Site hosted by Build your free website today!

My Days and My Ways

An Autobiography

by Robert Roberts


CHAPTER  THIRTY-SIX:  Death of Dr. Thomas--  “The Christadelphian.”    


The Doctor stayed in Birmingham about four weeks.  They were weeks of pure enjoyment to all the friends of the truth  --especially to those of us who had the privilege of intimate association with him.  His lectures were interesting and powerful; in private he reminded us of Christ by a gravity of deportment that was mixed with urbanity, and a dignity that was sweetened by unfeigned humility, a quiet penetrating depth of intelligence, unweakened by the least approach to  frivolity; a cordial interest that was free and natural in all things connected with the truth.  It was a great change to us to have one in our midst who was, if possible, more interested in all our arrangements than we ourselves.


The first meeting for the breaking of bread was of trilling interest.  We were meeting at the time at the Athenaeum Hall, at the corner of Temple Street and Temple Row West, a place capable of holding about 300.  None of the brethren had seen the Doctor.  They were in full muster to the number of 120 or thereabouts.  None were late that morning except the Doctor himself, who came in after they had been all seated for about ten minutes.  As he quietly walked in and was led forward to a front seat, there was a deep hush of attention.  The meeting that followed was of the sort that goes deep into the memory.  After hearty singing and preliminary exercises, the Doctor was called upon, and ascending the platform addressed the assembly.  He made no personal allusions of the kind that are common with public speakers.  He did not say how pleased he was to be there; how gratifying to his feelings for such interest to be taken in his work, nor how deeply moved he was by the appreciation that had been manifested, etc., etc.  He simply said, in dignified and sonorous voice, “It is written in the prophets” (and proceeded to call our attention to the truth).  I was a shorthand writer, but I was too deeply moved by the words of the speaker to take them down, and I am not aware that anyone else took notes of  them. They were words of weight and power, such as we probably shall not hear again till we meet in the kingdom of God.


By a pure but most suitable coincidence, we brought into use for the first time on this occasion, a new “service” of electro-plate vessels for the breaking of bread, consisting of a central flagon, two cups, two plates, and two collection boxes.  They had been provided in consequence of the increase in our numbers, causing too long a time to be taken up in passing a single plate and cup.  To preserve the symbolic unity of the table, the two cups were supplied from the central flagon at the moment of dispensation, and the two plates from a central plate likewise.  On the same occasion, the new Christadelphian hymn book (not the present music hymn book, which came after) came into use for the first time; and there was also the extra circumstance of newly painted hall and premises.  These features were, of course, entirely extraneous and insignificant, but they added an element of interest to an occasion deeply interesting in itself.


The Doctor lectured in all fourteen times among us –eight times in the Athenaeum Hall, and six times in the Temperance Hall (the present meeting place of the brethren).  The Athenaeum lectures were all crowded; the Temperance Hall lectures were not less numerously attended; but the audience, being in a larger place, did not show to so good an advantage –especially on week nights.  It marks the great advance made by the truth in Birmingham since that time, that the ordinary Sunday evening audience is far larger than the audience got together by special advertsing to hear Dr. Thomas.


At the close of Birmingham appointments, there was a tea meeting in the Athenaeum, at which 150 persons assembled to say temporary farewell to the Doctor.  I find by The Christadelphian for July, 1869, that I presided at the meeting, and said that the occasion, though a farewell occasion, was not so sad as such occasions usually were, as we were looking forward to see the Doctor’s face again at the end of a lecturing tour in Britain, which had been arranged for.  The tour would occupy about nine months, when we hoped to see him in Birmingham again.  The Doctor was then called upon, when he proceeded to give us a promised treat.  He stepped on to the platform, at the back of which, on the wall, were displayed three large charts of the prophetic times, which he proceeded to explain, wand in hand (appearing for the first time as he observed, in the character of showman).  The diagrammatical exposition was a rich treat.  It lasted about two hours, and was afterwards published in form of a pamphlet entitled, The Book Unsealed.


