Why is it that the Truth has survived and prospered for over 150 years since the baptism of John Thomas in 1847, but not previously? Brother Alan Eyre’s research into the lives of the ‘Protesters’ has shown that the Truth was discovered several times in earlier centuries but each time the community of believers was short-lived. In the nineteenth century the time was ripe for a lasting revival of the Truth. It was a time in history fraught with dramatic upheavals, a time of political turmoil and the Industrial Revolution. For the first time there was both the political and religious freedom to find and speak of the Truth, and the means to disseminate it widely and rapidly. This providential conjunction of events can be paralleled in the time of the apostle Paul when the universal Greek language, Roman law and order and the Roman road system enabled him to travel widely in the preaching of the gospel. The reality is that, though God could have done otherwise, He raised up our Brother John Thomas at this time. His times and his upbringing greatly influenced the course of his life.

Background and Youth 1782 to 1832

John t

The Background of the Times

1 Religious Freedoms The fifty years from 1760 to 1810 saw two monumental political revolutions, the American (1775– 1783) and the French (1789–1795). Both had a great impact in Britain and consequently on the early life of Brother John Thomas. The significance of the French Revolution, the subject of several pivotal prophecies in the Book of Revelation, is seen in the following quotations:

“There were two forces in history which contributed heavily toward the eroding of the neo- Constantinianism of the Reformers; they are the French Revolution and Anabaptism.”

 Leonard Verduin, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, page 87.

 (Neo-Constantinianism was the adoption by most of the Reformers in the 1500’s of the dictatorial practices of the Roman Catholics).

  “It is now generally admitted that John Wesley made great numbers of ordinary English people think less about their material well-being than their spiritual salvation, thus fortifying them, at a critical period of the French Revolution, against the materialistic teachings of Tom Paine. The powerful influence of the Methodist Revival still permeates England in the form of its ‘Nonconformist conscience’.”

 William Sargent, Battle for the Mind, page 82.

(John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, lived from 1703 to 1791).

It took until 1828 for the laws of England to begin to be relaxed enabling non-Anglicans to hold any public office and enter universities. The following year the vote was extended to Roman Catholics. In 1832, the year Brother Thomas emigrated to America, the system of voting was reformed to then allow one in five Englishmen to vote. The following decade was one of political convulsion. It took until 1856 for religious liberty and equality to become the birthright of all the English. The Nonconformists or Dissenters created “a sturdy individualism. Thrift, temperance, integrity, foresight, self-improvement and hard work were the virtues that, in an unfettered economy, would promote the greatest good.” Roberts and Roberts A History of England, 1985, page 486.

Interestingly, half the inventors and entrepreneurs who were active in the Industrial Revolution were Nonconformists, though only 5% of the English were.

2 Printing

 Printing as we know it commenced in the early 1400s and remained generally unchanged until the middle of the 19th century. By about 1800 the printing capacity of the metal press was about 250 copies an hour. The prospect of using steam power in printing prompted research into means by which the different operations of the printing process could be joined together in a single cycle. By 1814 a speed of 1 100 sheets per hour was achieved, with an increase to 8 000 copies per hour in 1844. This dramatic increase in production came at the very time that John Thomas was preparing to publish his understanding of the Gospel to a wide audience.

3 Steam Transportation

 Prior to the development of steam power to transportation the speed and methods of travel had remained unchanged for thousands of years. In 1807 the first steam ship was constructed, followed in the next year by the first steam locomotive. The first passenger railway began operating in 1825. Thus in the early years of John Thomas, including his travels in America, a phenomenal increase in the speed of travel occurred, enabling him to visit many distant places to preach the gospel. Historians have identified 1815 as the start of a transportation revolution.

John Thomas Senior

 A number of brethren in Britain and the USA have found some early documents allowing us to piece together much of the history of the Thomas family. Apart from many published works, I am indebted to Brethren Stewart Algar in England and Peter Hemingray in the USA for their research and assistance.

The father of Brother John Thomas was born on 17 November 1782. We first find him mentioned at the age of sixteen as a member of a Dissenting church. A little over a year later he applied to join the Hoxton Academy (or Theological Seminary), located in the London suburb of Hoxton, to train for the ministry of an Independent (or Congregational) church. He was admitted in 1801 and graduated the following year at the age of twenty. On 28 March 1804 he was ordained a pastor at Founder Hall in London. The chart summarises the main events of his life as far I have been able to discover them.

