August 12: Princeton Theological Seminary

It was a Very Good Year (1812)

It was clear that something had to be done.  Princeton College was no longer fulfilling its mandate to be the source for Presbyterian ministers, and for that matter, any ministers.  The school had turned into a secular school for careers, like law, politics, and education.

The reason for this was varied,  Some saw the problem in the new president, Samuel Stanhope Smith.  It wasn’t that he had no qualifications for the presidency.  He himself was a graduate of the college.  He had started what later became Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.  He had tutored under his father-in-law John Witherspoon as the Vice-President of Princeton, when the latter was unable physically to do it.  So he had all the academic qualifications.

What was troubling were the questions about his Calvinistic distinctives, or rather, the lack thereof.  It seemed that they were in word only as there were suggestions of an emphasis on free will in man, plus scientific suggestions in place of supernatural miracles.  Add to that a student rebellion, and so the trustees were now beginning to have questions on his ability to solve these challenges in the right way.

With 400 vacant pulpits in the Presbyterian Church, the sentiment began to build for a separate theological seminary distinct from Princeton College, as early as 1800.  Between 1805 and 1808, each General Assembly was besieged with calls for more ministers, both on the mission field and in the congregations throughout the land.  Finally an overture was sent to the presbyteries, to decide how exactly to proceed in the establishment of the new school. By 1811, over $14,000 had been raised for the prospective seminary, and the clear provision was in place, that the school’s  professors would have to subscribe to the Westminster Standards, and the Form of Government of Presbyterianism.

The Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, Princeton,On August 12, 1812, while the nation was again at war with Great Britain, people packed the town’s Presbyterian Church for the inauguration of Dr. Archibald Alexander as the first professor of Princeton Theological Seminary.   He had been chosen by the General Assembly.  He preached his inaugural sermon for the worshipers, and took his vows regarding the confessional standards and the Presbyterian form of Government.  The seminary had begun, with three students.  It would soon find its footing and began to send out laborers into the fields, which were white unto harvest.

Words to live by:  Every reader of this historical blog would profit from reading Dr. David Calhoun’s two-volume work on Princeton Seminary, published by the Banner of Truth Trust.  Filled with persons, places, and events—from the founding of the school in 1812 up until to 1929, this school was the pillar of orthodoxy for the Presbyterian Church. Thereafter, there were problems, but that’s a story for another day. When we forget the past, we lose hope for the present and the future.  When we study the past, we learn how to live in the present and the future.  You will not be able to put down the two books.  We promise you that!

PTSfaculty1896Faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary, 1896: G.T. Purves, J.D. Davis, G. Vos, B.B. Warfield, W.B. Greene, Jr., J.H. Dulles, H.W. Smith, F.L. Patton, W.M. Paxton, C. Martin, W.H. Green, J. De Witt.

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  1. James T. O'Brien’s avatar

    FWIW: The names of the professors start on the left and begin with the back row, then return to the left for the professors who are sitting.


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