James Henley Thornwell
Born in Marlboro District, South Carolina, on December 9, 1812, Thornwell graduated from South Carolina College at nineteen, studied briefly at Harvard, then entered the Presbyterian ministry starting at the Waxhaw Presbyterian Church. He became prominent in the Old School Presbyterian denomination in the south, preaching and writing on theological and social issues. He taught at South Carolina College, eventually served as its president, and went on to teach at Columbia Theological Seminary. He was a contemporary of Charles Hodge and represented the southern branch of the Presbyterian church in debates on ecclesiology with Hodge.
Thornwell founded the Southern Presbyterian Review, edited the Southern Quarterly Review, and had a prominent role in establishing the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America. Thornwell preached the first sermon and wrote the first address for the new denomination. He died on August 1, 1862, after a long struggle with tuberculosis. Thornwell is buried in Elmwood Cemetery, Columbia, Richland County, SC.
Thornwell, in the words of Professor Eugene Genovese, attempted "to envision a Christian society that could reconcile-so far as possible in a world haunted by evil-the conflicting claims of a social order with social justice and both with the freedom and dignity of the individual."
Children of the covenant
Thornwell viewed mankind in three divisions:
(1) the true children of God, among whom alone exists the genuine communion of saints; (2) those whom we have ventured to call the heirs apparent of the kingdom, to whom pertain what Calvin calls the outward adoption, and a special interest in the promises of the covenant; (3) Strangers and aliens, who though not excluded from the general call of the Gospel, are destitute of any inheritance in Israel. This class is properly called the world.—Collected Writings, IV, 340; and "A Few More Words on the Revised Book of Discipline", Southern Presbyterian Review, 13.1 p. 5
As a result the church was to treat children of the covenant "precisely as she treats all other impenitent and unbelieving men -- she is to exercise the power of the keys, and shut them out from the communion of the saints" (p. 341). As a result while children were still baptized as heirs apparent, in his view they were "to be dealt with as the Church deals with all the enemies of God. She turns the key upon them and leaves them without" (p. 348).
This conclusion regarding children is described by L. B. Schenck (1940, "Children in the Covenant") as inconsistent with Presbyterian and Calvinistic thought to that point. The presumed regeneration of infants in the covenant, so characteristic of Calvinists since Dort, is not represented in this concept, but Thornwell's view may also be affected by the need to confront and reject the abuses of the Halfway Covenant.
Thornwell was an advocate of slavery. On May 26, 1850, he said the following, in The Rights and the Duties of Masters, A Sermon Preached at the Dedication of a Church Erected in Charleston, S.C., for the Benefit and Instruction of the Coloured Population:
The parties in this conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders—they are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, jacobins, on one side, and the friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battleground—Christianity and Atheism the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.
- Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 669.
- James Henley Thornwell, The Rights and the Duties of Masters, Press of Walker & James (1850) p.14
- Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, Labor's Untold Story, Cameron Associates, New York, 1955
- Thornwell, James Henley. The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, 4 vols. Edited by John B. Adger and John L. Girardeau, 1871-1873.
- Palmer, B.M. The Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell, 1875.
The Rev. Charles Hodge
|Moderator of the 59th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Old School)
The Rev. Alexander T. McGill
- The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, Volume 1——Theological. (678 pdfs)
- The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, Volume 2——Theological and Ethical. (634 pdfs)
- The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, Volume 3——Theological and Controversial. (830 pdfs)
- The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, Volume 4——Ecclesiastical. (648 pdfs)
- James Henley Thornwell and the Theological Defense of Slavery (1851-54) by Erik Grayson, History and Religious Studies Major, University of South Carolina. Vimeo video (10:01 minutes). A pdf of the text is avaible here.
- The Rights and Duties of Masters: A Sermon ... by James Henley Thornwell. (1850, 56 pdfs)