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Autobiography: Impressions to Leave Ohio and Reasons for the Move PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   


THIS was the end to any further public attacks or complaints from my assailants in that part of the country. The outcry was all hushed as suddenly as in my dream, and the rush and noise of my persecutors were silenced and have continued so.

My second book entitled “Triumphs of Truth” was soon afterward circulated, and although several pamphlets had been sent out by the Fullerites against my first book, “Simple Truth”, all was still from that time on. Elder J. Mason, of whom I have spoken in connection with the division of Sugar Creek Church, was among those who published pamphlets. Elder Fairfield of Troy, north of Dayton, Ohio, was another, but I made no reply, nor took any public notice of these men or their productions. All the excitement died away among the Baptists, and no further trouble ensued among them. I returned home looking upon this meeting and its results as one of the most signal displays of God’s divine interpositions for good that I had witnessed. Elder Gard was greatly rejoiced, and so we went home believing that our good Lord had evidently caused the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He had restrained.

The revival at Lebanon had gradually declined, and now it was rather a cold season in the church, yet all were in peace and brotherly love and fellowship. Our congregations were large, orderly, and attentive, but baptisms were very few. Nothing, however, seemed to present a discouraging appearance; yet I became oppressed in mind, and I was led to think that my work was probably finished at that place, and it was my duty to seek some other field of labor, for I felt that I was in the way here. This feeling oppressed me sorely. I soon thought that I could see in the countenances of the members that they were tired of my preaching, but I am now convinced that all this was a temptation. Perhaps it grew out of certain circumstances which I will here briefly relate.

Some elders who were of the Andrew Fuller school, but who had a standing with the old order of Regular Baptists, as stated above, had made so formidable an attack upon me through the press and otherwise (although they did not reside near Lebanon) that many rumors prejudicial to me were spreading over all parts of the country, and other denominations seized upon this state of things to rally all their strength against me and the Lebanon church. The first move of this kind was made by the Methodist Episcopal people. One evening a messenger, who said he was sent by some of the leading Methodists, came to my house and invited me to come that night to hear a stranger, who was a very able minister, preach in the Methodist meeting-house. I was not in the habit of attending their meetings and had never before received a special request to attend them. I thought it strange that they should pursue such a course, but I attended the meeting.

Mr. Mitchell, the strange minister, was just opening meeting when I took my seat in the house. He read for his text the words of the apostle Peter: “Repent and be baptized every one of you.” He took his position on the hypothesis that baptism was the application of water in the name of the divine Trinity, but the manner in which the water should be applied, nor the quantity to be used was not stated, but was left for each candidate to choose according to his or her own conscience. And as baptism was not essential to salvation, but only “the answer of a good conscience toward God”, whatever the quantity or by whatever mode water was applied, so that it answered the conscience, was gospel baptism. He spoke lengthily and burlesqued the Baptists severely. Several times during his discourse he said if any minister of that order was present and believed that he could defend their narrow, contracted views, he should have his pulpit when he was through and they would hear him try. Finally at a late hour he closed, dropping on his knees in prayer, and while on his knees he dismissed the congregation who rushed out of the house in haste.

I returned home convinced that there was a design in what I had witnessed. The next morning early some of the Baptists came to my house and told me that people were in a high state of excitement, that a rumor was going all through the town that Mr. Mitchell had exposed the doctrine of the Baptists on baptism effectually, that he had repeatedly challenged me to reply and defend the sinking cause if I could, that he had offered me his pulpit and promised they would all stay and hear me, but that I was so badly beaten that I sat dumb and could not be provoked by taunts, nor prevailed on by fair offers to say one word—in short, that no man had ever been so exposed, and yet I was afraid to say one word. I explained to the brethren the above-stated facts. They said that not only I as their preacher, but the church and the cause of God and truth in general were suffering from the rumors that were going on the wings of the wind, and these rumors would lose nothing by being repeated. They thought it therefore necessary that I should see Mr. Mitchell before he left town, and have something done in the case to stop this rumor.

I went to visit him, and when the ceremony of introduction was through, I asked him if he had intended his remarks the evening before as a challenge to me personally, to take his pulpit then and reply to him. If so, why did he dismiss the meeting in so summary a manner as to give neither time nor opportunity for me to say one word without interrupting him in his discourse. He said he meant it for a challenge, and I should still have the use of the same pulpit for a reply if I believed that I could refute anything that he had said, and if I felt desirous to venture a reply he wished to be present and have the privilege of offering a rejoinder to me. He was now on his way to Kentucky, his appointments were published and he must fill them, but on his return, say in two or three weeks, he would let me know in time to make an appointment public.

