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Autobiography: Last Ministerial Labors and Death PDF Print E-mail
Written by Gregg Thompson   

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

ELDER THOMPSON’S last ministerial labors were with the Antioch and Ross Run Churches, located in Wabash County, Indiana. At these two churches Elder John Sparks ended his gospel labors but a few years before, and was called away to that blessed reward that is reserved in heaven for the faithful in Christ. For many years Elder Thompson had expressed a great desire to visit these churches, and although he was in ill health when the time came for him to start to fill his appointment, and his aged companion urged him not to go, he would not consent to remain at home, but in an affectionate way said to his wife: “Don’t be uneasy; if I get sick they will take good care of me.”

The meeting at Antioch commenced on Saturday before the third Sunday in April at eleven o’clock. When he reached the meetinghouse, he was taken with a chill of such a severe character that he had to retire to a brother’s near by, where he suffered for several hours, first with the chill and afterward with high fever. While the fever was on him he talked much; his whole mind was apparently upon the subject of salvation. When the meeting was concluded at the house I returned to the brother’s where Father was, and found him sleeping. When he awoke he turned his face toward me and said: “Salvation is by grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” He attended meeting that night, and again on the following day. On Sunday he preached a very able discourse to a large and attentive congregation. His text was that portion of Scripture recorded in the 1st Epistle of St. John, 5:1, 2: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments.”

It is impossible to give his discourse here as he delivered it. His first argument was that Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh, that He was Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, “God with us,” and that the prophet had thus spoken of Him. Isaiah had said, speaking of Christ: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; the government shall be upon his shoulder; his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Christ had declared the same of himself saying: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father also.” And again: “I and my Father are one.” The apostles had testified the same. The apostle John says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The apostle Paul wrote saying: “Great is the mystery of godliness; God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory.”

His second argument was, that Jesus Christ, who is God with us, came into this world to save His people from their sins. He quoted many Scriptures in confirmation of this argument, a few of which are as follows: “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

His third argument was, that Jesus finished the work which He came to do. He sustained this argument by such texts as the following: “It is finished.” “I have finished the work which thou gayest me to do.” “For He hath by one offering perfected forever them that are sanctified.” “He hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”

His fourth argument was, that to believe that Jesus is the Christ is a full conviction of the mind, that He is the Saviour as set forth in the Holy Scriptures, and that this conviction is not the work of man but it is the effect of the Spirit of God working within the soul a knowledge of the truth. The text says: “He that believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Not that he shall be born if he will believe, but he is already born of God, and hence he does believe. Again, Paul says, “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” John says: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we might know Him that is true.” “He that quickeneth the dead and raiseth them up,” gives light to the soul that was before in darkness and death, and reveals unto them Jesus Who is the way, the truth, and the life. He shows them their wretchedness and guilt, and makes them feel how just the Lord is in the condemnation of the ungodly, and that their own powers are impotent to do anything to change their ruined condition, and that there is no arm but the arm of Jesus that can rescue from the power of sin. To such a poor trembling soul He reveals the complete and abounding fitness of His salvation. He shows them by the light of His spirit a full atonement in the blood of the Lamb, and gives them the witness in their hearts that they have an interest in what Jesus did. With the heart they believe unto righteousness, and with the mouth they confess that salvation is of the Lord. To love God is a fruit of His spirit. Paul says: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us”; and as we have the love of God we love them whom He hath begotten. The union is complete; it unites the soul to the head, and to all the members of the body.

The practical features of the subject enlisted great warmth, both on the part of the speaker and the hearers. He said it was very important that we should know that we love the children of God, for the same writer had said in another part of his letter: “By this we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” We often inquire with deep solicitude, do we love the brethren? O, do we love them as the Lord here describes it, with that pure love that shall cause us to know that we have passed from death to life? The text explains the nature and practical effects of this love: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.” The love of God leads us in obedience to Him. His ways are ways of pleasantness and all His paths are peace. In all the ordinances of His Church we behold a beauty. Jesus has been there, and His blessed presence has left a halo of light in every ordinance. As the soul walks in obedience to His commands, he learns of Him Who was “meek and lowly,” and he finds a sweet rest. The form of doctrine which the child of God obeys is replete with teaching, pointing to a crucified and risen Jesus, Who is “the author and finisher of our faith.” We love God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for the grace bestowed upon us, “leading us in the path of righteousness for His -name sake.” We keep His commandments in the true spirit of the love of the truth, and by this we know that we love the children of God.

During the delivery of this discourse, which is here but very imperfectly sketched, he spoke with the energy of his younger years, and did not seem to become wearied, although he was engaged in the delivery near one and a half hours. Many who were present will not forget the power of that faithful old servant of Jesus, in closing his ministry on earth, but can with the writer say: “Truly, Jesus was with him to the end.”

