Rock Spring, Ill., August 17, 1854.
Rev. and dear Brother: I will state briefly my opportunities of knowing the Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman, of whose life and character you ask me to furnish you some account. My personal acquaintance with him commenced in 1817, when I was journeying with my family from New England to Missouri, as a Missionary. My colleague, the Rev. James E. Welch, who had preceded me, was at his father's residence in the settlement of David's Fork, where I spent between two and three weeks, and heard Mr. Vardeman preach, and learned something of his character, habits, and influence among the people of his charge. I renewed my acquaintance with him, and heard him again, under most favourable circumstances, at Edwardsville, Ill., in October, 1830. He was then moving from Kentucky to Missouri, with a family of about twenty-five persons, - old and young, and travelling in Western frontier style, independent of taverns or hotels, and encamping out at night in the forest, or on the borders of the prairies. It was only at the urgent solicitation of his friends that he could be induced, under these circumstances, to attempt to preach. His discourse, entirely extempore, was both instructive and impressive, and rarely have I seen so attentive a congregation. I was with him for several weeks in 1834, during which we preached alternately through several counties in the interior of Missouri. Again in 1836, I lay sick in his house several days, shared and felt his kindness and hospitality, and witnessed the order and affection in his household, and the strong attachment of his servants, who revered and loved him as a father. The last visit I made to him was in 1838, when he was still active and successful in the ministry.
Jeremiah Vardeman was the youngest of twelve children, and was descended from Swedish ancestors by his father, and from Welsh by his mother. Traits of character peculiar to each nation were conspicuous in him. He was born on the waters of New River, in what is now Wythe County, Va., on the 8th of July, 1775. Both his father and paternal grandfather were natives of Sweden. The latter, John Vardeman, Senior, migrated to America with his family in the early part of the eighteenth century, and joined the Protestant Episcopal Church in his adopted country, and was esteemed for his piety and moral worth. As reported by his descendants, he died at the extraordinary age of one hundred and twenty-five years.
His son, John Vardeman, Jr., was only seven years of age when he left his native country, but recollected many incidents that occurred in Sweden. While living in South Carolina, he married Elizabeth Morgan, who was a native of Wales, and soon after removed to Virginia, and settled in Bedford County, on the Eastern slope of the Blue Ridge, not far from the celebrated Peaks of Otter. Here they professed religion, and united with
the Baptists, at a period of violent persecution in the Old Dominion, and ever after maintained an exemplary Christian profession to extreme old age.
About 1767, John Vardeman, Jr. removed his young family to the settlement on New River, where Jeremiah was born. Two years after, the father pushed still farther into the Southwestern corner of Virginia. It was then a time of trouble with the Southern and Western Indians, and Mr. Vardeman and his neighbours made a fort at Shadrach White's residence, for their protection, in which the families lived. The men were engaged in scouting parties, and were obliged to be armed and to stand guard, while clearing and cultivating their fields.
In the autumn of 1779, Mr. Vardeman and family, with a company of emigrants, removed to the wilds of Kentucky, and settled near Crab Orchard in Lincoln County. Both the father and the sons were compelled to perform their part in the border wars for the defence of the families in Kentucky. The father was too far advanced in life to go on campaigns, as he had done in former years, but he could stand guard at the fort, and hunt game in the woods. His four eldest Sods were frequently engaged in defence of the settlements and in scouting parties. The father ultimately removed to Missouri, and died there about 1827, aged a hundred and nine years.
Jeremiah, who was the youngest of his father's five sons, was old enough to take some part in the Indian wars before their close by Wayne's victory in 1794, and he actually served more than once as a scout. Reared from early childhood in the wilderness of Kentucky, and during troublous times, his opportunities for education were limited indeed. And the very little he obtained was more from his own personal efforts at home, and from assistance derived from the family, than from the advantages of a school. His acquisitions did not reach beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic. When he attained to manhood, and especially after he commenced speaking in public, he read just enough for profitable meditation. He acquired the habit of exercising deep and intense thought, while riding, walking, or labouring on a farm. His pious parents instructed their children in the Holy Scriptures, and daily offered up prayers for their salvation.
