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Autobiography: First Months of Preaching PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   


IN A FEW days after this I visited my school on the waters of Banklick. They had heard, by some means, what Licking Church had done in my case, and they insisted that I should have a meeting that evening. I refused, but they still urged me; finally, I consented to have a meeting, not for me to preach, but for religious worship, but if I felt at the time like speaking, I would try. The appointment was circulated, and at candle-lighting the house was crowded. I felt strong impressions to speak. After opening the meeting in perfect calmness of mind, I took a text, and as I have since found the text to be differently understood by able men, and many different constructions put upon it, and that there have been some warm controversies concerning its true meaning, I will here give a synopsis of my first sermon.

The meaning of the text that I then gave I still believe to be the true meaning. The text will be found in John 10:2, 3: “But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep; to him the porter openeth, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” I began by saying: In the first verse of this chapter Jesus said with a double ‘verily’ to the blinded Pharisees. (who said they could see) that ‘he that entereth not by the door into the sheep-fold, but cimbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.’ This refers to false Christs and pretenders, who come in their own name, and such these Pharisees would readily believe and receive, as they will still do. False Christs and false teachers are thieves, because they deceive the people, take away the keys of knowledge, and, under a deceptive cloak of will-worship and feigned humility, steal both the confidence and often the money of their deluded followers. They are robbers, because they rob God of His glory, and exalt themselves instead. They are all aspirants, climbing up, and never entering in by the door, but climbing up some other way, by some invention of their own, to get up high, on the outer walls of the sheep-fold; but they enter not into it by the door.

The door here spoken of is the door of prophecy. All the prophets, from Samuel, had pointed out the way by which the true Messiah should enter upon His visible reign, His tribe and His parentage, His place of nativity, His works, and miracles, the rejection of Him by the Jews, the slaughter of children in Bethlehem, and calling Him into Egypt, and His title of Nazarene. All the minutiae of His manifestation to Israel were pointed out as a door by which he should enter into his visible and militant kingdom or sheep-fold. Christ, as the good shepherd of the sheep, entered in at the door of prophecy, according to the words of the prophet: ‘Behold the Lord God will come with a strong hand, His arm shall rule for Him, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.’ At this way or door of prophecy, which the prophets had described and pointed out, Christ, the good shepherd of the sheep, entered.

John the Baptist, as a porter, was sent before Christ, to open the door or prepare His way before Him, as ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’ He came as a burning and shining light. He declared that He (Christ) should be made manifest to Israel, ‘therefore am I come, baptizing with water.’ When he baptized Jesus, the Saviour forthwith entered into His public mission. This, John, as a porter to go before the face of the Lord and open the door of prophecy, came to do; he came in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, and went forth in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers (or the prophets and saints of old) unto their children (or the saints now, since Christ has come), and the hearts (the understanding and confidence and affections) of the children to their fathers, thus showing a beauty and harmony between the aspirations of the Old Testament saints and prophets, and New Testament Christians. And Christ established the doctrine of the unity of the faith of both old and new, in the shepherd of the sheep, Who entered at the door of prophecy, and which was opened by John, the porter and forerunner.

Christ now is come in at this door, and so is fully distinguished from all others, as the good and true Shepherd of the sheep. He is no hireling to flee when the wolf cometh. No, He layeth down His life for His sheep. He is no thief nor robber like others; for, according to an honest course, ‘He calleth His own sheep’—not the property of another, but His own sheep and these not at random but in a special manner, even ‘by name’. Nor does He call them in vain or without effect, for ‘He leadeth them out’—out of Judaism, out of conditional law, out of Moses’ administration and bondage into the glorious liberty of the children of God. This agrees with the experience of every Christian, of every one who has been a partaker of the heavenly calling. Now, as the Shepherd of the sheep differed from all others in that He entered in by the door of prophecy, as opened by John, the porter, so all His flock or sheep are distinguished from all others; for they enter in by Him Who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ Christ is the door of the sheep. ‘I,’ says He, ‘am the door of the sheep. By me if any man’ (that is a man of any nation) ‘enter in,’ (into the sheep-fold or gospel church) he shall not fall and be lost; no, ‘he shall be saved and shall go in’ (into gospel ordinances, promises, church privileges, gifts and graces), and also ‘out’ of God’s works and providences, reap temporal blessings and judgments in the Scriptures, and especially among the types and shadows, the figures under the law. Wherever he goes he ‘finds’ something to furnish strength and edify him, as ‘pasture’ does the sheep. This salvation of the sheep is not only deliverance from all that oppose them here, but finally in heaven, with an everlasting salvation, world without end. Amen.

