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Death of James Henley Thornwell

In James Henley Thornwell, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 31/07/2012 at 21:23

The following brief report of the death of the Rev. James Henley Thornwell comes from The Christian Observer in August of 1862. :


Just as our paper of last week was put to press, a telegraphic dispatch brought the sad intelligence of the death of the Rev. Dr. James H. Thornwell, of Columbia, S.C. He departed this life at the home of his friend, E. White, Esq., of Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, the 1st of August. His removal at this important crisis in the church and country is lamented as a public calamity. The mind of Dr. Thornwell was of high order, richly endowed with intellectual attainments which qualified him for the important position he held in the Church. His talents as an able theologian, accomplished writer and eloquent debater and speaker gave him a wide influence in the church and country.

Dr. Thornwell visited North Carolina about six weeks before his death with the hope of improving his impaired health.—After spending two weeks at Wilson’s Springs he came, to Charlotte, where he had made arrangements for meeting Mrs. Thornwell and setting out with her on a tour among our western mountains. The day after his arrival here, he was taken violently ill with an attack of the dysentery—a disease of which his father, a brother and other relatives died, and to which he had long been subject.

By this afflictive providence, God seems to be saying to his bereaved people—”cease ye from man;”—”Trust not in an arm of flesh; Confide in the Lord Jehovah, the Everlasting strength of his people.”—He will afflict and chasten—but He will never cast off his Church.

The Board Controversy, 1841-1861

In Charles Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, Old School/New School Division on 26/04/2012 at 10:05

Some of our readers may be aware of the famous debate in 1860 between James Henley Thornwell and Charles Hodge over the matter of church boards and whether such agencies were legitimate church structures.
As it turns out, this debate did not spring up overnight, but had actually been brewing for more than twenty years, basically ever since the 1837 split of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. into its Old School and New School factions.
A recent request for a few articles from that debate prompted some investigation and I’ve been posting the results of that research on this web page:

Jure Divino Presbyterianism and the Board Debates, 1841-1861.

Everything you’d ever want to know and more!

But if you just want a basic introduction to the story, there is an excellent introduction to this debate provided by the Rev. John Bailey Adger in his autobiography.  Adger had written a review of the PCUS General Assembly of 1860 in which these debates played such a central part, and twenty-five pages of his autobiography are spent in review of the debates, under the title of “The Board Controversy”.  I’ve provided a shortened version of that account here.

Adger begins his account with an intriguing comment from Dr. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, stating that this board controversy was a leftover from the Church’s division of 1837 :

The Board Controversy. [pp. 362-387 of My Life and Times, by the Rev. John Bailey Adger.]

Dr. Palmer well remarks that there was left over a “residuary bequest”—”a sort of remainder”—from the original controversy with which the church was rent in 1837-’38 [see Palmer’s Life and Letters of Thornwell, pp. 182-221.] This bequest and remainder was the board controversy. One expression which he uses in relation to this very point is liable to be misunderstood. He says, “During the period, when the church was brought under a species of vassalage to Congregationalism, the great national societies, which usurped her functions, conducted their operations by the agency of boards. The church had become familiar with that mode of action,” etc. No one will deny the influence of Congregationalism upon the Presbyterian Church, especially in those portions of it most contiguous to New England; nor that in the Northwestern wilderness, where the American Education Society and the American Home Mission Society chiefly operated, there was brought about a vassalage of the Presbyterian Church to Congregationalism. Of course, Dr. Palmer did not mean to apply his remark to our church in all its parts and portions. Neither is he to be understood as meaning that our whole church had become familiar with that mode of action in the sense of becoming, in any degree, satisfied with it. The sturdy Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, and the Carolinas, who constituted the bulk of our Presbyterian Church in those days, had been educated better by their fathers, and could not approve the mixing up of the church with voluntary associations. They tolerated the Plan of Union, but, from the first, they did not like it, and it was influence from such quarters that finally overthrew it. Read the rest of this entry »

Ever Heard of the “Constitutive Principle of Worship”?

In James Henley Thornwell, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS], Southern Presbyterian Journal, Worship on 26/01/2011 at 00:29

I didn’t think so.  The PCA Historical Center recently received donation of a bound copy of Brian T. Wingard’s 1992 Westminster dissertation, “As the LORD Puts Words in Her Mouth” : The Supremacy of Scripture in the Ecclesiology of James Henley Thornwell and Its Influence upon the Presbyterian Churches of the South. It looked interesting and so I took it home to read a bit this evening.  Along about page 100 in Mr. Wingard’s dissertation, there is this surprising correction on a phrase commonly used in Reformed circles:

Before this study proceeds it is necessary, however, to say a few words concerning the nomenclature that one is likely to find in Thornwell when he discusses this subject. Thornwell used terms in a manner which was very clear to his nineteenth century contemporaries, but which may give some problem to those of us who are not native to that milieu. Confusion and misunder-standing may be the result if a word is not said to arrest their development.

Mention has been made above concerning the “regulative principle of worship”, for this has become the common designation for that principle found in the Westminster Confession, Chapter XXI, 1:  “. . . But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or in any way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”  Dr. Thornwell would, however, completely deny the term “regulative” to describe this principle. To his mind the term “regulative” was contrary to the principle itself, and the word which he would put in its place is the term “constitutive.”

The difference which Thornwell saw between the two terms may be noticed in his debate with Charles Hodge over the issue of the nature of Presbyterianism. In an article entitled “Church-Boards and Presbyterianism,” originally published in the Southern Presbyterian Review of July 1861, Thornwell described the difference he saw between “regulative principles” and “constitutive principles.” Regulative principles, said he, define only the ends at which they are aimed. They do not contain within themselves the “mode of their own exemplification.” On the other hand, constitutive principles encompass both the end which is the goal of action and the means by which that goal is to be achieved. For Thornwell a regulative principle was a “general principle,” while a constitutive principle was a “prescriptive” principle. (Thornwell, Collected Writings [1974], 4:252-253)

Is that correction needed and worth striving for, or is the reigning expression “regulative principle of worship” too ingrained in common usage?