During the Doctor’s stay in Birmingham, he suggested the change of the name of the monthly magazine from The Ambassador of the Coming Age to The Christadelphian.  He did not do so directly: he was too much of a gentleman for that.  He said one day in the office, if he should ever conduct a monthly magazine again (which he thought very unlikely), he should call it The Christadelphian.  He had reason for it.  He judged from the progress that was being made in numbers that, by and by, there would arise ambitious men, lacking depth, who would desire to lead without all the qualifications for it –mediocrities who would start magazines for the liking of the thing or for the ventilation of crotchets, and if the name Christadelphian were unappropriated, it would be sure to be taken by some of this class to the detriment of the truth.  I expressed concurrence in his views, and intimated that if he did not object, I would substitute the suggested name for The Ambassador.  He was evidently pleased at my agreement with him on the matter.  I adopted the new name at once without, however, making an immediate change.  I used both names together for a while, gradually enlarging the size of the type in which the new name was printed, from month to month, and diminishing the size of the other, until in about six months I dropped the name Ambassador altogether.  The reasons for the change I set forth at length in an article appearing in July 1869.  On the appearance of that article, many who disliked the change turned to be in favour of it.


The Doctor had not long arrived in Birmingham when the Campbellites made an attempt to neutralise his visit by circulating a scurrilous tract entitled A Glance at the History and Mystery of Thomasism, by David King, who was, and ever since has been, resident in Birmingham. [Since this was written, his death has been announced in the papers.  He died in the last week of June, 1894.]  The brethren were much mortified by this publication, which made no attempt to confute the Doctor’s contention with regard to divine truth; but laboured to create a personal prejudice by a coloured representation of the Doctor’s dealings with the Campbellites in 1848, and by making sport of the disappointment of the Doctor’s expectation that the Lord would return in 1866-8, and by charging him with plagiarism in the use of historical matter in Elpis Israel.  As the best way of antidoting this movement of malevolence, I challenged David King to debate the question, What is the truth? and having received his expected refusal, I put together a tract, in which, besides announcing his refusal, I answered his personal charges against Dr. Thomas, and inserted a pithy definition of the creed of Campbellism written by Dr. Thomas for the purpose.


Looking back at the said publication now (as found in The Christadelphian for August 1869, page 227), I am made to feel the modifying effects of time on all human excitements.   If I had to write it now, it would not be so juvenile in any sense.  I would not fling so many epithets, nor serve the vinegar quite so strong.  I was writing under the stimulus of feelings that owed their intensity, in some degree, to the Doctor’s presence, as well as to the virulence of the enemy’s attack.  In style, it is quite overdone; but in matter and meaning, I don’t know that I could mend it much.  The tract commenced thus: --

                “David King, editor of the Campbellite organ in this country, and evangelist (so-called) of the Campbellite body in Birmingham, is very shy of the truth.  He is pugnacious enough; but his pugnacity cannot be brought to a healthy bearing.  His attacks are always personal and of an insignificant character.  He keeps as far off as ever he can from the great issue existing between the ‘Thomasites,’ as he delights to call them, and his own body and Christendom generally.  He is ready to debate on the character of Dr. Thomas (which is unhurt, however, by the slander he has helped to cast upon it): but flies like a startled mouse from the proposal to discuss the question which does not depend upon the character of any living man, viz., what was the gospel which was preached for the salvation of men by the apostles in the first century?    --the no-creed creed of Campbellism, or the faith contended earnestly for by the Christadelphians.

                “In 1864, when challenged to this encounter, he declined on the score that the ‘Thomasites’ were too insignificant in number to justify the labour, and dying out with a certainty which made it superfluous.  In 1869, he has a new excuse, as the old one does not suit.  He finds that the hated class have grown to about 130 ‘members’ (as orthodoxists coldly say) and a large circle of outside sympathisers; and that they have brought Dr. Thomas to their midst to help on the successful battle of the truth in this country; and instead of joining issue on the main question –which would be inconvenient to him, as he is on some points more of a ‘Thomasite’ than anything else –he meanly seeks to neutralise their efforts by the circulation (on the eve of the Doctor’s departure) of an ex-parte hash, in hoping by this means to smother the real issue, on which he knows it would be difficult for him to sustain his part.”


The Doctor’s definition of Campbellism was very racy as well as true.  He amused me much by reading it to me one day at home on my return from business.  The following are the leading features: --

                “I believe, as a Campbellite, that I am an immortal sinner, or saint, as the case may be, having in my living carcase a particle of the divine essence, derived indirectly from  the Deity, though the first rebel against His law, which particle, infinitesimal, invisible and intangible, is the real I myself  --the veritable and immortal man.