Brother Thomas’ parents lived in Hoxton Square, Hoxton. A history of Hoxton Square states that “the residents of Hoxton Square lived in religious, academic, scientific and literary circles” and the writer of this history found the names of some twenty five dissenting ministers who lived in the Square. This was the environment within which Brother Thomas’ father developed his religious fervour.

He married Jane White on 4 May 1804 and his firstborn son John (Brother Thomas) was born on 12 April 1805 in Hoxton Square. A daughter Jane was born the following year. There were three other sons—Robert (a printer for Alexander Campbell in Wellsburg, Virginia in 1833), Alfred (a doctor in Washington, DC) and Henry (in London in 1848, at whose place Brother Thomas wrote Elpis Israel in 1849).

On 15 August 1810 he left this church and moved his family to Huntley in Scotland when his son John was five years old. Brother Thomas’ earliest recorded recollection of this time was 53 years later when he inaccurately estimated his age to be seven. They lived here for a year before returning to London. His father established schools for the education of the sons of Dissenters, no doubt including his son John. Thus Brother Thomas’ early upbringing and education was thoroughly imbued with the principles of independence and separation from the established churches.

Brother Thomas’ Medical Training

 In late 1818 the family again moved, this time to Chorley, Lancashire (near Liverpool and Manchester), where they stayed for four years. At the age of fifteen in 1820 Brother John Thomas began his medical studies under a private surgeon. At the time of the coronation of George IV in 1820 John Thomas Senior strongly objected to joining in the celebrations with the Catholics, and wrote a booklet against their beliefs. When the family returned to London Brother Thomas stayed on for another six months and resigned from his father’s church.

On his return to London he continued his medical studies, first under a general practitioner in Paddington for two years and then for three years at St Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital. He received his certificate from the hospital 10 May 1828, which recorded the courses he attended in 1826 and 1827. In about 1827 he attended the City Dispensary and was admitted to the Society of Apothecaries.

In 1829, in writing to the medical journal The Lancet he is described as a “Demonstrator at Anatomy”, and living in Hackney, a suburb of London. In June 1830 he was enrolled as a member of the British College of Surgeons. In all he wrote ten articles in The Lancet. One titled On the Immateriality of the Soul shows that he had a good knowledge of the Bible and of both Hebrew and Greek. By the age of fifteen he had taught himself Hebrew! He attended about 2 000 medical cases in England before leaving for America in 1832.

During Brother Thomas’ time in Hackney he was commissioned to write a history of the local parish. Such was the uncompromising honesty of his manuscript that it was never published. He referred to a local drain as “a ditch of running liquid filth… highly prejudicial to the health of the district”. The original hand written bound manuscript is however still in existence in the Hackney Library archives. The manuscript includes hand drawings of high quality.

father

The book was dedicated to “the memory of the illustrious dead, who by their sufferings in the cause of civil and religious liberty… ”. He describes himself as “Late Demonstrator of Anatomy; successful candidate for the Anatomical Prize at St. Thomas’s Hospital; Author of Essays on the Treatment of Burns and Scalds; on Suspended Animation; on the Philosophy of the Mind; and of other Medical Papers”.

It is evident from his medical training, his writing and the sources he quotes in the following years that Brother Thomas was very well educated and widely read.

Searching and Controversy 1832 to 1838

Emigration to the USA

 Early in 1832 Brother Thomas’ father was “smitten with the American emigration fever” (Brother Robert Roberts writing in 1864). Brother Thomas considered his father impetuous and they agreed that he should go on ahead to spy out the land.

On 1 May 1832 Brother Thomas emigrated from London on the three masted ship, the Marquis of Wellesley. The trip took over ten weeks (eight weeks in some accounts) arriving in New York in the middle of July (13 or 16 according to shipping records), a journey that normally took from three to five weeks. His father did not wait for news from America and left, probably with the rest of the family, three weeks after Brother Thomas and arrived only three days after him.

It was during Brother Thomas’ voyage that the ship was nearly wrecked and, feeling uncertain about life after death, he made his monumental vow. Six years later in 1838 he recalled that:

“Threatened with shipwreck off the Nova Scotia shore, and experiencing upon that trying occasion the worthlessness of our religious principles as a basis for ‘a sure and certain hope’ of salvation, we determined, if we were ever permitted to tread the soil again, not to rest until we found the true way to immortality”.

 Apostolic Advocate, 1838, Volume 5, page 87.

