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Autobiography: Back in Missouri; the Clouds Break PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   


I HAD been at home but a short time until a man came from St. Genevra, on Saline Creek, a distance of fifty miles, as a committee sent by his neighborhood with proposals to me to move to that place and teach school for one year, as they had received a most flattering account of my skill in government and order, as a teacher. The proposal was as follows: They would furnish me with a house and three acres of land, a cow and provisions for the year, and pay me a salary and three hundred dollars in cash. Three responsible men were to bind themselves for the payment of the money and the furnishing of all the other things. I should engage to teach reading, writing and arithmetic to just such a school as they were pleased o make, and also to teach five days in each week. Saturdays and Sundays should be my own. And if I would teach a singing school on Saturday, at one dollar and fifty cents per scholar, they would make me a good school. I thought the offer a good one. I was poor and had no permanent home, and this would give me a good start. It would give me three four hundred dollars clear of all expenses, and, as land was cheap, I could buy a home with that money. I was pleased; as I had never seen that part of the country, I appointed a time when I would come and see them, and then, probably, give them a definite answer. When the time came my father, never having seen the country, concluded to go with me. We spent a few days at the place, and were both well-pleased; so we concluded to move there. They said if I would set a day they would send teams to move me up free of charge.

I told them I had a crop to dispose of, and could not then set a day, but if I did come, as I then thought I should, I would write to them in two or three weeks, to inform them at what time they might come for me. They insisted for a positive promise; but although my mind was fully made up to accept their offer, and I was even highly pleased with the prospect, still, somehow, I felt like I ought not to bind myself by any positive answer. I returned home, and my wife was highly pleased with the prospect I set before her. I arrived home on Saturday, and on Sunday I went to Bethel to meeting. After the meeting I began to feel oppressed in my mind; a heavy gloom came over me; I felt as though some disaster threatened me, but I could not tell what it was. This depression of my spirits I tried to relieve myself from, but could not.

My wife and I staid that night with Brother Thomas Bull, the clerk of the Bethel Church. I suffered greatly in mind, and slept little or none during the night. My mind was led back to Kentucky, and the impressions I had felt there, how I had been convinced that the Lord had sent me here, and that He would show me the power of His grace. This conviction had heretofore fortified my mind and induced me to leave my native state, my mother church, and dearest friends, and come to a strange land, and dwell among strange people. Here, ‘tis true, I had suffered many privations, temptations, and sore persecutions; but, then, I remembered that through all these the Lord had sustained me, and now, I asked myself, though I am poor and needy, should I be induced by pecuniary gain to leave the field where I believed God had called me to labor? “No,” I answered to myself, “I would not for the worth of the world.” But it now occurred: “How did I know that God had specially sent me to that place? My impressions might have been imaginary, for one year had passed away and there was no prospect visible of any special work of grace, either in the little cold church or among the people; but sin and opposition to the truth seemed to predominate.”

In this way my mind was tossed all that night. I knew that my worldly interests said: “Go and prosper”; and the opening seemed providential, as I had not solicited it or even thought of it until the messenger came. To know the mind and will of the Lord in this matter was my great concern, and His will I would do cheerfully, if I could but know it. The morning came and with it my trouble increased. I felt like seeking solitude, for no one was company for me, and I could interest no one. We started early on Monday morning for home. On the way we talked very little, and my mind became so weighed down that I really began to think that some severe disease was fastening upon my vitals.

After riding some five or six miles we came to my father’s and stopped, and I lay down on the bed, for my strength seemed to be gone, so that I could not get home, although it was in sight. Here I lay until about noon, and kept quiet; but my mind was laboring like an overladen vessel in a storm, without compass or rudder. I was tossed in every direction by every contending wave, and felt as if there were no port for which I might sail; so I knew not what to do. To do right was my aim, but what that was seemed to be concealed from me. Old impressions said: “Stay,” but all my best worldly interests said, “Go.” My father and all his family had concluded that I ought to go; and my wife wished to go. Nothing but my former impressions held me back; but these seemed to forbid me, and to hold me fast.