When he reached his son’s house, he was disposed to sleep so much, that when not immediately engaged in conversation, he would relapse into deep slumber. A physician was called to attend him the day following his return, who used all the skill he could command to remove the disease, but after two days of continued effort, with the assistance to be derived from consultations with other physicians, it became apparent that no human skill could reach the cause, but that death must soon ensue.

The physician approached his bed-side, and in his usual familiar way said: “Grandfather, I have done all that I can do to relieve you, but have failed. I can do no more.

To which the elder replied with a smile: “That is all right, doctor; I am fully resigned to the will of God, and only desire His will to be done whether I live or die.”

The doctor then said: “Grandpa, are you still firm in what you have so long preached, and do you feel it is sufficient in a dying hour?”

To which he replied: “Yes, doctor, I have preached that which I believed to be the truth, and in prospect of death it is my only hope. For many years I have not known the fear of death, but have been waiting till my change should come, leaving the event entirely in the hands of a just God. How great a blessing it is to have a merciful and faithful God to trust in when I come to die. . . . My God is a God of purpose and of power; He doeth all things right.”

His aged companion now approached his bed-side manifesting deep emotion. He took her hand in his, and in the most tender and affectionate manner addressed her, telling her not to weep, for he was in the hands of a wise God and all was well. He then called his two sons who were present to his side, and gave them directions concerning his business. When he had concluded telling them how to dispose of his business, he requested that his two daughters and son-in-law should be sent for, saying to those present: “I promised to let them know if I should be sick and likely not to recover. He was informed that a messenger had already been sent to let them know of his condition. He then requested those present to sing the hymn beginning:

“On death’s cold, stormy bank I stand,” etc.

When they had finished singing this hymn he desired them to sing a hymn which he had composed on the subject of death, and the feelings of the Christian when brought to pass the vale. This is the nine hundred and forty-first hymn in Thompson’s Hymn-Book. It is here given entire.

Time like a fleeting shadow flies—
My house of clay must fall;
This tabernacle must decay,
And vanish as a scrawl.
My youth and age, my months and years,
Like grass and flowers decay;
Before the mower’s scythe of death
They soon will pass away.
But, far beyond death’s gloomy vale,
A heavenly building stands;
Prolific streams of glory flow
In those celestial lands.
To that bright world, that house above,
My longing spirit soars;
Where God my heavenly Father lives,
And every saint adores.
Then let this earthly mansion fall
And set my spirit free;
Why should I wish to stay below,
And stay so long from thee?
I’m but a pilgrim far from home,
While here on earth I stay;
My brightest moments are but night,
Compared to endless day.
Then let me wait and live by faith,
Till I am called away;
And to that brighter world ascend,
That house which can’t decay.
Let all my fleeting moments pass,
Earth’s painted toys may fade;
O, Jesus, my eternal life,
Support me through the shade.
Then to that world of light and love,
Immortal and divine,
Bring this poor pilgrim from the tomb—
This trembling soul of mine.

At the close of the singing of this hymn he again sank into a deep slumber and rested well during the remaining part of the night. The next morning he appeared better, but it was only transient, and in the afternoon he grew worse again. In all his sufferings he exhibited great patience and resignation, and whenever he spoke it was in a cheerful manner. The next morning his two daughters and son-in-law arrived, and when he was told they had come he looked up with a smile and received them affectionately.

The following is from the pen of his daughter, Mrs. Minerva J. Claypool:

“Dear reader, when the messenger arrived with the sad intelligence of my father’s illness, and the almost certainty of approaching dissolution, it found me watching at the side of my sick husband, who was so prostrated and feeble that I entertained but little hope of his recovery, and who survived my lamented father but two short weeks. My spirit passed through an ordeal, a struggle, between love and duty, the anguish of which my pen can never describe. That my venerable and much-loved father, who had cared for me from my earliest childhood, must pass away, when a few hours’ journey would take me to his presence, the thought was too grievous to be borne; and yet how could I leave the frail and emaciated form of my husband, whose lamp of life was about to expire, and who looked on me as the sole administrator to his wants? O what a conflict it was to act wisely and justly.

“After calling on my heavenly Father for wisdom and guidance, I appealed to my husband, who not only cheerfully assented, but urged that I should go and receive the dying blessing of my father. I procured the attendance of a good nurse, who, with the physician, promised the most faithful care and attention to my husband while I was absent. I consented to go, assuring them that I would return on the next train, thus leaving me but three short hours at my father’s bedside.

“When I arrived, in company with my sister and brother-in-law, he lay in a profound sleep, and although life was despaired of, his countenance bore no marks of sickness or pain. A placid smile rested upon his features. On being aroused and told that we had come, he smiled and said he was glad to see us. But the joy that beamed from his eyes as he clasped our hands in his, gave evidence of the true love and parental affection that lay welled up in his great and noble heart. After relinquishing his hold upon our hands, he called my mother to his bedside, and clasping her aged form to his bosom, he called her by name (Folly, as was his want in health), and said to her: ‘Let us show our children how we love each other,’ at the same time imprinting a kiss upon her cheek, while a smile of unutterable kindness overspread his aged face.

