JAMES THOMPSON, 1780-1854
- MM before 1808.
- WM 1828, Mount Zion
- Grand Chaplain, 1808
From Proceedings, Page 1873-215:
REV. JAMES THOMPSON, D.D., BARRE, Unitarian, 1808.
He died at Barre, Mass., in 1854, aged 75. A graduate of 1799, he was settled at Barre in 1804. His doctrines were Unitarian. He preached a half-century sermon.
— Allen's Biog. Die, 1857.
He was D.D. Grand Master of District No. 6, in 1809, 1810, 1811, 1812 and 1813.
The Rev. James W. Thompson, D.D., of West Roxbury, writes: "I think the last time my father officiated as a Mason was at a grand celebration at Worcester, about the year 1850, the Rev. Dr. Edson, of Lowell, being the orator. For many years of his middle life, I remember that he was very active as a Mason. A Lodge in Rutland was named for him. His acquaintance with prominent members of the Fraternity was large, and his presence was regarded as lending dignity to its public occasions."
Died in Barre, May 14, 1854, deeply lamented by a very large circle of personal friends, not only in the scene of his ministerial labors and its vicinity, but in various parts of the country, the Rev. James Thompson, D.D., in the 75th year of his age. He was born in Halifax, in the County of Plymouth, on the 13th of April, in the year 1780.
His parents were persons of eminent piety, by whom he was brought up with that strictness of religious discipline which characterized our Puritan ancestry; though, being an only son, with tender affection and care. "My parents," he says, in an anniversary sermon to his people, "of the common walks of agricultural life, were persons of humble and fervent piety; and being their only son, and, in the estimation of their venerated pastor, having considerable aptness to learn, they sought in my childhood to impress on my mind an elevated sense of the dignity and sacredness of the office of a minister of Jesus Christ, and to awaken in my youthful bosom aspirations for its holy honors. And the voice especially of maternal piety and love which I then heard, inculcating what were then believed to be the doctrines of our religion, I seem to hear still." The circumstance that his father, from an early age to the day of his death, was deacon of the church, contributed, in connection with his own promising talents, to attract for him the notice and gain the encouragement of the clergyman of his native town, the Rev. Ephraim Briggs, by whose personal instruction he was fitted for college. He entered Brown University, at Providence, in the 16th year of his age, and was graduated with high honors in the class of 1799. Having already chosen the profession to which he had been consecrated by parental piety from childhood, he went, after a year or two spent in teaching, to Andover, and pursued the studies preparatory for the ministry, under the direction of the Rev. Jonathan French; at the same time being an assistant teacher in the academy. Having completed his studies, he was invited, soon after he began to preach, by a unanimous vote, to settle over a very large congregation in the town of Barre, in Worcester County, a town distinguished for the excellence of its farms, and the intelligence of its inhabitants. As minister of this society he was ordained by a council of Congregational ministers, selected without reference to doctrinal opinions, on the 11th of January, 1804.
At the time when he was ordained he stood, like many of the New England clergy, on that indistinct and wavering line between Calvinism and Unitarianism, sometimes called moderate Calvinism. His acquaintance with the family of the late Judge Washburne, of Raynham, — one of whose daughters he married, — a clear-minded, well-finished, and excellent Christian of the school of Dr. Price, had great influence, as he said, in modifying his opinions, and confirming him in those views of religion which he afterwards so ably and eloquently vindicated and enforced. By the discussions attendant on the inauguration of Dr. Ware as Hollis Professor in Harvard College, by the influence of Dr. Bancroft, of Worcester, and by the publications relating to the Unitarian controversy in New England, in connection with the study of the Scriptures, he became completely emancipated from the Calvinistic and Trinitarian theology.
Dr. Thompson, soon after his settlement, acquired a high reputation as a preacher and orator in the part of the Commonwealth in which he was situated. By nature and culture he possessed a combination of extraordinary qualifications for the ministry. A noble form, a commanding presence, a full, rich, and musical voice, a quick and clear apprehension of truth, a strong, good sense, deep sensibility, a fervid, earnest manner, and unmistakable sincerity, were his. By a quick and clear intuition ho seized upon the prominent and important points of a subject, which, in simple, direct, and strong language, he impressed on the minds of his hearers. His discourses were full of weighty matter, solid and substantial, but not scholastic, critical, nor often argumentative. He very seldom discussed abstract subjects, but addressed as a friend the men, women, and children of his congregation on what most intimately concerned them, applying acknowledged and essential Christian principles to the various duties, changes, and trials of life. He had a certain sympathy witU his audience, which taught him how long he might dwell upon a topic without being dull and uninteresting, and led him to a directness of appeal, which caused his hearers to say, "We love to hear Dr. Thompson, because everything he says seems to come from the heart."