I told him that I looked upon his course as an attack upon me and the Baptist Church, whose servant I felt myself to be in the gospel of Christ. I was but a weak man, and altogether unqualified to defend deep and complicated mysteries, but then I did not regard baptism as such a proposition. The Scriptures were plain, definite, and all on one side of the question. His position I believed to be weak in itself, altogether fallacious, outside the gospel and revealed truth, and very easily refuted. But if he claimed the right to reply to me, which was not in his challenge at the start, I should claim the right to reply again to him, and so we could continue the debate to an indefinite time. He said: “Very well,” he would stay and continue the discussion till I would be glad to desist. I replied: “The manner in which you have made this unprovoked attack as a stranger upon the Baptist cause in this place, and the excitement you have raised through the town against them, demands from me a reply; and I shall expect from you early information of your return, so that I may have full time to give a general notice of the appointment for my reply.” The agreement was thus made and we parted.

In about three or four weeks, late on Saturday evening, I received notice that an appointment was circulated through town that I would reply to Mr. Mitchell’s former sermon the next day at eleven o’clock, in the Methodist meeting-house. I had a previous appointment to preach at the Baptist meeting-house at the same hour. I went to see one of our deacons and stated the case to him, and we agreed to have someone at our meeting-house early to tell the people that the meeting had been changed to the Methodist meeting-house, as the houses were both in the same town. When the hour came I went to the appointment in the Methodist house and found it crowded to overflowing, and many were on the outside who could not obtain room inside the building. I made my way through the throng toward the pulpit, when Mr. Mitchell said to me in a loud voice that a number of leading members of the Presbyterian Church had come there with a request. Mr. Gray, their minister, and his congregation were desirous to hear the discussion, and hoped that we would postpone our appointment until Mr. Gray should deliver a short sermon to his congregation, and then we could occupy the Presbyterian house, which being large, with spacious galleries, would accommodate all the people present. The Presbyterians present spoke up and endorsed what Mr. Mitchell had said, and added that they believed all present were willing to the arrangement if I would agree. I answered that if it was the wish of Mr. Gray and his congregation, as the Methodist house would not accommodate the people, I would not object to the proposition.

A short discourse was delivered by a Methodist minister present, after which we all repaired to the Presbyterian meeting-house. When we entered the house, Mr. Gray was just concluding his discourse. He said: “I now yield this house and pulpit to these two gentlemen for a discussion of the subject of baptism, and I hope the brethren will prosecute the investigation in a spirit of Christian tenderness and moderation.”

Mr. Mitchell said: “I do not know how mad I may become before we are through, and if I take this pulpit I do so without any restrictions.”

I then said: “The subject for our discussion is of a controversial character, as I am to reply to a sermon that Mr. Mitchell, some weeks before, had delivered; and, of course, my remarks would be opposed to his, and I should not go into that pulpit with my hands and tongue tied, but should feel at full liberty to discuss the subject in my own way.

Mr. Gray said: “To be sure, that is entirely proper.” He then came down from the pulpit and invited us up. We entered the pulpit, and I began my reply to Mr. Mitchell’s former discourse, by using the same text which he had used on the occasion referred to.

I first showed the high authority for baptism, and the well-defined subjects admissible to that ordinance. Believers, all such as brought forth fruits meet for repentance, were the legal subjects, and all others were forbidden, even those who were the children of believing parents, or the descendants of Abraham, if they had not these fruits, were rejected. The action of baptism was not left to every man’s conscience, but was well defined by the word baptize, which word in all languages is entirely a different word from sprinkle or pour. But it was not only well defined by the word employed in the commission, or authority under which it is administered, but also in the manner practiced by the apostles, who declared it to be a burial: “Buried with Christ in baptism.” Both the candidates and the administrator “went down into the water”, when the act of baptism was performed, and then “they both came up out of the water.” The ordinance of baptism was performed between the acts of going down into and coming up out of the water. It was also defined as being administered in “rivers”, or in places where “there was much water.” These, with many other words, figures, and defining circumstances, which I introduced, settled the question as to what baptism really is. And if to be baptized is to be buried in water, then to be sprinkled with water, or to have water poured on some part of the person, is not baptism, but quite a different thing, and the operation is expressed by a very different word—a word of a different signification, and plainly defining a different action.