It was in the year 1792, when Jeremiah Vardeman was seventeen years of age, that a revival of religion commenced in the Baptist Church of Cedar Creek, in Lincoln County. The ministers who were co-labourers, and itinerated through that part of Kentucky, were John Bailey, Lewis Craig. William Marshall, Peyton Nowlin, and William Bledsoe. The meetings were not continuous or protracted, as in modern times. The regular periods for preaching in each settlement were monthly, when, on ordinary occasions, the meetings would be held on Saturday and Sabbath; in seasons of special revival, more frequently, with two or three social prayer meetings during each week, and occasional sermons on week days by some visiting preacher. During this revival, Jeremiah Vardeman, and his two brothers, Amaziah and Morgan, with many other persons in Lincoln County, professed to be converted, were baptized, and united with the Cedar Creek Church. Elder William Marshall had gathered this church, but. at the time of the revival, William Bledsoe was Pastor or monthly
supply. Subsequently, John Bailey, a leading preacher in this district, became a Universal Restorationist, and was deposed from the ministry among the Baptists. Bledsoe also apostatized, first to Universalism, and then to religious indifference, and to a reckless course of conduct.
Mr. Vardeman always protested that the preaching of these men had no effect in bringing him to serious reflection. He was under conviction of his sins for two or three months, during which the instruction and prayers of his father and mother, and his own reading of the Scriptures, made a powerful impression upon his mind.
As soon as he indulged the hope that he was reconciled to God, he felt a strong conviction that it was his duty to call sinners to repentance, and to engage at once in preaching the Gospel. But the ordinary objections rose in his mind, - his youth, his inexperience, his deficiency in knowledge, and the fear that he should dishonour the cause if he should make the attempt. And these objections so far prevailed with him that he came pretty much to abandon the idea. He remained in the church, maintained secret prayer, and paid due respect to his Christian obligations for about two years. He was a mere novice, and no one thought of calling on him to pray or to speak in public.
Some of his associates, of about his own age, made frequent attempts to draw him into circles of frivolity and worldliness: they repeated to him the words of Scripture, without regard to their connection and meaning, - "There is a time to dance;" which, of course, as they applied it, meant the period of youth. Young Vardeman's natural temperament induced in him a high relish for social pleasures and hilarity, and, by the urgent solicitations of his ungodly friends, he was drawn first partially, and then wholly, within the circle of their influence. The next downward step was in yielding to their entreaties, much against his own conscience, to attend, as a mere spectator, a dancing school that had been started in the settlement of Crab Orchard. He thought within himself that it should be only for a single time, and after that he would resume his former watchfulness and spirituality. Some very respectable persons were there; and they treated the young professor with marked attention. Amidst the whirl of excitement and gaiety, and against the convictions of his own conscience, he was finally persuaded to sign his name to the list of those who were to constitute the school.
Forty years after this false step was taken, I heard him narrate with pungent feelings of regret and abhorrence this error of his youth. He told me that, while putting his name to the subscription list, he felt like a criminal signing his own death warrant; but, by a desperate effort, he braved it out, and went through a regular course of lessons in dancing. Up to this time he had never attended a dancing school, or a country frolic. Educated. as he had been, under the constant supervision of religious parents, and habituated to the universally prevailing sentiment at that period that dancing and all kindred amusements were inconsistent with a Christian profession, it is not strange that he should regard his conduct as a forfeiture of Christian fellowship among his brethren, and suffer exclusion from the Church. His parents and two brothers were members of the same church, and were grievously afflicted by the conduct of Jeremiah,
who left the church without explanation or apology. He regarded himself as unworthy of the Christian name, and offered no apology for his folly and sin.
Possessing, as he did, unusual energy of character, he engaged with his whole soul in whatever he undertook. He even tried to persuade his brother Morgan to look on and see how well he could dance. This brother, who maintained steadfastly his Christian profession to old age, gave to a friend of mine a statement of the waywardness of his erring brother, and remarked, with deep feeling, that he would rather have followed him to the grave, and seen him buried as a Christian, than to have seen him in a dancing school.
While learning to dance, he became enamoured with the music of the violin, and purchased one. He had an ear and taste for music, and in a few weeks became a successful performer. For about three years, he spent much of his time in playing on that instrument, greatly to the grief of his parents and brothers.
During this period of worldiness and hilarity, he became attached to a young lady, - Elizabeth, daughter of Richard James, Esq. Her parents were both devout members of Cedar Creek Church, and regarded young Vardeman as a vain, light-minded fellow, who wasted his time in dancing and playing on the fiddle; and they were opposed to the match. The result was (a very common one in frontier settlements) an elopement to Pulaski County, and marriage.
