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Sketches of Virginia
Chapter XVI. - Archibald Alexander - His Licensure and Settlement in Charlotte


Archibald Alexander made his first efforts, as a licensed minister, in the extensive contiguous congregations of Moses Hoge, William Hill and Nash Legrand. From his narrative, told in all the simplicity of truth, we learn that the people were willing to hear the gospel; that he must have been an acceptable preacher; that although the congregations gave him no further remuneration for his services than his board and horse-keeping, leaving him to pay, after his return to Lexington, for a pair of pantaloons he purchased in Shepherdstown, he was yet contented with the temporal result of his labors; that he felt himself under obligations to Mr. Hoge, for the benefit derived from intercourse in his family, and that he left the lower end of the valley improved in his theology, or rather confirmed by Mr. Hoge in a full belief of the immediate and personal action of the Holy Ghost on the heart of man in regeneration.

The eighth session of Lexington Presbytery was held at Brown’s meeting-house, now Hebron, commencing Tuesday, Oct. 26th, 1790. Members in attendance were Rev. Messrs. Scott, Crawford, Montgomery, Erwin and Houston; with Elders William M’Pheeters, William Yuell and Thomas Shanklin. On account of the cold the Presbytery convened at 2 o’clock in the afternoon at the house of William M’Pheeters; and Mr. John Lyle read part of his trials. Rev. Messrs. Brown and Graham, with William Alexander as Elder, came in the next day. The record says that “Information was made by a member that Mr. Archibald Alexander, of Lexington, desired to be taken under the care of this Presbytery, as a candidate for the gospel ministry, and Presbytery having a favorable account of his moral and religious character, and literary accomplishments, introduced him to a conference, in which, having given a narrative of his religious exercises, and of his evidences of faith in Christ and repentance towards God, together with his call and motives to the gospel ministry, and a specimen of his skill in cases of conscience; Presbytery having considered the same, do approve thereof, and agree to take him under their care as a candidate for the gospel ministry. Mr. Alexander is appointed as parts of trial an exegesis on the following theme — ‘An fide sola Justificamur?’ and an homily on this theme — ‘What is the difference between a dead and living faith?’ to be delivered at our next.” This application was made at the earnest request of his teacher, Mr. Graham. Mr. Alexander was averse to taking the lead in religious meetings. Mr. Graham supposed his aversion would be less, if not removed entirely, after he should be acknowledged as a candidate for the ministry, and proposed that he should be a candidate under the care of Presbytery as long as might be thought desirable by the parties concerned; and that he and the other candidates should be employed as the young men, Hill and Calhoon and Allen and Legrand had been, east of the Ridge, in holding prayer-meetings and meetings for exhortation, where there might be a necessity. The Presbytery acted on the first part of the request, and gave no decision on the latter, leaving it to the discretion of the ministers in whose congregations the candidates might be placed.

Mr. Alexander commenced his theological studies with but one companion, John Lyle, who was afterwards the pastor of the church in Hampshire County. Upon asking Mr. Graham what books he should read, Mr. Graham smiled and replied — “If you mean ever to be a theologian, you .must come at it not by reading, but by thinking.” The astonished youth said, in after life, “This did me more good than any directions or counsels I ever received.” He was not aware then, that he was, and had been engaged in that very course recommended by his instructor, while he was investigating the whole subject of conversion and Christian experience.

At the ninth session of Presbytery, held at Hall’s meeting-house, now New Monmouth, commencing Tuesday, April 26th, 1791, Mr. John Lyle delivered his trial sermon for licensure at the opening of the sessions, and on Wednesday he and Mr. Alexander were examined on the Latin and Greek languages ; and Mr. Alexander read his exegesis. On Thursday morning Mr. Alexander read his homily, and Mr. Lyle his lecture; in the afternoon the two candidates were examined in Geography, Natural Philosophy, Criticism, Astronomy, and Moral Philosophy ; and Mr. Lyle was examined in part on Theology. On Friday the Presbytery sustained all these parts of trial, and gave Mr. Alexander for a lecture, to..be read at the next meeting, Hebrews, 6th chapter, 1st to 7th verse. Mr. Graham urged the Presbytery to assign a subject to Mr. Alexander for a popular sermon. Mr. Alexander was reluctant, and plead his youth, and general unpreparedness. The urgency of Mr. Graham prevailed. At the suggestion of Samuel Houston, the text assigned was— “Say not I am a child;” Jeremiah 1st: 7th. On the same day three of Mr. Alexander’s fellow-students of theology were received as candidates for the ministry, Thomas Poage, of Augusta County, Benjamin Grigsby, of Rockbridge County, and Matthew Lyle, also of Rockbridge County, and a cousin. The reasons given by Mr. Graham for pressing the young candidate so speedily into the ministry were: that his manner of conducting meetings was captivating, his instructions sound; that his acquirements were greater than ordinary; and that his own expectations of success were vastly higher than the candidate’s humility permitted him to indulge.

