J.W. Alexander on Sabbath Evenings in Former Days

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James Waddel Alexander, writing in 1851 under the pen name “C.Q.,” has given us a description of how evenings were spent on the Lord’s Day, after public worship was over. It is valuable to note the place given to family worship, Scripture, the Psalms, the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the reading of classic religious books.

Among our Presbyterian forefathers it was not customary to have public service on Sabbath evenings. That time was usually devoted, in England, and especially in Scotland, to the instruction of the household. In addition to the family worship, which at these seasons was more solemn and more extended, the domestic ordinance of catechizing was observed with great punctuality and zeal….

After the evening meal of the Sabbath, the whole family was gathered, not excepting the domestics, some of whom were grey headed servants of Christ, who had grown up under the roof. In our day of restlessness it is thought enough to despatch a few questions and answers; but the Scottish method was to go through the whole Shorter Catechism, without omission or abridgment. The presiding person, in this exercise, was the master of the house; and we know families, in which, even now, this service is constantly performed without book. We were lately told by a lady, that, after her father's death, the catechetical examination was faithfully carried on by the mother; and no doubt, this has happened in thousands of instances. Though the Larger Catechism was extensively taught, as was the case in a family from which the writer is descended, it was the Shorter Catechism which every youth, without exception, was expected to know. Any one who chooses to try the experiment, may easily satisfy himself how deeply this form of sound words is impressed on the memory of all who have enjoyed a regular Presbyterian training. After attaining a perfect knowledge of the text, children were made to learn a sufficient number of Scripture proofs. This was in itself a theological education. By weekly repetition, it was not merely taught, but inculcated, in the proper sense of that term; so that scarcely any lapse of years could entirely eradicate it from the mind. Whatever may be said about the tediousness of such a discipline, we believe all who have passed through it agree in looking back to those evening exercises as serenely delightful; and in regretting the seeming necessity of denying the same to their own children.

In the Presbyterian houses to which reference is now had, Holy Scripture had its place, in the looking out of passages quoted by the preacher, and in repeating psalms and paraphrases. Expositions of a familiar kind were not unfrequently given, which left their impression on the youthful mind. In days when books were scarcer than at present, many an hour was spent in reading aloud from such works as Rutherford's Letters, Boston's Fourfold State and Crook in the Lot, Erskine's Gospel Sonnets, Guthrie's Interest, and the Sermons of Binning and Andrew Gray. Does not the heart of some reader bless God for these golden opportunities?

There are many congregations among ourselves, in which the evenings of the Lord's days are vacant. It is a very serious question for parents and householders, how far they may employ this sacred season, statedly, for the benefit of their families. Thorough and effectual catechising demands at least a weekly exercise; and where there is no other engagement, the best time for these is the Sabbath evening. Religious instruction, at such a season, is sanctified by the hallowed day, and sweetened by the flow of home- feelings. The service need be neither tedious nor burdensome. A little management may render it delightful. Next to the house of God, there is no place so favourable for the conversion of children as the happy fireside. Let not the subject be laid aside, without some careful recurrence to the past, some candid self-examination, some deliberate planning, some resolved purpose, some self-denying and courageous endeavour, and some prayer to God for his blessing.

Alexander’s snapshot of Sabbath evenings past was meant to encourage readers of his own day to redeem those hours with family exercises of worship, catechetical instruction, and devotional reading. How much more do we need — “in our day of restlessness” — such encouragement in the early part of the 21st century?

The Sitting-Room by J.W. Alexander

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In most eloquent fashion, James Waddel Alexander reminds us why families need a place to come together, as well as a routine where the heart of family life is nourished. This piece was originally published in The Presbyterian Magazine (Jan. 1851) under the pseudonym “C.Q.” (for “Charles Quill,” a favorite nom de plume of Alexander), and later republished posthumously with the author’s true name. Though he wrote in the 19th century, the need expressed here is no less greater, perhaps much more so, in the 21st.

The Sitting-Room

There is, or there ought to be, in every house, a room where all the household come together every day; a dear, well-remembered chamber, hung round by memory with the portraits of father, mother, brothers, sisters, servants, kinsfolk, friends, neighbours, guests, strangers, and Christ's poor. O, my reader, do you not remember such a room? In your wanderings, in your voyages, in the group of your own family, and among your own children, does not your thought go back to the days when you gathered around that ruddy, crackling fire, and when the heads, which are now laid low, were as a crown of glory to their offspring?

In some houses, this common-room, or “living-room,” as our Puritan neighbours call it, is the only room in the house; it is parlour, bed-room, kitchen, all in one. Blessed compensation of Providence to the poor man and his offspring; they can be always together. Wealth multiplies apartments and separates families. Go to the western clearing, and before you reach the cabin, you descry through the chinks the glow of a fire, which would serve a city mechanic for a week; entering, you behold the illumination of a whole circle sitting around the blaze, perhaps singing their evening hymn. Are they less happy than the dwellers in ceiled houses? Change the scene to the uptown seats of wealth, where the merchant prince abides in greater conveniences than Nebuchadnezzar or Charlemagne; for he has baths, hot and cold water on every floor, furnace-heat, and gas-lights. You can scarcely number the apartments. You think it a paradise. Hold! reconsider the social, the domestic part. It is three o'clock. What a solitude: The father is slaving at his counting-house. The mother is dropping cards at fifty doors, or stiffly receiving fifty visits. The boys are sparring or walking Broadway or Chestnut-street. The girls are with masters in Italian, dancing, and philosophy. The babies are airing with French nurses. Do these ever come together? Not in the true family sense. Some Christian merchants have few home joys, and are content to pray with their families once a day. The very name of a sitting-room, living-room, or common-room sounds plebeian, and savours of “the country.” Yet I know men, rich believers, who make conscience of gathering their family, all their family; and to effect this requires a place. God's blessing is on the room, whether covered with Axminster carpets or unplaned plank, whether hung with damask or with hunting-shirts and bear-skins, where that little kingdom, a Christian household, daily meets for prayer, for praise, for kind words, for joint labours, for loving looks, for rational entertainment, for reading aloud, for music, for neighbourly exchanges, for entertaining angels unawares. Thanks be to God for our Presbyterian sitting-rooms!

