December 1: Albert Barnes [1798-1870]

Don’t Be Misled By Popular Bible Teachers

You would have thought that the writer could be trusted. Hadn’t the Notes he had published, covering all the New Testament books and some of the Old Testament, been received by over one million readers? Surely, such a response by the Christian public meant that his words were doctrinally sound.  But these books were not doctrinally sound, and neither was their author, who was a minister in the Presbyterian Church, namely, Albert Barnes.

By now, hopefully, our readers know something of the Old School – New School Division in the Presbyterian Church in the 1830’s in our nation. The Plan of Union with the Congregational Church, which had been entered into in 1801 was abrogated in 1837.  A key leader of the New School Presbyterian branch was the Rev. Albert Barnes.

Albert  Barnes was born on December 1, 1798 in Rome, New York.  After schooling at Fairfield Academy, he entered Hamilton College in New York.  At this time, he was a skeptic in  matters of Christianity.  After reading however an article by Dr. Chalmers on Christianity, he became a Christian.  After graduation from Hamilton College in 1820, he entered Princeton Theological Seminary and graduated from there in 1823. He had as his professors Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, and Charles Hodge. Ordained by the Presbytery of Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1825, he went to a Presbyterian Church as its pastor for five years until 1830. The bulk of his pastoral ministry however would be spent at the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1830 – 1867.

The latter span was the height of the division between the Old School and New School branches of the Presbyterian Church, and Albert Barnes was a key to the division. He took the New School slant in denying the imputation of Adam’s sin to mankind, and therefore the denial of original sin. He affirmed, in contrast to the Westminster Standards, that free will was within the picture of salvation for every sinner.

If he had been simply the pastor of a local church, these denials would have been bad enough. But Albert Barnes was also the author of the Notes on the Bible which were being received by over one million readers all over the globe. Thus his heresy was wide-spread to the church at large. Twice, he was brought up for heresy by those in his presbytery. But he was not convicted by the same church, though once he was suspended briefly.

To his credit, Albert Barnes also worked for the abolition of slavery and on behalf of the Temperance crusade. He would have eye problems near the end of his ministry in Philadelphia, and he died in 1870. Before he died, the Old School and New School re-united, though the reunion was opposed by his former professors from Princeton Seminary.

Words to live by:  Just because a person graduated from all the “right” schools and seminaries doesn’t cause that individual to be acceptable to a pulpit. Careful examinations must be done to make sure that his convictions agree with his words. Ordination vows are only as good as the men who make up the Presbytery in which the person resides. The Presbytery is committed with the duty of guarding the historic Christian faith, insuring that those who take those vows are equally committed to this same faith. Pray faithfully for the elders of the church—both teaching and ruling elders—that they will remain true to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

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