                “I believe that when I die, I don’t die, but merely change the mode of my existence; and that when I die, but don’t die, my invisible and impalpable, because immaterial and infinitesimal, immortal soul, poised upon a down feather of an angel’s wing, goes straight to glory in Heave, ‘beyond the skies.’

                “As a Campbellite, I believe there are kingdoms in the Heaven to which my immaterial and impalpable soul flies, when it drops it ‘mortal coil,’ or carcase, and that said Heaven is

                                                               “Beyond the bounds of space,

                                                                               The saint’s secure abode.”

                “I believe, with all Pagans, Papists, Protestants, and Mohammedans, in a might black fellow they call ‘the Devil,’ having horns, hoofs and forked tail, whose abode is in flames of burning sulphur in Hell, which is somewhere in the universe, but where I can’t imagine.

                                                                      “No word, I think, will please the Lord

                                                                       Unless it smell of sulphur.”


                 “I believe in three kingdoms, the kingdom of law, the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of glory, beyond the skies where no space is.


               “I believe that the ‘church’, consisting of all Christians of all denominations, except Christadelphians, is the kingdom of grace, and that Christ is now upon the throne of David reigning with the Apostles, also upon their thrones, in the regeneration gloriously.


                “I believe that all that is necessary for an ignorant sinner’s salvation in the kingdom of grace is to say ‘Yes’ in answer to the question ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ and to be immersed in His name, the signification of which is not essential to be known.


                “I denounce all sectarianism but my own ISM, and I hate all ‘sect-makers’ but Walter Scott and Alex. Campbell who, about 40 years ago, made the sect to which I belong.


                “I believe that an immortal soul may be converted without faith or obedience, in a flash of lightning, as preached by one of our so-called evangelists, who testified that

                                                             “Between the stirrup and the ground,

                                                                    He pardon sought, and pardon found.”


                “I believe in these things, yet I protest I have no creed.  The things I believe may or may not be believed according to one’s inclination.  It is of not importance, as salvation ‘between the stirrup and the ground’ is not dependent upon conditions.  I hate all creeds and confessions as the work of the devil to divide Christians.  Protestant unionism is the panacea of all the ills of Christendom ! ! !”



The Doctor left us about the beginning of July and visited the following places: --Bilsthorpe, Nottingham, Leicester, Cheltenham, Mumbles, Swansea, Devonport, Dorchester, London, Maldon, Nottingham, (second visit), Scarborough, Whitby, Halifax, Manchester, Edinburgh, Tranent, Galashiels, Wishaw, Paisley, Beith, Galston, Cannock, and Halifax (again).  Particulars of his visits to these various places appeared in The Christadelphian at the time.


During his journeyings, I was in close correspondence with him on various matters of more or less importance, springing out of his visit to Birmingham.  First of all, was a scheme for his settlement in England.  He said his work in America was done, and he felt inclined to spend the rest of his days in Britain, in which he recognised a more promising field of future labour.  With a view to this, he purchased a small plot of land at Olton, about five miles out of Birmingham, on which he authorised me to employ a brother to erect for him a small house to his own plans.  He proposed to call it Yahlom Lodge, or wayfaring place provided by Yahweh Elohim for one of his pilgrims.  In my juvenility I had my qualms about putting the name of God on a house.  But the Doctor took it very calmly as a thing in harmony with the practice of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The house was duly put up, but the Doctor did not live to occupy it, and it went into the hands of the stranger, after being enlarged to twice the size to suit the neighbourhood where it stood.  When it was put up, it stood by itself among fields, by the side of a road newly formed.  It now stands in a small forest of villa residences in one of the rapidly rising suburbs of Birmingham.  The road has been named St. Bernard Road, from the name or associations of a Roman Catholic College that has sprung up in the neighbourhood.  The house itself is call Elmhurst, and stands nearest in the road to the Great Western Railway Station of Olton.


The next business the Doctor had in hand was the settlement, with friends of the truth in various parts of the country, of a plan for the establishment of The Christadelphian on a solid foundation.  The necessity for this arose from the passage of a new Bankruptcy Act which put an end to my appointment as shorthand writer to the court.  The change was in progress at the time of the Doctor’s visit.  It was not a question of a living.  I was offered employment on one of the daily papers, but the acceptance of that offer would have involved the suspension of The Christadelphian or the embarrassing circumscription of editorial and other activities in connection with the truth.  The Doctor arranged that instead of a salary from the proprietors of a Birmingham paper for reporting ephemeral town’s affairs, I should have a salary for editing a monthly magazine in the service of the truth. The arrangement caused some unkind criticism among some, but not among those who were actuated by disinterested or reasonable views.  It lasted long enough to serve its purpose.  The Christadelphian by-and-by became self-sustaining, and it has since withstood the shock of some severe onslaughts, and now appears to be upon a basis that cannot be assailed.


