May 10: Dr. Archibald Alexander’s Farewell Address (1812)

Departing today from the calendar, we would like to present this excerpt from Volume III of The Presbyterian Magazine, September 1853, pp. 413-415.
This recounting of the venerable Dr. Alexander’s farewell to his congregation bears the following footnote:

THE PRESBYTERIAN says, that “A valued friend recently discovered in the possession of one of the Pine Street parishoners of Dr. Archibald Alexander,  a manuscript copy of the remarks made by him after his closing sermon as the pastor, and sends it to us for publication, with the remark that ‘it is eminently characteristic of the man, and peculiarly seasonable in its suggestions at this time.’ It will, of course, be read with much interest.”


As it is known to this congregation that I have been appointed by the General Assembly to be a Professor in the Theological School, which they are about to establish at Princeton, New Jersey; and as the time draws near when it will be expected that I should declare my mind in relation to this appointment, I have judged it proper and expedient, in the first place, to make a communication to you, the dear people of my charge.

After viewing this important subject in every light in which I could place it, and after having earnestly sought the direction of Heaven, it does appear to me to be the call of Providence, which I cannot and ought not to resist.

This resolution has not been formed under the influence of any dissatisfaction with my present condition, nor from any want of affection to this people; for, since I have been your pastor, no event has occurred to disturb that peace and harmony which should ever exist between minister and people; and I have had no reason to doubt the sincerity and cordiality of the attachment of this congregation to me, from the first day I came amongst them until this time. For all their respect and attention, and especially for that readiness with which they have received the word at my mouth, “I give thanks to God.” I moreover wish to say, that I do not know a single congregation within the bounds of our Church, of which I would choose to be pastor in preference to this. No invitation, therefore, from any other would ever have separated us.

I did expect to live and die with you, unless ill health (with which I have been threatened of late) should have made a removal expedient. But we know nothing of the designs of Providence with regard to us. His dispensations are unsearchable. In the whole of this business, thus far, I have been entirely passive. I never expected or sought this appointment. When it was mentioned to me by some members of the Assembly, the day it took place, my answer was, that I sincerely wished they would think of some other person; that it was an office which I did not covet, and for which I felt myself altogether unqualified. But when asked whether I would give the subject a serious and deliberate consideration, if I should be appointed, I answered, that this I dare not oppose.

Since the appointment has been made, I have thought much, but said little. I have seriously and deliberately considered the subject. I never viewed any decision to be made by me in so important a light. I think I have desired to do the will of God, and have, as earnestly as I could, asked His counsel and guidance, and the result is, that I am convinced that I ought not to refuse such a call.

To train up young men for the ministry has always been considered of higher importance to the Church of Christ than to preach the gospel to a particular flock, already gathered into the fold; and it has always been considered as a sufficient reason for dissolving the pastoral relation between minister and people, that he was wanted for this employment; and sister churches, which do not allow of removals from a pastoral charge, do, nevertheless, admit this to be a sufficient reason for the translation of a minister.

In addition to this, it ought to be considered that this call comes to me in a very peculiar way. It is not the call of a College, or University, or any such institution, but it is the call of the whole Church by their representatives. And I confess that it has weighed much with my mind, that this appointment was made by the General Assembly in circumstances of peculiar seriousness and solemnity, and after special prayer for Divine direction and superintendence, and by an almost unanimous vote. Perhaps it would be difficult to find a disinterested person who would not say, under such circumstances, “It is your duty to go–it appears to be the call of God;” and I do believe that the majority of this congregation are convinced in their judgment, whatever their feelings may dictate, that I would be out of my duty to refuse. Indeed, I cannot but admire the deportment of the people in relation to this matter. Although tenderly affected, and many of you grieved at heart, yet you have not ventured to say “Stay.”  You saw that there was something remarkable in the dispensation, and you knew not but that the finger of God was in the affair, and therefore, with a submissive spirit, you were disposed to say, “The will of the Lord be done.”

It does appear hard, indeed, that this bereavement should fall upon you who have already been bereaved so often; but consider that He who causeth the wound hath power to heal it, and can turn this event to your greater advantage; and I entertain a confident persuasion that if you willingly make this sacrifice for the good of the Church, the great Head of the Church will furnish you with a pastor after His own heart, who will feed you with knowledge. Commit your cause to Him with fervent prayer and humble confidence, and He will not forget nor forsake you.

My dear brethren, as we have lived in peace and love, I hope that we shall part in the same spirit. I hope that we will remember one another unceasingly at the throne of grace. Let us recollect the times and seasons when we have taken sweet converse together in this house, and other places where prayer is wont to be made. If any shall choose to be displeased, and follow me with hard speeches instead of prayers, I shall not return unto them as they measure unto me. I will not resent their conduct. I desire ever to be disposed to bear you as a people on my heart with tender love; and now to His grace and kind protection do I commit you. Farewell !


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