The Death of J.W. Alexander

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In the spring of 1859, at the age of 55, the health of James Waddel Alexander began to decline. He made the decision to leave New York City, where he labored as pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and head south to Virginia. It was thought that the curative effects of the western mountain springs could help to alleviate the chills he was experiencing. His long-time correspondent, John Hall, encouraged him to think about a trip out West, but Alexander determined to return to his home state (Alexander’s letter to Hall from Charlottesville, dated June 7, 1859).

Red Sweet Springs, as it appeared in 1867. Source:  http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/springs/redsweet/

Red Sweet Springs, as it appeared in 1867. Source: http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/springs/redsweet/

In the mid-19th century, places such as Warm Springs in Bath County and Red Sweet Springs (also known Sweet Chalybeate Springs) in Allegheny County drew many visitors and patients seeking a return to good health. Alexander visited the Warm Springs Hotel first, arriving on July 13. His delight in seeing the mountains was evident during the days following. Dr. James L. Cabell, Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who accompanied him to the springs, reported that:

In his daily drives, his enjoyments of our mountain scenery, which is unsurpassed for its varied beauty and grandeur, was almost rapturous. It had never before, he said, been half so great. He would repeatedly say that he had no language of his own adequate to the expression of his feelings, and could only exclaim with the Psalmist: ‘Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men.’

Dr. Cabell also reported that Alexander experienced an immediate boost in his health, but that he was also anxious to move on to Red Sweet Springs. On July 20, Alexander commenced the next leg of his trip, but had to stop for the night due to the onset of extreme physical pain while traveling on a hot Virginia road. Dysentery began to afflict him that night. The next day he made it to the Red Sweet Springs. But over the course of the following week, he battled a fever, and the dysentery took its toll on his body too. Although the proprietor of the cottage he stayed at, the doctor, and others, made every effort to provide comfort and aid, Alexander realized that he was coming to the end of his mortal journey. Before the end came, according to Cabell, Alexander said:

I have not been in the habit of talking much on the subject of my own spiritual states of feeling. With respect to my subjective religion, I have often disappointed people who look for manifestations of a certain kind. But I have frequently made known to Elizabeth [his wife] the grounds of my hope…Let me say one word more with respect to the solemn event to which you have called my attention. If the curtain were to drop now, and I were this moment ushered into the presence of my Maker, what would be my feelings? They would be these: first, I would prostrate myself in an unutterable sense of my nothingness and guilt; but, secondly, I would look upon my Redeemer with an inexpressible assurance of faith and love. A passage of Scripture which expresses my present feeling is this: “I KNOW WHOM” (with great emphasis) “I have believed, and am assured that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.

These words were uttered by Alexander about 20 hours before he breathed his last at around 5:00 am on the Lord’s Day, July 31, 1859. Thus did he, who had brought such consolation and comfort to many during his ministry, enter into the presence of the Lord whom he loved.

J.W. Alexander’s grave at Princeton Cemetery (photo by R. Andrew Myers).

J.W. Alexander’s grave at Princeton Cemetery (photo by R. Andrew Myers).

Alexander’s body was transported from Red Sweet Springs, Virginia and buried some days later at Princeton Cemetery, where his father Archibald Alexander, and later his brother Joseph A. Alexander, were also laid to rest. Last year, this writer paid a visit to his grave. Today, we remember a prince in Israel who died exactly 160 years ago.

A 19th century Presbyterian publisher whose name you might know

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The subject of today’s post had an elder brother, William, who became a Presbyterian minister. The story is told, by Rev. William Hammil, the Principal of the Boys’ School at Lawrenceville, New Jersey, of William’s conversion, followed by that of his brother days later.

He [William] came to me,” says Mr. Hammil, “ and said, ‘I have found the Saviour, and I wish you would tell my companions.’ I said to him, ‘William, you had better tell them yourself. It will do them and you both good.’ He stood up and said, ‘My dear schoolmates, you have, perhaps, not understood why I have not been out upon the playground as much as usual for some days past. I have been seeking the salvation of my soul, and trust I have found my Saviour, and wish to tell you how much joy I have.’ After prayers, William came to me and said, ‘ I wish you would speak to my brother…, and pray for him.’ I promised to do so. Like Andrew the Apostle, he was desirous that his brother should see Jesus. In a few days, … his younger brother, was indulging a good hope of an interest in Christ.

James W. Alexander once wrote in a preface to his Discourses on Common Topics of Christian Faith and Practice that “The appearance of these Discourses is due to the kind importunity of the Publisher, once my pupil and since my esteemed friend, who has for several years asked this contribution.”

The man who would one day became a publisher whose name is known around the world studied at Princeton, graduating in 1840. After health issues derailed an initial venture into the legal profession, he instead went into the business of publishing books. His first base of operations was in meeting rooms leased from the Presbyterian Brick Street Chapel in New York City for $600 annually. Shepherd Knapp, Jr., in his sketch of this famous historical congregation, tells us that:

In 1846 another publishing house became the church's tenant, that of …, whose successors, …, and the present … have continued the firm's long relationship to the Brick Church by becoming the publishers of the principle works of the church's ministers during the last half century.

Charles Scribner Brick Chapel Church.jpg

J. David Hoevelter, Jr., in James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition: From Glasgow to Princeton, p. 308), adds:

The firm had an eclectic list of works, but it excelled in high scholarly, and especially theological, works. These included books by Horace Bushnell, Henry B. Smith, Noah Porter, and others that especially illustrate the Princeton connection — Archibald and James Waddel Alexander, Charles Hodge, and then McCosh.