His young wife, though religiously trained, had made no profession of religion, and inclined to the ways of her husband. Her excellent parents, though sorely grieved, had the good sense to perceive that further opposition was useless, forgave the delinquents, and within a few months followed the young couple to Pulaski County, and settled on Cumberland River. There Vardeman became the leader of the young people in every species of mirth and amusement - none could sing and play the violin so enchantingly, - none so jovial and frolicksome, as Jeremiah Vardeman; and his young wife, much to the grief of her parents, shared in all his gaiety. Thus passed nearly three years of his life. He was not, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, immoral; but, on the contrary, he abstained from profane language, was temperate, kind-hearted, generous, and honourable in his dealings with his fellow-men. But his duty to God was wholly neglected, and he lived after the course of this world. Yet he was far from being a happy man. He had his seasons of deep depression and bitter remorse, which always, sooner or later, overtake the gross backslider. Conviction of his sin and folly often drove him back to sinful pleasures for temporary relief. His religious friends, with a single exception, gave him up, under the impression that he was, humanly speaking, irreclaimable. That exception was his pious mother. She clung to him with a mother's love, strengthened by faith in the Divine promises, and in the power and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. She was a woman of persevering prayer; and the more thoughtless and worldly he became, the more fervently she prayed. It seemed to others presumptuous, when she would say, - "I know Jerry will be reclaimed. God is faithful, and I feel assured He is a prayer-hearing God."
There was a plain, unlettered Baptist preacher in Pulaski County, by the name of Thomas Hansford, - a man of fervent zeal and devout manners, who was very successful in his labours, especially in awakening the consciences of his hearers. This man had made a profession of religion about the same time with Vardeman, and soon after commenced preaching the Gospel. Vardeman had much confidence in the sincerity and zeal of Hansford, and was not so hardened but that he would attend meetings with his wife. A revival was in progress under his ministrations. It was the beginning of the series of extraordinary religious excitements, that commenced simultaneously, and at various and quite distant places in Kentucky, and other States, at the close of the last, and the beginning of the present, century, and called The Great Revival.
On a certain Sabbath in 1799, Mr. Hansford had an appointment in a private house, (for seldom had a church there a house of worship,) about six miles from Mr. Vardeman's residence. It was no great feat, at that time, for a young, athletic man and his wife to ride or even walk that distance through the forest to hear the Gospel preached. Mr. Hansford was led to preach from II Peter, ii. 22. "But it has happened unto them, according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire." The preacher expounded the preceding verses, and applied the text in a most pungent and feeling manner to the consciences of those who had professed religion, and had apostatized. Vardeman was present in one room, and his wife in another. He was convinced suddenly and powerfully of the sin of backsliding; she was made conscious of her sin and guilt; while neither knew until afterwards that the other was affected. In relating this to me, in the year 1834, he remarked, while the big tears rolled down his cheeks, - "If Brother Hansford had poured coals of fire over my naked body, they would not have burned me worse than that sermon did." Both went home from the meeting under pungent distress. Vardeman could not labour, had no appetite, and spent most of his time for two or three days in the woods, - sometimes on his knees, and then prostrate on the ground, confessing and deploring his sins, and pleading with God for mercy. He compared himself to Jonah, who fled from his duty to Tarshish, and was cast overboard in the storm. The impressions he had received in regard to preaching the Gospel, when he first made a profession of religion, now rolled on his conscience with crushing force. He felt great distress for turning back from his Christian profession; but he was constrained to refer this sad delinquency to his refusal to follow Christ in preaching the Gospel. His feelings on the subject became more and more intense, until he at length said, both in his heart and with his lips, - "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? I will do anything the Lord requires, though it be at the sacrifice of my life." As he was reading and meditating on Malachi, iv. 2, - "But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall," - he found some relief, and solemnly vowed to the Lord that he would break off from his sinful course, and devote himself to the preaching of the Gospel.
A prayer meeting had been appointed in the neighbourhood, at night, the same week; and the change in Mr. Vardeman and his wife had become known, and a rumour had gone forth that he would preach. Of this, however, he knew nothing, but went to the meeting, with his wife, in his working dress. It being in the midst of summer, he was clad, like other labouring men, in a shirt and pants, and was bare-footed. This was all well enough; for plain, frontier people never think of putting on finery to attend a neighbourhood meeting on a week day.
