“Eureka; an Exposition of the Apocalypse”
EUREKA is the outstanding literary work of Dr. Thomas. From time to time articles appeared in the Herald on Apocalyptic subjects. In fact, the first volume of The Apostolic Advocate contained an exposition of Rev. 12. This was in 1834. Their appearance indicated his interest in that phase of Biblical exposition, and aroused the interest of his readers. It was a time when expositions of the book of Revelation were comparatively popular in certain religious circles. One of the most popular was Horae Apocalypticae, by E. B. Elliott, who published a fifth edition of his exposition in 1862, previous editions having been issued since 1844. The events of the period gave an impetus to this study, and the position prophecy had in the Doctor’s writings naturally turned his mind to the study of the Apocalypse.
That this was in his mind was shown in the first volume of the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to come, where he printed an article under the heading “Effects of the First Trumpet,” being an extract from a history written in the Fifth Century by Orosius, to defend the Christians from the charge that they were the cause of the troubles then afflicting mankind. The quotation dealt with the wars of Alaric and his Goths up to the sack of Rome. Ten years before the first volume of Eureka was published, this indicates the trend of the Doctor’s mind, for when the volume dealing with the First Trumpet appeared he saw its fulfilment in the exploits of Alaric. There is a particular value in the fact that he produced this extract from a historian of the fifth century; it shows the thoroughness with which he approached his subjects, whether they were connected with the ordinary exposition of the Scriptures or the explanations of Apocalyptic symbols.
Immediately after the extract from Orosius an article appeared on the work of Three Unclean Spirits like Frogs. This was probably an extension of the treatment of the subject in Elpis Israel. From the appearance of this article in April, 1851, nothing further occurred that suggested any particular Apocalyptic studies until February, 1858, when a correspondent suggested as the cause for delay in the production of the Herald—“Perhaps you are finishing your work on the Apocalypse; how is it doing? Is this book published?” In reply, Dr. Thomas wrote, “As to our work on the Apocalypse, we cannot say much at present, It is constantly before us as something to be done, . . . We cannot speak assuredly for time flies very fast, we experience many interruptions, and the brain is not always in working order. Weariness will invade us when we can least afford to be at ease.”
Later in the same year articles appeared under the headings, “The Flying Roll, the Ephah, the Woman, the Talent of Lead, and the Two Women with the Wind in their Storklike Wings,” and “The Four Chariots issuing from between Two Mountains of Brass.” Readers familiar with Eureka will recognise these as subjects dealt with in the preliminary part of the Exposition.
In the Herald for April, 1860, a prospectus of Eureka appeared under the following heading, “Eureka; an Exposition of the Apocalypse in harmony with the ‘Things of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus anointed,’ by John Thomas. Vol. 1.” The gist of the prospectus can be read in the preface to the first volume of the book. Readers of Eureka will be aware that in this volume the prophetic portion of the book of Revelation is not touched upon; this was dealt with in the two volumes that followed.
There was some delay in production, as a fire broke out on the printer’s premises, a building of seven storeys. In an hour and a half the whole was reduced to a mass of smoking ruins. Fortunately the basement was not seriously affected, and what had been placed there escaped destruction, but some of the plates from which the book was to be produced were melted. Dr. Thomas says, characteristically, that he hoped to overcome the difficulty “by that firmness, perseverance, our unshaken confidence in God and the goodness of our enterprise, which had sustained him now for more than twenty years.” The words are an exhibition of the man.
The preface to the first volume of Eureka is dated February 11th, 1861; in it Dr. Thomas explains why he chose the title. It means “I have found,” and he had found the explanation of the Apocalyptic symbols.
Important events delayed the publication of the second volume; they will be referred to presently. Actually it did not appear until 1866, though a prospectus of it appeared in the Ambassador for May, 1865.To the Author, the time of issue seemed significant, for according to his calculations the 1335 days of Daniel were to expire in 1868, and this seemed to exhaust the times when human affairs would go on without interference. In this connection the prospectus said, “There is no subject more important, or more intensely interesting at this stirring crisis of human affairs than the Apocalypse, and there is none so little understood.” The forty-two months of the Apocalypse and the time and a half of Daniel were expected to terminate in the epoch 1864-8. In this the Doctor proved to be wrong, but the error does not affect his general conclusions. His exposition must be judged as a whole.
The third, and final, volume appeared at the end of 1868, though the diagram illustrating the interpretation is dated 1869.
Writing of the work involved in producing Eureka, Dr. Thomas says: “When I consider the difficulties surmounted in the development of this Exposition, I may truly affirm that the power of the Deity has performed the work. The labour has been diffused over twelve years, but if I had not well understood THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM, which is the Power of God, I might have contained in my earthen vessel all the lore of ancient and modern times, and consumed twelve years thrice told in the study of its mysteries, yet should I have signally failed, and have had to confess—that the words of the Apocalypse were too lofty to be comprehended by me. I have been careful to treat nothing as non-essential or unimportant because of apparent difficulties. The work is now finished by the ‘power’ aforesaid, through my instrumentality—a work concerning which it may be said, in the words of an old Roman exile, Exegi monimentum perennius aere. This generation may not appreciate it, but one in the future will.”
Time has shown that some of the developments expected by the Doctor have not been realised; on the other hand, many have. In a world such as exists today after two World Wars, it is not surprising that one writing in the 60’s of the past century did not anticipate the extraordinary developments of the present century. Nevertheless, Eureka is still read, and read with interest. Its production required an unusual combination of qualifications; a thorough acquaintance with the Scriptures particularly of the prophets; a knowledge of history from the days of the Roman Empire to that of modern Europe, and an ability to interpret symbols and connect them with history. Other qualifications also were necessary, such as an ability to realise some at least of the subtleties of the Greek language, in which the Apocalypse was originally written.
When Handel composed the Hallelujah Chorus for The Messiah, he described his feelings by saying that it was as if all heaven had been open to him as the music formed in his mind. How did Dr.Thomas feel as he wrote Eureka, and particularly as the final chapter took shape? Fortunately he has told us. Here are his words: “While I was writing Eureka, I was, as it were, ‘within the veil,’ listening to the words of the Holy One of Israel concerning ‘the things that are, and the things that shall be after these’.” When the great task had been completed, and the ordinary day by day affairs resumed their place in his life, he “returned into this nether and outer ‘evil world,’ in contemplation and practical manipulation in which he found himself ‘cribbed, cabined, and confined,’ a prisoner of hope in a pit wherein was no water!” His comment is worth repeating: “When a man is deeply and continuously engaged in an atmosphere of divine thoughts, he has neither time nor inclination to plot mischief or to play the fool. This is the vocation of vacant minds who know not what it is to enter within the veil.” Like so much else that has been recorded the words give an insight to the Doctor’s personality. It is easy to form opinions on outward things and lose sight of the real man within.
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