Predictable! Delightfully so. That is how I would characterize this collection of sermons and talks given back in the day at Old Princeton.
Princeton Theological Seminary was the moral compass, the lodestone, the North Star, the pillar and ground of theological and Biblical truth in the 19th century. Under such theologians as Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, Charles Hodge, and others, the seminary dug its heels in and refused to budge when confronted with the flurry of theological heresies, social currents, and societal upheavals of the day.
Princeton Theological Seminary was not a cultural backwater, however. The men who taught there were students of the latest discoveries in theological and linguistic research. They kept abreast of the scientific advances and challenges of the time. They interacted with the political events.
But Princeton Seminary had one primary goal. It sought to train men to be faithful pastors. Of course, this entailed language studies. It also took students through the depths of theology, homiletics, and Scriptural exegesis. Such were the expected tools and steps for those who wanted to be Presbyterian pastors. There was no place for the illiterate man who be converted one Sunday and feel compelled to start preaching the next Sunday. Rather, one had to study hard and deep and be grounded in the Word of God and able to faithfully communicate it.
The gist of the nine addresses in this book is not on academic or scholarly attainments. Rather, the focus was on the pastor’s heart. Godly, pious, faithful men were the only ones who were apt to be ministers. Each pastoral leader in these essays exhorts his hearers to be faithful and focused in following Christ.
That is why I said that this book is predictable. There are no surprise heresies lurking between the lines of some speculations regarding Scripture. This book would not satisfy the one who was looking for seeds of deviation from the Scriptural and Westminster-based norms. These were sound men exhorting the next generation to remain sound.
As such, these essays are good devotional reading. One wanting to explore theological issues would need to look at other Princeton works, such as Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology or the works of Benjamin Warfield. The amazing thing is that while it was the mind that the seminary was filling and expanding, it was the heart that was the central concern. As a former pastor, I could feel the need to hear these kinds of words and exhortations again and again.
For those who want to know more about the work and legacy of Princeton Seminary, I will mention the following books, which are also Banner of Truth titles:
David Calhoun has written a definitive history in two volumes of the seminary and the men who served there. This is an outstanding historical study. Volume 1 covers the years 1812 (the beginning) to 1868 and volume 2 takes the story up to 1929. The later stages of the seminary’s history are rather sad because of the death of Benjamin Warfield and the internal battles over theological liberalism.
Princeton and the Work of Christian Ministry is a two volume set from which The Pastor was taken. The 255 pages of this shorter work can easily whet the appetite for the 1500 pages of the larger set.
Pastor-Teachers of Old Princeton is subtitled “MEMORIAL ADDRESSES FOR THE FACULTY OF PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY 1812-1921.” Once again, source materials are ready at hand for readers in our day to be reminded and grounded in the historic teachings of Reformed Christianity.
Finally, Banner of Truth and other publishers have printed a number of works by such men as Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, Benjamin Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and others who were pastors/scholars/teachers/students of the old Princeton tradition.
These works do have relevance as historical documents, but their greatest value is in the true and sound theology they contain and remind us of. We are living in a Christian Renaissance. We not only have many good and faithful preachers and teachers in our day, but thanks to works like the book reviewed here, we have the wealth of the past at our fingertips.