I then showed the error of Mr. Mitchell’s main position, that baptism was to answer the conscience, when the conscience was such as to depart from the living God. Such a conscience was defiled, and could not lead the subject into the obedience of faith. But we read of some, “whose hearts were sprinkled from an evil conscience,” whose consciences were purified by the blood of Jesus Christ.” This was evidently the kind of conscience called “a good conscience”, which can only be answered in the service of God. To such, baptism is “the answer of a good conscience.” On the other hand, sprinkling, pouring, or no baptism at all, or any other departure from the literal observances of the ordinances of the living God, may answer such evil conscience. Hence the preference which some have between a well-defined ordinance and positive command of God, and a vague and rebellious departure therefrom, choosing the latter, rather than the former, is an evidence of the kind of conscience which they have. We should therefore look well to the choice which is made, and, by it, decide whether the conscience which dictated it, is good or evil; for “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

Among many other texts I quoted from Ephesians: “There is one body, and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling: one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Now if the phrase “one Lord,” means but one, and He alone is the Lord of the one body, the church, and if the phrase “one faith,” means but one true and living faith, the faith of the one body or church, which I presume few will deny, then it follows, of course, that to the same body, or church, the phrase “one baptism,” must mean but one, the immersion of believers. Because the Baptist Church has believed in, and constantly practiced this one baptism, and opposed all intrusions and inventions of men in its stead, they have suffered sore persecutions, and thousands of them have lost their lives as martyrs, under the persecuting zeal of Paedo-Baptists.

Here Mr. Gray suddenly sprang to his feet, holding a large key in his hand. He struck the back of the seat a severe blow with the key, which very much startled the congregation by the abruptness of the stroke and the noise occasioned in the spacious building. With a very angry look, accompanied with rapid gestures, he cried out to me, in a loud tone of voice: “You are stating lies in the pulpit.” I had stopped speaking at the time, and stood silent until he ended his fiery invectives.

I then said: “I am truly sorry to see Mr. Gray forget the counsel he had given us, when he yielded his pulpit to us, and so soon to disturb the attentive and orderly congregation.” (The remarks that so much provoked his ire were in reference to an historical statement, to which I had alluded, by the way.) I went on: “But if Mr. Gray will be seated again, and does not disturb the meeting until I am done speaking and through with Mr. Mitchell, he can then appoint a day for the purpose, and I will now pledge myself to prove, from authentic history, the truth of my statement.”

He still remained standing, and said that my statements were false, and should stand as a falsehood until I did prove them to be true, which he averred I could never do. I then said: “I am very sorry to see Mr. Gray act so disorderly, in open violation of the laws of the land, and I should feel still more sorry to see some officer of the peace take him out of his own meeting-house, as a disturber. It is very unpleasant to be called a liar while preaching in the pulpit, and have the charge persisted in, and repeated. Now, if a friend will go to my house and bring me Robinson’s History of Baptism, I will prove my statement to be true before I proceed any further.”

A young man then started to bring the book, but many voices were heard in the audience saying: “Mr. Thompson, go on; do not mind him, but pursue your subject.”

I replied: “If Mr. Gray will take his seat and act like a peaceable man, I will proceed; and I will hold myself bound to him and all present to prove the truth of what I have stated; I am willing to let Mr. Gray set any time he pleases, when a sufficient notice can be given, and I shall do as I promise. But to be interrupted in this rude and disorderly manner is more than I am willing to submit to.”

Many persons now spoke and said they wished Mr. Gray to take his seat, and for me to go on, and that they wished to hear me through. Mr. Gray then took his seat, and I went on and finished my reply.

Mr. Mitchell made but few remarks; he said he could not stay to continue the investigation any longer and dismissed the congregation. He left Lebanon, and I never heard of his returning again. The Methodist people were all mute about what had passed between Mr. Mitchell and myself, and, strange as it may appear, they became my warm friends, in opposition to Mr. Gray.

The next Saturday a piece from the pen of Mr. Gray came out in a political newspaper, published by one of his friends, in which lengthy quotations were made from Mosheim’s Church History and Russell’s Modern Europe. These quotations he gave as the historical evidence on which I had predicated my statements when he arrested me. These quotations consisted mainly of ridicule of the German Anabaptists, whom these authors accused of being a set of journeymen tailors and bakers, who had excited and led on the Munster insurrection, by running stark naked through the town, crying: “We are the naked truth,” and declaring that they were commissioned to build up the temple of God, and that they held in utter contempt all laws and magistrates, etc. These quotations were coupled with many remarks of his own; and Mr. Gray promised that the expose would be continued in the next paper. I went to the same editor in order to reply through the same medium, but he refused to publish my reply. So, I went to another editor in town, who had been raised under Presbyterian influence, and he published my reply to Mr. Gray. This newspaper investigation went on for some time.