The above is a true synopsis of my first sermon at the house of an old man by the name of Cowgill, who lived near the line then dividing the counties of Boone and Campbell, in the month of February, A. D. 1810, when I was about twenty-one and a half years old. From this time I had meetings and tried to preach in that vicinity one or more times every week. The power of the Lord was manifested in a very glorious manner. Saints were renewed; sinners were awakened; some backsliders were reclaimed, and new converts began to sing and tell what great things the Lord had done for them, and how He had compassion upon them. Elder George Humes, then pastor of the Banklick Church, heard of my evening meetings, and of the good work that was going on, and he came to one of my meetings and insisted that I should visit his church the next Sunday. I finally, after some hesitancy, consented. I had then never attempted to occupy a pulpit or to preach except in the vicinity of the school, and there only in the evening. I felt that I dare not go into a pulpit, that it was too sacred a place for me. I was very timid, and the very thought of attempting to preach before the old and wise men of the church, and before the preachers, did seem to be more than I could endure. But the time came and I went to Banklick.

Just before meeting began, in stepped William Decourcy, sen., and John Griffith, two of the old wise pillars in the Licking Church. How they had heard of my appointments I could not tell, but I felt like as if I could not say one word in the way of preaching. I took Elder Humes out and tried every means I could to get excused, but all to no effect. He went in finally and asked those two old men whether they thought he ought to excuse me, as I was so embarrassed. They would not consent, and he came to me and said I must try. I went into the house but did not enter the pulpit. After opening the meeting in the usual way I took this text: “I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say.” I spoke of the ignorance of all men by nature, and of the impossibility of their knowing or receiving spiritual things. I then spoke of the renewing work of the Spirit, or the new birth, showing that in this work that which was born of the Spirit is spirit, and is born of God. Of course they being spiritual can understand the things of the Spirit. Hence the judgment of spiritual subjects is referred to those who are spiritual. I felt that I was now speaking to such people, and that I was trying to speak of the things of the Spirit, and I wished them to judge what I said.

The next Sunday I agreed to accompany Elder Humes to his appointment at Dry Run Church, where Elder Moses Vickers was pastor. On the Saturday afternoon before, I had an appointment in the vicinity of my school, which I filled at four o’clock. That evening Father came, but, greatly to my gratification, he had understood the meeting to be at candle-lighting, and consequently did not arrive until meeting was over. This comfort was of short duration, however, as he concluded to remain and go to Elder Humes’ meeting next day.

Of all the men on earth, my father stood most in my way He was generally thought to be equal to any of the ministers in the correct understanding of the Scriptures, and all Divine subjects. He was open, free, and affable in his family, though strict in his discipline; yet I fairly trembled at thought of attempting to preach in his presence. I resolved to hide myself this day, and so avoid being called upon. With this resolve I went toward the house, along with others, but when we reached the place, I remained behind, until all had gone into the room; and as we had not met Elder Humes (as before arranged), I supposed he had not come on, so I slipped into the house, which was crowded, and took a back seat, and bowed down my head until I was hid. Here I sat but for a short time, when I heard my name called. I sat mute, with my head down. My given name was then called. I made no answer. Then an inquiry was started whether or not I was in the house. Some one near me replied that I was. I then raised my head, and both the elders stood up in the pulpit, and asked me to come up. I told them I was comfortably seated. They said I was specially required there, and I must not delay. I arose and went to them. As I came forward, they both sat down, and opening the pulpit door, caught me by the hand and pulled me up and said, that I must not think of avoiding preaching, for the people all expected me to preach, and the word had gone out that I would be there, and to that might be attributed the large congregation. I did all I could to get off, but was finally induced to submit. I arose and introduced worship, and tried to preach. My embarrassment, to a considerable degree, left me, and I enjoyed as much liberty as I ever had enjoyed before. I had an appointment also that evening, but Father went home.

The next Saturday and Sunday was our monthly meeting at Licking Church. This I dreaded, for I felt more embarrassed to attempt to speak here than at any other place; but the time came, and I knew that to refuse was useless. I felt that it would be unreasonable. Having been trying to preach in other places, it would not do now to refuse to preach at home, in the church where my membership was, and by whose license I was liberated to speak, and which controlled me, and, of course, ought to hear me, in order to judge what to do with me. I had never gone forward, even in prayer, more than three or four times, and never spoken but once in church-meeting, and this had been one or two years previous. I now resolved to try. I arose, trembling, and was so embarrassed I had scarcely breath to speak; but after introducing worship, my mind became composed, and I felt much freedom in speaking, and at the close I addressed my young associates, who had all come out to hear me. I became much affected, and when I sat down, the tears were flowing from almost every eye, and sobs could be heard in every part of the house.

Now, I have given the reader an account of my parentage, my experience, my call to the ministry, and the first month of my trial in preaching. The reader may think I have been too prolix. True, I have been somewhat particular and circumstantial, but the purpose was to give the Christian reader a fair opportunity to judge of my case. To him I submit it; but to God alone am I accountable for all at last.

