Andrew R Wilson's


The History of the Christadelphians



1864 - 1885




The Emergence of a Denomination








Chapter I


Historical Roots



At Ogle County, Illinois, in 1864, during the course of the American Civil War, Dr. John Thomas invented the name Christadelphian from two Greek words, christou and adelphoi, which combined to mean ‘brethren in Christ’. He did this, not for novelty’s sake – he was himself preaching to a variety of different Christian assemblies at this time and was far from exclusive in intent – but, in compliance with the requests of contemporary U.S.A. authorities, to provide a label for those who were his followers to apply to themselves so they could avoid military service in that war. Thus ‘Christadelphianism’ relates to the period after 1864, on this definition. However, British believers continued to call themselves by divergent, vaguer terms for some time afterwards. The use of the label ‘Christadelphian’ became much more a standard term for the group after the name of these believers’ main periodical was changed, in 1869, from The Ambassador of the Coming Age to The Christadelphian.

From July 1864, this monthly periodical The Ambassador began to be published in Britain, and statistics relating to membership and conversion became available for historical scrutiny for the first time on a national basis.

Because so very much in the development of Christadelphianism was due to the impetus provided by Dr. Thomas, it is with his biographical history that this root-analysis starts. Thus the ‘roots’ referred to in this chapter’s title concern the period beginning with the birth of John Thomas in 1805 and ending with the birth of the term ‘Christadelphian’ in 1864.



John Thomas, born in Hoxton Square, London, on 12 April 1805, was not particularly interested in religion in early life. His upbringing was respectably religious – his father, indeed, worked for part of his life as pastor to a number of different types of denomination.

John’s education was varied – the family followed Revd. Thomas’s lead in and out of professions and from area to area. Besides schools, John was educated by the various doctors and surgeons for whom he worked.

Eventually, he studied at Guy’s Hospital, from where he emerged a qualified surgeon. For some time, the distinct impression was given that medicine was a ‘vocation’ in the mind of John Thomas: he wrote frequently in The Lancet, produced a course of lectures on obstetrics and, as one professor among his detractors later sardonically remarked: ‘What a fool Dr. Thomas is. If he would only devote himself to his profession he might ride in the best carriage in Richmond.’

His interest in religion seems to have been kindled by an essay in The Lancet, entitled ‘On the Functions of the Brain’. This purported to demonstrate that man contained part of God’s essence. The article caused Thomas to brood about the nature of man’s physique, the nature of immortality and the purpose of resurrection.

A major spiritual conflagration occurred in John Thomas’s disposition, ignited by his very near shipwreck in the Marquis of Wellesley on its way to America in May 1832. Robert Roberts was later to describe the episode in these words: ‘He determined that if ever he got ashore again, he would never rest till he found out the truth of the matter [of religion], that he might no more be found in such an uncertain state of mind.’

John Thomas’s father, having been an Independent minister changed his allegiance to the Baptist cause just prior to the journey to America. Thus it came about that, on the ill-fated voyage on the Marquis of Wellesley in 1832, John carried with him letters of introduction to the Baptist fraternity in the U.S.A. These included letters to the President of the Baptist Bible Society of New York, and another Baptist preacher.

Professionally, John Thomas intended to take up the recommendations which he had obtained to the professor of surgery at Ohio Medical College, along with a letter of introduction to a Baptist preacher at Cincinnati. He was not too disturbed by New York Baptists’ worry that their western brethren had been ‘very much infected with “reformation”’.
Thus it happened that Dr. John Thomas found himself in the company of such Campbellites as Major Daniel Gano and Walter Scott. Scott, indeed, on his first meeting with Thomas, cornered him in argument into admitting the essentiality of the total immersion of believing adults, and, whilst Thomas believed himself to be only seeking truth, he was, there and then, at 10 p.m. in the moonlight, obliged to be immersed in the Miami Canal.

Soon after this event, Dr. Thomas met Alexander Campbell himself, who ‘pressed [him] into speaking duties’. Campbell was, evidently, well pleased by the performance of his protégé. In 1833 he wrote:

‘We have just received a pamphlet of 22 octavo pages, small type, containing a very able philippic against the Ismatic religions of Messrs. Hughes and Breckenridge, the celebrated disputants on the claims of the Pope and John Calvin. This pamphlet, from the pen of our much esteemed brother J. Thomas, M.D., presents a very lucid and forcible view of the true Church of Christ and the Christian Institution and exhibits in bold relief the real merits of the Papal and Protestant controversy. It is a document worthy of a very general circulation for its own sake, and is a striking proof of the irradiating, emancipating and emboldening influence of the original Gospel and order of things on the minds of all who cordially embrace the Apostles’ doctrine. Brother Thomas is but an infant of one year old in the Christian Church, and here we find him in the very Temple of Apostate Christianity, successfully grappling with the Doctors of the two great parties in the apostasy; and certainly while contending with them, he proves himself, when panoplied with the armour of Light, more than a match for the rulers of darkness of this world, with all their Holy Orders and traditions of the See of Papal Rome.’


John Thomas allowed himself to be encouraged by this support, and not only spoke publicly and studied the Bible extensively, but also decided to become editor of a small monthly magazine. This produced its first issue in May 1834, being known as The Apostolic Advocate. It was to run (with a change of name in May 1837 to The Apostolic Advocate and Prophetic Interpreter) until 1839.

In 1834, John Thomas’s tours of Campbellite church circuits involved frequent and lengthy addresses. Despite a professed disinclination towards public oratory and a desire to present to congregations Biblical exegesis rather than emotive rhetoric, Thomas was in increasing demand amongst Campbellite congregations. Such was the support of those who had become enamoured of Thomas through his exposition of the Bible that, in the troubled waters that lay ahead of him in his relations with the Campbellite hierarchy, congregational petitions came to his aid on several occasions.



Extracted from the book and inserted here for illustration purposes only

 is one of the many pictures that appear at the conclusion of chapter one


HeartBeat Entertainment | History of the Christadelphians | Andrew R Wilson | Missionar Kirk of Huntly


Missionar Kirk of Huntly
Revd. John Thomas (Dr. John Thomas’s father) was pastor here in 1811.

The Kirk was upstairs, and the Manse downstairs. ‘Mrs Thomas never liked Huntly. It was a great change to her to come from the metropolis of the empire to what she would regard as a poor, dirty village . . . The streets were unpaved and often deep with mud and manure, the houses almost all small and mean; the people uncultured, their speech scarcely intelligible to her, their manners in her eyes rude, their staple food . . . oatmeal cakes, oatmeal pottage or brose twice a day, kale or sowens the chief constituent of the third meal, wheaten bread a rare luxury, butcher meat never on the table except on Sunday and even then coming only as an accompaniment of the barley broth in which it was boiled, tea and coffee known only to a few.’ – Revd. Robert Troup, M. A., Missionar Kirk of Huntly, Chapter VIII. (nd/pp), quoted in TC, Vol. xcii. (1955), pp. 467, 468. The full extract from which the above quotation was taken is reproduced on the following page.




The editing of The Apostolic Advocate was a decisive move for John Thomas. He himself summed up his position in a book written thirty years later:

‘In those days, the author of this exposition of the apocalypse, then a young man of about thirty years of age, found himself among them, before he understood their theory in detail. He applied himself diligently to the thorough understanding of it by the study of the writings current among them. This he acquired; so that he needeth not that any should testify of Scotto-Campbellism; for he knows what is in it, and that it falls infinitely short of its pretension to be the “restoration of the ancient gospel and order of things.”


