May 4: Smyth’s Charge to Thornwell & Mullally

Preach Christ! Preach this Gospel!

smythT_150The Pastoral Charge delivered by the Rev. Thomas Smyth to the Revs. James Henley Thornwell and Francis Patrick Mullally, was delivered on this day, May 4th, in 1860, upon their installation as co-pastors of the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina. [This is the same church where Dr. Derek W.H. Thomas is now pastor.]

thornwell02Though a brilliant theologian and teacher, much of Thornwell’s career was conflicted by his competing desire to actively minister to God’s people in the pastoral setting of the local church. Thornwell’s first service came with his installation in 1835 as pastor of the Lancaster, Waxhaw, and Six Mile Creek churches of Bethel Presbytery. By 1838 he left to assume duties at the South Carolina College, serving there as Professor of Rhetoric and Philosophy for two years, until the conviction of his calling brought him again to the pulpit, with his installation at First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, SC in 1840. One year later, South Carolina College again called upon him, now to serve as both chaplain and professor. This arrangement met the compelling interests of both callings and he remained at SCC from 1841 to 1851. A brief pastorate at the Glebe Street Church in Charleston, SC ended with a return to SCC as president, until in 1856 he accepted a call to serve as Professor of Systematic Theology at Columbia Theological Seminary. During most of his years at Columbia he also served as stated supply at the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, until that post was made permanent in 1860, as detailed in the charge here presented by the Rev. Thomas Smyth. Rev. Thornwell died but a few years later, on 1 August 1862.

mullallyFrancis Patrick Mullally was born around 1830 in Tipperary, Ireland and taught at the Villa School in Mt. Zion, Georgia for nine years. He attended Washington and Lee University Law School and Columbia Theological Seminary, leading to his first pastorate at First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, SC. This pastorate was apparently interrupted by the war, during which time he served as an army chaplain. Between 1865 and 1904, Rev. Mullally served in ten separate locations, with a transfer of credentials to the PCUSA in 1889, and residing finally in Pelham Manor, NY, where he died on 2 Jan. 1904.

Rev. Smyth in his pastoral charge likens the somewhat unique co-pastoral relationship of Thornwell and Mullally to that of a marriage, in which the two partners must learn to work together, to always speak and think well of each other:

It has been said that such a co-pastorship requires for its perpetuity of peaceful communion, as much grace as the matrimonial co-partnership.”

It is an apt analogy, though one we might otherwise have escaped us. Smyth also notes that in principle he disagrees with the idea of a co-pastorate, but that in this case he rejoices, given Thornwell’s gifts and abilities and in light of the freedom this arrangement will provide Thornwell in his professorial duties:

“Disapproving of it in the abstract, I rejoice, however, in this instance of such a double relation, and highly commend the wisdom of this church in securing for themselves, the community, the Seminary, and the church at large, the benefit of your practical and experimental pulpit ministrations, free from the cares of pastoral responsibilities.”

The pastoral charge presented here begins in good Presbyterian fashion with a laying of the groundwork. Smyth succinctly, yet convincingly explains the nature and order of ordination to office in the church. He states:

“Ordination does not create an office.  It does not impart fitness for an office… It does not confer authority upon the office or officers,…Ordination therefore, is the solemn ratification of this ascertained call of Christ, by His church,…   The importance of ordination is, therefore, apparent.  No one ought to take upon himself the office of the ministry without a lawful calling.”

[It is in this introductory section where a few distracting printer’s errors crept into the original text. The proof-texts provided are obviously in error when they cite Acts 45!]

Smyth’s pastoral charge surveys the scope of pastoral career, its pitfalls and challenges, but rises to it’s high point with it’s definition of the Gospel and a rousing clarion call to preach “this glorious Gospel of good news”:

“Preach Christ as set forth in the Gospel—the sum and substance of God’s testimony, and the author of eternal salvation to all who believe upon him.  Preach the Gospel as a creed or doctrine, that it may be intelligently received by a faith of which assurance is an element and exercise, compelling to a willing obedience the heart and the life.—Preach the doctrines of the Gospel as all converging and concentrating in the person, character, work, and offices of the one mediator between God and man; in Christ and him crucified; in Christ as God manifest in the flesh, and reconciling the world unto himself—not imputing unto sinners their trespasses.”

“Preach this Gospel—this glorious Gospel of good news—first and last, every way, and every where, in public and in private; in the pulpit and by the press; to the living and to the dying; to the lost and the saved.  Preach it in every method and variety of manner and of matter.  Yours is a model pulpit, and let yours be model preaching, and the practical exhibition of its manifold diversities of form.  Preach expositorily, textually, topically, doctrinally, practically, spiritually, apologetically, casuistically.  Many men, many minds, many tastes, and in all the love of variety, novelty, and fresh originality.  Become all things to all to win, and please, and profit all.”

Concluding the text is the charge to the people. Smyth is brief in his words to the people, yet to the point. It is interesting to note that in the last paragraph, he says his own days must surely be short. Born in 1808, he would have been only 52 or 53 years old at the time, and was but four years older than Thornwell. Yet he outlived Thornwell by eleven years and died in 1873.

It will also be noted from the title page that the larger portion of this pamphlet is missing, namely, the sermon by Dr. John L. Girardeau. The text of that sermon would have occured on pages 1-27 of the pamphlet, but is missing from the text on hand at the PCA Historical Center. Efforts are being made to locate a copy of the missing text.

Smyth’s pastoral and congregational charges serve as excellent models for pastors who may be themselves called upon to bring a charge someday to minister or people. For those who do not know the Presbyterian system well, this text provides a wonderfully brief, yet complete education into the nature and substance of ordination, pastoral responsibility, and congregational duty. In short, it is a message which well-deserves reprinting here, one which has been overlooked for too long.

To read the text of Rev. Smyth’s pastoral charge, click here.

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