The list of works by Log College Press authors published by this man and his company is voluminous. Some of the names and titles can be noted on this Princeton chronology here. The publisher’s name remains well-known today, in the 21st century: Charles Scribner (1821-1871). Although he died at the age of 50, his work was carried on under the name Charles Scribner’s Sons. One of his sons, who later led the family business, was John Blair Scribner - named after a former Log College student, John Blair. His legacy has endured, and we at Log College Press are grateful for the many Presbyterian works that he and his family published during the 19th century.

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The Motive for Missions, according to J.W. Alexander

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James M. Garretson has written of James W. Alexander’s “passion” for missions which was “stimulated by preaching from Psalm 72 and his reading (in German) of [Ernst Wilhelm] Hengstenberg’s massive study on the christological passages in the Old Testament” (Thoughts on Preaching & Pastoral Ministry: Lessons from the Life and Writings of James W. Alexander, p. 103).

A powerful example of that passion is found in the sermon he preached before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Old School) meeting in Richmond, Virginia on May 23, 1847. Titled Love to Christ the Motive of Missions: A Discourse, he focused on the primary reason why the church engages in missionary labors. It is, simply put, “that the great motive to Christian Missions is personal love to the Lord Jesus, manifested in the desire and expectation of his reign over converted sinners.”

Acknowledging that missionary work results in many kinds of temporal and spiritual benefits to the redeemed — “they inform the Intellect, and enlarge the knowledge; they civilize and refine; they rescue from temporal evil, and they save the soul” —

Yet all these are but subsidiary to one grand intention, which is the glory of Messiah in his kingly power over redeemed sinners, as his satisfying recompense; and holy affection reaches forward, to accomplish by this means the mighty yearnings of an incarnate God, who is at the same time the Husband of His elect and loving Church. So that the subjection of man to our Redeemer, as the reward which He claims and waits for, is a result which true piety craves, with immeasurable love, and inexpressible longing.

Again and again, Alexander brings home the point that all that we Christians do to magnify and honor our King and our Redeemer on earth arises out of the love in our hearts towards him and the consequent desire to see him exalted by all.

  • “What is true religion? Not fear — not submission — not benevolence — not regard for being in general — not philanthropy — great and essential as some or all of these may be — but LOVE TO CHRIST.”

  • “Love to the person of Immanuel, God manifest in the flesh, a dying, reigning Saviour, is the mark and criterion of all the family in heaven and earth.”

  • “‘Lovest thou me? Feed my sheep!’”

  • “Here is the token of the missionary host; and the missionary spirit, whether in childhood or age, in the pastor or the apostle, looks up, from the cross and the sepulchre, to the crown and the second-coming; and sighs forth its expectant longing, and says to the Bridegroom, Priest, and Sovereign, ‘Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips; therefore God hath blessed thee forever.’”

  • The individual, and the church, glow with unspeakable desire for the universal acknowledgment, that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

  • “To behold this love, and the things therein freely given us of God, is faith, is eternal life: but it is also the prime motive to all individual effort, and to all the sacrifice and warfare of the church.”

  • “What has peopled these wastes, and pushed the tide of population even to the wintry coast of the inhospitable North? What has reared cities, and impelled the wheels of a thousand manufactures, and decked the earth with an agriculture unsurpassed among men? — The love of Christ. What has scattered schools, from town to town, and hamlet to hamlet, and founded universities, which, in spite of sectarian narrowness, are yet the pride of human learning? — The love of Christ. What has exchanged the misrule of Celtic chieftainship, and the feuds of warring tribes, for rational government and balanced concord? — The love of Christ. What has sent colonies, to become greater and happier and freer nations, in a late undiscovered hemisphere? — The love of Christ.”

  • “…we shall one day cry, ‘All Israel shall be saved, as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer!’ To this Deliverer, the whole missionary work is a tribute of love.”

Alexander also cites the words of his uncle and mentor, Dr. John Holt Rice, as quoted by William Maxwell, in an 1831 overture to the General Assembly to this effect:

In the judgment of this General Assembly, one of the principal objects of the institution of the Church, by Jesus Christ, was, not so much the salvation of individual Christians — for, ‘whosoever believeth shall be saved’ — as the communication of the blessing of the Gospel to the destitute, with the efficiency of united effort….The Presbyterian Church is a Missionary Society, the object of which is to aid in the conversion of the world, and every member of the Church is a member for life of said society, and bound to do all in his power for the accomplishment of this object.

If we love Him who saved us, we will desire the glory of his name to be exalted in us and by all those around us. This is the true motive for all kingdom work, according to our place and calling. But especially in the case of missions, where love compels us to speak to others of the love that set us free — His love towards his sheep. May the love of Christ stir us all up to do what we can on behalf of the kingdom of Christ, and for the good of the lost souls all around us. Read Alexander’s sermon here, and get a glimpse of the passion and desire of this 19th century minister for that very goal.

A scar on the author's wrist: J.W. Alexander's story for children

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James Waddel Alexander (the father of seven children) was known for the many books for young people which he authored, especially for the American Sunday-School Union. One — part of The Infant’s Library series consisting of 24 small books for the littlest children — was published in 1825 under the title The Sabbath Breaker. This little work is not yet available on Log College Press, but the autobiographical story authored by Alexander can be read in a biography of Edward Norris Kirk (1802-1874) by David Otis Mears. It is about two boys (James and Edward) who learned a lesson about keeping the Lord’s Day holy.

The Sabbath Breaker

Children, I am going to tell you another story. Every word of it is true, and I know it to be so. There were two boys, named James and Edward. They knew what was right, but they did what was wrong. This is very bad. They knew that the Sabbath was God’s day, but still they profaned the Sabbath.

