(V) THE EXPOSITOR
WE have traced the process which had its origin in the activities connected with "reformation" in America, by which Dr. Thomas reached a knowledge of God's saving purpose revealed in the Scriptures. We have mentioned the chaotic condition of the religious world, the welter of religious opinion prevailing one hundred years ago, out of which emerged the selfstyled "Reformation". There is also another feature in the background which should be mentioned to get a complete picture. It is a less evident feature but nevertheless important it concerns the interpretation of prophecy.
There are three schools of interpretation of the prophecies of The Revelation; Preterists, Futurists, and what has been called the Continuous Historic. The first puts all the Apocalypse in the past, generally interpreting its symbols of the fall of Jerusalem. The second regards the whole Apocalypse as a prophecy of the future -- no part having been fulfilled. The last method of interpretation finds a correspondence between the "signs" of the Lord's last message and the outstanding events connected with the Mediterranean world from the day when the revelation was given unto the second advent, with information concerning events connected with the setting up of God's Kingdom, and a glimpse of beyond. The Apocalypse is seen as a sequel to Daniel's prophecies, being an expansion of matters connected with the fourth beast of Daniel chapter seven. This method of interpretation involves a number of things.
First the understanding of the prophecy must be progressive. A believer of the early centuries could have only a dim understanding, if any, of much of the Lord's last message. He might see that a long history lay between the first and second advents; that during this intervening period the affairs of God's truth would have varied fortunes -- its adherents being always in the minority, persecuted and oppressed bitterly at times, but through it all God's purpose would be worked out; and that at last God's Kingdom would prevail and righteousness triumph. But as the centuries went by the student would be able to trace out where the prophecy had been fulfilled : outstanding landmarks would fix the progress made along the chart : but always the unfulfilled portion would present problems, and interpretation would be marked by uncertainty. So it has been. During the centuries the understanding of the signs has become ever easier, and the analogy of the fulfilled has helped in a better interpretation of the unfulfilled part.
With the Revival of Learning in Europe which followed the taking of Constantinople, and the breaking of papal domination in Protestant Countries by the Reformation in which Luther played so conspicuous a part, the study of the Apocalypse progressed rapidly. Outstanding names of the early period are Mede, Jurieu, who saw that in the events of his own day the "witnesses" were slain, Vitringa, Daubuz, Sir Isaac Newton, Whiston (the translator of Josephus, and the successor of Newton as Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge), and Bishop Newton who was writing in the middle of the eighteenth century. Then followed, to mention the more important, Galloway, Bicheno, Faber, Cunninghame and Frere, Bickersteth, Habershon and Birks. During the early years of the nineteenth century Faber and Cunninghame with others engaged in warm controversy on some of the details of the Apocalypse. An Anglican magazine, The Christian Observer, founded in 1802, opened its columns to the controversialists and for 20 years articles appeared on the interpretation of the Revelation. An American edition was published in Boston month by month exactly corresponding to the English edition. William Jones, who edited the British Millennial Harbinger, previously mentioned, published Lectures on the Apocalypse in 1830, Miller in America and Irving in Britain about the same time were attracting attention to Bible chronology, the end of the Age, and the Coming Millennium. In 1831 and for five years a prophetic journal called The Investigator was devoted to exposition of prophecy. Many of these already named contributed, also Wolff, a missionary who travelled widely, mentioned by Dr. Thomas. Keith, in the past famous for his book on fulfilled prophecy, wrote an exposition of the Apocalypse under the title Signs of the Times. Gaussen, well known as the author of Theopneustia, wrote more than one book on the prophecies. The year 1844 saw the publication of Elliott's Horae Apocalypticae. The above sketch leaves unmentioned a great many who in the first four decades of the nineteenth century wrote books or tracts dealing with prophecy, the second advent and the Millennium.