In this suspense I lay without letting any one know the state of my mind until, as sudden as lightning, and as clear as light, every doubt was removed from my mind, and my course was made as plain as noonday. All those old impressions were confirmed to my mind as the workings of God’s mighty power, and all these flattering prospects of earthly gain dwindled in my view to nothing. So sudden and so powerful was this mental relief, this burst of light and evidence, without hearing externally any words, or any words coming to my mind, that I leaped from the bed on the floor and burst into a flood of tears. I left the room and passed out into the porch, when my wife caught me, and, with her eyes flowing with sympathetic tears, inquired what was the matter with me. I could not answer for a time, but as soon as I could give utterance to words, I said: “The Lord has let me know that the time is at hand, when I shall fully realize all that I have anticipated of the display of His power and grace, in renewing His church and gathering in His redeemed heritage. This hope fortified my mind,” I further said, “to leave all our dear friends in Kentucky, to come here among strangers, where I have toiled in poverty and suffered sore persecutions; but still this hope cheered me through all. Now, when the prospect of temporal relief came, in the proposition to move away from here, I became ensnared, and partly concluded that my impressions had been delusive, and I would give them up and go. But the Lord changes not, and He has sent me here; and when I would have gone away, He has hedged me in. And now He has revealed to me a truth that I must stay here, and see His salvation, for He will now speedily cause this ‘wilderness to bud and blossom as the rose.’ Here He will be glorified in the gathering in of His people. Many of His scattered fold are here, to be gathered in; and I shall see it with joy, and shall feed them; and you may all prepare to witness a mighty out-pouring of His Spirit. Many of these vile persecutors and relentless sinners are soon to be converted to God and will follow Jesus in baptism, and find a home in His church. The Bethel Church will soon be a Bethel indeed; for the Lord will truly be there.” I continued to speak in this way until they had sent for Father, who was out somewhere on the farm. I had not observed what was going on until I saw Father and Mother, my wife and all my brothers and sisters standing around me, all shedding tears.

After a short silence, Father spoke and said: “I have been listening to your talk, and have but one fault to find with it, and that is, you speak too positive. We may have many feelings when the mind becomes excited, and we may feel very different, in a short time afterward, when that excitement dies away; and we should not feel, nor speak positive so soon, but take a few days to see whether these sudden impulses prove true and permanent, or whether they wear away and pass off.”

I replied: “I have spoken positively, but not because I thought there was a possibility of any mistake in my impressions, but because I had no doubt. The natural passions and sympathies may be greatly excited, and we may be greatly deceived by them; but this is not of that sort. I have now spoken positively again. Perhaps, I ought to have said, I think this is not an effect of any natural excitement; but I feel no such doubts, and the truth of what I say is so certain before me, that it will admit of no doubt in my mind, and to speak doubtfully seems to me to imply a want of confidence in God. Nevertheless, your counsel is certainly good in common cases, and I am willing to let a few days test it, but I feel no fears of this conviction passing off, or proving to be delusive.

He replied: “Perhaps not; but, you know, when Zion travails she brings forth her children, and I can see no signs of anything of this in the church. All seems cold and lifeless, and I have seen nothing in the church nor in the congregation to indicate any such times as you speak of. Yet I should e truly glad to see them come, but I doubt if they are not much farther off than you suppose.”

I replied: “When the husband of the church comes to his spouse in the visits of His love, children will be begotten of God; then Zion will travail and bring them forth; and I feel sure at this time, that the favored set time is come, and the Lord will favor Zion in this vicinity. I feel forbidden to leave while I have these impressions; but, as you advise, I will be quiet for a few days, and see if this can wear away, but still, I must say that I have no doubts on this matter.” So our conversation ended, and I went home.

This was on Monday, and on the Wednesday following I went to a brother, Abraham Randalls, and purchased fifty acres of land in the green woods, with no house nor any improvements on it, at three dollars per acre, to be paid for in trade, as long as I had any articles to spare that he wanted. He had a new cabin near the land I had bought, and this I was to have until I could build one of my own. This cabin was chinked, and had a floor and a door, no hearth, back wall, or jambs; but I was to fix it so it would do to live in until I had cleared what ground I could for corn, intending to build the next fall. The next day we moved to our new home, within one mile and a half of the Bethel meetinghouse. We then had one small table; our bedstead was a temporary frame, made of poles fastened to the wall, and posts fastened to the joists. These, with three chairs, constituted our furniture. We had one cow and a two-year-old bullock, some chickens, a few clothes, a scant supply of shelf-ware, and one horse, after letting one go toward paying for my land. We had plenty of corn, but no meat. These things were about our fortune, but we were young and able to work, and this, with the blessings of Providence, were our trust, and we felt of good courage.

