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Home arrow Writers arrow Wilson Thompson arrow Autobiography: Concern for the Church; the “Revival” in Cincinnati
Autobiography: Concern for the Church; the “Revival” in Cincinnati PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

I HAD purchased two small tracts of land in Fayette County, Indiana, and would often think of moving there, but the very thought of leaving Lebanon seemed worse than death to me. Few persons can conceive of the strong attachment which binds the affections and sympathies of a minister to a church made up of worthy and friendly members, and especially when many of them have been added as seals of his gospel ministry, and with whom he has enjoyed many happy seasons of reviving grace. All these ties bound me to the Lebanon church and seemed to forbid me from leaving them. Add to all this the fact that I was well settled there on twenty acres of good land of my own, all cleared, fenced, and cultivated in orchard, garden, and farm products. I had also a good, roomy, and convenient dwelling-house, stabling, etc., and I was convenient to the meeting-house. The church so provided for the temporal wants of my family that I was enabled to spend the most of my time through the week in preaching among the destitute churches in the neighborhood. I could not have been more pleasantly situated to my wishes than I was there, nor could I expect to be so well situated in these respects again.

Still I was so constantly and heavily laden with a foreboding of some undefined but disastrous calamity that was about to fall upon the church, and that I must get out of the way. I became so distressed under these impressions that I could not sleep at night. Often at a late hour of the night I would my bed and walk on the common and in the lanes for hours alone, and would lament and weep, and try to pray to know the mind of the Lord, and to learn from what source these impressions came. All the answer that I could get was: “Up, get you out of this place, for the Lord has a controversy with His people.” These words were impressed upon me constantly, with a force which I had no power to repel. I thought they were not the language of Scripture, and perhaps they might be from the tempter. This added to my trouble. Sometimes I thought I would remain where I was and suffer with the church, let what might befall her, but this gave me no relief. The impression would arise that I was in the way there and I must get out of the way. I shall never be fully able to describe the trouble and anguish of my mind for about one year. My feelings were to stay and suffer with the church, if she must suffer. But the imperious command of the Lord, as I thought, was impressed upon my mind with emphasis: “Up, get you out of this place, for the Lord has a controversy with His people.”

While I was thus exercised in mind, the word came out from Cincinnati, by passengers on the daily stage, of a wonderful religious work going on in that city. This news filled me with gloom, and added greatly to the burden already upon my mind. Each day brought more vivid accounts of the unparalleled work going on in the city. And the more I heard of it the greater my distress became. First, I thought that perhaps, as our church was not in a condition to participate in this great work, it might be the reason why I was distressed to hear that a revival was going on in another place. This suspicion troubled me, for I had always rejoiced to hear of such gracious displays of Divine power in any part of the world, and now that it should so trouble me to hear that it was within thirty miles of me, and in a church where I had often preached, I thought surely I must be influenced by an evil spirit. If so, then perhaps I have been under the guidance of an evil spirit from the first, and all the wrong was in me. This put me to work again to try the spirits, to know what kind of spirit I was of. I read, I studied, I tried to pray, to divest myself of all predilections, and search for the truth simply for the truth’s sake. During this search it occurred to me that I should first seek to know what spirit it was that was producing such a wonderful work in the city. If it was the Spirit of the Lord that was doing this great work, and the spirit in me was troubled because of it, they must be opposite spirits, and the spirit which governed my mind must be evil. I now resolved to go to the city and assure myself, if possible, what spirit was at work there.

Reports such as these still came daily: “Forty had been baptized the preceding Sabbath;” “the very air in the city seemed changed, so that the signs on the taverns, stores, and other buildings, were melting and running down;” “the people coming in from the country to market, as soon as they entered the corporation, were struck with awe, and would burst into tears;” “through the whole city, in nearly every house, might be heard the voice of weeping and supplication or of praise and thanksgiving;” and what was more, “almost every face you met with upon the street was as solemn as death;” “that this great work began among the Baptists under the preaching of the Rev. Jeremiah Vardaman of Kentucky, who said that his mind had become so deeply impressed for the conversion of sinners in Cincinnati, that he could stay at home no longer, but had left his family and churches and came to the city;” “the work began at once, and was now spreading powerfully in all the churches of the different denominations in the city, especially in the Presbyterian church;” “it was very remarkable that within a few days after Mr. Vardaman came to the city, two Cumberland Presbyterian ministers came from Tennessee with similar professions of an irresistible impression of mind to leave all and come to the city.”