 Upon arrival in New York the father and son John Thomas visited Presbyterian and Baptist churches with letters of introduction from England. John Thomas Senior is described at this time as a Baptist minister. It is evident that they were able to mix with men of some importance, which initially was very helpful in establishing themselves in a new country. After about two months (September 1832) the family moved, as intended when they left England, to Cincinnati. This involved a journey of about 1 200 miles (about 2 000 kilometres) by various boats on river, canal and lake (see map). Brother Thomas’ father stayed about three months and returned to England. After a further three months there Brother Thomas’ father again visited America, this time for about ten months.

Immersion into the Campbellite church

 On arrival in Cincinnati the family visited the director of a local bank. Living opposite was a Major Daniel Gano who invited them to dinner one evening. He gave Brother Thomas some pamphlets by Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott. The latter met Brother Thomas a few days later, and by the use of Acts 8 and 2:38 during a three hour private conversation persuaded him to be immersed by moonlight in a canal. This sudden commitment by Brother Thomas led to quite unanticipated results fifteen years later. He was twenty seven years old.

Walter

map14

Brother Thomas’ father was not keen on this ‘re-baptism’ as he was at that time satisfied that infant sprinkling was adequate. Brother Thomas then lived with Major Gano until he left for Philadelphia in April 1833. The move was prompted by an excess of doctors in Cincinnati.

At this point in Brother Thomas’ life there were three main factors that influenced him. These were his continuous drive to study the Scriptures and accept its teaching whatever others thought, his natural honesty, and his acquired taste for aggressive argument.

First, his whole life was one of absolute loyalty to the Scriptures. Both his parents instilled in him a deep respect for the Scriptures, but this grew as he studied it for himself. Whenever challenged, which he often was, it forced him to study more to resolve the matter. In fact it was these challenges more than anything else that drove him on for fifteen years until he reached a level of understanding that led to his first genuine baptism.

Secondly, Brother Thomas says of William Bootwright, his first acquaintance in Richmond, and his confidant, that “he has often told us that we were too credulous of men”. A mutual friend reported that Bootwright told him that “of all men you were the most honest” (written June 1838). He was said by a friend to be “too credulous” (published August 1838). He was therefore taken advantage of and was not as cautious of others as he became later.

Thirdly, in October 1834 Brother Thomas was described as being “too personal”, “too harsh” and “too sarcastic”. He was also said to use “too much ridicule”. In March 1835 he was thought by many to be “too severe and sarcastic”. Again in June 1836 he is described as “exceedingly harsh and censorious”. Nevertheless he defended himself by saying that he held “no malice” for anyone.

Years later (written March 1847) Brother Thomas describes his early Biblical studies:

“Having been immersed, into what we now see is an erroneous system, an interest was then awakened in us to know more about it. Accordingly, we devoured the Christian Baptist and Harbinger [Campbell’s writings]. For seven months, we supposed, we were studying the truth itself. We were but too faithful a student of these writings. We acquired a taste for theological gladiatorship for which we have not been altogether unjustly blamed.”

 Herald of the Future Age, Volume 3, page 74.

Towards Richmond

 As his journey back to the east coast took him near to Campbell’s home he stopped at Wellsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia) and met Campbell.

At this time his brother (probably Robert) was a printer for Campbell at Wellsburg. From there they went to Bethany (about fifteen miles or twenty five km away), Campbell’s home town, where he stayed about a month. It was during this stay that Brother Thomas was first compelled by Campbell to publicly speak on the Bible, which he did using Daniel chapter 2 and his knowledge of Rollin’s Ancient History.

alex

From Bethany he travelled to Washington and Somerset Court House in Pennsylvania (two weeks), Baltimore in Maryland (one week) and Philadelphia (eleven months). His destination was to be Richmond on the recommendation of Campbell who thought there was an opening for a physician there. He carried a letter of introduction from Campbell, to William Bootwright. In every place along the way he was compelled to speak but disliked it immensely, as it was against his “disposition which was naturally reserved”.

 In November 1834 Brother Thomas states that his “mother and sister, who you (Campbell) saw in New York, have since put on Christ since their arrival in England”. It seems that at least one brother, his sister, and both parents were at one time members of the Campbellite movement.

