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Interment in Greenwood Cemetery


Dr. Thomas had left the following directions on the subject of his interment which were characteristic of the man:


                “I order that, being dead, I myself be not deposited in so-called consecrated ground, but in some portion of our common mother, undefiled by the episcopal or presbyterial mummery of the harlot daughters of Rome on either side of the Tweed; neither is any parson, popish priest or non-conformist minister, ordained or unordained. . . to be permitted to read, pray, or preach, or in any way officiate in committing me, myself—not a fraction or part of me—to my temporary resting and sleeping in the ground. But as some one or more must put me there, I will that a brother of Christ, of good standing and repute among immersed believers of the gospel Paul preached, and commonly known among men by the name of CHRISTADELPHIAN, read, as my living representative on the occasion; so, being dead, I may yet speak through him, declaring to the spectators the faith in which I died, and previously lived for many years, and earnestly contended for; either an address written by myself, or in default of this John 19:25-29, Rom. 14:7-12, 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 15; 2 Tim. 4:7-8, to be read in the order quoted; then cover up, and without sorrowing, leave me to a brief repose, until I hear the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, when the earth will cast me out, and I shall awake to sleep the sleep of death no more.”


            The following letter from the Doctor’s daughter will tell of his temporary interment, pending the final burial:


                “A week has now passed since we laid my dear father away in the silent tomb. We have placed him in a vault for the present, until the advance of the spring shall dry the earth’s surface sufficiently to dig down into it without water. We shall also have time and opportunity to select a suitable locality for the grave. On Monday the 6th inst., the funeral took place at our house. A large number of brethren and sisters were present on the occasion. Brother Ennis spoke to us: his words were appropriate to the life and hope of the departed. He spoke of the faith which had animated and directed his course through life—the one hope: the hope of Israel—which had sustained and buoyed him up through the deepest trials, and nerved him to withstand the bitter opposition of the gainsaying and disobedient multitude. Brother Ennis reminded those present of our indebtedness to the deceased, as the instrument in the hands of God for our enlightenment in the way of salvation; and, alluding to the rare talents and abilities of the Doctor, said that these would have given him a place among the world’s great ones if he had chosen the pursuit of the honours of this world. He might have become great as a man, but he chose rather to be great as a servant of Christ.”


                “My thoughts wandered far into the regions of the past, a retrospect; a retrospect of those things which can only be inscribed upon the pages of the Lamb’s book of life, passed before me. I thought of the high moral courage that faced the opposition of a scoffing world; the self-sacrificing devotion to the principles of truth, that cheerfully sustained the loss of all temporal things, in order to maintain them free from adulteration; and the spirit of obedience to the word of God that was scrupulous to accept every item contained in the ‘law and testimony,’ without respect to the fear or the favour of man, and without regard to consequence in this life, even as Abraham obeyed God without knowing or caring what the result might be. These and many more were called to mind by the scene and the circumstance, while the lips that had spoken to us the words of eternal life were now closed and sealed in death before us. Nevertheless, we know that, ‘although dead he yet speaketh,’ and will speak unto the end of the vision when hope shall become a reality, and when that form of inanimate clay shall be revived by the healing beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and drawn forth to become a star amid the bright constellations of the kingdom of heaven.”


            The original writer of this narrative, having been appointed executor under Dr. Thomas’s will, along with brother Thomas Bosher, of London, found it necessary, for the effectual discharge of his duty, to cross the Atlantic with his co-executor. Sailing from Liverpool, April 5, 1871, in the steamer Minnesota (Guion line), they reached New York in fourteen days. The following extract from his diary will tell the rest: -


                “Tuesday, April 25th. —Took steps today to arrange about the Doctor’s final interment. As intimated in the May number, the Doctor had only been temporally deposited in a vault. The question now was, where was to be his final resting place? To settle this, a visit to several cemeteries with the sisters was necessary. Went to see Weehauken Cemetery. This is a new, but limited and unfinished-looking place, by no means the sort of place in which one wishing to visit the Doctor’s grave would like to find him. Therefore decide against this. Went next to the cemetery in which the Doctor was temporarily vaulted—the Jersey City Cemetery. This proved to be smaller than Weehauken, and more unsuitable. It was small, nearly full, and in the very heart of a busy neighbourhood, from which the street noise was disagreeably audible. This also was ultimately rejected as unaccordant with the feelings in which it is natural to indulge when visiting the grave of a beloved one.”


                “Before leaving the ground, brother and I asked to be shown into the vault where the Doctor was lying, that we might at least see the coffin now containing all that remains of the departed. The sexton led us to a green rise in the cemetery, in the face of which was a door. This door he opened, and the interior darkness became visible. He struck a light, lit a lamp, and entered the doorway, asking us to follow him. This we did, and found ourselves descending eight or ten steep stone steps, which landed us in a short passage. Along this we went about ten paces, and following our guide, turned to the left at the end of the passage, went through another door, and found ourselves in the vault. Dark, and cold, and silent, was the chamber of death. Looking round, in the dim light of the lamp, we discerned the outlines of the horrible place. About twelve feet square, with an arched roof, the sides were furnished with shelves for the reception of the temporarily deposited dead. Rough boxes and a few coffins, were dimly visible. Close to the door to our left, upon an elevation of about three feet from the ground, we observed a new, black-glancing coffin, apparently not long placed in position. ‘This is Mr. Thomas’s coffin,’ said the sexton, in matter-of-fact style. We looked at the label on the lid, and read:


JOHN THOMAS, Aged 65 Years, 1871.


