In the fall of 1831 he hosted a ‘woods meeting’ on the 20,000 acre farm he had inherited from his father and it was as a result of these meetings he felt a call to the ministry. He trained at Princeton under Samuel Miller, and then was ordained and installed at the Second Church of Baltimore in 1832, where he served for twelve years. It was during Robert’s pastoral years in Baltimore that the growing differences between the Old and New School perspectives led in 1837 to a division of the Presbyterian Church. He became moderator of the General Assembly for the Old School in 1841.
After the death of his first wife in 1844, he returned to Kentucky and in 1847 he became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lexington, Kentucky, was awarded the LL.D by Washington and Jefferson College, remarried, and also was appointed superintendent of public instruction for the state of Kentucky. It was the latter position in which Breckinridge excelled because during his six years of service he saw school attendance grow from 20,000 to over 200,000. Robert Breckinridge is still considered an important figure in the development and growth of the Kentucky public educational system.
His final move was in 1853 to become the first Professor of Exegetic, Didactic and Polemic Theology in the new Presbyterian seminary at Danville, Kentucky, continuing until his retirement in 1869. He died in Danville on December 27, 1871 after an extended illness.
Breckinridge’s life and work was tumultuous and colourful. He was a vocal opponent of slavery in Kentucky; became a leader of the Old School in its ejection of the New School; improved the quality and quantity of Kentucky education; and worked to bring ministerial education to the rough Kentucky frontier at Danville Seminary.