At this meeting of Presbytery Mr. William Alexander, the father of the candidate, declined the offer conferred in the fall, that of Commissioner to the General Assembly. On request of Mr. Graham, the candidate, whom he had ordained as elder during the winter, was appointed Commissioner. To all this the candidate yielded, as a pupil to his instructor, whose judgment he esteemed more highly than his own. In after life he doubted the propriety of the course. On his journey to Philadelphia, performed on horseback, he stopped, in Frederick County, at the house of Solomon Hoge, brother of Moses Hoge, and became acquainted with the father, of whom he says — “I know not that I ever received so much instruction in the same time, from any one, as from this old gentleman.” He spent the Sabbath with Mrs. Riley, on Bullskin; and by a happy mistake a congregation assembled in the evening to hear him preach, and listened to his exhortation with great solemnity. His graphic sketch of the Assembly, preserved in his memoirs, is an example of the practicability of daguerreotyping both the spirit and appearance of every Assembly.

The course of study and recitation to which Mr. Graham called Mr. Alexander and his fellow-students, assumed the form of a seminary. Once a week they met in his study, to read compositions on presented subjects, to discuss given points of theology; and most particularly to hear the masterly reasonings and clear statements of the teacher. A profound reasoner himself, Mr. Graham taught his pupils to think as profoundly as their capabilities permitted. Endeavoring to avoid partiality in his intercourse with his students, he nevertheless could not conceal his opinion that his young pupil was as profound a thinker as himself. His own safeguards were the Bible as the book of God ; the great principles of Calvinism, true both in nature and revelation ; and a teachable spirit relying upon the promised aid of the Holy Ghost. He thought he saw all these things in the young man, and he loved him. True to his master’s great principles, the youth sometimes differed from his master in the conclusion from given premises. The young men under Graham’s instruction, at this time, all acquired the habit of discussion and extempore speaking. One of these was George A. Baxter, member of college, who, Dr. Alexander says — “Had a mind formed for accurate distinctions and logical discussions.” Mr. Baxter became Mr. Graham’s successor.

The tenth session of Lexington Presbytery was held at the Stone church in Augusta, commencing Tuesday, Sept. 20th, 1791. The members present were Messrs. Graham, Scott, Crawford, Montgomery, Erwin, Wilson, McCue, and Houston; Elders, John Wilson, John Dunlap, Thomas Frame, and Samuel Pilson. “Mr. Archibald Alexander, a candidate for the gospel ministry, opened Presbytery with a popular sermon, .from Jeremiah 1: 7, the text assigned at our last meeting.” The candidate was called, according to usage in those days, to open the Presbytery with his trial sermon, in the old fort church, standing in the capacious pulpit, in the back of which, by an entrance through the wall, was the door leading to the room, then called the session room, but in days of savage warfare, the kitchen. He had urged his youth and inexperience, and want of knowledge, as bars to licensure. Mr. Graham and others called for the sermon. He came forward, and from the words —

“Say not that I am a child, for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee, thou shalt speak” — discussed in a plain and manly manner the call to the ‘ministry, avoiding all allusion to himself in the most distant manner. Every one was surprised. Graham wept for joy. His young friend had proved himself no longer a child, and had declined even calling himself a child — when the allusion gave such opportunity. On Thursday he read his Lecture; and Mr. Grigsby a homily on the question— “Did Christ die indefinitely for all men, or for the elect only.” Messrs. Lyle and Poage exhibited their pieces of trial; and Mr. John Campbell, of Augusta, another fellow-student. of Mr. Alexander in Theology, was received on trial. The examination on theology was postponed to an adjourned meeting, to be held in Winchester during the meeting of the Synod, the succeeding week.

