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which he attended the Cooperstown, Pennsyl-
vania Academy, and subsequently the Berlin
Seminary, in the same State, then under the di-
rection of J. F. Eberhart, now a member of the
People's Church, Chicago, and a fast friend of
the Doctor's.

On moving to Iowa he continued his studies
privately under Dr. Charles Elliott, formerly
President of the Iowa Wesley an University. His
studies have, however, never been discontinued.
Like many men of mark, he has never graduated,
but expects to remain a student to the end of his
life. The greater part of his knowledge of books
he has acquired since he began to preach, and
has facilitated his work greatly, and fastened his
acquirements in his memory, by making immedi-
ate use of them as fast as acquired, a most ad-
mirable method.

His mother was a devout Methodist, and his
father a Quaker. The moral tone of the family
was exceptionally high, and its religion both
practical and intensely devotional. At the age of
eighteen Hiram became converted, and began
soon after to preach. L,ike many other great
preachers, he had the conviction from childhood
that he must one day preach, and although he
fought against it long and energetically, yet when
the time came he yielded and entered into the
work.

He at first joined the Pittsburgh Conference of
the Evangelical Association, or German Method-
ists, with whom he remained till in 1856, when
he joined the Iowa Conference of the Methodist
Episcopal Church.

March 19, 1865, he married Miss Emmeline C.
Merrick, an accomplished young lady of Demp-
seytown, Pa. Her people were Presbyterians,
and Methodist preachers, and though popular with
the same class who used to hear Christ "gladly,"
were, nevertheless, at that period considered rather
among the proletariat. The union has been, how-
ever, a happy one, and through all the extraordi-
nary trials of the life of an itinerant Methodist
preacher on the frontier, they have found in each
other an unfailing source of strength and consola- .
tion.



In the autumn of 1854 his parents sold out their
Virginia home, and the family removed to Wash-
ington County, Iowa, and bought a tract of land.
Thither Hiram, with his young wife, followed
them the following spring. The summer was
spent opening a new farm, house-building, etc.,
the young preacher working faithfully seven days
in the week, six on the farm and one in the pul-
pit. In the fall that scourge of a new country,
congestive chills and fever, brought him and his
faithful wife to the verge of death, but, as he firmly
believes, his life was spared in answer to prayer.
Whether his faithful spouse was included in the
petition, or is indebted to the efficacy of a stronger
vital organization for her escape, is not recorded,
but it is certain that she, too, was spared to re-
mark that there was little left of Hiram but ' 'a
handful of bones and a tuft of red hair. ' '

But he was not ordained to bury himself or his
talents in Iowa soil, and speedily relinquished
the farm entirely for the pulpit, and entered fully
upon the arduous life of a Methodist itinerant.
For several successive years he managed to eke
out a subsistence for himself and family on $300
a year. The leading charges of Marshall, Ft.
Madison, Washington, Mt. Pleasant and Burling-
ton enjoyed the benefit of his labors, besides which
he spent two years as Chaplain of the State Peni-
tentiary. In 1869 he was transferred to the Rock
River Conference, and stationed at Park Avenue,
Chicago. After three years he was appointed to
the First Church (Methodist Church Block) of
the same city, where likewise he remained three
years. He was then sent to the First Church of
Aurora for two years, and next to Centenary
Church, Chicago, where his term of three years
expired in October, 1880. His early preaching
gave promise of all his later fame. He always
drew large congregations and the church flour-
ished under his care. It was predicted many
years ago by astute friends that he only had
to be transferred to a large city to acquire a na-
tional reputation. He has captured every place
in which he has preached, and his success in
Chicago is only a repetition of his career on a
smaller scale in the villages and towns of his



H. W. THOMAS.



443



earlier ministry. There have usually been many
demands for him, and a spirited rivalry between
the leading churches of his conference, as there is
now between cities and denominations.

