Jacob Bower was born to Christian parents who practiced regular morning and evening worship. His mother died when he was only six. The desire to see her in Heaven and the belief that only good people go there caused Jacob to live a virtuous life. But at age nineteen, he was influenced by Universalism which taught that God would save everyone. He later wrote, “I came to the conclusion that, if all the world are to be saved, I certainly would be included, therefore I was sure of salvation.” This false doctrine caused him to throw off his conviction of sin and spend five years in drunkenness and immorality.
God used Jacob’s father and the witness of a Baptist preacher to again bring conviction. It was “as if a book had been opened,” and Jacob now saw a “God who is so holy that he cannot allow sin, however small it may appear, in the sight of men.” The “crumbly foundation of Universalism gave way” and Jacob passed many anxious days in despair. His terror was heightened by what became known as the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811. There were three major shocks and over two thousand vibrations over a period of almost two years. The Mississippi River flowed backward. Widespread devastation caused people everywhere to seek God.
As Jacob thought upon Christ’s suffering and death on the cross for sinners, he suddenly realized that “If it was done for sinners, it was done for me.” As he believed this truth, peace entered his tortured heart. Jacob sought the company of other Christians and in March 1812, was baptized at Hazel Creek Baptist Church in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. He felt an urgency to warn others of the danger he had lately escaped and soon realized the Lord was calling him to preach the gospel.
Jacob suffered many hardships as he preached throughout Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. He was ill, yet he pressed on. He was impoverished, and though those who “pretended to love him so well” would not help him, he continued to preach. He was dismissed by the churches that did not believe in his missionary endeavors, but he persisted in preaching the gospel where ever he found listeners.
Jacob Bower started fourteen Baptist churches. To cite just one year of his itinerate ministry (1834), he rode over three thousand miles, preached over two hundred sermons, baptized fourteen, ordained two ministers, and constituted two churches. This pioneering home missionary is little remembered today, but his faithfulness helped make America great and will be rewarded by God.
Quotations from The Autobiography of Jacob Bower