(II) THE PREACHER
WE have seen that the prophecies of Scripture require that at the Lord's advent a people should be watching for him. A work then must develop during the closing period of Gentile times in preparing a people for the Lord. Such a work must take the form of preaching the gospel, a knowledge of which can only be obtained by careful and diligent study of the word of God. "The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation and therefore Timothy was enjoined to" Preach the Word There must then be a preacher, for as Paul said, "How shall they hear without a preacher?" Hearing there must be, for faith comes by hearing, and a preacher then must be raised up.
Since the Spirit-gifts were withdrawn God has overruled the affairs of His people without visible indication of His power. But the hand of God has nevertheless been present, ruling in the Kingdoms of men, and controlling "all things" that they "work together for good" for those who earnestly seek to know His ways. We might expect, then, that for the revival of His truth God would so overrule the affairs of suitable men that their minds were directed to the study of His word ; and so doing, they would acquire a correct knowledge of that gospel which is God's power unto salvation. This book itself is evidence that the gospel has been revived : and to all who, through the work of the writer of these reprinted articles, rejoice in an understanding of God's revealed purpose, information concerning the man is of more than passing interest. A short outline of his life will therefore be given first, and then consideration of the circumstances and influences which fostered his study of the Bible which resulted in the gradual unfolding of the One Hope.
John Thomas was born in London on April 12, 1805. He died on March 5,1871. More than half of the 66 years of his life were spent in diligent study of God's word, in preaching and writing about the message of that Word. It was not an arrangement that was planned before; editing a religious journal and discoursing on religious subjects formed no part at all of his aims in life. While his father was trained as a minister of religion, he did not follow a settled life; for periods he was a clerk to the East India Company; he also kept a boarding school, and between the two he served as a preacher with Independent congregations in London, in Scotland for a year, and afterwards at Chorley in Lancashire. While in Chorley, John Thomas began medical studies with a private surgeon; and when his father left Chorley, he remained for some months to continue his studies. He then returned to London and studied for two years with a general practitioner; after which he became a student at St. Thomas's hospital, attending lectures for three years, when he took his diploma. Then followed a year as companion to a physician for whom he wrote a course of lectures on obstetrics; after which he practised as a physician on his own behalf for three years. This was in Hackney; and Dr. Thomas began to write a history of the parish which was so disapproved by the authorities that the unfinished manuscript was purchased and suppressed. During this period articles were contributed to the medical journal, The Lancet.
By training and education the natural qualities of his mind were developed. He had great powers of both perception and reflection, with earnestness and a capacity for application to study, with independence, and a courage to hold to conviction reached by careful study. The early life was a preparation for later developments.
The circumstances which changed the course of Dr. Thomas' life were arresting enough. His father, who had in the meantime joined the Baptists, decided to go to America, where many were at the time emigrating. This was in 1832. It was decided that the son, John, should go first to investigate conditions there. He therefore secured a post as surgeon on a passenger ship of about 500 tons carrying about ninety people in all. The whole voyage was stormy, and quite early a considerable amount of damage was done to the ship, to the alarm of the passengers. Nearing the American side the ship grounded, sprung a leak as the result of the beating with the waves, and for ten days the pumps had to be kept at work, until at the end of eight weeks from leaving England the ship reached New York. Several times the passengers were in a state of panic and fear of drowning. Dr. Thomas was much exercised by the experience; he realized that he had made no study of religion ; and, faced with the possibility of death, his sense of uncertainty was so borne upon him that lie resolved that if he reached land safely he would not rest until he had found out the truth about what lay beyond death.
The resolve was soon tested. A letter of introduction to a Baptist preacher was presented, and in the conversation the preacher asked the destination of his visitor. On being informed that he was going to Cincinnati, the Minister remarked on the hospitality of the people, but said they were much influenced by "the reformation". The reference was to the movement known today by the name "Disciples of Christ" in America and as "Churches of Christ" in Great Britain; but sometimes described as Campbellism from the important part played in the early history of the body by Alexander Campbell. This was the first intimation he had of the "reformation", but his life during many years became closely bound up with it.
