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Autobiography: The Move to Indiana PDF Print E-mail
Written by Gregg Thompson   


BEING satisfied that this work, which had occasioned so much talk, would eventually lead to trouble, that it was the work of cunning craft, in order to carry the popular tide, and that it was of the world and sought the honors of the world, Elder Thompson and those who had accompanied him, returned to Lebanon. And now he felt again the impression of mind: “Up, get thee out of this place.” He had seen his impressions verified respecting the nature of the work going on in the city, and now he asked himself, should he longer hesitate to leave a place, however dear, when his labors could no longer profit those on whom they were bestowed? His mind was soon decided that he would leave Lebanon and move to Indiana, and there seek a field where he might hope to enjoy the approbation of his divine Master.

He accordingly arranged his business, and in the year 1834 moved to Fayette County, Indiana, and located about six miles north-west from Connersville. When he had settled here he had no stated place for preaching for near one year, but was engaged a part of his time preaching in different places, according to the inclination of his mind. He was very much attached to the brethren and sisters in his new field of labor, and they were much attached to him. This mutual feeling of Christian love soon led to requests from different churches that he would take the pastoral care of them. To these solicitations he lent a favorable ear, and, having put his membership in at Lickcreek Church, he took the pastoral care of it, and also the superintendence of the Second Williams Creek and Fairfield Churches. The remaining portion of his time was spent in traveling in different parts of the country, as before.

At the time when he came to Indiana there was no special manifestation of a religious work among the people. Some few were uniting with the churches, but without any general interest. This state of the church continued, with but little change, until the year 1843. In this year there was quite a revival among the churches of the Whitewater Association. There were, during this gracious manifestation, twenty-six members added to the Lickcreek Church, and of that number a son and daughter of Elder Thompson. All his family, with the exception of his youngest son, were now members of the church. The number received into the churches of the association during the year was two hundred and forty-seven. His membership remained in the Lickcreek Church until his death, and although, in the latter part of his life he was released from the pastoral care of the church, yet he continued to visit it during the pleasant season every year as long as he lived.

He continued his labors several years with the Second Williams Creek Church, until, on account of political differences, and some disaffection on the part of the members, he was dismissed from the pastorate by the action of the church itself. But the action of that church did not lessen his field of labor. There were other churches in the same association, and also in Miami, which were very desirous to obtain his services. He was not able, however, to supply all the churches that applied to him with the Macedonian cry, “Come over and help us!” The writer remembers, although then quite young, with what earnest solicitations his brethren from different churches would urge him to visit them, and when he would tell them that all his time was engaged to churches that had preceded them in calling him, how they would advise him to get some one else to fill his engagements at some other points, so that he might visit their churches. For several years after he was dismissed from the care of the Second Williams Creek Church, he took the care of the Zion Church, in the Whitewater Association, and also of the Hamilton and Rossville Churches, in the Miami Association. His ministerial labors in these churches were very acceptable and highly appreciated by the members.

For several years preceding the division in the White-water Association, a difference of opinion was known to exist among the ministry and membership of the association on certain points of doctrine. And as time advanced the differences developed themselves more and more. The point upon which the difference was based, was, “the use and effect of the preached gospel.” One party held the view that the preaching of the gospel was a means of the conversion of sinners; and that it might be effectual to that end, it was necessary that societies and boards of missions should be formed to raise funds and employ and send out men to convert and Christianize the heathen.

Another party believed that in the conversion of sinners God used the preached word as a means or medium through which His spirit operated to that end, but that missionary boards and societies were institutions of men, and had not the sanction of God, and therefore should not be sanctioned by the church and that as the church received all her authority from Christ, as her King, she could not sanction and support institutions of men, as Christian institutions, without a sacrifice of her loyalty to Christ. Neither could the church admit that the institutions of men were adequate to the conversion of sinners or the prosperity of the cause of truth, without impeaching the wisdom of Him who hath declared that He has in the Scriptures throughly furnished the man of God unto all good works.

The other party in the association held the same views as the second on the subject of missions and kindred societies instituted by men, but differed from both the other parties on the use and effect of the preached gospel. They denied that the preaching of the gospel had any power to convert the dead sinner, or to give him life, and declared that man in nature was dead in trespasses and sins, and that as no means could be used to give life to one literally dead, even so no means could be used to give eternal life to those who are dead in sins, that God effects that work of Himself, by His holy Spirit, without means or instruments, and that the gospel is a proclamation of good tidings, of great joy to the soul that is prepared with a hearing ear and an understanding heart to receive it. To those who thus believe it is the power of God unto salvation, and it saves them from the false doctrines of men, and feeds and makes them strong in the truth.