The author adopted with great zest and zeal the sentiment of their legend. He proceeded to “prove all things,” and to “hold fast what” he believed to be “good;” and to call no man father, teacher, or leader, but Christ, THE TRUTH—John xiv. 6. In doing this, he devoted himself to the study of the prophetic and apostolic writings, under the impression that he was engaged in a good work; and, as he was then publishing a periodical entitled The Apostolic Advocate, he would from time to time report to his brethren for their benefit, what he found taught therein. In pursuing this study, he found many of their principles to be at variance with “the word,” which was made void by them. Perceiving this, and supposing that the spirit of their legend was the spirit of their body, he did not hesitate to lay his convictions before them that they might prove them, and hold them, or reject them, according to the testimony. This raised quite a storm among them, the thunderbolts of which were aimed at him by the thunderer of their sect. This uproar caused the author to discover that he had made a mistake in his reading of their legends; and that their reading of Paul’s words was, “Prove all things which we have proved; and hold fast what we believe to be good;” and of Jesus, “Call no man father, teacher, or leader, but Alexander Campbell.” These were readings that he had never agreed to; and, therefore, he continued to read and publish according to the old method, very much to the indignation and disgust of the Simon Pures who misled the multitude.’


Elsewhere, speaking retrospectively of his views as a young man on the main tenets of Campbellism, Thomas said: ‘He was not quite clear upon these topics himself’.

In an extremely ingenuous way, then, John Thomas was simply attempting to assess a creed, into which he had been hastily enrolled, as to its logical consistency. He was not so much certain that he had found it wanting, as certain that he needed answers. Equally certainly, the community – at least as represented by some of its leaders – of which he was asking these questions was rather panicked at their very searching nature and, instead of interpreting the thrusts of his queries as the probings of disinterested inquiry, assessed them as wounds rendered by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This vicious circle of antipathy accelerated during the years to come – mutual suspicion breeding mutual suspicion. The doctor’s arguments were unanswered; he came to believe they were unanswerable; and, to justify his suspicions, he probed further, but – silence came the stern reply!

For their part, the Campbellite leaders were astounded at the virility of his questioning mind and assumed the worst; in turn, when further questionings probed deeper, their worst suspicions seemed confirmed . . . until a break came.

In detail, this logic worked out as follows. In the October 1834 edition of The Apostolic Advocate, an article was published which provoked a furore in the correspondence column of the magazine over the following months. Thomas, along with others, reassessed his position and, in December 1835, produced a list of 34 questions under the heading ‘Information Wanted’.

These 34 questions were regarded by his critics as representative of opinions already held rather than open-ended queries. The emphatic way in which the points behind the questions were put made this interpretation easy to understand. Perhaps, subconsciously, John Thomas’s mind had already changed; but, in his own estimation, he still felt undecided. It was, he said, ‘their violent attacks, [which] threw him upon the defensive, and compelled him to fortify.’

A whole avalanche of consequences followed from the 34 questions, in this way. Alexander Campbell, in his magazine The Millennial Harbinger, began to attack John Thomas. These attacks were not only of a courteous, expositional or theoretical nature, but also contained ad hominem verbal assaults. In The Apostolic Advocate, Thomas reprinted Campbell’s articles, together with detailed analyses and refutations. The effect was, not unnaturally, to annoy Campbell even more.

On 1 August 1837, Thomas began a ‘week’s debate’ taking on Presbyterian minister, Revd. John S. Watt, on the issue of the immortality of the soul. By November 1837, Campbell had disfellowshipped Thomas because of views put forward in this debate. On 20 November 1837, Thomas analysed the situation in a 3,700 word letter, challenging Campbell to justify his decision; Campbell replied in early December. Thomas again challenged Campbell’s reasoning on 20 December 1837 in another lengthy letter.

However, this explosive situation was temporarily defused in two respects. Firstly, two congregations—Paineville, Amelia County, Virginia and Bethel, Jetersville, Amelia County, Virginia—wrote letters of commendation of Dr. Thomas, challenging at some length Campbell’s assessment that Thomas was ‘fit only for such society as Tom Paine, Voltaire and that herd’. Secondly, in October 1838, after a vituperative sermon from Campbell attacking Thomas’s position, the two men actually met at Richmond, in the middle of a railroad bridge, with no hearers present. Meanwhile, a debate was arranged, after which 23 Campbellite brethren signed a motion, the nub of which was:

‘Whereas, certain things believed and propagated by Dr. Thomas, in relation to the mortality of man, the resurrection of the dead, and the final destiny of the wicked, having given offence to many brethren, and being likely to produce a division amongst us; and believing the said views to be of no practical benefit, we recommend to brother Thomas to discontinue the discussion of the same, unless in his defence when misrepresented.’

For the next three or four years, a lull in polemics occurred. John Thomas disappeared from the debating scene—he tried farming, in Virginia, with not much success; newspaper work in the town of St. Charles; and the appointment of ‘President and Lecturer on Chemistry’ at the Illinois State chartered Franklin Medical College.

In 1841, Thomas attempted to introduce a replacement to The Apostolic Advocate in the shape of The Investigator. However, this only continued for ten numbers, when financial troubles ended its run. A more long-lived periodical was begun in 1844. This was the Herald of the Future Age.

In between The Investigator’s end and the birth of the Herald of the Future Age, John Thomas was yet again involved in a number of debates – not with Campbell, nor with the Campbellites, nor even of his own seeking. What happened was that certain Universalist congregations, to which he had become attached in the role of stand-in preacher, also invited others to help fill the place of absent pastors. A distinct divergence having been perceived between Thomas’s position and those of alternative preachers in the circuit, debates were arranged – in one case with a Mormon elder, and, later, with a Universalist preacher. Whatever else was the outcome of these encounters, one point became supremely evident, and that was the growing clarity, distinctness and self-consistency of Thomas’s position.

At about the time of the delivery of Thomas’s ‘Ten Lectures’ in New York City in October 1846, there was a growing awareness amongst Campbellites of the power of his exegetical talents. Consequently, he was invited by the Campbellites to become the regular minister of one of their congregations. His reply was clear and very definite:

‘With many thanks to our brother for his kind disposition, we answer emphatically “No!” We cannot afford to sell our independence for a mess of pottage. How could we teach the rich faithfully, the unpalatable doctrine of Christ concerning the proper use of the mammon of unrighteousness, and be dependant upon them, for the perishable pittance of a few hundreds per annum? We must be free if we would be faithful to the truth. We object not to receive contributions in aid of the cause we advocate; but they must be spontaneous, not extorted. We cannot preach for hire.’

Once again, with the start of a new magazine, Thomas’s latent energies and thought-processes were activated and galvanized. From the start of the Herald of the Future Age in 1844 to Thomas’s final organisational break with the Campbellites (in the shape of his ‘Confession and Abjuration’ and ‘Declaration’) was a step occupying only three years. Indeed, even before 1847, traits of a distinct independence movement were discernible. For instance, during 1844, in the first year of the Herald of the Future Age, Thomas removed to Richmond, Virginia, and stayed with a friend called Richard Malone. Together, they visited the Campbellite church of which Malone was a member, in a neighbouring town. Dr. Thomas, who was known to the locals, was invited to speak. Once again, the assembled congregation was polarised by the message of a Thomæan sermon. One section was so bitterly in opposition that Malone was expelled from the church; another group, however, was so impressed by Thomas that they broke off relations with the Campbellites and started a small church group run totally independently of the Campbellite assemblies. This, it seems, was the very first glimmer of organisation in what were, by 1848, to be known as ‘Baptised Believers in the Gospel of the Kingdom of God’ and, by 1864, as ‘Christadelphian ecclesias’.





