The following is an excerpt from my series on Hardshells and the Great Commission" (chapter 72). I think it needs to be read and studied by every Hardshell.
Elder Wilson Thompson, a leading Hardshell "founding father," and of whom I will have much to say in future chapters, said:
"When I was raised from the water the first thought that I recollect was, “O! that sinners could but see and feel the beauties of a Savior’s love!” Such a weighty and painful sense of their blind and dead condition came over me that I felt a strong desire to speak of the glorious plan of salvation." (Autobiography, chapter three)
That is wonderful to read! A precious story! Sad, however, that this evangelistic spirit was soon lost by this brother! How did he lose this zeal? What happened?
Before I answer those questions, from citations from his "Autobiography," I want to cite statements from him where this early missionary spirit was at work in his heart and conscience. After that I will cite him on the great "ephiphany" that he experienced one day on a lonely dusty road in the wilderness of Kentucky.
From Chapter twelve, a chapter titled - "Conflict and Deliverance," this Elder writes:
"...for I had viewed the missionary scheme only as being a benevolent plan for promoting the spread of the gospel. Whether or not it was a scriptural plan, I had not examined, nor once questioned.
My mind became greatly impressed with the vast importance of preaching the gospel to ALL nations. And as these poor heathen savages were among us (Indians - SG), and we had their land, and had greatly reduced their numbers, I felt that I would seize the opportunity now offered for carrying the gospel among them."
I must stop at this point and ask every Hardshell to answer this simple question about what Thompson has written about his early desires to be a missionary. Was he at this time being led by the Spirit and word of God or by the devil? This is a very important question! They must answer it! If they say yes, then they will not be able, justly or consistently, to say that his later experience, wherein he lost this missionary spirit, was also of God rather than, as I believe, was of the devil and of the flesh.
"I soon made my resolution known to the churches, but I met with strong opposition from all the members. My house soon became crowded, day and night, with my best friends, often pleading with tears in their eyes for me NOT to go. They presented their own destitute condition, if I should leave them; and then they would point out all the horrors and privations that I must endure in spending a life among these superstitious and cruel barbarians. Elder William Jones, whom I regarded as an able teacher in Israel, came, with several others, and stayed most of two days and one night. He labored hard to persuade me to abandon the undertaking, but all to no effect. No one said a word about the enterprise being wrong or anti-scriptural; all seemed to admit that the wonderful movements, the zeal and perseverance now so suddenly and so simultaneously springing up in the United States and Europe did surely give some strong indications that the time was at hand when the gospel was to be preached to every nation. All this was admitted, but I must not leave them to engage in this work."
I must here pause and emphasize several important points from these words of the great "Father Thompson."
First, observe how Thompson, by his narration of the discussions among the Baptists concerning his stated "resolution" to go fulfill the "Great Commission," by going to Indiana and preaching the gospel, with the great Missionary Baptist, Elder Isaac McCoy, that he gives us a picture of what the Baptists believed about missions and the "Great Commission."
Thompson basically admits that there was not an anti-mission Hardshell Baptist in existence! There was no opposition to the sending of missionaries, by the church, to heathens who had never heard the gospel! The only opposition was from friends who wanted him to stay because they wanted him as pastor!
Anyone reading this story, thus far, must be awestruck with the missionary zeal that filled the heart of Wilson Thompson! He came out of the waters of baptism wanting to preach the gospel to dead sinners, and believed that their salvation depended upon it.
He believed, and who can doubt it, that he had been providentially prepared for this mission trip to the Indians, and to join Elder McCoy!
Who can doubt that he was being led by the Spirit of God to do as he had been prepared to do and had been inspired to do? Well, what happened to quench this missionary Spirit that was sent to him by the Lord? Are we not all now anxious to see the "end of the story"?
"This, I thought, looked selfish in them; for if the time had come for the gospel to be preached to those heathen people, some one must go and preach it, and I believed then, as I do now, that God fixes the field of labor for each of His called ministers, and in that place alone will they be profitable. And when He is about to move one of His ministers from one place to another, circumstances and impressions will open up the way. My mind was not decided as yet, as to whether I should finally engage as a missionary or not; this should depend on my impressions and their evidence respecting my duty as presented to my mind. I must be satisfied what was the Lord’s will, and that should govern me without regarding ease or toil, privation or plenty; and for this knowledge I was seeking and praying, fully believing that God would direct me, for I was submissive to His will. This I told to all that talked to me."
I must here pause again to emphasize certain points from his testimony. First, he clearly was not of the view, at this state in his life and ministry, that the "Great Commission" had been fulfilled! So, even though he had fellowship with another Hardshell "founding father," with Elder Gilbert Beebe, he nevertheless disagreed with Beebe, who promoted the idea that it had been fulfilled. Thompson may have later changed his views on the "Great Commission," after he became an "anti-mission" or Hardshell Baptist, but he did not believe such things at the first, nor did the Baptists with whom he was associated.
