A Charge of Falsehood
While Dr. Thomas was travelling through Britain, an attempt was made to arrest his growing influence, by charge of falsehood. Its promoters were Mr. Wallis, of Nottingham, editor of the British Millennial Harbinger, and Mr. King, of London, editor of the Advocate. It is not alleged that they united in a deliberate slander; but they caught at circumstances which did not justify their charge against the Doctor’s integrity, although superficially admitting of an unfavourable construction. They charged Doctor Thomas with obtaining the fellowship of the London congregation by misrepresentation, and with having denied the publication of his Confession and Abjuration.
Shortly after his arrival in London, Doctor Thomas called upon Mr. John Black, elder or pastor of a Campbellite congregation, meeting at Elstree Street, Camden Town, and delivered to him a letter of recommendation from a Campbellite friend in New York. His reception was friendly. A few days afterwards, however, he was requested to meet Mr. Black and Mr. King, as “they deemed some conversation requisite” before inviting him to take part in their fellowship. At the interview, he was asked “whether, when in the States, he refused to fellowship those Christians who had not been baptised while possessing the opinions which he held?” To this the Doctor answered in the negative, which was the fact, for he had not, at that time, arrived at the conviction he afterwards reached, that duty required separation at the breaking of bread from all who had not been immersed upon a faith in the hope of Israel. He was then asked if he had ever been excommunicated, to which he answered that he had not; but it was not for the want of the will to do so on the part of Mr. Campbell and his friends. His letters of commendation from known Campbellites were then produced, with the result that he was invited to meet with them, and to speak on certain Sunday evenings, which he did. This result, in the face of the pronounced antipathy of Mr. Wallis and Mr. Campbell, the latter of whom had been on a visit to Britain a few months before, was aided by a coolness between London and Nottingham, arising out of circumstances connected with Mr. Campbell’s visit, which facilitated London’s acceptance of the Doctor, who otherwise would doubtless have been rejected.
In a subsequent letter of explanation, Mr. King said:
“We could not reject Dr. Thomas without giving a reason for so doing—and had it not been for the remarks on the cover of the Harbinger, we never should have thought of so doing. We therefore called the Doctor to a private meeting, and inquired whether he, when in the States, refused to fellowship those Christians who had not been baptised while possessing those opinions which he held? His reply was that such was not the case. We told him that it was not our intention to permit him to be inconsistent in London, and that if he refused our brethren in the States, we should not receive him here for the sake of proclaiming his views. He assured us, that so far from having refused them, he was glad to receive them wherever they would accept him, and that, on his way to England, the disciples at New York had granted him their meeting-house. He brought with him letters of recommendation from brethren known by us. Under these circumstances, we could find no ground for rejecting him, and therefore he was invited with us on the two last Lord’s days. We also informed him that we should be glad to hear him speak in the evenings, if he would proclaim the gospel, and not more than incidentally introduce his favourite topic. He has spoken twice, and, to say the least, he is well worth hearing.”
Shortly afterwards, Mr. Wallis made the following declaration in the British Millennial Harbinger (October, 1848): “We affirm, on the testimony of The Herald of the Future Age, that Mr. John Thomas, in the month of March, 1847, publicly abjured not only all connection with the Reformation, but also all that he had learnt whilst in connection with its churches; asserting that the leading men of the Reformation held damnable heresy; were ignorant of the true hope of the Gospel, and, consequently, blind leaders of the blind. Now, we have no right to question or to interfere with this abjuration—regarding it as emanating from the firm conviction of the confessor’s mind; but still the position occupied by John Thomas ought to be known to all the disciples; and that his object in visiting this country, is not to build-up and enlarge the churches already planted, but to proselyte as many members out of them to his own spirit and theory as he possibly can, and that, too, without any compromise whatever.”
The London Campbellites on reading this, applied to Mr. Wallis, who furnished them with a copy of the Doctor’s “Confession and Abjuration”; upon obtaining which, they wrote to Dr. Thomas as follows: -
“71, High Street, Camden Town, November 8th, 1848.
