Presbyterians of the Past

Lectures about Thornwell

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is J-H-Thornwell-from-Nicks-photo-11-22-05.jpgIn 2013, The Confessional Presbyterian dedicated its ninth issue to commemorating the bicentennial of James H. Thornwell’s birth (1812-1862). One of the articles, “Centennial Addresses Commemorating the Birth of the Reverend James Henley Thornwell,” pages 79-102, was based on special sessions held by the Synod of South Carolina to honor Thornwell. The following text provides the actions taken by the Synod to organize the meeting with additional information. The “Centennial Addresses” article includes the text of the three lectures delivered and the information below is from the introduction to the lectures.

The Synod of South Carolina of the Presbyterian Church in the United States recognizing the significance of the impending one hundredth anniversary of the birth of James Henley Thornwell on December 9, 1812, adopted the following resolution at its meeting in Newberry, October, 1910, regarding a centennial celebration:

The 9th of December, 1912, will be the centennial of the birth of the Rev. James H. Thornwell, D.D., LL. D., a son of this Synod, who spent his whole ministerial life in our bounds, and who rendered most eminent service to our Church in defining her theological views, and in expounding, organizing, and applying her ecclesiastical polity. Therefore,

Resolved, That the Synod during its sessions in 1912 make appropriate celebration of this noteworthy centennial; and that a committee of three be now appointed by the Moderator to make the necessary arrangements for this celebration, and report to the next meeting of Synod.

The Moderator appointed the following to the committee—Rev. Drs. T. H. Law and E. P. Davis, and Ruling Elder H. E. Ravenel. The committee reported to a later Synod recommending that the centennial meeting be held in First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, where Dr. Thornwell was the pastor for separate calls. It was thought appropriate to hold the celebration in the city where nearly all his service to the Church had been rendered, and that three addresses on specified phases of Dr. Thornwell’s life and work should be delivered during the meeting. The report was adopted.

During the sessions of the Synod in the First Church, Columbia, October 23rd and 24th, 1912, the addresses were delivered as appointed in the presence of large congregations assembled with the Synod. The Watchman and Southron, a Sumter newspaper, reported on October 23rd that the three surviving children of Dr. and Mrs. Thornwell were present—C. A. Thornwell, Mrs. Hague, and Mrs. Anderson. The same periodical reported in a later issue that during the second day of the centennial meetings the lecture by Dr. Law was presented, which the reporter described as particularly beneficial due to the speaker’s having been taught by Dr. Thornwell. At the end of Law’s lecture “the venerable founder and president of Thornwell Orphanage,” William Plumer Jacobs  prayed. Recognizing the significance of the centennial series of discourses, the Synod adopted the following:

Resolved, That we have heard with genuine profit and pleasure the eloquent and learned address delivered by Rev. Thornton Whaling, D.D., on “Dr. Thornwell as a Theologian,” by Rev. A. M. Fraser, D.D., on “Dr. Thornwell as an Ecclesiologist,” and by Rev. Thomas H. Law, D.D., on “Dr. Thornwell as a Preacher and a Teacher,” all of which addresses were delivered as part of the celebration of the Centennial of the birth of the Rev James H. Thornwell, D.D, LL.D.; and the Synod now desires to put on record its appreciation of these valuable contributions to the life and memory of our distinguished divine.

Resolved, further, That the Stated Clerk of Synod, with W. A. Clark, of Columbia, and John McSween, of Timmonsville, be appointed a committee and authorized to procure from the speakers copies of these addresses, and, with the consent of the speakers, have the same printed for distribution among the members of Synod; and be authorized to meet the expenses thereof out of any funds in the hands of the Treasurer not otherwise appropriated.