In the investigation I showed that the name Anabaptist was a nickname given them by their enemies, because, as they alleged, these dippers rebaptized. They maintained that the ceremony performed by the authority of Antichrist was not gospel baptism, and hence that they did not re-baptize, for they, no more than modern Baptists, did not admit the validity of the so-called baptism received in infancy, at the hands of the ministers of Antichrist. Their baptism was not re-baptism, but simply baptism. I showed that the Munster affair was far from being begnn and led on by these Baptists, but rather that it was started and led on by a PaedoBaptist of the Lutheran order. The Baptists being at that time passing through a severe persecution, some of them fell into the movement, in the hope of obtaining deliverance from their cruel persecutions. It was a civil and not a religious revolution. Their manifesto was good and patriotic enough for a Lycurgus to have signed it, and yet many of these Baptists lost their lives because they were Baptists. So, even Mr. Gray’s own historian, who was an inveterate enemy to the Baptists, strongly corroborated my statement, which had been so very offensive to Mr. Gray.

I thanked him for giving what he wished the people to receive as my historical testimony, but I could inform all of them that I had no reference to the Munster matter, therefore, my thanks must be the whole reward for all his labors. I then gave the full proof of my statements, and the debate turned on the simple question of baptism. Mr. Gray soon withdrew from the controversy. Afterward the discussion was published in pamphlet form, copied from the papers, under the title: “Both Sides of the Question.” Thus ended the attempt to injure me and the Baptist cause on the part of the Methodists and Presbyterians.

About this time a Universalist minister, by the name of Kidwell, of Wayne County, Indiana, came to Lebanon, and commenced a regular series of meetings, one or two days and nights in each month. He was called a great man, as an orator, reasoner, and scripturian. I had never before heard of him, and did not go to hear him for several months. I heard that he gave challenges at the close of his sermons, and although he had large numbers to hear him, no one would meet him in discussion. I believed, from the course he pursued, that he sought my downfall. His meetings were held in the court-room. At length, while one of his meetings was in progress, several of my friends and brethren came to my house and said to me they believed that all the preachers in town were remiss in duty, and that this Kidwell was deceiving the people in sight of their houses, and challenging them to come out at the close of each one of his discourses. Yet there was not one David among them to oppose this Goliath. The watchman who saw the wolf coming and remained silent would be held responsible for the injury done to the flock. The public challenges, so often repeated and not responded to, were used by Kidwell as conclusive evidence that all the ministers about the town well knew that his doctrine could not be successfully met, and that their own must fall if subjected to a fair scriptural investigation, and that this was the only reason why they remained so cowardly silent. “The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”

This in substance was their talk to me. They said the people, generally, were also talking in the same way, and that this silence on the part of the ministers of the town, was a strong argument in favor of Universalism. Kidwell was now preparing to organize a church, and about sixty names were already registered, of persons who were pledged to go into the organization, and many of these were among the most influential men of the town. A high degree of excitement was prevailing in the town and country, and if this man was not met fairly and boldly, and his flesh-pleasing doctrine fully exposed, it was impossible to say where it would end. Kidwell was to preach that evening in the court house, and they wished me to go and hear him. I finally agreed to go and hear him once, but not to reply, stating that he was a stranger, and, from rumor, was of too bad a character to be patronized as an honorable opponent, although he, no doubt, was a smart man and a good orator.

In the evening I went to hear him. He commenced by saying that a certain minister of the town had come there pledged to reply to him; he should, therefore, be very brief in his remarks and give place. He spoke twenty or thirty minutes, and then said he’d give place for the gentleman to reply. I supposed some preacher had agreed to reply. Kidwell stood silent a short time, and then said that he was sorry to see the gentleman who was to reply afraid to do so; he had given him full time, and he hoped he would not now back down and give up without one effort to sustain a sinking cause. Truth, he knew, was mighty and had nothing to lose by investigation, and if the man who had come there to reply to him believed that he had truth on his side, he should be zealous enough to attempt, at least, to stand up in its defense. He waited again for about a minute, and then said: “A man by the name of Thompson, the minister of the Baptist Church in this town, is the man who was to have replied to me. But I suppose that he sees his cause cannot be sustained, and, therefore, he will not make a fruitless effort. I would advise him to make the attempt at all events, and not yield without one last, mighty effort, or an open confession of the native weakness of his system, and then abandon it for ever.”

