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Princeton And Preaching

Category Articles
Date December 23, 2005

Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry, by James M Garretson.

The Presbyterian Church, USA, could never have imagined the enormous blessing that would arise from the decision, by their General Assembly in 1812, to appoint Archibald Alexander as the first professor of their church’s seminary at Princeton. The seminary began in August 1812 with Alexander lecturing to his class of three students in his home at Mercer Street. From these small beginnings, Old Princeton developed into the foremost Reformed Seminary of the 19th century. From a human perspective Princeton’s renown owes much to its first professor, whom church historian, John DeWitt, describes as ‘one of the loftiest, purest and simplest characters with one of the largest and best disciplined intellects the American Church has produced’.

Dr James Garretson has been of immense service to the church in the 21st century by making accessible to this generation of ministers and theological students a collection of the unpublished lecture notes of Alexander. Dr Garretson brings these notes to life by interspersing them with his own pithy comments as well as some vivid testimonies from students who sat under this eminent professor.

The contents of the book are set out in eleven chapters which form the outline of a course in Pastoral Theology and Homiletics, with the emphasis being on Preaching. Although prepared for students in the 1800s there is nothing antiquated about Alexander’s notes because his scholarship was based on the living and enduring Word of God and the emphasis in his lectures is entirely Christocentric.

Alexander put great emphasis on the importance of an educated ministry. Garretson opens up for his readers Alexander’s rationale:

In Alexander’s view, learning enriches the minister and enhances his effectiveness in ministry. While some in Alexander’s day decried the need for the kind of extended study that he advocated, he assured his students that learning is not an impediment to effectiveness in ministry. On the contrary, men of lesser attainments were more apt to use complicated language to communicate concepts they had not grasped. Educated men were more likely to exercise perspicuous simplicity in their instruction.

This emphasis in the book is particularly relevant today, as some sections of the Church despise the need for scholarship in preparation for the work of the ministry.

It becomes clear from the notes that Alexander had a deep experimental knowledge of the human heart, which led him to be described as a ‘theologian of the heart’. As Garretson puts it,

It has been said that his heart was in his preaching and his hearers were in his heart. They knew it and felt it; it was this passionate preaching that drew them into the circumference of Christ’s love.

This dimension to preaching is often missing today. Twenty-first century ministers, by picking up and using Alexander’s approach to preaching, could greatly increase their usefulness in the service of Christ. Charles Hodge, Alexander’s contemporary at Princeton, recognized that Alexander’s experimental preaching is the kind of discriminating, applicatory preaching that is necessary for spiritual renewal in the Church.

The final chapter of this extremely useful book is an analysis of the secret behind Alexander’s eminence. In Garretson’s opinion it comes down to two things: his love for Christ and his love of the Scriptures. He writes:

Alexander was a man in love with Christ. He never replaced his personal relationship with Christ with book learning or activism on behalf of his Redeemer’s kingdom. Alexander was a learned and active man but he never forgot his first love. This explains Alexander’s passion for the things of Christ; it is the source of Alexander’s love for the church and his love for the lost.

Alexander read many books and mastered many disciplines, but he studied the Bible most, reading, we are informed, his Greek New Testament with ease. This meant that his heart and mind were thoroughly suffused with Scripture, giving him, in large measure, ‘the mind of Christ’ and ‘the wisdom of Christ’.

It is impossible to speak too highly of this volume. It should quickly find its way onto the required reading list of Pastoral Theology courses in Reformed Seminaries throughout the world. Not only will this book be extremely helpful to students preparing for the ministry, but it will be invaluable to men in the ministry reminding them of the disciplines essential to their high calling.

Robert McCollum
Reformed Theological Journal November 2005


This book (ISBN 085151 8931) retails for $26.99 (US), £16.75 (UK and ROW) and can be purchased from the Banner of Truth website (go to the book catalogue).

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