Many such wonderful accounts were coming to us daily. I had an appointment to preach at our meeting-house the next Sunday, and I Set the Monday following to go to the city, and, if possible, satisfy myself whether it was indeed the Holy Spirit or the spirit of delusion that was at work there. On Sunday I used these words for a text: “O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep, day and night, for the slain of the daughter of my people.” This text was so much in keeping with my feelings that I was overcome while speaking. I could not refrain from weeping, and many of my hearers wept with me. At the close of meeting I observed that I intended to go to Cincinnati the next day, to witness some of the great work we were hearing so much about. Several of the sisters wished to know if my wife was going with me. I answered that she was. They then expressed a desire to go with us, to which I replied that if they could ride in a two-horse wagon, I would take as many as could find room with us in one, and all that wished to go with us must be at my house early the next morning.

The morning came and several of the sisters, my wife, and I started for the city. As we went along we had much talk respecting the news that had reached us. My companions were in high anticipation of great enjoyment when they should reach the city and witness the mighty work going on there. I finally remarked to them that they all had greatly the advantage of me: “Your anticipations afford you much comfort, while I have none. I have left home without any hope of realizing any real enjoyment from this visit, but to be a spectator of whatever may occur.” They said they had seen me in revivals, and that when I got there and saw the great work going on, I would catch the fire and enjoy myself, perhaps more than they. I said that I had not set out with any such anticipations. I knew that if that city work was of God and I could see the evidence of it, I should be convinced at once that I was under the influence of an evil spirit, and this conviction would forbid me any enjoyment.

When we came to the city we neither saw nor felt anything unusual. The people looked and acted about as usual; no praying, no weeping, no singing could be heard. We drove to Brother Richard Ayers’s and put up there. I inquired of him what was going on in the city in religious matters, that had given rise to so many strange rumors. He said there were surely wonderful works going on. “Is it the Spirit of God or the spirit of delusion?” I asked. “Of that,” said he, “you must judge for yourself. There is a meeting tonight, and you will have to preach.” I told him I had not come to preach, but to hear and see. He said: “They will have you to preach this night and will take no denial. And,” pointing toward his daughter he added, “there is one of the young converts baptized last Sunday; you can talk with her and see the fruits of this great work.” She was a very well-educated and intelligent young lady. I talked with her about her experience, but could get no evidence of anything like a change from death to life.

In the evening we went to the meeting. It was a very large meeting-house and was soon filled with city-dressed people. I looked over the congregation from the pulpit, but could discover none of that solemnity which I had usually seen so visible in the countenances of the people in times of revivals. No excuse on my part would be received, but I must preach. I preached with the best ability I had, of “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” After I had closed my remarks a Doctor Patterson, recently from New Jersey, followed, and, in a very warm and appropriate exhortation to the people, recommended what I had said as truth.

Mr. Vardaman then arose and said in a dull, low manner, that he very much regretted the unprofitable manner m which the evening had been wasted. It was now too late to do anything to profit, and the people must wait until another opportunity. All at once he raised his voice and said: “Late as it is, I feel such an agonizing of soul for these poor mourning sinners, who feel as if this might be the last hour that salvation would be offered to them, that I cannot dismiss them until I have given them one more opportunity to come forward for me to pray for them.” He said he very well knew that God would hear and answer the prayers of His elect, who cry unto him day and night. “All the people seated on those long benches fronting the pulpit,” said he, “will please leave them for the mourners to occupy, while I come down to pray for them. All who desire salvation will come to these seats. I have prayed for such hundreds of times, and never without more or fewer being converted while I was praying; therefore, come without delay.” Turning to Doctor Patterson and myself he said: “Let us go down and meet these mourners.

We went down. He started a song and, as many voices joined in the singing, the spacious house was filled with melody. Every few minutes he would raise his voice and tell the mourners to “come on,” and “not confer with flesh and blood;” “this might be the night that would seal their eternal doom;” “come and receive offered mercy.” Again, he would order runners to go up every aisle and lead the mourners to these benches. Yet, with all this, they came but slowly. He stepped upon one of the long seats, and turning his eyes upward and raising his hand with his arm stretched out above his head, he roared at the top of his voice, in an authoritative manner: “Stop, Gabriel, stop; don’t speed your golden pinions again, nor attempt to take the news to the throne of God, until you can report at least fifty humble mourners on these anxious benches seeking the salvation of their souls amid the prayers and songs of God’s elect.”

When he had given this command, he raised his right foot and hand and stamped with his foot on the bench, at the same time striking the back of it with his open hand, making a startling sound through the spacious house. This he repeated three times, in rapid succession, and then followed a general movement through the house. He stepped down from the seat, telling them to sing with more animation, and not to pause between the songs even for one minute. His runners now began to lead in the mourners very fast. They were handed up to him; he would slap them on the shoulders, and halloo, “Glory to God,” and motion them to the seats. The seats were soon filled, and no more came. He ordered the singers to stop singing, and commanded every person in the house to go upon his knees. He knelt, and in that position surveyed the congregation; and again, in an authoritative manner, cried: “Go down upon your knees, I say; young men, down upon your knees! ‘It is written, unto Me every knee shall bow.”’ When he had spent some time in this way, and had got all that would obey him on their knees, he pronounced some very heavy invectives on the others, and then said: “Let us all pray.” He went on to give a history of his coming to Cincinnati; of the cold state he had found the city and the church in; how he had proceeded since he came; how many he had baptized; and the great work that was going on with increasing power. This historical account made up his prayer.