One fine Sabbath afternoon, they had a lesson in the Bible to say to their teacher. But they were wicked and played truant. They did not get their lesson. And they played instead of going to their teacher. You will see what happened to them.

Edward and James used to go to bathe in a brook about two miles from home. Edward asked James if he would go and bathe there. James was at first afraid to go, because it was the Sabbath. But he was ashamed to say so. So they both set off to go to the brook.

As soon as they set off, they saw that some clouds were rising. But they went on.

When they got to the water, it thundered very loud, so that James was afraid to go in, though he was undressed. Edward went in and bathed.

The thunder was so loud, and it rained so hard, that they boys dressed themselves in a great hurry and began to return. The storm increased, it was very dark, and the lightning was dreadful. The boys were frightened. They knew they had done wrong. They knew that God saw them. They heard his thunder in the heavens, and were afraid. One clap of thunder was awful. The lightning struck a house in the town, and threw down a part of the chimney. James trembled, because he was afraid the Lord would strike him dead. But God is merciful, and spared these bad boys. The storm was short, and it was soon clear weather again.

When James and Edward got half-way home, they began to laugh and talk again. James was afraid Edward would think he was frightened. To show how brave he was, James took a penknife and tried to strike it into his coat-sleeve. The knife slipped, and the whole blade went into the back part of his wrist. The blood spouted out, and ran over his white clothes. He was then frightened indeed. He had escaped the storm, but now he saw that God had punished him. He had to send for a doctor. The doctor said it was a wonder he had not cut an artery. This was many years ago, but I saw the scar on his wrist, just before I wrote this. Remember the Sabbath.

The two boys in this story grew up to become devout and serious Christians, as well as friends for life — not unlike David and Jonathan, according to Kirk’s biographer. And the lesson they learned in their youth about keeping the Lord’s Day holy became a story to teach other young children as well.

J.W. Alexander: A Man Will Be as His Books

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“Visit many good books, but live in the Bible.” — Charles H. Spurgeon

A friend recently pointed this writer to a quote from James Waddel Alexander’s Thoughts on Preaching: Being Contributions to Homiletics.

It must be the habit of the preacher to be continually opening new veins, and deeply considering subjects allied to those on which he is to preach. This habit is greatly aided by judicious reading on theological topics. A man will be as his books. But of all means, none is so effectual as the perpetual study of the Scriptures. Let a man be interested in them day and night, continually labouring in this mine, and, whether he write or not, he will be effectually secured against self-repetition. There is such profundity, comprehensiveness and variety in the Word of God, that it is a library of itself. There is such a freshness in its mode of presenting truth, that he who is perpetually conversant with it can scarcely be dull (pp. 18-19).

The Book of Books — that is, the Bible — is the treasury of wisdom. All other books are to be measured by their consistency with the Scriptures. That being the case, the careful choice of good books is a great aid to the minister or elder or, indeed, to any Christian reader. At Log College Press, we select the titles that we republish with care as well.

Pastor's Package.png

Are you an elder? Read Witherspoon. Are you in seminary? Read Plumer. Are you a pastor? Read Rice & Grimké. Are you pastoring in a small town? Read Grafton. Are you getting older? Read Alexander. Are you interested in the Synod of Dort? Read Miller. There is profound, edifying and encouraging literature here for everyone. And a special deal for ordering all seven titles.

If you agree with Alexander that “a man will be as his books,” or that a person is a reflection of the books in which they spend their time, then consider these adding these titles to your library. These are volumes in which spiritual wisdom is practically applied and in which church history is made plain. It is our prayer that they will contribute to the church today, as they have in times past, and be a blessing to your soul.

A candle bright and brief: Abraham Rezeau Brown

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They say that the candle that burns brightest, burns half as long. Church history has many examples to offer in support of this truism. For example, consider the following, to name a few:

  • Lady Jane Grey, English Queen (1536/1537 - 1554, age 16/17)

  • Andrew Gray, Scottish Puritan (1634 – 1656, age 22)

  • Patrick Hamilton, Scottish Reformer (1503 – 1528, age 24)

  • James Renwick, Scottish Covenanter (1662 – 1688, age 26)

  • Jim Elliot, American Missionary (1927 – 1956, age 29)

  • Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Scottish Presbyterian (1813 – 1843, age 29)

  • David Brainerd, American Presbyterian Missionary (1718 – 1747, age 29)  

  • Christopher Love, English Presbyterian (1618 – 1651, age 33)

  • James Durham, Scottish Presbyterian (1622 – 1658, age 36)

There is another name to add to this distinguished list, one that is less well-known, but equally as inspirational as the names above in personal piety and devotion to Christ — Abraham Rezeau Brown (1808-1833, age 24). The New Jersey-born eldest son of Isaac Van Arsdale Brown, and friend of James Brainerd Taylor, Rezeau, as he was known, was a gifted student who was brought up in his father’s academy (originally known as Maidenhead Academy, now Lawrenceville School), and was clearly gifted early in life. His longtime “particular friend” (1830 letter to John Hall) and biographer, James Waddel Alexander, wrote that he joined the junior class at the College of New Jersey (Princeton) at age 15 and graduated two years later with the highest literary honors. Rezeau was always of a “weak” and frail constitution, and it was poor health that took him to his Savior at the tender of age of 24. But as Alexander wrote, quoting John Newton, “Tell me not how he died, but how he lived.” And thus we shall endeavor here to do so.

It is Rezeau himself, through manuscripts found after his death, who tells us that he was not a devout Christian early on, but something remarkable happened.

