The Secret Of Preaching: Wise Counsel From “Old Princeton” -- By: Zachary Eswine

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 09:4 (Fall 2000)
Article: The Secret Of Preaching: Wise Counsel From “Old Princeton”
Author: Zachary Eswine


The Secret Of Preaching:
Wise Counsel From “Old Princeton”

Zachary Eswine

I fear none of us apprehend as we ought to do, the value of a preacher’s office. Our young men do not gird themselves for it with the spirit of those who are on the eve of a great conflict, ... nor do they prepare as those who are to lay hands upon the springs of the mightiest passions, and stir up to their depths the ocean of human feelings. Where this estimate of the work prevails, men of inferior training accomplish much.1

These words from J. W. Alexander thunder a passionate view of the preacher and his preaching. They demonstrate in seed form the view of preaching held by the men of Old Princeton. In their counsel the modern preacher can begin to discover the secret of preaching. And, therefore, he can begin to discover the secret of a ministry endowed with Gospel power, the power that God has mercifully affirmed with reviving touches among his people at various times in our history.

This article is an attempt to understand the view held by Old Princeton of the preacher and his preaching. It is an attempt to give ear to their wise counsel so that the modern preacher might be helped as he considers what preaching is and of what his life’s labor of preaching will consist. The four voices we will hear are those of Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, Charles Hodge, and J. W. Alexander.

By “Old Princeton” I refer to that way of faith and life which was demonstrated at the founding of Princeton Theological

Seminary (in 1812) and was maintained, at least formally, until the departure of J. Gresham Machen in 1929. With these definitions clarified, and his modern difficulties before him, let the preacher now endeavor to learn from the wise counsel of Old Princeton.

The Secret Of Preaching: Inward Heat

In order to recognize the secret of preaching, one must first understand what preaching is. In short, the Old Princeton divines agreed that “preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” Preaching does not begin with the study of homiletics. Preaching begins with the study of the man who will preach. The preacher must be a man who is essentially “on fire.”2 J. W. Alexander declares that “we have loud and vehement, we have smooth and graceful, we have splendid and elaborate preaching, but very little that is earnest. One man who so feels for the souls of his hearers as to be ready to weep over them—will assuredly make himself felt.”3 Alexander continue...

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