Archibald Alexander

You are currently browsing articles tagged Archibald Alexander.

He Seemed But a Little Boy

It was only a year before that Archibald Alexander had been taken under care of the Presbytery of Lexington, Virginia.  He was young and extremely small in stature.  In our day, such a move of spiritual oversight is usually granted by a Presbytery after it has heard your personal testimony, what God has done for you in Christ in your spiritual life, and an expression of your call to the ministry.  In the eighteenth century however, it included all  that, no doubt, and also a sermon preached over the presbytery.

On that occasion in 1890, the month of October, Archibald Alexander stood before the esteemed member of this presbytery.  The fact that a candidate before him had utterly failed to utter anything approaching a sermon, much less give any orderly address, didn’t seem to faze him.  He stood up, without any idea of what he was going to say, and delivered an exhortation which astonished everyone present.    In fact, after that occasion, he delivered “exhortation” after “exhortation” several times a week.

In the spring of 1791, Alexander was examined by the Presbytery of Lexington in his Latin and Greek knowledge.  He had prepared an exegesis upon an assigned topic, and read it to the brethren.  He delivered a speech to the Presbytery as well.  It was then moved that he be assigned a text to preach at the next meeting of the Lexington Presbytery.

At that time, on September 20, 1791, the time had arrived for his proclamation before his elders, both in age and office, on the assigned theme, which was Jeremiah 1:7, “Say not, I am a child.”   And indeed, he seemed but a little boy, but the effect of his trial sermon, quickly put that to rest.  There was authority in the proclamation of the Word of God.  It was no wonder then that at the next presbytery meeting in Winchester, he was licensed to preach the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Words to live by:  If you have an opportunity, attend a Presbytery meeting as a visitor soon, especially one in which a candidate is brought under care, or licensed for the gospel ministry, or ordained by one of our conservative presbyteries.  You will see the care which the church gives to its candidates, that they be sound in doctrine, proficient in the Westminster Standards, and practical in their understanding of their calling.  It will be a day well spent.

Tags: , , ,

On this day, Neovember 20: 

janeway_sm021774 — Birth of Jacob Jones Janeway, in the city of New York, the eldest child of George and Effie (Ten Eyck) Janeway. The year 1797 found the young man diligent in the use of the means of grace, and seeking growth in the divine life. “In reviewing my conduct, I felt that my sins were pardoned. In the morning exercise, on Monday, I was somewhat earnest in pleading with God. Towards the end of the week too much absorbed in study.” “This week my soul has been somewhat refreshed. I see that my heart is deceitful and easily ensnared by the world. Though we depart from God in our affections, yet if we strive to return he will accept and help us. Remember, O my soul, the exhortation, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. To this end I must be circumspect in my conduct, diligent and active.”

alexander_jw_sm1849 — Inauguration of the Rev. James W. Alexander, D.D., as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government in the theological seminary at Princeton. Born near Gordonsville, Virginia, in 1804, the eldest son of Archibald Alexander, James was raised in a household filled with theological giants of the faith. His father was the president of Hampden-Sydney College at that time. But by the time that schooling had begun for James, his father had taken the pulpit of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1807. Then in 1812, as the new seminary called Princeton began in New Jersey, the Alexander family moved there and Archibald Alexander became the first professor of that new divinity school. Young James graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1820. And while he studied theology at Princeton Seminary from 1822–1824, he would not be ordained by the historic Hanover Presbytery until 1827, having first served about three years as a tutor. He died on July 31, 1859.

league1925 — The First Annual Conference of the League of Evangelical Students was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, November 20-24, 1925. At this conference nineteen schools were represented, eleven theological seminaries and eight Bible schools, and these represented student bodies from Texas to Canada and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Conference, with its keynote on unswerving loyalty to the Bible as the only authoritative rule of faith and practice, was held on the campus of Calvin Theological Seminary and Dr. J. Gresham Machen spoke on the theme, “The Church’s Historic Fight against Modernism from Within.” An early 20th-century campus ministry, the League ran its course in a brief fifteen years, overtaken by the wider appeal of InterVarsity.

