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Jeremiah Vardeman
The Kentucky Evangelist
by Thomas Ray, 2009

      Jeremiah Vardeman was probably the most effective pulpit orator and the most successful preacher who ever lived in Kentucky. He was born in Wythe County, Virginia, July 8, 1775. In 1779, at the age of four, his family moved to Lincoln County, Kentucky. In this frontier wilderness with all its dangers, he spent his childhood. When he was 17, through the testimony and encouragement of his godly parents and his personal Bible study, he found peace with God and was baptized and united with the Baptist church.

      Vardeman was overwhelmed with the joy of his salvation and was deeply impressed that it was his duty to preach the gospel. But he began to argue with God complaining he was uneducated and lacked the ability to speak publicly. His rejection of God’s call was his first step in a downward spiral that ended with his expulsion from the church.

      It all began with an invitation to a dance. He only intended to attend as a spectator, but one step of disobedience always leads to another. It was not long until he was not only an active participant, but he was elected president of the dancing club. His Christian friends and family, with the exception of his mother, were convinced he was married to his idol. His mother continued in persevering prayer and unwavering faith saying with deep emotions: “I know Jerry will be reclaimed; God is faithful, and I feel assured that He is a prayer hearing God.”

      During this time of rebellion, he met and fell in love with Elizabeth James. He proposed marriage, but her Baptist preacher father, John James, was strongly opposed. Jeremiah and Elizabeth solved the problem by eloping. Jeremiah continued to resist the Lord, but a sermon would soon change his rebellion to obedience. One Sunday morning, he and his wife decided to attend church. The preacher chose as his text 2 Peter 2:2: “The dog is turned to his own vomit again and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”

      Jeremiah and his wife were both convicted of their sins. Jeremiah’s conviction was so great he could not work. For several days he spent most of his time in prayer seeking God’s forgiveness. In his anguish, he promised the Lord he “would forsake all vain and worldly amusements and preach the gospel.”

      Immediately, he began to speak to his neighbors, and to his amazement his hearers were smitten by the Spirit of God and began to cry out to the Lord. His testimony had a profound effect upon the community. Twenty members of his former dancing club associates were wonderfully converted and joined the church.

      In 1801, he was ordained and became the pastor of four churches. Although he was a beloved and successful pastor, his most effective ministry was that of an evangelist. He held extensive revivals not only in Kentucky but also in several surrounding states. In 1815, he founded the Baptist church in Bardstown, Kentucky. The next year he held meetings in Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky, and founded churches in both cities. He also visited Nashville, Tennessee, and from this meeting the First Baptist Church was organized. In 1828, he traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, where over 100 were converted.

      In 1830, he moved to Missouri. Although his health was failing, he did not neglect his neighbors’ spiritual needs. Through his untiring efforts, several churches were organized. Just two weeks before his death he baptized five converts and organized a Baptist church. It is estimated that in his lifetime he baptized more converts than any other man in America — over 8,000. His remarkable success was attributed to his compassion for the unsaved and his ability to convince the sinner that he deeply cared about their spiritual welfare.

      On May 28, 1842, he called his family around him and bid them farewell and quietly slipped into eternity.

[ Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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