Dr. Thompson was a great reader, and in respect to all kinds of information ever kept up with the times. But he was not given to laborious study or extensive research. Had his inclination, and the demands made upon his time by the active duties of a very large parish allowed him to be a deeper and more methodical student, and to devote more labor to the composition of a single discourse, he might have produced greater sermons, perhaps more durable in their influence. But it may be doubted whether, taking all his duties into view, he would have been a more useful man. As it was, he was for many years accounted, by the most cultivated, as well as by ordinary minds, the best preacher in the County of Worcester. In logic and learning he could not be compared to Bancroft, of Worcester. Thayer, of Lancaster, may have occasionally penetrated to a greater depth. But in his power of arresting the attention of an audience by his clear and strong manner of presenting a subject, in the elegance of his diction, in the aptness and beauty of his illustrations, and the gracefulness and impressiveness of his delivery, he probably had no superior in his vicinity, and few in the Commonwealth.
As he advanced in life, he lost, in consequence of a stroke of paralysis, that confidence in his own powers which he had before enjoyed, and became more retiring, irresolute, and reluctant to undertake offices for which his apparently unimpaired abilities fitted him. His preaching, however, seems to have lost none of its unction or effectiveness. After forty years' service he was still preferred by the congregations to which, he preached to almost any of the younger men. The published sermon preached at the end of a ministry of fifty years, in the 74th year of his age, affords, by its simplicity, beauty, and strength, a satisfactory indication of what he could do in his best days. In the year 1841, the government of Harvard University conferred on him the well-merited, and by him highly prized, honor of the degree of Doctor in Divinity.
The devotional exercises of Dr. Thompson were remarkable for copiousness, appropriateness, and fervency. They were truly the eloquent utterances of a believing soul, full of tenderness, full of reverence, full of tranquil faith and hope. Hence his services as Chaplain on public occasions were much sought after throughout the country. And it is said that it was not uncommon for farmers to leave their work and ride five miles on purpose to hear him pray at a funeral.
Dr. Thompson was careful to exert his influence, not only in the pulpit, but in every possible way. When Lyceums began to be established in the country, some five and twenty years ago, he engaged in the large one of Barre with great ardor, delivered lectures, took an active part in the discussions, and exerted an influence over the large assembly, "like a king in the midst of an army." He ever manifested a deep interest in the young, and a ready sympathy with their minds, which made him a favorite companion to them. He held the office of Chairman of the School Committee for forty years, and employed in visiting the schools time which, as he said, would amount, in the aggregate, to the working days of four years. Respecting his influence in this department of duty, one of his former parishioners gave the following pleasing reminiscence at the celebration of the fiftieth year from his settlement: "You at that time could not have been aware of the full effect produced by your inspiring influence in these little nurseries of virtue and knowledge. I remember to this day with what admirable address and natural tenderness you brushed off the rough edge of a remark which had inadvertently fallen from another, and caused joy to beam from the bright eye which had just been clouded by a tear."
Dr. Thompson's influence was felt in the association of ministers to which he belonged. His dignified bearing, the eagerness with which he welcomed, as well as the willingness with which ho imparted, information, and the readiness with which he encouraged any measure having in view the interests of religion, contributed much to make the meetings of the association useful and delightful. Dr. Thompson's character, as a husband and a father, may be inferred from what has been already said. Depending for his support on the small stipend of five hundred dollars a year, never free from debt until the close of his life, he gave his large family the best education they could receive; and no sacrifice which he could make for them was ever withheld. He governed in the mildest way; but he did govern. His family were completely under the charm of his beneficent influence.