Alexander Campbell

 It is interesting that Alexander Campbell had similar experiences to Brother Thomas. He was born in 1788 in Ireland and was a Presbyterian. In 1807 his father, Thomas Campbell, emigrated to the USA, followed the next year by Alexander. His ship was turned back by a storm, and he resolved to spend the rest of his life in the ministry of the gospel. In 1809 the family moved to the USA. Thomas Campbell founded what was called “The Reformation” which was intended to re-establish first-century Christianity. He published a “Declaration and Address”.

It is recorded of Alexander Campbell that “controversy is the life-blood of his cause” and he said that “debating is… .one of the best means of propagating the truth and of exposing error.” He was “characterized even in his boyhood by his readiness… to enter the lists in debate” and that he “naturally possessed a caustic sarcasm and playful irony”. Campbell’s influence is seen in Brother Thomas’ early vigorous preaching, not always, as he later acknowledged, in the right spirit. By 1832 Alexander Campbell was the leader of the group which included Walter Scott and Barton Stone.

The Church in Australia that is the descendant of the Campbellites is the Church of Christ (not to be confused with the Churches of Christ, much larger numerically in this country). From my experience few members of this church are aware of our common background, and their current doctrines are no different from other mainstream churches. In Adelaide in 1961, Bro H.P.Mansfield engaged in six nights of debate with a Mr D.E. Lee, an evangelist of this Church.

In Richmond

 Whilst in Philadelphia Brother Thomas wrote a twenty two page booklet on “The New Catholic Controversy…”. His talents as a speaker and writer were rapidly growing. He is described in the history of the Campbellite church in Richmond as “a man of intellect and culture”.

 In Philadelphia he was called upon to publish a paper, which was named the Apostolic Advocate and commenced in May 1834. The first issue was published in Philadelphia and subsequent issues in Richmond.

In May 1837 he records that it was whilst in Philadelphia and listening to Campbell that Campbell’s unsatisfactory answers to questions on the fate of unbaptised infants that die caused him to begin “to reason independently of all you [Campbell] have written on this subject”.

 In early 1834 he arrived in Virginia. In the years 1834 to 1838 Brother Thomas travelled extensively in Virginia and once to adjoining North Carolina. Brother C Evans writing in The Christadelphian for February 1962 states that “Dr. Thomas appears to have spoken at ‘Good Hope’ [Lunenburg County] in 1834, and although the building was resited [in 1902], it is believed to be the oldest place in the States where the Truth has been continuously preached”.

Good

 Writing in 1861 Brother Thomas confirms this by stating that he “had been a frequent visitor there for some twenty seven years”. This journey was a distance of about ninety miles (about 145 km) south west of Richmond.

cup

1845 Bible and silver wine cups

 The small ecclesia, which is still active today, has consciously retained the original podium because Brother Thomas spoke from it. The ecclesia also possess a Bible and two silver wine cups which are said to have been presented to the ecclesia by Brother Thomas’ daughter, Sister Eusebia Lasius. The Bible is inscribed “Lunenburg, Virginia, United States of America, 1845.” Since she was less than ten years old at that time it seems reasonable to conclude that these where given to Brother Thomas in 1845 by the ecclesia when he visited there, and returned to it by Sister Lasius after her father’s death in 1871.

In 1834 he visited many localities in the lower counties of Virginia. He says of these speaking appointments that “we never went anywhere, except at the solicitation of others. It is a rule with us never to force ourselves anywhere unasked” Apostolic Advocate, Vol 5, page 92. These numerous addresses caused him to carry out an independent examination of the Word. “We have never addressed the people from inclination, but always from a sense of duty and at the earnest solicitation of others” (written July 1838).

Sister Ellen Thomas

 On 1 January 1834 Brother Thomas married Ellen Hunt when he lived in Philadelphia. Sister Thomas was twice immersed in the years before April 1836, first probably in Cincinnati and the second occasion being in Richmond. They may therefore have first met in Cincinnati.

Her second immersion was at her request and we can see therefore that she had convictions at least as strong as Brother Thomas. Campbell did not approve of her actions. At that time she was already “confined to her bed” by illness, namely tuberculosis. For this reason she seldom travelled except when the family all moved interstate to live. In August 1846 she is described as a “sick lady”, and in March 1847 as incurably diseased. Nevertheless she outlived Brother Thomas by nine years, dying on 7 September 1880.

