John Thomas was born in England in 1805, a time when England was at war with Napoleon and the whole of Europe was dominated by conflict and uncertainty. The whole of society was in a state of upheaval and it was into this world that John Thomas arrived to take his place in the purpose of God.

It is said of his father that he was “a high spir­ited, proud and talented man, with an active tem­perament and energetic mind.” He graduated as a preacher, and moved around Britain with his family quite frequently to take up positions more appealing to him. Brother Thomas at the time of his confession and acceptance of The Hope of the True Gospel, spoke lovingly of his mother in the fol­lowing terms: “our moral training at the hands of a kind and pious mother was the best her education in the Calvinism of the Scottish Kirk could enable her to give. She instilled into us a profound veneration for the Holy Scriptures which we retain till this day.” And while he acknowledged that veneration was more for the Book than for an accurate understanding of its contents, the won­derful respect of a son for his mother in this way is surely a mark of the real character of the man.

Although his father was often active in the ministry, his son, John, did not at that time have much interest in religion, and stated of himself that he had “a profound ignorance of the whole subject of theology.” He instead was keenly interested in his medical studies, which he pursued diligently, obtaining his diploma in 1828. As a young man he practised as a physician in England for a few years. He also became involved in literary activities, writing on medical subjects in the journal, Lancet, and completing a course of lectures on obstetrics.

The big change in his life came about when his father became “seized with the American emigration fever”! He wanted to sell up and move across without delay. John Thomas had no special prospects at the time, and while he was not looking for emigration, neither was he against it, his main concern was that his father had a rather impetuous disposition, and he might act rashly in negotiating such a move.

The Editor of the Herald of the Future Age admits he has erred ‘in many things’; and it affords him great and pleasant satisfaction to announce to his readers that by the pro table assistance of the Sacred Writings, he has discovered some mistakes, which, if not corrected, would prove fatal to his eternal well-being.

Confession and Abjuration, 3 March 1847

Therefore John proposed that he should go to America to spy out the land, and to this his father agreed. Arrangements were made and John Thomas procured the position of surgeon on the passenger ship, Marquis of Wellesley, to sail from London to New York, leaving on 1st May 1832, and heading out to the ‘new world’.

God Saved his Man for a Special Work

The voyage very soon encountered foul weather, which continued at varying intensity for most of the eight weeks of the extended journey. In the midst of this, the notorious North Atlantic Ocean produced a fierce storm which did not let up for many days, and which caused considerable damage to the ship. It was for those on board a never-to­be-forgotten experience, perhaps with some simi­larities to the storm described in Acts chapter 27, even to the point where “all hope that we should be saved was taken away.” John Thomas was forced to admit that in facing death he was ignorant of what that really meant. He vowed then, that if he did escape this imminent disaster, he would give himself without fail to finding the answer to this question. God answered this prayer by bringing John Thomas and all others aboard safely to land. In time to come, John Thomas kept the vow he had made. But in a greater sense God had saved this man for a special work.

When he even­tually arrived safely in New York, John Thomas proceeded to follow up letters of introduction he had carried from home. These brought him into contact with ministers of various religions and simi­lar affiliations. This is rather remarkable in view of John Thomas not having had a practical interest in religion back in his homeland. But America at this time was experiencing its own ‘Reformation’, and religious fervour was in evidence in many parts of the country. It was a time of con­frontation and debate, where opposing views were fiercely argued. During this period many new sects were formed, but the real truth of the Scriptures was yet to emerge. It has been said that “the religious climate was perfect for a renewed interest in the true Apostolic faith.” And we note, that in the Providence of God, John Thomas was there!

He Became Involved in that Quest for the Real Truth about God and Religion

Despite being totally ignorant of popular religious writings, and with no intention of enlightening himself in that area, situations very soon arose which impelled him to search out answers for things he had not previously considered. In this way, he became involved in that quest for the real truth about God and religion. On various occa­sions, when subjects were being debated, John Thomas made it clear that he was seeking for truth and was not interested in the religious views of men. However, he had lots to learn before gaining a full understanding of what he had vowed to find.

Soon after landing in America, he made his way to Cincinnati where he met Daniel Gano and Walter Scott. Both men were very active in the Reformation movement, and endeavoured to draw him in that direction. While John Thomas did state that he was searching after truth and wanted to hear many views before making his own decision, the persuasive words of these men, and their misapplication of Bible quotes, was more than he could then refuse. This resulted in the immersion of John Thomas with virtu­ally no preparation, and as he later under­stood, for no spiritual benefit. This event, however, introduced him indirectly to Campbellism, which was going to play a further important part in his development in the work God had for him.

With a very, very insufficient knowledge of The Word, amounting almost to nothing, we became a truth seeker. We sought truth as a worldly-minded, but otherwise moral young man might be supposed to seek it. We sought it at the lips of the world’s prophets and diviners. In the search we failed.

Confession and Abjuration, 3 March 1847

John Thomas met Alexander Campbell in 1833, and initially the two became friends. Campbell was a leading figure in the Reformation movement. John Thomas accepted an invitation to stay at Campbell’s home for a short period. We see something of the authority exercised by Alexander Campbell at this time. On two occasions, very soon after his arrival, John Thomas was informed by Campbell on their way to church meetings that he would be called upon to address the gathering. On both occasions he had practically no time to prepare a talk and informed his host that he had no real knowledge of Bible teaching and no experience in speaking to a religious group. But Campbell did not relent and his guest did the best he could by bringing to mind a few slender threads from history. It is interesting to note that he drew a few thoughts from memory on the prophecy of Daniel, which he had read from Rollin’s Ancient History.

