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 Issues | Church History | W. H. Griffith Thomas


Great Churchmen (No. 25)

W. H. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924)

by M. Guthrie Clark

Minister, Scholar, Teacher

Published by Church Book Room Press


Books and Teaching

Although passing reference has been made to his books in earlier chapters, fuller attention must now be given to them because they form so important a part of Griffith Thomas’s work and his legacy to the Church. From his earliest days he had a penchant for writing and to the very end he used his pen for God. The man who possesses and assimilates all Griffith Thomas’ books will fulfil his own ministry. One does not know at which to marvel more—his omnivorous reading or his prolific output. It has been my privilege to reread his books while preparing this memoir, and it is impossible to say how much they have meant to mind and heart and life.

I propose to collect them into five groups.

1. Commentaries. The Religious Tract Society published a Devotional Commentary on Genesis (3 vols.) and a similar work on Romans (3 vols.), now re-issued in one volume each. Christ Pre-eminent is a shorter book outlining the Epistle to the Colossians. Let Us Go On is a series of short studies on the Epistle to the Hebrews, now obtainable in America.

2. Pastoralia and Apologetics. Griffith Thomas’ notable contribution in the sphere of pastoral theology was his book entitled The Work of the Ministry. As a distinctively Evangelical treatise on the subject it has not yet been superseded; and it was so much in general demand that it was post-humously revised for the use of Nonconformists by Mrs. Griffith Thomas, under the tide, Ministerial Life and Work. Besides a number of smaller booklets on apologetics, we have his Christianity is Christ, which has recently been republished.

3. Theology. The Principles of Theology is an exposition of the Articles, which presents us with the Scriptural warrants for our faith more cogently than anything I have ever read. His other great work in this field is on the Holy Spirit, to which I shall refer later.

4. Devotional. The works on Romans and Genesis are devotional commentaries. But there are others. His book on The Acts in the Bible Hour Series is a prized devotional help. Grace and Power, recently republished in America, contains a series of addresses on subjects of vital importance in the spiritual life of the Church. One of my favourites is The Prayers of St. Paul, a small volume which deserves to be better known.

5. Biographical. Griffith Thomas’ analytical writing on the Apostle John and the Apostle Peter are more than biographies. The former contains outline studies on the fourth Gospel, the three Epistles, and the Revelation; the latter does much the same for 1 and 2 Peter.

Perhaps it will be helpful at this stage to make some remarks upon the nature of these writings. And the first thing to say is that none of them is ephemeral, and this is largely because of their expository character. Some have said that these books show that Griffith Thomas’ imaginative faculty was undeveloped. But it must be remembered he was essentially a “teacher” rather than a “preacher.” He issued no books of sermons; all his works are didactic in quality. It is the preacher who most needs and uses the imaginative faculty. But a rereading of the three volumes on Genesis refutes the charge. These books are full of sympathetic imaginative touches which will delight any reader who likes this particular type of approach.

When we seek for the characteristic notes of these books we find their message is (a) Scriptural. This has been noted regarding The Principles of Theology; but it is the same all through, the foundation is always the Bible. This accounts for their clarity and their assurance. None of Griffith Thomas’ books gives forth an uncertain sound. “God hath spoken” is the ground-swell of all. To a man whose ideal is a Bible ministry few books can compare with these with which we are dealing. (b) Protestant. Everything that Griffith Thomas wrote has the ring of the Reformation about it. It is because the Reformers always asked, “What saith the Scriptures?” that he was so attracted to them. When it comes to discussions on Reunion, the nature of the ministry, etc., Griffith Thomas finds himself in the company of the Reformers because they draw their teaching, not from tradition, but from the Bible. “To my mind the English Reformation is the greatest event in Church History since the days of the Apostles.” The words are those of Archbishop Benson, but they express Griffith Thomas’ convictions. (c) Keswick. And the deeper note is there which we can sum up with the word “Keswick.” A supporter of the Keswick movement, a speaker at the Keswick Convention, he was also a writer on its behalf. He contributed a most thoughtful chapter, entitled “The Literature of Keswick,” to Canon Harford Battersby’s book, The Keswick Convention. I know of no clearer statement on Holiness than his chapter, Sanctification, in his book Grace and Power. (d) Advent. It is this fourth note, so often sounded, which makes his teaching balanced and full-orbed. He did not flinch in pointing forward to the Blessed Hope. “No Christian can be occupied with the thought of death without a measure of spiritual gloom, sadness, and it may be, dread; but no one can think of the Coming of the Lord without finding in it an incentive to holiness, an inspiration to service, and a spiritual joy and satisfaction in the consciousness of reunion with the Master.”

I cannot end this chapter without reference to his bibliographies. Every book he wrote has a list of other books to which one can go for further information. Some of us got on the scent of good books through Griffith Thomas’ recommendations and we can never cease to be thankful.

To conclude, let us take a paragraph from his helpful book, Methods of Bible Study. “One word sums up all—Christ . . . (1) Jesus the Prophet fulfils (in His Life) the prophecies of the Old Testament. (2) Jesus the Priest explains (in His death) the ceremonies of the Old Testament. (3)
Jesus the King satisfies (in His Resurrection) the longings of the Old Testament. ‘Jesus, my Prophet, Priest, and King’ is thus the key of the lock, the perfect explanation of the Old Testament revelation, and the justification of everything contained therein.”


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W H Griffith Thomas
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