“ I have made my boast of God amongst the people, and told them that I had unshaken trust in God…”
At just forty-three years old he was financially ruined, ostracized by many of his fellow missionaries, and teetering on the brink of insanity; John Thomas was a failure. But that is only half the story.
Thomas’s work is virtually obscured by the dazzling ministry of his much more famous partner, William Carey, yet Thomas was the very agent that brought Carey to India. Not only did John Thomas play a pivotal role in the establishment of modern missions, but he was also the first European to preach in Bengali, the first to undertake a translation of the Scriptures into Bengali, and one of the earliest Europeans to actively evangelize the native population.
Thomas, a former Royal Navy surgeon, spent five arduous years in India, pioneering a ministry among the Bengalis before returning to England for a brief period in 1792. In the course of his travels through England, Thomas brought his burden for India before the newly formed Baptist Missionary Society. The timing was perfect: Thomas and the Society united for the cause of the Gospel. John Thomas and William Carey were sent out that same year as the first two missionaries of the Baptist Missionary Society.
Unfortunately, Thomas was overtaken in the later years of his life by debts he had incurred, mostly through his well intentioned, though poorly planned efforts to aid the Bengalis. Younger missionaries, misinterpreting his plain speech as evidence of bitterness, avoided him, and the greatest hopes and dreams he had built came tumbling down around him. Only a year before his death, Thomas suffered a mental breakdown. He recovered, however, by the grace of God, and shortly before he died saw the first printing of the complete Bengali Bible.
Overlooked and forgotten, his life might almost seem a waste, until we see the great door of missions that opened when John Thomas, trusting God to guide him aright, took his first step into the pathway of faith.
Story from John Thomas : first Baptist missionary to Bengal, Arthur C. Chute