He then called upon the singers to assist him, and he commenced singing the hymn, “How happy are they who their Saviour obey,” etc. They all joined in the singing, and he passed between the benches where the mourners had been placed, and stooping down to each one he would, in a low whisper, converse a short time with them, and in many cases he would rise up erect, clap his hands together, and shout: “Glory to God, here is another soul born for heaven.” In this manner he passed between all the mourners’ benches. I had not seen one among the whole number that I thought looked like a contrite mourner, such as the Saviour pronounced blessed, at least as far as I could judge from the appearance of those even who were on the anxious benches.

To close the scene, and as I thought to amuse the people, they introduced a young Indian, who, if I remember aright, was of the Choctaw tribe. A platform was prepared for him to stand upon, in front of the pulpit and facing the mourners. On this platform he stood and in his native tongue delivered a speech some thirty minutes in length. I knew not one word which he spoke, and, of course, could not tell what was the subject of his discourse, and I suppose the same was true of all who heard him. After he had concluded his speech he was told to come down and pass between the mourners benches, and give the right hand of fellowship to each of the mourners. This he did with a solemn countenance and in perfect silence.

When this ceremony was ended Vardaman said: “Tomorrow, at ten o’clock, I will preach in the seminary in Newport, Kentucky. I will then return again, and hold a meeting in this house in the evening, to receive candidates for baptism.” He then dismissed the people. The mourners seemed much delighted while the Indian was performing his part of the programme, smiling, whispering, and looking over the crowd, much like persons at a show.

I went to Newport Seminary, and at the appointed time Mr. Vardaman arose and introduced the meeting in the usual form, and then said that though several texts had been upon his mind, he should not use any of them on the present occasion, but he should take up and investigate three points of doctrine: First, the foreknowledge of God; second, election; and third, predestination. The very word foreknowledge, as applied to God, was so silly that none but fools would use it, and none but the most ignorant class would believe it. He should, therefore, spend but little time upon that point. He went on to say that neither of the three points which he had selected needed much to be said to expose them, as they would refute themselves in the minds of all sensible and sound-minded persons. These three points of doctrine are the foundation of the whole Calvinistic creed, and if they were not sustained the whole creed would fall to the ground. “And the first three rules of arithmetic,” said he, “are the only arguments, and afford all the testimony that can be produced in support of these Calvinistic doctrines. These rules are: Addition, subtraction, and multiplication. When a text was required to prove any one of these points, the advocate of the doctrine sought for certain words of a proper sound, scattered about promiscuously through the Scriptures, and by addition he would add them together, and thus produce his proof-texts. If any part of it or other texts were brought against him, he would employ subtraction, and take from the testimony every word offensive to his doctrine; but if he could not compound testimony enough by addition to prove his point, he would resort to multiplication, and thus manufacture plenty to suit himself.”

In this manner he spent about one hour in attempting to expose three points of doctrine, by burlesque, ridicule, and sarcasm. After closing his speech, he made an effort to get mourners to come up to be prayed for; this, however, proved a failure, and he sat down. Elder Monticue, the preacher of the Baptist Church in Newport, came to me and insisted that I should now preach. I refused to do so, on the ground that I was at Mr. Vardaman’s appointment, in a seminary where the Baptists had no claims, and I would not intrude on Mr. Vardaman, unless he invited me. The elder then went to him, and requested him to invite me to preach, but he refused to do so. The elder came back to me again, and insisted that I should go on. I still declined. He then went to Mr. Vardaman, who then said that “if any one had a word of exhortation, as it was said in old time; so I now say, let him say on.” The elder then renewed his solicitation for me to preach.

(The foregoing part of this narrative was written by Elder Wilson Thompson, whose intention it was to have brought it down to a later date, but interruptions deferred the work in his hands, and before he could resume it he was called from his labors on earth to the reward beyond the grave. The task of completing this biography has, by the other members of his family, been entrusted to the writer, who is the youngest member of the family.)

