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scalping-knife of the Indian. No one can fully realize, except by experience, what it is to preach the gospel faithfully, and “from house to house,” under such circumstances as did William Hickman, John Taylor, Ambrose Dudley, David Barrow, and others, in the first settlement of the State. And yet, I can bear witness, from personal observation through a quarter of a century, as well as from parental information, to their untiring industry and self-consecration, to the great work of preaching the gospel among the new and rising settlements. They imitated their divine Master, “who went about doing good;” in fact, they “went everywhere preaching the Word,” and “God worked with them with signs following.” Most, or all of these, with their associated brethren in the ministry, were “farmer preachers.” With more or less assistance, they all supported their families by cultivating the fertile lands of the country, while preaching for, and acting as pastors of four churches at the same time. After some years, the churches had so increased that but few need remain at home on the Sabbath; for if they could not reach Brother A.'s appointment towards the north, they could that of Brother B.'s, towards the south. As the churches had preaching but seldom, except on a given Saturday and Sabbath of the month, these “monthly meetings” usually attracted large congregations from a distance of six or eight miles in all directions.

      Ambrose Dudley baptized my parents at Bryant's Station, in 1789, and I still remember, with gratitude and praise to God, the glorious revival that swept over Kentucky in 1808. The success of those men was owing, very much, to their evangelical method of preaching. They spent but little time in hunting for flowers with which to adorn their discourses; they preached as dying men to dying men, bound by the awful doctrines of the King of Zion, to “declare the whole counsel of God,” whether men would receive or reject their message. They did not believe, that by preaching the distinguishing doctrines of grace, they should be less likely to win souls to Jesus; and hence they endeavored ever to present that proportion of doctrine, experience and practice, which runs through the word of God. Nor did they understand the machinery used in modern times in “getting up” revivals, any more than the doubtful methods resorted to, for creating

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and keeping up excitement. Whoever saw Ambrose Dudley go through a congregation and persuade individuals to come forward to be prayed for? And yet, are we not safe in saying, that he baptized more individuals in Kentucky, than any other man ever did, Jeremiah Vardeman excepted. They knew that sinners were to be saved through the “belief of the truth;” that believers were to be “sanctified through the truth,” and hence they sought to commend themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God, by a faithful exhibition of the whole truth, and then leave the result with Him.

      Theological controversy seemed to be no part of their business, but the plain exhibitions of the truths of the Bible, addressed to men as sinners - Jesus and Him crucified, as the only Saviour of lost men - constituted the theme of their sermons. Their object seemed to be, to win souls to Christ, while they “confirmed the souls of the disciples.” To that singleness of purpose we must ascribe, in a great measure, their wonderful success. Thus they went forth, “preaching in the wilderness, and saying, repent ye, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It is to the blessing of God upon the early labors of those men and their zealous coadjutors, that we must asribe the fact, that Kentucky has always been the home of the Baptists! They “trained up" the public mind “in the way it should go.”

      To this self-consecration to the work must be added, the readiness with which they coalesced with the habits and manners of the people. By becoming “all things to all men, that they might by all means save some.” They did not set themselves above their brethren as a sacerdotal class, deserving special attention and sumptuous accommodations. They became as one of the people; entered into their feelings and sympathized with their toils and privations, by “rejoicing with those that rejoice, and weeping with those that weep.” Few, if any of them, ever received a stipulated salary. “In all things they kept themselves from being burthensome to the people, that they might not hinder the Gospel of Christ, but cut off occasion from those that desire occasion.” And the churches in Kentucky owe those self. denying men a debt of gratitude which it is now totally out o their power ever to discharge. They “have fought a good fight,

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they have finished their course,” and the Lord, the righteous Judge, has already given them the crown, which He had laid up for them in Heaven.