There was no preacher present, but the general interest that was felt in religion, and the rumour that Vardeman was to preach, had brought out the men, women, and children for several miles around. Some of the church members conducted the social meetings without much formality. They sang hymns, prayed and talked, as they were inclined, or as impressions moved them. Towards the close, one of Vardeman's neighbours, who knew the effect of the sermon and his struggle during the week, invited him to speak. He arose to explain the mistake, and fell into a strain of passionate exhortation. In narrating the circumstance, he told me that he never could remember what he said, how long he spoke, or whether he said any thing. All that he recollected was that the people were weeping and sobbing around him. The weather was hot, the room crowded, and the preternatural excitement and effort in speaking caused him to perspire profusely, until his light, thin garments were drenched.
The next Sabbath he was at meeting again, where a crowd of people had gathered. He was expected to speak, but waited for older persons to take the lead; after which, with deep emotion and the tears gushing from his eyes, he gave an exhortation, mingled with confessions of his own backslidings, and entreated his young associates to forsake the sinful amusements into which he had led them, and follow Christ. To his great surprise, young and old pressed forward to offer him their hands, and with audible voices exclaimed, - "Oh, Mr. Vardeman, pray for me;" and one said, - "Do pray for me, Mr. Vardeman, for I'm a heap bigger sinner than you ever was." Probably there were twenty or more standing around him, or urging their way through the crowd, and in various phraseology confessing their sins and begging him to pray for them. As Mr. Vardeman had never attempted to pray in public, this call took him wholly by surprise; but there was no time for reflection - he thought of his vow to the Lord when he obtained relief, and without hesitation fell on his knees, and with the crowded assembly around him dissolved in tears, and pleading for mercy, he attempted for the first time to pray in public; what he said, or whether there was any coherency in his language or thought, he was unable to recollect.
These social meetings were continued on each successive Sabbath, and two or three times during the week, with similar effects; though, before they closed, he gave an invitation to all who felt conscious of their sinfulness and need of the power and grace of Christ, and who desired the prayers of God's people, to come forward and give him their hands, and he would offer special prayer to God in their behalf. This practice became very common, especially in seasons of revival, with most religious denominations through this Valley. Large meetings were frequently held in the
open air, under the umbrageous forest, or in school-houses, dwelling-houses, or other shelters in bad weather. I have not been able to trace the practice beyond the social meeting described, of the people spontaneously moving forward and entreating the speaker to pray for them.
Connected as it was with his first effort to exhort sinners to forsake their sins and flee to Christ, he always observed the practice, when he saw those signs of seriousness and anxiety which he was so quick to discern. He was opposed to all artifice and all preternatural excitements and contrivances to work on the passions of the people, and cautiously guarded his congregations from mistaking willingness on their part to have the prayers of Christians, for submission to the terms of the Gospel.
It was not many days before his former associates in worldly pleasure gave evidence of a saving conversion to Christ; his own wife being one of the first. News of the revival, and of the change in the course of Mr. Vardeman, and of his preaching, as the people called it, reached Lincoln County; and his parents, brothers and friends urged him to visit them. His father and brothers were fearful that he would make a failure in attempting to speak in their presence. But he disappointed their fears, speaking with great freedom, and wanting neither words nor thoughts.
The church of which he had been a member restored him to fellowship, and gave him a license in the old Baptist form; a certificate, merely stating he had "a gift" of usefulness, and had liberty to use it, wherever Providence opened the door. He now gave out appointments, and preached several times in quick succession. All classes came out to hear him, and in a short time more than twenty of his former associates in Lincoln County, and members of the dancing school that had led him astray, became the humble and obedient disciples of Christ.
It would exceed the limits of this communication to give any thing like a complete narrative of Mr. Vardeman's ministerial labours and eventful life. At the time he commenced public speaking, he laboured on a rented farm to support his family, and had no expectation of or desire for the public career to which he was destined. He was poor in this world's goods, and expected to remain so, but resolutely determined to cast himself on Divine Providence, perform the necessary labour required for a subsistence, and devote all the time he could to preaching the Gospel. He was ordained about 1801, and soon found himself called to the Pastorate, or rather monthly supply, of four churches. Providence favoured him, and his brethren whom he served aided him, and in a few years he was enabled to devote himself to the Gospel ministry in a sphere of great usefulness. He met with annoyances from some of the parties or divisions that then existed among the Baptists in Kentucky; but he used pleasantly to say in reference to their altercations, - "I cannot come down from the walls to engage on the plains of Ono."