Dr. Thomas has been a man of sorrows as
well as of privations and arduous labors. Of
seven children born to his home but one survives,
Dr. Homer M. Thomas, now a prominent physi-
cian of Chicago. His large personal experience
in the school of grief has opened a door for him
into the hearts of the afflicted and desolate few
not tempered in the same school can enjoy. He
was born and reared in humble life; he drew his
first breath among the freedom-inspiring moun-
tains; he had his long struggle with poverty, and
is familiar with its trials and temptations; he has
mingled with the lowly, and become familiar
with their wants and woes, and no fame, honor
or pelf of his later years can lift him above the
common people in his sympathies or his labors.
He began his life with them, he has spent it for
them, he will close it among them. This is the
secret of his heresy it is the secret of his power.
And had not Methodism progressed out of its
primitive simplicity and liberality, it would not
have scandalized and wronged itself by driving
him from among them. However, it gave him a
broader field, and probably increased his useful-
ness by breaking down for him the wall of parti-
tion which the church unconsciously had erected
between her ministers and the people, and by
casting him with her ban upon him into the
bosom of the people whom he loved. "Nothing
pains me more, ' ' he said at one time, ' 'or gives
me more anxious thought, than that the world's
great need, and religion's great gift man's want
and God's fullness cannot be brought together.
It rests upon me with such a weight that I have
sometimes almost felt that God calls me to a min-
istry at large outside of the church, that I might
get near to the hearts and homes of the people. ' '

The expression of such sentiments could not
but make him very popular among those who
most need human sympathy and ministerial coun-
sel and assistance, and naturally the narrow bigots
of his own class would look with increasing dis-
favor upon him. He would be regarded by the



scribes and pharisees with jealousy, anger and
suspicion, in proportion as it became manifest that
"the common people heard him gladly." It
hence became early apparent that a separation
must sooner or later come the drift of events
could not be checked. With the deepening of
his sympathies for humanity came the inevitable
broadening of his religious, or rather theological,,
views of truth and his understanding of the Script-
ures. With him to study, to learn and to preach
were necessary steps in a process continually go-
ing on. He never waits to inquire how truth
will be received, or what will be its consequences
to himself. He only asks if it be truth; his duties
to proclaim it he never questions. His opposers
did not stop to inquire if his views were truth,
nor yet whether they were contrary to the essen-
tials of Methodism, but placed the issues of their
cause against him upon the standards of the
Church, and themselves determined the stand-
ards. There could be but one issue of such a
trial. It is difficult to ascertain the date of the
earliest expression of heresy by the Doctor, and it
is of little moment. It is probable that his early
popularity arose from his human and rational
view of God, the Bible, and its teachings, which
came to him unconsciously, and was expressed
as unconsciously and as naturally as he breathed.
However, rumors of his unsoundness were heard
as far back as 1865, while yet in Burlington,
Iowa, and on that account an effort was made to
prevent his transfer to Chicago. It was not,
however, until he became the pastor of the First
Church that his liberal views attracted general
notice. His nearness to the people, and his pop-
ularity among publicans and sinners who flocked
to hear him, and many of whom he reformed,
seemed to give offense to the brethren. Besides
this he did a good deal of undenominational work.
He originated the Philosophical Society of Chi-
cago, and was its second President. The society
was organized soon after the great fire, and held
its meetings for a time in the Methodist Church
Block. It was composed of such men as Judge
Booth, Prof. Rodney Welch, Dr. Samuel Wil-
lard, Gen. Buford, Dr. Edmund Andrews, Rev.
Dr. Joseph Haven, Dr. E. F. Abbott, J. W. Ela,



414



H. W. THOMAS



Prof. Austin Bierbower, and two hundred or three
hundred more orthodox, liberal sceptics, spirit-
ualists, atheists, Catholics and all the shades be-
tween these. Its discussions were not always
orthodox, as might be expected, and Dr. Thomas
was held responsible for every variation there-
from.