Harold Samuel Laird1936 — The Rev. Harold S. Laird, pastor of the First Independent Church, Wilmington, was elected president of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions [IBPFM], succeeding the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Dr. Machen had also retired that same year as Moderator of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The IBPFM had been organized in 1933 in response to the failure of the PCUSA to remove modernists from the foreign mission field. In reaction, the PCUSA’s General Assembly had, in 1934, issued a “Mandate” forbidding PCUSA ministers and laity from involvement with the IPBFM. Their refusal to step down from their participation with the IBPFM led to Machen and about a dozen others being defrocked or otherwise kicked out of the denomination.

soltau_addison_sm021952 — Addison Soltau was ordained on this day in 1952 and installed as pastor of the First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Memphia, Tennessee. Born in Seoul, Korea, the son of missionary parents T. Stanley and Mary Cross (Campbell) Soltau, Addison came from a long and illustrious line of noteworthy Christians. He graduated from Wheaton College in 1949 and prepared for the ministry at Faith Theological Seminary, later earning a Th.M. degree from Calvin Seminary in 1966 and the Th.D. from Concordia Seminary in 1982. Leaving his pulpit in Tennessee, he labored as a missionary in Japan from 1953-1970, served as a professor at Reformed Bible College and at Covenant Theological Seminary, and has, since 1989, served on the pastoral staff of several churches in Florida. He is currently an associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs, in Margate, Florida.

Words to Live By:
I suppose we could simply have stretched out the events of this twentieth day of November into the next six years with the six posts listed above, but it seemed good to explore some of the notable events and people for this date all at once. In that way, we behold the Lord’s providence of sovereignly governing both good and bad events on this day in Presbyterian history. James reminds us of the significance of one day when he asks and answers, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 1:14, ESVOpen in Logos Bible Software (if available)) To be sure, who among the people and events mentioned above ever wondered what else occurred on their day of November 20? That is why all of us need to take the words of James to heart when he wrote in verse 15, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15, ESV). Use this last biblical thought as a prayer today as you read this post, and venture out into your world.

Tags: , , ,

A Model Preacher and a Faithful Pastor

How does one live in the shadow of a man, albeit your father, who was the leading theologian of the day?  The answer is simple enough really.  You engage in your calling faithfully and fully.  Such a man was James Waddell Alexander.

Born the eldest son of Archibald Alexander near Gordonsville, Virginia, in 1804, James was in a household filled with theological giants of the faith.  His father was the president of the Presbyterian  Hampden-Sydney College at that time.  But when schooling began for the son, his father had taken the pulpit of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1807.  In 1812, the new seminary called Princeton began in New Jersey, and the family of the Alexanders moved there, so Archibald  Alexander could become the first professor of that new divinity school.

Young James graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1820.  And while he studied theology at Princeton Seminary from 1822 – 1824, he would not be ordained by the historic Hanover Presbytery until 1827, having first served about three years as a tutor. (This seems to have been a common practice in the 19th-century, where men would first serve as a tutor for several years before seeking ordination.). He began his pastoral ministry as stated supply of the Presbyterian church in Charlotte Court House, Virginia for a year, and was then pastor of that church for another year. The rest of his life and ministry had him in the college and seminary field of teaching at Princeton Seminary, interspersed with pastoral ministry in Trenton, New Jersey and New York City Presbyterian churches.

He was involved in some of the biggest seasons of revival and reformation during those middle decades of the eighteen hundreds.  The New York City prayer revival took place in his church in 1857, which then spread through the noon prayer meetings among many denominations and around the country.  In the midst of his ministry, the Old School New School division took place in the denomination. Through it all, James Alexander proclaimed Christ to the masses.

One of the highlights of his ministry was his hymn writing and translations. The most famous translation was the familiar words to “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” His translation from 1830 from Bernard of Clairvaux in the eleventh century, is the version most used by our churches today.

James in 1859 went with his wife back to his home state of Virginia to recover from a serious illness. On July 31, 1859, he went to Red Sweet Springs, Virginia, where he succumbed from his illness.  Before his death, he made the following comment:

“If the curtain should drop at his moment and I were ushered into the presence of my Maker, what would be my feelings?  They would be these. First, I would prostrate myself in the dust in an unutterable sense of my nothingness and guilt.  Secondly, I would look up to my Redeemer with an inexpressible assurance of faith and love.  There is a passage of Scripture which best expresses my present feeling: I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”

Words to Live By:
As we contemplate that last comment of James Alexander on his death-bed, who among believers could not echo these words and thoughts?  We have no right from ourselves to gain heaven.  It is only through Christ’s love and forgiveness that we have been given the key to heaven’s door.  Christ Jesus is the object of our faith, and the only object.  Let that be your assurance both here, and hereafter.