Second, about going to preach the gospel to the "heathen," he says - "someone must go and do it." Oh that the Hardshells of today would heed these words of their beloved founder!
Third, he says that his "mind was not decided as yet as to whether he should engage as a missionary or not." Obviously then Thompson, at the start, did not believe it was against the bible or Baptist beliefs for him to be a missionary to the heathen!
"My contemplated winter tour to Raccoon Station and thence though the Indian tribes in the Wabash Valley, and so on to Fort Wayne, where Elder McCoy designed a location, would probably show, by the next spring, what the prospect of success was, and what the path of duty would probably be. I met their arguments on privations and hardships by saying: “I was born in the new settlements of Kentucky, which the Indians called the ‘‘bloody ground’’, in the year 1788, and I had been raised to the use of the rifle; the chase of the deer, the bear, the panther, and other wild animals, was the sport of my leisure hours; I had learned most of the habits of the Indians, and was used to camp life; I was a woodsman that could not lose my compass, and I did not know but the Omnipotent Disposer of events might have been superintending my education in the forest as a college far more suitable for an Indian missionary than any school of science could be. These matters time would doubtless develop.” I further told my friends that I hoped to be found submissively waiting and observing the openings of Providence, prayerfully seeking for wisdom to understand them, and for the leadings of the Holy Spirit to guide me in the right way that I might not go astray, for “it was not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
Thompson was clearly in the Spirit with these thoughts! The Holy Spirit was definitely laying out to him clearly his duty. How can anyone reading these words today and not see a beautiful picture of how God both prepares and calls a missionary! But, what happens to stop him?
"I started home alone on foot, and as I was walking fast and in a thinking mood, suddenly these words came to my mind: “Who hath required this at your hand? ” It thrilled through my whole frame and set me all of a shiver. I stood motionless, except a shaking from head to foot, with eyes bent toward the ground. I could not answer the interrogation, but this inquiry started calmly in my mind: “God ‘‘worketh all things after counsel of His own will"; if He intends to send the gospel to the Indians, or to any other heathen nation, He has not only fixed the time for it but has arranged the system. And have you the evidence that this is either the time or the system which He hath appointed?” I saw myself on the verge of a precipice, and, like a blind man, was about to leap I knew not whither. I stood without moving hand or foot, and trembling with solemn awe! In my mind I said: “Lord, shall I know what Thy system is and whether this is it or not? O, Lord, teach me, and let not my feet be taken in the snare of the crafty.” The reply to my mind was quick and satisfactory: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.’’ Search it carefully and you will find the Lord’’s plan.”
During all this time I stood like a statue in the road. It seemed to me that I must have stood there half an hour without raising my eyes from the ground or moving a limb. I often look back to that time as the most solemn period in all my life. When the last-mentioned text came so forcibly to my mind, I was fully satisfied that this new system of missions was of human origin. It was new, and I knew but very little about it; but the text relieved me, by fully convincing me that I would find the Lord’s plan plainly set out in the Scriptures. My trembling left me at once. I felt calm, but still I was anxious to discover the Divine system for the spread of the gospel among the heathen. I proceeded homeward with my mind at ease, and I have never felt that sort of mission fever since."
Lost his "mission fever"! A mission fever that clearly was of the Lord! Here is the story of the Hardshell denomination exemplified in the experience of one man! If one knows the history of this denomination, and of their affection for dreams, visions, and such experiences as The following
Thompson had on that lonely road, he will agree with this observation.
I have already written much about Elder Wilson Thompson and his son Elder Grigg Thompson, and also his descendents and other relatives, Elders R.W. Thompson and Elder J. M. Thompson, all Hardshell debaters and apologists.
If the reader wants to see some things I have written previously on Wilson Thompson, he should read chapter 57 titled "The Original Paradigm." In that chapter I also show how Wilson Thompson seemed to hold to the "Three Stage Model" of the "new birth" as fellow Kentuckian, Elder William Conrad. So, we have Beebe, Trott, Thompson, and Conrad who clearly taught this view.
My dad (Elder Eddie K. Garrett, Sr.) told me recently that when he first came among the Hardshells, and when he had spent a lot of time with Elder S. T. Tolley (editor of the "The Christian Baptist" and whom I know personally, having been in his home several times, and whom both Brother Ross and myself have cited in our writings on the Hardshells), that he asked Elder Tolley about the view that there were "stages" in the new birth after the model I have discussed. He apparently was considering that view when seeking out the Hardshells. He said to me - "Elder Tolly told me - 'the Old Baptists will not have that.'"
Well, Tolley was wrong! In fact, that was the common first view of the Hardshells! Stay tuned! More to come!