Princeton College

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Princeton [i.e., the College of New Jersey] graduates its first class

The history of early Presbyterian education is substantially the history of Princeton College. When Mr. Tennent died in 1745 his school was closed. Yet such had been its usefulness that the Synod of New York immediately, in 1746, took steps to perpetuate that institution of learning. It was located first at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and Jonathan Dickinson was its first president. The students, except those of the village, boarded in the family of the president. Dr. Dickinson died shortly, and the school was removed to Newark in order to be placed under the care of Rev. Aaron Burr, so that he might accept the presidency without resigning his pastorate. The first class of six young men graduated November 9, 1748.

In 1753 Rev. Gilbert Tennent and Rev. Samuel Davies were appointed by Synod to visit England and solicit aid for the college. In the face of very great prejudices against them and the theology which they represented, after a year’s canvass in England, Scotland and Ireland, they had secured widespread sympathy and public endorsement of the enterprise. They succeeded, financially, far beyond their expectation. The total sum raised must have approached, if it did not pass beyond, twenty-five thousand dollars.


Words To Live by:

Presbyterians have always sought and promoted an educated, thoroughly trained pastorate. The challenges presented by the world, the flesh and the devil require that much. Moreover, the Gospel ministry is not to be entered into lightly, and deserves our best efforts. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.—Deut. 6:5. If this command is true for believers, how much more so for those who would shepherd the Lord’s people?

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Eighteen Twelve was a Very Good Year

It was clear that something had to be done.  Princeton College was not being the source any longer for Presbyterian ministers, and for that matter, any ministers.  The school had turned into a secular school for careers, like law, politics, and education.

The reason for this was varied,  Some saw the problem in the new president, Samuel Stanhope Smith.  It wasn’t that he had no qualifications for the presidency.  He himself was a graduate of the college.  He had started what later became Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.  He had tutored under his father-in-law John Witherspoon as the Vice-President of Princeton, when the latter was unable physically to do it.  So he had all the academic qualifications.

Of more troublesome however were questions about his lack of Calvinistic distinctives.  It seemed that they were in word only as there were suggestions of an emphasis on free will in man plus scientific suggestions in place of supernatural miracles.  Add to that a student rebellion, the trustees were beginning to have questions on his ability to solve these challenges in the right way.

With 400 vacant pulpits in the Presbyterian Church, the sentiment began to build for a separate theological seminary separate from Princeton College as early as 1800.  By 1805 and 1808, each General Assembly was being besieged with calls for more ministers, on the mission field and in the congregations of the land.  An overture to decide what kind of school was sent to the presbyteries.  While hardly overwhelming for any one choice, by 1811, over $14,000 had been raised for the prospective seminary.  Any professor would have to subscribe to the Westminster Standards, and the Form of Government of Presbyterianism.

On August 12, 1812, while the nation was already at war against Great Britain, people packed the town’s Presbyterian Church for the inauguration of Dr. Archibald Alexander as the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary.   He had been chosen by the General Assembly.  He preached his inaugural sermon for the worshipers, including taking his vows regarding the confessional standards and the Presbyterian form of Government.  The seminary had begun, with three students.  It would soon pick up and begin to send out laborers into the fields, which were white unto harvest.

Words to live by:  Every reader of this historical blog should read the fine summary of Dr. David Calhoun’s two-volume work on Princeton Seminary, published by the Banner of Truth Trust in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Filled with persons, places, and events from the founding of the school in 1812 to 1929, this school was the pillar of orthodoxy for the Presbyterian Church.  Thereafter, by the testimony of J. Gresham Machen and other stalwarts, it ceased to be a Reformed and confessionally Biblical seminary. When we forget the past, we lose hope for the present and the future.  When we study the past, we learn how to live in the present and the future.  You will not be able to put down the two books. We promise you that!

Faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary, 1896: G.T. Purves, J.D. Davis, G. Vos, B.B. Warfield, W.B. Greene, Jr., J.H. Dulles, H.W. Smith, F.L. Patton, W.M. Paxton, C. Martin, W.H. Green, J. De Witt.