According to the published minutes, when the General Assembly of the P.C.U.S. met in 1912 there was no mention of the one hundredth birthday of Dr. Thornwell. A look at the 1910, 1911, and 1913 minutes of the highest judicatory yields the same result. Granted, it might become docket filling as the years pass to remember the most influential ministers’ and theologians’ centennials and bicentennials, but if there is a single father who contributed many stones to the theological foundation of what became the P.C.U.S., it was James H. Thornwell. One would think that at a minimum Columbia Seminary would have mentioned the centennial in its report to the General Assembly. When the semi-centennial of the P.C.U.S. was celebrated in the General Assembly of 1911, two of the three speakers—Henry Alexander White, Theron H. Rice, and Egbert W. Smith—mentioned Dr. Thornwell briefly in passing as theologically influential and as setting the groundwork for the founding of the P.C.C.S.A. in 1861, but there was no mention of the centennial of his birth in 1912.

Biographies of the Lecturers

Rev. A. M. (Abel McIver) Fraser, D.D., LL. D.—has a biography on Presbyterians of the Past.

Rev. Thornton Whaling, D. D., LL. D.—was born to Alexander Lewis and Lucy Whaling in Radford, Virginia, on January 5, 1858. His education included Davidson College, 1872-1874; Roanoke College, B. A., 1879, M. A. 1885; Union Theological Seminary, New York, 1879-1881; and Columbia Theological Seminary, 1882-1883. Dr. Whaling studied at Union Seminary when C. A. Briggs, W. G. T. Shedd, and Philip Schaff were teaching. Charleston Presbytery licensed him to preach in April 1883. Harmony Presbytery ordained him for his first pastoral call on November 20, 1883, to serve the church at Cheraw, South Carolina, where he continued into 1890. In December of the year of his ordination he married Lucy Muller of Columbia. Following a two-year call to the South Highland Church in Birmingham, Alabama, he became a professor at South Western Presbyterian University, 1892-1896. Following his college teaching, he returned to the pastoral ministry serving in Lexington, Virginia, 1896-1905; First Church, Dallas, 1905-1910; and Second Church, Norfolk, Virginia, 1910-1911.

At the time of the Thornwell centennial celebration, Dr. Whaling had recently started work at Columbia Seminary as president and a professor. He moved in 1921 from Columbia to Louisville, Kentucky, to succeed Professor R. A. Webb teaching theology and apologetics for the Presbyterian Seminary. In 1930, he became professor emeritus and was honorably retired but returned to Columbia and passed away on September 12, 1938. Rev. Whaling was given honorary degrees by Davidson, Roanoke, and Austin Colleges, and by Southwestern Presbyterian University.

Whaling had been the minister of the Cheraw Church during the evolution controversy in Columbia Seminary as taught by James Woodrow. Whaling defended Woodrow in his retrospective book, Science and Religion Today, 1929, which was the publication of his John Calvin McNair lecture at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Rev. Thomas H. (Hart) Law, D.D.—was born in Hartsville, South Carolina, to Thomas Cassells and Mary Westfield Hart Law, August 26, 1838. Thomas completed his studies at South Carolina Military Academy (The Citadel) in 1859, then studied theology at Columbia Seminary completing his program with the class of 1862. He was licensed by Harmony Presbytery and l on December 7, 1862 he was ordained to pastor the church in Florence, but by 1863, Chaplain Law was serving at Ft. Caswell, North Carolina, ministering to the troops. On March 16, 1864, he married the niece of John B. Adger and daughter of his brother William, Anna Elizabeth Adger.

After the war, he was an evangelist for Charleston Presbytery, 1867-1869, and then the pastor of the church in Spartanburg, 1869-1886. From 1887-1907 he labored outside the bounds of Presbytery with the American Bible Society. It is unusual to run across an elder that was a clerk of presbytery, synod, and the general assembly, but Law recorded the minutes for all three. He was the permanent clerk of the General Assembly, 1904-1910, then the stated clerk of the Assembly, 1910-1922; he was clerk of the Synod of South Carolina, 1876 to 1922, and sat at the scribal desk for Enoree Presbytery, 1898-1904. He died in Spartanburg, South Carolina, December 14, 1923. The Doctor of Divinity was awarded to Rev. Law by Presbyterian College in 1889.

Barry Waugh


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