It was on this day, August 26, in 1829 that the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller delivered a sermon at the installation of the Rev. William Buell Sprague. While a student at Princeton, Sprague sat under the teaching of Drs. Alexander and Miller, and came to renounce the unitarian views he held as a young man*. Miller and Sprague subsequently became life-long friends, with Miller preaching this sermon at Sprague’s installation as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in the city of Albany, New York. Rev. Sprague later brought the eulogy, in 1850, at Miller’s funeral.
[*Growing up in Connecticut, Sprague was for a time convinced of Unitarianism by his second tutor, Abiel Abbot, a Harvard graduate. Despite coming back to an orthodox Christian faith, Sprague maintained a long friendship with Abbot and another Unitarian, Jared Sparks. How many times he must have pled with them to repent of their heresy!]
The first several points of Dr. Miller’s sermon are reproduced below, with a link to the full text of Dr. Miller’s sermon provided at the end of today’s post.
Titus I. 9. Holding fast the faithful word, as he hath been taught,
that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.
The inspired Apostle is here giving directions concerning the proper character and qualifications of ministers of the Gospel. Some duties are common to all Christians; while others belong either exclusively, or in an eminent degree, to pastors and teachers. The latter is the case with regard to the injunction implied in our text. On all the disciples of Christ is laid the charge to “hold fast the faithful word;” but on the guides and rulers in the house of God is this obligation especially devolved; among other reasons, for this, that they “may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort, and to convince the gainsayers.”
By “the faithful word,” here spoken of, we are evidently to understand the pure, unadulterated doctrines of Christ; the genuine Gospel, as revealed by a gracious God for the benefit of sinful men. Not the doctrines of this or the other particular denomination of Christians, as such, but the doctrines of the Bible. This system of doctrine is represented as that which we “have been taught.” The Gospel which we preach, my friends, is not our Gospel. We neither invented it, nor can we improve it. “I certify you,” says the same Apostle who penned the words of our text —“ I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The original word, here properly translated “hold fast,” is very strong and expressive in its import. It signifies keeping a firm hold of any thing, in opposition to those who would wrest it from us. Of course, it implies that Gospel truth is and will ever be opposed by enemies and “ gainsayers ;” and that maintaining and propagating truth must always be expected, in such a world as this, to require unceasing effort and conflict.
The general position of our text, then, is — That the Ministers of our holy Religion, if they desire to convince, to convert, or to edify their fellow-men, are solemnly bound to maintain for themselves, and diligently to impart to those around them, “ sound doctrine,” or, in other words, the genuine truths of the gospel.
To illustrate and confirm this position, let us, first, inquire, why we ought to maintain sound doctrine ; and, secondly, how it ought to be maintained ; or in what manner, and by what means ? I. The first inquiry which demands our attention, is,—why ought we to maintain sound doctrine? Why is it important that all believers, and Ministers of Religion in particular, should hold fast the faithful word ? And here, let me ask,
1. Can any thing more be necessary to establish the duty before us, than the consideration that “the faithful word” of which we speak is from God ; that it was given to us for our temporal and eternal benefit ; and, of course, given, not to be disregarded, but to be respected, studied, loved, and diligently applied to the great purposes for which it was revealed ? To suppose that we are at liberty lightly to esteem such a gift, coming from such a source ; or that we commit no sin in voluntarily permitting a deposit so precious to be corrupted, perverted, or wrested from us, is a supposition equally dishonourable to God, and repugnant to every dictate of reason.
2. But further ; “ holding fast” the genuine system of revealed truth, is frequently and solemnly commanded by the great God of truth. Both the Old Testament and the New abound with injunctions to this amount. In the former, we are exhorted to “ cry after knowledge, and lift up our voice for understanding ; to seek it as silver, and search for it as for hid treasures.” We are exhorted to “buy the truth, and not to sell it.” And they are highly commended who are represented as “ valiant for the truth.” In the latter, the language of the Holy Spirit is, “ Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast received.” And again, “ Contend earnestly for the faith”—that is, the revealed doctrine which is the object of faith—“ once delivered to the saints.” And again, “ Be not carried about with every wind of doctrine, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” And again, “ Hold fast the profession of your faith firm without wavering.” And again, “ If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine”—that is, the true doctrine of Christ—“ receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed ; for he that biddeth him God speed, is a partaker of his evil deeds.” Nay, the inspired Apostle pronounces, “ If any man come unto you, and bring any other Gospel” — that is, any other system of doctrine concerning the salvation by Christ—“ than that which ye have received, let him be accursed.”
