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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

Thomas


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THE character of Thomas is an anatomy of melancholy. If "to say man is to say melancholy," then to say Thomas, called Didymus, is to say religious melancholy. Peter was of such an ardent and enthusiastical temperament that he was always speaking, whereas Thomas was too great a melancholian to speak much, and when he ever did speak it was always out of the depths of his hypochondriacal heart.

It was already the last week of his Master's life before we have Thomas so much as once opening his mouth. And the occasion of his first melancholy utterance was this: Lazarus was sick unto death in Bethany. And when Jesus heard that His friend was so sick, He said to His disciples, "Let us go into Judea again." "Master," they answered, "the Jews of late have been seeking opportunity to stone Thee to death, and goest Thou thither again?" And it was when Thomas saw that his Master was walking straight into the jaws of certain destruction that he said, in sad abandonment of all his remaining hope, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him," Thomas felt sure in his foreboding heart that his Master would never leave Judea alive; Thomas loved his Master more than life, and therefore he determined to die with Him. And, indeed, that determination was not very difficult for Thomas to take. Life had not yielded much to Thomas. And its best promises, more and more delayed, and more and more deluding him, were taking less and less hold of Thomas's heart as the years went on. We see now that the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth had the very best cause for high hope and full assurance. But at that time, and especially that week, Thomas had only too good ground for all his anxiety, and despondency, and melancholy. And a whole lifetime of melancholy, constitutional and circumstantial, had by this time settled down on Thomas, and had taken absolute and tyrannical possession of him. The disciples were all sick at heart with hope deferred; as also with the terrible questionings that would sometimes arise in their hearts, and would not be silenced; all kinds of questionings about their more and more mysterious Master; and about His more and more mysterious, and more and more stumbling, sayings, both about Himself and about themselves. And then His certainly impending death, and the unaccountable delay and disappearance of His promised kingdom: all that doubt, and fear, and despondency, and despair, met in Thomas's melancholy heart till it all took absolute possession of him. And till he sometimes said to himself that it would be the best thing that could happen to him if he could but die at once and be done for ever with all these difficulties and delays and bitter and unbearable disappointments. The discipleship-life, at its very best, had never been very satisfying to Thomas's heart; and, of late, it had been becoming absolutely unbearable to this melancholy and morose man. "Let us go," he said, "that we may die with Him."

The next time that Thomas speaks is when Jesus and His disciples are still in the upper room where the last passover had just been celebrated and the Lord's Supper instituted. "In My Father's house are many mansions: I go to prepare a place for you. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." The other disciples may know whither their Master is going, and they may know the way, but Thomas knows neither. The other disciples, as a matter of fact, know quite as little, and even less, about this whole matter than Thomas knows: only they think they know, when they do not: they have not knowledge enough to know that they know nothing. 'His Father's house?' said Thomas to himself. 'What does He mean? Why does He not speak plainly?' Thomas must understand his Master's meaning. Thomas is one of those unhappy men who cannot he put off with mere words. Thomas must see to the bottom before be can pretend to believe. Thomas was the first of those disciples, and a primate among them, in whose restless minds doubt, like a shoot, springs round the stock of truth.

At the same time, Thomas in his melancholy candour and saddened plainness of speech was but ministering an opportunity to his Master to utter one of His most golden oracles. Jesus saith unto Thomas, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by Me." We cannot much regret that restless and realistic melancholy of Thomas since it has procured for us such a satisfying and ennobling utterance as that. "All His disciples minister to Him," says Newman; "and as in other ways, so also in giving occasion for the words of grace which proceed from His mouth."

Ten days pass. But what days! The betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection of Thomas's Master. What days and nights of trial, and that not for faith and hope only, but for reason herself to keep her seat! All the faith and all the trust of the disciples have not only fallen into a deep doubt during those terrible days and nights: all their faith and all their trust have been actually crucitied and laid dead and buried, and that without a spark of hope. For as yet the disciples knew not the Scripture, that their Master must rise again from the dead. "Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He showed them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." But Thomas was not with them when Jesus came. Where was Thomas that glorious Sabbath evening? Why was he not with the rest? How shall we account for the absence of Thomas? It could not have been by accident. He must have been told that the ten astounded, overwhelmed, and enraptured disciples were to be all together that wonderful night; astounded, overwhelmed, and enraptured with the events of the morning. What conceivable cause, then, could have kept Thomas away? Whatever it was that kept Thomas away, he was terribly punished for his absence. For he thereby lost the first and best sight of his risen Master, and His first and best benediction of peace. He not only lost that benediction, but the joy of the other disciples who bad received it filled the cup of Thomas's misery full. The first appearance of their risen Master, that had lifted all the other disciples up to heaven, was the last blow to cast Thomas down to hell. The darkness, the bitterness, the sullenness, the pride, that had its seat so deep down in Thomas's heart, all burst out in the presence of his brethren's joy. Thomas would have none of their joy. Thomas would not believe it. They were dreaming. They were deluded. They were mad. And the pride, and jealousy, and bitterness of his heart, full drove Thomas into a deeper rage and a deeper rebellion. "Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe." We all understand Thomas's misery. We have all been possessed by it. It is the jealousy and the rage of a guilty conscience. It is the jealousy and the rage of a disappointed and a revengeful heart. When any good comes to others that we should have been sharers in, when we are absent through our own fault, and when those who were present come to tell us about all that we have lost, we have all been like Thomas. We said, I do not believe it. It was not all that you say it was. You are exalting yourselves over me. You are boasting yourselves beyond the truth. And if the truth cannot be hid from us, or denied by us, we hate them, and the thing we have lost, all the more. Thomas is told us for our learning. We see ourselves in Thomas as in a glass. Thomas, in all his melancholy and resentment, is ourselves. Unbelief, and obstinacy, and loss of oppportunity, and then increased unbelief, is no strange thing to ourselves.