He affiliated with liberal-minded people outside
of his own church. He preached a powerful ser-
mon in defense of Prof. Swing, and followed it with
one on hell, something after the example of Henry
Ward Beecher; sometimes preached for the Uni-
versalists and Unitarians; organized an undenom-
inational preachers' meeting, called the Round
Table, and in general conducted himself in a way
which indicated that he could no longer, ' 'after
the straighter sect of our religion, live a pharisee. ' '
When, therefore, in the fall of 1875, his term
at the First Church in Chicago expired, the com-
plaints had grown so loud in certain quarters that
he was sent out of the city to Aurora. There
was much dissatisfaction about this. His own
church, the newspapers, and the general public
believed it was designed to lessen his field of in-
fluence. Several large and wealthy churches of
other denominations offered him places. Charges
in other conferences sought his services, but he
went quietly to his new appointment and soon
built up a large congregation in Aurora. Per-
sistent efforts were, however, made to get him
back to Chicago, and with final success, for he
was appointed to Centenary Church in 1877.
Immediately this society became one of the largest
in the Northwest, and other clergymen claimed
that their congregations were rushing off to Cen-
tenary Church and getting ' 'Thomasized. ' ' Dur-
ing all this time he was lecturing throughout the
Northwest, giving during the lecture season one
or two lectures a week in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois,
Wisconsin, and occasionally other States. This
spread both his fame and his opinions, and mul-
tiplied both his friends and his enemies. But the
crisis of his religious affairs was approaching.

When the next conference met at Mt. Carroll,
in October, 1878, the subject of Dr. Thomas'
recent utterances was privately discussed, and a
plan carefully matured in secret to bring the mat-



ter to a head. With characteristic boldness, and
rejoicing in his own freedom, Dr. Thomas
preached before the conference a sermon in which
he took occasion to give free expression to his
peculiar views and criticise the narrowness of
some of his brethren.

A committee on conference relations was ap-
pointed. This was a sort of Star Chamber, be-
fore which complaints might be secretly brought
against any minister, and some one, unknown to
anybody except the committee, made charges
against Dr. Thomas, and an adverse case was
worked up. The committee reported the case to
the conference, and there was much discussion of
the matter, but finally the presiding bishop, Dr.
Foster, cut the matter short by asking all those
to rise to their feet who felt that no loyal Method-
ist could preach such a sermon, an unwarrant-
able proceeding, asking, as it did, judgment be-
fore trial. A large majority, nevertheless, stood
up and set themselves right on the question of
heresy before the world. A resolution offered
was then adopted, asking Dr. Thomas either to
abandon his objectionable teaching, or withdraw
from the church; in other words, to become a
hypocrite and stay in, or remain an honest man
and get out. He very properly refused to do
either, thinking probably that the church was in
need of honest and independent thinkers, rather
than regulation preachers.

The trial began at the opening session, Oc-
tober 5, 1879, and continued at intervals till Oc-
tober 10, when, as was anticipated, he was again
found guilty and expelled, both from the minis-
try and the membership of the church.

The committee, however, did not sustain the
charge upon the question of the inspiration of the
Bible, but acquitted him on that account. Upon
the atonement the vote stood nine to six, and on
endless punishment eleven to four.

Shortly before the meeting of the conference at
Rockford in 1880, a number of Chicago gentle-
men met and pledged themselves to be responsi-
ble for the expenses of a service in the central
part of the city. Accordingly, Hooley's Theatre
was engaged, and to it the Doctor went after the
action of that conference. A large congregation



H. W. THOMAS.



445






greeted him at once, and he continued to hold
services there with great success till in 1885, then
in the Chicago Opera House for a few months,
and since then in McVicker's Theatre.

Upon this expulsion by the conference at Syca-
more, although it endangered his right of appeal
to the judicial conference, he felt it his duty
to continue his work, and did so. As he feared,
so it turned out. The judicial conference which
met at Terre Haute, Ind., December 6, 1881, re-
fused to entertain the appeal, and the decision of
the conference at Sycamore stands as final.

To his new relation the Doctor and the public
have both become accustomed and are well satis-
fied. He still preaches to large audiences every
Sunday at McVicker's Theatre, his influence and
popularity are unabated, and the People's Church
of Chicago has been a source of comfort and bless-
ing to thousands, and is every year growing in
numbers and usefulness.

The following statement of his belief is from
his own defense, when on trial before the con-
ference:

"And now, what is the substance of what I be-
lieve and what I deny ?

' 'It must be evident that I hold to the great and
fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and that I
am in hearty accord with the spirit and work of
Methodism.

"I hold to the inspiration and authority of the
Scriptures, that in matters of doctrine and duty
they are final the authority of God. But I do
not accept the verbal theory of inspiration, nor
claim that all parts of all the sixty-six books of
the Bible are of equal authority, inspiration, or
value, nor that all parts of the Old Testament
are critically infallible. And in these things,
am I not in accord with the best scholarship of
our own church and of the world ? Certainly I
am. Does the Methodist Church, or the fifth ar-
ticle of religion, require our ministry to believe
more or differently ? I think not.