Tags: , , ,

The Great Secret of True Comfort

It was on this day, May 25th, in 1823, that Dr. Archibald Alexander wrote to his ailing mother, rejoicing in her recent recovery, yet seeking also to console and comfort her in the last days of her old age. The language of his letter may seem rather formal—we attribute that to the times. That he loved his mother dearly is no less certain. But his counsel here is so apt and useful for all to profit from. Take it to heart!  

Dr. Alexander to his Mother

Princeton, May 25, 1823.

My Dear Mother:—

“When I last saw you, it was very doubtful whether you would ever rise again from the bed to which you were confined. Indeed, considering your great age, it was not to be expected that you should entirely recover your usual health. I was much gratified to find that in the near prospect of eternity, your faith did not fail, but that you could look death in the face without dismay, and felt willing, if it were the will of God, to depart from this world of sorrow and disappointment. But it has pleased your Heavenly Father to continue you a little longer in the world. I regret to learn that you have endured much pain from a disease of your eyes, and that you have been less comfortable than formerly. Bodily affliction you must expect to endure as long as you continue in the world. ‘The days of our years are three-score and ten, and if by reason of strength they be four-score years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.’ But while your Heavenly Father continues you in this troublesome world, He will, I trust, enable you to be resigned and contented and patient under the manifold afflictions which are incident to old age.

“The great secret of true comfort lies in a single word, TRUST. Cast your burdens on the Lord, and He will sustain them. If your evidences of being in the favour of God are obscured, if you are doubtful of your acceptance with Him, still go directly to Him by faith; that is, trust in His mercy and in Christ’s merits. Rely simply on His word of promise. But not afraid to exercise confidence. There can be no deception in depending entirely on the Word of God. It is not presumption to trust in Him when He has commanded us to do so. We dishonour Him by our fearfulness and want of confidence. We thus call in question His faithfulness and His goodness. Whether your mind is comfortable or distressed, flee for refuge to the outstretched wings of his protection and mercy. There is all fulness in Him; there is all willingness to bestow what we need. He says, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness. As thy day is so shall thy strength be. I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.’ Be not afraid of the pangs of death. Be not afraid that your Redeemer will then be afar off. Grace to die comfortably is not commonly given until the trial comes. Listen not to the tempter, when he endeavours to shake your faith, and destroy your comfort. Resist him, and he will flee from you. If you feel that you can trust your soul willingly and wholly to the hands of Christ, relying entirely on His merits; if you feel that you hate sin, and earnestly long to be delivered from its defilement; if you are willing to submit to the will of God, however much He may afflict you; then be not discouraged. These are not the marks of an enemy, but of a friend. My sincere prayer is, that your sun may set in serenity; that your latter end may be like that of the righteous; and that your remaining days, by the blessing of God’s providence and grace, may be rendered tolerable and even comfortable.

“It is not probable that we shall ever meet again in this world; and yet, as you have already seen one of your children go before you, you may possibly live to witness the departure of more of us. I feel that old age is creeping upon me. Whoever goes first, the rest must soon follow. May we all be ready! And may we all meet around the throne of God, where there is no separation for ever and ever! Amen!

“I remain your affectionate son,

“A.A.”

Note: Dr. Alexander was born on April 17, 1772, and was 51 years old when he wrote this letter. He was the third of nine children born to his parents. Of those children, his sister Nancy died in childhood and seven of the siblings were still living in 1839. Dr. Alexander’s declining years began about 1840 and he died on October 22, 1851 at the age of 79. His mother died October 11, 1825.

Tags: , ,

“A nail driven in a sure place.”