“But such was the potency of his disease that sleep, deep sleep, would overcome his faculties in the midst of conversation, and relaxing his embrace, he sank back upon his pillow in profound sleep. It must be that the sunset of life gives us a keener, quicker sense, else why do we love the more fondly as the curtain of eternity begins to descend upon us. Surely there must be a deeper undeveloped sense, lying beneath the surface of general feeling, which the tightening of life’s cords draws out in all its beauty. As his physical strength grew feebler, and his voice became fainter, the glorious spiritual predominated, until mortality was swallowed up in immortality.

“My allotted time now having expired, I approached his bed to take my last farewell. I said: ‘Father, I am forced to tear myself from you.’

“His reply was:

‘Our several engagements do call us away,
Separation is needful and we must obey.’

“I remarked: ‘Father, I fear I shall never see you in this world again.’

“He replied: ‘Well, it is all right; I am in the hands of a good and just God, in Whom I have perfect faith. Nothing but a demonstration of His wonderful power can save my life.’

“His physician, who was standing by his side, said: ‘Father Thompson, your faith does not forsake you in the trying hour.’

“‘O, no,’ said he, ‘My God knows no change. My faith is in Him, and living or dying, all is well.’

“As I pressed his trembling hand in mine, and for the last time gazed upon his placid face, silently I murmured: ‘O, my soul, pass under the rod, for the cup thy heavenly Father has given thee to drink must be drained, even to the dregs;’ and with streaming eyes and bursting heart I turned from the couch of that dying apostle, my venerable father.”

His physical strength continued gradually to decrease until his decease, which took place on the evening of the first day of May, 1866. The writer, with many friends, was standing by the bedside when the immortal spirit left the tenement of clay and “ascended to the God who gave it.” As I looked upon the face of that clay, calm and tranquil in death, with not one muscle distorted (for without a struggle he had fallen asleep in Jesus), but placid and serene, I felt that the truth of the apostle’s language was fulfilled in the Christian warrior now gone to his reward: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at that day.”

Oh, transfiguring power of faith! Thou hast a wand more potent than that of fancy, and a vision brighter than the dreams of enchantment. It was thy sweet visions and hallowed light that lifted the spirit of my sainted father above the gloom and terror of the grave, and stamped upon his clay the impress of the light of heaven, leaving the features beautiful in death. Thy grace, O Lord, was the sovereign boon of my father’s life, and I thank thee—O, how much my poor heart can never tell!—that in death it lifted the veil of mortality and unfolded in ravishing beauty to his glorified spirit the light and bliss of heaven. O, how blessed it is to die as the saint dies, breathing out his life sweetly on the breast of Jesus Christ!

Dear reader, none but those who have passed through the trial, know the deep emotions of grief which fill the heart when death takes from us a beloved father, when a full sense of the truth that he is gone from us, no more to return forever, is conveyed into the soul. Were there no light beyond the tomb, no ray of immortality to illuminate the gloom of mortality and death, how bitter and inconsolable would our grief be, when the dark curtain of death has shut out forever those dear kindred ones whose lives have so closely been linked in ours that their death is as the rending of our own heartstrings. To look with one fond, long gaze upon the beloved form, to hearken to the last words of affection and love, and to feel that we are to meet no more—no, never! It breaks the springs of life; it is the wretchedness of despair.

But we sorrow not as those who have no hope.” We feel that our father sleeps in Jesus, that there is but a vail between us, and while we on this side see but dimly, he, within the vail, is beholding the beauties of the paradise of God. We miss him in the family circle; his chair is vacant by the hearth; his voice is no longer heard in council. In the church on earth no more is his great gift enjoyed, proclaiming salvation through Jesus, and ascribing wisdom and power unto our God. But beyond the curtain of mortality, among the spirits of the just made perfect, in the presence of the holy angels, with the blessed Saviour, in the glory of God, made free from pain, from sorrow, from death, he lives, with no cloud to intervene, to hide the beauty of the Lord. There, in strains seraphic, his immortal powers chant the great, the never-ending glories of our Redeemer God. O, with what submission to the will of God can we resign ourselves when grace shows us how excellent the way of the Lord is. Instead of despairing, we press forward toward the prize, and forget the things which are behind.

In view of that eternal crown, we now the cross sustain,
And gladly reckon all things loss, so we but Jesus gain.

Dear reader, we must now bid you adieu. Many important events connected with the labors of the deceased, events which would have been interesting to you, have not been obtained, on account of the many pressing duties of the writer engaging so much of his time that he could not get them together. But he hopes enough has been written in this book to give the reader an outline of the leading facts connected with the ministerial life of ELDER WILSON THOMPSON.

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