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A Presbyterian Internet Journal


Reformed Literature

Our Southern Zion

Old Columbia Seminary


David B. Calhoun

Banner of Truth

It was with undiluted pleasure that I saw that this book had been published. David Calhoun’s 2 volume History of Princeton, by the same publisher, is the best history of that institution that I have ever read. I am a fan of academic history writing, but Calhoun fits into a rather different category. He, like Iain Murray, possesses that rare and precious gift of being able to tell history (without it being diluted or disguised) and to draw out the heart warming and spiritually enriching anecdotes that draws you to the personalities that are involved.

I have included links to Calhoun’s lectures on Ancient and Modern Church history for some time on this site, and I would credit him with awakening within me the knowledge that the history of the Christian Church did not just begin at the Reformation.

In this book he is dealing with Old Columbia Seminary – or Columbia Theological Seminary. Columbia alongside Union Seminary was the major training ground for the ministry of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Robert Dabney, was a professor at Union, while at Columbia were a rich race of preachers and professors. The roll call of Columbia stands alongside that of Princeton, when you see the names of Thornwell, Palmer, Plumer and Girardeau.

It is a book that opens up a rich vein of Christian thinking and acting that is easily glossed over or ignored when looking at the Old South. It is easy when confronted with the basic issue to take what seems to be the only rational position and to do so, is to ignore many of the nuances and stories that are contained within these pages. When seeing the evil of man-stealing, it is easy to scrub out the witness of men like Charles C. Jones with his repeated efforts at evangelisation of the slaves, or the work of John Adger (whose father was one of the wealthiest men in South Carolina) at building a notable work amongst the black people, slave and free, in Charleston.

At the same time, the book brings to life, those great theologians like James H. Thornwell with accounts of his quelling a student riot on the one hand, and the pathos of the account of the death of his oldest daughter days before she was due to be married on the other. Nor does it duck the aspects of history that we may wish to gloss over, for example, it shows up Adger’s sympathy for Nevin and Mercerberg against the views of Dabney and Hodge.

It gives vignettes of the lives of men, such as, John Leighton Wilson who wrote on the miseries of slavery and freed all the slaves that his wife inherited, giving them a choice of supporting them to go North, go to Africa or any other place where they could enjoy their freedom. He tried to emancipate his two slaves, John and Jessie, who refused to leave. He wrote them an emancipator document and mailed it to his father and yet, they both remained on the farm as hired labour. Wilson’s approach caused some in the South to regard him as a ‘rampant abolitionist’ and others in the North to denounce him as ‘a vile slave holder’ or ‘a man-stealer’.

It was with a new found respect, that I could read about Daniel Baker. Baker preached widely across the South and particularly on his missionary tours of Texas. On December 10, 1857, during the last hours of his life, Baker said to his son William that he wanted the words carved on his tomb: ‘Here lies Daniel Baker, Preacher of the gospel. A sinner saved by grace.’ Remember, he added, ‘a sinner saved by grace.’... the account of Baker in this book ends with, it is better to sum up his life work as Wells does: ‘From one end of our church to the other, this flaming evangelist passed, holding up the blood-stained cross. Only eternity will measure his work.’

This is a book that will enrich you spiritually and intellectually, but better than that it will bring you into fellowship with an array of saints that will warm your soul.