Banner of Truth Trust, 1996, hardback, XXI plus 560 pages, £15.95 but available at
£12.76 from The Free Presbyterian Bookroom, 133 Woodlands Road, Glasgow, G3 6LE.
Rev. John MacLeod
THIS is the second volume of David Calhouns history of the Princeton Seminary and covers the period from 1869 to 1929. One might be forgiven for thinking of the sub-title as being somewhat inapposite when this volume as a whole is more an account of a famous seminarys declension and falling away from the high standards set by its original founders than of its upholding of a majestic testimony. Archibald Alexander finished his course in time on 22nd October 1851, and the reading of this volume seems to indicate that grief-stricken Charles Hodges utterance at the time “It is all past, the glory of our Seminary has departed” was more significant than perhaps he or those who heard his words for a moment imagined.
The latter half of the Nineteenth Century was to see the introduction of Higher Critical views and Rationalism and this was to lead to a widespread and almost universal departure from the faith. By 1869 it was becoming increasingly evident on this side of the Atlantic that the Disruption Free Church was beginning to drift from its 1843 moorings. The Union controversy was at its height, soon to be followed by the Disestablishment crusade, and along with division came the toleration of the subtle changes in doctrine and practice which were eventually to assume such proportions that the Declaratory Act movement came to be the inevitable outcome.
Following the Union controversy, the Robertson Smith case was to reveal the extent to which Higher Critical views had come to be accepted in theological colleges and, judging by the voting pattern in the General Assembly, among those who occupied Free Church pulpits as well. The theological fountain from which these pernicious views were to issue was located in Europe. German theologians were prominent among those responsible for their propagation and Princeton Seminary had long adopted the practice of sending its brightest students to sit at the feet of these men. What contribution this was to make to the falling away of Princeton is not easy to assess but as evil communications corrupt good manners it could hardly have been conducive to faithfulness in doctrine and practice.
The Seminary and the College (later University) occupied a common campus at Princeton and it was only to be expected that whatever change of views or practices occurred in the one influenced the other. In 1868 James McCosh arrived from Scotland to take over the Presidentship of the College and considering his background we find it surprising that he should condone views and practices which would have been condemned in the Disruption Free Church of Scotland within whose bounds he had been nurtured and where he had begun his ministry. “Under Dr McCosh,” we are told, “the life of the campus was enriched. . . Student publications were established; and the glee club, the dramatic association, and the first eating clubs came into existence.” Even before his arrival recreation and sport had become a very important part of Princeton student life and the trend was to continue. Baseball and football teams from Princeton College and Princeton Seminary! met one another on the sports field. President McCosh was found on the touchline enthusiastically cheering on his team and we are told that “enthusiasm for football quickly reached fever point”. It would have been strange if this worldly glorying in sporting achievements were not to have an adverse effect on the piety and spirituality of students of divinity at the Seminary. As far as the College was concerned many students soon came to be “more interested in making friends and playing football than in serious studies” and McCosh was to discover “to his dismay that emphasis on athletics, rather than promoting a gentlemanly balance of mind and body, was beginning to produce specialist athletes who did not concentrate on anything else”. Calhoun refers to this as the introduction of “a new secularism” which replaced “the earlier evangelicalism of Princeton.”
Then there was the advent of Darwinianism. Even Charles Hodge, hesitant at first, appears to have been carried away and we find him endorsing the view that “the six days of Genesis represented six creative eras or ages of indefinite duration”. McCosh was carried even further! It was a time when the integrity of the Word of God was being called in question and the fact that the Princeton trumpet failed to give a clear, certain sound when the Darwinian attack was mounted makes sad reading. This has to be said notwithstanding: it is noted in Dr Kennedys report (quoted by Calhoun) that “there were two things in America that exceeded his expectation Niagara Falls and Dr Hodge!” We wonder if Kennedy was aware of the fact that, shortly before his visit, in 1873, Moody and Sankey, complete with portable organ, had visited Princeton at the invitation of McCosh, Charles Hodge and the students. We gather from Calhoun that the organ and hymns went down well! Before the year was out the same evangelists arrived in Scotland to be denounced by Kennedy in his pamphlet, Hyper-Evangelism Another Gospel Though a Mighty Power. Far be it from us to belittle Charles Hodges contribution to the study of Systematic Theology but it would appear that he was too ready to accept men at their face value and that he did not attach to purity of worship the importance it merits. Even Calhoun allows that he had his weaknesses. Nevertheless he served his Master well over the fifty eight years that he taught at Princeton and the influence he wielded was enormous. The loss sustained by his death in 1878 was incalculable.
This second volume is as full of biographical information as the first and the clashes of personality, the differences of view on the integrity of the Westminster Standards, and the divisions which eventually led to the founding of the Westminster Seminary by Gresham Machen and others, are all documented. Archibald Alexanders hope “that this fountain of divine truth” would never “be poisoned or adulterated with error” was not to be fulfilled. Even Warfield with his mighty intellect and massive learning was unable to arrest the decline. Learned as he was, it has to be admitted that he, like others, wavered when it came to opposing the theory of evolution and his commendation of Westcott and Hort as textual critics also, of course, reduces his stature in our view. It was, however, Machens conviction that “Old Princeton died when Dr Warfield was carried out.” It is of interest to note that the only student from the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland who ever attended Princeton was Mr John Murray. After graduation he was appointed an instructor there but in 1930, “unhappy with the new outlook at Princeton”, he, also, joined Gresham Machen at Westminster where he was to occupy the chair of Systematic Theology for many years.
All who have an interest in ecclesiastical history will want to have this volume on hand. It is a valuable source book crammed with information but the anecdotes and apt quotations found throughout it make it an eminently readable publication.