      They never studied the classics, and hence they wandered not through garden or porch in search of illustrations or proof, but would draw them from sublimer poetry than uninspired pen ever wrote, and quote Bible language as though they had committed almost the whole of the New Testament to memory. They were emphatically Bible preachers. More scripture language would be heard in one of their sermons than in a dozen of those moral essays delivered from the pulpit in modern times. They drew their sermons directly from the word of God and their own experience. Indeed, had they been ever so much disposed to “give themselves to reading” other books, they were not within their reach. The press did not, then, as now, teem with all manner of publications, calculated to aid the man of God in his efforts to elucidate the sacred volume. Reading the Bible on their knees, and prayerful meditations on horseback, as they traveled from church to church, constituted their usual preparation for the pulpit. A “psalm, or hymn, or spiritual song,” sung by the whole congregation, and perhaps a prayer by one or more of the brethren present, almost always precluded the labors of the sacred desk; and, although more than half a century has rolled away, I still remember the solemn awe, which usually rested upon the countenance of those devoted men, when they arose to preach the glorious gospel of the blessed God to the people. They used no silk gloves, nor did they care to bring the unruffled cambric, with which to wipe the golden spectacles, or perchance the falling tear. Still, they would weep and preach, and preach and weep; and thus they “ceased not to warn every one, night and day, with tears.” And hence, whenever they arose to address the people, they usually threw the reins upon the neck of feeling, and let her run full speed. However they might have previously arranged their thoughts in their own mind, they seldom, if ever, announced to the congregation the divisions of their subject; and hence, felt themselves at perfect liberty, at any time, to leave the theme of their discourse, and pass into a strain of exhortation to the people, if they thought they could be more useful in so doing. Unity

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of design was of little importance to them; they labored to win souls to Christ. When conversing with one of them more than forty years ago, about “great preachers,” he significantly replied to me, “Brother James, he is the best fisherman who catches the most fish.” Besides, great plainness of speech characterized all their sermons. They labored as those who expected to give account. They sought not to please the itching ear with well-turned sentences when “sent with God's commission to the heart.” They sought rather the influence of Demosthenes, and not that of Cicero. They wished the people, on leaving the house, instead of speaking of the preacher, to cry, down with sin, down with sin - “men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?” - “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Who that ever heard them has forgotten the unction and fervency with which they usually prayed before and after their sermons? They seemed to feel, indeed, that “Paul might plant and Apollos might water, but God alone must give the increase.” They were not the men to make appointments and then, if the weather should prove unpleasant, feel themselves at perfect liberty to remain at home and disappoint the people. Punctuality, they regarded an essential characteristic of a Christian, and especially of a christian minister. They acted upon the principle that no individual has a right to disappoint the many.

      Continue, Brother Editor, to rescue the memory of these men from forgetfulness, as far as you may be able. Posterity will thank you, and those witnesses yet living, who may be able to assist you, should regard it as a sacred duty they owe to the cause of Christ, to aid you in the faithful performance of the difficult task. There is a small remnant of individuals, who were baptized by those men, still lingering on the shores of time. To such, it will be a most grateful service. Will they not, when they read with trembling lips of the man to whose labors, under God, they owe their hopes of Heaven, and by whom they were baptized, exclaim with Elisha, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel,” I hope soon to meet him in the New Jerusalem above, where parting is unknown forever. And O, could we look into that spirit world, and see Dudley, and Taylor, and Hickman, and Elkin, and Craig, and Barrow, and Redding, and

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others, with the spiritual children God gave them on earth, all “clothed in white,” and walking with Jesus along the green banks of that river which maketh glad the city of God and the Lamb, should we not “groan, being burdened, not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.”
      [REMARK. There is a savor of ancient things in the above article, which has affected and charmed me. Let it be read and reread. Let those old brethren come forth, and aid in the great work of bringing back our churches and preachers to the gospel simplicity from which they have departed. Let the remark be remembered, “He is the best fisherman who catches the most fish.” It is time that we wake up to our present situation, and felt the sin and shame of moral essays in the pulpit, organs and melodeons in the meeting-house, and scientific choirs praising God by proxy. S. H. F.]

[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, 1856, pp. 289-294 Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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