Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: IX.

Dr. John Alexander was a great man, not by worldly standards, but by Christian standards. His father had taught him what made a true pastor, and he had seen first hand what a man of God looked like. Upheld by the grace of God he was used to establish and to build up a large, active, missionary-minded church in the city of Norwich. While Norwich was declining in importance at that time, it was still (as it is today) an important city and the centre of the county. He was a congregationalist to the very core of his being, yet he enjoyed fellowship with evangelicals of every denomination, including Anglican and even Quaker. Under his leadership Princes Street planted churches in villages around the city and educated the children of the poor.
Dr. Alexander was a true philanthropist, a lover of men. For not only did he establish schools and throw himself into such causes as the abolition of slavery and the improvement of conditions in the prisons, not only did he care for the bodies of the poor, but he cared for the souls of all, rich or poor, and he did not shrink from proclaiming to the city the everlasting Gospel of Christ crucified in the very room and stead of sinners.
His wife (the date of his marriage does not appear in my sources) was such a wife as a pastor of Dr. Alexander's fervour needed. She ran a joint ladies' meeting with the Old Meeting House (congregationalism has never meant isolationism).

In 1841 Alexander's health, taxed by years of hard labour on behalf of his Lord, gave way. He was taken ill on March 26th and the deacons ordered him to take a vacation - they knew that he would get no rest if he stayed in Norwich, as the whole city was his sphere of work. He traveled in the south of England and in Lancashire until mid July, when he returned.
The deacons knew that Dr. Alexander (as he now was) had fallen ill because of overwork, and they decided to reduce his workload by having the Lord's Day evening service taken by visiting supplies. Not that Dr. Alexander's preaching load on the Lord's Day was halved, as before 1841 he had taken three services in the church, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening.
In 1847 a great meeting was held in St. Andrew's Hall, the nave of the old Blackfriars' church, to celebrate the thirtieth year of Dr Alexander's ministry in Norwich. The church presented him with £400 - which he immediately gave back to the church to pay off the remaining debt on the buildings!
The people thanked God for Dr. Alexander's 'constant and faithful devotedness to the work of the ministry and the welfare of his people.'
Ten years later, celebrating Dr. Alexander's fortieth year in the ministry, the deacons felt it wise to call an assistant. The Church meeting agreed, and in 1857 Mr. F.S. Turner, a ministerial student at New College, was appointed assistant. He was a valued co-worker, and Dr. Alexander and the membership would have called him as co-pastor, but Turner's heart was set elsewhere. He felt the call to missionary service in the Far East, and he left the church to preach Christ and make Him known where idols held sway. He went from Norwich to China, with the prayers and blessings of the Princes Street Church going with him.

A working church indeed! Next time, God willing, we shall look at the last years of Dr. Alexander's ministry.



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