I continued to hold frequent meetings at different places, but especially in the vicinity of my school. Although I had several schools at the same time, yet my mind, in respect to preaching, was specially led to the vicinity of this one, and truly the power of the Lord was gloriously displayed here.

The work of the Spirit was made manifest, in quickening many dead sinners, and comforting mourners, and reviving the drooping spirits of the few old destitute Baptists in the neighborhood, and in reclaiming the backslidden, who had lost the fellowship of the churches. This gracious work was so deep and powerful, that I have seen the whole congregation shedding tears, and scarcely was there one dry eye among them, and I have heard half-smothered sobs heaving from the overloaded hearts of penitents. The work was sti1l, deep, and solemn; countenances in which despair was depicted were the visible tokens of a heavy-laden heart, while the look of calm repose on some generally told of the comfort of those who had tasted that the Lord is gracious.

The rumor of this work spread abroad; and the members of several of the adjacent churches flocked in to our meetings, among them, several of the old ministers, and especially Elder George Humes, with whom I was very free. He was so kind and affable and manifested such a fatherly interest in me, that I lost all my man-fearing embarrassments with him, but the presence of other old preachers and leading members sorely embarrassed me.

I now wonder at young men, in their first attempts in the ministry, being so fearful of old preachers. I am now fully convinced, that they are the very last class of men on the earth that a young preacher need fear, for no other class can, in the same degree, bear and sympathize with them. If the young beginner aims and points aright, the old preacher says: “If he falters and blunders now, he will tell it better by and by; for the root of the matter is implanted in him.” If I were now about to commence preaching, I would choose to have my congregation made up of the oldest and deepest ministers and members that could be found, for they can best judge of what I would do if I could, and so bear with my blunders, and sympathize with me in my weakness. I would advise all old ministers to show the kindness and tenderness of fathers to young beginners, but still not in such a way as to promote their vivacity, and if reproof becomes necessary, give it with one hand, but keep a cup of fatherly kindness in the other, and administer that as often as they need it.

But to return to the subject: Before my school-term was out, which continued six months, nearly all of my scholars, with many others, young and old, were baptized, mostly by Elder Humes, of Banklick Church, some at Dry Run, and some at other places. The work spread through much of the State. It had been a long, cold, and trying time for several years, until this work began. Nothing special occurred in my life worth mentioning for some months.

The next, and not the least important, event of my life, I will now mention. On the 24th day of May, 1810, I was married to Mary Grigg, the daughter of Matthew and Ann Grigg. They were natives of Virginia, and, like my parents, they had come among the early emigrants to stem the torrent of difficulties, dangers, and privations incident to the settlement of the wild forests of Kentucky, where the hatchet and scalping-knife of the relentless Indians kept them always on the alert. This Mary Grigg is the same slender little girl, who, in her eleventh year, walked by Elder James Lee into the water to be baptized, when I first saw my natural and total depravity, and my helpless, lost, and justly condemned condition, as a guilty sinner before a just and holy God. This marriage was solemnized by Elder Bethuel Riggs. I was then in my twenty-second year, just twenty-one years, nine months, and seven days old, and my wife was twenty-one I years and thirteen days old. She was born on the 11th day of May, 1789. We were both baptized by the same minister and were both members of the same church, but she was t member one month before I was baptized. We began the world poor, but how we progressed will hereafter be related. We married because we loved, and were willing therefore to work for our living and for one another. I continued to teach schools of vocal music during that summer.

In September I went to the North Bend Association, he that year at Flower Creek Church, not far from the forks Licking River. I had heard Elder John Taylor preach so years before on the subject of the call to the ministry, and now felt a great desire to hear that subject discussed again, that I might know whether I was called of God or not; for was still tried with doubts, and indeed these doubts foil me still. I hesitated very much about going to this association lest I should be called upon to preach; but I finally concluded that those who had heard me try would not say anything about it, for all the old preachers would be there, and all would wish to hear them, and they generally knew nothing of me. I felt resolved, however, that if I was called on I would not attempt it; for the very thought of rising to speak before all those great preachers would almost make me shudder. I went to the meeting but kept still, and took no part in the conversation. I kept a back seat and thought I was safe; still if any of them looked at me, as if noticing me, I felt alarmed. I really suffered from a dread lest I should be found out and called upon to speak before those great preachers. The afternoon was spent in conversation, for many of the old ministers and brethren from different associations, from Ellchorn, Bracken, Long Run, and North Bend were there. It was Elder Taylor’s appointment that evening, at the house of a Brother Ashbrook, near Licking River. Elder Taylor, being like a father among them, and being old, and having the reputation of being a very great preacher, the people gathered there to hear him. Elder Scott, of Long Run, a large, stern-looking Irishman from below the mouth of the Kentucky River, and Elder Anderson from Bracken, and many others, were there.

