(IV) THE WORKER
DR. THOMAS had a remarkable capacity for applying his powers to any matter in hand. All his work is marked by intensity and earnestness. This is seen in the energetic way in which he investigated the Scriptures from the first association with the "Reformation". It is seen in the self-denying labours on behalf of the gospel in extensive travelling that he undertook. It is seen in the industry with which he plied his pen.
With his abilities he could doubtless have secured for himself a very comfortable if not a lucrative practice as a physician. Instead, he accepted toil and sacrifice in order that he might have time to devote himself to the work of the gospel. Repeatedly in the magazines he edited, circumstances caused Dr. Thomas to make references to personal affairs of a nature which would hardly be expected in a journal today. Nevertheless, looking back they afford a glimpse of the sincerity and self-sacrificing spirit he displayed. Explaining a delay in publishing an issue of the Advocate in 1837 he says: "The Advocate is not issued as early as we could wish. It is not our private affairs which cause this delay. We have devoted ourselves for life, at least as long as we possess health and means, to the dissemination of what we believe the Scriptures teach. We consider this the business of our life; our domestic affairs merely subordinate to it. Absence from home on the things of the Kingdom and a fracture of the rod by which the platen or impression plate of our press is suspended, are the cause of the late issue of our paper. Another cause of its late arrival at its destination is owing to. the irregularity and tardiness of the mails. The Advocate remains about a fortnight in the post office here before it car! get a fair start on its journey outwards. Ours being only a one horse mail, it requires several ladings before its monthly editions can get into their several routes." On one occasion when asked how he lived he replied that he reduced all his wants to bare necessities and then exercised every economy. When, before the final separation from the "Reformation" it was suggested that he became a regular minister of a community of believers, he answered: "With many thanks to our brother for his kind disposition, we answer emphatically No! We cannot afford to sell our independence for a mess of pottage. How could we teach the rich faithfully the unpalatable doctrine of Christ concerning the proper use of the mammon of unrighteousness, and be dependent upon them for the perishable pittance of a few hundreds per annum? We must be free if we would be faithful to the truth. We object not to receive contributions in aid of the cause we advocate; but they must be spontaneous, not extorted. We cannot preach for hire."
From the very early days of his connection with the Campbellites he appears to have been in demand as a speaker. When he was Editor of the Apostolic Advocate he undertook tours of churches involving frequent and lengthy addresses. He began with a definite disinclination for the work, and at any time he was only concerned with placing before his hearers the message of God's word, and had no interest in rhetorical effects. At the same time his style must have had a compelling interest or his audiences would not have grown night after night as often happened.
A brief recapitulation of a few of his journeys will give us some idea of his labours as a preacher. In the Herold for 1851, he describes the personal difficulties overcome in keeping an appointment and is led to make some reflections on the duty of all in spreading the Gospel. He had been ill, and in a week from getting up he left home against the advice of friends for a twenty- five mile journey to keep appointments, the first of which was a three day meeting. Others were expected to be there to take part, but did not arrive on the day expected. The Doctor thus speaks:
"We expected to meet two or three brethren at the meetings who would take upon themselves the labour of formally addressing the people, while we should have nothing else to do but to prove by our presence our willingness to speak to them, but our inability from extreme weakness to do it. Our dismay was considerable, however, when we found that they had not arrived, and that the work of faith and labour of love must be performed by us alone. Our principle is that difficulties which cannot be avoided must be met and overcome. It is bad policy to make appointments and not fulfil them. We therefore determined to do what we could, and to try to discourse even if we had to come to an abrupt and speedy conclusion, The first appointment was a three days meeting at Acquinton. A brother who accompanied us from Richmond attended to the preliminaries, after which, we, following the example of Jesus (not being able to stand) sat down and taught the people. At first our friends did not think we should be able to hold out fifteen minutes ; but though weak in body the subject was itself an inspiration, and to our own surprise we spoke with comparative ease on the Representative Men of the prophetic word for upwards of two hours.
"Encouraged by our success in this effort we did not doubt but we should be able to get along from day to day as the appointed times came round. We were strengthened by the consideration that sufficient to the day is the evil thereof ; so that it was quite unnecessary to assume the evil of many days and lay it all upon one. We experienced, however, some relief from the fact that one of the brethren announced to take part in the meetings arrived at Acquinton on Lord's day ; so that had we proved unable to occupy the time there was help at hand to supply our place and to make up our deficiencies. He remained with us all the week, and was no little assistance to us in conducting the worship, and leaving us only the pleasant labour of persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God, and of declaring all His counsel to the people. We spoke at Acquinton on three successive days; two days after at a school house; and on Saturday and Sunday at the old state-church house called West Point. At all these meetings put together we spoke about twelve hours and a half on things pertaining to the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ; and instead of increasing our debility, we recruited our physical energy every day. In our own person then we have proved that the truth is an inspiration which gives health to the soul, through which it operates nothing but good to the outward man."
