Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, David (1813-1894)

THOMAS, DAVID (1813–1894), divine, son of William Thomas, a dissenting minister of Vatson, near Tenby, was born in Pembrokeshire in 1813. For some years he followed a mercantile career, giving his Sundays to preaching and school teaching. At the solicitation of his friends, Nun Morgan Harry [q. v.] and Caleb Morris, he gave up business to devote himself wholly to the ministry. He then entered Newport-Pagnell College, where, under the instruction of the Rev. T. B. Bull and the Rev. Josiah Bull, he had a successful career. His first charge was the congregational church at Chesham, where he laboured for three years. In 1844 he came to London as minister of the independent church at Stockwell, and remained there until 1877, when he retired from active service. During his ministry at Stockwell his teaching was much appreciated by an ever-widening circle of influential minds, who gathered from far and near, attracted by the originality of his thinking and the charm of his personality. For his congregation he compiled ‘A Biblical Liturgy for the Use of Evangelical Churches and Homes,’ 1856, which was adopted by some other independent churches, and ran to twelve editions.

A further contribution to public worship was ‘The Augustine Hymn Book, a Hymnal for all Churches,’ 1866, which contains some fine hymns from his own pen, especially that beginning

Show pity, Lord,
For we are frail and faint.

In the formation of the character of Mrs. Catherine Booth, the ‘mother of the Salvation Army,’ he had a considerable share (Booth-Tucker, Life of Catherine Booth, 1892, i. 83–6, 134); and among the members of the Stockwell church was the Rev. Wilson Carlile, rector of St. Mary-at-Hill, Eastcheap, the founder of the Church Army.

Thomas was the originator of the university of Wales at Aberystwith in 1872, and of the Working Men's Club and Institute in 1862, of which Lord Brougham was president. He was the founder of ‘The Dial’ newspaper, which was first issued on 7 Jan. 1860, and after 4 June 1864 was incorporated with the ‘Morning Star;’ and it was under his impulse that the ‘Cambrian Daily Leader’ was started at Swansea in 1861 by his second son, David Morgan Thomas, a barrister. He died at Ramsgate on 30 Dec. 1894, and was buried at Norwood cemetery. His wife, who died in 1873, was daughter of David Rees, a shipowner of Carmarthenshire. By her he had two sons—Urijah Rees, at one time minister at Redland Park, Bristol; David Morgan Thomas, previously mentioned, and two daughters.

The literary undertaking with which his name is most prominently associated is ‘The Homilist, or Voice for the Truth,’ which was commenced in March 1852, and, under the management of himself and his son, ran to upwards of fifty volumes, with an aggregate circulation of about a hundred and twenty thousand copies. Through its influence he lessened in a great degree the differences of opinion between the English and American pulpits. Other works by Thomas are:

  1. ‘The Crisis of Being: six lectures to young men on Religious Decision,’ 1849; 4th edit. 1864.
  2. ‘The Core of Creeds, or St. Peter's Keys,’ 1851.
  3. ‘The Progress of Being: six lectures on the True Progress of Man,’ 1854; 4th edit. 1864.
  4. ‘The Genius of the Gospels: a homiletical commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew,’ 1864; 2nd edit. 1873.
  5. ‘A Homiletic Commentary on the Acts,’ 1870; 2nd edit. 1889.
  6. ‘The Practical Philosopher: a Daily Monitor for the Business Men of England,’ 1873, with portrait of the author.
  7. ‘Problemata Mundi: the Book of Job exegetically considered,’ 1878.

His complete works were issued in nine volumes between 1882 and 1889 under the title ‘The Homilistic Library.’

In ‘The Pulpit Commentary on the Ten Prophets’ and ‘The Epistles to the Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon,’ edited by Henry Donald Maurice Spence and Joseph Samuel Exell, 1887–93, many of the homilies are contributed by David Thomas, and signed ‘D. T.’

[Congregational Year Book, 1896, pp. 237–9; Times, 1 Jan. 1895; Bookseller, 9 Jan. 1895.]

G. C. B.