Letters to Mr. Campbell
Following this reply Dr. Thomas addressed a series of letters to Mr. Campbell which were reproduced in the Apostolic Advocate. In them he disclaimed any intentional bitterness or severity in what he wrote, saying he was aware that what he considered mild or conciliatory, might seem hard to one of a different temperament. He then proceeded to record the views he held, leaving Mr. Campbell to judge whether they were according to the Scriptures. The general subject of the letters was the necessity of re-immersion in the case of those who had been immersed without an appreciation of the principles of the “Reformation,” but there was much else. Some of the other points are shown below.
Dr. Thomas recorded the commission which Jesus gave to his disciples before his ascension; they were to make disciples of all nations, and to baptise them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He also explained that in his understanding, repentance depended upon faith.
He pointed out that John the Baptist proclaimed baptism for the remission of sins, for all classes of Jews had forsaken the law of the Lord and had corrupted the ordinances of Moses. Multitudes had flocked to hear him, and had asked what they should do. In reply John had told them to “bring forth proper fruits of reformation.”
Later, the Jews reached the climax of their wickedness by rejecting and murdering Jesus. When they were convinced of their error on the Day of Pentecost, and asked what they should do, Peter told them they must repent, or reform, and that the way in which they were to do this was to be baptised. That was the first proper fruit of reformation.
From Pentecost, Dr. Thomas passed on to the address of Paul at Athens. There he called upon men to reform. They were to forsake the wisdom on which they had prided themselves, and turn to the Unknown God. Some responded to his words, and were baptised. In the beginning therefore, reformation meant renouncing idolatry and being baptised. Then, referring to the case of Cornelius, Dr. Thomas pointed out that he, too, was baptised. Thus, faith, reformation, baptism, religion, etc., were all terms expressive of the things that were necessary for life and godliness, while the first act of reformation was baptism. A baptised person in the Apostles’ days was a reformed person in the Scriptural sense.
In the second letter the Doctor pointed out that an “immersed believer of the testimony which God had given of His Son” was the only true reformed character in the days of Apostolic purity; only such were adopted into the family of God. These were “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands in the putting away of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him by immersion.” Such had put off the old man with his practices, and had put on the new man. There was therefore “but one way to get into Christ, and that was by being immersed in water into his Name.”
The Doctor went on to speak of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which ceased when the Christian body attained to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, rendered permanent in the writings of the holy Scriptures. These gifts were the word of wisdom, faith that would remove mountains, healings, etc. On the other hand, the fruits of the Spirit would abide.
The practices of the Reformation characters should be such as would adorn the doctrine of God in all things. They should be like Jesus, holy, not conformed to the principles of this world, not bearing arms for the destruction of men, nor included with political agitators on questions of human policy, not tolerating the sins of the flesh. Anything that did not conform to the principles illustrated in the life of Christ was to be put on one side.
There was much more, including an allusion to matters connected with the promise and covenant made with Abraham, but these must suffice. They give an insight into the mind of the Doctor at that early stage of his religious career. In these letters to Mr. Campbell the real man appears. He uses stern words, but stern words are sometimes necessary, and an uncompromising attitude to error is often required. In the letters Dr. Thomas appealed to Mr. Campbell to rise to the occasion and stand with him in an endeavour to keep the “Reformation” clear, and so avoid the dangers which he foresaw were approaching.
In these letters Dr. Thomas also expressed his belief that the time for the return of Christ was near. It was an idea that he retained all through his life. He spoke of the time as “ a day of preparation for the reception of the returning Bridegroom,” and emphasised the necessity of being ready for that event.
Some of his comments are worth repeating. “The garment spotted by the flesh is purified, or washed, white in the blood of the Lamb, not in water abstractedly considered.” “Immersion is not baptism . . . it depends on the candidate’s firm assurance that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin, and that he rose from the dead, that makes immersion into water real baptism.”
Clearly as these letters indicate the movement of the Doctor’s mind, it must not be assumed that he had as yet come to anything like a full realisation of the truth. This will be seen later. Meanwhile the argument about immersion and re-immersion went on until it was overshadowed by a wider controversy.
Mr. Campbell replied to Dr. Thomas’s letters in the pages of the Millennial Harbinger. The reply was altogether unacceptable to the Doctor. Nothing would be gained by repeating either Mr. Campbell’s reply or the rejoinder of Dr. Thomas, as they did not affect the issue that was raised soon afterwards.
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