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                                                                           A Scribe Well-Trained:
                                                             Archibald Alexander and the Life of Piety
                                                                     Reformation Heritage Books, 2011
                                                             Edited and Introduced by James M. Garretson

                                                                             by Fred G. Zaspel

What a great idea this book was. Wanting to keep up with all things Old Princeton, I scarfed up this little volume as
soon as I saw it was released. Taking its place as the newest of the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series (Joel Beeke
and Michael Haykin, eds.) from Reformation Heritage Books, James Garretson’s presentation of Princeton Seminary’s
famous founding professor will doubtless enjoy a happy reception by all who read it.

Archibald Alexander had a prized walking stick beautifully carved from whale bone, given to him by one of the
chiefs of the Sandwich Islands. When he lay on his deathbed he handed it to Charles Hodge as a symbolic gesture - passing
the baton of orthodoxy, as it were. And he instructed Hodge to give it, in turn, to his successor also. Hodge stood outside
afterwards weeping as he lamented to his eldest son, named after his dear colleague and friend, “It is all past, the glory of our
Seminary has departed.” He was mistaken, of course, but such was the esteem in which Alexander was held by the
renowned Charles Hodge. (When I was doing research at Princeton I was allowed to hold that walking stick myself - what a
wonderful sense of history it was!)

Garretson does an excellent job presenting a brief introduction to Alexander, his life, and his historical significance.
This Introduction combined with the “Impressions of Dr. Alexander” in the appendix provides sufficient information to enable
us to know something of the man whose writings occupy the bulk of the book. Selected readings from Alexander constitute
the book’s fifty-six very brief chapters (184 trade-size paperback pages, total). This taste of Christian biography combined
with Alexander’s own expositions of various themes related to Christian piety is good food for the soul indeed.

Written into the “Plan” of Princeton Seminary from the beginning was the goal of producing graduates who were
lovers as well as defenders of the truth, and Alexander himself is a good example of this ideal. He was a learned scholar and
compassionate pastor who had himself been deeply affected by the revivals of his earlier years, and these factors all
combined to make him a model “affectionate” theologian. His is not a shallow or mystical piety but one founded on and
fueled by gospel truth. And a deeply devotional piety it is, as these chapters illustrate. Addressing subjects such as the
evidences of true conversion, the nature of genuine religious affections, the role of the Holy Spirit, the Christian’s love for
Scripture and for truth, prayer, sanctification, perseverance, counsel to the young and to the aged and to the dying, the piety
of young children, love for Christ, and maintaining a “devotional spirit,” these selections reflect the best of Reformed
“experimental” piety and serve to promote the same in the reader - warm, insightful, and useful all.

A few quotes will help provide a sample of what the book offers.

“There are two kinds of religious knowledge, which though intimately connected as cause and effect, may
nevertheless be distinguished. These are the knowledge of the truth as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures,
and the impression which that truth makes on the human mind when rightly apprehended.”

“What an adorable being is the Triune God! How gloriously mysterious in his being, attributes, operations,
and personal acts! How little are we capable of knowing of this infinite Being. ‘None by searching can find
out the Almighty to perfection.’ Where the feelings of the heart are right, the incomprehensible nature of the
divine existence causes no obstruction to genuine devotion. Indeed, the soul of man is so constituted as to
require an incomprehensible Being as the object of worship. Profound adoration is the very feeling which
corresponds with this attribute.”

“As the Word of God furnishes both the motive and the object of all spiritual affections, it cannot but be very
dear to the renewed heart, especially as it reveals Christ in all His offices as the Redeemer of His people.”

“All we need is to have the illumination of the Spirit to accompany the reading or preaching of the Word, to
cause us to see wonderful things in texts which had often been heard or read without emotion; and in the
contemplation of them the mind is filled with unspeakable joy. Now the enlightened soul has no need of
arguments to convince it that the Scriptures are indeed the Word of God.”

“Let us esteem it a great privilege to be the redeemed servants of the Lord. It is the highest honor which we
can enjoy; and He never requires His servants to be losers by their sacrifices, labors, and privations for His
sake. Our highest happiness also is inseparably connected with the performance of this duty. All who
forsake God, forsake the fountain of living waters; but they who glorify Him shall enjoy Him forever.”

“Gratitude is the soul of heart-religion.”

“God can make any means effectual, and among the instituted means for the government of the world, and
the preservation and comfort of His people, prayer holds a high place. The objection that God is immutable,
and knows what we need, has no more force against prayer than any other means - no more force than if
urged against the necessity of cultivating the ground in order to obtain a crop, or receiving food to nourish the

This kind of “practical theology” marks the book throughout. Alexander was recognized in his own lifetime for his
theological acumen and his devotional piety, and some of his works remain classics today. Drawing from Alexander’s works
such as The Log College, A Brief Compendium of Bible Truth, Practical Sermons, Practical Truths, and Thoughts on
Religious Experience this little gem, easily suitable for all Christian readers, is both a wonderful introduction to this
renowned Princetonian and a most profitable devotional work in its own right.