In October 1846, John Thomas visited New York for the first time in fourteen years. As ever, he was invited to speak in the local Campbellite church. This occasion marked the delivery of the ‘Ten Lectures’, later transformed in the pages of the Herald of the Future Age into a series of thirty points. In this course of addresses, Thomas set out to establish the earthly literality of the kingdom of God. He concluded, later, concerning the effect of his preaching then:

‘They no longer revel in the fancy sketches of wild and vain imaginings; they look for the realization of the promises made to the fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David; . . . They can no longer sing

“With thee we’ll reign,
With thee we’ll rise,
And kingdoms gain
Beyond the skies!

but, with the saints gathered unto Jesus, the New Song saying, ‘thou, Lamb of God . . . hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign ON EARTH.—Rev. v. 9.’


Despite the obviously radical nature of his message, some of his brethren clung to Thomas. He was, indeed, invited after these lectures to become the permanent preacher to a New York congregation, but, again, declined the offer.

A variety of commentators, including Thomas himself, have recognised the importance of the year 1847 in the development of both Thomæan theology and the organisation of believers which he himself began. The vital occasion was a day in February, when an article in The Protestant Unionist by Revd. J. H. Jones attracted John Thomas’s attention. This article, written by a Campbellite, attacked the fundamentals which Thomas had been seeking to propound. What startled Thomas was not that he had been attacked, or that new scriptures had been brought to bear of which he had been unaware – it was, rather, that he saw, clearly, for the first time that he had, in fact, become separate from the foundation on which the Campbellite creed was grounded. Following logically from this, the baptism with which he had been baptised so hurriedly in the Miami Canal was, he now believed, an inadequate one, since the knowledge-base upon which he had accepted the need for this rite was equal to that of the Campbellites – those from whose views he now so fundamentally differed.

Thus it was that Thomas asked a New York friend of his to re-baptise him. He said:

‘All I ask of you is to put me under the water, and pronounce the words over me, “Upon confession of your faith in the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, I baptize you into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” I don’t ask you for any prayer or any ceremony. All that is necessary I will do for myself, except the mechanical part of putting me under the water, and your utterance of these words.’

The year 1847 saw the production, by Thomas, of his ‘Confession and Abjuration’, and ‘Declaration’—a full and clear statement of a new and different basis of faith from that on which Campbellism stood. It was dated 3 March 1847.

In the same year, Thomas produced his ‘Twenty Propositions’, along similar lines. In his own words, he had ‘illustrated and proved the . . . propositions to the conviction of increasing numbers’. In the same year, again, he proposed a debate with Alexander Campbell. This was to take the shape of counterpoised analyses on the issue of the nature of man and the immortality of the soul, written, alternately, in Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger and in Thomas’s Herald of the Future Age.

For the first time, Thomas now felt sure enough in his own mind of the security of the grounds of his belief that he set out actively to evangelise those who were, in his view, still in darkness. He was not, now, questioning or querulous: now he was fired by the zeal of certain conviction. He made a tour of the U.S.A., visiting places where he knew there were Campbellites disposed favourably towards him – places such as Baltimore, New York and Buffalo. In these places, he gave addresses on the kingdom of God, the return of the Jews to Palestine, and prophetic subjects in general.

In addition to touring Campbellite strongholds, Dr. Thomas visited Millerite assemblies. These, however, were still at this point predisposed to the view that the earth’s history was likely to be brought to a sudden end, and so found distasteful the long-drawn-out timetable suggested by the idea of the regathering of Jews from all over the world to the land of Palestine, prior to the setting up of the kingdom of God.




By May 1848, Thomas had decided to return to British pastures to seek an entrance for the gospel. On 1 June, he embarked on the De Witt Clinton, docking in England twenty-one days later.

His visit to Britain was of crucial importance in the development of British Christadelphianism. By means of his tours and his magazines, Thomas had influence over a large number of Campbellite and Millerite individuals, (some of his meetings were attended by several thousand people), principally in two areas – the North and East Midlands, and Scotland. In tracing the history of this particular visit, one is in touch with the very early stages – ecclesias of single figure numbers, or even those in total isolation from others of the same faith.

The pattern of this visit seems to have been that Thomas had a certain few planned places of visitation in mind when he left the U.S.A. (he had letters of introduction from Campbellite congregations in the United States, to others in Britain); that his itinerary was notified by Campbellites receiving these letters to others in surrounding areas; and that these people attended Thomas’s lectures, became interested and invited him to their town, too. Then, finally, having been attacked by some of the leading London Campbellites in the pages of one of their national magazines, Thomas turned to the Millerites in Nottingham and found there a more understanding response.

There were those Campbellite congregations, also, in the Midlands area, who did not take kindly to dictatorial treatment by the London leadership, and who became more sympathetic with John Thomas as a result of his ostracism by London. Indeed, divisions within the Campbellite church plumbed such depths of schism that one of the three national magazines, The Gospel Banner, offered itself to Thomas as his mouthpiece, for a time.

Piecing together his first tour north, we now know that Dr. Thomas visited Nottingham first, to which town he had letters of introduction. He arrived there on 29 July 1848, delivering lectures on 1–7 August; from there to Derby, again delivering lectures on 9–13 August; followed by lectures at Belper and Lincoln during late August. Having travelled to Scotland he stayed in Glasgow from 15 September to 13 October, (lecturing in the Paisley district from 2–12 October) and Edinburgh (from 27 October to 11 November), inserting a week’s recreational visit to the island of Islay between the two. Returning to England, he visited Harrogate, Newark, and Lincoln before returning to London.

Thomas’s visit to Nottingham was interesting. It grew out of controversy amongst the Campbellites. In seven days during his stay there, he spoke thirteen times, in the Assembly Rooms, to packed congregations, including reporters ‘from the several journals issued in the town’. These included The Nottingham Review and The Nottingham Mercury, in both of which extensive reviews of Thomas’s talks were printed. Notwithstanding being in receipt of an invitation from the Millerites, Thomas had the temerity to lay bare what he felt were the weaknesses of the Millerite faith before his audiences, lecturing, ultimately, on the restoration of Israel (their bête noire) and the coming conflict between Russia and Britain over the Middle East.

Nottingham, which had been the headquarters of Campbellism in Britain, became, for many years, the town with the largest number of ‘Baptised Believers in the Gospel of the Kingdom of God’ in England. Not only was its size greatest – until a dispute in the 1870s – but also the growth-rate of the Nottingham ecclesia of Baptised Believers outstripped all others, including Birmingham.

At Derby, Thomas spoke in the Mechanics’ Institute, (the local Bench having opposed the use of the Town Hall for the occasion) and, on successive nights, was listened to by audiences of about a thousand. Further talks were given by Dr. Thomas in the Assembly Rooms, the Mechanics’ Institute Committee having decided to follow in the wake of the town magistrates by refusing Thomas’s supporters further lettings.

At Lincoln, Thomas gave lectures in the Council Chamber and in the house of his friends. Two interesting consequences followed from the delivery of his talks at Lincoln. One was that the town’s Unitarian minister urged Thomas to publish the subject matter of his lectures. This type of request was to be made again later, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and was the basis of Thomas lengthening his stay in Britain to write and publish his first major work, Elpis Israel (The Hope of Israel). The second consequence was that, before Thomas left Lincoln, two individuals were baptised into the faith he was propounding. Whilst congregations had previously been known to side with him in disputes and to follow his teachings, this was the first record of someone, besides John Thomas himself, being baptised into a baptism extra to the Campbellite one. Thus, this August 1848 visit to Lincoln was a crucial turning point.

Members of the Newark Bethanian (Campbellite) Congregation, having heard Dr. Thomas’s Lincoln lectures, canvassed influential members of their church to invite him to speak to them. Although one of their ‘respected elders’, Newark bank manager John Bell, refused to sanction ‘an official invitation’, an unofficial invitation, and visit, did take place, though it was deferred until November 1848 because of Thomas’s impending tour of Scotland. However, Bell’s attitude was to change when, after hearing Thomas’s lectures, and in prospect of a second (1849) visit, he gave his undertaking to support Thomas in making ‘all necessary arrangements’ for his comfort ‘and for the accommodation of the public.’