There has, no doubt, happened a great change in my character, which I date in March 1S27. I was before that a mere worldling, careless of eternity, thoughtless of my own eternal interests, and of those around me, a profane swearer. Sabbath breaker, and every thing else that is wicked; though only to that degree which was quite consistent with a decent exterior, and what were considered quite regular and moral habits in a young man. At the time mentioned, I was led in a most sudden and surprising way, when I was alone one evening, to look upon myself as a deeply depraved and guilty sinner, and to experience, in a lively manner, the feeling of my desert of hell. But in the course of a few days, I was enabled, as I thought, to cast myself on the Lord Jesus Christ as my Redeemer, and I felt through him a sweet sense of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

After his conversion, although earlier inclined to the field of medicine, more and more he felt a strong inner call to the ministry. He pursued the study of languages (Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, French, German) and ministerial studies at Yale and Princeton. He was naturally inclined to languages but also hoped to serve the gospel in foreign lands. He served from 1828 to 1831 as a tutor at Princeton Theological Seminary, and was licensed to preach the gospel in April, 1831. He served as stated supply for three different congregations located around Morgantown, Virginia (now West Virginia) from October 1831 to June 1832. The harsh winter and constant travel wore him down and he was recalled to Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey, where he continued to preach. He then joined J.W. Alexander as assistant editor of The Presbyterian in Philadelphia. He was making plans to take a trip to Europe in March 1833, when he became ill. It was an illness from which he never recovered, and on September 10, 1833, he entered the presence of his Lord. His funeral sermon was preached by J.W. Alexander from Revelation 22:3-5.

It was after that life-changing work of the Spirit in his soul in 1827 that Rezeau directed all of his energy and limited strength to this one goal - as Alexander wrote: “All his studies had this object; and it is worthy of remark, that he appeared always to study for God.” Notes found in his private memorandum book bear this out. After penning considerations on the right understanding of the call to the ministry, we read these lines written to summarize his planned course of study.

To this end, I would attend,

I. To the affairs of my soul.
II. To the affairs of my body.
III. To the affairs of my mind.
1. 1. To be much engaged in reading the Bible, in meditating and in prayer.
2. To improve opportunities of Christian intercourse.
3. To cultivate a Christian temper, and do every thing as conscious that the eye of God is directed to me, as well as the eye of the world.
4. To gain proper views of duty, and to act up to my convictions.
II. 1. To take regular exercise, morning and evening.
2. To be moderate in eating, &c.
3. To ‘keep my body under.’
III. In regard to objects of study.
1. The Bible.
2. Theology, as a science.
3. Books to aid the intellect, by their power of thought or some effective quality.
B. In regard to method,
1. Read twice every good book.
2. Read carefully, not caring so much to finish the volume as to gain knowledge.
3. Read pen in hand, noting striking thoughts, and recording such as throw light on points not hitherto understood.
C. In regard to writing. I wish to gain some facility as well as correctness in my composition for the pulpit and the press.
1. Analyses of Sermons.
2. Sermons.
3. Presbyterial Exercises.
4. Notes on remaining topics in Didactic Theology.

Another extract from his memorandum book gives witness to his experience in personal piety.

Monday, January 2, 1832. Another year is gone! Let me be excited by the remembrance of my failures in duty, sins, waste of time, slow advancement in piety and knowledge — let me be stimulated to future diligence in every good thing.

I would, in dependence on divine aid, this morning resolve,

1. To be more diligent in the pursuit of piety. And as I have most failed by the neglect of devotional reading of the scriptures, by wandering thoughts in prayer, and by permitting unholy thoughts and tempers to gain admission to my mind, I would resolve to pay special attention to these things.

2. I resolve to be more faithful in every public and private duty of the ministry. Especially in bearing such an exterior as to exhibit the influence, and commending the nature of religion; and in private and public admonition.

3. I resolve to attempt to do some good to some individual every day.

4. I resolve to study the Bible more than I have done, both critically and practically.

5. I resolve to press forward towards perfection, as much as possible here below; or in other words, to grow in grace.

His correspondence also bears witness to his faith: Writing to a relative who had just become a communicant church member he gives this counsel, based on personal experience:

In regard to personal piety, I find (as you will do) that prayer is the chief means of growth. Days devoted to prayer are very profitable; seasons of fasting and humiliation equally so. To pray much and yet be a cold Christian, is an anomaly I have never seen in the dealings of God with his church. The scriptures should take up much of your attention. Religious biography, and other religious books, are also worthy of regard and perusal. There is no royal road to manhood in Christ Jesus: we must grow by degrees, which will be greater or less in proportion to our diligence in the use of the means. Read Ephesians vi. 10—18. Philippians ill. 12—14. Romans xii. 1 —21. for some inspired directions.

We have the account of his private prayer dated July 26, 1832, which was for him a day of fasting and humiliation. And we have a meditation he wrote also in the summer of 1832 in which he critically evaluated the state of his soul. These personal devotional writings are nearly sermons, deeply humbling and convicting to read. They are too long to quote here, but the reader is encouraged (and forewarned!) to read them in J.W. Alexander’s memoir, which appeared in the October 1834 Biblical Repertory and Theological Review here, which is the source for most of this biographical record (a memoir which is also supplemented with letters from Isaac Van Arsdale Brown, Samuel Miller and Archibald Alexander). We have a few writings and translated works by Rezeau on his own page here. His story can only be briefly told in this post, but it is a story worth knowing. His candle burned brightly and briefly, but his memory is blessed forever.

A cause and a cure for misery: J.W. Alexander

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In a precious volume titled Consolation, consisting of discourses addressed to the suffering people of God, James W. Alexander tells us about the main ingredient that is needed to make life miserable. And then, thankfully, he explains what is needed to set things right.

Spiritual Quiet is favoured by Submission.

