Preaching the Truth at Home and on Tour
Now that he was back at home Dr. Thomas’ activities were not confined to writing and editing the Herald; there was much that could be done by speaking, both in his home city of Richmond, Virginia, and in other parts of America. Much of this, the ordinary day to day and week by week ministrations, must be passed over, but one incident of an unusual character should be mentioned.
Some of his friends thought that the member of the legislature of the State should be made acquainted with the things concerning the Kingdom of God. Dr. Thomas was not sanguine of the result of such an effort. He thought that men who were used to acting and speaking to their fellow men with a view to gaining votes at the next election, were not likely to pay much attention to such matters. However, he consented to the necessary steps being taken to secure the use of the Hall of Delegates for three evenings, on which he would address all who chose to attend.
The first step was the presentation of a petition requesting permission to use the hall for the purpose in view. The petition read: —“To the Honourable Speaker and the Members of the House of Delegates of Virginia, —Your petitioner, John Thomas, M.D., of this city, respectfully solicits the use of the hall of the House of Delegates, at the hour of 7.30P.M., in which he purposes to deliver three lectures (free) upon the following subjects: First Lecture, Nebuchadnezzar’s Image, or the Empire now ruling in the Old World, and the Destiny of the Kingdoms of Europe. Second Lecture; Gogue and Magog, or the Image Empire proved to be the Russian, whose Autocrat will be the Emperor of Germany. Third Lecture; The Unclean Spirits like Frogs, or Austria, the Pope, and the French powers in relation to the present and the future.”
One of the delegates, who seems to have been a friend of the Doctor, moved that the use of the Hall be allowed, and though there was some opposition, the petition was granted. A local newspaper reporting the presentation of the petition, said, “A satisfactory elucidation of these ‘mysterious and perplexing questions’ must afford very general pleasure.”
The proceedings were interfered with to some extent by the use of the hall by the delegates beyond the usual hour, but to make up for this, additional time was allowed to the Doctor, so that, in addition to the subjects named in the petition, he was able to give an address on the teachings of the book of Daniel.
It must have been almost unique in the history of the Truth, for a hall usually given up to meetings of delegates elected to enact laws for the State, to be given over to addresses on Biblical prophecies on the lines adopted by Dr. Thomas. The incident took place early in the year 1851; a report was given in the Herald for April of that year.
In the spring of the same year, Dr. Thomas undertook a tour for the purpose of proclaiming the truth to people living outside his home city. He was still suffering from the effects of illness, yet he insisted on carrying out his purpose, though, as he put it, “following the example of Jesus (not being able to stand) he sat down and taught the people.” He spoke for two hours. He said of it, “The truth is an inspiration which gives health to the soul through which it operates nothing but good to the outward man.”
Later in 1851, Dr. Thomas undertook a longer tour. In the 1850’s railways in America were still in their infancy, and most travelling was done by horse, or horse-drawn vehicles. Here is the Doctor’s description of the journey. “The scenery is bold and interesting, but without attraction to him whose fate it happens to be to drive a dull horse among rocks, and roads hub-deep in stiff tenacious clay. Quite a soul-tranquillising preparation for a discourse on the Mysteries of the Kingdom, the fording of rivers whose waters flow into your carriage, and the toiling along the torrent-washed gullies called roads.” To those who, a century later, travel in comfortable trains, or in motor cars or coaches running over well made roads, it is difficult to imagine the discomfort of such a journey as the Doctor describes. Add to it the fact that at the end of his journey at a place known as Free Union, there were only five persons present at the meeting, though the number grew to nine! At subsequent meetings the attendance was much better.
His next appointment was some twenty miles further on. Of the first part of the journey he speaks eloquently of the scenery, saying there are no scenes sublimer or grander, but this was followed by “miles of poor forest road, deeply cut up by wagons, and in a wet season almost impassable.” That part of the journey reminded him of life’s monotony. It would be more edifying to repeat the synopsis of what is recorded of his addresses on this occasion, but for the moment it is desired to give an insight into the characteristics of the man himself as indicated by his experiences. He had a mission to fulfil and a message to deliver, and neither physical weakness, nor difficult roads, could keep him from his mission, nor detract from his appreciation of the beauty of the works of the Creator.