William Miller Paxton is another of those names that seems now forgotten to the modern ear. He was notably a pastor in Pittsburgh, then a professor of homiletics (preaching), first at Western Theological Seminary, also in Pittsburgh, and later at the Princeton Theological Seminary, with a pastorate in New York City falling between those two appointments. His grandfather, the Rev. Dr. William Paxton, was also a noted pastor, who was born on April 1, 1760 and who died on April 16, 1845. But in researching the extended family, I was intrigued by this account and so am posting here today an account of the grandson, rather than the grandfather. The full account, and more, can be read here, but in abbreviated form and touching on just a few of the significant events in Dr. Paxton’s life, here is a portion of the eulogy given by Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield for his friend and colleague:—

paxtonWmMWilliam Miller Paxton was descended from a godly ancestry of thoroughly Presbyterian traditions…The earliest of his paternal ancestors who has been certainly traced—the fourth in ascent from him—is found a little before the middle of the eighteenth century living in Bart township, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, in a Scotch-Irish community which worshiped at Middle Octorara Church. The only son of this founder of the family served as an elder in that church; and out of it came his son, Dr. Paxton’s grandfather, the Rev. Dr. William Paxton, who, after having like his father before him fought in the Revolutionary War for the liberties of his country, enlisted as a soldier of Christ in the never-ceasing conflict for righteousness. Crossing the Susquehanna, he was settled in 1792 as pastor of Lower Marsh Creek church, in what is now Adams county, Pennsylvania, and there fulfilled a notable ministry of half a century’s duration.

Dr. Paxton’s father, Colonel James Dunlop Paxton, was a man of intelligence and enterprise, of fine presence and large influence in the community, engaged in the manufacture of iron, first at Maria Furnace, and later near Gettysburg and Chambersburg. It was at Maria Furnace that William Miller Paxton was born, on the seventh day of June, 1824. His youth was passed mostly at Gettysburg…his collegiate training at Pennsylvania College. He began the study of law, [but] united on profession of faith with the Falling Spring Presbyterian Church at Chambersburg, in March, 1845, …[and] Not more than a month after uniting with the church, on April 9th, 1845, he was received under the care of the Presbytery of Carlisle as a candidate for the ministry, and in the ensuing autumn he repaired to Princeton for his theological training.

…”I well remember,” he has told us himself, “that when I was a student, no young man could pass through his first year without being constrained to reexamine his personal hope and motives for seeking the sacred office.” No doubt this is primarily an encomium upon the pungency of the religious training of those four great men under whose instruction he sat—Drs. Archibald Alexander and Samuel Miller, Drs. Charles Hodge and Addison Alexander….One of the things Dr. Paxton always congratulated himself upon was that he had had a double training in theology. “The class to which I belonged,” he tells us, “heard” Dr. Archibald Alexander’s “lectures upon Didactic Theology as well as those of Dr. Hodge. Dr. Hodge gave us a subject with massive learning, in its logical development, in its beautiful balance and connection with the whole system. Dr. Alexander would take the same subject and smite it with a javelin, and let the light through it. His aim was to make one point and nail it fast. I always came from a lecture with these words ringing through my mind, “A nail driven in a sure place.”

…The greatest ecclesiastical event which occurred during Dr. Paxton’s New York ministry was, of course, the reunion of the Old and New School branches of the Church. He was of the number of those who did not look with satisfaction on the movement for union. Oddly enough, however, as a member of the Assembly of 1862, when corresponding delegates to the New School body were for the first time appointed, and of that of 1870, when the consummated union was set upon its feet, he was an active factor in both the beginning and end of the movement…When once the union was accomplished, he became one of the chief agents in adjusting the relations of the two long separated bodies.

…In 1883 he came to Princeton to take up the work of the chair of Ecclesiastical, Homiletical and Pastoral Theology, made vacant by the resignation of Dr. McGill. His church, which had grown steadily under his hands from 257 members to 409 in 1883, and whose affection for its pastor had grown with the years, was loath to give him up.

Words to Live By:
Dr. Warfield continued in his eulogy for Paxton, with a message that was close to Warfield’s own heart:—