Farming

 On 10 September 1835, he purchased a farm near Paineville about thirty eight miles (sixty km) from Richmond. It was owned by ‘Brother’ Townes in Amelia County, who was the Campbellite pastor in the area. A copy of the contract is still in the Amelia Court House records. His plan was to work the farm by a deputy while he practised medicine, and edited the Apostolic Advocate in Richmond. At this time he received some funds from the sale of real estate of a relation. By September 1835 the first symptom of disagreement between Brother Thomas and Campbell was evident when Campbell criticised Brother Thomas for his views on re-immersion.

In April 1838 he wrote “that it was for those who sent for me to be at charges with me”, meaning those who invited him to come and speak must pay for the travel and living expenses of the trip. Evidently he did not have the means to do this at his own expense.

Controversial Articles

 Within eighteen months of Brother Thomas’ immersion into the Campbellite church his depth and range of writing was impressive. In November 1834 he wrote on the second advent of the Messiah and the Russian invasion of Israel. In January 1835 he wrote an exposition of Revelation 12:1–6. This followed in February by an article on the Waldenses, and in March by articles on the term “ecclesia”, the Mormons and First Century Worship.

In the October 1834 edition of the Apostolic Advocate Brother Thomas wrote a controversial article on anabaptism and presented an eight point summary of his understanding of the meaning of baptism. In July 1835 he published his letter to the Baltimore church of 10 June which urged those who had been immersed in the Baptist church to be re-immersed. Baltimore’s concerned reply was published in August. In October he wrote again on “re-immersion”. These articles began to reveal his divergence from Campbell who technically agreed with Brother Thomas but felt it was expedient not to offend the Baptists and others by publicly arguing for re-immersion. Brother Thomas could not agree with this inconsistency.

In December 1835 Brother Thomas wrote an article titled “Information Wanted”, within which he posed thirty four questions on many subjects for his readers to respond to. They dealt with baptism, the state of the dead, and the kingdom on earth at Christ’s return. It is amazing that in just over three years, with little help from others and some opposition, Brother Thomas had uncovered so much of the Truth. This list constitutes the first of many “Statements of Faith” that Brother Thomas wrote, others of which are mentioned later in this article.

As early as February 1836 Brother Thomas writes that his views on the soul were being labelled “speculation” and “an untaught question”. Alexander Campbell used these terms in his criticisms from 1837 onwards.

Health

 During August 1836 Brother Thomas visited several congregations in Lunenburg County. At this time he became fatigued and found his “native energy of constitution” considerably impaired. After two days he was quite exhausted and was confined to bed with a bilious fever for twenty one days,. He was thirty one years of age at the time.

This was the first of many occasions when his labours to preach the truth, as he was uncovering it, took its toll on his health. I have found thirty further instances of his poor health over the years 1841 until his death in 1871, an average of once a year. At the age of thirty nine he was taken by an observer to be forty five. On return from Britain in 1850 he was bedridden for four weeks and in 1856 for ten days.

Finding that he did not have enough time to practise medicine and fulfil speaking appointments in the area, Brother Thomas moved to his farm in November 1836. He purchased his own printing press for the publication of the Apostolic Advocate on the farm and to be free of the constraints of a publisher, who became antagonistic to Brother Thomas’ views.

Around this time there occurred the birth of a daughter Eusebia, their only child. Brother Thomas states that the farm was intended to support his ‘family’. In 1850 Sister Thomas states that their daughter was about ten years old in May 1848 when she travelled to Britain with Brother Thomas. Eusebia’s gravestone in Brooklyn, New York gives her birth year as 1838, although the writing is somewhat indistinct.

Debate on the Immortality of the Soul

 On 1 August 1837 Brother Thomas commenced a five day debate on the immortality of the soul with a Presbyterian clergyman John S Watt. The venue was at the Fork Meeting House in Lunenburg County, Virginia.

The impact of this debate was enormous. Whilst many individuals and at least two congregations (the Paineville and Jetersville churches in Virginia) supported Brother Thomas, Alexander Campbell was most displeased. He issued what Brother Thomas called a ‘Bull of Excommunication’. Campbell had said that Brother Thomas was not to be considered a brother.

As a result Brother Thomas cancelled a planned tour of the southern counties of Virginia in early 1838. By September of that year he was encouraged to travel in the counties north of Richmond. His friends in this area urged him to seek a reconciliation with Campbell, which he was keen to achieve. In October Campbell visited Virginia and the two met, both privately and before an audience in debate.

