Thomas Smyth's Charge to the People at the Installation of Pastors Thornwell and Mullally

In 1860, James Henley Thornwell and Francis P. Mullally were installed as co-pastors of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC. John Lafayette Girardeau preached the sermon and Thomas Smyth gave the charges to the pastors and to the people. You can find these addresses in Volume 6 of Smyth's Complete Works here. The following is Smyth's charge to the congregation:

The very first thing I would impress upon you is, that in this eventful scene you are not spectators merely, but participants — not merely eye-witnesses to an interesting pageant, but partners to a solemn compact. The relations and responsibilities now constituted are mutual, and cannot be separated. Have these Brethren now become your pastors? — you have become their people. Are they under obligation to preach, to reprove, to rebuke, to make known God's will and your duty? — you are bound to hear, to obey, and to perform. Are they, in conscious impotence, to undertake a work

Which well might fill an angel’s heart,
And filled a Saviour's hands? —

they are to be strengthened with all might, obtained through your prayers on their behalf. Are they to give themselves wholly to the things which pertain to your spiritual welfare? — you are to provide all things needful for their temporal comforts; to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake; to count them worthy of an adequate and honorable maintenance; and to consider it a small thing to impart freely of your carnal things in return for their spiritual gifts.

You perceive, therefore, Brethren, that the solemnities of this occasion involve you not less than those who are set over you in the Lord. For weal or for woe you are now joined together. The relations and the responsibilities are mutual. You must be helpers or hinderers of each other’s prosperity and progress. Like priest like people, is not more true than like people like priest. It is in the power of any people to paralyze or to put life and energy into their pastor, and to make him not only a lovely song and as one that playeth well on an instrument, but the power of God and the wisdom of God, to the salvation of souls. And for all that they might do and ought to do, they must give account when they shall stand confronted at the bar of Him who judgeth righteous judgment.

May you so live and labour together as that this account shall be given with joy, and not with grief. Yours, I have said, is a model pulpit. May you be a model people. Model preaching will demand model practice, model piety, liberality and zealous devotion to every good cause. I congratulate you. Brethren, upon the present occasion and your future prospects. I rejoice with you in your joy. I remember your kindness to my youth, and your appreciation of my early ministrations, when you so cordially invited me to live and labour among you. Allow me, with all my heart, to pray that peace may be within your walls, and prosperity within your borders. May you go forward prospering and to prosper — a city set on a hill, a burning and a shining light, provoking all around you to love and liberality. May strength go out of this Zion, and may you arise and shine the glory of the Lord having arisen upon you.

This occasion must now close, but we who are now assembled must meet in review all the issues of this rehearsal. Oh, my friends, realize and lay to heart that hastening hour. Pray, oh, pray earnestly, that when pastors and people shall meet face to face, at that awful tribunal, instead of mutual upbraidings and reproaches — you accusing them of unfaithfulness or negligence, and they accusing you of coldness, formality, and refusal to come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty — you may be able to congratulate each other; you blessing God for them as helpers of your faith, and they presenting you to God as their joy and crown of rejoicing.

Thornwell's Analysis of Calvin's Institutes

James Henley Thornwell (1812-1862) employed John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion as his textbook at Columbia Theological Seminary because, as Bruce Gordon notes, he "regarded Calvin's book as the fullest expression of Reformed theology" (John Calvin's 'Institutes of the Christian Religion': A Biography, p. 117). 

Benjamin Morgan Palmer recounts remarks by a student concerning Thornwell's opening lecture on the Institutes: "I remember well the account he gave of his visit to Calvin's grave, and of his musings upon the molding influence of the mighty Reformer upon theological thought: and the statement of his conviction, that the emergencies of the conflict with Rationalistic infidelity were now forcing the whole Church more and more to occupy Calvin's ground. His pale face alternated with flushes of red and white, as he was speaking, and his eye dilated until it seemed almost supernaturally large and luminous. Deeply moved myself, and fired with an enthusiasm for Calvin, which I hope never to lose, I turned a moment's glance to find the class spell-bound by the burst of eloquence and feeling" (The Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell, p. 534). Gordon comments: "Thornwell must have divined some secret knowledge to have known where Calvin was buried" (Ibid., p. 118).

