Born at South Shields, the son of Alexander Thompson, a prominent PM official and manager of a Jarrow chemical works, he was named after his grandfather, John Day (1795-1859; em 1821), who left the Wesleyans for Primitive Methodism, itinerated almost entirely in northern circuits and died during the London District Synod at Luton, months after being made Book Steward.
He trained for the PM ministry at the Sunderland Institute. Following the death of Hugh Gilmore, he was sent to Adelaide in 1892, where he supported the federation movement and the campaign for women's suffrage in South Australia. A bold thinker and sworn foe of traditionalists, he wrote a pioneering article on new methods of biblical interpretation in the PM Quarterly Review of 1888. The liberal views expressed in his address 'The Simple Gospel' (1894) brought a reaction from the connexional conservatives, notably James Macphearson and Joseph Wood, who attacked him for deviating from Methodist doctrine. At the 1896 Conference, in his absence, he was the first in the Connexion to be charged with heresy. Supported by William Beckworth and Dr John Watson, he was cleared of the charge. He returned to England in 1898 because of his wife's health and was elected Conference Secretary in 1903, General Committee Secretary in 1909 and President of the Conference in 1915, when he tried to prevent liberal theology being equated with German thought. He succeeded H.B. Kendall as editor of the Holborn Review. His writings included his Hartley Lecture, The Doctrine of Immortality (1908) and The Church that Found Herself (1912).
'He had a rich combination of qualities. He had a nimble brain,a power of rapid assimilation, a keen and critical intelligence, a lucid and orderly mind, speed in execution, power and felicity of expression. He loved books and his literary tastes were catholic, he loved Nature passionately, and he loved his fellow men. He hated oppresson and cruelty, freedom was to him the breath of his nostrils. He fought against vice and ignorance, against superstition and fear; he was always a child of light, his eyes steadfastly turned to the East, his soul yearning and watching for the dawn. He was a loyal friend, sweet in disposition and wholly loveable. Himself unusually alert and quick of apprehension, he was patient with slower wits; nor was his attitude to others chilled by aloofness or tinged with condescension. He was neither soured by opposition nor spoiled by appreciation. He moved freely and familiarly in our midst with simple dignity.'
A.S. Peake, in Holborn Review, 1919 pp.383-4