' 'I hold to the doctrine of a vicarious atonement,
but I hold it in that form that is called moral or
paternal; or, in other words, I hold to the govern-
mental view with the penal idea left out I deny
the doctrine of a literal penal substitution. It is,



I think, both unreasonable and unscriptural. It
is an offense to our deepest moral institutions
and a burden to Christian faith. I am aware that
in saying this I am compelled to differ to some
extent from what seems to be the teachings of
Wesley and Watson, but I claim to be in sub-
stantial accord with Raymond and Miley, and to
hold in substance what in its last analysis must
be declared to be the true Arrninian Doctrine.

"I hold to the strength and integrity of the gov-
ernment of God, that all sin will be properly pun-
ished, but I do not believe in a material hell fire,
nor in the terrible ideas of future torment that
have come down to us from the past. Such
teachings, to my mind, negate the very idea of a
God. I must agree with good Dr. Raymond,
that 'it is competent to think of God as making
hell not as terrible, but as tolerable as possible.
If God punishes sinners, it is because He must.
He is vindicatory, but not vindictive. He is a
righteous being, and a righteous sovereign, but
not a malicious murderer.' But I cannot agree
with Dr. Williamson, who says: 'Mr. Wesley, in
his sermon on Hell, states the doctrine of the
Methodist churches on this subject. From this
teaching, so far as known, there are no influential
dissenters.' I should rather say with Dr. Whe-
don, 'We imagine the census would be small of
American Methodist ministers who would accept
Mr. Wesley's physical views of hell.'

"I hold to the endlessness of the law by which
sin must be punished, and hence to endless pun-
ishment for the endlessly obdurate, if such there
be; but, assuming as I do the freedom of souls
after death, I cannot affirm that any soul will or
will not forever remain in sin, and hence I can
neither affirm nor deny endless punishment for
any soul. But, postulating endless punishment
upon endless sinning, I am logically bound to
suppose that if the sinning come to an end, the
suffering must also come to an end, unless, in-
deed, it be that suffering of loss that in the nature
of things seems to be remediless. And I have a
hope a hope that has come to me through much
suffering and prayer, and that seems to be
strengthened by the nearest visions of God that,
somehow, all the divine love and striving to win



446



H. W. THOMAS.



and save souls will not end with this poor, short
life, but that the work of discipline and salvation
may go on in the immortal world. And it seems
to me that whilst there is upon some texts a sur-
face look of finality, there is a deeper and far-
reaching vision of other texts, and the Scriptures
as a whole, on which this hope may rest."

Dr. Thomas is a born student. Everything he
sees, hears and feels, or in any way comes in con-
tact with, he investigates, and the impress is left
on his mind. He seeks for the essence and cause
of things. No one analyses and interprets past
history, or present human activities, with a keener
or more truthful philosophy, or reads nearer the
lines of truth in all things that affect humanity.
He is an honest student, intent on getting the true
meaning of life and all its related conditions and
existences, without reference to their supporting
any pre-conceived notions or dogmas of church or
society.

As a public speaker, he is himself and nobody
else. When ready to begin his sermon he steps
slowly to the front of the platform, without note
or manuscript about him, and pausing a moment
and casting his eyes over his expectant congrega-
tion, he commences in a low and measured tone
of voice that scarcely reaches the outer sittings of
his large audience-room. At first he is very slow
and articulate in his utterances, and pauses at the
end of every sentence. He is addressing the un-
derstanding. His sentences are terse, condensed,
and plain in their meaning. Every one is very
likely complete in itself, though nearly related to
the preceding ones, and adding to their strength
and clearness. There is no effort at oratory, and
his thoughts are couched in the simplest language.
He presents deliberately accepted facts of life and
the world, and multiplies generalized statements
along the line of the subject under discussion;
statements which all know to be true, but which
few have considered in their relations to the theo-
ries or views he is presenting. He at once creates
an interest and prepares the way for his discourse,
and lays the foundations on which to build his
arguments. And he is so eminently fair and
truthful in all his propositions, that from the start
he wins both the sympathies and understanding



of his hearers. As he continues to add proposi-
tion to proposition, and argument to argument,
and to interweave these, his voice gradually rises,
becoming clear, strong and emphatic; the interest
intensifies, and a pleasing spell steals over his
audience, which holds them with greater or less
tension until the last word has been spoken.