A student of prophecy of the Continuous Historic school sees that the prophecy leads on to a great divine intervention in human affairs. Usually such a student tends to believe also in the Millennium. Another tendency is to link up a resurrection with the second advent, and some writers who studied other parts of scripture as well as prophecy held mortalist views. Whiston, for example, was a believer in conditional immortality. But this was not an invariable rule. Prophetic interpreters have held strange and curious beliefs that seemed to be incongruous with a reasonable attempt to interpret the chronological prophecies.
The object of this review is to show that the subject of prophecy was "in the air" during the time when Dr. Thomas was unearthing the Truth and then preaching it. How many of the works of the authors mentioned were known to him we are not aware. That some of them were is evident from references either to writers or to topics. But of greater importance is the fact that Dr. Thomas himself was a patient student of prophecy; many of his addresses touched upon prophecy and current events, and in this way attracted those who shared the interest which existed among many religious people at that time. It is interesting to note that on the first occasion he had to give a public address in connection with "the Reformation", being impressed into the service without much warning by Campbell himself, Dr. Thomas recalled reading about the four empires in Rollin's Ancient History, and for half an hour he spoke on Nebuchadnezzar's image. From the beginning of his literary work this interest in prophecy is found. The first issue of the Apostolic Advocate has an article on Rev. 17, and throughout the five volumes expositions of the Apocalypse appear. In fact Campbell made a cheap gibe at the Doctor's interest in the Apocalypse, evidently forgetting that it is the one book that contains a specific reference to a blessing on the one who "hears" the message. Throughout the volumes of the Herald also frequent expositions of particular, "signs" occur, but in articles generally in which the interpretation forms part of a discussion on current events. It has been affirmed by unfriendly critics that Eureka, Dr. Thomas's exposition of the Apocalypse, was largely indebted to Elliott. That the author of Eureka had read Elliott is evident; in his writings Dr. Thomas both commends and criticizes Elliott. But long before Elliott's Horae was published in 1844, in his magazines Dr. Thomas had considered most of the points which have been the subject of discussion by students. From the first issue of the Advocate it is evident that Dr. Thomas had a good knowledge of history. On several occasions he gives lists of important dates with summaries of the associated events. When discussing current affairs and tracing the light which prophecy throws upon events, he is seen to be well informed and accurate.
We may attempt briefly to assess the value of Dr. Thomas's contribution to Apocalyptic interpretation and to the exposition of other prophecies. Obviously every student in this field is the creature of his own day, and could not be otherwise. Writers contemporary with Napoleon gave him a larger place in their interpretations than later writers to whom passing time had given a clearer perspective. But one detail of interpretation powerfully influenced not only Dr. Thomas but all others who held the same view. There were many who expected that 1866-70 would see remarkable happenings in connection with the Papacy ; the appointed period of its ascendancy was then due to end. Some confirmation was rightly found for this view in the fact that there had been a preliminary fulfilment of a time period connected with the Papacy, also expected before it came to pass, at the French Revolution. But prophecy seemed to indicate that the period 1866-70 would not only see the loss of temporal power by the Papacy, but would witness also the Lord's appearing on the earth again. Although it appeared a reasonable view, it was mistaken -- not as concerns the fortunes of the Papacy, but in the then expected second advent. But this view influenced other interpretations. In 1848 only twenty years were to run to the expiring of the time, and in looking ahead in the interpretation of prophecy unfulfilled, everything had to be crushed within the twenty years. Actually much longer has been necessary for the fulfilment of many prophecies which were correctly interpreted, and the fulfilment of which was essential to produce the political situation which will bring the final clash of world forces divided into two camps.
Does the evident failure in the particular named so vitiate the Doctor's interpretation that its value is seriously impaired? We believe not. Dr. Thomas had a sound grasp of principles, and the study of his principles of interpretation enables, for example, the third part of Elpis Israel which is concerned with prophecy and the time of the end, to be read with both discernment and profit. Many things he expected have come to pass. Of outstanding importance may be mentioned Jewish restoration, Britain's connection with Jewish affairs and the near East, Britain's interest in Egypt: and the ascendancy of Russia and the part she will yet play are faithfully indicated. The events connected with the Papacy have been mentioned earlier.