The Doctor returned to us about the middle of March, 1870.  The last days of his stay were embittered by a domestic complication of which the providential meaning has since become apparent.  The prying and presumptuous intrusion of a professed brother (who has since pursued a course of enmity and allowed himself to be known as a “Reverend,” from whom early in the day we had to withdraw) goaded the Doctor into the determination to appoint me sole custodian of his affairs in the event of his death.  I suggested that he should associate brother Bosher with me, in which he concurred.


This history of the past 25 years has shewn that this arrangement was necessary to save the Doctor’s works from suppression.  Many changes and enmities have arisen, but the Doctor’s works have been steadily published, and the lamp of truth has not lacked a vantage ground from which its rays, however feebly, have been scintillated in the dark-ness resting so heavily on all the earth.  God could have provided other instruments, but this is how it has been done.


The Doctor left us in the beginning of May, 1870.  Before his departure, we held a tea meeting, at which he gave a very interesting account of his three visits to Britain.  His speech on the occasion will be found fully reported in The Christadelphian for June, 1870, page 126.  Towards the end of June, I received a letter announcing the safe arrival of the Doctor and his daughter at New York, with many interesting particulars of the voyage.  The letter will be found in The Christadelphian for August, 1870, page 230.


For nine months afterwards, I was in the regular receipt of letters from the Doctor, several of which appeared in The Christadelphian.  On Saturday, March 19th, 1871, having returned from the office, and dinner being over, sister Roberts, with a solemn air, handed me a letter from sister Lasius, the Doctor’s daughter, which began thus: --“You will be surprised to hear that my father has died.”  I could go no further.  The announcement, though so quietly made, was more than startling; it was bewildering, overwhelming, crushing.  I felt as if the sun had been extinguished; as if life had been robbed of all interest.  It was indeed a day of blackness.  We were to have had a tea meeting of the Sunday School teachers that evening.  The holding of it was impossible.  Next day (Sunday), at the breaking of bread, I reported the news I had heard.  There was nothing but sobbing all over the meeting for several minutes.  A brother inviting us to join with him in prayer, soothes broken hearts a little.  Afterwards, I found solace in reviewing the history of the truth since the days of Paul to the days of Dr. Thomas, with reference to its glorious finish at the Coming of Christ.  The Doctor’s death was a great shock throughout the country (in limited circle).  All felt they had sustained a personal bereavement.  While all realised that death was to the Doctor an unmixed good, in suddenly abridging the interval that divided him from the glory to be revealed, all felt the anguish of being deprived in the conflict with the present evil world of so trusty a guide and counsellor in the things of the Spirit.


The letter announcing his death also enclosed an unfinished article for The Christadelphian, on which he was engaged at the moment of his fatal attack –an article entitled “What is flesh?”  The article is one of remarkable vigor, as may be seen from its perusal in the Doctor’s Life, or The Christadelphian for April, 1871, page 106.  A friend on reading it exclaimed, “What a pity that so great a mind should cease to work.”  There was another side, with which we consoled ourselves: how much better that the Doctor’s work should end while his powers were yet in the fullness of their vigour rather than that is should last till a time when the strongest of faculties begin to give way.


The Doctor had left the following directions on the subject of his interment: --

                “In 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; nor is any parson, Popish priest, or Nonconformist minister, ordained or unordained –all of them dealers in the merchandise of the apostasy, and traders in ‘the bodies and souls of men’ –to be permitted to read, pray, preach, or in any way officiate in committing me, myself –not a fraction or a 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 Christadelphians, read as my living representative on the occasion; so that, though 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, Job 19:25-29; Rom. 14:7-12; II Cor. 5:10; II 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.”


These instructions were carried out by brother Boshser and myself on our going over to New York in connection with the administration of the will some weeks afterwards.  We found that the Doctor had not been permanently interred, but only deposited in a vault pending our arrival, so that we had the unexpected gratification of complying with these instructions under circumstances that seemed to render it impossible.


(Here ends the autobiography entitled,

“My Days and My Ways.”)


Berean Home Page