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It was a Very Good Year (1812)

It was clear that something had to be done.  Princeton College was no longer fulfilling its mandate to be the source for Presbyterian ministers, and for that matter, any ministers.  The school had turned into a secular school for careers, like law, politics, and education.

The reason for this was varied,  Some saw the problem in the new president, Samuel Stanhope Smith.  It wasn’t that he had no qualifications for the presidency.  He himself was a graduate of the college.  He had started what later became Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.  He had tutored under his father-in-law John Witherspoon as the Vice-President of Princeton, when the latter was unable physically to do it.  So he had all the academic qualifications.

What was troubling were the questions about his Calvinistic distinctives, or rather, the lack thereof.  It seemed that they were in word only as there were suggestions of an emphasis on free will in man, plus scientific suggestions in place of supernatural miracles.  Add to that a student rebellion, and so the trustees were now beginning to have questions on his ability to solve these challenges in the right way.

With 400 vacant pulpits in the Presbyterian Church, the sentiment began to build for a separate theological seminary distinct from Princeton College, as early as 1800.  Between 1805 and 1808, each General Assembly was besieged with calls for more ministers, both on the mission field and in the congregations throughout the land.  Finally an overture was sent to the presbyteries, to decide how exactly to proceed in the establishment of the new school. By 1811, over $14,000 had been raised for the prospective seminary, and the clear provision was in place, that the school’s  professors would have to subscribe to the Westminster Standards, and the Form of Government of Presbyterianism.

The Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, Princeton,On August 12, 1812, while the nation was again at war with Great Britain, people packed the town’s Presbyterian Church for the inauguration of Dr. Archibald Alexander as the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary.   He had been chosen by the General Assembly.  He preached his inaugural sermon for the worshipers, and took his vows regarding the confessional standards and the Presbyterian form of Government.  The seminary had begun, with three students.  It would soon find its footing and began to send out laborers into the fields, which were white unto harvest.

Words to live by:  Every reader of this historical blog would profit from reading Dr. David Calhoun’s two-volume work on Princeton Seminary, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.  Filled with persons, places, and events—from the founding of the school in 1812 up until to 1929, this school was the pillar of orthodoxy for the Presbyterian Church. Thereafter, there were problems, but that’s a story for another day. When we forget the past, we lose hope for the present and the future.  When we study the past, we learn how to live in the present and the future.  You will not be able to put down the two books.  We promise you that!

PTSfaculty1896Faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary, 1896: G.T. Purves, J.D. Davis, G. Vos, B.B. Warfield, W.B. Greene, Jr., J.H. Dulles, H.W. Smith, F.L. Patton, W.M. Paxton, C. Martin, W.H. Green, J. De Witt.

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Only A Presbyterian For A Short While.

It was on this day, January 20, 1812, that the Rev. John Nelson Abeel died. John was born in New York City in 1768, the son of Colonel James Abeel. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and graduated there in 1787. Remaining at Princeton, he served as a tutor for two years, and then briefly began to study Law before deciding to pursue a call to the ministry. He studied theology privately, receiving guidance from both Dr. John Witherspoon, then president of the College, and Dr. John H. Livingston, a Dutch Reformed pastor.

In 1793, while serving as librarian at Princeton, Abeel found time to manage studies at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary and was licensed to preach by the Classis of New York. Beginning his years of ministry in Philadelphia in 1794, he served in a yoked assistant pastor role, serving concurrently at both the Arch Street and Old Pine Presbyterian churches. His time there was brief and in 1795 Rev. Abeel accepted a call to serve the Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church in New York City, and he continued in that pulpit until his death. It is also noted that Harvard University conferred the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree upon Reverend Abeel in 1804. Placing a high esteem on education, Rev. Abeel also served as a Trustee for both Columbia College and for Queen’s College (Rutger’s).

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller was also serving as a pastor in New York City in the 1790’s, and he knew Abeel well. Upon Rev. Abeel’s death, Miller provided a worthy tribute to a departed brother, and this portion of his eulogy is particularly noteworthy:

But the greatest glory of his character, as a Minister of the Gospel, was his ardent and eminent piety. This was uniform, prominent, and habitual. In every situation, public or private; in the pulpit or the prayer meeting; in the chamber of disease or the social circle; it was manifest that he walked with God, and that his great concern was to lead souls to Christ, and to minister to the spiritual good of all. His religion was personal, cordial, and practical; not merely official. It was evident to all who conversed with him, or who listened to his conversation, that his great object was, like his Master, to “go about doing good.”

