James Henley Thornwell

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This article is about the minister. For the orphanage, see Thornwell Orphanage.
James Henley Thornwell.

James Henley Thornwell (December 9, 1812 – August 1, 1862) was an American Presbyterian preacher and religious writer.


Born in Marlboro County, 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.[1] 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[edit]

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,[citation needed] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 669. 
  • 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.
Religious titles
Preceded by
The Rev. Charles Hodge
Moderator of the 59th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Old School)
Succeeded by
The Rev. Alexander T. McGill

External links[edit]