The first law of religion is submission. “Thy will be done;” and where it does not exist there is no piety, and just as truly there is no tranquillity. What a hideous sight to see a human creature in full rebellion against God’s providence; repining at his allotments; fighting against his dispensations, and cursing his judgments! But it is not more sinful than it is wretched; and hell is not only wickedness, but woe: the wickedness makes the woe, or rather is the woe. The true recipe for miserable existence is this: Quarrel with Providence. Even in the smaller measures of this temper there is enough to prevent tranquillity. And hence, when God means to make us happy, he teaches us submission — a resignation of every thing into his hands, and an acknowledgment that whatsoever He does is wisest and best. O how sweetly even afflictions fall when there is such a temper to receive them! “Shall we receive good at the hands of the Lord’, and shall we not receive evil?” “Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?” Such dispositions tend to stillness of soul; and even amidst chastisement there is internal quiet.

Happy Birthday to J.W. Alexander!

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James Waddel Alexander, the son of Archibald Alexander, was born on March 13, 1804 in Louisa County, Virginia. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) and studying at the Theological Seminary, he was licensed to preach in 1825 by the Presbytery of New Brunswick. After a period of time under the care of his uncle and mentor Dr. John Holt Rice, he was soon sent to take up a pastorate at Charlotte County, Virginia, beginning in May 1826. He was finally ordained on March 3, 1827 and installed as the pastor of Charlotte Court-House Church. It was during this period of his life that a brief notice appears in his letters to his friend John Hall that stood out to this writer.

On July 3, 1827, in response to a query from Hall, Alexander had this to say:

Ques. 2. What have you written?

  1. Letters.

  2. A few pieces for Rice’s Magazine, signed Atlanticus, Quis, M. R—n, and one anonymous intituled “The Minister of Christ.”

The magazine in question is The Virginia Evangelical and Literary Magazine, which was edited by John Holt Rice. It is a magazine for which many of the contributors assumed pseudonyms, including Rice himself (“Rusticus”). Also, because of his youth and relative inexperience in the ministry, it is not surprising that the contributions Alexander alludes to were published without his name attached. In any case, they are not referenced in Samuel Davies Alexander’s Catalogue of the Writings of the Alexander Family, nor are they mentioned in the more recent study of Alexander’s life and ministry by James M. Garretson (although Garretson mentions J.W. Alexander’s later use of the pseudonym “Charles Quill”).

Some of these anonymous contributions were identified by this writer recently after review of the 1827 volume of the magazine, and they have now been added to Log College Press here.

  • “Importance of Hebrew Literature” - “Atlanticus”

  • “Plan for Collecting Historical Records” - “Quis?”

  • “The Minister of Christ Addressed to a Young Preacher of the Gospel” - Anonymous (in three parts)

Each of these writings reveals interesting insights into the man who would later become the experienced minister whose posthumously-published Thoughts on Preaching (edited by S.D. Alexander) would mark a major contribution to the study of homiletics. They are short reads, but represent perhaps the earliest published writings by J.W. Alexander. Take time to look them over (pardoning the less-than ideal quality of the photos) today as we remember Alexander on his birthday.

A Day in the Life of a Young Rural 19th Century Pastor - J.W. Alexander

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In 1827, James Waddel Alexander was a young Presbyterian minister in the midst of his first pastorate at the Village Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Court House, Virginia. In a July 3, 1827 letter in which he answered John Hall’s question about how he spent his time, we are given a wonderful snapshot into his life at this time:

He is my plan for days which I spend at home, not always adhered to. Rise at 4; shower-bath; dress; shave; a walk or exercise in the garden; family prayers at 6; breakfast 1/4 before 7; read Scriptures; a lesson in Hebrew; Greek Testament in course with commentaries; cursory reading of Greek Testament; English Bible; preparation for sermons; theology; German; I have luncheon at 11, dinner at 2 1/2; after dinner I expatiate, read every thing,* ride, walk, lie on the grass, &c.; tea at 7; family worship at 8; bed at 9.

* Earlier in the letter he describes reading “the works of Rapin, Pascal, De la Houssaye, in French; Mastricht, Mark, Witsius, in modern Latin; and Calvin, Dwight, and McDowell, in modern English.”

There are so many spiritual and other insights to be gleaned from reading the Forty Years’ Familiar Letters of James Waddel Alexander, D.D., edited by his correspondent, John Hall. We not only learn about the man but we see snapshots of life in his day that reveal glimpses of an America that has changed immensely in two centuries. The time period covered by these letters is 1819 (200 years ago exactly) to 1859. Alexander went on to other pastorates and other more urban settings. But this sample of the time he spent in rural central Virginia is a special window into a time in his life and a time in America’s past that is perhaps not to be repeated, making his letters even more of a treasure.

Give attendance to reading the Scriptures: J.W. Alexander & Thomas Murphy

Wise words to pastors especially to improve their preaching, but also to all Christians, from James W. Alexander (Thoughts on Preaching) and repeated by Thomas Murphy as well (“Incessant Study of the Bible,” Pastoral Theology):

§ 43. Study of the Scripture.— Constant perusal and re-perusal of Scripture is the great preparation for preaching. You get good even when you know it not. This is one of the most observable differences between old and young theologians. "Give attendance to reading."

And a further thought on this matter:

The liveliest preachers are those who are most familiar with the Bible, without note or comment ; and we frequently find them among men who have had no education better than that of the common school. It was this which gave such animation to the vivid books and discourses of the Puritans. As there is no poetry so rich and bold as that of the Bible, so he who daily makes this his study, will even on human principles be awakened, and acquire a striking manner of conveying his thoughts. The sacred books are full of fact, example, and illustration, which with copiousness and variety will cluster around the truths which the man of God derives from the same source. One preacher gives us naked heads of theology; they are true, Scriptural, and important, but they are uninteresting, especially when reiterated for the thousandth time in the same naked manner. Another gives us the same truths, but each of them brings in its train a retinue of Scriptural example, history, a figure by way of illustration; and a variety hence arises which is perpetually becoming richer as the preacher goes more deeply into the mine of Scripture. There are some great preachers who, like Whitefield, do not appear to bestow great labour on the preparation of particular discourses; but it may be observed, that these are always persons whose life is a study of the Word. Each sermon is an outflowing from a fountain which is constantly full. The Bible is, after all, the one book of the preacher. He who is most familiar with it, will become most like it; and this in respect to every one of its wonderful qualities; and will bring forth from his treasury things new and old.

