Born at near Elizabeth, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, April 9, 1780. In 1795, he joined the Associate Reformed Church, but transferred his membership to the Reformed Presbyterian Church in 1798. Graduated with first honours from Jefferson College in 1805. His theological studies included two years under the care of the Dr. Alexander McLeod, of New York, and he was licensed by the Reformed Presbytery, June 9, 1807. He was ordained and installed pastor of the united congregations of Coldenham and Newburgh, Orange County, New York, August 10, 1817. In 1823, the Newburgh branch was dropped, and he remained at Coldenham until his resignation in 1830. He was installed pastor of the Albany congregation, September 17, 1830, but returned to Coldenham, where he was re-installed, November 21, 1833. He was chosen Professor of Theology in 1836. At the creation of the Allegheny Seminary, in 1840, he resigned his charge in Coldenham to accept a professorate in the institution. From 1845 until 1851, he was the sole Professor in the Seminary, which removed from Allegheny to Cincinnati, Ohio and then to Northwood, Ohio. His most famous sermon, “Prince Messiah,” brought forth much controversy. The Legislature in Albany, New York, discussed it for a whole sitting and denounced Willson in the most violent terms. His prayers, which they feared, were banished from the Legislature by unanimous vote. The sermon was burned in a public bonfire and Willson was burnt in effigy before the State House door. He died September 29, 1853.
1817-James Renwick Willson.-An excellent survey of the various views held concerning the atonement throughout the history of the church showing together with a demonstration of the pervasive belief in vicarious atonement with its relation to the doctrine of predestination. It was written to combat Hopkinsianism.
1820-James Renwick Willson.-An excellent presentation of the doctrine of the Mediatorial reign of Christ and its implications for all nations and kingdoms. This is the Covenanter postmillennial vision.
1821-James Renwick Willson-This begins with a very pointed response to the rejection of this Review by the editors of the Presbyterian Magazine. What follows Willson’s exposure and critique of Isaac Watts as an antitrinitarian and the implications for church psalmody.
1821-James Renwick Willson.-A sermon showing that the obligation to civil government as well as the obligations of the civil magistrate are founded and grounded in the Moral Law particularly as it is to be discovered in the Fifth Commandment.
1823-James Renwick Willson.-In this essay, Mr. Willson attacks one of the most cherished false doctrines of his day and ours, the wicked notion that tolerance is always a good position in religious matters.
1825-James Renwick Willson.-A sermon advocating an optimistic future for the church on earth and a call not to fret but to remain faithful is bearing testimony to the truth not compromising with error. In the end, the church will be victorious and the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
1829-James Renwick Willson.-A sermon on the duties and responsibilities of the civil authorities with respect to enforcing proper Sabbath observance among Christians. It is notable for its assumption that the magistrate does have an obligation to uphold the whole law of God.
1832-James Renwick Willson.-Two essays: the first, examining the claims of Christ over the nations; and, the second, the application of these claims to the present constitution of the civil government in the United States.
1836-James Renwick Willson.-A sermon that calls attention to the several lamentable dispensations of providence as provoked by national infidelity and negro slavery.
1838-James Renwick Willson.-A sermon showing that Christ as Mediator is God equal with the Father, has received a mediatorial kingdom from the Father and that the law of God revealed in Scripture is his law binding all Christian nations in all things.
1847-James Renwick Willson.-Dissent over the allowance of the Synod of 1847 dispensing with the necessity of lining of the Psalms in the public worship of God. Undoubtedly his reasons are still unpopular with those whose mindset rejects order and charity in the worship of God.
1849-James Renwick Willson.-A terse defense of the binding obligation of the Solemn League and Covenant upon the United States. Willson treads where few American Reformed Presbyterians wish to go explicitly; yet, he demonstrates both the how and why of this obligation with arguments which every real Covenanter must acknowledge as demonstrations.
1849-James Renwick Willson.-A short article calling for covenant renovation with special reference to the relation of the Solemn League and Covenant to the United States.
1850-James Renwick Willson.-A short article pressing for covenant renewal, including the Solemn League and Covenant, because the signs of the times warrant such practice.