“The Apostolic Advocate”
The career of Dr. Thomas as an editor is a sphere in which the circumstances leading to the rediscovery of the Truth were most prominently developed. There need, therefore, be no apology for dealing with it in detail.
His entrance upon this career was apparently accidental. A member of the Philadelphian congregation, named Brindley, who had been a shipbuilder in England, but was then an agent for Morrison’s pills, went to Mr. Ballantyne, and suggested that a paper should be started to advocate the principles of the “Reformation,” intending, as afterwards transpired, to have an advertisement of his pills on the back of each number. After seeing Ballantyne, Brindley called on Dr. Thomas in reference to the project, but did not acquaint him with the fact that he had been to Ballantyne. He talked the matter over, and asked him to devise a name, and write a prospectus. The Doctor knowing nothing of the quackery part of the project, which Brindley concealed from him, approved the suggestion, and drew out a prospectus of the proposed publication, calling it the Apostolic Advocate.
Afterwards he witnessed the pastor’s indignation at Brindley for having requested the Doctor’s cooperation in the scheme, on which he offered to relinquish all part in it. This did not pacify the old gentleman, whose anger caused Brindley to take no further steps to forward the publication. His abandonment of the scheme led to a restoration of peace, and Ballantyne resolved to start the periodical himself; but, illness overtaking him, the scheme fell into abeyance.
On his recovery, Mr. Ballantyne sent for Dr. Thomas and told him he had come to the conclusion that he (Mr, Ballantyne) was too old to enter upon such an enterprise as the conducting of a monthly magazine, and that the Doctor had better take it in hand and go ahead. This surprised him, but scarcely left a choice. Thus he found himself in a position he had never desired and never contemplated. He issued the prospectus, of which the following is a copy:
By John Thomas, M.D., of Philadelphia, for publishing by subscription, a Monthly Periodical: To be entitled
THE APOSTOLIC ADVOCATE.
“We (the apostles) are of God: he who knows God, hearkens to us; he who is not of God, hearkens not to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the Spirit of error.”—(1 John 4:6)—Macknight’s Translation.
“Be mindful of the words before spoken by the holy prophets, and of the commandments of us, the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”—Macknight.
This work shall be devoted to the ancient Gospel and the original constitution of things as proclaimed and appointed by the apostles. Never was there a time since the days of William Penn, when this and adjacent cities required such an “advocate” as at this present. The voice of the apostles is stifled by the clamour of sectarian declamation. It is true, indeed, they are talked about and their status adorn cathedral parapets and steeple walls; it is also true that the commercial marts of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, abound in religious establishments, each and every one of them amply furnished with all the gorgeousness and splendid trappings of temple worship; they can boast, too, of an erudite, courtly, eloquent, and right reverend priesthood—the depositories of wisdom and sacred knowledge—whose fertile ingenuity illustrates, sustains, and fulminates the dogmas of creeds for the deglutition of an unsuspecting and too confiding laity. But all these things, however adored, may be easily unmasked and resolved into their ultimate constituents; the devices, traditions, and commandments of men, and will be proved to be no part of the religion of Christ or of the traditions and teachings of the holy apostles. The Advocate, therefore, will unroll his brief against the corruptions of Christianity: and while he pays all respect to persons that is due, he will use every honourable and scriptural means to disabuse the minds of his fellow citizens of the philosophical dogmas and christianised Orientalisms palmed upon them for the glorious gospel of the blessed God. In subserviency to this end, the following, among other subjects, will be attended to.
This prospectus, which indicates the remarkable tone of the Doctor’s mind so early as 1834, was published by Mr. Campbell with favourable remarks. The first number appeared in May; 1,000 copies being printed and entirely disposed of. It was composed almost entirely of the Doctor’s original contributions. The discerning reader will agree with the verdict of the People’s Friend, an American paper, published at the time in Philadelphia: “Style chaste, reasoning close; takes high ground; treats all human authority very unceremoniously; appeals directly to the Scriptures, and contends for their supremacy over all councils and edicts, ancient and modern; shows he has bestowed much attention upon the subjects of which he treats.” These sentences were descriptive of a pamphlet, published by the Doctor, entitled New Catholic Controversy: a mirror for dogmatic religions, in a Letter, etc.; but are equally applicable to the Apostolic Advocate, of which the first article entitled “The Theology of the Nineteenth Century,” is reproduced below.