Every sentence now comes weighted down with
meaning, and the central idea and unity of his
discourse soon become more and more apparent.
Each statement makes clearer and stronger his
points. Reflection on what he has said adds force
to what he is now saying, and brings out in fuller
form and grandeur the high ideals of his lofty and
inspiring conceptions. And he always has an
ideal, a lofty ideal, that lifts his hearers above the
cruder every-day thoughts and scenes of exist-
ence. He invites them to quit the valleys of de^
spair and tread with him the highlands of a nobler
life.

As he passes along, he attacks every evil and
exalts every virtue. The long face of the phari-
see is no protection to him. Self-righteousness,
oppression, the dead formalities of the old churches,
and unreasonable and obsolete church creeds, are
each in their turn pierced by the keen blade of
his logic, and in this his wonderful memory serves
him well and brings all needed facts for his use;
while poetry, rhetoric, apothegm, wit, wisdom
and ridicule each comes at the proper time un-
bidden to his aid.

While intensely devotional and reverential in
his ministrations, he yet occasionally hurls the
lance of ridicule at some dominant or excused so-
cial sin with such force and in such a way that
his audience breaks into applause.

He seldom hesitates for words or uses a re-
dundancy of speech. Every word comes forth as
though it gushed from a great suppressed foun-
tain of thought and emotion. And every sermon
is a complete philosophy in itself. It is the result
of a study of all the things bearing on that sub-
ject. And he has a wonderful way of grouping
facts, history, experiences and philosophies to
make clear and impressive a point. He is a man
great even beyond the appreciation of the multi-
tude who flock to hear him gladly.



OF THE
VERSITY OF



J. G. SHORTALL.



447



JOHN G. SHORTALL.



flOHN G. SHORTALL has been prominently
I connected with the history of Chicago for
Q) almost forty years. Especially has he been a
leader in benevolent work and an influential
patron of those arts which tend to elevate man-
kind. Literature has found in him a friend, and
along these various lines the efforts of Mr. Short-
all have greatly promoted the best interests of
this western metropolis.

Mr. Shortall was born in Dublin, Ireland, Sep-
tember 20, 1838, and is a son of John and Char-
lotte (Towson) Shortall. When the son was be-
tween two and three years old, his parents emi-
grated with their family to America, joining an
elder branch long settled in New York. The
only brother of our subject, Pierce S. Shortall,
served continuously throughout the entire War
of the Rebellion, as a member of a regiment of
New York volunteers, until killed at the battle of
Averasboro, North Carolina, in April, 1865.

After the death of his parents the subject of
this sketch was employed by the late Horace
Greeley, and the two or three years, 1852, 1853
and 1854, passed in the editorial rooms of the
New York Tri&une proved to be a period of ed-
ucation that he feels he could in no way have
dispensed with, for he was there brought in con-
tact with the men who molded public opinion in
those clays, and the master minds of the age were
often there present. In the summer of 1854,
following the advice of Mr. Greeley, he came
to the West, locating first in Galena, where he
was engaged for a short time with the Illinois
Central Railroad Company in the completion of
the construction and survey work between Scales
Mound and Galena. Going thence to Chicago,



in the late autumn of 1854, ne was engaged for
a few months upon the Chicago Tribune, and
then withdrew to enter the office of J. Mason
Parker, and incidentally the study of real-estate
law and titles, which profession he has followed
to the present time. At the time Mr. Shortall
entered the office, Mr. Parker was engaged in
the work of preparing the real-estate abstract
books afterwards known as the Shortall &
Hoard Abstracts, and which are now the prop-
erty of the Title Guarantee and Trust Company,
of which Mr. Shortall is a Director. Upon the
completion of the books in 1856, he leased them
and began the business of making abstracts and
examining titles of real estate, which was then
assuming great importance. He was among the



Online LibraryJohn MorleyAlbum of genealogy and biography, Cook County, Illinois : with portraits (Volume 1900) → online text (page 68 of 111)