Thoughts from Archibald Alexander (1772-1851)

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

I am currently enjoying “Princeton and Preaching” by James Garretson.  He is walking through the life and ministry of Archibald Alexander (1772-1851).  Archibald Alexader would be the first professor of the newly established Princeton Theological Seminary.  He would serve faithfully at this post and set the foundations of this Presbyterian Seminary.  Princeton would be the center of conservative Presbyterianism for many years, largely due to the work of Archibald Alexander.

In this current book Dr. Garretson walks through a number of theological issues and summarizes the positions that Alexander held.  Although I am not personally a Presbyterian (although there is much within the Presbyterian church I am fond of), this work has been challenging and engaging.

I thought I would reproduce two summary outlines that are present in the book that detail Dr. Alexanders positions on the call to ministry as well as qualifications of the one who would enter the minstry.  Each point is further developed in this book and the writings of Alexander in other places. 

The Call to Ministry:

  1. If a young man have good reason to believe that he has experienced a real change of heart, from darkness to light, and from the love of sin to the love of God–
  2. If he is actuated by a strong and constant desire to promote the glory of God, and to advance the Redeemer’s Kingdom; and to rescue immortal souls from the ruin into which they have fallen, and the greater ruin to which they are exposed–And if in the promotion of these objects his desires have been frequently and ardently led to the office of the ministry–
  3. And if, in the dispensations of Divine Providence, he has been privileged with the opportunity of acquiring a liberal education; or has now the opportunity of commencing a course of liberal learning–
  4. And if, as far as he can judge himself, exercising the utmost possible impartiality–or according to the candid judgment of sensible and pious friends, he is not deficient in those mental faculties and capacities, which are requisite, in order to profit by a course of study–
  5. And if, there be no remarkable defect of voice, by reason of stammering, squeaking, indistinctness, or feebleness, which woud render public speaking impracticalbe; undesirable or very unpleasant to the hearers–
  6. And finally, if there be no peculiar obliquity or natural temper; or strong tendency to perform imprudent acts, or make ill-advised and imprudent speeches–the candidate for the holy ministry should consider himself called to enter upon a course of preparation and trials for this sacred office.

The Qualifications of the Minister

  1. Some degree of eminence in piety is requisite for our own satisfaction.
  2. The work is so great and sacred, and the consequences so awful, that none will duly feel and act under the responsibilities of the office, but one whose heart is warmed with the fervent love to Christ and the souls of men.
  3. The duties of the ministry will never be faithfully performed by any one but he who is deeply under the influence of divine truth.  He will become indolent and careless or will sink into discouragment–or will become entagled with worldly engagements.
  4. He will not be able to converse with edification to the people without this.
  5. It is necessary to preserve the minister from ambition and vain glory.
  6. Necessary to make him speak with confidence of the excellency and comforts of true piety.
  7. Eminent piety is requisite to enable a minister to compse sermons induced with the right spirit.  To feed the devotions of the people, etc.
  8. Without a good degree of eminence in piety, the minsters example will not be savoury and consistent.  it is necessary to preserve him from sin.  He should be higher than all the people in spiritual attainments.
  9. It will greatly increase his influence.
  10. Will enable him to bear with patience the persecution of enemies.
  11. It will be better than all rules of rhetoric in the delivery of sermons.
  12. It will make the work of the ministry delightful.
  13. Will prepare for sickness and death.
  14. Eminent piety will diffuse a solemn seriousness, over the manners.  Gravity, composure of countenance–dignity of demeanour–propriety in every word, look and gesture.

If nothing else these lists give us a glimpse into the thinking of earlier Christians concerning the call to ministry and the qualifications of the minister.  A renewed conversation around these two subjects would be healthy for our churches.

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