“If one proposition be more self-evident, it is this: that the religion of the disciples of Christ cannot be found among any of the popular religions of the 19th century, which divide among them the realms of the demesnes of Christendom. The religion of Christ is a religion of faith and obedience, the one being as essential and important as the other; they are, in truth, one and indivisible. The popular religions, on the other hand, are religions national and speculative in their nature, based on opinions and upheld by systems of abstract definitions, composing creeds, confessions, and articles of faith. With each religion, the fundamental and essential doctrines of the gospel are the leading and characteristic dogmas of their individual creeds. Whatever is not contained in the creed is non-essential, especially if the omission be the diagnostic of some more humble and less popular faith. Popular faith is feeling magnified into confidence, and inasmuch as it produces violent and convulsive action of that important organ of the animal constitution, it is very emphatically termed ‘faith in the heart.’ It is a kind of sanguineous principle, yielding from the several organs through which it passes, copious effusions of tears, mucus, and saliva. Hence that foaming of the mouth, suffusion of the eyes and cheeks, and running at the nose so conspicuous in the subjects of revival, camp meetings, and protracted conventional excitements. Popular faith is lunatic in its phases, being now new, then old, now gibbous, and then rotund, and following the ocean of life in all its ebbs and flows. The opinions of the people’s instructors determine the complexion of their faith, and hence that riddle-like proposition that ‘Faith is not the belief of testimony.’ * It is true the popular faith is not the belief of testimony, and no wonder that, like the priests, the people should maintain it; for well do they know, both the teachers and the taught, that their religious faith is not founded on the testimony of the apostles and prophets, but on the traditions, devices, and commandments of men. What need we marvel, then, at the diversified and contradictory faiths that chequer the ecclesiastical chart of the christianised world? We need not be surprised, I say, that Divine Doctors of the popular faith should insist on a faith christened orthodox with holy water, which does not require testimony to produce, seeing that they are not accustomed to prove their positions either by reason or Holy Writ. Indeed, where is the necessity of proof? Have not their flocks conceded to them their demands in full as to their ambassadorial and holy character, their divine calling and sending, and their shall we, the laity, presume to ask the Reverend Clergy for their proofs? Absurd in the extreme would it be to concede to them apostolicity without proof, and then to demand a reason for what they affirm! Let them prove the first, and we, for one, insubordinate affairs, will obey implicitly, and for ever after hold our peace. But, as to their divine rights, credat Judoeus apella non Ego? —The following will be a fair illustration, both as to believers, the manner of faith, and the effects of popular faith. On the 1st day of March, 1834, an infant first breathed the breath of heaven, and raised its eyelids to the solar beams; unused to this mode of existence, it cried and sobbed and squalled so lustily as greatly to disturb the equanimity of a maiden aunt. Her soured temper could not endure the provocation, and though it was a sacramental preparation week, she tartly reprobated the uncouth noise, and sinned through anger most unchristianly. The original sin and total depravity of the babe were beyond doubt, and as its looks did not promise life beyond four-and-twenty hours, humanity and religion dictated the propriety of saving its soul from hell. A reverend divine was accordingly sent for, who being stimulated by the importance of the occasion, and a zeal in his Master’s service, came with as much despatch as comported with the dignity of the clerical gait. ‘Go ye,’ says the Great Teacher, ‘unto all the world, and proclaim the glad tidings to the whole creation: he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, but he that believeth not, shall be condemned.’ Acting under this commission, then, this reverend successor of the apostles and ambassador of Jesus Christ, arrives at the house of mourning for the purpose of imparting salvation to the puny babe. Accordingly, he dips his holy hands into water consecrated by prayer and with the subject of faith in his left arm, raises, with uplifted eyes and becoming grace, his bending arm with palm supine. The period of grace hovers over the face of the infant—awful moment! The infant scarcely breathes. The sacred drops at length begin to trickle from the holy digits of his reverence; they reach the face, and, with an emphatic sprinkle, the magic words, ‘Selina! I baptise thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost—Amen!’ fall on the sealed ears of the expiring child, who, with a struggle, now gives up the ghost.
