A Farewell Letter
Before leaving Britain Dr. Thomas addressed a valedictory message to those who had been interested in his doings in this country. The letter appeared in the Gospel Banner. In it he recounted the circumstances that had induced him to undertake the journey. He told how he had arrived a total stranger. To British readers of the Millennial Harbinger he had been described as “half-sceptic, half-Christian, fit only for the society of Voltaire, Tom Payne and that herd.” Yet he had gained the ear of thousands of people. In relation to the results of his mission he said, “God only knows; I have sown the word of the Kingdom in the minds of the multitude,” but only God could give the increase. Describing his labours, he said, “I have ploughed, broken up the clods, harrowed and sowed the land, and have laid it up for the present. I now wait with patience to see what it will bring forth.”
One outcome of his stay in Britain was the issue of a pamphlet of forty pages, bearing the title: “The Wisdom of the Clergy proved to be Folly.” It was the outcome of a conversation with a fellow traveller on one of his journeys. Copies were sent to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the principal bishops, certain members of the Privy Council and some of the daily and weekly London papers and religious magazines. One reader of the pamphlet wrote, “I hope it will be read in England, and I wish it were read in Scotland!”
The proximate results of his mission had been the convincing of many persons and the baptism of several. Among these results Dr. Thomas mentions “ a church in Aberdeen brought over to the faith” and the greater part of the churches in Dundee and Glasgow, that is, of course, churches that had previously belonged to the Campbellite community. Societies had been established for the investigation of the Bible and of the matters brought to light in Elpis Israel.
Later in the letter he said, “I have done what I could and would have done more through the press had means been more abundant. In what I have done I have the satisfaction arising from the answer of a good conscience. I have coveted no man’s silver or gold, nor anything that is his. What has been contributed has been spontaneous and of good will, though considerably short of my expenses. I mention this, not complainingly, but as an evidence of the unselfish character of my enterprise.”
He added, “This I have done, and rejoice to know that many who were filled with bitterness against me, are now among my best and firmest friends, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them,’ and by my fruits I am willing to be to be judged.”
After referring to his trip on the Continent, Dr. Thomas concluded, “I am now upon the eve of setting sail for the New World. My literary labours in the Old will close with this communication to you. For the liberality you have shown, though agreeing with me in scarcely any of the questions in dispute, I return you sincere and hearty thanks . . . And that you may at length be brought to the truth, as I conscientiously esteem it, and in the end receive a crown of righteousness that fadeth not away, is the unfeigned desire of, Yours faithfully, John Thomas.”
Having finished his work in Britain, Dr. Thomas sailed for the States on October 11th, 1850. He secured the position of surgeon to the emigrant ship Marathon, with 540 souls aboard. The ship was of about 1,100 tons, and the passengers were mostly emigrants from Ireland. According to the Doctor’s description their accommodation was most primitive, though the idea of reaching America seemed to make the voyagers impervious to the discomfort. I t may well be imagined that with so many passengers and such poor accommodation the Doctor was kept busy on the voyage, which lasted thirty-nine days. It was not a pleasant voyage. The Doctor says of it, “We were often more in need of attendance than able to look after the sick, of whom there were not a few.” There was one exciting experience, when, at eleven o’clock one night, there was a cry “Down with the helm.” The ship was passing through a sea-fog, and suddenly, through a break in the fog, a large ship was seen bearing right across the way of the Marathon. The latter answered to her helm, and the two ships passed within a stone’s throw of one another. The escape was greeted with cheers; Dr. Thomas returned to his cabin “penetrated with gratitude to our Heavenly Father,” as he expressed it.
He landed in the States on November 19th, having been away for two years and a half. He spoke in New York, and then went on to Richmond. By that time he was unwell. His own account is: “A huskiness in the throat somewhat inconvenienced us, though otherwise our health seemed tolerably firm. On Tuesday night, however, we were seized with a chill which introduced us to a sickness of a severer character than we have been the subject of for seven years . . . A continuous bilious form of disease which has laid us low.” Speaking of it at a later date, he said, “I was so prostrated for six weeks that my life was despaired of by some.”
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