woensdag 18 februari 2015

Learning from Church History: A readable biography about Joseph Archibald Alexander

A Christian has a love for history. About a half of the content of the Bible consists of historical narratives. God is a God who really lives. He acted and spoke in history. The history recorded in the Bible has a peculiar character. Because of the inspiration of the Bible what is recorded there is of a normative character in the absolute sense.
We cannot say that about church history. That does not mean that we can neglect church history without spiritual damage. Although the canon is closed God still works in history. Christ as the King of the church gathers and protects her. The history of the church testifies of Christ’s care for his church.
Biography is a specific form of writing history. With regard to the church history we can learn a lot by reading good biographies about living members of the church. EP Books publishes in the serie Bitesize Biographies short and readable biographies about well known and also lesser known Christians. I can heartely recommend the series as a whole.
Here I ask your special attention for the biography written by Alan Harman on Joseph Addison Alexander (1809-1860). Harman himself has taught Hebrew and Old Testament in several countries. Currently he is research professor at Presbyterian Theological College, Melbourne, Australia.
The subject of his biography is one the nineteenth century members of the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary. His father Archibald was the first professor of this prestigious seminary. Joseph Addison Alexander was a formidable linguist and a brilliant biblical scholar.
Graduating at the age of seventeen from Princeton College he amazed his fellow students with his ablities. Today he is remem-bered for his scholarly commentaries on Isaiah, the Psalms, Acts and Mark. Alexander remained a bachelor his whole life. This great scholar was known by his intimates and his family for his love to entertain children by inventing plays and telling them stories.
When he was twenty years of age there a spiritual change in his life. Up to that time he was outwardly religious. He always attended the church on the Lord’s day, the weekly prayer meeting and a Bible class on the afternoon of the Lord’s day, but he was stranger of the saving power of the gospel. When the Christian Faith became for him a matter of the heart, that brought about a marked change in his reading. He began to study the Bible very intensively and besides that started to read a wide variety of theological works.
In 1830 Joseoh Addison Alexander was appointed as adjunct professor of Ancient Languages and Literature of Princeton College. After an European tour and study he became in 1834 the assistant of Charles Hodge in the Oriental Deparment of Prince-ton Theological Seminary. During his years as faculty member of Princeton Theological Seminary he was in turn professor of Old Testament, Church History and New Testament.
A year after his death Charles Hodge commented in a sermon: ‘I never saw a man who so constantly impressed me with a sense of his mental superiority – with his power to acquire knowledge and his power to communicate it. He seemed ale to learn anything and to teach anything he pleased.’ Even more striking is the comment of dr. John Leyburn, a presbyterian minister. He wrote in an obituary: ‘His splendid intellect and his vast resource were all brought into subjection to the Christian faith.’
Allan M. Harman, Joseph Addison Alexander of Princeton, Bitesize Biographies, EP Books Darlington 2014; ISBN 978-085234-960-1; pb. 120 pp., price £5,99