This was December, A. D. 1811. The next Sunday night occurred those notable earthquakes that produced such eruptions on the Mississippi River, about New Madrid, and which rent the earth with deep chasms in many parts of southern Missouri. Even where I lived large trees were broken down, fences and brick buildings were prostrated or much injured. My door-hinges were loosened, and the back wall which I had just put up was shaken down. For three days and nights, the sun, moon, and stars were concealed by a mist and fog which dropped like a heavy dew, while ever and anon, a hard shock would seem to threaten the world with destruction. All this commotion seemed to have no effect on me, nor gave me any alarm whatever. I calmly viewed the phenomena as a matter of God’s wise arrangement, and I pursued my daily business with a composed and contented mind. The next day after the first shock, I was building up my chimney of sticks and clay, and sometimes I would be upon it when a heavy shock would come, and, to keep from being shaken down, I would have to throw my arms around a log of the house until the violence of the shock was over. All these things never moved me nor caused me to doubt for one moment but that the Lord would speedily make bare His arm and almighty power, revive his saints, and gather in His redeemed children.

From the time I moved I had, by request, held evening meetings, the evenings being long. At one of these, an unusual effect was visible among the members. Some of the old brethren were so revived that they engaged in prayer, and some of them delivered short exhortations. I had never seen such appearances there before, and perhaps my feelings and constant expectations for such symptoms of a revival, did magnify things to my view. Be that as it may, I believed that the work I had so confidently anticipated had now begun, and another evening meeting being appointed, I went on there the day before. The next day Father came on, and I told him what a meeting we had, and how the work of the lord, that I had spoken of, was at hand, and that the Husband of the church had come in His Spirit, and that Zion was now travailing and would soon bring forth her children.

He went home with me and then to the meeting, but none of those favorable symptoms appeared that night. Numbers were out, and all seemed attentive, but there was no visible effect more than common. As Father and I returned home, he said: “If this is your great revival, I do not think much of it; for I can see no evidence.” I replied: “It is true, this meeting was not as the other; but I have no doubt that the good Lord is now at work in a still way, without visible observation, among the people; and what He is now doing in secret will be proclaimed on the house top.”

He said no more, and the conversation turned on certain subjects of Scripture, for my mind was working hard on the doctrine of the union of Christ and his people before faith. The preaching I had heard was that God’s people became united to Christ by a living faith; but I saw things differently, for I conceived that such an union was indispensable to the legal imputation of our sins to Christ and of His righteousness to us, and that, too, before faith could act upon, or lay hold of, that mystical union, or draw any comfort from it. This was the sense in which I understood the doctrine, and I was laboring hard to discover the true principles upon which it was based, as revealed in the Scriptures of truth, and by the Spirit in the hearts of God’s people. This subject engrossed most of our conversation, as I found Father also was much exercised on the same point.

The evening meetings were continued, from time to time, sometimes nearly every night in the week, and they were attended with great interest. I was, however, afraid to send for Father, as some of our meetings were cold, but others were deeply affecting. Yet all of them were of that still, noiseless character that shows a rending of hearts and not of garments. Thus our meetings went on during the month, and Father had heard nothing of our progress since he was there. When the church meeting came on, he came up, and was astonished to see the house crowded full on Saturday, when usually there would be only about twenty persons. When the church was organized for business, Father was chosen moderator for the day, and when he announced the door of the church was open for the reception of members, eleven persons came forward and gave clear and satisfactory evidence the hope that was in them. While this was going on, I could see the big tears coursing down my father’s cheeks, and I knew he had the evidence now that the Lord was truly in the midst doing wonders among the people.

The last person that talked to the church that day was my father’s brother, Benjamin Thompson. He had been much excised for some time and had received a hope; but his deliverance from the burden of his sins, and from the deep sense of his just condemnation had not been so clear as some others. At times, the evidence would shine a little, but soon darkness would again envelop his mind, and then another ray of hope would break in. In this way he had lived for some years. He was at a loss to say at which particular time he should date the upspringing of his little hope. He arose in the crowd, and stood there without attempting to come up to the moderator. He said: “I am a stranger to myself, and am in a strange situation. I do not now offer myself as a candidate for baptism, or member in this church. I do not feel worthy of this, but I have been exercised betimes, for some years past, have passed through scenes that I do not comprehend. I not deny that at times I have had some dawnings of hope; yet I dare not trust in this hope as a good one, but fear even to think of it. I verily believe the Baptist Church is, indeed, the Church of Jesus Christ, and I have full confidence in you that you are a people taught of the Lord and led by His Spirit. Perhaps you may be able to understand my case, and give some advice. If the church is willing to give me time tell the particulars of my long experience and feelings, I wish to state them to you now, and then receive your best counsel.”