Words to Live By:
Isn’t that what we want for all our pastors, and for ourselves as well? To exhibit an ardent and eminent piety, that it would be evident that we walk with God, and that our great concern would be to see others come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus our Lord?

For Further Study:
Two archival collections were located for Rev. Abeel. The Presbyterian Historical Society has preserved a small collection of a few sermons, and the New Jersey Historical Society has a slightly larger collection of items concerning both Rev. Abeel and his son Gustavus. The New York Public Library has preserved a portrait of Rev. Abeel, which can be viewed here. Information on Rev. Abeel’s grave site can be viewed here.

Note: Our Through the Scriptures and Through the Standards sections have now been replaced by RSS feeds which appear at the top of right-hand column.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:     

Eighteen Twelve was a Very Good Year

It was clear that something had to be done.  Princeton College was not being the source any longer for Presbyterian ministers, and for that matter, any ministers.  The school had turned into a secular school for careers, like law, politics, and education.

The reason for this was varied,  Some saw the problem in the new president, Samuel Stanhope Smith.  It wasn’t that he had no qualifications for the presidency.  He himself was a graduate of the college.  He had started what later became Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.  He had tutored under his father-in-law John Witherspoon as the Vice-President of Princeton, when the latter was unable physically to do it.  So he had all the academic qualifications.

Of more troublesome however were questions about his lack of Calvinistic distinctives.  It seemed that they were in word only as there were suggestions of an emphasis on free will in man plus scientific suggestions in place of supernatural miracles.  Add to that a student rebellion, the trustees were beginning to have questions on his ability to solve these challenges in the right way.

With 400 vacant pulpits in the Presbyterian Church, the sentiment began to build for a separate theological seminary separate from Princeton College as early as 1800.  By 1805 and 1808, each General Assembly was being besieged with calls for more ministers, on the mission field and in the congregations of the land.  An overture to decide what kind of school was sent to the presbyteries.  While hardly overwhelming for any one choice, by 1811, over $14,000 had been raised for the prospective seminary.  Any professor would have to subscribe to the Westminster Standards, and the Form of Government of Presbyterianism.

On August 12, 1812, while the nation was already at war against Great Britain, people packed the town’s Presbyterian Church for the inauguration of Dr. Archibald Alexander as the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary.   He had been chosen by the General Assembly.  He preached his inaugural sermon for the worshipers, including taking his vows regarding the confessional standards and the Presbyterian form of Government.  The seminary had begun, with three students.  It would soon pick up and begin to send out laborers into the fields, which were white unto harvest.

Words to live by:  Every reader of this historical blog should read the fine summary of Dr. David Calhoun’s two-volume work on Princeton Seminary, published by the Banner of Truth Trust in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Filled with persons, places, and events from the founding of the school in 1812 to 1929, when it ceased to be a Reformed biblical seminary, this school was the pillar of orthodoxy for the Presbyterian Church.  When we forget the past, we lose hope for the present and the future.  When we study the past, we learn how to live in the present and the future.  You will not be able to put down the two books.  The contributor promises you that!

Faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary, 1896: G.T. Purves, J.D. Davis, G. Vos, B.B. Warfield, W.B. Greene, Jr., J.H. Dulles, H.W. Smith, F.L. Patton, W.M. Paxton, C. Martin, W.H. Green, J. De Witt.

Through the Scriptures : Jeremiah 24 – 26

Through the Standards: The tenth commandment: sins forbidden

WLC 148 — “What are the sins forbidden in the tenth commandment?
A.  The sins forbidden in the tenth commandment are, discontentment with our own estate; envying and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together with all inordinate motions and affections to anything that is his.”

WSC 81 “What is forbidden in the tenth commandment?
A. The tenth commandment forbids all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our nature, and all inordinate motions and affections to any thing that is his.”

Image sources : The Church at Home and Abroad, 19.4 (April 1896): 339.

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