The Great Secret of True Comfort - Archibald Alexander

When Archibald Alexander first published his devotional classic Thoughts on Religious Experience in 1841, it did not contain the Appendix that was first added to the 1844 edition which contains his “Letters to the Aged.”

It is difficult to ascertain for sure what led to the creation of those Letters to the Aged, but one possible explanation for their genesis might lie in a letter written by his son, James Waddel Alexander, to John Hall, dated August 10, 1837, in which J.W. makes this intriguing suggestion: "A book ought to be written with this title: 'The Aged Christian's Book: printed in large type for the convenience of old persons.' It should be in the largest character attainable. Such topics as these: The Trials of Old Age; The Temptations of Old Age; The Duties of Old Age; The Consolations of Old Age, &c, &c. It should be a large book, with little matter in it. Why has no Tract Society thought of such a thing? (J.W. Alexander, Forty Years' Familiar Letters, Vol. 1, p. 255; see also James M. Garretson, Thoughts on Preaching & Pastoral Ministry, p. 170).” This is an almost-perfect description of what came to be known a few years later as Alexander’s “Letters to the Aged” (republished by Log College Press under the title Aging in Grace: Letters to Those in the Autumn of Life, 2018).

Regardless of the particular origin of these “Letters to the Aged,” we have an early example of the same from the pen of Archibald Alexander as recorded by J.W. in the biography he wrote of his father. According to J.W., this is “the only letter to his aged and declining mother, which is known to be in existence” (dated May 25, 1823, from Princeton, New Jersey; see J.W. Alexander, Life of Archibald Alexander, pp. 402-404).

My Dear Mother: —

When I last saw you, it was very doubtful whether you would ever rise again from the bed to which you were confined. Indeed, considering your great age, it was not to be expected that you should entirely recover your usual health. I was much gratified to find that in the near prospect of eternity, your faith did not fail, but that you could look death in the face without dismay, and felt willing, if it were the will of God, to depart from this world of sorrow and disappointment. But it has pleased your Heavenly Father to continue you a little longer in the world. I regret to learn that you have endured much pain from a disease of your eyes, and that you have been less comfortable than formerly. Bodily affliction you must expect to endure as long as you continue in the world. 'The days of our years are three-score years and ten, and if by reason of strength they be four-score years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.' But while your Heavenly Father continues you in this troublesome world, he will, I trust, enable you to be resigned and contented and patient under the manifold afflictions which are incident to old age.

The great secret of true comfort lies in a single word, TRUST. Cast your burdens on the Lord, and he will sustain them. If your evidences of being in the favour of God are obscured, if you are doubtful of your acceptance with him, still go directly to him by faith; that is, trust in his mercy and in Christ's merits. Rely simply on his word of promise. Be not afraid to exercise confidence. There can be no deception in depending entirely on the Word of God. It is not presumption to trust in him when he has commanded us to do so. We dishonour him by our fearfulness and want of confidence. We thus call in question his faithfulness and his goodness. Whether your mind is comfortable or distressed, flee for refuge to the outstretched wings of his protection and mercy. There is all fulness in him; there is all willingness to bestow what we need. He says, 'My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weakness. As thy day is so shall thy strength be. I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.' Be not afraid of the pangs of death. Be not afraid that your Redeemer will then be afar off. Grace to die comfortably is not commonly given until the trial comes. Listen not to the tempter, when he endeavours to shake your faith, and destroy your comfort. Resist him, and he will flee from you. If you feel that you can trust your soul willingly and wholly to the hands of Christ, relying entirely on his merits; if you feel that you hate sin, and earnestly long to be delivered from its defilement; if you are willing to submit to the will of God, however much he may afflict you; then be not discouraged. These are not the marks of an enemy, but of a friend. My sincere prayer is, that your sun may set in serenity; that your latter end may be like that of the righteous; and that your remaining days, by the blessing of God's providence and grace, may be rendered tolerable and even comfortable.

It is not probable that we shall ever meet again in this world; and yet, as you have already seen one of your children go before you, you may possibly live to witness the departure of more of us. I feel that old age is creeping upon me. Whoever goes first, the rest must soon follow. May we all be ready! And may we all meet around the throne of God, where there is no separation for ever and ever! Amen!

His mother was Agnes Ann Reid Alexander (1740-1825), and her earthly remains are buried with her husband at the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia.

Archibald Alexander clearly understood what it was like to be in the “autumn of life,” with its particular physical and spiritual challenges and opportunities, and the comfort and encouragement that is needed at this stage of life. This is why Log College Press chose to republish his worthy “Letters to the Aged” as Aging in Grace: Letters to Those in the Autumn of Life. Be sure to order your copy here, and consider purchasing extra copies for your pastor or loved ones.

J.W. Alexander: Remember to pray for your pastor

James Waddel Alexander reminds us what a privilege it is to lift our pastors before the heavenly throne to receive grace and blessing from above upon the ministry of Christ’s word:

The primary advantage of family-prayer to the church, is that it is answered. It is no small thing for any congregation to have daily cries for God's blessings on it ascending from a hundred firesides. What a spring of refreshment to a pastor! The family-devotions of praying Kidderminster, no doubt, made [Richard] Baxter a better minister, and a happier man; and it is possible that we are reaping the fruits of them, in his "Saints' Rest," and "Dying Thoughts." We have all heard of the preacher who told his flock that he had "lost his prayer-book," meaning their prayers; as also that good quaint saying of the last age, "A praying people makes a preaching minister." Such aid has been well compared to that of Aaron and Hur. Faithful and affectionate Christians never fail to remember their spiritual guide in their household supplications. (Thoughts on Family Worship, pp. 148-149)

A Word on Patience from J.W. Alexander

The life of a Christian is one of tribulation and suffering in this vale of tears. Yet, the joy of the Spirit of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). And therefore, we may “glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience” (Rom. 5:3).