He purchased a small farm in Lincoln County, on which he resided, while his labours extended into several counties abroad. Early in 1810, he was called to the monthly Pastorate of David's Fork Church, in Fayette County, ten miles East of Lexington, where he resided until his removal to Missouri in 1830. At the same period, and for several years after, he attended monthly the churches of Lulbegrud and Grassy Lick in Montgomery
County, where, in three successive years, he administered Baptism to more than two hundred and fifty professed converts. The Church in Bryant's Station, but a few miles from his residence, claimed his services one fourth of the time for nineteen years, during which period more than three hundred were baptized in that church. His labours were not confined to these localities. The churches he regularly supplied, though very strongly attached to him, obtained temporary supplies and released him for weeks and even for months at a time, to labour in distant and more destitute places. He usually attended several Associations annually, which always included a Sabbath each, on which he was uniformly chosen one of the preachers. As early as 1804, we have the account of a tour for preaching he made to Lexington, Lewistown, (now Maysville,) and other places. In 1816, we find him in the city of Lexington, holding a series of meetings, and the Church at Bryant's Station holding a church meeting to examine converts. Next year, the First Baptist Church in Lexington appears on the Minutes of the Elkhorn Association with thirty-eight members.
In the winter of 1815-16, Mr. Vardeman made his first visit to Bardstown, in Nelson County, then the seat of Roman Catholic influence. I have had the particulars of this and subsequent visits to Bardstown, and vicinity, and the effects of his preaching there, from the late Col. Samuel McKay. The Catholic Priest, who resided there, was unwise enough to enter the lists against him, and lost several of his congregation. Vardeman disrelished controversy, but in bringing the whole armament of Gospel truth to bear with tremendous effect on error, no man that I ever knew was his superior. He visited that part of Kentucky three times, and with his accustomed success in winning souls to Christ.
The same year, 1816, he commenced a series of meetings in Louisville. The Hon. Judge Rowan, then at the head of the Kentucky Bar, but not a church member, was a warm personal friend of Mr. Vardeman, and regarded him as one of the greatest pulpit orators he had heard. There were but few professors of religion in Louisville, and but one house of worship, and that owned and occupied by the Methodists. This was obtained, and the influence of Mr. Rowan brought out a large congregation, and a class of persons not accustomed, on ordinary occasions, to attend worship. Col. McKay, who was present, says, (1842,) "His fame as a preacher brought out immense congregations, for several successive days, to whom he preached with great effect; and to these meetings the city of Louisville is indebted, in a great measure, for its flourishing churches. . . . Immediately a large Presbyterian church arose, then the First Baptist Church, - and so on."
In 1818, the churches he regularly served released him for eight months, and provided, in each case, a substitute. His first wife had died suddenly, and he became so depressed as to alarm his friends, who wisely thought that, if he could be enlisted in a series of revivals by itinerant labours, his despondency would pass away. During this period, he visited Bardstown again, and then made along tour into the Southern part of Kentucky, and on the borders of Tennessee. The preceding year, he had laboured with other ministers in raising up a church called Providence, in Jessamine County,
of seventy members. Another series of meetings, in 1825, gave this church an addition of one hundred and twenty-five members. He raised up another church at Paris, the seat of Justice of Bourbon County; and at various periods attended the Churches at Boone's Creek, Cane Run, and Silas.
Early in the summer of 1820, Mr. Vardeman made a visit to Nashville, the capital of Tennessee. There were but three Baptists in the place, and they belonged to Mill Creek Church, four miles distant. At first, meetings were held in the Methodist Church, but soon removed to the Court House. He usually had one or two brethren to aid him in these protracted meetings. On this occasion, the meetings commenced with the aid of the Rev. Isaac Hodgen, another very successful itinerant. Of Mr. Vardeinan's labours here, which were continued through several weeks, I have a very interesting sketch from the late Col. William Martin, who was present; but have room only to add that his usual success attended him, that a Baptist Church was organized in that city, and by the 20th of September of that year, it numbered about a hundred and fifty members, and had commenced the erection of a large house of worship.
