More American Travels
On his return to America in 1863 Dr. Thomas resumed his usual activities, proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, writing occasional letters and articles that appeared in the pages of The Ambassador, and working upon the third volume of Eureka.
The tour now to be described in a letter addressed to a correspondent in Britain. It covered a distance of over 3,000 miles through the States of Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and included Canada. Of the brethren he met he said some were brethren in deed and truth, while there were many who professed to believe the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Name, but made their profession void by crotchets, among which he mentioned one who taught that every man, woman, and child, of Adam’s race would be raised from the dead in order that they might have a chance of obeying the gospel and being saved. Those who taught this called themselves Kingdom Believers; they complained bitterly that the friends of the Doctor refused to recognise them as Christians, not because they failed to believe but because they believed too much! The Doctor dealt with them briefly, quoting Isaiah 26:14; 43:17, and Amos 8:14. The race is not extinct, though known by other names in the early and middle years of the Twentieth Century.
All kinds of “isms” seem to have been added to the teaching concerning the Kingdom and the Name; Sabbatarianism, Millerism, Antisaltism, Teetotalism, Anti-porkism, Anti-tobaccoism, Prophecy-all-in-the-futurism, Spiritualism, Jesus-the-son-of-Josephism; all these Dr. Thomas found were being tacked on to the main principles for which he stood, or to some of them. He was disappointed; he stood for the real thing, the teaching of the Bible; these were in some cases, mere side issues, “paltry speculations” he termed them, choking the Word like noxious weeds.
They were not all like that; there were some who only “cared to know the testimony and to reason out its true significance”; the wheat and the tares were growing side by side.
As the journey continued various adventures were experienced. On one occasion there was an accident, and some of the coaches in which the Doctor was travelling were smashed, but fortunately, he was not hurt.
On the same journey an incident occurred that illustrated the way in which the essential matters of the truth may sometimes cause tragico-comic situations to arise. A meeting was to take place at Bristol, Wisconsin. A number of believers journeyed from Chicago for the purpose of hearing the Doctor speak. When they arrived at the meeting some declined to take part in the breaking of bread, not because of difference of doctrine, but because they were fanatical teetotallers. In their own meetings they substituted water sweetened by raisins “or some other analogous nostrum.” Others had “no sympathy with tinkering and tampering with the Lord’s appointment, and would not drink what they knew not to be wine.” Such trivial matters divided the brethren into two parties, even in the same city. They desired to hear the Doctor, and as they could not agree on the nature of the “wine,” they omitted the ceremony which commemorated the death of Christ in “either wine, water, decoction, or solution.” No wonder Dr. Thomas asked, “What think you of this state of things; and what do you think of periodicals that originate it?”
In Toronto Dr. Thomas found a divided state of affairs. Some were really interested in the Truth; others were “so full of gall and bitterness” that they said of the Doctor “they wished it were right to poison him!” “None of these pious developments move me,” he commented, “come from whence they may. I know on whom I have believed, and what I have believed, and I know that neither can be shaken. I hold forth the olive-branch to all—peace and fraternity to all on the basis of truth without tradition; but if they put it from them they cannot scare me by their reproaches or threats; nor pervert me by their flatteries.”
The account of the tour concluded by recording his safe arrival home, accompanied by an exposition of various matters connected with the Tabernacle in the Wilderness as a type. It was a remarkable example of the Doctor’s versatility that he could change from the record of a tour to exposition, and hold his correspondent’s attention right through. After exposition he turned to other matters such as advertising; mortal or immortal emergence from the grave; literal interpretations of the Apocalypse, etc.
Finally the letter ended: “In all our efforts and enterprise may we have an eye to the triumph of the Truth. This is the only thing worth labouring for in this present evil world . . . Affectionately yours for the Truth’s sake, John Thomas.”
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In the same issue of The Ambassador there is another communication from the Doctor; it is interesting as showing how outside events affected his mind. Speaking of the high taxes in the States, he said, they were so appalling “as to make one speculate on the feasibility of getting away from under these heavens, and leave the wreck and ruin to fall upon those who have created them.” He added, “There is not much prospect of the renewal of The Herald in the present financial condition of things here. It is a day of judgment upon this profane and ungodly nation, and I have a feeling, and have had ever since this ‘truly horrid war’ began, that all efforts to enlighten the people, in whole or part, is labour thrown away.”
In the following year, 1865, Dr. Thomas undertook another journey to Baltimore, Richmond, Petersburg and some of the outlying districts of Virginia. The object of the journey was not so much the proclamation of the gospel, as to ascertain the spiritual condition of the believers in the areas visited, and to minister to their needs. He records that he found them “cast down but not destroyed.” They had continued their meetings all through the war although the country had been devastated; there had been a “visible organization in the midst of the southern section of the American division of the Apostasy.”
Of one portion of the journey he wrote: “In the United States Military R.R. cars we sit on hemlock boards fastened on uprights to the floor, defiled with tobacco spit (technically styled ‘juice’ and ‘amber’) and other abominations.” The description reminds one of the Apostle’s saying, “I endure all things for the elect’s sake.”
The war years and the post-war years were bad times for the proclamation of the gospel of the Kingdom and the Truth generally, and the Doctor’s thoughts turned to Britain.
In the meantime there were disquieting reports on his health. In February, 1867, for example, his daughter, sister Lasius, wrote, “Father frequently complains of his head. A feeling of tightness, or pressure, and sometimes of heaviness comes over him, disabling him from writing. I think this is not be wondered at seeing how constantly he has applied himself to his labours, day and night, without intermission for so many years. He says he feels sometimes as though the ideas would not flow so freely as usual, and that he has to lay aside the pen for awhile that the machinery may have a little rest.”
Early in 1867 another pamphlet appeared issued not directly by Dr. Thomas but by the Christadelphian Association of Detroit. It consisted of the substance of lectures which he had delivered on the resurrection of the dead and judgment. The lectures evidently made a deep impression for, as the Doctor stated in a prospectus, “they determined that I should not rest until they obtained it in the present form.” In the same document it is said: “Some may be prompted to enquire, Is it necessary to understand all the details of Resurrection and Judgment in order to possess the faith that justifies? In reply, I would say, ‘If it were necessary, there would scarcely be found, in this generation a corporal’s guard of justified believers’.” To this he added that in his apprehension, if a person believed in the resurrection of the just and the unjust, and that both these classes will appear in the presence of the Righteous Judge “to give account of themselves to him,” their understanding so far is sound upon these two first principles. Further on in the prospectus he stated: “My purpose is to enlighten, not to condemn.”
The sayings are an index to Dr. Thomas’ mind. He was not given to dogmatic assertions on all and every matter or doctrine. Any attempt to consider his career must give due weight to this feature. It is easy to get a wrong perspective by over-emphasising instances that point in another direction. A man must be judged on a combination of his characteristics.
In the following year another small pamphlet, written by Dr. Thomas was issued, this time by the Baltimore Ecclesia. The title was Catechesis, because the matters of which it treated were set out in catechetical form in a series of fifty-one questions and answers. The sub-title, “Scriptural Instruction on Mortality, Immortality, and Judgment,” sufficiently describes the scope of the work. The contents appeared later in the pages of The Ambassador.
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