Many of his yearly lecturing tours extended over weeks and involved very great inconvenience in travel. It was not unusual for two addresses, each of two or two and a half hours's duration, to be given on a Sunday, with addresses equally long night after night during the week. The extent of his work in building up small ecclesias and in preaching on these journeys can be best appreciated by a few short extracts from the accounts he published year by year in the Herald. When he was not travelling he practised his profession (although regular periods of absence would not help to build up a practice) and engaged in writing for the Herald, and gave frequent addresses to the meeting in the city where he lived.
Of the summer of 1846 he wrote: "During the season now numbered with the days bygone we have not consumed the bread of idleness nor of the hireling. From the early part of May to the end of August we have travelled between 950 and 1,000 miles in the Old Dominion and addressed the people forty-seven times on 'The things of the Kingdom of God and the Name of Jesus Christ', to say nothing of the time and labour bestowed upon the little flock in this idolatrous city".
The difficulty of travelling, much of it by river steamer since that was the means of transport which had been opened up the most in the '40s of last century, can be illustrated from the following statement: "Though assured by the skipper of the boat that it would leave the wharf at 10 a.m. we did not leave our mooring till 5.0 p.m. Cursing, lying and cheating are the boat characteristics of the Ohio and Mississippi. They will say anything for money. I have learned to discern the truth in the diametrics of their declarations. He knew well that we could not possibly get off at the time stated; for there were four steamers in the shallow ditch they call a canal, that connects Louisville with Portland below the Falls. But he lied to prevent us from leaving his boat and seeking another beyond the canal. If I could have come to a knowledge of the truth in the case, I might have spent some pleasant hours with some old friends in the City of the Falls; as it was, I was obliged to confine myself to the boat, not knowing when it might be off".
During this same tour he was fifty-seven hours on board a steam boat which had taken his passage money, the boat being jammed in by others at the landing, while cholera was rampant in the town, two hundred people dying each day.
He was absent in all six weeks and travelled 3,500 miles. On arriving home he found a large mail awaiting him with orders for three hundred copies of the book Anatolia, afterwards re-named Exposition of Daniel. "These", he says, despatched with all expedition".
Of a journey to the South in 1854 he says, "Thus then was brought to a close my visit to the South for 1854 after an absence of six weeks. I addressed the people some twenty-five times, and when I arrived in New York concluded my journeyings for the year, having travelled since the 1st June a distance of 5,500 miles".
In 1855 he visited Kentucky, and the following detail illustrates what travelling involved. He says, "We decided to return to New York city, issue the July and August numbers of the Herald, and then depart for Richmond. Accordingly we made two or three attempts to leave Henderson by steamer ; but the boats passed without attending to our signals. Not knowing how long we might be detained thus, we determined to go by land, and cross the Ohio to Evansville. Our friend very obligingly procured a buggy and sent us thither, with the expectation that we should take the cars at two o'clock. But on arriving there we found that they did not leave till six in the morning. It was now about twelve; so that there were eighteen hours for the exercise of patience. Evansville is a thriving town of 12,000 inhabitants on the right bank of the Ohio; but of no particular interest to a stranger having no business or other connections with it. We were glad, therefore, when we found ourselves in the car rushing onwards to Terre Haute with Evansville increasingly in the rear. At 8 p.m. we were at Dayton, Ohio, via Indianapolis; in the morning we arrived at Cleveland on Lake Eric, where we breakfasted. All that day we travelled the Lake Shore and New York and Erie railroads, and the following night also, after which we arrived, without accident, at New York city about 11a.m., having run 1,100 miles in 53 hours, stoppages included, a rate equal to the Parliamentary trains, the slowest in the British Isles; but fast enough at present for comparative safety."
We have referred to the work that he did in the town where he lived, in addition to these travels. In the Herald for 1853, in response to a request from a correspondent that he should give his readers some account of his journeyings, he reviewed his activities during the year. He explained that he had been busy writing articles to get a sufficient store to keep the printers busy while he was on his next journey. From December until June he had spoken sixty times in New York. When he arrived in December there were seven or eight people meeting in a private house but making no public effort. Led by the Doctor, lectures had been given, and he gives a short account of their experiences in the various ways they had employed in trying to interest people. In addition to this work in New York he had undertaken journeys of about 3,000 miles and in all had given 130 addresses. These references are but a bald narration of figures, but the record involved days of travelling and often nights also with not a little discomfort, and many journeys of upwards of 20 miles to the homes of the brethren after lectures had been given. As the imagination tries to fill in the details, one is struck by the Herculean efforts put out on behalf of the truth. There were giants in the earth in those days!
