Born JANUARY 13, 1837

[Alexander Whyte. PD-USA]

[Alexander Whyte. PD-USA]

He grew up in poverty with a slim education. Even so, he rose to the stature of an erudite, eloquent preacher. He specialized in Biblical biographies. His solid understanding of the Scriptures and human nature helped Alexander Whyte portray men and women of the Bible with vivid word pictures.


Alexander’s parents never married. His father left Scotland for America. Still, Alexander’s mother, Janet Thomson, gave him his father’s last name. She raised Alexander to know how to do two things: earn an honest day’s wage and respect the church.

The Presbyterian Church of that day was divided into four camps. All four divisions existed in Alexander’s hometown. His mother exposed her son to each of them. The fatherless child sought God as his Heavenly Father.

Since he and his mother lived in poverty, the young Alexander needed to work rather than complete his formal education. After some farming jobs, he became a shoemaker’s apprentice. He had a strong desire to learn from books. He countered the demands of his long workdays by paying someone to hold a book so he could read it while he made shoes. During that time, Alexander felt a call to become a minister.


St. George's, now St. Andrew's and St. George's of Edinburgh. Photo by Oscar Palmer.

St. George’s, now St. Andrew’s and St. George’s of Edinburgh. Photo by Oscar Palmer.

He received his training at Aberdeen University and the Free Church College in Edinburgh. When a wave of revival came to northern Scotland, Alexander found opportunities to preach. He developed experience proclaiming God’s word and completed his education requirements.

Alexander graduated in 1866. He served a couple of churches as assistant pastor. The senior pastor of St. George’s Church in Edinburgh, on his deathbed, promoted Alexander to the lead position. St. George’s was Edinburgh’s most influential pulpit. Alexander served it well. He mastered both sermon delivery and shepherding his flock.


Alexander Whyte had a large appetite for reading. But books weren’t enough. He told a friend to study a few of the best books along with “your own heart continually.” Because he took his own advice, Alexander could preach well-balanced sermons on subjects like the ugliness of sin.

As an honest student of his own heart, he confessed from the pulpit, “What has made me a gray-headed man before my time? It is the woeful work my passions have worked in me, the bitter wages I have reaped in their service.”

Books  Photo by Lin Pernille.The well-read preacher filled his sermons with quotations from Scripture and literary sources. He added knowledge of Biblical and historical figures he’d studied. Because his sermons sprang from a well-fed mind and an honest, prayerful heart, they changed lives.

Prayer became another favorite topic. Selections from various sermons have been compiled into the book “Lord Teach Us to Pray” (you can read from it at


Alexander attracted people of all social classes. He strengthened his pastoral ministry through personal visitation. No matter how hard he preached against sin, his congrega-tion knew the heart of the man warning them. So he could say, as he did at the end of many of his sermons, “What will it be like to be in Heaven? Aye, and what will it be not to be there?”

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

Alexander’s preaching gifts enthralled his listeners. His Spirit-fueled imagination painted descriptive pictures. It added flesh and blood to men and women of the Bible. Here’s his summation of the disciple Peter:

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

“These are Peter’s unmistakable footprints. Hasty, head-long, speaking impertinently and unadvisedly, ready to repent, ever wading into waters too deep for him, and ever turning to his master again like a little child.”

He preached messages his listeners could easily apply. From a sermon about Noah warning  his fellow humans: “But every tree that fell in the forest, and every plank that was laid in the ark: every axe stroke and the echo of every hammer was a louder and ever louder call to the men of that corrupt and violent day to flee from the wrath to come.” His preaching offered hope: “Christ’s atoning blood has taken the place of Abel’s accusing blood.”


While pastoring Edinburgh’s largest congregation, Alexander endorsed other ministries. He welcomed the evangelistic team of D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey to Scotland. He pro-moted and attended their meetings. His own congregation grew from it.

[Alexander Whyte. PD-USA]

[Alexander Whyte. PD-USA]

He engaged in debates when necessary but didn’t like to fight over dogma. Perhaps his wise wording in the face of conflict led to his election as the moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in 1898. Other leadership opportunities followed.

In 1909, at age 73, he became the principal of New College. The day came when a series of heart attacks forced his resignation. He never stopped thinking through and describing scriptural truths. He spent the last years of his life in his favorite pursuits—reading and writing.

Alexander died in his sleep on January 6, 1921. The words of Psalm 17:5 are inscribed on his tombstone: “I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.”


LET ME KNOW:  How has Alexander’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.


  • Wiersbe, Warren. 50 People Every Christian Should Know: Learning from the Giants of the Faith. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 2009.
  •  Reece, Ed, ed., Reece Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian biographies.  Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2007.
  • Hammer, Donald E., research associate. 20 Centuries of Great Preaching: An Encyclopedia of Preaching. Vol. 6. Waco, TX: Word Incorporated, 1974.
  • Whyte, Alexander. Bible Characters. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1967.

Books By Alexander- (View a selection of his sermon-based books)




About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
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  1. cspindler says:

    So many good “‘take aways” from this biography, but as you highlight Whyte’s love for reading, I’m reminded of the quote from Harry S. Truman: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

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