When we turn from prophecy to the general exposition of Scripture very little reservation has been found necessary by the most careful Bible students. The most important proof may be found in the fact that a careful reader who checks Dr. Thomas's exposition by an examination of the Scriptures themselves, finds he has the key that opens up the Bible. Experience shows that such an one will continue through life reading the scriptures only to be more and more confirmed that he has rightly understood them. With this general experience may be contrasted the statement of Pastor Russell of Millennial Dawn that a man could understand the Bible only through reading his books that if he then read only the Bible he would lose the meaning but reading only Russell's writings he would retain the teaching of the Bible. Dr. Thomas's writings make his readers into Bible students, who while retaining a lively sense of indebtedness to him find confirmation in their own independent study.
How came Dr. Thomas to acquire such an understanding that has stood the test of a century? A few considerations will answer this question.
In a dialogue, in which one of the characters is only a thinly veiled representation of himself, and which in part is biographical, he writes: "As for my other friend of the Advocate, he has never been cursed (shall I say?) with the poison of a theological education. His early years were spent in a private boarding school in England, and from his seventeenth to his twenty-fifth year among physic bottles, lecture rooms, and dead bodies. He knew, and he counted it his happiness to know, nothing about the writings of popular divines ; nor did he ever trouble himself much about 'divinity' of any kind, till about 1832, three years and a half ago, when he obeyed the gospel of our Divine Master. Since that time, he has addicted himself to the incessant study of the Scriptures. Not having his mind perverted by human tradition, it just takes whatever impression the word may make upon it; like a blank sheet the impression of the printer's types. This is the true cause of the difference between them -- the teacher of the one is the word of God alone; the teacher of the other is compounded of popular divines and the word. You need not marvel then that they come to such different conclusions."
His educational and professional training combined to give him keen perception. His natural qualities of fearlessness and steadfastness led him to hold fast that which he perceived to be the Truth. Like Paul the apostle, he had one consuming purpose, to respond to God's commands. Such a strong motive is a unifying force in life, and it gave zest to the study of the Oracles, earnestness in preaching, endurance in opposition, courage in disappointment; it enabled him to put aside worldly gain, and to toil in bringing God's truth to others.
So fearless and outspoken a writer inevitably was charged with ambition for leadership. Dr. Thomas was not unaware of the charges : on one occasion he made the following reply: "A few brave hearts who understand, love, and practise the simplicity that is in Christ, are more desirable and efficient than a multitude who have a name to live while really dead in trespasses and sins. Our enterprise is not a pecuniary speculation, therefore numbers for lucrous purposes are not our aim. Our enterprise is to develop the truth formatively, that the truth as the incorruptible seed of God, may generate such a people for the Lord as he will not be ashamed of at his appearing. Our platform is this, and upon it there is no room for the old Adam and his traditions."
His whole aim in his work might be expressed in one of the last numbers of the Apostolic Advocate. "The work to be done now is not so much 'to convert the world' as to induce the people of God to come out of Babylon, and to prepare a people for the Lord to receive him at his appearing.... But how are 'the people of God', whether immersed or unimmersed professors of Christianity, to come out of Babylon? If this question were put to me, I should reply by returning to primitive institutions; by becoming obedient; and by obtaining the knowledge of salvation in the remission of sins. And, it may be asked, how is this to be done? To which I would reply, if you believe the gospel preached by the Apostles, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; observe the 'all things' enjoined in relation to the New Institution in the apostolic writings; deny yourselves of all ungodliness and worldly lusts; live soberly, and righteously, and religiously in this age; looking for the appearing of Messiah, who is our hope and our life. Let the people of God do this, and they are a prepared people; let such a sect be found on earth, and it will be the subject of the rejoicings and exultations of those who give glory to the Omnipotent because the Lamb's wife has prepared herself; and to whom it is given to be clothed in fine linen, pure and resplendent; which is the righteous actions of the saints. This is the reformation I have sought, but in no one instance have I found it in community as yet; but my confidence is that it will appear as the consummation of the present agitation in the religious world."