Alexander Maclaren was born on February 11, 1826, in Glasgow, the son of a Scottish merchant. For 45 years he would occupy the pulpit of Union Chapel, Manchester, England, and earn the title, “The Prince of Expositors”. His 11 volumes – of 1,500 sermons through the whole Bible – adorn many pastoral library shelves.
His parents were Baptist nonconformists and young Maclaren was baptised on profession of faith at the age of 11. His first sermon was preached six years later. He knew he was called to be a preacher from his youth and never considered anything else. From the time he preached his first sermon, age 17, he recorded the sermon number, location, text and date.
As a nonconformist he was barred from admission to either Oxford or Cambridge University. He thus pursued his education at the Baptist College in Stepney, from 1842. Principle Benjamin Davies had a most profound impact on Maclaren, teaching him to love and meticulously study the Bible in its original texts.
Maclaren commenced his first pastorate in 1846 at Southhampton. The building seated 800 but only 20 people attended. For 12 years he built up the church and learned much through his years of obscurity and hard work.
10 years into that pastorate he married his cousin, Marion Maclaren.
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In 1858 he moved to Union Chapel, Manchester. After eleven years in that pulpit, a new auditorium was built to seat 1,500 people, and every seat was filled morning and evening.
Dr W Robertson Nicoll, a prominent publisher of the day, said Maclaren was without question “the most brilliant man, all round,” that he ever knew. His scholarship was impeccable. He read widely — from Augustine to the Quakers, as well as the great British poetry and novels.
For 65 years he was a faithful minister of the Word of God.
Hearken to his biographers – “He never let a day pass without translating a chapter of the Old Testament and a chapter of the New Testament from the original languages. In the summer months he would stroll with a book for miles…” (Biography, by D. Williamson, page 33).
Another biography tells of “Mr Maclaren’s fastidiousness in the choice of words. He resolutely sought to fit the proper word in sense and sound to his idea.” But because he refused to read his sermons it sometimes resulted in “a pause so long that hearers got the impression he had broken down!” One old Scotswoman sympathised with Maclaren’s awkward pauses, saying that she wished she could be in the pulpit beside him “to whisper in his lug” (Biography, by J. Carlisle, page 50).
Twice he served as President of the Baptist Union.
Maclaren is best remembered for his ability to teach the scripture by subdividing the text and using analogies drawn from nature and life, to bring the text alive. His printed sermons taught multitudes of preachers to use and imitate his style.
Alexander Maclaren died on May 5, 1910.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com
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