And after eight days the disciples were again within, and this time Thomas was with them. It had taken the disciples all their might all these eight days to prevail with and to persuade Thomas. And all of us who know what it is to wage a war with our own wounded pride, and with nothing but our own sullenness, and stubbornness, and mulishness to oppose to the pleadings of truth and love, we know something of what Thomas came through before he consented to accompany the other disciples to the upper room at the end of those eight days. "Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into My side, and be not faithless but believing." How Thomas would hate himself when his own scornful, unbelieving, contemptuous words came back to him from his Master's gracious lips! How utterly odious his own words would sound as his Master repeated them. And worst of all when his risen Master humbled Himself to meet Thomas's unbelieving words and to satisfy them! Thomas would have killed himself with shame and self-condemnation, had it not been given him at that grandest moment of his whole life to say, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus saith unto him, "Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed!"

Now, my brethren, do you clearly understand and accept this peculiar blessedness of believing without seeing? Do you clearly see and fully accept the blessedness of a strong and an easy acting faith in the things of Christ? Faith is always easy where love and hope are strong. What we live for and hope to see, what we love with our whole heart, what we pray for night and day, what our whole future is anchored upon, that we easily believe, that we are ready to welcome. In that case our faith is to us nothing less than the substance of the thing hoped for; it is the evidence of the thing not seen as yet. What with Thomas's temperament of melancholy; what with his not having hid in his heart the things that our Lord had so often said about His coming death for sin and His resurrection for salvation; and then his hot jealousy and ill-will at the joyful news of the disciples; with all that Thomas's heart was in a state most deadly to faith. Had Thomas's heart been tender, had he had seven devils cast out of his heart like Mary Magdalene, he also would have gone out to the sepulchre while it was yet dark, and would have been the first of all the disciples to see his risen Lord. But, as it was, he was the last to see Him, and ran a close risk of never seeing Him in this world. Now, how is it with you in this same matter? Are you hard to convince? Are you slow of faith? Is your heart so set upon this world that you have no eyes or ears for the world to come? Are you able to dispense with Jesus Christ day after day till He dies out of your heart, and imagination, and whole life, altogether? Unbelief grows by what it feeds upon, just like faith and love. To him who has no faith in God, in Christ, in the Holy Scriptures, in the unseen world, and in the world to come, from him is even taken away the little faith that he had, till he has none at all. You know men in whom that awful catastrophe has taken place. You know it, in measure, in yourself. Your faith is all but dead. You do not wait for Christ's coming, either to judge the world, or to take you to Himself, or to sanctify you, and comfort you, and answer your prayers. And then you are uneasy, and unhappy, and jealous, and angry, when you hear that He has been manifesting Himself in all these ways to them that believe. But you were not waiting for Him. You neither expected Him nor wished for Him: and He never comes to the like of you till He comes at last and too late. You will be horrified when it is told you what your whole life, and your whole heart, and all your desires and hopes say when words are put upon them. They all say, 'I will not believe till the last trump awakens me, and the graves are opened, and the great white throne is set.'

Now, from Thomas and his Lord that night let us learn this also, and take it away. Let us act upon the faith we have. Let us frequent the places where He is said to manifest Himself. Let us feed our faith on the strong meat of His word. And, since here also acts produce habits, and habits character; let us act faith continually on faith's great objects and operations. And, especially, on our glorified Redeemer. To Thomas He was crucified yesterday. But to us He is risen, and exalted, and is soon to come again. That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, might be found unto praise, and honour, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Whom having not seen, ye love: in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

For all thy rankling doubts so sore,
Love thou thy Saviour still,
Him for thy Lord and God adore,
And ever do His will.
Though vexing thoughts may seem to last,
Let not thy soul be quite o'ercast;
Soon will He show thee all His wounds and say,
Long have I known thy name: know thou My face alway.

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Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Thomas'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wbc/t/thomas.html. 1901.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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