Thomas’s visit to Glasgow between 15 September and 13 October 1848 was very eventful in several respects. Firstly, he was listened to by large audiences – two hundred to begin with, then five hundred. Eventually, a Campbellite rose at the end of one talk and lamented the fact that many of Glasgow’s 400,000 inhabitants had had no opportunity to hear these wonderful things. He suggested that a committee be formed to facilitate promulgation of “The Doctor’s” ideas to the widest possible audience. A committee of fourteen was formed; placards, sandwich boards, leaflets and posters were printed; and the City Hall was hired for 24 September, on which occasion Dr. Thomas spoke to no less than 6,000 people. This talk was followed by two other mammoth addresses in the City Hall and, on the last evening, pressure on entry was so great that many were turned away. Secondly, violent opposition was provoked from some clerics – for example, Revd. Algernon J. Pollock said: ‘a villain had come among them from America with his mouth full of lies!’ And thirdly, some clerics came into open support of Thomas – Revd. William Anderson, for instance. Dr. Anderson, making a speech about the substance of Thomas’s lectures at a Grande Soirée on 12 October, speaking of himself in the third person, said:

‘He was once as blind and ignorant as [the assembled company], knowing nothing of the prophets though professedly a teacher of the truth . . . His investigation of the prophetic writings had led him to see that the purpose of God was to establish a kingdom in the land of Israel under Jesus Christ which should have rule over the whole earth.’

During a ten day interval afforded him prior to the 12 October Glasgow Soirée Dr. Thomas visited Paisley, lecturing to the public and a group of Scotch Baptists who, though accepting part of Mr. Campbell’s teaching, refused to be identified with ‘“the Reformation churches of Britain”.’


From Glasgow, at this point, and supported by Edinburgh subsequently, came a request that the Doctor should not merely disappear to America, having lit the torch of truth, but should stay awhile and make permanent the effects of his teaching by codifying them in a book. Such encouragement brought about Dr. Thomas’s commitment to the production of Elpis Israel and, ultimately, the rather lengthy extension, by almost two years, of his tour to Britain.

Before he would allow himself opportunity to write, however, John Thomas felt obliged to complete his speaking tour of Scotland and the Midlands, which he did – after a brief respite, in the West of Scotland, from the pressures of frequent and lengthy speaking. Despite his holiday, when he returned to his duties in Edinburgh on 27 October 1848, the tensions of speaking soon began to tell on him again.

Of his visit to Edinburgh, Thomas wrote:


‘Our audiences were drawn neither from the high nor low, but from the odds and ends of Edinburgh, who in every city are the most independent and Berean of the population. We addressed them some ten or a dozen times, mostly at the Waterloo Assembly Room, in Princes street [sic], a spacious and elegant apartment, and capable of seating some thousand to fifteen hundred people. The impression made upon them was strong, and, for the time, caused many to rejoice that Providence had ever directed our steps to Edinburgh. Our expositions of the sure word of prophecy interested them greatly, causing our company to be sought for at the domestic hearth incessantly, to hear us talk of the things of the kingdom and name of Jesus, and to solve whatever doubts and difficulties previous indoctrination might originate in regard to the things we teach.

Our new friends had but little mercy upon us in their demands upon our time. They seemed to think that premeditation was unnecessary; and that we had nothing to do but to open our mouth, and out would fly a speech! Of our two hundred and fifty addresses in Britain, all were extemporized as delivered. There was no help for it, seeing we had to go oftener than otherwise from parlor conversation to the work before us in the lecture-room.—Indeed, our nervous system was so wearied by unrest that we could not have studied a discourse. Present necessity was indispensable to set our brain to work. Certain subjects were advertised, and had to be expounded. We knew, therefore, what was to be treated of; and, happily, understanding “the Word of the Kingdom,” we had but to tell the people what it taught, and to sustain it by reason and testimony. In this way we got along independently of stationary [sic] and sermon-studying, which would have broke [sic] us down completely, and would have absorbed more time than our friends allowed us.’


Indeed, Thomas was so much in need of rest that, right at the end of his tour, in 1850, he was to spend two weeks on the Continent, mainly in the Netherlands, Germany and France before departing Britain for America.

Having returned to London, Thomas commenced work on his first book, Elpis Israel. Of the initial (January and February 1849) period he said: ‘For six weeks, the world without was a mere blank . . . for during that period I had no use for hat, boots, or shoes, oscillating, as it were, like a pendulum between two points, the couch above, and the desk below.’ In the months following he busied himself in producing this book, entrusting to those who had requested it the task of collecting a list of subscribers. Despite the business of his schedule, Thomas found time to deliver ‘two discourses at Camden Town, and two at a small lecture room near my residence, and an opposition speech at a Peace-Society [sic] meeting’.

Having completed the Elpis Israel manuscript Thomas set out, in 1849, on a second tour of Britain seeking subscribers for its publication; and, following its January 1850 publication, a third tour was commenced. These tours included certain towns he had been unable to visit in 1848, such as Lanark, Dundee, Aberdeen, Plymouth, Devonport, Liverpool and Birmingham, and also those previously visited, such as Derby, Newark, Paisley, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The visit to Dundee, like those to many other towns, was born out of interest stirred by locals having heard John Thomas speak elsewhere and, then, inviting him to their home town. The visit began amicably enough. However, this changed when one of the Campbellite bishops was converted to Thomas’s way of thinking. At once, the atmosphere became electric! Thomas’s Campbellite friend, Mr. Lamb, who had entertained him with affection, became very hostile. A bitter atmosphere remained to be savoured by the new converts Thomas left in his wake.

A friend later wrote to him about the nascent Dundee Ecclesia:

‘Persecution has now assumed a very formidable appearance against us in Dundee. The first step was the deposition of him you baptized from what they term “the bishop’s office:”, and strange to tell, this has been done while as yet he has not opened his mouth upon any subject in the meeting since you were here. James Ainslie and company have become determined to check “the new night” in the bud; but contrary to their expectation the blade has made its appearance, and a stalk of no inconsiderable size has already sprung up. Since I last wrote, five have been baptized. Two of these have delivered addresses to the brethren upon the subjects of the “new light” which have thrown the people into a complete consternation. On Sunday week the deposed bishop is advertized to give a trial discourse before the church, on the “new doctrines” before he can be again elevated to the bishopric; which he says he will do in earnest.’


In Aberdeen, a number of subscribers to the Herald of the Future Age were visited by Dr. Thomas. Several of them were baptised while Thomas was in the town, and attended a breaking of bread service with him that same week. Even where Thomas’s visits did not reach, his influence was pervasive. For example, at Cumnock, in Ayrshire, Thomas’s followers, isolated from other ‘Baptised Believers’, made their existence known by writing to Thomas’s Herald of the Future Age magazine in May 1850. In other places, which he did visit, the effect of his influence was delayed, causing James Murray of Lanark, for instance, to be baptised four years after Thomas’s visit. On his return visit to Newark, Thomas’s efforts were effective though, again, the effects were delayed for some time. He spoke in the town on 7 July 1849, but the first indication of any success did not occur until the Nottingham Fraternal Gathering received delegates from the Newark Ecclesia a decade later. By that point, the Newark Ecclesia was sixteen members strong.

John Thomas’s April 1850 visit to Devonport and Plymouth stemmed from contacts provided, in 1848, by friends in Nottingham – possibly Millerites. Thomas’s initial contact was a man he named ‘Mr. Wood’, a former Millerite pastor then ministering to a Plymouth assembly of seventy. The Mechanics’ Institutes at Plymouth and Devonport were hired for lectures, which were delivered at intervals over an eighteen day period. At Devonport, the audiences rose to several hundred; the hearers were interested; forty-six copies of Elpis Israel were sold; and an ecclesia of seventeen members was started as a result. Over the next decade, the ecclesia in this naval town had problems with the immoral living of some of its members and, by 1859, it had shrunk to only nine. Although Thomas visited Liverpool and handbills were distributed, attendance at the meetings was disappointing and no ecclesia was started. No mention was made of ‘brethren’ until the publication of the Church Roll in August 1859.