Within a few days of arriving at Cincinnati Dr. Thomas had been immersed and become associated with the 11 reformation ". It came about in this way. Invited to the house of a Major Gano, who had espoused the teaching of Campbell with great earnestness, the subject of baptism was discussed, the Major pressing upon his visitor a pamphlet by Campbell. On another visit within an interval of few days, he was given a further pamphlet by Walter Scott, who was an important leader of the new movement particularly in formulating its teaching. Scott was due to preach on the following Sunday, and Gano invited him and the Doctor to his house. In the conversation during the evening, Scott pressed the need for baptism, and Dr. Thomas replied that if evidence could be produced from the New Testament of baptism being at once administered after belief he would no longer resist. The very challenge, as the Doctor later declared, only revealed his ignorance; for Scott at once pointed to Acts 8: 36,37 The citation proved the point, as Dr. Thomas immediately perceived; a decision was made and immersion in the canal that passed the house took place at 10 o'clock by the light of the moon.
An introduction soon followed with Alexander. Campbell, who pressed Dr. Thomas into speaking duties. As his services were more called for, so his studies of the Bible increased. But a greater impetus sprang from the decision to edit a small monthly magazine devoted to the extension of "the reformation". The work and study of preparing this magazine led to a progressive grasp of God's purpose, and as each point was perceived it was faithfully accepted.
The magazine was called the Apostolic Advocate, and the first issue appeared in May, 1834. The sixth number contained an article which may be regarded as the beginning of the troubles which led finally to the break with Campbellism. Discussion followed, provoking closer application to the Scriptures on the part of Dr. Thomas who in consequence published in December, 1835, thirty-four questions under the heading "Information Wanted". In this way the question of the nature of man was raised. While these questions were formulated to secure information, unfriendly critics regarded them as statements of opinions already held by their author.
The opposition caused Dr. Thomas to determine that he would seek to comprehend the Bible teaching on the questions raised; and his fearless acceptance of truth when perceived and its courageous advocacy broadened the breach with Alexander Campbell. Several times Campbell in scurrilous language attacked Dr. Thomas, who replied in a spirited manner. In 1839 the Advocate was suspended.
Efforts to earn a living by farming followed without much success, and in 1842 Dr. Thomas returned to literary work, publishing a weekly paper for a very short time, when the enterprise was disposed of; then a successor to the Advocate entitled The Investigator was begun which only reached one or possibly two volumes.
In 1844 Dr. Thomas started a new magazine, the title of which indicates the progress of his understanding in God's purpose. It was called the Herald of the Future Age. Its preparation intensified the study in which he had for years been engaged -- a study which quickly bore fruit. In 1847 a critical reference to some of the points of his teaching about the reign of Christ on David's throne and related doctrines, led to the penning of an article reproduced in this volume on "The Hope of the world and the Hope of Israel". While reasoning that any hope, to be of value, must be established on divine promises, he perceived that when he was baptized he was ignorant of the true hope of the Gospel. His baptism therefore was invalid. He at once published a "Confession and Declaration", and was baptized into the true Gospel Hope.
The next stage in development of the witness was connected with a visit to England in 1848. This year was one of great unrest throughout Europe, so important that during the centenary of it in 1948 practically all leading journals have recalled the remarkable events that then occurred. The most important development for those who rejoice in a knowledge of God's truth was the production of a book entitled Elpis Israel. Dr. Thomas lectured in Britain and Scotland to thousands of people, the current events leading to great interest in his lectures on prophecy. Following earnest requests to prolong his stay and put in writing what he had said in his addresses, he went to London, and in four months had written the book.
When he left U.S.A. copy for the Herald was left with friends who continued its publication to the ninth issue, but the volume was not completed until Dr. Thomas returned in 1850. The Herald dated 1848 thus contains the prospectus for Elpis Israel which was published at the beginning of 1850.
The publication of the Herald was resumed under the altered title of The Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, and this continued for eleven years during which expositional articles were poured out with amazing regularity. The selection in this volume is drawn largely from the work of this period. The difficulties created by the American Civil War led to the suspension of the Herald, and another visit was made to Britain in 1862. In 1864 a magazine, The Ambassador, was started in this country, approved by Dr. Thomas, and under the changed title which he suggested for it, continues still as The Christadelphian, and this took the place of the Herald as the medium of Dr. Thomas's communications.
I The first volume of Eureka, an exposition of the Apocalypse, was published in 1862, and the second and third volumes occupied the time of Dr. Thomas from his return to U.S.A. in 1863- In 1865 the name "Christadelphian" was adopted in order that representation for exemption from military service could be made, the authorities requiring some distinctive appellation by which the community could be known. The third volume of Eureka being completed at the close of 1868, in the next year another trip was made to Great Britain, visits being made to many towns where communities of believers were established.
A decision was reached at this time that Dr. Thomas would settle in this country, but this was not to be. He returned to America to settle up his affairs. He visited fellow believers in places in the States and Canada, fell sick and never fully recovered. He never left home again, and he died in the early months of 1871.