“Dear Brother Thomas, —No. 4, vol.3., of the Herald of the Future Age, containing your ‘Confession and Abjuration,’ was presented to a meeting of the London Church last Monday evening. The meeting was entirely of opinion that the paper contains the very abjuration of the brethren in the United States which you most positively denied ever having made. It appears to them to be a duty to order this note to be sent immediately to you, expressing their surprise and sorrow at finding such a matter in print, and to give you an opportunity to explain should you desire. In the absence of any explanation, they will feel it their duty to announce that your fellowship with them was obtained by misrepresentations.”
“Wishing you every present and future good, in the deepest sorrow on account of the above, I remain, yours, in the hope of immortality,
Dr. Thomas replied to this, but unfortunately mislaid the copy which he made of his letter. Consequently, the reply is not extant. The substance is on record, however. The Doctor never did deny the confession and abjuration. He denied having refused the fellowship of the Campbellites in America, which was in accordance with fact, for wherever they received him, he met with them, not having yet reached the conviction which afterwards led him to separate from all who did not understand, believe, and obey the hope of Israel. The confession and abjuration had reference to principles and transactions, not to persons and communities, though, doubtless, enunciating principles which, in their ultimate application, affected persons and communities.
As the Doctor says in his account of the matter (Herald of the Kingdom, vol. 1, p. 64):
“We did not abjure ‘churches,’ but a certain ‘transaction,’ ‘mistakes,’ errors of compromise, the dogma of the immortality of the soul, and ‘other things’ of a kindred nature. After giving six reasons for regarding our immersion by Mr. Walter Scott, in 1833, as ‘no better than a Jewish ablution,’ as Mr. A. Campbell styles an invalid immersion, we add ‘these, we consider, are sufficient reasons why we should abjure the whole transaction’—a transaction between Mr. Scott and ourselves before we knew anything at all about ‘Mr. Campbell and his associates,’ or their churches.”
“Again, the word abjuration occurs in the following connection: ‘Had we been properly instructed, we should not now have to make this confession and abjuration of our mistakes.’ In the October number of the British Harbinger for 1848, Mr. Wallis accuses us of especially ‘asserting that the leading men of the Reformation held damnable heresy.’ This is a perversion of our words. We said nothing about ‘the leading men of the Reformation’; we wrote in general terms, our words being as applicable to the leading men of all denominations, and to all who held the heresy, as to ourselves on the supposition of our having also once entertained it. Our words are: ‘We do not remember that we ever taught the existence of an immortal soul in corruptible man, and the translation thereof to heaven or hell at the instant of death; if we have, so much the worse: no man can hold this dogma and acceptably believe the gospel of the kingdom of God and His Christ: we abjure IT as a ‘damnable heresy.’ In the next paragraph we say ‘there may be other things, errors, which have escaped our recollection; whatever they be, &c., we abjure them all.’ Then, referring to the treaty of peace and amity between Mr. Campbell and ourselves at Paineville, in 1838, in which so long as we were not misrepresented, we consented to hold certain inferences from a great truth in abeyance, because of the prejudices the publication of them was supposed to create against what we then all considered ‘the ancient gospel’: referring to this, we say ‘We erred in holding in abeyance the most trivial inference from the truth on any pretence whatever; we abjure all errors of this kind,’ &c. Then, lastly, we finish our ‘confession and abjuration’ of the things confessed by saying, ‘Had our opponents let us alone, &c., we might have been teaching the same fables, which, however, would have deprived us of the pleasure of confessing our errors and mistakes, and of publicly renouncing and bidding them adieu.’ . . .”
“The public renunciation and adieu are the ‘errors and mistakes’ confessed; for these, and not ‘them and their leaders’ are the antecedent to ‘them.’ Our ‘pleasure’ consists in renouncing and bidding our errors and mistakes adieu; our sorrow, in having to turn from men who, like Messrs. Campbell and Wallis and their associates, prefer darkness to light, and will not come to the light lest it should be discovered that their deeds are not wrought in God. But we have not altogether turned from and renounced them even yet. Our duty is to endeavour to open their blind eyes that they may see the truth of the gospel of the kingdom; at all events, so to deal with them, that by enlightening the people, their power and influence for evil may be restrained, if not entirely destroyed.”