In addition to these differences in views there were some men in the association who had personal difficulties and jealousies that alienated their feelings from each other, who were ready, when the opportunity offered, to seize upon any circumstance to advance their own ends or injure those against whom they held feelings of prejudice. There was nearly an equal number of churches on either side of the parties, after deducting the missionaries, who constituted but a small part of the association. It was ascertained, as the discussion of these differences progressed, that Elder John Sparks and Elder Thompson held different views on the subject of means, Elder Sparks holding the doctrine of means, and in opposition to missions, and Elder Thompson opposing the doctrine of means and missions both.

These were the two ablest men in the association, and as soon as those persons of whom I before spoke as having feuds and jealousies between them, heard that the two elders took opposite views on the means question, they began to make capital for their own ambitious ends. They would tell Elder Sparks that Elder Thompson was trying to injure him, and had said things detrimental to his Christian character, and was preaching in opposition to his views. They would then tell Elder Thompson that Elder Sparks was using all his influence to destroy him, and that he must defend his views and stand firm, or Elder Sparks would ruin the association.

Thus were these two good men and able ministers influenced to take firm and decided positions against each other. I need not follow the history of the unhappy division which finally rent the association, leaving two fragments, instead of one happy and united association. In all this trouble and division, Elder Thompson stood firm in the defense of what was termed the anti-means doctrine. It had been his view of the Scriptures from his early youth, as the reader will have observed from what he has written in this book. Although he attributed great excellency to the preaching of the glorious gospel of the Son of God as the medium through which God was pleased to instruct, feed and comfort His renewed children, and to build them up in the most holy faith, he did not believe that God used it in giving life to the dead sinner.

In reasoning upon this point he would ask, “Can a thing be a means to an end, unless it has some power within itself to accomplish that end? If not, the preached gospel has a power within itself to quicken the dead sinner, or it is not the means by which they are quickened. If it be the means, therefore, by or through which the sinner is quickened, then the work of quickening is not all of the Spirit of God. That part performed by the preached word is not spirit, unless we conclude the preached, or written, word to be spirit. If we do, then it is not a means, because it is the agent that does the work. But if the preached word is a means used by the Spirit, then it follows that the end to which it is a means is in harmony with the means used. Hence, as all temporal means are used to feed, nourish, and strengthen living subjects, and not dead ones, so the means used by the Spirit is not to the dead and senseless sinner, but to the living, hungering, inquiring child. God gives unto them eternal life, and the gospel reveals to that living subject, Christ the way, the truth, and the life.”

In proof of this position he would quote such texts as the following: “And you hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.” “As the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom He will.” “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing.” He would say, in explanation of these and similar texts: “The testimony declares the work of quickening the dead sinner to be of God’s Spirit, not the Spirit and something else, but the Spirit. Now if the Spirit only can quicken, then no other power can, and if no other power can quicken, then no other power can be the means of quickening. My friends, would you not think me beside myself if I should go into the forest and take a cotton rope, or some such soft article, and try to cleave down the sturdy oak? I would certainly not take any such thing for that purpose. And why would I not? Simply because I know that when means are used they must be adapted to the end. Hence I would take my ax to cleave the wood, because it has a power, when properly used, to that end. To say, therefore, that the gospel is the means of quickening the dead sinner, and yet has no power in it to accomplish that end, looks to me like a paradox, or contradiction of terms.”

After the division in the Whitewater Association, there was but little prosperity in the churches. They retained about the same numbers for several years. Some would occasionally join, either by experience and baptism, or by letter. Some died, and others moved away. During the time from the division until Elder Thompson gave up the care of the churches, he attended the Pleasant Run Church, in Rush County, Indiana, and the Salem Church, Wayne County, Indiana, in addition to those already named. In the month of October, 1849, his youngest son joined the Lickcreek Church, and in a short time afterward was set apart to the ministry. All his children who lived to be grown up, had now become members of the church, and two of his sons, the oldest and youngest, were ministers in the Baptist denomination.