Pushed into Activities for which he Thought he was not Qualified

However, John Thomas was not enthused by this outcome of events. In his view he was being pushed into activities for which he was not qualified. So he determined to move on to Baltimore and Washington. But Alexander Campbell was equal to that situation and was not prepared to see the talents he perceived John Thomas to possess fall dormant.

So Campbell provided him with letters of in­troduction to his religious friends in those places.

Again this produced situations where John Thomas was requested to address various congregations, sometimes for extended periods. This required him to do some Bible study in preparation. But he did not feel inclined to become a preacher. His desire was to settle down and make a medi­cal practice his voca­tion in life. For this he had studied and was trained and it still appealed to him. However, the events and challenges of other studies in the coming years brought him to change his thinking. He later ad­mitted that a prosper­ous medical practice and extensive preaching could not both succeed concurrently, and on a further occasion stated that he had neglected his own affairs in favour of Jesus Christ. This attitude showed that a significant development had been taking place in the conscience of this man as he took on the challenges which real Bible study presented. What a lesson there is in that for us!

The Force of Argument, and not the Argument of Force

In his earlier life in Britain, John Thomas had writ­ten for some journals. He found opportunities now in his prevailing discussions with the Reformist groups in America to combine the use of mind and pen. It must be remembered that over these years John Thomas was on his journey searching for truth. In 1834 the opportunity arose for him to be­come editor of a new magazine named The Apostolic Advocate. It was to “be devoted to the Ancient Gospel and the original constitution of things as proclaimed and appointed by the apostles.”

We thank our foes for their persecution and opposition with which they have encountered us. But for these, we should have been, perhaps, like them, ‘in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity’. Their course has compelled us to study more diligently than we might have done the Holy Scriptures, that we might be better able to give an answer to everyone that should ask a reason of the hope that is in us.

Confession and Abjuration, 3 March 1847

In this publication John Thomas, still searching for the real truth, examined statements made by the Reformist preachers which he considered were astray from clear Bible teaching. The results of his close studies were published, always bringing forth lively, and sometimes fierce, responses challenging his views. In this way John Thomas was forced to intensify his study. This he did, not to justify his own views, or merely to win an argument. He commented on one occasion of the strong verbal expressions that had been vented against his studied views by saying, ‘This is the force of argu­ment, and not the argument of force!’ John Thomas’ purpose was to understand and defend the doctrine of the Apostles. Other publications he edited at various times in that period were The Investigator and The Herald of the Future Age.

Experiences Combined to make him More Determined to Find the Real Truth

Step by step, the willingness of John Thomas to pursue his study of the Bible ultimately led him to the true light. This was despite the growing opposition, false accusations and antagonism that were directed against him. These experiences combined to make him all the more determined to find the real truth. The time came when it all produced a wonderful result. In early 1847, John Thomas’ attention was drawn to adverse com­ments being made about talks he had given in New York on basic truths of the Gospel. In weighing up the evidence gained from his thorough studies of the Scriptures, it was clear that a true understanding of all doctrines of the Bible, including the Kingdom of God, and the real meaning and significance of baptism were vital. Without this belief, and the application of it, no person could possess The Hope of The Truth.

With complete honesty John Thomas acknowl­edged his own position in light of these findings. He realised that his immersion by Walter Scott some 14 years earlier counted for nothing. At that time, he con­fessed, he was virtually ignorant of any significant hope and certainly ignorant ofThe Hope in the Covenants of Promise. But now he came to see in their full splendour what passages like Hebrews 11:1-2 and Romans 8:24 really meant – “we are saved by the hope.”

He now knew where he stood and what he should do. He accepted that he was an un-baptised man; although previously immersed into a sect, he was not in Christ: he was yet in his sins. With little delay, John Thomas arranged for a friend to baptise him. The friend was given words to speak sufficient for the mechanics of a baptism and nothing more and he performed the act of immersion. Any other words and prayers Brother Thomas reserved for himself.

Later he said, “Thus after a journey of 14 years, I had found the truth which I had declared I would not rest till I had found.”

Upon being baptised, Brother Thomas issued a ‘Confession and Abjuration’, followed by a ‘Declaration’ of the beliefs which he now embraced, as well as an appeal to his readers to receive the plain teaching of the Word, and forsake the traditions of men.

He confessed that he had always considered himself to have been a Christian, having been influenced by his mother particularly, but on moral and not spiritual grounds.

When he later set out to seek for truth, he listened to the views of eminent preachers of the religions of men. He now admitted to having been misguided in this, which led him into a pointless immersion. The whole matter was a mistake.

Now it was appropriate that a public abjuration be made to renounce the views he held previously. His understanding of Bible teaching then was largely influenced by the views of men and was not of God. The truth of several important subjects of Scripture had been misrepresented, or were totally neglected. Brother Thomas now totally renounced that position.

His ‘Declaration’ expressed in clear terms the understanding and faith he now held dear. It was The Hope of the true Gospel, first preached to Abraham, and ultimately linked to the Lord Jesus Christ. It was none other than the Apostolic Hope of the glorious blessing of eternal life in the Kingdom of God on earth.

When our Challenges Come?

It is the same Gospel we have learned and is surely the Hope which sustains the faith of us all. These events 170 years ago, depicting the stirring lessons of dedication, moral courage, steadfastness to truth and an enduring respect for God and His Word, can be the vital encouragement which every new generation needs. There were many times over that 13 or 14 years when he faced harsh opposition and unjust accusations. He could have chosen to give up and do something else and be free from all the opposition. But he stayed and faced the challenges with confidence that God had a work for him, and would see him through.

May we be motivated to have that same confidence in God and in His Word, remembering the legacy he has left for us and our ecclesias in these last days.