                “This was all the record of the wonderful man whose life-labour, under God, has disenthralled so many slaves of death, and given them a good hope through grace. It was sad, sad to think of so great a man being nailed up in a box and put away like a piece of lumber. His profound apprehension of all things, particularly the workings of God among the nations, and the great purpose which is purposed in Christ, came painfully to remembrance. The dreadfulness of death seemed overwhelming, and the greatness of the hope came home with power. We are all dying; but One has the keys of death and the grave, and will use them to liberate such as he is pleased with. In view of this, we can prospectively join in the exclamation, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’”


                “Inspecting the lid, we observe that it is not a whole piece like an English coffin lid, but divided into a large and a small section: the small section being at the head. We remark upon the circumstances to the sexton, who says, ‘O yes; the top piece can open, if you would like to see.’ We replied we should like to see, upon which he left us to fetch a screwdriver, telling us to come upstairs while he was away, as the cold of the vault was too searching, which it was. We ascended the vault steps, and came out into the light and warmth of day, and stood on the green-sward. While thus waiting, we naturally fell to talking on the painful subject. ‘How humiliating,’ said one, ‘it is for such an intellect to have to be laid in such a place.’ ‘Yes,’ responded the other; ‘but it is a comfort to think that a greater than Dr. Thomas has gone through the same humiliation. Jesus tasted death, and was as helplessly carried down steps into a sepulchre as Dr. Thomas; but now he lives to die no more, and to deliver all such as belong to him, even though worms destroy them out of being.’ On the return of the sexton, we allowed him to go down before us and unfasten the coffin lid. In a minute or two we went down after him. He hadn’t finished the unscrewing. A few more turns, and the top section of the lid was undone. He removed the piece, breaking a spider’s web in the act, which we could not but note as a token of the completeness of the victory of death. Even the spider and the worm are better than a dead man. The lid removed, we at once discerned the familiar head and face through a thin white gauze veil which had been spread over the features. This I lifted and laid back, and there lay the dead exposed to view. How changed the expression! Seven weeks in death had sadly marred the noble contour of the countenance . . .”


                “I had a difficulty heretofore in realising his death, but now all illusion was dispelled. The terrible REALITY of the fact was forced home. I touched the cold, lifeless hand in the coffin; I handled his beard, and passed my hand once more over the noble arch of the upper brain which had evolved so much for our profit during life. I then replaced the veil, the sexton returned the lid to its place, and we left in sorrow, yet rejoicing in the glorious hope of the resurrection which seems to have such power and reality in the presence of death. We ascertained that through ignorance of the Doctor’s wishes on the subject, those who deposited him in the vault had not observed the order of procedure directed by the Doctor. It was a comfort to know this, as it left us the opportunity, at his re-interment, of carrying out his instructions to the letter.”


                “Sunday, April 30th. —This was the day appointed for the Doctor’s final interment. A mourning conveyance called at nine for the sisters and one or two others and drove them to Jersey City Cemetery . . . Brother Bosher and Editor walked. On arriving at the ground we found the coffin had been brought out of the vault and was laid on the greensward, waiting our arrival before being put into the hearse that was waiting to convey it to the final resting-place—six or seven miles . . . Brother Donaldson and brother Bosher having taken a final look at the form associated in all our minds with the precious things of the Spirit, the coffin lid was replaced, and the dead finally concealed from sight till the day of his coming forth, which cannot be far off. The coffin was then placed in the hearse, and we started on our sorrowful journey.”


                “In two hours we reached Green wood Cemetery, where a number of brethren and friends had collected. At the hour appointed for the funeral, from forty to fifty would be present. The hearse having driven to the grave, the coffin was taken out and placed on the grave’s mouth, resting on two beams. The friends then gathered round it—a seat having been provided for weeping sister Thomas. After a pause, the Editor said it was on record that Jesus prayed by the grave of Lazarus, they could not do better on this painful occasion than follow his example. The Editor then offered prayer, thanking God for having given the man now taken away, and recognising our position as earth worms like him who, but for Christ, must for ever pass away from sight and memory. The Editor then made a few remarks on the work accomplished by the Doctor, and on the greatness of the deprivation caused to the living by his removal. As for the Doctor himself, there was no cause for sorrow. As the Doctor used to say when any of us might talk of his death, ‘Make no commotion when I am dead. Don’t be sorry for me; I shall be all right; be sorry for yourselves.’ And as for funeral, he would say, ‘Just put me quietly out of sight in some corner. There is no need for putting anybody about. The Lord will soon be here to wake the dead.’ Doubtless, observed the Editor, had he been consulted, he would not have favoured his burial in Greenwood, nor the erection of a stone over his grave; but the feelings of the living had to be consulted in the matter. The Doctor had left direction by will what should be done by way of ceremony at his interment. Here the Editor read the extract on page 191-2. He said all they had now to do was to proceed to carry out these directions. Here he read the Scriptures enumerated in the will in the order directed. The coffin was then lowered to its place. The company then united in singing, after which brother Bosher lifted up his voice impressively in prayer. The grave-diggers then proceeded to fill up the grave, the brethren standing silently by and witnessing the melancholy process. At last they quietly dispersed.”


            The tombstone erected over the grave bears the following inscription: -






Author of “Elpis Israel,” “Eureka,” “Anastasis,” “Phanerosis,” and other works,


In which he demonstrated the unscriptural character of popular Christianity, and made manifest the nature of




During a busy life time, by mouth and pen, he contended earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints, and at his death left behind him as the result of his labours, a body of people, in different parts of the world, known as




To continue the work begun.




Born April 12th, 1805; Died March 5th, 1871




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