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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


The Man and His Message

As we take a last loving look at the “shaft” which God chose, and polished, and used, and took to Himself, we naturally ask ourselves about his work and his service. In these closing paragraphs I want to tell you about his character, his teaching, and his legacy.

When one begins to contemplate his character it is his strength which first impresses one. Besides possessing a strong body, he was strong in mind, strong in heart, strong in convictions. On the Rock, he himself was rock. He was a strong Christian, a strong teacher, a strong contender for the faith: But in the latter capacity he was always quiet; no snubbing or bluffing ever disconcerted him. He could hold his own in any company, and often to the discomfort and defeat of his opponents. He was always absolutely fair in debate, and one of his characteristic habits was to marshal the arguments of his antagonists, and then meet them, one by one, to the confounding of those who opposed themselves.

But side by side with strength there was a graciousness which can only be described as Christ-like. Gracious were his ways and his words and his works; all his letters have this characteristic. On this account he was the most approachable of men. A kindred trait was his rippling humour, touches of which often illuminated his lectures and were so apparent at meal-times. Memories of Wycliffe Hall! What a fund of good stories was at his command! What fearsome puns! It is lovely to note this side of his character coupled with such profound scholarship and so rich a spirituality.

He was a “great human,” as was said of another. He loved men, and history, and the countryside, and music, and everything that enriches life. He was no mean singer, for he possessed a powerful baritone voice. All who knew him marvelled at the variety of his interests, but pre-eminently he was a teacher, “sent of God.” He read very widely, almost omnivorously; in this respect he has been compared with Macaulay. To intellectual capacity of the first order he added untiring industry as a duty he owed to God.

But above all, he was a man of God. No sweeter testimony could be given than that which came from his home. It was the simple statement that “he did not preach cream, and then come home and live skim milk.” The secret surely was a close walk with God.

He was a born teacher, scrupulously fair and yet crystal-clear. Ready to give both sides a patient hearing, he would then compare them, and, without pressing or prejudice, the truth which he loved and believed shone out in its own inherent light. There was always balance and he never balked a difficulty. He was amazingly thorough and, unlike many profound scholars, he had an unusual power of conveying his teaching to others and bringing conviction.

His teaching was Biblical, and Evangelical, and Spiritual, and Practical—in that order. Much might be said on all these points, but space will not permit. One thing must suffice, his view of the Church of Christ. He held fast to the vision of the Church as it is portrayed in Ephesians, and repeatedly asserted “that every view of the Church is to be interpreted by Ephesians, and not Ephesians by every view of the Church.” He was a Churchman, he said, “definitely but not exclusively.”

Finally, let me speak of the legacy of his life. I will quote what another has written.

“It has been one of the privileges of my thirty years’ editorial service to be brought into close and intimate touch with great Christian leaders in most countries . . . but I could name none other like Dr. Griffith Thomas. The reason for this seems to be that he combined in one man so many unexpectedly different qualities and qualifications. It is not difficult to find men who are widely read as he was; or men who are scholarly; men who are deep students of the Word of God; others who are closely in touch with the national life and affairs of various countries; men who are gentlemen born and bred, at home in any company; men who are ‘good mixers,’ with a gift for getting close to all sorts of people; men whose intellectual training and development began young, and have continued in increasing measure throughout their life; and, finally, men who have the faith of little children, with that complete acceptance of the Word of God and understanding of the heart of the Gospel which marked first-century Christians. We all know men who have one or another of these qualifications. But Dr. Griffith Thomas had them all and more. It would require a searching analytical study indeed of his life and character to enable one to dare to say that he had set down any complete enumeration of the gifts and commanding characteristics of this loved teacher, minister, and friend.”

“His eyes lift up to Heaven, the best of Books in his hand, the law of Truth on his lips, the World cast behind his back, a crown hangs over his head.”

Bunyan’s vision of “this man . . . one of a thousand”, was realized to the full in the life and ministry of Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas.


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