This instance, and a very common one it is, is a fair illustration of the subject, mode of impartation, and effects of the most fashionable popular faith. Its subject is, for the most part, a babe of eight days old, endowed with all the facilities of mind and body in a dormant, undeveloped state; it sees, but it discerns not; it hears, but it understands not; it has a brain, but on the tablet of its mind, no images of thought are there. How then is faith imparted? Let the reverend clergy—so skilled in metaphysics, in all the magic of the Chaldeans, in all the learning of the Egyptians, and in all the mythology of the Pagan world—explain, for I cannot. But the effects of this popular faith, what are they? Scepticism, delusion, death! Common sense contemplating the proud, ambitious priest, discerns in his religious practices and demeanour, the usurpation of supernatural powers, and the impiety of a man who lies in the name of God. Disgusted at such exhibitions of mockery, and acquainted with no other Christianity than that under the form of the religions of the day, the minds of men, with the light only of reason and common sense to guide them, run into the fatal extreme, and denounce all religions as false. Hence in France, in Italy, in Portugal, and Spain, when occasion offers, they not only avow their scepticism, but deny even the being of a God. Nor are things,
* The author of this proposition was named Riddel.
in reality, much better in Protestant countries; for though Atheism is not so recklessly proclaimed there, hypocrisy, indifference, latent and avowed scepticism, in all their subtle, specious, open and disguised forms, extensively prevail. Even in these United States, where religion is supposed to flourish, it is not difficult to see the downfall, not very remote either, of all its sectarian establishments. At this very moment, infidelity, like a worm that dieth not, gnaws their vitals, and a numerous and parasitical priesthood is permitted to exist out of courtesy to the ladies, in whose case is verified the prediction of the apostle, which see (2 Tim. 3:1-7). We rejoice, however, to know, on the testimony of the apostles and prophets, that all these human establishments will be overturned, and the glorious dominion of the Great King, returned victorious and conqueror over his foes, and leading captive at his chariot wheels, kings whose many diadems will deck his brow, will rise paramount and be established on the wreck of empires, immovable as the everlasting hills. Kings and sacred bards have turned their harps prophetic of this Golden Age. The will the Prince of Peace reign in His Holy Hill of Zion, and rule the nations with a law of love. No kingly or priestly tyrants then to disturb the world’s repose; no anti-Christian or sectarian rivals then to divide the empire with the King of Saints; no Popes, no Councils, no General Assemblies, Synods, and Presbyteries, with their bulls, and canons, and orthodox confessions to disturb the world. No! These disturbers of the public peace, these social bandits, then will be bound in captive chains in the dark abyss for a thousand years. Such, then, will be the death of all delusion until the last apostasy foretold in time; when Satan shall go forth to deceive the nations which, at that period will inhabit the four quarters of the earth (Rev. 20:7-8).”
The second article was on the Church of England, which he describes as “one of the daughters of a large family, descended from a parentage flagrant in crime, drunken with the blood of Christian heroes, and gorged with the spoils, and the woe, and the slaughter of men.” He found her origin in “the Man of Sin, and his adulterous consort, the Mother of Harlots and of all the abominations of the earth;” epithets which he said were applied by the Holy Spirit of purity and truth to all that “mystery” of political, civil, and ecclesiastical iniquity that exists in every part of the world; a state of society, the rise, progress, and consummation of which were foretold by Jesus through his beloved disciple, at a time when it had only begun to work.
The third article, “On the kingdoms of Europe,” dealt with the bearing of the Book of Revelation on European events. In it, after pointing out the tendency of newspapers of the United States to ignore happenings outside the American continent, regarding their horizon as bounded by the Bank, the limits of the Constitution, and the jurisdiction of the Head of the States, he pointed out that such limits could not control the operations of the human mind which ranged over the Alps, the Andes, the Himalayas and the Arctic Sea. The mental food of man consisted of facts, veracious testimony, and these pertained to morals, politics, and religion. “But,” he wrote, “it may be objected that people have ceased to think, thought being too laborious, so that they have to be entertained with trifles, otherwise newspapers would become dead stock.” That was the characteristic of the age. The Church “like a rickety old dame” dotes about a spiritual beatification of a thousand years in which she is to reign over the souls of men. But her millennium was fast expiring and her reign was almost consummated, for One was at the door, ready to come upon her as a thief.