In the autumn of the same year Dr. Thomas undertook another tour; it commenced in September, the destination being Halifax in Nova Scotia. He spoke of it as “an exploring expedition,” “Go to Nova Scotia” being almost equivalent to “Go to Jericho!” the journey was undertaken in response to an invitation from some who described themselves as “The Christian Association,” whose headquarters were in Halifax.
To the Doctor, Nova Scotia seemed an out-of-the-world place, though British steamers en route to and from Boston called there. From Richmond, Virginia, where he was then living, it involved a journey of a thousand miles by river, land, and sea, by way of Baltimore, New York, Boston, Eastbury, and St. Johns in New Brunswick. He was accompanied on the journey by one of his co-workers, A. B. Magruder, a lawyer.
On the way to Baltimore they travelled partly by steamer. On the way to join the steamer addresses were given at two or three places. He speaks particularly of one place, where they found the people assembled in the woods, within a few hundred yards of two meeting places belonging to the Methodists and the Baptists. For two hours he spoke from a stand that had been prepared in haste, doing so in Jewish fashion with his hat on his head. In his account he says, “Our health was much deranged by the Fall weather, having been seized with emesis at the moment of departing from Richmond.” Speaking for two hours in such a state, while the wind maintained a constant rustling in the trees, was disconcerting, annoying, and fatiguing. Dr. Thomas speaks of the “dog-in-the-manger policy” of those who owned the neighbouring meeting places, who refused to allow them to be used on the occasion. At the next stopping place the same experience awaited him, though the position was rather worse. Again he had to speak in the woods, within a hundred yards of a Campbellite meeting place. The meeting house had been provided by the people as “a free house,” but by some means the Campbellites had acquired it for their own purposes, and its use was refused. Mr. Magruder, being a lawyer, looked into the matter on the spot, and ascertained that the facts were as stated. Here again the Doctor and his companion addressed the people in the open, wearing their hats as before. On the next day the old Episcopal church was secured. The day following they embarked for Baltimore, and after fulfilling certain appointments there, they continued their journey to Philadelphia, from which place they travelled by rail to New York, and Boston. Here they embarked on the S.S. Admiral for Eastport in Maine. On that part of the journey the doctor speaks of the interesting view of the iron bound coast, “against whose rocks the impetuous billows burst, and in divers places, rushing up precipices fell back into the sea in beautiful cascades of foaming water.” The observation is another indication of his appreciation of the grand and beautiful in nature. They landed at Eastport, where they joined another ship, the Creole, which took them to St. Johns in New Brunswick. At St. Johns they learned that a steamer would leave for Windsor, Nova Scotia, at 11p.m. They had to descend to the ship by a ladder in the dark, then, by the glimmer of a lantern, they saw they were in what the Doctor describes as “a vile place,” “ crazy, filthy, unseaworthy boat.” It had been used during the summer for the conveyance of cattle, and was then on its last voyage; it was to be broken up! However, they arrived safely at Windsor, from which they were able to go to Halifax.
On Sunday, October 19th, the Doctor spoke in the Temperance Hall in the city. The audience was “of respectable size,” but in the evening about a thousand assembled to listen to him, and on the following weeknights the audiences numbered between 600 and 700—they included military, ecclesiastical, and civil persons. The addresses in Halifax were of the usual kind, dealing with the Kingdom and various aspects of prophecy on current events.
On the return journey the travellers were more fortunate. On November 1st they took steamer direct to Boston, from which place they went via Providence, Rhode Island, to New York and Richmond. The whole journey had occupied seven weeks at a time when winter was approaching.
The Doctor finished his record of the journey with the comment that he was “well satisfied that banishment to Nova Scotia would be far more agreeable than going to Jericho!”
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