John Thomas sailed for New York on 11 October 1850, well satisfied with the effects of his labours in Britain to that date.



From 1848, it is necessary to make a division in the narrative between the history of the Baptised Believers in Britain and that of the Bible Christians in the U.S.A. This is because, after the lecture tour of 1848, a spiritual momentum continued in Britain amongst Baptised Believers in the Gospel of the Kingdom of God despite the absence in the U.S.A. of John Thomas. These two accounts are only brought together again in the person of John Thomas on the occasions of his remaining two visits to Britain – that is, in 1862 and 1869. They would have merged permanently from 1871 had not premature death prevented him from retiring to a country house at Olton, to the south of Birmingham.

Whilst it is true that Thomas, during his original visit, had paid approximately equal attention to the North and East Midlands on the one hand and to Scotland on the other, it is also the case that, in his absence, the momenta of the two places developed at very different rates, with Scotland much more vigorous.
Table 1 below shows the number of British ecclesias developed in the period 1848–1864.

Thus it is clear that two thirds of the ecclesias in Britain before 1864 were located in Scotland. The membership was divided in approximately similar proportions. Christmas Evans, in his series in The Christadelphian magazine, written over the period 1956–1963, noticed this phenomenon, too. He stated:

‘It would appear that Scotland was at first the home of the Truth in Great Britain, seeing that it sounded out more from there than from any other part of the British Isles. This may be largely due to the energies of such men as brethren George Dowie, John Forman, James and Richard Cameron, Tait, Laing, Mitchell, Ellis, Duncan, and of course the Norrie family and the well-remembered Robert Roberts.’

William Norrie, in his Early History, indicated that England’s Christadelphians were in such a state of ecclesial chaos in the 1850s that visits from Scots brethren, especially from Edinburgh, were required to stabilise the situation.




































































































The spiritual development of the ‘Baptised Believers’ was not just limited to the work of settled ecclesias in the towns. Brethren who were, or who became, isolated in Scotland were sustained by visits from itinerant Scots brethren during the 1850s. Sometimes this would result in the strengthening of the numbers in isolation sufficient to warrant the formation of a new ecclesia; on other occasions, very small groups would agree to meet together as a sizeable congregation – sometimes meeting in more than one place to share the burden of transport. Christmas Evans wrote:

‘In the Summer of 1860, it was agreed that the brethren from Wishaw, Airdrie, Chapelhall and Motherwell form the Hamilton Church where they would ordinarily meet, but that once a month on the first Sunday they would congregate at Motherwell.’

By these methods, then – the Herald of the Future Age magazine from America; personal visits from ‘the Doctor’; the labours of strong-minded brethren; the sustaining of tiny flickers of isolated interest, along with the care of established ecclesias – Baptised Believers flourished in Scotland, so that by 1864 Scotland had more than double the ecclesias of England.

England, however, was not inactive. Writing in 1857 of events in Halifax five years previously, George Dean Wilson, an original member of the Halifax ecclesia, said:

‘Through the instrumentality of my excellent relations in this place, by means of letters, Elpis Israel and The Gospel Banner, which all found their way to Halifax, myself and bro[ther] J. Whitehead became convinced of the truth of Israel’s hope. Indeed his attention was drawn to it during his visit to this place in 1852, and he bought Elpis on his return. By its means we became acquainted with the prophetic declarations and indications of their fulfilment in these last days, so that we have taken the keenest interest therein ever since, down to the time of Menschikoff’s mission till now; and we have frequently pointed the attention of our audiences to the splendid accomplishment of prophecy now transpiring . . . For a few months we pursued our investigations, whilst in communion with the sects, but on the 18th March, 1854, six of us immersed one another into the Name of Jesus, making a solemn confession of faith and renunciation of former things. We had all previously withdrawn from Babylon’s daughters. One is since dead, and self and another removed, but we feel to be present with them still. They have since increased to sixteen, having had one immersion recently, and more expected. Of our present number, three are from General Baptists, one from the Episcopalians, one from the Unitarians, two from the Campbellites (who have become extinct there), six from the Wesleyans, and four who were not connected anywhere; and six of our number have been re-immersed. They are scripturally organised as a Church with two elders, two deacons and a scribe, and have adopted no name, but that of the Master’s, nor do they intend doing. This has sorely puzzled the people, who have laboured hard to put some sectarian cognomen upon us, but all in vain, as they hit upon any save the right one. They meet in a room in the Temperance Hall, Albion Street, capable of holding about 120 persons, and which has several times been filled; but the audiences vary much, sometimes upwards of sixty, but often below thirty. We have given many public discourses, and the good work is still going on.’

Once again, work was undertaken on a peripatetic basis, in towns such as Dewsbury and Heckmondwike, as well as in Halifax itself. Once interest had been kindled, great care was exercised to keep the flame of interest alive. For example, Isaac Clisset of Heckmondwike—whose education was so limited that he could not read well or write grammatically—was able enthusiastically to prosecute his interest in the Scriptures by calling on brethren from Halifax, Leeds and Huddersfield to deliver lectures on his behalf. Where means were not available to hire large halls, as in this Heckmondwike ecclesia of one brother, more natural surroundings were sought, as advertised on a handbill from 1859, in these words:

‘THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD. Those who want to know the future Political History of the World, and the future Destiny of Man, are requested to attend A MEETING That will be held in the Open Air, Market Place, HECKMONDWIKE, on Sunday, July 17, at Six o’clock in the evening, when an Address will be delivered by R. ROBERTS, a Young Man from Huddersfield. N.B.—All who attend are requested to bring their Bibles with them. Questions allowed after the Address.’

By March 1853 an ecclesia had been set up in Edinburgh. It was said to number twenty. This figure was an impression, rather than a statistic. The first actual statistic available is for 1855, which credits Edinburgh with forty-two members. The Edinburgh ecclesia continued to grow – one estimate gave its size in 1862 as being ninety-seven members. However, the membership for 1863 was stated as being fifty-nine only. Christmas Evans explained this drastic decline in terms of unemployment, and a desire to find new work elsewhere. Whatever happened, an interesting means by which the message of the Baptised Believers was disseminated is laid bare. For it is certainly true that the original members of the London ecclesia were expatriate Scots who had gone south to seek work.

The Edinburgh Meeting held fraternal gatherings as early as their first year, 1853, and were greatly excited by the visit of four brothers from other places. They unanimously decided on another gathering the following year. This was attended by fifty or so brothers and sisters from seven different Scots ecclesias.

Even before the establishment of the Edinburgh meeting in March 1853, special efforts had been held at Leith, on the premises of Leith Hall, loaned free of charge by a Leith Campbellite. These preaching efforts, and those in 1856, did not result in the formation of an ecclesia, until the Dowieite heresy of 1866 caused some brethren to secede from the Edinburgh ecclesia to Leith.

By 1855 an ecclesia had been formed at Airdrie. Its congregation of seven had increased to eight by 1862. In the same year, the Halifax ecclesia could count eight members, two of whom were elders (president and secretary alternately) and two deacons. The emphasis of the Halifax ecclesia was on unanimity and the demonstration of mutual affection by frequent meetings, some of which were of a social character. The ecclesia was concerned that in all the churches too great an emphasis was laid on intellectuality to the exclusion of affection and heart.

By 1858, its membership had risen to twenty, although average attendances were low because of the infirmity of the members.