On Wednesday, Sept. 29th, 1791, the Presbytery convened in Winchester, at the house of Mr. James Holliday. Present, Messrs. Graham, Montgomery, Erwin, Houston, and Hoge; with Elders, John Campbell and John Wilson. Rev. Messrs. J. B. Smith, from Prince Edward, and Joseph Smith, of Redstone, by invitation, topk seats. The examination of Mr. Alexander in theology, the only business of the meeting, was conducted principally by Mr. Smith, of Prince Edward, and closed by Mr. Hoge. On Saturday, Oct. 1st, in the old stone church, now occupied by the Baptists, the services of licensure were performed by Rev. J. B. Smith, with intense feeling and pervading sympathy. From that day a warm friendship was cherished by the two pastors, Smith and Alexander. “That evening,” says Dr. Alexander, “I spent in the fields in very solemn reflection and earnest prayer.” In the latter part of his life, spending a few days in Winchester with Dr. Atkinson, in the house built by Judge White, he remarked, pointing back of the house, <In a strip of woods out there, I spent the afternoon after I was licensed.” .

Mr. Legrand, pastor of Cedar Creek and Opecquon, and Mr. Hill, in Jefferson, each derived the aid of Mr. Alexander for the winter. By direction of Presbytery, contrary to his own plans and desires, he passed the winter in Frederick, Jefferson, and Berkeley, principally in the two latter. There had been, and was an unusual attention to religious things in all that section of country. Mr. Hill preached but little that winter, on account of ill health. The lively, earnest preaching of Mr. Alexander excited attention. Old and young listened to him. After the wind blew away his manuscript in Charlestown — “I determined,” he says, “to take no more paper into the pulpit.” He preached after profound meditation, memorizing thoughts and arguments, and often sentences, without writing. For a part of the winter he made his home with Alexander White, father of Judge White, and was greatly pleased with-the old father of his host, John White, an eminently pious man. His visits to Moses Hoge, of Shepherdstown, were more and more pleasing and profitable; their influence remained through life. He thought the views of Mr. Hoge in regard to the influence of the Holy Spirit in conversion were more correct than those of his teacher, whom in the general he delighted to follow.

The report of the pulpit services of Mr. Alexander, awakened all along the Valley a great curiosity to hear “the boy,” Archy Alexander, preach. Staunton, with Judge Stewart at its head, expressed its admiration of his preaching, by wondering that the young man should be so well acquainted with Mental Philosophy. The people of Lexington, his native town, filled the Court-House on Sabbath, to hear their fellow-townsman. All had known him from a child; and many had been his companions. He was now in the beauty of youth; rather small of his age; very active, with a bright sparkling eye, and melodious distinct voice; rapid, often vehement in his utterance; and the attention he so easily arrested, he preserved to the end. Every person could easily hear his clear musical voice, filling the whole space without apparent effort. His text, John 9: 25, “One thing I know, whereas I was blind, now I see,” by whatever circumstances, or agent suggested, was in its discussion a happy answer to that act of his uncle, Andrew Reid, who, soon after the company returned from the meetings in Prince Edward and Bedford, walked over to Mr. Alexander’s dwelling, and presented to the young people a volume of Locke on the Human Understanding, with the leaf turned down at the chapter on Enthusiasm.

At the eleventh session of the Lexington Presbytery, held in Lexington in April, 1792, Messrs. Thomas Poage, Matthew Lyle and Benjamin Grigsby were licensed to preach the gospel. On Saturday the Presbytery recommended Messrs. Alexander, Lyle and Grigsby to the Commission of Synod. A few days before, the Commission had elected Mr. Alexander a missionary on condition he were recommended by the Presbytery; and Mr. Graham and Elder John Lyle were appointed to bring the matter to a proper issue. The Commission asked for one ; and the Presbytery gave them three choice young men, of precious memory. This Commission of the Virginia Synod, whose history may be found in the first series of Sketches, in its successive efforts to publish the gospel, gave the first example of a Board of Missions, responsible to an ecclesiastical superior, that may be found in the Presbyterian Church in America. At this time great efforts were made to remove Mr. Graham to Prince Edward. The Presbytery could not decide the question ; it was referred to Synod. In looking at the events that so soon occurred, we can scarce restrain the wish — oh, that he had gone! But, as in the ease of Jonathan Edwards, we check ourselves by the reflection that either of these events changed must have changed the whole course of events in the church; and God’s orderings are always best.