He was united in marriage, soon after his settlement, to a lady possessing every personal, mental, and Christian grace which could make his home a happy one, and attract towards him the favorable regard of his parishioners. By her he had eight children, three of whom are now living, and one of them the distinguished minister of Salem, Dr. James W. Thompson. The writer well remembers how desirable it was to exchange on Sundays with Dr. Thompson, not only to secure his valuable services for his pulpit, but to enjoy for one or two evenings the openhearted hospitality and delightful society of his accomplished wife and daughters. In the loss of this most excellent of women, and of five children, Dr. Thompson was most deeply afflicted; but his was a piety that never murmured and never doubted. When most afflicted, it was most calm. Resignation was his habitual frame, — not induced by any spasmodic effort, but the natural posture of his mind and heart toward God. In society Dr. Thompson ever showed himself highminded, sincere, courteous, and cordial. No man could have more or warmer friends in proportion to the number of his acquaintances; and this was large. Of a dignified and commanding presence, as has been intimated, there was with him not the least appearance of assumption, but, on the contrary, much of retiring modesty and self-distrust. Yet so eminently social was his disposition, that in all his social meetings where he was expected he was sure to be found, and never failed, sooner or later, to contribute even more than his share to the interest of the occasion. By a lively or instructive anecdote, by a vivid delineation of the characters of the deceased, on which his keen observation had been fixed, or by instructive remarks on the event or subject of the day, he riveted attention, and was in truth a most agreeable and valuable companion. He could sympathize with persons of every age. Those who were twenty or thirty years his juniors always found him as young as themselves.
A beautiful illustration of his sympathy with younger minds, as well as of his genuine liberality of sentiment, occurs in his last anniversary discourse: "A generous toleration of opinions not derogatory to the gospel, but at the same time differing to some extent from those which you have long been accustomed to hear, is the dictate alike of duty and expediency. It cannot be expected that the young, the ardent, the hopeful, with inquiring minds, will be content to walk in all the steps of their fathers, and never go beyond them in anything. And we ought not to wish it. Standing upon the foundation of the gospel, let the largest liberty of thought consistent with its principles and authority be encouraged and maintained. This is the true Protestant theory. Let the Bible — the Bible — be open for study, for investigation from age to age; and let every new discovery, in its unsearchable depths, be hailed with joy, and freely proclaimed."
On the 9th of June, 1845, in the 42d year of his ministry, his distrust of his own powers, which has been alluded to, the excessive jealousy with which he watched the encroachments of age upon his mind and body, and his disinterested regard for the welfare of his parish, led him to ask a discharge from the active duties of the ministry in Barre, still retaining his connection with the church, but relinquishing the whole of his salary. This request was accepted by the parish with the vote, "that the self-sacrificing proposition evinces that deep interest in the growth and prosperity of the society which has ever marked his conduot in regard to this Christian flock." It was well in the parish thus to acknowledge the self-sacrifice of their minister. To have imitated it, in some degree, by at least a partial provision for his support, after his forty years' service, would, in the humble opinion of the writer, have been bettor.
After this time Dr. Thompson continued to preach in several vacant pulpits, to great acceptance, till near the close of his life. In Cincinnati, Leicester, Hardwick and Worcester, his services were highly appreciated, and are remembered with respect. On January 11, 1854, on the fiftieth anniversary of his settlement, there was a gathering of those who at any period had enjoyed his religious ministrations in Barre, and who had been scattered in various parts of the country. At this jubilee the most hearty tokens of respect and affection to the aged patriarch were manifested, and a valuable present made in money. It was an occasion to him of the utmost delight and thankfulness, and sweetened all his remaining days. His strength seemed gradually to fail soon after the jubilee, but his serious illness was only for a week. It was old age, diminishing his ability to bear up against a chronic difficulty with which he had long been afflicted. His strength was exhausted; enfeebled nature yielded, and he sank serenely in the conscious possession of all his mental powers, and with a cheerful submission of his soul to God, into the arms of death, and was, as we trust, borne upward into the invisible realm of his faith and hope.
Farewell, venerated, true, and faithful friend! Thine ever welcome form will no more meet our mortal eyes. But thine image shall remain engraved on our hearts, and the precious memory of former intercourse with thee shall refresh and strengthen Us under life's duties and trials, till the summons, which calls to the higher home, shall come to us, as it has to thee.
— The Christian Examiner, July, 1854.