Liberty was given, and he spoke about an hour. He begun saying: “I am fully aware that I am a great sinner. I have seen so much of sin, and the deceitfulness of my heart, that I have lost all confidence in myself. I am afraid I have deceived myself; and having been raised among the Baptists, and heard so much of their preaching and conversation through my life, and having heard so many relate their experience, I fear I have learned so much as to deceive even the church. Therefore I beg of you all to watch me closely, and act faithfully with me.

When he had finished he requested all the members of the church to ask him such questions as they believed none but a Christian could answer, for he feared he was deceived. The members of the church looked at each other and said he had been so particular, and had so fully explained every point, both of Christian experience and the doctrines of grace, that they could ask no questions, but if he was disposed to join the church they were fully prepared to give him their hand, and in their hearts they would receive him into Christian fellowship. He then asked leave to ask the church some questions, and the privilege was granted. After many questions relative to the feelings and impressions of Christians were answered, he said: “When I began to talk I had no intention of attempting to join the church, but since I have been talking my little hope has revived, and my attachment to the church and her ordinances, and the privileges of a home within her gates and among her members, has so increased that I now feel prepared to say that if you can receive such a poor creature, 1 want a home among you.” He was gladly received, and afterward he became an able minister for many years, and died between the age of seventy and eighty years lamented by all his friends in the churches, who had been so often fed by his ministry. He died a member of Bethel Church, which he first joined, into which he was baptized, and by which he was licensed and ordained to preach, and which he served as their minister until his death.

This Saturday was a day of great power; many hearts seemed melted, and a deep silence prevailed, broken only by sobs which might occasionally be heard in all parts of the house. Eleven were received for baptism, but no ordained preacher was there to baptize them. On Sunday morning, by request, the church again gave the opportunity for the reception of members, and my uncle Benjamin’s wife came forward and was received. That day was a day never to be forgotten by me, and many others have reason to remember it as a day of days to them. It was a new country, our roads were mere traces and paths, the thick woods of the forest and underbrush were still in their natural state. The people lived in settlements or patches here and there along the creeks, with frequently some twenty miles of unbroken forest between these small settlements. This day the crowds of strangers from different settlements, for twenty or thirty miles around, were thronging every trace and path. Solemnity, deep as death, was depicted on most of the countenances, while joy and comfort sat with a heavenly smile and serene peace on the lips and brows of the saints. It was soon found that the church would hold but a small part of the gathering crowd, and, although it was now the middle of winter, yet, as there had been a rain and a thaw, the ground was very muddy. This day, however, was pleasant for the season. The seats were all carried out of the house and placed where there were a number of logs. A stand was arranged for the minister, and the services commenced.

I took for a text the saying of Paul: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” After briefly showing the connection of the text, I spoke of sin: First, as a transgression of a good and holy law, and of death as its penalty. We were all sinners, having our all in one man, and he a transgressor. By one act, that one man transgressed God’s just and holy law, and as a penalty, death was upon us. Secondly, “All unrighteousness is sin;” and we are such sinners in ourselves, in this sense, that when God looked down from heaven on the earth and searched all men individually, he declared: “They have all gone out of the way; there is none that doeth good, no not one.” “There is none that seeketh after God.” This being our unrighteous state, our condition at death was hopeless with respect to any good works or righteous desires of our own. The third definition of sin is in the sense of infidelity: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” “All men have not faith”; therefore all men are sinners in this sense; and “without faith it is impossible to please God.” From this we must conclude that all are under sin, and in a state of universal unrighteousness; none doing good, all out of the way, and the result is that “none seeketh after God.” This is our dead and hopeless condition in ourselves as sinners.

But the blessed gospel shows a way of hope in the language of our text: “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Christ as our mediator is Himself the gift of God, and He is the eternal life of the church; for, says St. John: “God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” All spiritual blessings are in Christ, and were included in Him as the one great gift of God. He was given to be “Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all and in all.” The saints being the proper members of Christ’s body are His fullness. They constitute this complete mystical body in all its parts and proportions, not one surplus, nor one missing, and all fitly joined together, not promiscuously, or at random, but all in their proper places; for they are “members in particular.” And as they are to fill different offices as members of the one body they must not all have the same gifts, but each has such a spiritual endowment as will best qualify him as a member to fill his proper place in the body of Christ. All are in the body, members one of another.