I then arose and stepped to the lawyer’s desk, in front of the bench, and, facing Mr. Kidwell, said: “This is all a very strange proceeding to me. So far from having come here pledged to reply, I had said that at this time, and under the present circumstances, I did not intend to accept Mr. Kid-well’s challenge.” I then named the reported bad moral and religious character of the man, saying: “If the reports which have reached me were even half true, no man could equalize himself with Mr. Kidwell without dishonor; but whether these rumors were true or false I know not. He is a stranger to me. This is the first time I have seen him. But his vamping, boasting, challenging manner, would seem to corroborate the rumors alluded to. A little more modesty and humility would better become a stranger. I have not risen to reply. I can see nothing in his discourse that merits a reply. I arose because I was named and called upon. He may now know two things, at least: one is that I can see nothing in his sermon just closed, that merits a reply; and the other is that, according to report, the man who would recognize him as a minister would dishonor himself by debating with him. I have now said all that I took the stand to say.

He was standing when I ceased speaking. He said I was entirely justified in what I had said. It was true that very reproachful rumors had been circulated against him. One was that he had stolen corn from a widow lady’s corn crib; another was that he had defrauded a widow out of a large amount of money; and others as bad as these. But they were all false. He heard them and would settle them all; and, as I had heard them, it was prudent and commendable in me to refuse to engage in discussion with him until he had fully refuted these reports and established a good character. He should do this; and the next time he came to Lebanon, which would be in one month from that time, he would bring certificates from good men to prove his character good; and then he would hold me bound to investigate the points in dispute, or back down publicly. And so the matter ended for that time.

When the time came round for him to return, a heavy rain had caused such a freshet in the streams that he could not come. After this I received a letter from him explaining the reasons why he had not been true to his appointment, and letting me know that he would be back again on a certain day. He stated that he had the certificate required, and therefore should hold me bound to investigate the points of difference between us. He requested that I should make the same public. At the time set he came on, produced a certificate signed by a number of names, so that those present said they thought it would acquit me from any just imputation of dishonor by engaging with him in an investigation; and especially so as he was the editor of “The Star in the West”, a religious paper, and the approved organ of his denomination.

The preliminaries were then settled, a board of order chosen, and a regular discussion ensued. I shall not attempt to give the arguments, but will state that we continued the debate two days in good order before a large and deeply attentive audience. At some parts of the debate the solemnity felt and the tears shed plainly manifested that hearts were melted and consciences made tender. The result of this debate was that some came and joined the Baptist Church who said that they had been bewildered with the Universalist doctrine, but during the debate all was explained, and their minds were relieved. On the other hand Mr. Kidwell could not get a respectable number together again. No more was heard of his church organization. After trying a few times and finding the people would not go to hear him, he abandoned the place. These were my first debates, and I was convinced that they were gotten up for my downfall and the destruction of the Baptist influence in the place. They in-tended it for evil, but God overruled it for good.

These are some of the circumstances which I believe brought on my mind the desponding feelings spoken of before. This gloom became heavier, until I could not rest, but I kept it all to myself, with the exception of my wife, who alone knew the state of my mind. I finally resolved to visit a number of churches in the western part of Ohio and the eastern part of Indiana, and see if my mind would not become settled as to where my labors were required. My wife and I started on this tour, and we visited the churches in Butler County, Ohio, also in Union, Franklin, Fayette, and Rush Counties, Indiana. I held meetings daily from place to place during the tour. All the Baptists in these churches were very solicitous for me to come among them, although I kept my mind to myself as to the object of my tour.

Soon after, my mind felt a drawing back to Lebanon, and this feeling increased daily, until I became fully settled and assured that God was about to display His power and grace in a marvelous manner at that place, and that I should see the church there in a short time revived, sinners converted, and many of the ransomed of the Lord returning to Zion. This place, I now fully believed, was to be my present field of labor; and after this change had taken place in my mind I was in such a hurry to get home again that I could hardly wait to fill my appointments. When they were filled, I hastened home, fully assured in my mind that I was going to where the Master had appointed me to behold His glory made known. Of this I was so fully assured that I seemed to have no doubt of it, and yet all the evidence I had was my own feelings. But these were enough for me, for I did believe them to be of God. I said nothing of this to any one but to my wife and to Elder Thomas. I said to Elder Thomas when I was going to start home: “I feel some very strong impressions that the Lord is about to make bare His arm at Lebanon. You will soon hear good news from us.” He said he should rejoice to hear such news, and if such a work of grace should really take place he wished me to write to him, and, the Lord willing, he would come in and feast with us. I promised to do so and we parted.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 November 2006 )
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