Dr Albert Barnes died on December 24, 1870, in West Philadelphia, USA, at the age of 72.
Barnes was born at Rome, New York, on December 1, 1798 and graduated from Hamilton College, New York, in 1820, and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1823.
His ordination as a Presbyterian minister came in 1825, in Elizabethtown, New Jersey and he held Presbyterian pastorates at Morristown, New Jersey from 1825 to 1830, and then the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia for 37 years until 1867, when he resigned and was made pastor emeritus.
When he preached in his Philadelphia church that Christ had died for all men – and not simply the ‘elect’ – the charge of heresy had been brought against him.
In 1835 he was brought to trial for heresy by the Second Presbytery of Philadelphia, and was acquitted, but his accusers succeeded in having him suspended from the ministry,
“For one year he was made to sit in silence in a pew in his own church and hear others preach!” (500 Sermons, by T. de Witt Talmage, Volume 4, page 292).
He was again acquitted of heresy in 1836. The charges of heresy primarily related to his comments on Romans and the fact that Barnes broke from strict Calvinism and taught that man had free will to accept or deny the Gospel. He encouraged people to exercise their power of choice, and to respond to God’s offer of salvation
The trial stirred up much bitterness. Barnes’ view was shared by other Presbyterians, identified as the New School branch, of which Barnes was a leader. In 1837 the Presbyterian church split between the conservatives and progressives. Barnes went with the progressive New School.
While being a gifted preacher he is remembered for his expository works which are said to have wider use than any others of their class.
The Schaff/Herzog Encyclopaedia tells us that Dr Barnes was “a truth-loving, earnest, conscientious man of God” (page 215).
Barnes’ New Testament Notes had sold a million copies by 1870.
His Commentary on the Bible has been reprinted and is still as valuable as ever for its profound scholarship. Spurgeon, while not giving unqualified approval, does say, “no minister can afford to be without it…” (Commenting on the Commentaries, page 14).
A current sales description for the Commentary says, Barnes “summarised the views of all the key expositors up to his time. He excelled in easy-to-follow, note-style commentary writing, and some of his treatments of controversial passages are unsurpassed in the way opposing views are contrasted and resolved. Some parts of his work, notably his notes on Job, Psalms, Isaiah and Daniel, stand high among the best commentaries on these books. Always full of information.”
He was an advocate of total abstinence from alcohol, was a staunch proponent of the abolition of slavery, and worked actively to promote Sunday-school. The reason Barnes’ writings are so reader friendly is that they were primarily written with Sunday School teachers in mind.
Albert Barnes nurtured some unusual ideas. It is reported that he would not fish with bait on a hook since he considered it to be a form of deception.
In an address given when he was 70, “Life at Threescore and Ten”, he said he wanted to die quickly, not with a lingering disease. Two years later his wish was granted when he died suddenly while visiting a friend.
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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