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‘I have long admired the historical/theological writings of Dr. David Calhoun (of Covenant Seminary) because he has the rare gift of combining historical accuracy, wide and deep cultural perception, theological insight and best of all, the fragrance of Christ and his gospel. His most recent volume on the first century of Columbia Theological Seminary (then in South Carolina), 1828-1927 exhibits all of these qualities in a beautiful combination.’– DOUGLAS F. KELLY
A few blocks from the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina, is a fine antebellum mansion, the Robert Mills Historic House, named for the man who designed it. The house, beautifully restored, with Regency furnishings, marble mantelpieces, and sterling silver doorknobs and locksets, reflects the wealth and culture of Ainsley Halt, the man who briefly owned it. More fitting, however, would be desks and tables and books of the professors and students of Columbia Theological Seminary, which made the house its home for almost a hundred years. The rooms of the main floor were the classrooms, where George Howe trained generations of Southern ministers in biblical exegesis, where James Henley Thornwell taught Calvin’s Institutes, where John Adger explained the sacraments and church polity, and where John Girardeau set forth the great themes of Reformed theology. It was in one of these rooms that two students organized the Society of Inquiry on Missions in February of 1831.
On the top floor was the library-many of its books lovingly collected in Europe by Thomas Smyth, pastor of Charleston’s Second Presbyterian Church. Woodrow Wilson said that in the little chapel, originally the mansion’s stables, he had heard some of the greatest examples of eloquent and powerful preaching. In that chapel the Southern Presbyterian Book of Church Order was hammered out. A later Columbian beautifully wrote that ‘the Book of Church Order for a church which glories to acclaim [Christ] alone as King who was cradled in a manger, was composed in a house built for a carriage stable’ (William Childs Robinson, Columbia Theological Seminary, p. 94).