The reader will remember that the writer, in the close of what he had written, stated that Elder Monticue had renewed his request for Elder Thompson to address the people assembled in the seminary in Newport, Kentucky. After Mr. Vardaman had closed his abuse of the doctrine of foreknowledge, election, and predestination, Elder Thompson then arose and said: “I see some of my old associates and schoolmates in this congregation. I am near the scenes of my childhood, and the walks of my youth. The place where I was baptized, and the church where I was set apart to the work of the gospel ministry are near by me. Reminiscences of the past crowd upon my memory, and my mind is made to witness again things passed by long ago, but which will not be forgotten by me while my reason remains. Not the least among the things which are retained and cherished in my memory are the important doctrinal truths which, since my earliest recollection, have been believed by the Baptist Church and maintained by her ministry, and which, I believe, the Lord revealed to my understanding, not far from this place, when I was but a lad.

“The great truth which, to my mind since that time, is the only source of peace and consolation to a ruined sinner, wretched in himself and undone, is the doctrinal truth of the sovereignty and immutability of God. That truth has been my trust since I was first made to hope for salvation; and if that truth can be successfully removed, then I am left without any ray of hope. Today we have heard that doctrine assailed in a way of ridicule and mockery. Having the privilege to reply, I should feel that I was recreant to every honest emotion did I not expose the weakness of this unprovoked attack against truth.

“First; if the three points can be sustained only by words scraped from different parts of the Bible, without any connection with the general teaching of that holy Book, would it not be quite as easy, and much more satisfactory, to prove it to be so from the volume itself, than to give nothing but assertion to sustain the statement? Second; if these points cannot be disproved by the Bible, but those who oppose them have to resort to bare assertion to sustain their opposition, may we not, in the third place, inquire, ‘are they not sustained by the Bible?’ I presume if I bring forward two or three witnesses to each point without the assistance of either addition, subtraction, or multiplication, it will prove satisfactory to you all: Romans 8:29, 30: ‘For whom He did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them He also called,’ etc. 1st Peter 1:2: ‘Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ,’ etc. Titus 1:1: ‘Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth,’ etc. Ephesians 1:11: ‘In whom, also, we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.’

“It will be observed that these quotations embrace and sustain the three points named, not only in the precise language, but are undoubtedly the points of doctrine on which the apostles are treating. I do not, however, refer to them as isolated passages teaching a doctrine differing from the Scriptures generally. Such complete harmony characterizes the whole volume that whatever doctrine appears in one part will be found to be sustained and corroborated by every other part. With this thought before us, every candid mind will at once confess that the doctrines of foreknowledge, election, and predestination are Scriptural doctrines, and are therefore true.

“But again, the sovereignty and attributes of God are involved in these three points. To deny the foreknowledge of God would be to deny His being all-wise. It would be to make Him such an one as ourselves, knowing events only as they were developed in time. But the developments of the events of God’s most gracious counsels are, by inspired men, declared to be ‘according to His eternal purpose which He hath purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began.’ And as a purpose must either be according to wisdom or according to ignorance, we can but acknowledge with the apostle that it is the hidden wisdom of God, and therefore that God foreknew that which He purposed. Again, it has pleased God to declare beforehand, by the prophets, the purposes which He would in time fulfill; and this too in the most emphatic language. And yet if God did not foreknow, He was just as liable to be mistaken as you or I. What a position would this make the great God to occupy, declaring that events shall come to pass about which He knew nothing! The thought is too preposterous to be entertained.

“God has declared His purposes to His people, because He knew the purpose of His will, and, as a sovereign, could not be disappointed as to the full consummation of the same. The prophet says: ‘As I have thought so shall it be; as I have purposed so shall it come to pass.’ In harmony with this truth the apostle says: ‘Who worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will.’ I conclude that God is allwise, and in the execution of the purposes of His grace, He so displays or unfolds that wisdom to the understanding of His saints, that, astonished and delighted with the view, they adopt with rapture the language of the apostle: ‘O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!’

“Election is but the exercise of this infinite and divine wisdom in choosing the heirs of salvation. First: We must either admit that God hath chosen those who shall be saved, or that they are saved without His having chosen them to salvation. Second: If those who are saved are saved according to the choice of God, then there were none embraced in that choice but such as are saved, or else God chose to save those whom He knew He could not nor never would save. If the last position be taken we must at once deny the wisdom of God. I appeal to you, my friends, to say if you could imagine one worthy of being accounted wise who is putting forth all his energies to do that which he knows he never can do? There is not one present that would be so silly as to engage in such folly. What! labor to be disappointed? Strive, knowing you shall fail? No; the Allwise declares, ‘I will do all my pleasure.’ God’s people are saved according to His choice, as Paul says: ‘We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation.’ Paul again says: ‘He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.’

“Predestination is that determination of the Almighty before time began to conform His elect people to the image of His Son. This He fulfills through the Spirit in the work of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which is shed abundantly upon us through Jesus Christ our Saviour. I will now close my remarks on these points with a quotation from the Epistle to the Romans, 9:15, 16: ‘For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”’ Here the meeting closed. The next night in Cincinnati another crowded house witnessed a repetition of the same revival scenes as before narrated.

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