Review of Garretson, Princeton and Preaching

[You can also read Sinclair Ferguson’s foreword to this book on the Banner of Truth website.]


James M. Garretson, Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry. Edinburgh/Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005. xxiv+280pp. $28.00, hardcover.

Published in SBJT 11.1 (2007), 93-93.

Archibald Alexander (1772–1851) was the first professor at Princeton Seminary, the first official Presbyterian seminary in the United States. The school began its first year with three students who met with Alexander in his home. Alexander was joined by Samuel Miller (1769–1850) in 1813, and the two served Princeton together for most of the first forty years of the seminary’s existence. Born to a pious family, Alexander could read the New Testament by the age of five and at seven had memorized the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He was apparently born again at the age of seventeen while reading John Flavel’s sermon on Revelation 3:20 aloud to an elderly Christian lady. He soon felt called to ministry and was tutored by his pastor, Rev. William Graham. He was licensed in 1791, and he then served as a missionary in the southern counties of Virginia and along the borders of North Carolina through 1794, when he was ordained, and installed pastor of the church of Briery. He had a passion for home and foreign missions. 

From 1796 to 1806 Alexander served as president of Hampden-Sydney College. He then accepted a call to Pine Street Church in Philadelphia. While in Philadephia, Alexander helped establish the Philadelphia Tract Society, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge among the Poor, and a Sunday School Association. He aided in the establishment of a Foreign Missions Society, helped develop a colonization plan for Negroes to return to Africa, and was involved with various Bible Societies. Though he would have preferred to remain at the church, he was called to Princeton in 1812. Archibald Alexander’s son James W. Alexander provided the English translation of the hymn by Bernard of Clairvaux which Paul Gerhardt had rendered into German, “O sacred Head, once wounded.” The great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge named his son Archibald Alexander Hodge.  

The robust theology and warm piety of old Princeton owed much to Archibald Alexander, who has been called, “the fountain-head of the Princeton ministerial ethos.” Old Princeton trained generations of men for ministry, and when it shifted decisively to the left in the 1920’s, Old Princeton became the ideal that drove Machen in the founding of Westminster Seminary. The vision of Old Princeton also inspired early founders of Fuller Theological Seminary such as Harold John Ockenga and Carl F. H. Henry. After “Black Saturday” at Fuller (see George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism) the Old Princeton ideal was pursued at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School by several who had been at Fuller. Carl Henry’s decisive influence on R. Albert Mohler Jr., along with the fact that two founders of Southern Seminary, James P. Boyce and Basil Manly Jr. studied at Princeton under Alexander, extends the Old Princeton, Archibald Alexander influence well into the Southern Baptist orbit. 

Several studies of Old Princeton exist, but books on Alexander are comparatively sparse. In the volume under review here, James Garretson provides a biographical summary of Alexander in chapter 1. From there Garretson provides chapters that summarize Alexander’s approach to the call to ministry, the qualifications for ministry, sermon preparation, the preparation of the preacher’s heart, the minister as shepherd, the content of preaching, ministerial deportment, the challenges of ministry, and the encouragements of the ministry. The concluding chapter draws together Alexander’s approach to training men for ministry and recommends it to our generation. This book would serve as healthy devotional reading. It is almost too rich to be read through quickly, so readers would perhaps be best served by savoring short passages for periodic encouragement. Let us heed the admonition of Hebrews 13:7 and remember those who have gone before, observing the outcome of their lives that we might imitate their faith.

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