The subject of this sketch was born in Norham, England, December ’31, 1834. Situated on the banks of the Tweed, the town is celebrated for the beauty of. its location, and it is also in the heart of one of the finest agricultural districts of Great Britain. Norham, like all the border land, is historic, and crowded with the memory of the olden time. Though but a small village, it stands on classic ground, and has its feudal castle, the ruins of which are still an object of interest to the traveler. The whole place has been glorified by the magic pen of the “Wizard of the North,” in the opening stanza of “Marmion”:
“Day sat on Norham’s castled steep, And Tweed’s fair river, broad and deep, and Cheviot’s mountains lone: The battled towers, the donjon keep, The loophole grates, where captives weep, The flanking walls that round it sweep, in yellow lustre shown.
“The warriors on the turrets high, Moving athwart the evening sky,
Seemed forms of giant height; Their armor, as it caught the rays, Flashed back again the western blaze in lines of dazzling light.”
His father, Mr. John Thompson, who now resides in the Eastern Townships, in the Province of Quebec, to which he immigrated in 1836, was in his younger days a man of great energy and perseverance, and remarkable for cheerfulness of disposition. He was a pioneer in the locality where he settled, and has always taken an active part in its welfare, and especially in its religious life and character. He was once what is called “Precentor,” Norham Secession church, and has held the same honorable position in his adopted land. Since 1844 he has been an elder in the church, and his minister, who has recently passed away, after a pastorate of 26 years, acknowledged in his last days that he had always placed great reliance on Mr. Thompson’s judgment, and that his reliance had never been misplaced; that many a time, amid the trials of pioneer life, he would have lost heart had it not been for his judicious friend and adviser. He was somewhat given to theory and invention, but, like others of this school, he found not much “money in it.” His mother was a woman of great force of character, and her cousin was minister of the Dumfermline church, where King Robert Bruce lies buried, and was quite celebrated in his day. He was married to a sister of James Thompson, author of “The Seasons.” For preaching a sermon on bribery, during a hotly contested election, he was brought into the Court by the Laird whom he had offended. He was defended in the trial, by Boswell, the well known author of the life of Dr. Johnson, but judgment went against him. When Boswell reported the case to Johnson, the “great moralist” expressed an opinion in favor of the minister, and the reasons for his judgment in the case are also set forth in his life by Boswell.
Rev. John Thompson was but a child when, with his parents, he came to the new world, and settled in Leeds, Lower Province. Here he spent his early days, and received such education as could be gained at the common schools. One of his teachers, however, was a man of great learning, and had been educated for the Church of England. He was also a doctor, but lacking “push,” he became a teacher in a poor country school. His last country;teacher was an Irishman, and had his own notions about progress, as well as punctuation. When the Inspector, on a day, visited the school, he complained that the scholars paid no attention to the “stops.” The “dominie,” by way of apology or justification, said: “Sur, as I had only a few months to tatch, I thought it would be a great loss of time to make them stop at every little word, and I wished to push them along as fast as convenient.” But among his early teachers was also the Rev. Alexander Young, the present able Minister of Napanee, who was first to turn the young lad’s attention to the ministry which he was himself about to enter. Young Thompson then began to take lessons in Latin and Greek from his minister, the late Rev. J. McConechy, and after teaching for a year the school where he had himself been taught, he went to Quebec to attend the High School, then under the Rectorship of the late Dr. Smith, whose attainments in classical learning had given the school a fine reputation.
Having prosecuted his studies here for some time, Mr. Thompson, in the Fall of 1855, went to Toronto to enter upon his college course, and his education here was partly at the University, and partly at Knox College. During the first year he competed for a prize given for the best examination in Greek, Latin, and English Grammar, and stood highest in all, but according to the rules, he could receive but one. The Greek prize was awarded him, and the honor of the other two. During a seven years’ course, he applied himself closely, and maintained a high standing in all the classes. In the second year of his course he was appointed by the College Board a Mathematical Tutor, a position which he held until his own course in college was completed, and he has now many pleasant memories of his days and labors there. Committing Latin to memory, had been a favorite exercise of his at the High School, and during his first days at college, when a few students would be gathered together in a room, he would, by way of amusement, recite to them the speeches of Caesar, as given by Sallust, and once, on the stake of an oyster;supper, that he could recite the whole of the First Book of Virgil’s Aeneid without a mistake; he succeeded in the effort and gained the supper.
On the completion of his college studies, Mr. Thompson was licensed by the Presbytery of Toronto to preach the Gospel. Before accepting a pastoral charge, however, he was appointed by the Board of Directors of Morrin College, Quebec, to the Chairs of Mathematics and of Natural Philosophy in that Institution, a position which be filled for three years. Some of the students who there came under his personal instruction, have attained good positions. Among these, Mr. McKenzie gained the Gilchrist Scholarship in the London University and Mr. R. Cassels is now Registrar in the Supreme Court of Canada.