The malice of the London charge lay in making the Doctor’s denial of disfellowshipping Campbellites apply to the publication of the “Confession and Abjuration,” which, though related to the same matter, was not the same thing. It is easy to understand that the Campbellites would feel hurt on discovering that Dr. Thomas, whom they had fellowshipped, held principles which constructively put them in a position of unjustified persons; and it is not altogether difficult to see how they should feel that their fellowship had been conceded on a misunderstanding; but to lay this misunderstanding at the door of “misrepresentation” on the part of Dr. Thomas, and to charge him with falsehood, was a cruel mistake. The Doctor’s missing answer called forth the following reply: -
London, ‘December 6th, 1848.
“Dr. J. Thomas. —Dear Sir, —Yours of November 22nd, 1848, was presented to the church on the 28th of the same month, and I am requested to say to you as follows”: -
“1st. –That in the examination of your abjuration, the church here did not (as you suppose) confound persons with opinions. They fully understood your words in the lines pointed out to in your letter as referring to errors and mistakes, and not to persons.”
“2nd. —They have considered you to have abjured the brethren in the united States; and here also, by pointing to their position as being one which would forbid any Christian to fellowship them. For instance, many of our churches in this country unanimously hold the ‘existence of an immortal soul in corruptible man’; nearly every church has a large number of its members of the same opinion. You say, ‘no man can hold this dogma and acceptably believe the gospel’; you also abjure it as a ‘damnable heresy’; ergo, most, if not all, of the churches with which we stand connected, do not believe the gospel acceptably; and if not acceptably, are unbelievers; and holding a ‘damnable heresy’ are damnably heretics. Now, as no Christian may fellowship heretics and unbelievers, the brethren in this country, and those of similar character wherever existing, are abjured by you. Again: ‘men are saved by the hope; being ignorant in toto of that hope, he (Dr. J. Thomas) was not saved by it, and while he writes this, must be in his sins.’ You teach that as you were with respect to ‘the hope,’ our churches now are—they receive not what you call ‘the hope.’ You call the system into which you were baptised an ‘erroneous one’; they were baptised into, and remain in the same system, therefore are yet in their sins. You claim to be a Christian, and as Christians cannot fellowship men while in their sins, you thus abjure the churches connected with us.”
“Seen and approved by a meeting held November 28th, 1848, and signed for them.
To this Dr. Thomas made the following rejoinder: -
“Newark, Nottinghamshire, December 9th, 1848.
“Dear Friends, —Yours dated December 6th, 1848, has come to hand today. By it I am able now to comprehend that you have construed what you think I ought to do with my views on the truth, on the ground which you consider the principles stated place persons holding the traditions quoted, into a non-fellowshipping of those you call your brethren (by eminence) in the United States. This, then, is your indictment, that I have constructively rejected the brethren of the reformation in America, which you consider equivalent to an actual excision of myself from the churches there, or them from my fellowship, and consequently of myself from similar churches in England.”
“But I object to your constructions; first, because you have no right to put constructions upon any one’s principles, save your own; and, second, because your constructions are not in harmony with facts.”