It was in the winter of 1828 or 1829, that he was invited to hold a series of meetings in Cincinnati; and here also a rich blessing attended his labours. More than one hundred persons professed to be converted. His family had become large, and his servants, for whose welfare he appeared as anxious as a good man should be, could do far better in a new country; young ministers of promising talents and usefulness had been raised up; and the denomination had made such advances that he thought his labours might be spared in Kentucky. Age was creeping over him, and young children, by a third marriage, were gathering around his board. Kentuckians, by many hundreds annually, for a dozen years, had been moving Westward. So he sold his farm, then much too small for his large family, made a farewell excursion through Kentucky and Tennessee, and in October had pitched his habitation on the borders of a beautiful prairie in Rail's County, Mo. Here, in a short time, he had comfortable houses for his own family and dependants, and more than two hundred acres of rich land under cultivation. Nor was he neglectful of the moral wilderness around him. His labours in the ministry were abundant, and gratuitously bestowed. Several churches grew up under his immediate efforts, one of which was in Palmyra, the County seat of Marion County.
For some years he had been growing corpulent, and his accustomed weight was three hundred pounds; yet his muscular frame was well proportioned, and his personal appearance graceful and commanding. His voice was powerful, sonorous and clear, his enunciation distinct, and he could be heard in the open air to a great distance. He took an active part in bringing the Baptist denomination in Missouri into harmonious co-operation in benevolent efforts. In August, 1834, he presided in a Convention to organize a system of Domestic Missions in that State, at which time I spent several weeks in his company and assisted him in his labours.
Still the infirmities of age were creeping over him, and his giant frame and vigorous constitution showed signs of decay. Yet he allowed no relaxation in his ministerial labours. Nearly two years before his death,
he became unable to stand while preaching, but sat in an arm-chair, while he addressed the people with deep pathos. Only two weeks before his departure, in company with another minister, he visited Elk Lick, a Sulphur watering place, in the hope of deriving benefit from the water. The two ministers commenced preaching to the people, and, before they left, baptized several persons and constituted a church, - a thing which they had not contemplated. Notwithstanding his enfeebled condition, Mr. Vardemau baptized five, - the last service of that kind he ever performed. He had then baptized a greater number than any Baptist minister in the United States - the exact number cannot be ascertained; but it probably exceeded eight thousand.
On the Lord's day before his death, he attended the service conducted by another preacher in the church in his immediate neighbourhood. He was free from pain; his appetite was good; and his mind clear and calm. After the first sermon, he spoke with his usual impressiveness half an hour from Hebrews ii. 3. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" The following week he grew worse; though neither himself nor his family apprehended his speedy dissolution. But, on Saturday morning, the 28th of May, 1842, he called his family around him, gave them some directions, bade them farewell, and sunk in death, like a child falling asleep, - all within fifteen minutes, in the sixty-seventh year of his age.
In regard to Mr. Vardeman's character, doctrine, and manner of preaching, I borrow the following paragraphs from a sketch written by my friend, the Rev. James E. Welch, now of Warren County, Mo., who was converted and baptized under Mr. Vardeman's ministry, and commenced preaching under his pastoral training, and is well known throughout the United States for his Agency of twenty years in the American Sunday School Union. He writes as follows: -
"The Rev. Jeremiah Vardeman was one of the most laborious preachers Kentucky ever had; for, although he lived on a farm, he was at home not more than half his time; but rode on horseback from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, from county to county, preaching almost every day and night. His manner of preaching was ready, and always without notes before him, and apparently extempore. His style was fervid, and his thoughts clear, yet simple and always directed to the heart rather than the mere intellect. His sermons were calculated to leave the impression upon an unprejudiced mind that he was more anxious to do good than to be thought a great preacher. And hence, if, at any time, he thought he could do more good, and awaken the conscience of the guilty sinner, he would break off from the regular discussion of his subject, and make a pathetic appeal to the ungodly to flee from the wrath to come. As a general thing, his preaching was better calculated to arouse the thoughtless, than to confirm the souls of the disciples. He seemed to labour as though God had sent him specially to preach the Gospel to the poor; and hence, the depravity of our nature, the helpless condition of the sinner without the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit to convince him of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment; the necessity of repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; the willingness of the exalted
Redeemer to save the vilest of the vile, who unreservedly cast themselves on his mercy, were the themes upon which he delighted to dwell.
