William Henry Griffith Thomas
Based on an exhibit Spring 2011.
W. H. (William Henry) Griffith Thomas was an Anglican theologian of deep evangelical conviction, an erudite pastor, scholar and effective educator who influenced the evangelical movement in Great Britain and North America profoundly. Born in Shropshire in 1861, Griffith Thomas was converted to Christ at the age of sixteen, at which point he embarked upon a rigorous course of study (he was largely self-taught in Greek) that culminated in a doctorate in divinity from Oxford in 1906.
Upon being ordained an Anglican deacon in 1885, Griffith Thomas began a ministerial trajectory that led him, twenty years later, to the role of principal at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, an important training ground for evangelical Anglicans. During his Oxford tenure he worked tirelessly, publishing his important book, The Work of the Ministry (1911), while writing a regular column for The Record and editing the quarterly theological journal, The Churchman. It was also during this period that he became involved in the British Keswick Convention (1906), having made his first trip to North America in 1903 to speak at the Northfield Conference in Massachusetts, long associated with the famous evangelist, D. L. Moody (18371899) and Dallas Theological Seminary's founder, Lewis Sperry Chafer (18711952).
In 1910, Griffith Thomas joined the faculty of Wycliffe College in Toronto. During this fruitful period he continued to lecture at Bible Conferences and evangelical colleges, and was chosen by B. B. Warfield to deliver the prestigious Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary in 1913. Furthermore, his literary output continued unabated, and he produced several devotional commentaries and a major theological work, The Principles of Theology (published posthumously), while serving as editor of the Canadian Churchman (191013) and associate editor of Bibliotheca Sacra (1910-13).
Along with Lewis Sperry Chafer and A. B. Winchester, Griffith Thomas helped to found the Evangelical Theological College (later Dallas Theological Seminary) in 1924, and was to be a visiting professor of theology. Unfortunately, before he could embark on this new venture, he was called from his earthly labors. His rich legacy survives to this day. He is remembered for his reliance on Scripture, scholarship coupled with simple explanations of biblical and theological truths, and a life of service. Some major dates in his life are as follows.
|Jan. 2, 1861||Born in Oswestry, Shropshire England. William's father died before he was born, and William was raised by his maternal grandfather, Dr. William Griffith, until young William was eight.|
|Mar. 23, 1878||Griffith Thomas converted/affirmed faith in Christ.|
|February 1889||Appointed senior curate at St. Aldate's Church, Oxford.|
|1895||Earned B. D. from Christ Church, Oxford.|
|1896||Called as pastor at St. Paul's, Portman Square, London.|
|1898||Married Alice Monk when he was thirty-seven.|
|Aug. 17, 1902||Winifred, the couple's only child to survive, was born.|
|October 1905||Griffith Thomas became principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, a training center for evangelical Anglicans.|
|1910||Moved to Toronto and became a professor at Wycliffe College. He remained there nine years, gracefully teaching in a position subordinate to the one he had originally been offered.|
|1919||Moved to Philadelphia and began a "continent-wide ministry" speaking at Bible conferences in the United States and Canada.|
|Mar. 7, 1922||Met with Lewis Sperry Chafer and Alexander Brown Winchester to plan a seminary focused on the Bible. Griffith Thomas and Winchester favored the name Evangelical Theological College. [The school was renamed Dallas Theological Seminary in 1936.]|
|June 2, 1924||Griffith Thomas died in Philadelphia at age 63. The Evangelical Theological College opened Oct. 1, 1924.|
|1924||William Nairn donated the funds to purchase Griffith Thomas' library from his widow for the new seminary.|
|1926||D.T.S. established the Griffith Thomas lectureship.|
W. H. Griffith Thomas was Vicar of St. Paul's, Portman Square, London from 1896 to 1905. The church was evangelical and supportive of missionaries. Griffith Thomas' ministry was successful partly because he held at least six prayer meetings weekly. Some of Griffith Thomas' books were based on the weekly afternoon Bible studies he presented. During his tenure, the church raised enough funds to purchase the land the church occupied from Lord Portman.
Griffith Thomas was principal at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford from 1905-1910. He taught at Wycliffe College in Toronto from 1910-1919. He was a guest lecturer at other schools. Griffith Thomas also spoke at numerous conferences over the years, including Keswick [in England and the United States], Northfield, Westfield Bible Conference, and Montrose Bible Conference.
This plaque bares the motto for Wycliffe Hall, where he was principal for five years. "Via, Veritas, Vita" (The Way, the Truth, the Life) is based on John 14:6.
Poster depicting familiar scenes on campus, John Wycliffe, and four principals of the school, including Griffith Thomas.
A gift from a student at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. The inscription reads: "To my beloved Principal and Mrs. Griffith Thomas in memory of happy days. 1909-1910 G. R. H. W."
When Griffith Thomas left England, several of his friends presented him with a lovely poster expressing their regret that he was leaving, but praying God would bless his new ministries.
Husband and Father
Griffith Thomas married Alice Monk in 1898 when he was thirty-seven, while he was a pastor in London. Their only surviving child, Winifred, was born in 1902. Griffith Thomas was devoted to his family. Photographs taken over the years show him playing with his daughter. When Winifred was a young woman, she became his secretary. Griffith Thomas died in 1924, but Alice lived until 1953, and Winifred died in 1998 at age 95.
Alice wrote about her experiences teaching in New Zealand before she was married. The article was published in the Midland Monthly, v. 6 no. 4, October 1896.
"To my beloved Wife, & Critic indefatigable, inexorable, invaluable. Dec. '11." Dr. Griffith Thomas intended to revise The Work of the Ministry to make it more applicable to non-Anglican ministers. After his death, his wife and grown daughter edited the book and it was published as Ministerial Life and Work in 1926.
Griffith Thomas collected 4,000 volumes and after his death, his library was purchased to start the seminary's library. This early issue of the seminary's Bulletin reported the acquisition.
W. H. Griffith Thomas wrote over twenty-five books, as well as journal articles, newspaper columns, and booklets. Griffith Thomas contributed columns to The Toronto Globe, The Evangelical Christian, Moody Institute Monthly of Chicago, Bible Champion, and English Church Record of London. He also wrote book reviews for The Sunday School Times. He edited The Canadian Churchman, was associate editor of Bibliotheca Sacra, and contributing editor for Bible Champion. After his death, his wife and daughter co-edited a book written by Griffith Thomas. His daughter edited at least five additional titles published posthumously.
Selected List of Titles by W. H. Griffith Thomas
- The Acts of the Apostles: Outline Studies in Primitive Christianity
- The Catholic Faith: a Manual of Instruction for Members of the Church of England
- Christ Pre-eminent: Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians
- The Christian Life and How to Live It
- Genesis: a Devotional Commentary
- Grace and Power: Some Aspects of the Spiritual Life
- The Holy Spirit of God
- Life Abiding and Abounding: Bible Studies in Prayer and Meditation
- Methods of Bible Study
- Ministerial Life and Work (edited by his wife and daughter)
- The Prayers of St. Paul
- The Principles of Theology, an Introduction to the Thirty-nine Articles
- Royal and Loyal: Thoughts on the Twofold Aspect of the Christian Life
- Through the Pentateuch Chapter by Chapter (edited by his daughter, Winifred G. T. Gillespie)
- The Work of the Ministry