But Mr. Thompson, having qualified himself for the Church, considered his connection with the College only temporary, and voluntarily resigned in 1865. He was immediately called to St. Andrew’s church, Sarnia, his ordination and induction over the congregation taking place, April 25, 1866. He has since then remained the pastor of that congregation, which has, under his care, grown to be one of the most prosperous in Ontario. Its membership has increased from 75 to 300, notwithstanding many removals and the organization of a congregation in the suburbs, which took away 45 at one time. His Sabbath school is one of the largest and most efficient in the church, with about 300 on its roll, while the bible class numbers about 200 young men and women;probably the largest in the church. Mr. Thompson has been particularly attentive to bible;class teaching, and his instructions are highly prized by the young people of his charge. The utmost harmony has existed between the congregation and their accomplished pastor, and although he has often been solicited to preach in vacant congregations, with a view of being called, he has never seen it his duty to leave, and, with one exception, he has never, during the thirteen years of his pastorate, preached in a vacant pulpit.
Eight years ago, when the Presbyterian Church was about to organize a college in the new Province of Manitoba, Mr. Thompson was unanimously chosen by the General Assembly of his Church, then meeting in Quebec, to be its Principal and First Professor; but as the appointment was unexpected, and contrary to his wish, and as his removal met with the strenuous opposition of his congregation, he declined the appointment, and the present Principal, Prof. Bryce, was appointed in his place.
Mr. Thompson is most conscientious in his pastoral work, and laborious in his duties, having a high ideal of ministerial character and efficiency. But while fulfilling all his pastoral duties to the satisfaction of his people, his labors have not been confined to his own parish. He was for several years Convener of the Assembly’s Committee on Sabbath schools, in which position he rendered good service, and his annual reports received the endorsement of the Assembly, and helped to mould opinion on this important subject. He has also given courses of lectures on Philology and English Literature to the students of the Ladies’ College in Brantford, an institution which is exercising a great influence in the country. Last winter at the request of the Principal and Board of Directors, he gave a full course of lectures on Homiletics and Preaching to the Theological students of Queen’s College, Kingston. These lectures were highly appreciated by the students, and Mr. Thompson has been requested to publish them. Mr. Thompson prepares most carefully for his pulpit duties, and preaches, sometimes, from a full manuscript; sometimes from notes more or less full, often without notes in any form, but always as the result of careful study and analysis of his subject. He is the author of an elaborate article on “Justification by Faith,” contained in a volume of the “Canada Presbyterian Pulpit,” and is a frequent contributor to the papers and magazines of the day.
Perhaps a better idea of Mr. Thompson as a preacher may be gained from his own idea of preaching, as contained in a sentence taken from one of his own lectures given to the students of Queen’s College:
“The world belongs to Christ, and you must teach men the sacredness and significance of all work I look to a time when men will not divide their duties into two classes, secular and religious, but when science, art, commerce, law, medicine, politics, literature, and the common toil of men’s hands, will acknowledge and rejoice in the law of Christ, and advance His kingdom on the earth. I look for a time when the kingdom’s of this world will have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. Therefore, open up the Scriptures, and bring their full significance to bear on everyday life and duty. Bring Christ near as a present Saviur. `Lo, I am with you always.”Wherever two or three are gathered, &c. You are not explaining a history, but preaching a Savior who lives in the gospels, and who pours the fullness of his redemption into them; a Savior not seated on the throne of His glory in some far away, unknown place, surrounded by angels, but as the Shepherd still seeking the lost sheep in the wilderness, as compassionate and as loving as ever, and that the men of our day are as dear to Him as were any of those who were His cotemporaries. Hold up the same Jesus who took the little children in His arms, that talked with the woman at the well, that saw the sorrow of the poor widow; around whom the helpless and the despairing clung, the fountain of whose feelings often overflowed. Preach Jesus as Savior, Physician, Shepherd, Guide, Friend, and Brother, and give the people such a conception of Him as shall draw them. Read the heart, and teach the actual condition of your hearers. Bring the truth to bear on man’s daily burdens, as the sunlight on the cold ground, and seek to open their life Godward that they may be filled with His love and power. In all your preaching, produce the impression that God is at hand, and still rules the world, and has a direct personal relation to every event, and that His hand is still laid on the head of His people. Show them that the heart of Jesus is as near His Church now as ever, and that His spirit still works on the hearts of men, and that the subject of all our praise is not merely a history, but a revelation of the living God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, and never preach as if God had left the affairs of man to Himself, and is no longer an agent on the earth.”
Mr. Thompson was married, November 13, 1872, to Mary Mackenzie, only child of the Hon. Alexander Mackenzie, late Premier of Canada. The fruit of this union is two children, but one of whom is now living.