The Truth in Glasgow
While in Glasgow, Dr. Thomas obtained a large hearing from the public. A friend, with whom he had become acquainted by letter, engaged an empty chapel in Blackfriars for a week, and advertised a lecture each night in the week and three on the Sunday. The first meeting numbered about 200 auditors. The second was better. As the meetings went on, the attendance increased. At the close of one of the meetings, a Campbellite brother rose and said it was a pity such interesting and important lectures should not be heard by the citizens of Glasgow. He proposed the formation of a committee to advertise the lectures thoroughly. Accordingly, a committee of fourteen was organised, who distributed bills and placards throughout the city. The effect was manifest in the cramming of the chapel. It was then resolved to engage the City Hall, which holds from five to six thousand people. The Doctor lectured four times in the City Hall, and each time the place was crowded. On the last night, multitudes could not obtain admission. The interest was due to the troubled state of Europe, on which the Doctor largely descanted in the light of prophecy, pointing out the near approach of the kingdom of God, to cast down thrones and regenerate the world. At the close of the lectures, arrangements were made by a number of interested gentlemen to hod a soiree, twelve days afterwards, as a public acknowledgement of their obligation to Dr. Thomas for the enlightenment they had received.
In the interval, the Doctor, by invitation, visited Paisley, some eight miles distant. Here he was cordially received by the Scotch Baptists, who accepted some part of Mr. Campbell’s teaching but refused to be identified with “the Reformation.” These opened for him a door of utterance, and one of them, a Mr. Coats, a local thread manufacturer, of wealth and standing, entertained him in princely style. During his stay with Mr. Coats, he was taken to the thread factory of his host to see the ingenious machinery, and the men who spent their time tending a set of bobbins day after day for a life time. His comment on what he saw indicates something of his individuality. “O, we had rather not be than live to be an automaton such as this. But what are men to do?” The sight brought to his mind the promise of the time when “He will fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich empty away.”
Returning from Paisley to Glasgow, Dr. Thomas attended the soiree before referred to, on the 12th October, 1848. The interest of this lies in the fact that it was the means of originating Elpis Israel, the publication of which was the primary cause of the development of the truth in Britain. Mr. Turner, one of the city magistrates, occupied the chair, and about 250 persons were present. The evening was occupied with speeches, music, and refreshments, in the Scotch style.
The meeting continued till eleven. At that hour, as the company were about to dismiss, a gentleman rose and remarked that he did not think Dr. Thomas had treated, or rather was about to treat them well. He had announced that he was to leave Glasgow in the morning, and that it was uncertain if he should ever visit them again. He thought the Doctor’s friends had a right to complain. He had roused in their minds an interest in subjects of more magnitude and importance than all others, and was now about to leave them with no other memorials than treacherous and fading memories could afford. Was it not possible for him to defer his return to America, and to publish the matter of his lectures in a book, that his friends and the public might possess it in a tangible and permanent form?
This seemed to be responded to by many present. “Though not famed,” says Dr. Thomas, “for what pious sinners call ‘charity,’ our phrenology, say cranioscopists, is illustrated by ‘Benevolence, 6 on a scale of 7.’ We thought it a pity to leave the demand for knowledge of the truth unsatisfied, seeing that a craving after it by men and women is so rare a thing. We replied, therefore, to the meeting that ‘when we left the United States, our intention was to return in the autumn. We had made no provision for a longer stay, and the probability was that our affairs would suffer in consequence. That, however, was a matter of secondary importance when it became apparent that the truth could be subserved by the sacrifice. We were glad to witness so great and abiding an interest in our labours, and could not, therefore, find it in our heart to refuse their request. For their gratification, then, we would prolong our stay in Britain. When we had got through our appointments at Edinburgh and Lincoln, we would return to London; and if they would busy themselves in obtaining subscribers for the work, we would employ our time during the winter in preparing it.’ This seemed to meet the approbation of the meeting, and with this understanding we parted.”
The outcome of this request was the production of Elpis Israel (see Chapter 37).