He finished the article by promising to present readers of the Advocate matters on the subject from the book of Revelation. “By way of introduction to a record of the events now transacting in the benighted realms of Europe,” he said, “we shall present our readers with an analysis of that chapter of the Revelation” on which he was writing.
The article indicates that there was something remarkable in Dr. Thomas’s comprehension of the Apocalypse so early as 1834; his interpretations were largely independent of the theories of previous writers. He did not re-hash what he found in books. He read and thought for himself, and gave his readers the result of original ideas. This cannot be better illustrated than by quoting the following sentences from an article on the Apocalypse, which appeared in the ninth number of the Advocate:
“As to the Apocalypse, I firmly believe if Christians would study its contents, it would, if they be honest persons in the profession of truth, cure them of the ridiculous and spurious charity they are in the practice of exercising towards ‘other denominations of Christians,’ which are in reality the anti-Christian ‘abominations of the earth.’ I affirm further that a due attention to the prophecy of the book would convince many who, living in a treacherous security and entertaining a delusive hope that they are Christians, expect to enjoy the heavenly beatitudes—that no time is to be lost in escaping from the dominions of Babylon the Great, and taking refuge in the Eternal City of our God. As all have not the leisure, and fewer the inclination, to unravel the mysteries (for they are mysterious to those that are ignorant) of this book, I shall, as opportunity may serve, present my readers with illustrations of its contents . . . ‘They who censure and dissuade from the study of the Apocalypse,’ says Newton, ‘do it for the most part because they have not studied it themselves, and imagine the difficulties to be greater than they are in reality. It is still the sure word of prophecy to which we do well to take heed; and men of learning and leisure cannot better employ their time or abilities than in studying and explaining this book . . .’
“Sir Isaac Newton observes that, ‘amongst the interpreters of the last age there was scarcely one of note who had not made some discovery worth knowing;’ and I flatter myself that I shall not have laid before my readers the result of my humble efforts, without having substantiated my claim to the discovery or solution of certain problems in the Apocalypse which have hitherto baffled the ingenuity and learning of some of the most celebrated illuminati of the religious world.
“In saying this, I do not mean to arrogate to myself any superior talent or discernment, for a man may have all the wisdom that human science and philosophy can afford; his mind may be of a Newtonian order, and equal to enterprises of the sublimest character; he may be the personification of intelligence, and yet fail to unravel the symbolical representations of the providence of the Supreme in the affairs of men. In the absence of that wisdom which God revealed to the apostles by His spirit, all our views in relation to religion are mere speculations; and the failure of the ‘great and the good men’ since the days of Luther, is not owing to a lack of natural talent and discernment, but to that love of speculation and subserviency to system in which they have so freely indulged . . . I have renounced speculation and substituted, according to the suggestion of Lord Bacon, the simple narration of historical facts. If there be such a thing as prophecy and truth in historical detail, and if history be indeed nothing more than a summary of prophecy fulfilled, which every believer admits, then certainly the natural method of prophetic illustration is simply to place in juxta-position the predictions and facts of history. And see what a breach the Christian makes in the defences of the infidel by such a plan as this! . . . My dates and facts I have taken from Gibbon and Mosheim, the one an infidel and the other a Lutheran. They are faithful historians, and acknowledged as authority both by Christians and anti-Christians. Gibbon is impartial, though styled the apologist of Paganism.”
Article No. 4 set forth a narrative of an evangelistic visit made by the Doctor to Rockdale, Pennsylvania. The rest of the number is made up of miscellaneous features, from which we extract the following editorial notice as characteristic of the man:
“Nothing is more gratifying to the feelings, or more calculated to arouse the dormant energies of genius, than the patronage of the intelligent and the good. Every man has genius of some kind; too often, however, perverted to purposes beneath the dignity of a rational man. We lay claim to no high order of mental faculty, but are happy in knowing our own powers, which have no pretensions to anything inaccessible to mediocrity of talent. This we believe to be the most useful to society generally, and best adapted to meet its exigencies. The small share we possess we are determined to devote to the service of Him who gave it. May our resolve be duly seconded. No means, no end, is the law of the kingdom of nature, grace, and glory. In the nature of things then, no money, no types, no type setting, no paper, no printing, no Apostolic Advocate. This is an immutable law of nature. Our patrons therefore, will take it in good part when we hint the importance of a due attention to ‘condition 2’ of the Prospectus. Receipts will be acknowledged in our next.”
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