…what he took his real stand upon was the perfectly sound position that our theological seminaries are primarily training-schools for ministers, and must be kept fundamentally true to this their proper work.
From this point of view he was never weary of warning those who were charged with the administration of these institutions against permitting them to degenerate into mere schools of dry-as-dust and, from the spiritual standpoint, useless learning. A very fair example of his habitual modes of thought and speech on this subject may be read in the charge which he delivered to his life-long friend, Dr. A.A. Hodge—whom he loved as a brother and admired as a saint of God—when Dr. Hodge was inaugurated as professor in this seminary. Permitting himself greater freedom, doubtless, because he knew he was addressing one sympathetic to his contentions, he becomes in this address almost fierce in his denunciations of a scholastic conception of theological training, and insistent to the point of menace in his assertion of the higher duty of the theological instructor. Pointing to the seminary buildings—he was speaking in the First Church—he exclaimed: “There stands that venerable institution. What does it mean? What is the idea it expresses? . . . Is it a place where young men get a profession by which they are to make their living? Is it a school in which a company of educated young men are gathered to grind out theology, to dig Hebrew roots, to read patristic literature, to become proficients in ecclesiastical dialects, to master the mystic techniques of the schoolmen, and to debate about fate, free-will, and the divine decrees? If this is its purpose, or its chief purpose, then bring the torch and burn it! . . . We do not in any way deprecate a learned ministry. We must have learning . . . .But whenever in a theological seminary learning takes the precedence, it covers as with an icicle the very truths which God designed to warm and melt the hearts of men. . . .No, no, this is not the meaning of a theological seminary . . .It is a school of learning, but it is also a cradle of piety!”

Tags: , , ,

Strongly Inclined to Be Devoted to the Ministry

Samuel Miller was born in Dover, Delaware on October 30, 1769. As was typical for his day, he studied theology privately in preparation for the ministry. Upon completion of his examinations he was ordained by the Presbytery of New York on June 5, 1793 and installed as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of New York City, where he then served from 1793-1801. He next served the Wall Street church from 1801-1813, before answering the call of General Assembly to serve as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. As the second professor at the Seminary after Archibald Alexander, Miller served the Seminary from 1813-1849, finally taking emeritus status at the age of 80. He died less than a year later, on January 7, 1850.

Resting behind the simple facts of our first paragraph is the spiritual depth of this man of God.  Upon taking the new ministry at Princeton, he sat down and wrote out seven resolutions.  We don’t have space for all seven of them, but the first one stands out and indeed sums up all the rest.  It reads, “I will endeavor hereafter, by God’s help, to remember more deeply and solemnly than I have ever yet done, that I am not my own, but Christ’s servant; and, of course, bound to seek, not my own things, but the things which are Jesus Christ’s”  That says it all with respect to the character and conduct of this seminary professor.

Words to Live By: Samuel Miller’s first resolution is but a summary of those words written down by the Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, when he stated in the context of the need to live a moral life, the following: “Do you not known that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (NIV)  Whether soul or body, each of us should make Samuel Miller’s resolution our own resolution, and indeed recommit ourselves to it at pivotal points of our life, such as our birthday. It would be exciting to see what God would do with such a committed Christian if this is true of you and me.

Tags: , , ,

If You are Number Two, Do You Try Harder?

Samuel Miller was definitely number two among that faculty of Princeton Seminary that year of September 29, 1813.  Started only one year before, Archibald Alexander was the first professor of the Presbyterian Seminary with only a handful of students.  As another war with Britain was raging (the War of 1812), it was a trying time for a smooth start. On top of that, the students of Princeton College were anything but spiritual. College pranks had brought the college close to shutting down. Samuel Miller, fresh from a pastoral experience in a city church, would arrive on the campus and quickly became a force for spiritual good at both the seminary and the college, even in his position as Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government.

Helping this whole process were a number of personal resolutions which Miller wrote down for himself, as a way of guiding his relationship with other people at both the college and the seminary. Those resolutions are too long to print here, but two of them speak to Christian people being in a supporting role, whether in the church, your called profession, or in any organization.

Number 3 reads, “I will endeavor, by the grace of God, so to conduct myself toward my colleague in the seminary, as never to give the least reasonable ground of offence.  It shall be my aim, by divine help, ever to treat him with the most scrupulous respect and delicacy, and never to wound his feelings, if I know how to avoid it.”

Number 4 reads, “. . . Resolved, therefore, that, by the grace of God, while I will carefully avoid giving offence to my college, I will, in no case, take offence at his treatment of me.  I have come hither resolving, that whatever may be the sacrifice of my personal feelings—whatever may be the consequence—I will not take offence, unless I am called upon to relinquish truth or duty.  I not only will never, the Lord helping me, indulge a jealous, envious, or suspicious temper toward him; but I will, in no case, allow myself to be wounded by any slight, or appearance of disrespect. I will give up all my own claims, rather than let the cause of Christ suffer by animosity or context.  What am I, that I should prefer my own honor or exaltation to the cause of my blessed Master.”