"During seasons of special revival, his custom was to direct about one third of his discourse, warm and pointed, to professors present, and then turn to the unconverted, and in a hortatory manner pour upon them, in awful strains, as from Sinai itself, the terrors of the Divine law; and no minister I ever heard possessed equal power in exhortation. His manner was easy and popular, and no man could obtain larger congregations than he did, whether he preached in town or country. He was open, frank and sociable in his intercourse with men, both in and out of the church. He was unsuspicious, never harboured malice, and made not the least effort to control or govern others. When assailed himself amidst the party conflicts that prevailed in Kentucky, he seemed never to think, as most men do, of the most successful means of self-defence. On such occasions, his most intimate friends and brethren would advise him to keep quiet, and they would defend his character from assaults. He was not a man of war, - of controversy. Preaching the Gospel was his delight, and the employment best suited to his talents, and for which God specially designed him. In the pulpit he was at home. No man could preach longer, or louder, or with less apparent fatigue than he. He had a broad chest, a clear and sonorous voice, a free and expressive countenance. He was full of animation, fond of company, and, in moments of relaxation, abounded in anecdotes. These things made him one of the most agreeable companions, especially on a journey.
"In doctrine he was moderately Calvinistic. His views of the doctrine of atonement corresponded with those of Andrew Fuller in his 'Gospel worthy of all acceptation.' He delighted to defend the essential Divinity of the Son of God; God's sovereignty and man's free agency and accountableness; the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ upon the Cross, with all the other leading doctrines held by the denomination to which he belonged.
"His success in the ministry of the Gospel was perhaps unequalled by that of any other man West of the Alleghany Mountains. This must be attributed, under God, to the sympathy of his own heart with the unconverted. 'Knowing the terrors of the Lord' himself, he felt deeply for poor sinners, already condemned. He threw his soul into his sermons, while he would plead with and for them, as though he could take no denial. This earnestness of manner was calculated to convince the sinner that the preacher felt, and felt deeply, for him. When he perceived that his preaching had interested the feelings of the unconverted, he was in the habit of proposing to pray with them. All that he would do was to make them the offer, that if they came forward for prayer, they might regard it as a privilege. He never urged them forward, nor, as in modern times, did he go through the congregation, persuading persons to occupy the 'anxious seats,' and by such means induce those under the influence of excited feelings, to make a profession of religion, and thus introduce into the church those whose zeal prompts them to 'run well for a time,' but passes away 'like the morning cloud and early dew.'"
"Mr. Vardeman was married three times. The marriage and decease of his first wife I have already noticed. She was the mother of ten children, - four sons and six daughters. His second son, Ambrose Dudley, was born October 25, 1804, studied for the medical profession, joined the Church in his youth, and commenced the ministry of the Gospel, giving promise of extensive usefulness; but was smitten with fever, while his father was absent on a preaching tour, and died, after a few days' illness, in the twenty-fifth year of his age. Another of his sons has been in the ministry for some years, and is now Pastor of a Baptist Church in St. Charles County. Mo. Mr. Vardeman married for his second wife Miss Elizabeth Bryant, in 1821, who died, leaving one daughter, near the close of 1822. His third wife was Miss Lucy Bullock, daughter of Thomas Bullock, Esq., of Woodford County, Ky., to whom he was married in 1823. She still survives, a pious widow, and has charge of his numerous dependents. She was the mother of four children.
I have thus, my dear Sir, given you a pretty full outline of the life and character of one of the most prominent Baptist ministers by whose labours the Southwestern part of our country has been blessed. His name well deserves to be held in perpetual remembrance.
I am, with sincere regard, Your friend and brother, J. M. PECK.
[From William B. Sprague, Editor, Annals of the American Pulpit, Volume VI, 1860, pp. 417-428. Document from Google Books.]
Time-Line for Jeremiah Vardeman
By Rodrick Durst
1775 - July 8 born Wythe County, VA.
1802 - Pastors four churches in Lincoln County, KY.
1804 - Purchases small farm near Stanford, also makes a preaching tour to Lexington, Maysville, and several other towns.
1810 - David's Fork Church, Fayette County and later two other churches Lulbegrud and Grassy Lick.
1811 - Accepts Bryan's Station.
1823 - Alexander Campbell debates William McCalla (1788-1859) at Mason
City[County], KY. Christian Baptist distributed. Travels with A. Campbell to Lexington and Vardeman's church.
1827 - Begins to think John "Racoon" Smith is too liberal.
1829 - Denounces Smith. Son Ambrose dies. Goes to Cincinnati.
1830 - Resigns church, takes a farewell ride through KY and TN and arrives to farm in Missouri by October, 1830.
1834 - August, presides at a convention to organize a system of domestic missions in the state which later became the general association of Baptists in Missouri.
1842 - May 28, dies at age 67
[Published in the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry Vol. 3 No. 1 (Spring 2005): 81-97 Used with permission. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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