The recollections of the missionary tours performed east of the Blue Ridge by Mr. Alexander, under the direction of the Commission of Synod, form a most interesting part of the autobiography published by his son. At the seventeenth meeting of Hanover Presbytery, held at Briery, commencing April 3d, 1T93 — present Messrs. McRobert, Mitchel, Mahon, Lacv and Turner; Elders Michael Graham, James Venable and John Hughes ; Mr. Pattillo, from North Carolina, and Devereux Jarratt, an Episcopal clergyman, and Jacob Cram, a Congregationalist, were corresponding members. Mr. Samuel Brown was licensed; and calls were put in from Briery, Buffalo and Cumberland for Mr. Lacy and Mr. Alexander as collegiate pastors. Mr. Lacy agreed to the arrangement, and leave was given to prosecute the call for Mr. Alexander before the Presbytery of-Lexington. At the nineteenth meeting of Hanover Presbytery, held at Cumberland Meeting-House, commencing November 7th, 1793, Wm. Williamson was ordained, and Wm. Calhoon and Cary Allen received back from the Commission. Mr. Alexander was on the 8th received from Lexington Presbytery, and “the Moderator called upon him to know whether he accepted the said calls; but he desiring longer time to consider of the matter, the Presbytery granted it.” “On motion it was resolved that Mr. Alex-der supply in said congregations in the same manner as if he had accepted the calls.” The reason of the delay of Mr. Alexander was the hope he and others had that Mr. J. B. Smith might be induced to return to the churches he had left; and so the three would be employed on some system agreed upon, managing the College and supplying the congregations. The Presbytery gave leave to the Churches of Briery, Buffalo, Cub Creek and Cumberland, to prosecute the call for Mr. Smith. He declined the invitation. Messrs. Lacy and Alexander supplied the congregations at six preaching places, Cumberland Meeting-House, College, Briery, Buffalo, Cub Creek and Charlotte Court-House, each preaching to them all in succession, and each congregation having public service once in three weeks.

At the twenty-first meeting of Presbytery, held May, 1794 at the house of Dr. Waddell, preliminary steps were taken for the ordination of Mr. Alexander as evangelist. On the day appointed, the 7th of June, Messrs. Lacy, Mahon and McRobert, with Elder John Morton, met at Briery. Mr. Mahon presided. Mr. Alexander preached from the words “Thy word is truth,” John 17 :17. Mr. Lacy delivered the ordination sermon, from Coloss. 4:17, “And say to Archippus — Take heed to the ministry which thou hast renewed in the Lord that thou fulfil it.” And Mr. Alexander — “having declared his acceptance of the Confession of Faith as received by the Presbyterian Church in America, and promised subjection to his brethren in the Lord, was set apart to the whole work of the gospel ministry by prayer and imposition of hands. A solemn charge was then delivered by Mr. McRobert.”

The experiment of supplying six preaching places in rotation by two ministers, was perfectly satisfactory in about one year. Accordingly arrangements were made that at the twenty-second meeting of Hanover Presbytery, held at the Cove, in Albemarle, May, 1794, calls were put in for Mr. Alexander to become pastor of Briery and Cub Creek; and for Matthew Lyle, received from Lexington Presbytery as licentiate, to become pastor of Briery and Buffalo. By this arrangement the brethren were to be co-pastors of one church, and each sole pastor of another. Mr. Lyle was ordained pastor on the 17th of February, 1795. There is no mention made of any installation services for Mr. Alexander.

In October, 1795, the Presbytery, in session at Briery, directed that all materials collected by members according to previous orders* and all that should be collected before the first of February, should by that date be sent to Messrs. Lacy and Alexander, who were to prepare a narrative to be sent to the General Assembly, according to a resolution of that body enjoining each Presbytery to collect materials in its bounds for the history of the Presbyterian Church. The narrative was prepared, and sent on in the beautiful writing of Mr. Lacy, by the Commissioners to the Assembly, and is preserved.

Mr, Alexander had his residence with Major Edmund Read, about two miles from Charlotte Court-House. This family was one of the many greatly beloved by their ministers, and chosen by him for his residence on account of its greater convenience and abundant accommodations. In the society of this family he perfected those manners so universally pleasing wherever he went; simple, pure, just as they should be in a good man. Whoever became acquainted with Mrs. Read — afterwards Mrs. Legrand, loved her as a woman of no common excellence. Her bearing and manners were unrestrained, simple, modest, dignified; there was a something lady-like and pure, gaining confidence and inspiring respect, and forbidding undue familiarity; and yet so easy of access to all that might with propriety approach, and so entirely safe from all that ought not to intrude into a woman’s presence. Every one could see, could feel, the excellence of her manner and the corresponding spirit; but none could properly describe the various attributes that united in the charm her presence always wrought. To all acquainted with the two persons in their advancing years, they appeared formed on the same model.


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