Book Review: The Pastor, by Faculty and Friends of Old Princeton


Faculty and Friends of Old Princeton, The Pastor: His Call, Character, and Work. Banner of Truth, 2021. 272 pages.


When a young man expresses interest in pursuing pastoral ministry, what resources can a pastor use to direct and encourage him?

The Pastor: His Call, Character, and Work by the faculty and friends of “Old” Princeton is full of biblical reflection and practical wisdom that would benefit any pastor and especially the young, aspiring minister.

Source and Structure

The Pastor includes a sample of selections from the much larger two-volume, fourteen-hundred-page Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry published by Banner of Truth in 2012.

The authors are “all men closely associated either as students, professors, or in one case a director, with Princeton Theological Seminary.” You may be familiar with some of their names, such as Archibald Alexander or Charles Hodge. If not, don’t worry. A unique and enjoyable feature of the book is that Banner includes a biographical sketch and portrait of each contributor at the back of the volume.

You may have come across Alexander’s The Truth, Inspiration, and Authority of Scripture or Hodges’s well-known three-volume Systematic Theology. The Pastor reveals the pastoral heart these men possessed, their love for the church, and their commitment “to furnish . . . congregations with enlightened, humble, zealous, laborious pastors, who shall truly watch for the good of souls” (114), which functioned as Princeton’s original institutional aim. In many ways, The Pastor is “Old” Princeton’s “greatest hits” on the subject of pastoral ministry.

The order of the book’s three sections flows from its title.

The Pastor’s Calling

Among evangelicals, much confusion and disagreement surround the idea of a “call” to ministry: What is a “call”? Is it necessary? How can it be discerned?

William S. Plummer distinguishes between an “extraordinary” call, which the apostles’ experienced, and an “ordinary” call, which involves “the usual course by which duty becomes known, without any supernatural or marvelous indications of the will of God.” Plummer maintains that “such are calls given since the days of miracles” (7). He further divides the “ordinary call” between a “general call,” which compels all believers to evangelize and disciple others, and a “special call,” which by the principles of the Bible and of common sense, will make it manifest that the will of God is that he . . . should enter the ministry” (8).

Plummer goes on to provide a wealth of practical counsel for the man who is seeking to determine whether he should devote his life to pastoral ministry. Plummer insists one must genuinely desire the work (1 Tim. 3:1). He warns of the danger, on the one hand, of a ministerial candidate being blind to his deficiencies, but, on the other hand, he wisely warns of the opposite threat of a man being paralyzed by his weaknesses. Plummer rightly stresses the importance of church involvement in the process and the church’s affirmation of one’s fitness for the office. After all, “Shall one commence preaching contrary to the wishes of the church? How can he edify a people who will not hear him, or, if they do, wish him to be silent?” (21)

Finally, Plummer reminds ministerial candidates of the necessity for patience and trust in God’s providence as they seek to discern God’s will.

If you or someone you know is wrestling with a “call” to ministry, Plummer’s words will serve well.

The Pastor’s Character

Many have noted that Paul’s qualifications for pastoral ministry in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are almost entirely concerned with a man’s character. The Pastor reflects this apostolic priority.

J.W. Alexander reminds us that ministers are “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20), and therefore “it is becoming that they should resemble him whom they represent” (32). Consequently, Alexander gives attention to the “spirit of Christ’s ministry” (35) by identifying and expounding upon ten “traits of (Jesus’s) soul” (36). These traits include love, candor, prudence, courage, tenderness, zeal, lowly meekness, toil, devotion, and self-denial. A minister’s pursuit of such piety is of vital importance to the minister and to his church. As Archibald Alexander warns, “If the time should come—which may God avert!—when vital piety shall not be deemed an essential prerequisite to an entrance on the sacred office, Ichabod may be written on our church, for the glory will have departed from her” (51).

In addition, Hodge laments that few ministers establish a vision—derived from the Scriptures—in their minds of the character of a gospel minister and then pursue that vision with purpose and determination. He writes, “It is indeed, much to be feared that few men adequately feel the necessity of striving to form their characters aright. They neither fix in their minds distinctly what they ought to be, nor endeavour systematically to bring themselves up to the standard” (67–68).

All of these entries on the pastor’s character come with a sobriety and earnestness that is often missing from modern-day conversations about pastoral ministry. Not many contemporary books on the ministry conclude their discussion on the pastor’s character as Archibald Alexander does, citing an early church father, who warns, “Hell is paved with the skulls of ungodly ministers” (66).

The Pastor’s Work

The chief work of the pastor is the ministry of the Word, and this book is littered with memorable and moving quotes regarding the great and glorious work of preaching. Consider the following.

  • “Our Savior dealt much in illustrations from everyday life. . . . The minister of the gospel will learn more by reading the four Gospels, with the simple purpose of asking how Christ preached, than by all the volumes of critics, and all the schools of rhetoric” (35).
  • “The low state of piety in ministers is the chief reason of the want of success in preaching. . . . Men of eminent abilities without lively piety, make poor and dry preachers” (58–59).
  • “Clear, sound, simple expositions of divine truth, should form the basis of the pastor’s instructions from the pulpit” (101).
  • “In short, the artillery of the pulpit ought to resemble that of the skies. There ought to be thunder as well as lightening. And then may we hope that, by the divine blessing, a ‘rain of righteousness’ will plentifully descend” (168).
  • “These nice and pretty preachers . . . they are but Sabbath-day performers before fashionable audiences, that seek amusement alternately at the church, the opera, and the theatre” (214)!
  • “As a rule, the minister should make everything give way to a due and full preparation for the pulpit” (218).
  • “The church needs preachers of sermons, not readers of essays” (233).

In these chapters, you will also find discussions related to the benefits of grounding our churches in the theological distinctives of our particular denominations, the importance of seminary education for adequately equipping men for gospel ministry, the importance of ministry to the poor, and the temporal and eternal benefits of global evangelization.


Among evangelicals, confusion abounds related to the calling of a pastor; giftedness and effectiveness are prized over the character of a pastor, and worldly measures of success—rather than the Scriptures—are used to determine and evaluate the work of the pastor. In contrast, the faculty of “Old” Princeton present us with an ancient and refreshing vision of pastoral ministry that is rooted in the Scriptures.

As I read The Pastor, I was reminded again and again of Bobby Jamieson’s excellent book The Path to Being a Pastor. Both works share much of the same theological reflection and biblical wisdom related to pastoral ministry. This raises a potential critique of The Pastor. Some might quibble that The Pastor is not as accessible and relevant to young men as say Jamieson’s book. In one sense, I agree. And, in all honesty, I would reach for Jamieson’s book first. At the same time, The Pastor demonstrates that the principles of biblical pastoral ministry may be adapted to fit a particular time and culture but are not limited to one time or culture. Rather, they are timeless and transcendent. Therefore, we can praise God that the guidance offered by the faculty of “Old” Princeton is just as relevant for a new day as it was two hundred years ago.

Bert Daniel

Bert Daniel is the lead pastor of Crawford Avenue Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia.

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