These discussions did not achieve a resolution, so the members of the congregation were requested by Brother Thomas to suggest a way out of the impasse They proposed that Brother Thomas should no longer speak of the non-existence of immortal souls for the peace of the brethren, “unless in his defense when misrepresented”. At this time Brother Thomas did not consider the subject fundamental and therefore not to be the cause of division. He was not prepared to be the cause of destroying the peace of the community.

Brother Roberts writes that Brother Thomas was “depressed” by the backward state of affairs in Virginia—religious, social and commercial. In the biographical notes in the front of Elpis Israel Brother Thomas is described as being “tired of theological strife”.

Wilderness Years 1839 to 1844

Move to Illinois

 At this time Sister Thomas wrote to her brother Mr James N Hunt in Naperville, Du Page County, Illinois (about thirty miles or fifty km west of Chicago). In response he urged the Thomas family to move to this area. He wrote glowingly of the opportunities in this pioneer area, what we may well call the “wild west”. After some weeks deliberation Brother Thomas decided to personally inspect the country before deciding whether to take his family west. The opportunity to escape from his difficulties in Virginia was obviously attractive.

He spent three weeks in the area south-west of Chicago around the Du Page and Fox rivers. Here he purchased a farm of 288 acres for $2 000 in Longgrove, La Salle County, to the west of Naperville. On his return he passed through Cincinnati and enjoyed meeting with Scott and Gano.

After three months away he arrived home, completing a journey of 1,800 miles (2 900 km). Writing on 15 July he advised his readers that the Apostolic Advocate was being suspended and that he would probably publish a new magazine under a new name in the future, after he had become established on his farm. His postal address was care of Godfrey Stevenson at Naperville. Five months later, on 1 December 1839 the family, with his brother Robert and two servants, moved to Illinois, a trip that took two months. Initially they stayed with James Hunt at Naperville. So began what I term Brother Thomas’ “wilderness years”. For five years he made little progress and avoided the open confrontation with Campbell that had so troubled him in the previous five years.

For two years Brother Thomas put his efforts into farming. He must have considered the attempt worthwhile, given his farming experience in Virginia. However the effort was too much for one who was not physically strong and the selling price of his crop had dramatically fallen. Consequently at the end of 1841 the family moved to St Charles on the Fox River, about twenty miles (thirty two km) north-west of Naperville. Brother Thomas was at this time thirty six years of age.

Here he commenced a newspaper as the first editor on 5 February 1842. It was called the St Charles Patriot and the Fox River Advocate. The 1888 Biographical and Historical Record of the Kane County states that the paper was “exceedingly well conducted”. Brother Thomas continued until 1843, when he became the President and Lecturer in Chemistry and Pharmacy of the Franklin Medical College in the same town, which had recently opened, the first in the State.

In May 1842 Brother Thomas commenced to edit a magazine called The Investigator. This magazine was only incidentally religious in content.

Nevertheless during 1843 Brother Thomas wrote a special issue on baptism showing Campbell’s views to be wrong. Only ten issues of the magazine were published up to the end of 1843. For four years he had little to distract him from a contemplation of his position and his relationship to the Campbellites. He evidently continued to study the Scriptures, growing in knowledge but not yet perceiving which things were essential to salvation. Here was a turning point in Brother Thomas’ life, though not perceived by him at the time.

About May 1843 the Thomas family moved to Cincinnati, where he left his wife and daughter with Major Daniel Gano. From there he went to Pittsburgh, Fredericksburgh and Richmond where he unsuccessfully tried to collect a debt. Consequently he had to borrow more money to pay off his own debt. At Richmond he was not initially recognized because of the effect of his hard farm labours, and I suspect the religious controversies, over recent years. He then returned to Louisville, Kentucky for about a year.

In

Resolve and Baptism 1845 to 1847

Move to Louisville

 Whilst living in Louisville he edited a newspaper. Here he was urged by an old friend to commence a new magazine. This was to be a most significant development. By mid 1844 he began to edit the Herald of the Future Age. This magazine shows that his mind was now set on a course which was uninterrupted for the remainder of his life. It is uncompromising in its search for and proclamation of the Truth. After a “wilderness wandering” of five years Brother Thomas renewed his labours in the gospel with vigour.

By now most of the fundamental doctrines were clear to him and he no longer restricted his words just to maintain the peace with Campbell or his followers.

