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Practising and Preaching in Philadelphia


After a week’s stay in Baltimore, Dr. Thomas determined to break away from the preaching career which was being forced upon him. He told his Baltimore friends he must be off to see Philadelphia before going to Richmond, which was his ultimate destination. “Well,” said brother Carman, “I will give you a letter of introduction to brother Hazlett, who is deacon in the congregation in Philadelphia, over which brother Ballantyne presides.” The Doctor thought it would be better to have friends to go to, than to arrive in Philadelphia a complete stranger, and therefore accepted a letter, though not without some misgivings as to the consequences.


            On arriving at Philadelphia, he found deacon Hazlett, who expressed great satisfaction at his having come, saying that they wanted some one to speak to them, and to relieve the tediousness of their meetings, as brother Ballantyne who presided, was “very old and very dry.” What could the Doctor do? He was the guest of brother Hazlett, and he felt he could do nothing less than yield to the request and speak to them. This he did for three weeks. At the end of that time, they proposed that he should remain among them altogether, promising that they would do their best to get him practice, if he would speak to them on Sundays. Getting accustomed to speaking, the prospect of a settlement in his own profession disposed him to fall in with the suggestion, which after consideration he did.


            The arrangements did not work favourable for the Doctor’s professional objects, though conducing highly to the work which providence had assigned to him. As he remarks in the article in the Advocate, already quoted from: “Had we devoted ourselves to medicine, as we did to the things of the kingdom, we might probably have succeeded; but the fact is, that having to address the public continually, our time and energies were absorbed in preparing to acquit ourselves, from time to time, as a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. Ever since leaving the West, our spiritual pursuits have been clashing with our temporal, until we have been obliged of necessity to place our profession in abeyance.” His friends in Philadelphia fulfilled their part of the contract, as far as finding medical practice was concerned; but preaching practice, which was exceedingly distasteful to him, necessitated an amount of scriptural study which interfered with his professional occupation, though it was destined to pave the way for great results.


            Dr. Thomas’s mind was eminently fitted to be the subject of a simple and pure illumination by the Word. This comes out in what he makes “Tomaso” say in a Dialogue between three Friends on Men and Things (Apostolic Advocate, vol. 3, p. 28). He was never, says “Tomaso,” “cursed with the poison of a theological education. His early years were spent in a private boarding school in England, and from his seventeenth to his twenty-fifth year, among physic bottles, lecture rooms, and dead bodies. He knows nothing (and counts it his happiness) about the writings of popular divines; nor did he ever trouble himself much about divinity of any kind till about three years and a half ago (this was written in 1836), when he obeyed the gospel of our divine Master. Since that time, he has addicted himself to the incessant study of the Scriptures. Not having had his mind perverted by human tradition, it just takes whatever impression the Word may make upon it, like a blank sheet the impression of the printer’s types.”


            Of his stay in Philadelphia, Dr. Thomas afterwards wrote, “In the days of our profound ignorance we were to the Campbellites a very acceptable preacher of the Bethanian Jesus.” He stayed there eleven months, during which time two important events took place—he married a wife, and he commenced his editorial career. In view of the way his life developed, the hardships and the long absences from home, the lot of his wife was not easy, especially as she seems to have been something of an invalid, but, as she once said, “The Doctor belonged to the public and was not much of a woman’s man.”


            Another incident connected with the time he spent in Philadelphia was the re-arrival of his father, who had returned to England. For a time father and son were preaching in the same city.

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