These were only two of the seven resolutions.  But even considering these two alone, what would be the result in our churches if both officers and members would more fully reflect in their character and conduct these two resolutions.  Truth and duty indeed were the only two exceptions to the rule.  Otherwise, the guiding principle was to always esteem others more highly than yourself.

Words to live by:  Samuel Miller wrote above, “I will give up all my own claims, rather than let the cause of Christ suffer by animosity or conflict.”  What a magnanimous spirit!  What a change this would cause in many local churches, to say nothing of our evangelical and Reformed denominations, if all the officers and members possessed Samuel Miller’s spirit.  Examine yourself, dear reader, or examine your small group, or examine your local fellowship. How do you measure up?  What can be done if you find your character and conduct lacking?  Is it not time for a revival of religion in your circles?

Tags: , , ,


He Seemed But a Little Boy

AlexanderArchibaldIt was only a year before that Archibald Alexander had been taken under care of the Presbytery of Lexington, Virginia.  He was young and extremely small in stature.  In our day, such a move of spiritual oversight is usually granted by a Presbytery after it has heard your personal testimony, what God has done for you in Christ in your spiritual life, and an expression of your call to the ministry. In the eighteenth century however, it included all  that, no doubt, and also a sermon preached before the presbytery.

On that occasion in October of 1790, Archibald Alexander stood before the esteemed members of this presbytery. The fact that the candidate before him had utterly failed to utter anything approaching a sermon, much less give any orderly address, didn’t seem to faze him.  He stood up, without any idea of what he was going to say, and delivered an exhortation which astonished everyone present.  In fact, after that occasion, he delivered “exhortation” after “exhortation” several times a week.

In the spring of 1791, Alexander was examined by the Presbytery of Lexington in his Latin and Greek knowledge.  He had prepared an exegesis upon an assigned topic, and read it to the brethren.  He delivered a speech to the Presbytery as well.  It was then moved that he be assigned a text to preach at the next meeting of the Lexington Presbytery.

alexanderArchibald01At that time, on September 20, 1791, the time had arrived for his proclamation before his elders, both in age and office, on the assigned theme, which was Jeremiah 1:7, “Say not, I am a child.”  And indeed, he seemed but a little boy, but the effect of his trial sermon, quickly put that to rest. There was authority in the proclamation of the Word of God.  It was no wonder then that at the next presbytery meeting in Winchester, he was licensed to preach the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Words to live by:  If you have an opportunity, attend a Presbytery meeting as a visitor soon, especially one in which a candidate is brought under care, or licensed for the gospel ministry, or ordained by one of our conservative presbyteries.  You will see the care which the church gives to its candidates, that they be sound in doctrine, proficient in the Westminster Standards, and practical in their understanding of their calling.  It will be a day well spent.

Tags: , , ,

What Made Princeton Strong?

alexanderArchibald01Archibald Alexander served as moderator of the nineteenth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. With his departing sermon at the following year’s Assembly, Alexander made the case for the creation of a seminary, in keeping with a growing sentiment in the Presbyterian Church. Princeton Theological Seminary was founded in 1812 and the General Assembly almost unanimously voted Alexander its first teacher. He accepted and was inaugurated on August 12, 1812. Samuel Miller began teaching in 1813, and together the two men served as the anchors of education for the Presbyterian ministry until Miller’s death in 1849 and Alexander’s in 1851. Charles Hodge was the third professor at Princeton, and Alexander’s son, James Waddel Alexander, also served as professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.

In The Life of Archibald Alexander, pages 332-333, we read:

“The inauguration . . took place on the twelfth day of August, 1812. It was an occasion of great solemnity and feeling. The older ministers, especially those to whom the direction was entrusted, looked with parental yearnings on the infant seminary, and none were more ready to hail with thankfulness and hope the approach of new means for training the ministry, than those excellent men who lamented the scantiness of their own early opportunities. But to none did the service of the day bring greater solicitude than to him who was about to put on armour for which he unaffectedly felt too weak. The first discourse was a sermon by Dr. [Samuel] Miller, of New-York, on the Duty of the Church to take measures for providing an Able and Faithful Ministry; from the words, “And the things which thou hast heard of men, among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also;” 2 Timothy, ii. 2. It was an able investigation of the question, what is to be understood by an able and faithful ministry, which was made to include piety, talents, learning and diligence; and of the means which the Church is bound to employ for providing such a ministry.

