Archibald Alexander was an American Presbyterian theologian and professor, who was the founder and first principal of Princeton Theological Seminary, where he served for 27 years, from 1812 to 1840. As a professor of theology, he is considered to be the first of the great “Princeton theologians.” The powers and influence of the Princeton could be felt throughout the US while Alexander was serving as the principal. The purpose of his life was to encourage the work of Christian ministry and to prepare for advising the masses about the scriptures. Prior to his stint at the Princeton, he had also served as the president of Hampden Sydney College, Virginia for nine years, and as the pastor of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. But, it was at Princeton that he found his life’s calling. Chosen as the leading professor, he directed his whole-hearted attention towards the promotion of the work of the department of pastoral and polemic theology. A prolific writer, he contributed a number of articles to the ‘Princeton Review’. His published works have been translated into a number of foreign languages and are used as textbook in some colleges.
Childhood & Early Life
Archibald Alexander was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, to William Alexander, a farmer and a trader. His paternal grandfather came from Ireland though he was of Scottish race. He had moved from Ireland to Pennsylvania, and thereafter to Virginia.
When he was 10, Archibald was sent to the academy of Rev. William Graham at Timber Ridge meetinghouse (now known as the Washington and Lee University) at Lexington.
At the age of 17, he became a tutor in the family of General John Posey. It was here that he met Mrs. Tyler, an elderly Christian lady who shared with him her religious experiences and instilled in him a genuine interest for understanding the true meaning of God and religion.
He underwent a religious conversion in 1789 which he called “the great revival”, and turned his attention to the study of divinity.
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Following his religious conversion, he began to preach the Gospel. Ordained in the Presbyterian ministry in 1794, he became an itinerant pastor in Charlotte and Prince Edward counties for seven years.
He was appointed the president of Hampden Sydney College, Virginia in 1797 where he served two terms till 1806. In 1807, he became the pastor of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.
The College of New Jersey conferred to him the degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1810. In the same year, he was elected president of Union College in Georgia.
When the Princeton Theological Seminary was established in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1812, Alexander was appointed its first professor. He also served as the Seminary’s first principal from 1812 to 1840.
Along with Robert Baird and Charles Hodge, he helped to found the Chi Phi Society in 1824.
His first major work ‘Outlines of the Evidences of Christianity’ was published in 1823 and has been translated into various foreign languages. It was reprinted in London in 1828, and again with a new edition in 1833.
He was a regular contributor to periodicals; a number of his articles have appeared in the ‘Princeton Review’ from 1829 to 1850.
He had left several works in manuscript at the time of his death, some of which were published posthumously. The most famous of these was the ‘Outlines of Moral Science’ published in 1852.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1802, Alexander married Janetta Waddel, the daughter of a blind Presbyterian preacher, James Waddel who was famous for his expressiveness.
He had seven children, which included six sons and one daughter. Three of his sons became ministers.
He was named after his paternal grandfather Archibald Alexander.
He was very strong and an excellent swimmer as a young boy.
His prot�g� and successor Charles Hodge named his son Archibald Alexander Hodge after his mentor.
The Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia has a collection of his personal papers including outgoing correspondence, manuscript articles and lecture notes dating from 1819 to 1851.