A reference to the lecturing work during his visit to Britain in 1848-9 throws light on the resources of Biblical knowledge the Doctor possessed and also his ability to present it in reasoned and logical form. This reference also shows that much of the time when not formally lecturing was spent in talking privately about the things of the Kingdom and in explaining difficulties: "Our audiences were drawn neither from the high nor low, but from the odds and ends of Edinburgh, who in every city are the most independent and Berean of the population. We addressed them some ten or a dozen times, mostly at the Waterloo Assembly Room in Princes Street, a spacious and elegant apartment, and capable of seating some thousand to fifteen hundred people. The impression made upon them was strong and, for the time, caused many to rejoice that providence had ever directed our steps to Edinburgh. Our expositions of the sure word of prophecy interested them greatly, causing our company to be sought for at the domestic hearth incessantly, to hear us talk of the things of the kingdom and name of Jesus, and to solve whatever doubts and difficulties previous indoctrination might originate in regard to the things we teach. Our new friends had but little mercy upon us in their demands upon our time. They seemed to think that premeditation was unnecessary; and that we had nothing to do but to open our mouth, and out would fly a speech! Of our two hundred and fifty addresses in, Britain, all were extemporized as delivered. There was no help for it, seeing we had to go oftener than otherwise from parlour conversation to the work before us in the lecture-room. Indeed, our nervous system was so wearied by unrest that we could not have studied a discourse. Present necessity was indispensable to set our brain to work. Certain subjects were advertised and had to be expounded. We knew, therefore, what was to be treated of ; and happily understanding the Word of the Kingdom, we had but to tell the people what it taught, and to sustain it by reason and testimony. In this way we got along independently of stationery and sermon-studying, which would have broke us down completely, and would have absorbed more time than our friends allowed us
This ability to extemporize addresses is evidence of the remarkable knowledge of the Bible stored away in Dr. Thomas's mind. It also shows that he had a good memory of his general reading. Reference is made in the preceding chapter to his writing EIpis Israel in four months. The mechanical writing of the book was heavy labour in so short a period, but what an amazing understanding of God's Word is revealed! There was no library at hand, no well marked reference books; out of the wealth of mature understanding he wrote the book.
There is a little sidelight on a practical matter which may be mentioned. The Doctor was mindful of any method by which the Gospel could be introduced to men. The following occurs in the context of his reference to the writing of Elpis Israel. "With the exception of two discourses at Camden Town, and two at a small lecture room near my residence, and an opposition speech at a Peace- Society meeting, I made no effort among the Londoners to gain their ears. I distributed printed bills, indeed; but a few hundreds or thousands of these among upwards of two millions of people, were but as the drops of a passing cloud to the ocean."
It is difficult to assess the amount of writing undertaken from 1834 to 1871. For at least twenty years he was editor of a magazine. Apart from the routine editorial work of reading manuscripts, proof reading and make-up, and attending to correspondence, a considerable proportion of what he printed was written by himself. Many articles are the fruit of much reading in history; all expository articles witness to constant study of the word of God. However great a man's native ability may be, to produce these articles much time and application must have been given. The output was not limited to an occasional article, or of one series even. It was constant for the whole period, and while some of it was essentially topical and related to the controversies in which he was involved, much is of a very high quality. Some of the contributions to the Herald, written as part of a monthly output, have been reprinted as pamphlets many times. Of these, What is Truth?, How to Search the Scriptures, and The Revealed Mystery, may be particularly mentioned. In addition, occasional pamphlets were produced as well as those which had first appeared as articles in the magazine. Some dealt with current events in relation to prophecy; one written near the end of his life, entitled Anastasis, was a consideration of disputed points connected with resurrection; another was the outcome of a conversation in a train journey at the time of the Gorham controversy in this country during his visit in 1848 -- a controversy not quite dead, for an echo of it was recently heard in the ecclesiastical courts. This pamphlet was racily written but with the characteristic grasp of Scripture teaching.
Besides the regular work for the periodicals he edited, Dr. Thomas wrote three books which are still in active circulation: Elpis Israel, Exposition of Daniel, and Eureka, an exposition of the Apocalypse in three volumes of nearly 2,000 pages. The last two volumes of Eureka were fruit of the later years of his life, volume I appearing while he was still publishing the Herald.
If we put together the work of speaking and writing we see what an amazing amount of work was accomplished. Sixty addresses in one place in six months involves a wide range of topics and a corresponding ability on the part of the speaker. Long periods of travel, sometimes under difficult conditions, were a tax on both the mental and the physical man. But in addition, the numerous addresses and private talks undertaken on these journeys indicate both remarkable resources and a willing expenditure of them. Two hours appears to have been quite the normal time to be taken up in an address. Audiences as well as speakers of those days reveal either a stamina or a perseverance which are not manifest in present times.
The writing of books is usually accomplished by a man isolating himself and so devoting his powers to the work. Even so the production of three volumes the size of Eureka would be no mean achievement for most writers. By this standard we may judge the work of writing undertaken by Dr. Thomas. From 1862 he was not editing a magazine but from that date unto 1869 the second and third volumes of Eureka were written.
For something comparable in toil and in devotion to the gospel we look back to apostolic days. Then a full-hearted expenditure of heart, mind and strength on the part of the apostles carried the gospel throughout the Roman world. The work was divinely commanded and was visibly endorsed by miracles. The revival of the truth was a lesser work, but one nevertheless that called for similar courage, perseverance, and labour. By the test of work performed, gratitude and respect is due to the man through whom in God's providence the gospel of the Kingdom was again proclaimed.