Pastor-Teachers of Old Princeton – A Review by Kenneth Macleod
Like the two-volume set, Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry, this fine volume* commemorates the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Princeton Seminary in 1812. Professor Garretson has gathered together documents such as obituaries and memorial discourses, commemorating 12 professors in the Seminary, from Archibald Alexander to B. B. Warfield – and one other minister, Henry A. Boardman, who was appointed to a professorship but declined it. Some of the most successful pieces are reviews of memoirs.
One need not expect perfect balance in addresses given immediately after a worthy man’s death and one may be afraid that speakers will succumb to the temptation to flattery. Certainly here there is a focus on the positive, and these were men about whom much could be said that was positive; yet in some cases one does find some reference to the subject’s weaknesses. The memorial discourses are scarcely sermons; they have a text but in most cases it is little more than a motto; they were spoken obituaries. Yet they tell us, in considerable detail, the facts and achievements of men who did useful work in the kingdom of God. And the editor’s Introduction is not the least useful part of the book.
In some ways Archibald Alexander, Princeton’s first professor, from 1812, outshines all the others as a godly, wise man. Having referred to the necessity of differentiating in preaching, in order that ‘the saint and the sinner are clearly distinguished by decisive Scripture marks; so that everyone may have a fair opportunity of ascertaining to which class he belongs, and what prospects lie before him’, he went on: ‘It is much to be regretted that this accurate discrimination in preaching is gone so much out of use in our times’. What would he say today?
It is significant, in the view of Charles Hodge, one of his former students, that Alexander’s influence over his students probably lay in his ‘power over their religious feelings’. Hodge describes him as a man who could ‘bring us into communion with God . . . reveal to us the glory or the love of Christ . . . unseal the fountains of penitence or kindle the expiring embers of faith and hope’.
Samuel Miller was appointed to Princeton just a year after Alexander and gave 36 years of faithful service. At the end of his life someone expressed the wish that he might be spared for a little longer. He replied, ‘I am not conscious of having any wish on that subject. I think I can say, Blessed Master, when Thou wilt, where Thou wilt, as Thou wilt.’
J. W. Alexander, who was a son of the first professor and taught briefly at Princeton, stated at a much earlier stage in his life: ‘Except to do God’s work, I desire not to breathe another moment’. Alexander T. M’Gill, a later professor, has by now been almost completely forgotten. Apart from his teaching, he gave considerable assistance in practical, administrative matters. But it is striking to note that ‘early in his last sickness he resigned all care and thought of business matters to one of his sons . . . From that time he scarcely ever made allusion to any of his worldly affairs. His mind was chiefly occupied with thoughts of religion and things of everlasting moment.’
Most of the striking sayings noted in reading this book were spoken by these men in their last days, which is a tribute to the genuine nature of their religion. One final such statement is from Charles Hodge: ‘When a member of his family burst into tears at his bedside he took her hand and said, “Do not grieve. To be absent from the body is to be with the Lord; to be with the Lord is to see the Lord; to see the Lord is to be like Him.” With this simple faith he passed into the joy of his Lord.’ Let us note another significant comment by Hodge, which indicates the understanding the seminary professors had of the relative importance of godliness and scholarship: ‘There is no danger to the truth from “currents of thought”. The only danger is from the decline of piety. Men do not firmly adhere to doctrines of which they have not experienced the power.’ Consistent with this was a comment on Hodge himself: ‘His piety was his theology translated into life, and all his theology, theoretical and practical, centred in Christ, who was to him the supreme object of faith, love and devotion, all and in all’.
In his Preface, the editor comments that the men commemorated in this volume had ‘a hearty, robust, biblical piety . . . Their labours evidence a commitment and devotion to their Saviour worthy of our emulation. Their love for Christ and their faithfulness to his Word was the bedrock upon which Princeton Theological Seminary was built.’ But, sadly, soon after the time when this volume ends, faithfulness to the Word weakened dramatically at Princeton.
The form of the book may not produce high expectations in the reader, but it is, in fact, most interesting. To read it should bring readers to pray that the Lord would again raise up able men who not only can preach the Word but also defend it.
Memorial Addresses for the Faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary 1812-1921
Like the two-volume set, Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry, this fine volume* commemorates the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Princeton Seminary in 1812. Professor Garretson has gathered together documents such as obituaries and memorial discourses, commemorating 12 professors in the Seminary, from Archibald Alexander to B. B. Warfield – and one […]
Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the March 2013 issue of which the above review has been taken with permission.
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