The decision of Dr. Thomas to prolong his stay in Britain was confirmed by other invitations to speak, consequent on his attendance at the Campbellite convention in Glasgow. Delegates from other places, who had only heard of him as an “infidel,” “factionist,” and a “wicked madman,” were pleased to find he was a courteous, Scripture-loving gentleman, whom it was a pleasure to listen to. He received invitations to visit other places, including Edinburgh. To this place he went, after a recreative visit to the west of Scotland. His reception was at first rather cold; but in the course of ten lectures, delivered in the Waterloo Assembly Rooms, the iciness of many of his Campbellite hearers was thawed, and friendship took the place of hostility, as indicated in the following epistle from a naval officer, who was a member of the South Bridge Campbellite congregation:
“Edinburgh, November 9th, 1848.
“Dear Sir and Brother, —Myself and—are anxious to express to you the interest we feel in your welfare and progress. We had our share of the unfavourable impression produced by certain rumours, and we are thankful we were not suffered to listen to the voice of the ‘accuser of our brethren,’ who is at the bottom of all mischief. Having seen and heard for ourselves, we can now bid you ‘God speed,’ and hope you will not be discouraged, either by the craft of designing men, or the mistakes and shortsight of ignorant ones; but pursue steadily the path you have marked out for yourself, ‘despising the shame,’ and ‘overcoming evil with good,’ so that when your course is finished you may say with Paul, ‘I have kept the faith’.”
“We will esteem it a favour if you will accept a pencil case as a memorial of your visit here, and specially of our personal regard and esteem. I wish I had been so circumstanced that I could have exercised a greater degree of hospitality towards you. —joins with me in wishing you health, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; while for myself, I remain your brother in the faith and hope of the gospel.
In recording his visit to Edinburgh, Dr. Thomas says,
“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 sur 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 extemporised as delivered. There was no help for it, seeing that 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 broken us down completely, and would have absorbed more time than our friends allowed us.”
At the close of Dr. Thomas’ lectures, a farewell soiree was held, at which, somewhat to the Doctor’s annoyance, he was publicly presented with a contribution to his travelling expenses. At the same meeting a committee of fourteen was formed to procure subscribers to Elpis Israel. The meeting concluded with a vote of thanks to the Doctor for the instruction and edification they had received from his lectures.
From Edinburgh, Dr. Thomas proceeded to London, calling on the way for a week at Harrogate, where he stayed with the sisters Carter, and spoke once or twice to private collections of friends. His main business was now the writing of Elpis Israel; but as a preparation for this, rest was needed. The Doctor thus speaks of the subject in the Herald of the Kingdom, 2, p. 227:
“Having completed a tour of nearly five months, I again found myself in London, with health considerably impaired from the fatigue I had undergone. (He suffered from an affection of the throat, almost losing his voice at times.) Recuperation was therefore the first thing to be attended to. Rest of mind, and a little medicine (for however professional it may be to prescribe much, I have a very great aversion to the conversion of my own interior into a receptacle for the quantities usually exhibited on the placebo-principle) to restore the cerebro-organic equilibrium of the system, effected this in two or three weeks; so that by the beginning of the new year I was enabled to commence the composition of Elpis Israel. I did not allow the grass to grow; but worked while it was called today, and much of the night also. For six weeks the world without was a mere blank, except through a daily perusal of the London Times; for during that period I had no use for hat, boots, or shoes, oscillating, as it were, like a pendulum between two points—the couch above, and the desk below. In about four months the manuscript was completed; but whether it would ever hold the light of the public countenance, or remain in the obscurity of an old chest, with the blessing of the enemy upon it so long as it mouldered there, depended on the humour I should find the people in on visiting them again. 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, (See Chapter 36.) 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. For the truth to create a sensation in London, its advocates must have a large purse, or be introduced to public attention by some influential religious party. The latter alternative is an impossibility; for there is no party in that great city of any weight on the side of truth. The press, secular and ecclesiastical, is dead against it; the former, because it is satisfied with what exists, or has no faith in anything but its own faithlessness; and the latter, because, like Ephraim, it is joined to its idols, and welcomes no truth at variance with them. Could I have hired Exeter Hall for a hundred and twenty-five dollars a night, and have placarded the town in all its thoroughfares, from the India House to St. James’s Palace and Hyde Park; and from Shoreditch Church to the Elephant and Castle, I might have obtained a crowd. But the expense would have been equal to the purchase of a small Virginia farm; and though by charging something for admission, as the custom is, the cost might have been reduced, perhaps covered; still I did not feel justified in encountering the alternative of success, or incarceration in the Bench prison for debt. This would have been too gratifying to the enemy; for he would then have got the advantage over us, indeed; being seized of one’s body, wind and limb.”
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