In the same year, because of the efforts of two energetic brethren, Andrew Tait and William Wilson, an ecclesia of one was established at Berwick in the shape of a Mrs. John Nesbit. Shortly afterwards, the Berwick stationmaster, John Yule, was baptised by Tait. The following May, Tait, along with George Dowie visited a village near Berwick called Paxton, South Mains and baptised John Nesbit, John Brown and Thomas Jackson. On 23 May, a breaking of bread was held by the new Berwick ecclesia of five, led by the two visiting brethren. Unfortunately, this tale of industry and enthusiasm had a sad end because the ecclesia soon fell into decay, mainly through removals.

A further three small ecclesias struggled to eke out an existence in Scotland in 1858. Firstly, Crossgates, where a very small number met – some of whom travelled the ten miles from Kirkcaldy. Meetings ceased from the summer of 1858 for two years because of the very small attendances; but, by 1860, the addition of three believers by baptism and one by removal from Edinburgh revived flagging spirits. Secondly, a brother in the Edinburgh ecclesia was actively preaching at Dunkeld. By 1858 his efforts were rewarded by five immersions; more were to follow. However, the ecclesia soon languished and was eventually wound up. Thirdly, the removal of brother and sister John Hodgson from Glasgow to Falkirk, because of brother Hodgson’s job in the Inland Revenue, resulted in the creation of a tiny ecclesia of two persons in Stirlingshire.

Activity south of the border was limited. Only at Halifax, where, by 1858, there was a strong ecclesia of twenty, was the peripatetic preaching by the brethren over a wide area successful, resulting in the baptism of brother Isaac Clisset of Heckmondwike.

From 1859 to 1861 few notable achievements, such as the formation of any new ecclesias, were recorded north of the border. Only five new meetings were set up in the whole of the British Isles during this three year period. However, brethren in isolation continued to be nurtured with care. 1859 was the year when the Nottingham believers learned of the existence of the sixteen-strong Newark ecclesia. No known preaching had taken place in Newark since that carried out by John Thomas over a decade previously, causing one commentator to conclude that ‘evidently a number of Campbellites fell in with the views expressed by Dr. Thomas.’

1859, too, saw the foundation of the Belfast meeting, the only Irish ecclesia set up in the entire pre-1864 period. It resulted from a visit, in the autumn, of James M'Kinlay, a brother from Wishaw. In Belfast, M'Kinlay found five women prepared, there and then, to make a good confession of faith, and he baptised them at that time. One of these women was the wife of a former brother in the Glasgow ecclesia named John Mulholland, and three of the rest were her sisters. However, it was not until the following year that this small group organised regular breaking of bread services.

The relationship between the Edinburgh and Tranent ecclesias in 1859 was very instructive about the looseness of relations between ecclesias in those days and the lack of information about, and even awareness of, each other’s existence. Edinburgh happened to discover that there were individuals at Tranent (which was only ten miles away) who were Baptised Believers in the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and incorporated the names of six of them into the Edinburgh Ecclesia’s roll for August 1859. Evans said that this small Tranent group ‘later became a church in its own’.

The following year, two persons at Haddington were baptised by the Edinburgh brethren. In 1861 this number increased to three, and in 1862 to four. However, the ecclesia, which met at the home of the village postmaster, brother Robert Armstrong, only lasted a few years.

The removal from Edinburgh to Jarrow of brother and sister Henry Wilson and brother Archibald Gilmour, in the autumn of 1861, caused the establishment of a tiny ecclesia south of the border. This new ecclesia was strengthened by the arrival from Edinburgh of brother Andrew Hart. However, the death of brother Wilson and consequent return to Edinburgh of his widow, along with the removal of brother Gilmour, quenched this tiny spark on the banks of the Tyne.

Evans reported the enthusiastic preaching, from 1861, of an enterprising Scots Baptised Believer who was a shoemaker:

‘James Robertson, a shoemaker of Aberdeen, removed to Insch in 1861 and to Turriff in 1862. Taking this as a centre, he went to various towns and villages which included Balfaton, Crimond, Cumiston [sic], Fetterangus, Lomnay [sic], Mintlaw, Pitsligo and Whitehills, talking, lecturing and delivering pamphlets, and was instrumental in leading many to obey the Truth. Although not robust, he benefited physically by these repeated outings, but financially they crippled him. There was no Auxiliary Lecturing Society in those days, but it was reported in The Messenger that funds were raised to meet his rent and other obligations. The Aberdeen Free Press on May 15, 1863, reported:

NEW BLYTH.—Lectures on the Second Advent.—A Turriff shoemaker has been amongst us lecturing on the above subject; on the evening of the Sabbath week, he lectured on “The Personal Return of Christ to the Earth”. On Monday night he laboured hard to prove the necessity of His Coming to dwell on Mount Zion and Judge the twelve tribes of Israel, etc. On the whole we would advise Ne sutor ultra crepidum (Let not the shoemaker go beyond his last).’


Others in isolation were visited by William Ellis of Leith, James Cameron of Edinburgh and James Steele also from Edinburgh. In 1862, on his second visit to Britain as a preacher, John Thomas, too, visited these isolated individuals. William Ellis was additionally involved in preaching in south-eastern Scotland, as outlined in the following quotation from Christmas Evans.

‘GALASHIELS.—Bro[ther] William Ellis, of Leith, in August, 1861, paid a visit to the South Eastern district of Scotland, having heard there were people there who had an understanding of the Truth, but wanted to be stirred up to a decision to embrace the Faith. Galashiels principally engaged his attention, although he found some who were interested in Selkirk, Melrose, Hawick, Kelso and Stow.

On Sept[ember] 1, 1861, two men were immersed in the River Tweed, William Miles, a tailor, of Galashiels, and William Dew, a mill-worker, of Innerleithen. In company with bro[ther] Richard Pearson they commenced to meet for the Breaking of Bread. In the autumn bro[ther] James Cameron, of Edinburgh, visited Galashiels and gave lectures. Dr. Thomas, in company with bro[ther] John Nesbit, of Paxton, paid a visit to this town on the last Sunday of 1862 and delivered two lectures on “The Great Salvation”. This must have been thrilling to the few brethren.

It was in 1865 that disruption took place in Galashiels, chiefly on the question of the Revelation given to John on Patmos. One or two brethren took the view that (excepting the first three chapters) the book related entirely to the future, whilst others maintained that they relate to events chiefly in the past. The difference grew to such an issue that disruption was inevitable. Brethren Ellis and Steele from Edinburgh visited them, and those who contended for the futurist theory were caused to withdraw. It was then the “Christadelphian” Ecclesia commenced in contradistinction to the church of Baptised Believers. Those who withdrew, although they continued to meet, were sadly affected again in 1878.’


The events outlined above indicate two important features in the Christian living of the British ‘Baptised Believers’ in the period between 1850 and 1862. First, they were not ‘Thomasites’ – limited to following the dictates of the strong-minded leader of a sect: the Believers themselves were of a strong-minded individualistic ilk, able to act independently in the most dour circumstance. Second, and linked into the first point, meetings of Believers in this period were characterised by the smallness of the groups, witnessing to their faith during long periods of isolation.



By 1862, Dr. Thomas, who had received a number of requests from Britain to pay a second visit for a lecturing tour, was contemplating doing just that, since, with his house on the Unionist side of the battle lines, and many of his followers living on the Confederate side, the continuance of his pastoral and didactic duties in America was proving impossible.

He landed in Liverpool in May 1862, and undertook what he described as ‘a very arduous tour’, visiting Huddersfield, Halifax, Leeds, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Nottingham, London and other places. Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come readers visited these centres from a great distance to hear Dr. Thomas, their magazine’s editor, speak; a certain John Richards visited Birmingham from Montgomery, Wales, for that purpose. Despite baptising a number of his hearers, including, on 20 July, the said John Richards, Thomas was reputedly disappointed with the results of his efforts.

