CHAPTER 20

 

“The Investigator”

 

Dr. Thomas did not long continue in connection with the paper. He had no relish for the associations which its publication brought him, and he readily transferred the paper to a Dr. White, who was a Campbellite. In 1842 he commenced, and confined himself exclusively to, a monthly magazine, styled the Investigator, which he started as the representative of the Advocate, about two and a half years after suspension of the latter. Concurrently with the conduct of the Investigator, Dr. Thomas gave himself to the public teaching of the word, so far as he understood it. In this, he embraced all opportunities that presented themselves, and these were frequent.

 

            Nearly opposite the house in which he lived, stood the meeting-house of the Universalists, to whom the Doctor was known. Their preacher was frequently absent from home, and on these occasions the congregation were in the habit of sending for him to occupy his place. He agreed to officiate on condition of being exempted from the preliminary worship. He did not recognise them as Christians, even on Campbellite premises, and refused to countenance their devotional proceedings. They consented to have his services on this footing, though he spoke in opposition to their principles, which included the belief that all men will be saved, and that there is no punishment for evil-doers beyond the present state of existence.

 

            The congregation never directly attacked his positions, but they indirectly assailed him by inviting a Mormon elder from Chicago to preach in their meeting-place. He discoursed on the fourth of Ephesians, and preached a very orthodox Campbellite discourse, proclaiming baptism for the remission of sins; but his Mormonism leaked out in a concluding remark that baptism was not valid unless administered by an official of the true church, and that the only true church was that with which he was connected, which, he informed them, had the prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, mentioned by Paul in his text.

 

            When he sat down, Dr. Thomas rose and remarked that the prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers of Paul’s day were able to prove their mission by the miracles they were enabled to perform, but that, in our day, none of the pretenders to the successorship of the apostles were able to give any proof of the validity of their professions. He remarked that, till such evidence was forthcoming the audience that had listened to the statement of the Mormon elder ought to withhold their credence to the high claim he had put forth in respect to the officials of the sect to which he belonged.

 

            Next day, certain of the Universalists called on the Doctor, and urged him to debate the question with the Mormon elder, who, they said, was anxious to hold the discussion. The Doctor agreed to meet him, and arrangements were made for the discussion to take place two days afterwards. During the short interval, Dr. Thomas supplied himself with a copy of the book of Mormon, from which he acquired a knowledge of their system. Thus armed, he went into the debate, on behalf of the truth, against the assumptions of Mormonism.

 

            The debate lasted two days, at the end of which the Mormon elder became exceedingly abusive, denouncing the Doctor as an infidel, a heathen, and a devil. After this demonstration, the Doctor made his final address to the audience, and declined any further dealings with his antagonist. The latter at once apologised, and concluded by privately saying that he would be much obliged to “brother Thomas” if he would make a collection for him, as he was out of funds. The Doctor told the people the request that had been made, and remarked that, on the express understanding that he was no brother of the Mormon’s, he had no objection to say that, if they were disposed to give the Mormon anything, they could do so on their own responsibility. The hat was passed around, and the subscription, expressive of the congregation’s sense of the Mormon elder’s services, amounted to three shillings and sixpence and an old button. The number of people present would be about 500.

 

            Dr. Thomas had published the tenth number of the Investigator, when it became necessary for him to visit Virginia, to collect some 300 dollars that were owing to him on the farm at Amelia. To enable him to do this, he borrowed an additional sum of forty dollars of the man who had advanced the money for the press, whereby he became indebted to him to the amount of 380 dollars. Having left his affairs at St. Charles in the hands of an agent, he started with his wife and daughter on a return to Virginia, intending to come back to St. Charles when the money was collected. On arriving at Cincinnati, he confided his wife and daughter to the care of Major Gano, and went on to Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania.