“1. —You have no right to construe for me, neither have you the ability till you are made intelligent upon the subject of my views of fellowship. I claim the sole right of construing my own sentiments, and when I shall have construed and published them to the world in their application, it will be high time for you to express your approval or rejection of them and their author. You have your views of fellowship; they may or may not be mine; I discuss them not. My duty is to state and advocate what I believe to be God’s truth according to the manner which appears to me (not you) most scriptural. It is for me to state, illustrate, and prove principles, and to interpret the word; and to leave men’s consciences to make the application—it is not for me to adjudge them to ecclesiastical pains and penalties. * I have stated in my writings that ‘the immortality of the soul, as taught in dogmatic theology,’ is the Hymenean and Philetan heresy; and I have shown from Paul’s words that it is in his estimation a ‘damnable heresy.’ # The arguments you have not seen; yet you judge. Is this wisdom? I have received the conclusion to which Paul leads me. Did he tell the orthodox Corinthians to cast their heterodox friends out of their synagogue, or to non-fellowship them? No; and further than this, he still fraternised with the church, although they gave him so much annoyance on this very subject. His object was to enlighten and reclaim, not to cut off, and treat as enemies those whom this cancer-eating sentiment led to the denial of the resurrection of the dead, and by implication, the resurrection of Jesus himself, and the subversion of the doctrine of the kingdom of God.”
“Your logic does not appear to me to keep pace with your zeal. A man may hold ‘a damnable heresy,’ and not, therefore, be ‘a damnable heretic.’ Simon Magus held the ‘damnable heresy’ that the gift or power of bestowing the Spirit could be purchased for money; but he was not finally condemned, inasmuch as scope was afforded him for repentance and forgiveness. This was not the case with others. If you hold ‘a damnable heresy,’ I pray God that the light of knowledge may find an entrance into your understandings, that you may recover before you make shipwreck of faith.”
“You say that your churches do not receive what I call ‘the hope.’ Very well. Now, suppose it should turn out that what I demonstrate is indeed ‘the hope of the calling’ (which Platonism, new or old is not)—and you admit that ‘we are saved by the hope’—what becomes of you and your churches? But you are unacquainted with what I call ‘the hope’; for I call not one item of itself ‘the hope’; why, then, jump to conclusions and constructions at present? You may regret it some day (as others here have already) when your logic, peradventure, may be directed by a more scriptural and experienced zeal.”
“But there are a great many in ‘your churches’ (if I guess them rightly) who reject the immortality of the soul as mere heathenism. Why do you not construe conclusions for them? Are not Newark, Lincoln, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, &c., some of your churches? There are many of this class among them; why do you not undertake for them? Why so solicitous to construe conclusions and officiously to apply them for me? I really do not feel at all indebted to you for intermeddling. If you do not wish anything to do with me, say so and have done with it. I believe I am your debtor for nothing but a little past civility. On two occasions, at some inconvenience and a trifling expense, I did the best I could to enlighten you. Much satisfaction was expressed by some. To this labour of love I bid you welcome. But a change hath come o’er the spirit of your dream since Mr. Wallis’s visit to London, or that of your delegate to Glasgow. If you think your ecclesiastical reputation hath been defiled by the little politeness of the past, then make your repentance known as far and wide as you please, and upon any ground you choose, actual or constructive. I shall regret your shutting yourselves out from what many of your brethren freely and candidly admit is the irrefutable truth of God. But you must do as you please. The loss will be yours, not mine.”
* “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart: and then shall every man have praise of God” (1 Cor. 4:5).
# Haireseis apoleias, opinions of destruction, or destructive opinions.
“Without comparing you to Judas, I would enquire, Was not he in his sins when Jesus broke the loaf with him as well as the rest of the twelve? This will be a sufficient quid for your quo, that I necessarily abjure churches, because there are those among them who on my principles are in their sins.”
“2. —I object to your constructions because they are not according to fact. There are many in American reform-churches, in which I am well received, who believe in the Platonic dogma of the ‘immortality of the soul.’ We have learned however, the important lesson of bearing and forbearing with one another, in hope that all will come to see the real truth, on which side soever it may be, before it becomes too late. But, your dogma is that I ought to reject them, and they me; we, however, do not think so. We regard such a spirit as the one actuating you as both intolerant and proscriptive, and well calculated to place the person who responds to it in the situation neither to advance the truth nor to benefit his contemporaries. It is the dark spirit of popery, and characteristic of all sects whose fear of God is taught by the precepts and commands of men.”