During the evening’s conversation I occupied a silent and re retired position. Finally, nightfall began to close in; the house became crowded to overflowing; the doorway and even the yard were thronged. I took a seat near the door. For the convenience of those outside, the table for the preacher was set near me. Brother Ashbrook remarked to Brother Taylor that the house and yard were full of waiting people, and that it was time to begin worship. He arose from his seat near the fireplace, and with a searching glance surveyed the assembly for a minute, and then asked: “Is young Brother Thompson in the room?” I drooped my head very low, and was seized with a violent shaking from head to foot. I heard several voices near me saying: “He is here.” I heard footsteps approaching me, and directly the hand of Elder Taylor was laid upon my shoulder. I raised my head. He said, “Go and preach.” I replied, “I have no appointment here, and I cannot fill yours.” He said, “Children, obey your parents in all things.” I replied, “I do not think that command applies to this case.” He continued by saying, “I am an old man, and you are a young one. I want a seat, and good manners alone would require you to give me yours.” I began to try to give him room, by shifting to one side, but the seat was too closely filled. He said, “You cannot make room that way, and an old man must stand unless you will give him your seat.” I resolved to rise and go out the door. As I arose from my seat he slipped into it, and said, “Go and preach.” I found the door so completely closed up with people that I could not get out. I was near the candle, and every eye was fixed upon me. What to do I could not tell. Elder Taylor had his head down, and he seemed to pay no attention to me.

I concluded to open meeting by singing and prayer, and then give place. I took up a Rippon’s hymn-book, and opened to the hymn, “Ye little flock whom Jesus feeds,” etc. I was trembling so much I could scarcely hold the book or candle still enough to see; nor could I scarcely speak so as to be understood. The hymn, however, being somewhat familiar to me, I made out to get through it. While singing this hymn, the text, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” came with such force and light on my mind that, by the time prayer was concluded, I felt impressed to say something on that text. I read it an began, still trembling. I had said but a few words when Elder John Scott, with his stern looks, left his seat, walked directly facing me to the chair that I had stood behind, and sat do on it. The thought struck me that they were trying to fright me as much as possible, and I came very near desisting once, but another thought followed it: “If God has gracious given them great spiritual gifts for the edification of the church, both they and the church should be very thankful and very humble for them; and if He has given me any spiritual gift at all for profit to the church, although the least of all, I should not be ashamed of it, nor afraid to use it on any proper occasion when called on.” These thoughts rushed upon my mind, while I was trying to introduce my subject. My fear left me, my trembling ceased, and my embarrassment passed away, and I enjoyed unusual liberty.

I tried to set forth the little flock, or the church, and especially the apostles and ministers as a little flock, under the watchful, faithful, and almighty care of Christ, with Whom they stood in all the relations of a flock to the shepherd. I showed that the proper owner of the flock had a personal right to them, and a valuable consideration vested in them, so that the destruction of even one of his sheep would be the loss of so much of his estate, and that this little flock also was related to God as His children, born of Him, and guarded and kept by His power, and that it was His good pleasure to give them the kingdom, not only the church or kingdom of God, with all that appertaineth to it here, but all its glories and beatitudes in the celestial state. I proceeded to say that the Saviour, in the endearing mediatorial office of the good shepherd, stood at all times before His sheep, and for their unspeakable comfort pointed out to them the good pasture of God, saying unto them: “Fear not little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

While I was speaking Elder Scott burst out in a loud cry, and the whole house seemed to be in tears. The effect was so general that when I closed and sat down, Elder Scott arose and spoke a short time, but could not hold on long for weeping They were, however, tears of joy, springing from a heart overflowing with gratitude. Elder Anderson, who said he had been preaching forty years, arose and attempted to speak, but could stand only a short time; he was so deeply affected that he had to stop and vent his feelings in tears of gratitude and joy. Elder Taylor then arose and read the words of David: “Lord, remember me, now I am old and gray-headed.” He spoke with great feeling and energy. He had begun his ministry when quite young, in Virginia, and had come into Kentucky in the early settlement of that state. He spoke of the gracious dealings of God with all His people, through all the days of their life, and that those promises were the never-failing warrants of their faith and hope, and enabled them, in faith and assurance, to come boldly to a throne of grace, even when loaded down with the burden and infirmities of old age, and pray as David did: “Lord, remember me now I am old and gray.” He referred to me several times as the beardless boy. This gave me the name of “The beardless boy”, by which appellation I was spoken of for some years. I will say that this course of Elder Taylor in putting me forward that night was a severe trial to me, a trial I thought too severe, but still I do believe that it did more to destroy that man-fearing or at least preacher-fearing embarrassment that had so sorely afflicted me, than anything I had before met with. I never felt much of it afterward, Still it was so severe I never could take this course with any of my young brethren. From this time I continued to try preach often among neighboring churches, but I took care not to go beyond my bounds of the North Bend Association.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 November 2006 )
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