 

            Here he met Mr. Walter Scott. He stayed with him for a day, and had a good deal of conversation about the troubles of the past. Mr. Scott was then editing a paper called the Protestant Unionist, the object of which was to advocate the union of all Protestant sects, on Campbellite principles. In speaking of Alexander Campbell, he said, “Brother Thomas, you have no idea what trouble I have had to get along with that man. He is a most unfair man. When he was publishing the Christian Baptist, I used to write letters to him on the ancient gospel and order of things, and my remarks he would take and throw into the form of essays, and, without acknowledgment, publish them over his own signature, and thus he would obtain credit to originality to which he was not entitled. I used to tell him, in talking with him upon the course he pursued towards you, that it was most unjust, and that he acted more like a man who sought your destruction than your redemption.”

 

            From Pittsburg, the Doctor went to Fredericsburgh, in Virginia, where he arrived on Sunday morning. As there was a Campbellite meeting-house, he went direct to the place, and took his seat about a third of the way from the door. He instantly became an object of scrutiny and whisperings, till one came and asked him if his name was not Thomas? On being informed that it was, he told the Doctor he was very glad to see him, and invited him to come forward. The Doctor afterwards learnt that, though he had been personally known to almost the whole congregation, no one knew him again, from the change that had taken place in his features since he last appeared before them. The hard work of practical farm life, and the exposure to which he had been subject, had furrowed his face, and given him an appearance of age.

 

            When it was known that Dr. Thomas was present, the question was agitated whether he should be invited to speak. Some were for, others against the proposal. One man named parish, who afterwards went to California, to wash the gold sands for filthy lucre’s sake, was particularly fervid in his opposition. However, on a vote being taken, a majority decided that he should be invited to speak. He did so, and the result was a division of the meeting, which was attributed to his evil influence.

 

            From Fredericsburg, the Doctor went to Richmond, where he met with a cordial reception from old friends. On its becoming known that he had returned, he received invitations to speak in different parts of Eastern Virginia, and placed himself at the service of all who preferred truth to mere denominational interest. In keeping his appointments, he found that things had changed in Virginia, and that his enemies had greatly multiplied. This was not encouraging, but it did not deter him from plainly stating what he conceived to be the teaching of the word of God. He continued to pursue this course wherever he went. He was invited to take up his residence at Richmond, and offered the proprietorship of a farm in another county, eighty miles south-west of Richmond, as a “material guarantee.” He also received the offer of a farm in another direction, if he would settle there; but his desire to maintain independence in all religious matters was still predominant, and he declined both offers, leaving his future course open, to be determined by events.

 

            The 300 dollars, in quest of which he had come to Virginia, proved to be unattainable, the parties owing it being unable to pay, and he determined to return to Illinois. Previous to his departure, a brother, who was building a large house, told him the house would be too large for his own immediate necessities, and that if he, on any future occasion, thought of returning to Virginia, he would be welcome to both board and lodging for himself and family, in his house, for any length of time he might please to stay. The Doctor promised to take the proposal into consideration.

 

            On his journey westward, the Doctor called at Louisville, Kentucky. Here he made up his mind to leave Illinois, and sent word to his agent to sell his farm, stock, and furniture, and send the proceeds to him. On these instructions becoming known, the man to whom he owed 380 dollars, levied an attachment on the farm for his money, and had it knocked down to himself for the sum owing, although it had cost the Doctor 2,000 dollars, or eight times the amount! He would have lost the entire property, if it had not been for a law of Illinois that the debtor, in such a case, shall have a year to redeem the property, but if not redeemed within that time, the sale shall be recorded. The Doctor raised the sum of 400 dollars, and sent the money to his agent to redeem the farm. Upon this, a worse hitch than all occurred. The agent sold the farm for something like its value, and, having paid off the detaining creditor, absconded with the balance of the money and the 400 dollars besides. On hearing of it, Dr. Thomas wrote at once to the bank at New York, on which the cheque was drawn, instructing them not to cash it; but he received an answer to the effect that the cheque had been cashed the day before the arrival of his letter, and that they had no further control over it. Thus the Doctor was in the unenviable position of not possessing five dollars in the world, with a debt of 400 dollars hanging over him.

 

            How the financial trouble ended is not recorded, but from the Doctor’s character it may be assumed the debt was paid, whatever self-sacrifice it may have involved.

 

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