I recently had cause to review the work of Brother Thomas and as a result felt the great debt we owe him as a brotherhood. He was a man of extraordinary gifts which enabled him, under God’s care and direction, to unravel from the Scripture the apostolic gospel. His resolution to undertake such an investigation was made when his life was imperilled at sea and when it was considered that the vessel he was in would be lost with all hands. He never faltered in his resolve to unravel the Truth of the Scriptures, for which he had from early days the highest respect. One has only to read the account of his association with the Campbellites in the New World, and the opposition his exposition of Biblical truth generated amongst them, to realise he was a person of unfailing commitment, conviction and strength. He was prepared to sacrifice the comforts that would have rewarded a successful professional life, in order to promulgate knowledge of vital, saving truth he had unearthed. He was clearly the right man at the right time to perform a crucial work for God in the last days. As Robert Roberts says of him: “There was a full development and rare blending of the powers of exact observation, clear thought, correct reasoning, strong memory, forcible diction, fluent speech, uncompromising fidelity to conviction” (Dr Thomas: His Life and Work, p248).

Much more could be said about the greatness of the man and his work, but some reflections may be profitable. Imagine if you were the one chosen to bring the Truth into the light of day from the prevailing darkness of Christendom. Do you think you could have endured the challenges and opposition, or have devoted your mind so exclusively to the Word of God, as Brother Thomas did? Probably none of us could have done what he did.

His work involved not only the unveiling of Bible Truth, but also its promulgation by mouth and pen. He travelled extensively in North America, and visited England on three occasions (1848, 1862 and 1869), each time being involved in preaching campaigns that cost him dearly and left him exhausted. In a real sense he performed the work of an apostle, one sent forth. In a certain sense it was a greater work, for not only did he proclaim the gospel, but with the Father’s help, he brought it to light. As is said in another context, there were “giants in the earth in those days”.

By the time he died he could see his work placed upon a permanent basis, with ecclesias being established in the English-speaking world.

Conviction

During his 1848 visit to Britain much attention was aroused by his “exposition of the prophetic Word and its bearing upon the signs of the times”. By popular request he wrote Elpis Israel over a period of some months in which he set forth in a comprehensive way his beliefs. His absolute conviction that they were true and apostolic can be seen from the following extract from the Preface: “the author is free to admit his weakness and inferiority in every respect that may be imagined. In one thing, however, he feels strong, and armed in all points for a conflict to the giants – he knows what is written in the law and the testimony, and he understands the meaning of it.”

Integrity

Just before the visit to Britain, he wrote out the doctrines elaborated in Elpis Israel. He perceived that he had only now arrived at a true understanding of the one gospel, and in March 1947 published “A Confession and Abjuration” of past erroneous beliefs and was baptised for the third time into the “hope of Israel”. It was a momentous realisation, altering the course of his life and led to his separation from past associations. His own words are as graphic as they are enlightening:

“Step by step we neared the precipice over which our profession was to be dashed to pieces. We continued our argument, showing that none other than this was a saving faith (Heb 11:1); ‘for we are saved by hope’ (Rom 8:24).

This was a turning point. ‘Saved by hope’, said we. ‘What hope?’ Hope may comprehend a multitude of general matters – saved by hope of what? Did the apostle not express himself more definitely than this? We will look into this. Accordingly, we turned to the original, and found that he had said, ‘the hope’; and not only so, but affirms this salvation by the hope in time past – we were saved by the hope. This was very definite … the question immediately flashed within us, ‘When you were buried in baptism, were you saved by the hope?’ We had to confess we knew nothing then about the hope: that the covenants of the promise were a hidden mystery to us, and that beyond what we have stated, we were entirely in the dark” (Dr Thomas: His Life and Work, p121–2).

As a result of this perception the Christadelphian brotherhood as we know it today came into existence, and we can be thankful for that.

One of the things causing concern is whether this great work is recognized and appreciated today? As Christadelphians, brethren and sisters of Christ, we should have a keen interest in our “beginnings”, our heritage! How many of us have read, or perhaps even heard of a book in our libraries called, Dr Thomas: His Life and Work? It is a worthwhile read and will help us value our foundations and appreciate what a privilege it is to know the Truth. One of the problems we face relates to reading. If we do the “daily readings” we may think we have ‘done enough’. It is true that reading the Bible is the most important thing for it is God’s Word and the repository of absolute, uncontested wisdom. But there are other writings which can help us to understand the Bible better, and the works of our pioneer brethren number amongst them.

It would be a tragic thing if we lost the desire to read the Truth’s literature. The perilous last days present us with many challenges. We are buffeted on every side by the media, and time for reflection, meditation and reading is being stolen. It is time for us to take stock and analyse how we spend our time. How much do we spend on TV, pleasures, entertainment, sport etc? We can find time for these. Are these things sapping our vigour for Christ and our service within the ecclesia? Have we the same commitment as Brother Thomas? Are we prepared to forgo a life of ease and leisure and make the sacrifices that “taking up the cross” of Christ involves? We cannot have Christ without sacrifice. Have we lost our “first love”? Is there still a “fire in our belly”?

It is now almost 140 years since Brother Thomas died. As a result of his work we are beneficiaries. We do well to remember that, and acquainting ourselves with the long and tedious path by which the Truth was unearthed will help. There is a warning in the book of Judges that we do well to heed, when faithful Joshua and “all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: there arose another generation after them, that knew not Yahweh, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:8–10). The consequences were disastrous.

Are we ignorant of our heritage? Have we forgotten the price paid, the great work done by our forefathers in the Truth? We cannot “esteem them highly in love for their work’s sake”, if we do not know what they did.

Brother Robert Roberts concluded his biography of Brother Thomas with a prayer. The paragraph reads: “That the writer and readers alike may be permitted to stand with Dr Thomas in that day, accepted in the presence of the Lord of Glory, shall be a concluding prayer, with ascription of all praise, and blessing, and honour, and dominion, and glory forever, to the Eternal Father, of whom are all things: and His beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, world without end, AMEN.”

We, too, can say Amen to this prayer.