Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: II.

As the son of a great evangelist, John Alexander had a distinctly unusual childhood. A minister's son, he found it easy to identify with the side of orthodoxy, not because he was converted, but because it was his father's side. On one occasion, while arguing with a friend, William Whewell(who later became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge), John actually knocked him down. Looking back, he wrote, "To my shame I speak it, I have contended for the truth, and I once fought for it, when, at the same time, the truth was not in me."
William Alexander was keen that his son should learn what his father did, and on several occasions, when William was going to preach in a street, he sent John to one end of the street to knock on the doors and invite the people to the preaching, while he started at the other end. John disliked the insults he got from some people, but his father replied that they called Christ Beelzebub."
In 1807 John Alexander left his father's house to be apprenticed to a woollen merchant in Liverpool. Of course the 'Lancashire Apostle' had made sure his son was apprenticed to a Christian, and John Alexander learned more about a Christian household in his master's home. More importantly, he learned how a man can be an earnest Christian and NOT be a minister.
John Alexander was not one of those men with a remarkable conversion experience. Unlike his father he had no day that he could name on which he passed from death to life. Nevertheless, pass he did.
As time went on, John Alexander became aware of a call to the ministry, and in 1814 he left Liverpool for the Hoxton Theological Academy in London. William Alexander warned his son that there was only one reason any man should train for the ministry, and that was a divine call. "God forbid you should take it up except in compliance with the will of God," he wrote. Ministers 'merely on man's making' were a bane to the church.
William Alexander also warned his son about the MATTER of his preaching, "I hope you will never be a half-way preacher. God forbid!" he wrote. "I say, John, preach Christ. Don't say Christ is not in the text; He is in the Bible; that will do. Put man down, put Christ up," the devoted evangelist implored his son. May we not detect in these words the fears of a man who had never been to any theological College, but who had seen and heard young men conceited in their own pride preaching sermons that were mere academic exercises? God forbid that we should denigrate theological colleges, but we should always beware of the snare of spurious 'knowledge falsely so-called' that puffs up.
The old 'Lancashire Apostle' had it right. He sent his son to college, but he warned him that the only sort of theological college that is worth anything is one that exalts Christ.

"Put man down, put Christ up." That was William Alexander's motto. You can hear the revival preacher in those words, "Put Christ up!" Yes, put Christ up! The Lamb is worthy! Put Him up! Put Him up! The highest place belongs to Him!
John Alexander would have cause in the years to come to thank his father for those words. And so have we.

What John Alexander's 'putting Christ up' led to we shall see, God willing, next time.



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