Return to Richmond

 On 25 September 1844 the Thomas family left Louisville for Richmond. In Richmond they stayed with Brother Richard Malone, with whom they lived for the next eight years. This house in North Street is still standing. Soon after arriving, the first separate meeting of Brethren in Christ, only four or five members, met in Richmond. Prior to this time they had met if possible with Campbellites, but this became increasingly closed to them. This marks the start of what in 1865 became known as the Christadelphian community.

The Campbellites record that it was in 1845 that a “complete division” of their community occurred as a result of Brother Thomas’ return to Virginia in 1843. He was “disfellowshipped” by many of the Campbellites during this year. Up until this time he still met where accepted with the Campbellites. Brother Alfred Nichols writing of this change says that:

“The very existence of the Brotherhood as a separate community was initially forced upon our early brethren on account of their devotion to the Scriptures and their refusal to accommodate themselves to prevailing religious ideas upon any consideration whatsoever.”

 The Christadelphian, 1977, page 41

In July 1845 Brother Thomas received a letter from an individual in Henderson, Kentucky, the first contact as far as I know with what was and still is an active ecclesia. More will be said of this ecclesia in a later article, God willing. In October he published a nine point statement on his beliefs, including the obedience of baptism.

The Lanesville ecclesia was founded in 1845. The earliest reference to a member of this ecclesia is of Brother Dr Lemuel Edwards in April 1838 when he was twenty years old. Brother Edwards died in 1907 at the age of eighty nine.

Lan

The original Lanesville ecclesial hall was rebuilt in 1875 on the same site through the efforts of Brother Edwards and this hall is still standing. The horse ring on the outside is said to have been transferred from the earlier building, and had there been used by Brother Thomas.

In 1954 the newspaper, the Richmond Times- Dispatch, published an interview with his son Brother Charles . Edwards. This ecclesia continued until 1962. For many years this ecclesia had been out of fellowship and when it closed due to declining membership the brotherhood “forgot” about it. In 1985 Brother Tim Anderson of Virginia acciden tally “rediscovered” it, and The Christadelphian for February 1993 published an article on this amazing story. The heritage listed building is privately owned by a non-Christadelphian descendant of Brother Edwards.

Baptism

 In August 1846 Brother Thomas reprinted an article by another author originally published in 1839, titled The Hope of the Gospel. This article mentions “the hope of eternal life” and “the hope of the second coming of the Lord”. This hope is described as being “the ancient gospel”. Brother Thomas states that the reading of this article struck him forcibly. However this subject remained in abeyance for several months.

On 8 October he travelled to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. From mid October he spoke some eleven times in New York and three times in nearby Newark. The addresses were on the subjects of the Kingdom and the mortality of the soul. The substance of these talks was published in January 1847 as a thirty point summary of ten discourses given in New York, called “Things Elaborated From the Word”. At the end of this article he printed an eighteen point summary of the gospel.

Two things resulted from this effort. First, according to Brother C Evans, writing in The Christadelphian in September 1959 (page 390), it was a few days after Brother Thomas’ talks that Brother George B Stacy of Amelia in Virginia (who heard these addresses) wrote to Brother Thomas that he had not been baptised after believing the gospel.

Secondly, in January 1847 an opponent of Brother Thomas wrote that what he had spoken of in New York were “husks” and “useless speculations”. He therefore commenced the article on the “Hope of the World… ”. The turning point in his study was the discovery that Romans 8:24 speaks of “being saved by the hope”. He confessed that he knew nothing of the true hope of the gospel when immersed in 1832.

Consequently, on 1 March 1847 Brother Thomas wrote a twelve page article on The Hope of the World, and the Gospel, or, “Hope of Israel”. He describes the writing of this article as having “opened his eyes astonishingly” (Herald of the Future Age, Volume 3, page 73). In the following issue of The Herald of the Future Age he published his Confession and Abjuration with a seven point Declaration dated 3 March, on the occasion of his baptism into Christ with a full knowledge of the Truth. A search of fifteen years had then come to an end. With the help of a friend he was baptised, for the first time, as a believer of the gospel. He had found the “sure and certain hope” of salvation that he realised he lacked when threatened with shipwreck. As he vowed, he had not rested until he “found the true way to immortality”. He was nearly forty two years old.

Brother Thomas describes his journey of discovery. He says:

“In all this journey, I had been directed in a course very different from what I would have selected if I had been left to map it out for myself. I had been entangled into preaching and editing, and taking part in distasteful theological controversies, which, however, in their combined influence, brought me to a knowledge of the one faith, and the obedience which it demands.”