James W. Alexander wrote a volume in 1852 titled simply Patience that is designed to help Christians better understand this patience to which we are called in the midst of tribulation. How is it that patience may have her perfect work (James 1:4, the verse upon which Alexander’s work is based)? Here is a good word from a wise pastor on what Christian patience really is, which we would all do well to consider.

In one view the suffering life of many Christians, and those the best, is hard to understand, for it seems at war not only with God's fatherly goodness, but with his gracious covenant. (Read Jer. xii. 12, and Psa. lxxiii.) But we must never lose our hold of two cardinal pillars, the very Jachin and Boaz of our temple: (1) that happiness in this world is not the chief good; the affirming of which is the radical error of all the common public economy, and much of the philanthropy of the day; and (2) that the education, or discipline, or training, or perfecting of a soul is so great and divine a work, that it is worth a lifetime of distress; so that no redeemed saint will look back on the longest sufferings of the present life as more than the scarcely perceptible moment before an eternity of holy delight. Angels look down and see poor sin-wounded creatures fighting against their chief medicine. As has been said, God does not afflict nor grieve the children of men "willingly," arbitrarily, out of any love to see them suffer, or any indifference to their sorrows; but with a wise and definite end, which will be revealed hereafter. The entire process of Christian endurance, pain-bearing, or patience, from beginning to end, in all its connection of parts, is more deeply interesting to one who could read it, than any drama ever enacted on the stage. So it will one day appear, when not only the particular sufferer, but all the company of God's elect in heaven, shall look back and see many a mystery of providence resolved. They will rise to higher admiration of the divine plan, when they shall be instructed why Joseph had his youth oppressed by cruelty, exile and imprisonment; why David was a persecuted fugitive, and a bereaved father; why the apostles were as sheep appointed to the slaughter; why the early Christians were mowed down by the sword; and why to this day they that will live godly suffer persecution. They will recall ten thousand cases, (for eternity has neither limits nor weariness,) in which some of the best of men have lain under pangs, or in languishing from sore diseases; or journeyed through a valley of gloom and depression; or been marks for arrows from the bow of wicked fellow-creatures, and more malignant demons; and why others, with hearts sickened by hope deferred, waited years and almost lifetimes without seeing the accomplishment of their strongest desires. When these several circles are complete, and every covering removed, and God's light thrown on dark places of the spiritual temple, it will appear, that this very divine product, to wit, holy patience, has been as dear to the great Architect of the Church, as is the costliest sculpture to the most devoted enthusiast in art. And therefore we are exhorted not merely to have patience, but to let patience have her perfect work.

The Providence of God is Our Consolation

Some words of wisdom from two Princeton men on how a right understanding of and faith in the Providence of God is a great comfort to us amidst the troubles and trials of our daily pilgrimage in this earth.

“A firm faith in the universal providence of God is the solution of all earthy troubles. It is almost equally true that a clear and full apprehension of the universal providence of God is the solution of most theological problems.” — B.B. Warfield, “God’s Providence Over All” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 1, p. 111


”Men are prone to think of God, says the excellent Melancthon, as of a shipbuilder, who, when he has completed his vessel, launches and leaves it. In opposition to this error of the Epicureans and Stoics, we are to be reminded that God never abandons his work, but is as much with it the last day as the first. This governing presence of God with all his creatures and all their actions, is called Providence, from a Latin word which means to see beforehand….

The view which we here take of Providence, regards the universe of mind and matter, not as a machine, wound up and left to run its career of centuries, without the Maker’s care, but as requiring and receiving at every moment his mighty influence, a stream of power perpetually proceeding from the Godhead. The very essence of God is, therefore, everlastingly present with every atom and every spirit. This is exactly accordant to those places in Scripture where God is spoken of as the universal cause, and is said to do those things which are done, secondarily, by creatures. Ps. 104:8, 30. And to this is referred the supporting of life in the most insignificant birds. Matt. 10:29. Enough has been said in regard to this primary acting of divine Providence, in preserving all things. How God does this it would be madness for us to inquire. The simplicity of the divine acts causes them to elude our faculties. He wills it, and that is enough; just as at the beginning he willed creation. What we chiefly need is to bear this in mind, with daily faith, awe, and thankfulness. Such is God’s preserving of the creature, as a part of Providence….

It is our privilege, not only to hope in Providence, with regard to the lesser affairs of life, but to recognize it — to see God’s hand in our daily walk, with wonder and love. ‘They that observe providences, shall have providences to observe.’ The simple faith of the patriarchs saw God’s hand in every thing that befell them; and so might we. I appeal to aged and observant Christians, whether the happiest persons they ever knew, have not been those who were most ready to eye God in all the events of life: in health and sickness, in business, and in family occurrences. Let us hope in Providence. Let us hope mightily. ‘But I will hope continually, and will yet praise thee more and more.’ Do days look dark? O remember, every cloud is governed by the God of truth and the God of power. The house in which you dwell is not without a master.” — James Waddel Alexander, “The Providence of God a Ground of Consolation” in Consolation, pp. 37, 40-41, 54-55

James Waddel Alexander on Earnest Preaching

"The reason why we have so little good preaching is that we have so little piety. To be eloquent one must be in earnest; he must not only act as if he were in earnest, or try to be in earnest, but be in earnest, or he cannot be effective. We have loud and vehement, we have smooth and graceful, we have splendid and elaborate preaching, but very little that is earnest. One man who so feels for the souls of his hearers as to be ready to weep over them, will assuredly make himself felt. This is what makes [preaching] effective; he really feels what he says."

-- Thoughts on Preaching, page 6.