However, two very notable changes took place as a direct consequence of his visit. Thomas, later, summarised these events as follows:

‘I recollect when I was in Nottingham, I saw brother Roberts who had come from Huddersfield on a visit to meet me there. I suggested to brother Roberts that it would be much better for him to come to Birmingham than to waste his sweetness on the desert air of Huddersfield ... I also suggested he should commence a periodical. You know the rest.’

This advice was followed out. By July 1864 Robert Roberts had not only moved himself to Birmingham, but had also published the first issue of The Ambassador of the Coming Age magazine (later renamed The Christadelphian). It was, from the first, Roberts’s magazine; indeed, he wrote the whole of volume one, number one, himself, (apart from the ‘Intelligence’ reports section), and the bulk of succeeding numbers, too.

This periodical became, at once, the organisational pivot of the ‘Baptised Believers’ in Britain. Roberts was good at organisation – he was a sharp, accurate, thorough newspaper reporter by profession. As a staff member of the Birmingham Daily Post, he was highly commended by John Bright, M.P., who always asked for his Birmingham speeches to be covered by Robert Roberts.

Thus, whereas the ‘Baptised Believers’ had been bedevilled by muddle, disorganisation, lack of information about each other and lack of definition about their very status vis-à-vis each other, Roberts produced from the chaos, a neat, well-oiled machine that ticked over nicely. In this development lay some of the seeds both of sweet success during the period 1864–1885, and of a more bitter harvest, reaped from 1885.




Little is known about the detail of events in 1863, and in 1864 prior to the first Ambassador of the Coming Age in July. Robert Roberts, in his biography of John Thomas, was terse about this period, and, in any case, was writing solely about the United States of America. Christmas Evans was sparse in details too; he recorded one baptism at Fraserburgh, in 1863, and two in Govan. These were additions to existing tiny numbers of Baptised Believers in these places and, with their added support, minute ecclesias were formed, the one at Fraserburgh, however, fading out quite quickly. The main source for this period is William Norrie’s Early History.

However, at least one major breakthrough did occur for the Baptised Believers in this period. It took place at Mumbles, near Swansea, in South Wales, and was unrelated to the preaching of John Thomas, in any direct sense, but, rather, owed its origins to the coming together of two individuals from quite different backgrounds.

The first of these individuals was Richard Goldie, a fringe member of a group of Baptised Believers who moved south to Swansea from Edinburgh in late 1862 and early 1863 because of employment difficulties. The other individual in the Mumbles ‘breakthrough’ was William Clement. Clement, of Mumbles, was a builder by trade and a Methodist preacher by vocation.

He broke with the Wesleyan Methodists at the time of the 1849 rupture in that denomination, on the grounds of the despotic authority of the Methodist Conference, which he himself had attended several times as a delegate. Thus ‘freed’ from alignment, Clement decided, along with his congregation, to build a chapel. The subscriptions were collected and an independent chapel begun. However, Clement’s mind was to go through various revolutions (and his congregation through various traumas) before he was to meet Richard Goldie.

The first of these changes was Clement’s absorption of some Baptist teachings, particularly regarding adult immersion. William Clement and his son Daniel were baptised in Swansea Bay as a result of this conviction, and some of the congregation followed suit. The second change was in the direction of the Plymouth Brethren. Clement ‘embraced their leading doctrines without joining their body’. Finally, on a Temperance excursion to Neath, Clement met Goldie and was ‘so struck by the cogency of the arguments urged by Richard Goldie that he was completely disarmed’.

The exchange of names and addresses; the loan of Elpis Israel; a further revolution in Clement’s preaching; the loss of some of his congregation; and his own baptism as a Baptised Believer, all followed in short order. As the builder and pastor of the congregation, and the builder of the chapel, Clement’s influence with his congregation was great. Evans noted some twenty immersions at Mumbles in the period 17 September 1863 to 29 January 1865, and added: ‘in the succeeding months were many baptisms’.



Throughout this entire period, John Thomas’s routine was full of travelling for the purpose of building up the American ecclesias. He continued this heavy schedule even when he was ill, and also maintained his work as a writer, editor, correspondent and debater. The record of his itinerary alone presents the reader with an exhausting experience. Many of his lecture tours extended over periods of weeks. On Sundays, he would give two-and-a-half-hour addresses, and would give talks of equal length each week night. In the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come for 1851, he described an experience he had when, having been ill, he ventured out, rather early in convalescence, to a three day meeting, to which a number of other speakers had been invited:

‘We expected to meet two or three brethren at the meetings who would take upon themselves the labor of formally addressing the people, while we should have nothing else to do but to prove by our presence our willingness to speak to them, but our inability from extreme weakness to do it. Our dismay was considerable, however, when we found that they had not arrived, and that the work of faith and labor of love must be performed by us alone. Our principle is that difficulties which cannot be avoided must be met and overcome. It is bad policy to make appointments and not fulfil them. We therefore determined to do what we could, and to try to discourse even if we had to come to an abrupt and speedy conclusion. The first appointment was a three days meeting at Acquinton. A brother who accompanied us from Richmond attended to the preliminaries, after which, we, following the example of Jesus (not being able to stand) “sat down and taught the people.” At first our friends did not think we should be able to hold out fifteen minutes; but though weak in body the subject was itself an inspiration, and to our own surprise we spoke with comparative ease on the Representative Men of the prophetic word for upwards of two hours.

Encouraged by our success in this effort we did not doubt but we should be able to get along from day to day as the appointed times came round. We were strengthened by the consideration that sufficient to the day is the evil thereof; so that it was quite unnecessary to assume the evil of many days and lay it all upon one. We experienced, however, some relief from the fact, that one of the brethren announced to take part in the meetings, arrived at Acquinton on Lord’s day; so that had we proved unable to occupy the time there was help at hand to supply our place and to make up our deficiencies. He remained with us all the week, and was no little assistance to us in conducting the worship, and leaving us only the pleasant labor of “persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God,” and of “declaring all his counsel” to the people. “We spoke at Acquinton on three successive days; two days after at a school house; and on Saturday and Sunday at the old state-church house called West Point. At all these meetings put together we spoke about twelve hours and a half on things pertaining to the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ; and instead of increasing our debility, we recruited our physical energy every day. In our own person then we have proved, that the truth is an inspiration which gives health to the soul, through which it operates nothing but good to the outward man . . .”’


In the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come for March 1851, Thomas published an article written by himself which, in Roberts’s words, ‘illustrate[d] him in a new character’. In this, he set out to define a ‘Bible Christian’, the kind of life he ought to lead, the faith he should believe – and clarified the duties and privileges of an ‘Association of Bible Christians’. Thus, four years after the Confession, Dr. Thomas saw himself as the moulder of a new denomination, and busied himself to make the image true to the ideal.

In 1853, a correspondent in the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come wrote asking: ‘Why do you not give your readers some account of your journeyings to and fro, and labors in the gospel?’ To which Thomas replied:

‘that these journeyings and labors have hitherto left him no leisure to narrate them . . . He has now, however, at length arrived at the hybernating [sic] point . . . whence it becomes necessary diligently to “drive the quill,” until the sun shall enter Gemini, in order to lay up in store sufficient surplus manuscript to keep the printers at work upon the Herald during his “runnings to and fro,”. . .’.


In the detailed account of the year’s activities which followed, Thomas made mention of his delivering some sixty lectures to congregations in New York City in the six months from December 1852 to June 1853 – along with various other, and subsequent, lectures; which period, John Carter observed, included ‘many journeys of upwards of 20 miles to the homes of brethren after lectures had been given.’  ‘Such have been the labors of the year now closed. Beside writing the Herald, I have spoken about 130 times, and traveled [sic] about 3,000 miles’ reflected Thomas in conclusion.