. . .The Inaugural Discourse of the Professor was founded on the words, “Search the Scriptures,” John v. 39; and was a learned argument in behalf of biblical study. In one respect the whole performance was true to the habit and character of the speaker; for it did not contain, from beginning to end, the faintest allusion to his own personality. All depreciation of censure, and all promise of fidelity, were equally absent. It was followed by a charge to the Professor and Students of Divinity, by the Rev. Philip Milledoler, D.D. . . . It is for the public to determine how far the work in which these good men then engaged, with such earnestness and many prayers, has conduced to the progress of religion and learning in the United States.

Alexander’s Library

It was with an unfeigned reluctance that Dr. Alexander accepted the appointment. No man could entertain a higher estimate of the functions which awaited him; no man of eminence could think more humbly of himself. All his life long, he was free to acknowledge, that his training, however laborious, had lacked much of the rigor and method of the schools; and while he had pursued knowledge with enthusiasm, and in many fields, he knew that it had been with the neglect of certain forms which are supposed to give fitness for the academical chair. Theology had indeed been the study of his life. Its difficult questions had been the constant occupation of his profoundest meditations; and he had during his residence in Philadelphia gathered about him the great masters of Latin theology, whose works appeared in Holland, Switzerland, Germany, and France, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

A rare occasion for adding to his stock of Dutch theology was afforded by the sale [in 1813] of a library belonging to a learned minister from Holland, the Rev. Mr. Van Harlingen, of Somerset. . . These Reformed divines he regarded as having pushed theological investigation to its greatest length, and compacted its conclusions into the most symmetrical method. He was accustomed to say that in his judgment Reformed theology reached its culminating point about the epoch of the Synod of Dordrecht. To these great authors he turns with unabated zest during the whole of a long and studious life. He once said to the writer, that on a perplexed subject he preferred Latin to English reading; not only because of the complete and ingenious nomenclature which had grown up in the dialectic schools of the church, but because the little effort required for getting the sense kept his attention concentrated. It was indeed almost amusing to observe how he would hang over the massive quarto or folio, with all the awakened interest of a novel-reader. In consequence of the fiery controversy which characterized those times, and the scholastic acumen and philosophic adventure and logical exactness which belonged to the age, he considered these scholars as having anticipated most of the minor questions which have vexed the church in later times.”

Words to Live By:
In his Introduction to Athanasius: On the Incarnation, C.S Lewis wrote these words on the value and place of reading older books.

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

Tags: , , ,

The Rev. Archibald Alexander, D.D., LL.D. (April 17, 1772 – Oct. 22, 1851)

AlexanderArchibaldThe Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander was born near Lexington, Va., on April 17, 1772. His classical and theological studies were pursued under the direction of the Rev. William Graham, of Liberty Hall, afterward Washington College. He was licensed to preach the gospel at the early age of nineteen. After spending a year or more in missionary labor according to the rules of the Synod, he was ordained and installed pastor of Briery Church, November 7, 1794. In 1796 he was chosen President of Hampden-Sydney College at the age of twenty-four. On May 20, 1807, he was installed pastor of the Pine Street Church, Philadelphia. In the same year, being thirty-five, he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly, and in his sermon made the suggestion of a Theological Seminary. In 1812 he was appointed Professor in the Theological Seminary just established at Princeton. Here he remained for the rest of his life.

Dr. Alexander was seized with his final illness in the summer of 1851. He died on October 22, 1851.

Dr. Alexander’s published writings are too numerous to recite here. We may only mention “History of the Colonization Society,” “Evidences of the Christian Religion,” “Thoughts on Religion,” “Counsels to the Aged,” “Practical Sermons.” He also published numerous tracts and was a frequent contributor to the Princeton Review.

Words to Live By: Our Lord calls us to bear the fruit of the Spirit in this life, giving evidence of the reality of our saving faith in Christ. We are not saved by our faithfulness, nor by our works, but if our trust in Christ as Savior is real, there will be evidence of that reality in our lives. We will die more and more to sin, and live more and more to righteousness.

Tags: , , ,

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: