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Autobiography: The Revival Continued in Missouri PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The great work of the Lord was still progressing gloriously. Saints were happy, rejoicing in the displays of God’s power and grace, young converts were singing the praise of their Saviour, while mourners with heavy hearts and downcast eyes were seeking solitude from the crowded assemblies, so that they could silently breathe the emotions of their wounded spirits and burdened hearts, in the unuttered prayer: “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

The earthquake had been so very severe in the low lands about New Madrid, that Elder John Tanner left and came to the high lands of Cape Girardeau, and stopped near by us, in the vicinity of Bethel Church. Elders Stilley and Tanner were both at our next meeting. The church called on them to ordain me to the gospel ministry, which they did in the usual form of prayer and the laying on of hands. Elder Tanner delivered the charge to me in a sermon on this text: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” All the brethren admired the sermon as an able discourse, and very appropriate to the occasion. I still remember many of his remarks, and the general arrangement of the sermon.

The call, “Simon, son of Jonas,” he defined as a special call to him personally, so special that it was by name. But as there were others of the same name, Christ designated him as the son of Jonas,” from which the preacher argued the special call of the Lord’s ministers, according to His eternal purpose, as well as the special call of all God’s chosen people, to fill the various places assigned them in the church of God. This question, “lovest thou me?” being thrice demanded of Peter, was not only to show the Lord’s immutable purpose in the call, and to test Peter’s confidence in him, and draw from him a confession of his faith in Christ’s wisdom and perfect knowledge of all things, even the secrets of the heart and affections (which every gospel minister must believe and be willing to express on all proper occasions, and without which no man ought to be ordained as a minister), but it was also intended to imply a gentle admonition to Peter, to bring him to consider all his imperfections, especially his very recent denial of his Lord, and to cause him now to confess his love as the ground of his ready obedience to His command, as often and as solemnly delivered, “Feed my lambs.” Every preacher, he argued, should love his Lord well enough to obey Him, feeding both lambs and sheep, even if he got no money for it, nay, if it cost him all he had, and even his life beside. And the flock who were fed by him should remember that he had a right to his support from them. The duty of the church was plainly laid down, and they ought not to neglect it. The duty of the preacher was his own, and he should do it from love to his Lord, and if he loved his Lord he would also love the church, and, therefore, he would cheerfully feed them with gospel truth. The lambs and sheep were both to be fed. He spoke of the relation of Christ and his sheep before faith, which apprehended this relation but did not create it, for Christ knew his own sheep equally as well when they were wallowing in the mire of sin, as when they were gathered into His visible fold. He saw some young men sitting at a distance by the root of a tree who were talking (the meeting being held in a grove, as the weather had become pleasant), he raised his hand and said: “Those young men at the roots of yon tree talking may, for aught I know, belong to Christ. If they do, He knows them as His, although they do not know Him. If they are His He knows them, and will, in His own time, call them by name and lead them out.”

In speaking of the proper way to feed both the sheep and the lambs of the flock, he said that in old Virginia, after a dinner of meat and cabbage they took a glass of milk for dessert, and if there were some who could not eat much meat they took the more milk. So the Epistles began with doctrine and closed with exhortations, and he thought it best for the flock of Christ to be fed with doctrine, well tempered with experience and exhortation. The youngest lambs love sound doctrine if it is bright with experience, and the older sheep love experience if it is according to sound doctrine. In this way all the flock will feed together. Error, when contrasted with the native beauties and richness of truth, only makes them shine the brighter by the comparison. Although forty-five years have passed away, and many sermons and other valuable things have gone from my memory, the substance of this sermon I still retain.

After the preaching was over I baptized a number of willing and believing subjects. This was on the fourth Saturday and Sunday in January, A. D. 1812. Elder Tanner was then very old and very infirm. He attended our next meeting, but was soon after confined to his house, and lived but a short time. I visited him often during his last illness, and he always requested me to sing the old song:

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wistful eye,
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.

Then he would observe: “If that word Jordan signifies death, and its banks the close approach to death, amid the storms of disease, and if the words ‘Canaan’s happy land’ means heaven’s holy abode, where the treasure of an immortal inheritance remains for the heirs of glory, then that is my song. For here I am on the stormy banks of death, and my eyes, full of faith and hopeful anticipations, are fixed on a brighter world by far than this. I long to possess that immense fortune, a house not made with hands, and unshaken by storms, which I must soon go to inhabit. O, the riches of the grace and wisdom of the God of love, to open such prospects to a poor old fallen sinner as I am; and its being all of His grace, through Jesus Christ, renders it the more precious. I have often tried to feed the lambs and sheep of Christ’s fold with this food, but never was it more delicious than now, when I am so near the fountain-head, with my eyes fixed on its superlative glories.” With many such remarks he would talk until his strength failed him; he would then close his eyes and lie serenely calm for a time.

He was a native of Old Virginia, and for his zeal in religion and his fidelity to the Baptist cause, had been shot and imprisoned there before the Revolutionary War. He still had the lead in his flesh, and many scars upon him, from wounds he had received during the great persecution of the Baptists by the authorities of the Colonial Church of England. He would sometimes show me those scars and bullet-marks, and tell me of the conflicts he and his companions endured, the suffering inflicted upon him in prison, and by mobs and bands of outlaws, and how the Lord had been their helper through all these trials. I have been more particular to describe this robust and dauntless old man because he was one of those ministers of our order who had been sorely tried, and still he boldly preached the same doctrine, earnestly contending for the same faith which now distinguishes the Regular Old School Primitive Baptists from all others. Through this one man we find our doctrine, for now more than one hundred years, still surviving the severe ordeal of guns, prisons, and mobs, which, in his early life, he was forced to pass though, with many others; and yet they stood firm and undaunted advocates for the truth, and died in the assurance of the faith which they preached, and for which they suffered.

But to return to my narrative. I continued to preach from house to house, both day and night, so that I had very little time to work. I was poor, and had to work for my family’s support. Of corn I had raised a full supply, but I had to depend on day’s work for all the other necessaries. I was now settling in the green woods, and all my chance for another crop was to clear my ground in the wild forest, and of course I had to work hard. I would often work in my clearing by firelight, when all around me was hushed in repose. Often during these lonely hours, while my brush-fires were throwing a brilliant light around me, and the sound of my ax echoed through the solitary forest, my busy mind was engaged in the contemplation of the Scriptures, and the deep things of God revealed in them, and also on the visible glories of the Creator stamped on the bespangled firmament above me, and the earth and its productions around me—the changing but regular succession of the seasons; the day and the night; the cold and withering blasts of winter, when the chilled insects, beasts, and birds were hidden each in its close retreat away from the pelting storms that had stilled the songsters’ cheerful songs and dulled their bright eyes and brilliant plumage; then the warm sunshine and the lengthened days of spring, when they would again come forth with fresh animation from their winter’s solitude, and with mellow notes and cheerful songs seek the budding pastures and opening flowers. Even the worms and reptiles would crawl to the warm surface, glad to leave their torpid holes in the cold earth. All these wonderful creations on the earth and the reflecting constellations in the heavens, whose light is the sun, I viewed as a type of the church, or kingdom of Christ, and the revolutions which its subjects were constantly going though. These meditations would so occupy my mind and entertain my thoughts that my labor seemed easy, and the time passed swiftly and pleasantly away. The midnight hour would often find me still at work. This was my place of study, not like those who have private apartments, carpeted and furnished with all the necessaries of comfort, with books, maps, charts, etc., and a lounge for slumber. My study was either in my clearing, or by my little cabin hearth, with a light made from bark. I patiently read my Bible and had none but God to make me understand it. Or, if plowing, hoeing, walking, or riding, my study was always at hand; being portable, having no weight, and filling no space, it was always convenient when my mind was prepared to use it.

A small Bible, Rippon’s Hymn-Book, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress constituted my library, and, up to the time I was thirty years old, I had never read any other books, notes, or comments on the Scripture. My reading was always very slow. I had to stop frequently, and read it over and over again, so as to be sure I understood the writer’s meaning. Then I would carefully pursue his arguments and illustrations, always trying to study but one subject at a time. This has always been my way of reading. Whenever asked for my opinion on any text, and I could not at the time call up the connection where it stood, I have always refused to give an explanation, at least any further than a probable meaning. But when I had the whole connection and thread of the subject on my mind, I would give my explanations with confidence. On the general doctrines professed and advocated by the Baptists, I have no doubts of their correctness and truth; nor have I doubted for over half a century. If I were as sure that I was savingly embraced in that system of grace, as I am that it is the only system in which any sinner of Adam’s fallen race can ever be saved, then I should never doubt at all.

The good work before spoken of continued about eighteen months. I can only give some special sketches that occurred while I remained in that territory. During the revival I baptized four or five hundred subjects, some old and some young, and some white and some black, but all professed to be sinners, and to trust in Christ as their Saviour. They renounced all hope and confidence in any work of their own, or ability to fulfill any conditions by which they could ever be saved. When every other name, work, and plan had failed, then they put their trust in Christ, male and female, black and white, and all were joined together and animated by one spirit, having been called in “one hope of their calling, and having “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.”

The country was new and but thinly settled, but the congregations were immense day and night. I will here relate one event: Judge Green, a wealthy man, who had a number of negroes as his servants, and who was a very respectable citizen, but an avowed infidel, and who kept race-horses and was a great sportsman, had one servant whose name was Dick. Dick’s business was to attend to the stock and racehorses, and especially to wait upon his young mistresses when they rode out. The Judge’s daughters had attended my singing school and appeared to be inclined in my favor, and would frequently attend my meeting. Dick was always with them, and was so attentive and polite they thought very much of him. At one of our church meetings Dick came forward, and related an experience that no one could dispute, and he was received for baptism. The church proposed to send a committee to ask the Judge’s consent for Dick to be baptized. I told them I should not oppose the church, but it was a course of conferring with flesh and blood that I could not find in my Book, and I did not believe it was proper for us to ask an unbeliever whether a believer might serve and obey his Lord or not. If Judge Green or any other master, father, guardian, or husband came forward and offered an objection, the church ought then to consider it, and act as duty should dictate under the circumstances. But for a church to go to hunting for objections in the world, it would be rather strange if they did not find them. I, for one, did not feel willing to have anything to do in any such course. If objections were made I was then willing to give them all the consideration they merited, and would labor to remove them.

However, a committee was appointed, and they went to see the Judge. They reported, on their return, that he said Dick was his property, and he made them his witnesses to tell me that if I laid my hands on his property to throw it into the water, he would push the law upon me to its utmost extent. When the report was made I observed to the church: “So much for consulting the world and hunting for their objections. I should not have feared the laws of this free government, even here in a territory, where ten years ago the liberty of conscience was not allowed. But, now, the Judge has full testimony that I was forbid to lay hands on his property, or put it in the water. Now if I should trespass I will be liable to the law.”

The next Sunday, when the others were baptized, poor Dick was not allowed to attend the meeting, nor for two or three months afterward. One Sunday, when I was about to dismiss the meeting, I heard a call behind me. Looking out at the window back of the pulpit, I saw Dick holding up a bundle of clothes in his hand.

Said he: “I want to be baptized.” I told him to walk around and come in at the door. He did so, and I met him before the pulpit.

Said I: “Dick, what do you want?”

Said he: “I want to be baptized, sir.”

“Has your master given you liberty?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you wish to disobey your master? The good Book says: ‘Servants, obey your masters.’”

“I got two masters, sir; one is greater than the other. My great Master says to me, ‘be baptized’; but my other master (Green) says, ‘you shall not be baptized.’ Now, sir, I cannot obey both; and I wish to obey my greatest Master, and also to obey Master Green in all things, when his commands do not forbid the commands of my greater Master.”

“Dick, do you not expect that your Master Green will whip you, if you are baptized?”

“Yes, sir, but my great Master says, Fear not him that can kill the body, but fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.”’

“Have you concluded, Dick, to lay your back bare to your master’s lash, rather than disobey your Master in heaven?”

“Yes, sir; Master Green will not even kill the body; and I love my Master in heaven, and I want to obey Him.”

“Well, Dick, the church has received you for baptism; so, if you are not afraid of your Master Green’s whip, I am not afraid of his law, and I will baptize you.

All this was said aloud, so as to be distinctly heard by all that were in the house. Though the house was crowded, all were as still as death. Dick’s two mistresses were present, and heard it all. I turned round and said: “Can any one forbid water, that this man shall not be baptized?” Some of the brethren said, very low to me: “We fear you are running a great risk.” I replied: “I am not afraid, for I believe the Lord has ordered this matter, and I have nothing to fear. ‘The wrath of man shall praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He will restrain.”’ I took up my hymn-book and said: “We will now repair to the water for baptism.” The water was near the house, and I took Dick by the hand and started the song: “Am I a soldier of the cross?” All the congregation followed, and many voices joined in the song; and then, with the usual ceremonies, I baptized him.

As we came up out of the water, I gave him the right hand of fellowship, in behalf of the church, as a full member, and the brethren and sisters crowded in, and gave him their hands as a brother. His young mistresses went to the water and saw it all. The scene was solemn and deeply affecting.

The young Misses Green waited for Dick to change his clothes, and to get their horses. On their way home, they began to conjecture, as I afterward heard, how and what they should do in this matter. Said they: “We respect Mr. Thompson, and do not want Father to trouble him; and Dick is so ready at all times to serve us we do not want him whipped.” They finally concluded not to say anything about it, and thought perhaps no one else would, and so their father would not know of it, at least for sometime.

All passed off quietly for several weeks, when one evening the Judge came home, apparently in a fine humor. He began speaking in very high terms of Dick, as a servant, saying: “Dick has always been one of my best servants, but for some weeks past he has been better than usual. The horses shine from his rubbing and attending them, late and early, and he keeps things in the very best of order.” The girls concluded that this was the time to tell him about Dick.

One of them said: “Father, we can tell you what has made Dick so much better of late.”

“What has done it?” said he.

“Why, Father, a few weeks ago, we were at Bethel at meeting, and Mr. Thompson baptized Dick. They all had such a nice time, and Dick seemed so very happy when they all gave him their hand, and called him brother.”

“Did you see Mr. Thompson baptize him?”

“Yes, sir, we saw it all.”

“Well,” said the Judge, “I wish to God he would baptize all my negroes, if it would make them all as good as Dick.”

Here ended the law-suit, the whipping, and all complaints about the dipping. Dick was again allowed to go to meeting whenever he pleased. His master provided him with good clothes, and all that was necessary for his comfort. He also had a horse to ride, and was allowed to go and come when he chose, and to work when he pleased. When Dick’s master was about to die, he put him under the guardianship of his son, who was to provide amply for all his needs. Dick remained the same obedient servant, but never failed to attend meeting. I saw him many years afterward, when on a visit in Missouri. He was then getting old, was well dressed, had his horse to ride to meetings and seemed to enjoy himself well, even better than if he had been set free, for he had all the liberties of a free man.

Dick lived long a beloved brother in the church, and an honored servant in his master’s house, and was respected by all who knew him. Obedience is the path for the Christian, who should leave all consequences with God, for then he will have nothing to fear. “To obey is better than sacrifice;” but to take counsel of an enemy brings a snare.

Another event, of a different nature, I will relate: During the time of this glorious display of the power and grace of God, and the manifestation of His Spirit, I attended Bethel Church on the fourth Saturday and Sunday in August, 1812. At one of our meetings a number of young converts came before the church, and with great clearness gave evidence of the hope that was in them, and of their faith in the Saviour, and a willingness to obey Him. They were all received for baptism, and it was a day of great rejoicing in the church, and of deep mourning of many awakened sinners. The next day was one never to be forgotten by me; and many others have reason to remember it. If I ever did preach “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven”, I think this was one of the times. The immense congregation was bathed in floods of tears, and low, smothered sobs were heard from all the throng. After preaching we repaired to the water, and I baptized sixteen willing converts. I can give but a faint description of the joys of that day. Suffice it that I returned home full of comfort.

I said to my wife: “Surely the Lord is good to us, and we can never forget His kindness. He is worthy of our highest adoration; His mercy endures forever, and His faithfulness and truth can never fail; His promises are sure and worthy of our implicit confidence; for He always fulfills them to His people, and their realization is like the dawning of heaven. He gave me an assurance of these glories before we left Kentucky. That induced me to leave the home of my childhood, the loved associates of my youth, and the church where I found my first home, and the much-beloved fathers and mothers in Zion, who tenderly watched over me in my youth and instructed me in my ignorance. And it was God Who made you willing to leave your dear brothers and sisters, and parents dear, to take your lot with me in this wilderness. The assurance which He gave me that I should see the very things that we now so fully realize, has sustained me through the sore persecutions that I have here endured, and the privations we have suffered. When I was about to leave this place for worldly gain, the Lord interposed and gave me a new intimation that the time was at hand, when I should realize all that I had anticipated. Now we are here in a strange land, among a half-civilized people, where vice and immorality have long reigned and predominated; but the wilderness is destined to blossom as the rose. We now see the sun of righteousness shining, and we hear ‘the singing of birds, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land; the ransomed of the Lord are returning to Zion,’ and the triumphs of reigning grace and the all-conquering power of God are visible everywhere. Behold the wonders He hath wrought! O, how we should praise him!” I thus continued until bedtime. I lay down, but was too happy to sleep for a time; finally, however, I dropped into sleep, and forgot my pleasing reverie.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 November 2006 )
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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.