Behold then the fullness of Christ’s body, the church, and see how the Head fills each member respectively with precisely the gift to fill his proper place. This gift of eternal life is a gift of God in common to all the members of Christ’s body. lie hath this life in and of Himself, and so is called a living stone. This life, being communicated to us from the Divine nature, through Jesus Christ, by the quickening spirit of God, transforms us into “lively stones”. And being built up as a spiritual house, Christ lives in every member as his eternal life. This life is put into motion in us by the work of regeneration. Then appears faith as a fruit of the Spirit, and also love, joy, and peace, with all other spiritual blessings. These blessings we enjoy, as the effects of the gift which God Himself has given us. It was His gift, a free gift, a gift that contains all other blessings, and, through our Lord Jesus Christ, this gift is also given and also received.

I also entered into the doctrine of the legal and spiritual oneness of Christ and the church before faith, and of faith as acting on the testimony of that truth, and so being the Spirit’s evidence to the child of God of the truth of the doctrine and of the comforts and joy, the strength and edification, flowing from the understanding of it.

At the close of this discourse the large congregation seemed deeply affected. I cast my eyes over them, and the general appearance was a solemn stillness, as though some unseen power was hovering over them. Every eye was set on me, and I felt mute with astonishment, and stood silent for some minutes. I believe there was not a motion nor a sound during the time, until, simultaneously, some twenty or more persons arose from their seats and came forward, and bending down on their knees around the table cried out in low and solemn voices: “Pray for me; O, pray for me, a poor undone sinner.” I stood dumb for a moment, and then said: Here are many sinners requesting me to pray for them. I can them no good; none but Jesus can do helpless sinners good. To Him, Who alone hath power on earth to forgive sin, you must look; but He has made it our duty and our privilege to pray and offer our requests before God. Let us, therefore, attempt to pray.

I began with some assurance of access at a throne of grace. As I closed, Bro. Hitt, an old member of the church, began to pray, and he prayed with great earnestness. The congregation then sang and were dismissed. I think about a dozen persons soon after were received, who then first had a view of God’s justice in justifying ungodly sinners through the redemption of Jesus Christ. That day was often spoken of. Some said that while I stood silent my countenance became so changed that it appeared as if I had been struck with death.

My uncle, who had been so full of doubt on Saturday, was now full of assurance. On his way home he said to my father: “This is, truly, the greatest day I have ever seen. The spirit and power of the Lord was surely hovering over the place, and His glory was in the midst. I never can doubt again.” Father replied: “Truly, this is a day long to be remembered. Yet,” he added, “I have seen some days that, at the time, I felt like I could never doubt again; but these seasons are short, and perhaps you may soon find yourself in darkness and doubt.”

Uncle said: “I think this can never be. I have this day had such clear views of the glorious plan of redemption through Christ, and have had such comfortable assurances of my interest in it, that I cannot believe I shall ever doubt again.”

Father’s response was: “The plan of salvation, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, I have had no doubts of for many years. Although sometimes I can view it much more clearly than at other times, yet, in my darkest hours, I do not doubt that Christ is the only way, and that all who are really in Him, as the members of His body, are really saved. This I have not doubted for years; but my personal interest in that redemption, and my real membership in that mystical body, has been a matter of doubt with me.”

My uncle then said: “I think I shall never doubt that again; and I feel quite sure of one thing, that if I should doubt it, it can only be momentarily, for when any such doubts arise, I will just think of this day, and they must all vanish at once.

“Well,” said Father, “such seasons as these are very precious and strengthening, and are often pleasant to reflect upon and refer to. Doubts are not pleasant things, and you had better live without them as long as you can; but if they should return, and reference of memory to this day will not dissipate them, do not then conclude that no one was ever in your condition. Young pilgrims have much of the way to learn, and many of these hard lessons can be learned only in the school of experience. Some persons, I believe, are not harassed with doubts, as others are.” Such, in substance, was the conversation of these men, as they returned from the meeting.

The evening meetings were still continued, crowds attended them, and a great effect was manifested; yet all the proceedings were still and solemn, quite different from the revivals that are so popular in the present day. No mourning benches were there for the seekers to exhibit themselves upon, but many mourning hearts were hiding from the public gaze in some dark corner, and there, in the secret breathing of desire, were seeking after the Lord, “if haply He might be found.”

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 November 2006 )
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