“Trusting that whatever you may do may be to the glory of God and the furtherance of the truth, and not to the gratification of personal pique, and leaving you, henceforth, to work out your own conclusions as you may deem most expedient, but declining any further correspondence in the case, I subscribe myself, dear friends,
Two years afterwards, just as the Doctor was about to leave England, it transpired, in the pages of the Harbinger, that the London Campbellites, on the receipt of the foregoing letter, placed the following minute on record:
“Having called upon John Thomas to explain his abjuration of the churches of the reformation—(of the existence of which fact we had no idea when we received him into the church)—but not obtaining anything more satisfactory from him than that he held fellowship with all the disciples who would receive him on the same principle that the Lord did Judas! And perceiving that with his state of mind he could only desire connection with the brethren in England for the purpose of creating separations and confusion among them, the church in London, at a large assembly, with only two objectors in it, passed the following resolution”: -
“Resolved—That as we, the disciples of Christ, are commanded to mark those who cause divisions, and to avoid them; and as John Thomas teaches, by direct implication, that all who are in our position are yet in their sins, unless baptised into what he calls the hope of Israel, we must avoid him, except he has renounced, or until he does renounce, his printed abjuration against our brethren in the Lord.”
John Black, Pastor.
David King, Preacher of the Gospel.”
On this minute Dr. Thomas made the following remarks:
“What was our surprise to find that after a dormancy of one year and three-fourths, Messrs. Black and King reappeared against us as large as life. What could have been the cause of this revival of their malevolence? We answer, that Mr. Wallis was not satisfied with what they had done . . . The extraordinary impression made by Elpis Israel, * and our 250 addresses on reformers and others, was painfully distressing to his unhallowed heart. He desired therefore to shoot another arrow from his bow in the hope of wounding us to death. This arrow he drew from the Ellstree quiver, and dipped in the poison of his own malevolence. But like Paul in Malta, we shake off with dignified unconcern this power of the enemy, as at this day. . “
“As to Mr. Black’s declaration that we went to England for the purpose of creating separations and confusion among their churches, it is utterly false. The congregations in Edinburgh and Glasgow can testify to the contrary of this. That difficulties might possibly ensue was not improbable; for when was ‘the sure word of prophecy’ ever caused to shine into a dark place without either dispelling the darkness, or being itself expelled? These results are never accomplished without a struggle. Luther advocated justification by faith without the works of
* See chapters 35 and 37. These remarks are given here to complete the record of the incident to which they refer.
Romanism. This was scriptural ground; but look at ‘the separations and confusion’ that followed! Who was to blame for these; was Luther or the truth? Or should Luther have suppressed the truth for fear of what should happen? By no means. Now we went to Britain to call men’s attention to ‘the gospel of the kingdom.’ In this work we were no respecter of persons. We were invited to speak to the Ellstreams and to worship at their house. We accepted the invitation, and spoke much to the satisfaction of those who heard us. We said nothing about fellowship or re-immersion. We produced no separation nor confusion there; and but for Messrs. Wallis, Black and King, there would have been no trouble there at all. But the wicked flee when no man pursueth. So it was with them. Ignorance and fear possessed them; and not knowing what might come to pass, they raised a light-darkening cloud of dust; and, shaded by its obscuration, sought protection within the barred doors of their conventicle! And there we propose to leave them till doomsday.”
The matters recorded in this and the following chapters are placed before the reader as a necessary exculpation of the Doctor’s character from charges industriously circulated against him, which, with a seeming foundation, have no foundation in truth. They originated in the peculiarity of the situation. Emerging from Campbellism, but not yet disentangled from it, Dr. Thomas clung to an old connection, in the hope of being able to lead the Campbellites forward on the path of enlightenment which he had entered. The Campbellites, on the other hand, rejecting his principles, were naturally stung at the facility this connection gave him for the dissemination of principles subversive of their claims. This led to mutual recriminations, which were probably carried too far on both sides. The nature of the time must be taken into account if a just view of the dispute is to be gained.
Berean Home Page