After the excitement occasioned by the division had subsided, and the ruinous effect it had produced among the churches became apparent, those who had the Baptist cause at heart began to regret deeply that they had suffered themselves to be led by partisanship and ambition into so great an error. They felt that very brethren in heart had been sundered apart, and the glory of Zion seemed to be departing. Elder Thompson was one of those who thus looked upon that unhappy event, and he, with some of the other brethren, was soon engaged devising some plan to restore union again in the association. A meeting to that end was called at Pleasant Run Church, but after mutual acknowledgments had been made, and the end had almost been attained for which the meeting was called, some of his brethren rose abruptly, and in disorder left the house. This broke up the meeting, and for a time put an end to all efforts for a reunion. Several years afterward, however, another meeting was agreed upon, and convened at the Lickcreek Church, known as the Means party. This meeting was for the purpose of preaching and visiting together. Elder Thompson took an active part in this meeting, but was very firm in preaching his views on the question that had divided the association. The meeting passed off harmoniously, in part, but some, as on the former occasion, took to flight after the first day, but not in so much disorder as before.

By request of Elder John Sparks, he and Elder Thompson held an interview at William W. Thomas’s house. At this interview the whole matter of the division was fully and freely discussed, and, although the parties could not entirely come together in their views, they agreed to cultivate a more friendly feeling toward each other, and hoped the time would come when they should all be together again. Afterward letters passed between them, in which mutual acknowledgments were made, and mutual forgiveness tendered, and, though there was no formal union of the parties during life, yet it pleased the Lord that their ministerial labors should close among the same people, and the writer has a hope that today they are in perfect union in the paradise of God.

Elder Wilson Thompson for many years was considered one among the most able investigators of Scripture in the regular Baptist Church. He engaged in public discussion with the most talented men of the popular denominations, and in all his discussions the public judgment accorded to him great success. His opponents themselves, in many instances, admitted that he was successful in sustaining his views of doctrine, although they would say, at the same time, it was a great pity such hard doctrines should be sustained. In public debates he had, connected with his strong reasoning powers, the faculty of selecting his proof-texts directly to the point, depending more upon the meaning and purport of the texts used than on the number employed. When he took a position he was careful that it should be a tenable one; and after taking a position he would not suffer himself to be driven nor enticed away from it. Several of those who considered themselves champions in discussion, when giving challenges to the Baptists, would express their willingness to meet any man they had except Wilson Thompson. They were not willing to meet him.

But few, if any, of his public debates have ever been published. After he moved to Indiana he made three extensive tours of preaching, including one in which he traveled through Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and New Jersey. He was several months engaged in making this tour, preaching daily. Among the numerous acquaintances which he made he was highly esteemed, and was considered as one of the most able ministers in the Baptist body. Many were the solicitations which he received to visit those parts again, and preach to them the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ.

Another of his tours was through Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina, in which he met with and formed the acquaintance of many very precious saints. He was cordially received among them as a minister of great logical powers and Christian virtues. It was not unusual for the ministers who were present at his discourses to arise, when he had concluded his remarks, and give him the right hand of fellowship in approbation of his preaching, and some of them, overflowing with feeling, would clasp him in their arms, and while the tears were streaming from their eyes, would invoke the blessing of God upon him. A correspondence of mutual interest was continued between him and many of these brethren in after years; and he always spoke of this visit and the brethren he met with, as among the pleasant recollections of his life.

The other tour was through the State of Georgia. His oldest son lived in this state and had a very extensive acquaintance among the Baptists there. This gave the father introduction among the churches. His preaching here, as at other places, was with much warmth and ability, and met a response in the hearts of his brethren. It was as “good news from a far country.” And although it was the first time they had ever seen his face, yet they felt that they were not strangers. His God was their God, and the glorious gospel of the grace of God which he preached, was the same divine truth which the Spirit had written in their hearts. Hence it came to them in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance. Neither was the influence of his preaching confined to professors, but many poor souls who had not made profession, would press forward to him and desire him to pray for them, that they might be enabled to realize an interest in the blessed Saviour. O how fervently did he lift his voice to God in their behalf, that He would give them the light of His Spirit that they might see a Saviour’s love, and that they might feel the power of His grace bursting the bars of their prison, and proclaiming liberty to their troubled souls. This tour was also a very pleasant one throughout, and one to which he often referred in after years.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 November 2006 )
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