[* Prov. ii. 3, 4; Prov. xxiii. 23; Jer. ix. 3; II. Tim. i. 13; Jude 8; Eph. iv. 14; Heb. x. 23; II. John, 10, 11; Gal. i. 9.]
3. The obligation to “ hold fast” the genuine doctrines of the Gospel, appears from considering the great importance which the Scriptures every where attach to evangelical truth.
I am aware that it is a popular sentiment with many who bear the Christian name, that doctrine is of little moment, and that practice alone is all in all. But such persons surely forget that there can be no settled and habitual good practice, without good principles ; and that sound, correct doctrine, is but another name for sound principle. Take away the doctrines of the Gospel, and you take away its essential character. You take away every thing that is adapted to en-lighten, to restrain, to purify, to console, and to ele-vate. Take away the doctrines of our holy Religion, in other words, the great truths of which the “ glad tidings of great joy” are composed, and you take away the essence of the whole message ;—the seed of all spiritual life ; the aliment on which every believer lives ; the vital principles of all experimental piety, and of all holy practice. What is Faith, but cordially embracing, with confidence and love, the great truths concerning duty and salvation which the Scriptures reveal ? What is Repentance, but a holy sorrow for sin, founded on a spiritual perception of those doctrines concerning God, his character, his law, and the plan of mercy which his word proclaims ? What is Hope, but looking forward with holy desire and expectation to that “ exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” which “ the truth as it is in Jesus” freely offers to our acceptance ? What, in short, is Religion, in the largest sense of the term, but the combination of “ knowledge of the truth,” “ love of the truth,” and “ walking in the truth ?” What is it but having just apprehensions of those great Objects which are revealed in Christian doctrine ; just affections and desires toward them ; and acting out these desires and affections in the temper and life ? No wonder, then, that when the impenitent are converted, they are said to “ come to the knowledge of the truth ;” that they are said to be “ born again by the word of truth ;” to be “ made free by the truth,” and to “ obey the truth ;”—by all which expressions we are plainly taught, that truth, or, which is the same thing, Christian doctrine, is the grand instrument, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, by which spiritual life is begun, carried on, and completed in every subject of redeeming grace.
Hence it is, that the scriptures every where represent bringing the truth, in some way, to men, as absolutely necessary to their conversion and salvation. “ How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard ?” Hence they so plainly teach us, that there can be no real piety where the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel are not embraced. “ Whosoever abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.” On this principle, too, it is, that the inspired volume, with awful emphasis, declares certain “ heresies” to be “ damnable”—that is, inevitably destructive to the souls of men. And on the same principle it is, that all Scripture, and all experience teach us, that wherever the preaching and the prevalence of true doctrine has declined, there piety, immediately, and in a corresponding ratio, has declined ; good morals have declined ; and all the most precious interests of the church and of civil society, have never failed to be essentially depressed.
We cannot, indeed, undertake to pronounce how much knowledge of sound doctrine is necessary to salvation ; or how much error is sufficient to destroy the soul. But we know, from the nature of the case, and especially from the word of God, that all error, like poison, is mischievous, and, of course, ought to be avoided. I know not, indeed, how large a quantity of a given deleterious drug might be necessary, in a particular case, to take away life : but of one thing there can be no doubt, that it is madness to sport with it, and that the less we take of it the better. As nothing but nutritious food will support the animal body ; so nothing but Zion’s provision, which is truth, can either commence, or sustain “ the life of God in the soul of man.”
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To read the full sermon, click the link below:—
Miller, Samuel, Holding Fast the Faithful Word: A Sermon, Delivered in the Second Presbyterian Church in the city of Albany, August 26, 1829, at the installation of the Reverend William B. Sprague, D.D., as pastor of the said church. Albany; Packard and Van Benthuysen, 1829., 49 pp.