The Man and His Work
This book has to do with an important religious problem. The people known as the Christadelphians contend that the popular theologies of the day are destitute of the principles revealed in the Bible, on which they profess to be based; and, that the things the Christadelphians believe are the elements of the Christian faith, as originally delivered by the apostles. This contention they maintain with a force of argument that opponents find it difficult to meet, falling back on the abstract improbability of a claim which implies ignorance of Bible teaching on the part of man specially consecrated to the work of Bible study. “How is it”, say they in effect, “that this has not been found out before? How is it that Dr. Thomas should find it out and nobody else?”
The present work indirectly proposes an answer to this question, at all events, to the second part of it. It proposes to show how the truth has been found, without dealing with the question of why so many have not found it. It proposes to do this by a narrative, which cannot fail to be especially interesting to those who have endorsed Christadelphian conclusions; and may not be uninstructive to those who are still content with an inherited but unexamined faith.
The history is a remarkable one. It is not that of a man starting out with a crotchet, or a theory, or on an enterprise, to which he applies the energies of a life-time. It is that of a mind circumstantially driven into a path of research which he was not seeking, and impelled forward in it by a series of unwelcome incidents and experiences, which imposed on him the acquisition of knowledge not, in the first instance, sought for, and conclusions as unexpected as they were startling and disastrous to popularity. The narrative shows a clear intellect, and an inflexible conscience arriving at convictions unpalatable to coadjutors, and advocating them with a recklessness of consequences which unsuited him for sectarian schemes.
This was a slow and unpremeditated result. It came about as the effect of a providential chain of circumstances, without plan or anticipation on the part of the man himself. Prominent among them was Dr. Thomas’s contact with the American Reformation, known among non-reformationists as “Campbellism”, on account of the leading part taken in the movement by Mr. Alexander Campbell. Not regarding it in the light of true reformation, the writer of this biography will speak of it under its current designation; not out of disrespect, but merely as a distinctive and appropriate appellation. Disrespect will not be the sentiment entertained by a believer of the truth towards a system of things which, though not the truth itself, led up to the development of the truth. Though not a true reformation, it was a large step toward it. This generation is undoubtedly indebted to it for the reformation since developed by the instrumentality of Dr. Thomas. But for Alexander Campbell, the human probability is there would have been no John Thomas; and, so far as we can see, but for John Thomas, those who now rejoice in the truth, would still have been sitting, like the rest of the world, in “darkness and the shadow of death.”
The connection between Campbellism and the career that led Dr. Thomas to the discovery of the truth, accounts for the prominence of the former in this narrative. That will not be regretted by those who desire to see the chain of circumstances that led the Doctor to the result for which Campbellism paved the way. The interesting and instructive story of the truth’s revival cannot be told without a recital of the history of Campbellism, in so far as it bore upon the career of the man through whom that revival was effected—a man at first welcomed by the leaders of Campbellism as a “chosen vessel”, but soon bitterly discarded and maligned.
Dr. Thomas was naturally qualified for his great work. His intellect was a fine balance between perception and reflection, adapting him for accurate observation and reasoning, while a scientific education increased those powers. On the other hand, his independence and fidelity to conviction, fitted him to advocate the results of study without compromise. Yet, left to himself, those qualifications must have taken a different direction. It required the circumstances to which he was subjected to bring him into the path of Biblical discovery. This discovery was not a result upon which he had set his mind. He had no idea that discovery in this department was possible. He supposed theology was as much a settled branch of knowledge as any other, and as a young man, he took no special interest in it. “Our pursuits”, he says, “were purely medico-chirurgical. We went to meeting or to ‘church’ as regularly as the day of worship came, and, for two years, we attended at the French Protestant Church, near the Bank of England; not, however, for the theology, but for improvement in the French tongue. Our mind was preoccupied with the world and our profession. ‘Divinity speculations’, as we would have termed them then, we turned over to those whose ‘call’ was more ‘divine’ than our own: we attended to the matters of fact of the passing day. In those years, our literary contributions were solely to the London Lancet; such as reports of cases, and articles on medical reform.”
The pressure of circumstances alone forced him into a religious path. His theological career was emphatically a providential development. He neither designed nor inclined it. It was the result of special circumstances, operating upon his peculiarly constituted mind. It is this fact that gives the narrative its highest interest, and imparts to the conclusions he arrived at, a greater value than even upon the same evidence they could have commanded, had they been espoused at second hand.
The following narrative is of equal authenticity with an autobiography, being founded on information imparted to the writer by the Doctor himself, or drawn from the periodicals published by him; all of which the writer has been fortunate enough to procure, with the single exception of the Investigator, * published about the year 1844. In most of these periodicals, Dr. Thomas was compelled by the exigencies of the situation to make personal explanations, which place at our disposal many valuable auto-biographical sketches, of which we have thought it well to give the reader benefit in the Doctor’s own words.
* If the statement in the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, Vol. 1, No. 1, p.1, that six volumes of the Apostolic Advocate were published is correct, then we have not seen the 6th vol. of that periodical. But we think this is a mistake. Internal evidence seems to show there were but five vols. of the Advocate. In that case, there may have been two vols. of the Investigator, though the evidence points to one only. —R.R.
Berean Home Page