Of 1854, Thomas said, ‘Thus, then, was brought to a close my visit to the South for 1854, after an absence of six weeks. I addressed the people some twenty-five times; and when I arrived in New York, concluded my journeyings for the year, having travelled, since the first of June, a distance of five thousand five hundred miles.’

1855 told a similar tale, journeys being accomplished at such speeds as 1,100 miles in fifty-three hours. Robert Roberts, in his ‘history’, which was written rather hurriedly, omits reference to much of John Thomas’s missionary activities, leaving blank the period between 1852 and 1860.

Meanwhile, Thomas was involved in debate in New York with an Orthodox Jew named Dr. D. E. de Lara, who had been contending with the Christian Jews, who, themselves, had been holding meetings in New York in 1857, in an attempt to convert Jews to Christianity. This brush with Judaism bore fruit for John Thomas in the greater depth in which he studied the concept of the nature of God, resulting, in 1869, in the appearance of his book Phanerosis, which summarised his views on the issue of God-manifestation.

From 1859 until the end of the Civil War in 1865, restrictions were placed upon Thomas’s movements, although, at first, he was able to visit subscribers to the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come in the South, which he did in 1860. In 1861, he again travelled South, crossing through the actual war zones, in order to visit believers.

War also brought certain other difficulties – it forced Thomas to consider carefully the attitude of the Christian to war. In the Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come for September 1861, an amended version of an article by H. Grattan Guinness appeared entitled ‘The Duty of Christians in the present Crisis’. The amendments, by Thomas, clearly indicated that a Bible Christian’s duty was not to fight literal battles.

Various consequences flowed from the serious limitations on John Thomas’s travel. One was a second visit to Britain; another was increasing concentration on a Christian duty which could be carried out from his home base, namely writing. It was in this period that the labours of twelve years’ digging were allowed to bear fruit in the shape of Eureka—Thomas’s mammoth exposition of the Apocalypse—volume one being produced in February 1861, volume two in January 1866 and volume three in November 1868. Despite the War, and despite his work as an author, Thomas found that he was still able to do some travelling in the Northern States of America. In 1864, for example, he covered 3,000 miles in these Northern States and in Canada. The American Civil War was also important in that it wrung out of the ‘Bible Christians’ (USA) and ‘Baptised Believers in the Gospel of the Kingdom of God’ (UK) a more terse, if less pronounceable, label, by which they, in almost all of their different permutations, have been known ever since—the name ‘Christadelphians’.

In 1864, on visiting Illinois, Thomas encountered a great degree of anxiety amongst the brethren there about the forthcoming military draft. In calming their fears, the term ‘Christadelphian’ was formulated. Thomas himself described the birth of this new name in the following extracts from a long letter detailing the events of his 1864 tour:

‘. . . I told [the Illinois brethren] that the Federal law exempted all who belonged to a Denomination conscientiously opposed to bearing arms on condition of paying 300 dollars, finding a substitute, or serving in the hospitals. This excluded all the known denominations except the Quakers; for besides this denomination, they not only proclaimed the fighting for country a christian virtue; but were all commingled in the unhallowed and sanguinary conflict. There was, however, a Denomination not known to the ignorance of legislative wisdom. It was relatively very small, but nevertheless a Denomination and a Name, contrary to, and distinct from, all others upon earth . . . It would be necessary to give the Name a denominational appellative, that being so denominated, they might have wherewith to answer the Inquisitors . . . I did not know a better denomination that would be given to such a class of believers than “Brethren in Christ.” This declares that true status; and, as officials prefer words to phrases, the same fact is expressed in another form by the word Christadelphians, or Χριστου αδελφοι Christ’s Brethren. This matter settled to their satisfaction, I wrote for them the following certificate :—

“This is to certify, that S. W. Coffman (the names of the ten male members in full here) and others constitute a Religious Association denominated herein, for the sake of distinguishing them from all other “Names and Denominations,” Brethren in Christ, or in one word, Christadelphians; and that said brethren are in fellowship with similar associations in England, Scotland, the British Provinces, New York and other cities of the North and South—New York being for the time present the Radiating Centre of their testimony to the people of the current age and generation of the world . . .

“This is also further to certify that the undersigned is the personal instrumentality by which the Christian Association aforesaid in Britain and America have been developed within the last fifteen years, and that therefore he knows assuredly that a conscientious, determined, and uncompromising opposition to serving in the armies of “the Powers that be” is their denominational characteristic. In confirmation of this, he appeals to the definition of its position in respect to war on p. 13 of a pamphlet entitled “Yahweh Elohim,” issued by the Antipas Association of Christadelphians assembling at 24, Cooper Institute, New York, and with which he ordinarily convenes. Advocates of war and desolation are not in fellowship with them or with the undersigned,



In July 1864, the export of Dr. Thomas’s Heralds having ceased three years previously, Robert Roberts commenced production of The Ambassador and a new chapter began in the history of the Baptised Believers.

John Thomas’s conversion from the Campbellites to what became the Christadelphians was no ‘Damascus Road’ affair: his views matured slowly during the period 1832 to 1847. By 1847, he had sympathisers; by 1848, he was the de facto leader of a new sect, having himself baptised the first converts to it; yet, still, he was unclear on certain matters – especially, though not only, regarding fellowship. The baptism of individuals into a faith with lots of vigour, enthusiasm and spirituality, but with no fixed creed, was not a recipe for tranquillity. This state of affairs largely explained why Thomas’s converts were spiritually diverse. The subsequent concentration of authority in the hands of Robert Roberts, and Roberts’s penchant for clarity of thought, and intermittent casuistry, in matters spiritual, accounted for much of the turbulence in the years following 1864, when Roberts became founding editor of The Ambassador. The strong-minded individualism of some of these early pre-1864 converts constitutes part of the explanation of how the post-1864 turbulence created schism early in the sect’s existence: two splinter-groups emerging within a decade of 1864.



Please Note


The above is a full transcription of


The History Of The Christadelphians 1864 – 1885


Chapter I


EXCEPT that it does NOT include

147 footnotes and sundry cross references, Table 2, and 23 pages of text-enhanced pictures/illustrations


First published 1985
by the author
Andrew R. Wilson, BA, MA, ARHistS

First Fully Revised and Illustrated Limited Edition published 1997

© Shalom Publications

Photographic Reproductions
David J Miles, MA, ABIPP, ARPS, Birmingham, U.K.
Tony Avellano, Charles Morgan Photographers, Cromer, Australia
Xerox Australia

Archival Photographs
by courtesy and permission of
The Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association Ltd. Birmingham, U.K.
Mumbles Ecclesia, Wales   Wirral Ecclesia (formerly Birkenhead), U.K.
Joyce Aaron, Sowerby Bridge, U.K.   Edith Ladson, Birmingham, U.K.
Ian McHaffie, Edinburgh, Scotland   David Miles, Birmingham, U.K.
Joy Standeven, Dorset, U.K.    Reg Carr, Leeds, U.K.
Montefiore Jewish Homes, Sydney, Australia
Shalom Publications, Sydney, Australia
David M. Thompson, Cambridge, U.K.
A. D. Norris, Hull, U.K.

Shalom Publications, Sydney, Australia
J G O’Neill & Associates, Heathcote, Australia

Artwork & Layout
Bazza–Art, Sydney, Australia

Robert Burton Printers Pty. Limited, Sydney, Australia

ISBN 0–646–22355–0

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, digital, or any other – without the prior permission in writing from the Publisher, except for brief printed quotations in critical articles or reviews

Shalom Publications BRN MO0152430
PO Box 408 ROUND CORNER NSW 2158 Australia


search and index category – 'Christadelphian History'




HeartBeat Entertainment | Christadelphian History | Andrew R Wilson

VJ King Jr | Home Page

HeartBeat Entertainment | Home Page