William Paxton to A.A. Hodge as Hodge took his father’s place as professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton:
The name of this Seminary is known in all the world. Its chief distinction is its Biblical teaching. The ground of its faith is the Bible. Its only question is, ‘What has God said?” Its only proof is God’s Word. Its professors have never reached the point of thinking that they knew more than the Bible. This Seminary has always taught that there are but two questions to be considered. First. Is this the Word of God? Secondly. What does it mean? and this ascertained, there is nothing left but to believe and adore. The preaching which has always been taught in this seminary and illustrated in the pulpits of its graduates has been simple Biblical preaching… The Princeton student has always been known by the honor which he puts upon the Divine Word.
My dear Brother, I need only to say to you ‘continue in these things.
I like this quote from Paxton because it captures so excellently what Princeton and the doctrines taught in the school meant to the Reformed & orthodox world at large. Teaching the Bible faithfully is a good thing. Being true to Scripture is a good thing. Loving Christ is a good thing. Princeton did all of those things notably well. This quote was given in 1864. Princeton was solid.
By 1909 students were rebelling against the intellectual theology offered by Princeton, by 1914 Francis Patton was replaced by the progressive J. Ross Stevenson. In 1929 the General Assembly of the PCUSA officially recognized Princeton, making their conservative board of directors irrelevant and giving control of the University to the liberal board of trustees. And just like that, not even 100 years after Paxton’s words, Princeton was no longer grounded in biblical faith.
It’s easy to rail against a stickler for doctrinal purity or orthodoxy. It’s easy, when the discussion turns to Biblical theology to say “Enough of this! We ought to be out on the streets, feeding people, giving out tracts, sharing the gospel. No more of this doctrinal talk. No more limiting our ability to reach the lost by subdividing Christendom.” It’s easy to roll eyes when someone points out the differences between those calling themselves “Reformed” and true Confessional adherents to Reformed theology. But we do so at our own peril, I think.