There are modern study guides to Calvin's Institutes, such as J. Mark Beach, Piety's Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin's Institutes with Study Questions (2010), but what we find in Thornwell's Collected Writings, Vol. 1, in Appendices C and D, starting at p. 597, although incomplete, constitutes a valuable 19th contribution to the study of Calvin's magnum opus

Titled "Analysis of Calvin's Institutes, With Notes and Comments" and "Questions on Calvin's Institutes," the former is a summary and analysis of the first three books of the Institutes, while the latter is drawn from the first book. One wishes that we had more of Thornwell's insightful comments and study questions on the rest of the book, but what we have here is a treasure. His analysis is skillful, and his questions are probing, both intended to elucidate a deeper understanding of Calvin's teaching. 

If you are seeking a guide to this world-changing book, consider Thornwell's 19th century contribution to studies of the Institutes.

Happy Birthday to James Henley Thornwell!

It was 205 years ago today that James Henley Thornwell (Dec. 9, 1812 - Aug. 1, 1862) was born in Marlboro County, South Carolina. He would go on to become one of the giants of the 19th century Southern Presbyterian church. A leading apologist for the Southern cause at the time of the War Between the States, it is less well-known that he studied for a season at Harvard University. Later, he served as moderator of the PCUSA (1847), and would take a prominent role in the establishment of the Confederate Presbyterian Church. A man who was born during the War of 1812 and who died during the War that split North and South politically and ecclesiastically, Thornwell's career marked by controversy and conflict. His positions on slavery, the validity of Roman baptism, and the ruling elder are among the topics that generated the most heat during his ecclesiastical conflicts. He served a pastor, professor of theology at Columbia Theological Seminary, as a president of South Carolina College. He founded the Southern Presbyterian Review, and edited the Southern Quarterly Review. His collected writings span four volumes. Benjamin Morgan Palmer published his biography: The Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell, which reveal its subject to be a man in whom great intellect and great piety were wedded, with many other facts of a remarkable personality (see also John Bailey Adger's Memorial of Thornwell too). Thornwell's "Relation of the State to Christ," which appears in Vol. 4 of his Collected Writings, is, in this writer's opinion, an outstanding example of what constitutes godly civil government. His writings remain worthy of study whether or not one agrees with him on all points (have you read Thornwell on missions? it is worth a look!), and so today, we remember the birth of a Southern Presbyterian giant. 

"The spirit of missions is the spirit of the gospel." James Henley Thornwell on the cross of Jesus and missions

James Henley Thornwell's sermon "The Sacrifice of Christ the Type and Model of Missionary Effort" in Volume 2 of his Collected Writings is something every missionary, every pastor, every Christian should read. In it, he reflects upon John 10:17-18, and Jesus' voluntary sacrifice for His people, and draws application from it for the church of Jesus in every age. What motivated and marked Jesus must motivate and mark His disciples: reverence for God's glory, pity for the misery of man, a willingness to suffer, and a hope of reward. There are so many quotes I could highlight, but I'll give you these two. Read the entire sermon this afternoon!

“Is there nothing in this spectacle of a world in ruins to stir the compassion of the Christian heart? Can we look upon our fellows, members of the same family, pregnant with the same instincts and destined to the same immortality, and feel no concern for the awful prospect before them? They are perishing, and we have the bread of life; they are famished with thirst, and we have the water of which if a man drink he shall never thirst; they are dead, and we have the Spirit of life. We have but to announce our Savior’s name, to spread the story of the Cross, and we open the door of hope to the multitudes that are perishing for lack of knowledge.” (432)

“When I consider the magnitude and grandeur of the motives which press upon the Church to undertake the evangelization of the world; when I see that the glory of God, the love of the Savior and pity for the lost all conspire in one great conclusion; when I contemplate our own character and relations as spiritual priests, and comprehend the dignity, the honor, the tenderness and self-denial of the office; and then reflect upon the indifference, apathy and languor which have seized upon the people of God; when I look to the heavens above me and the world around me, and hear the call which the wail of perishing millions sends up to the skies thundered back upon the Church with all the solemnity of a Divine commission; when a world says, Come, and pleads its miseries; when God says, Go, and pleads His glory, and Christ repeats the command, and points to His hands and His feet and His side – it is enough to make the stone cry out of the wall and the beam out of the timber to answer it.” (448)