Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dr. John Alexander of Norwich: X.

John Gill said that he found no warrant in Scripture for co-pastors. We disagree, we think that those passages which speak of a single church having many elders are warrant enough. When Dr. Alexander's first assistant resigned to become a missionary in China, the church called Rev. Edward S. Prout, one of Turner's fellow students. Prout was warmly welcomed into the church and into Dr. Alexander's own home. Pastor and co-pastor in fact became so close that they were known as 'Paul and Timothy'!
Prout's ministry began in October 1859, and for three and a half years he and Dr. Alexander were inseparable. Although he had been the founding pastor of the church, and sole pastor for forty years, Dr. Alexander wisely saw that as his ministry drew towards its close, he could no longer do unaided what he had done for so long. Prout wrote:
"My relations to my beloved colleague during the three-and-a-half years of my co-pastorate were those of unalloyed happiness. Not a shadow clouded it. Though ripe in years, he had a very youthful heart. He was full of humour, and his repartees often sparkled with wit."
The church also had several members, young men converted under Alexander's ministry, who were themselves called to the ministry. Dr John Stoughton, the noted historian and minister, Rev. J. A. Gurney, who ministered in Jamaica, and many others. And they had before them the example of a laborious and faithful pastor.
Thomas Binney, known to most of us from his hymn, 'Eternal Light! Eternal Light!', called John Alexander 'Saint John', and now, the elder statesman of Norwich Dissent, John Alexander bore some resemblance to the aged apostle. In February 1866 he resigned from the pastorate of the church that he had founded, knowing that he was no longer able to be the pastor he had been. At first he was tempted to despair, finding that he was no longer pastor, but God led him into green pastures, and he was still able to preach until within a few months of his death.
As, in 1868, his health began to fail, it was the strong Calvinism of the Westminster Confession, the creed he had learned as a boy, that kept him. He never forgot his father's warning 'preach man down and preach Christ up," and as he lay dying he spoke often of Christ, "Oh, what should I do without Him?"
Dr. John Alexander of Princes Street Congregational Church, Norwich, died on July 31st 1868, aged 75. Although sermons were preached at his funeral they followed the advice Joseph John Gurney had given Alexander when he preached the funeral service for Joseph Kinghorn, "Praise the Master, not the servant."
Fittingly one of his own converts, Dr. Stoughton, preached the funeral sermon, in St. Andrew's Hall, as Princes Street was being almost totally rebuilt at the time. The huge building was packed. Where was his memorial? It was in the pulpit, a young man called to Christ through Alexander's ministry. It was in the seats below, hundreds of men, women and children who could say that Alexander was their father in Christ.
And so there was only one epitaph for Dr. Alexander: Well done, thou good and faithful servant." We can be sure that he entered into the rest of his Lord.

Next time, God willing, we shall draw some lessons from the life and ministry of Dr. Alexander.



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