Samuel Miller

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We are pleased to begin today our series on Election Day Sermons, authored by the Rev. David W. Hall, pastor of the Midway Presbyterian Church, Powder Springs, Georgia. This series will post every Saturday and will run through most of this year, concluding at the end of October. We had originally intended to post the first segment next Saturday, January 30th, just prior to the Iowa Caucus, but Dr. Hall thought the following to be timely, and so we begin the series today. The last post in the series should appear approximately right before Election Day in November of this year. 

A Sermon on the Anniversary of the Independence of America by Samuel Miller (July 4, 1793)
by Dr. David W. Hall 

On January 18th at Liberty University, a Republican candidate referred to a Bible passage in his talk (and was criticized for wrongly citing it—although some scholars would agree that “2 Corinthians” is as acceptable as “Second Corinthians” as far as phraseology goes, but we doubt that Mr. Trump was aware of those nuances), advising that Christianity was under siege. While such remarks stir our passions, more than two centuries earlier, another speaker referred to that same passage with an entire sermon devoted to it. If one wishes a more thorough explication of this passage, one could consult Samuel Miller’s “Sermon on the Anniversary of the Independence of America.” Perhaps even Mr. Trump would benefit from a more detailed acquaintance with this classic sermon.

If one doesn’t believe that earlier American preachers frequently preached politically-ladened material, he is simply not aware of history. In this 1793 memorial sermon, a youthful stalwart from Princeton chose the text from 2 Cor. 3:17 (“And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty”) to remind his listeners of the blessings of liberty. He addressed them as “near witnesses of these stupendous transactions,” even though the events were well known. He set the stage with this well-stated opening:

In contemplating national advantages, and national happiness, numerous are the objects which present themselves to a wise and reflecting patriot. While he remembers the past, with thankfulness and triumph; and while he looks forward, with glowing anticipation, to future glories, he will by no means forget to inquire into the secret springs, which had an active influence in the former, and which, there is reason to believe, will be equally connected with the latter.

Neagle-Sartain portraitSamuel Miller (1769-1850) was the second Professor at Princeton Seminary (NJ) beginning in 1813. Ordained in 1793, he pastored several churches in New York City (Wall Street and First Presbyterian Churches) The author of numerous theological and ecclesiological texts, Miller is viewed as a co-founder of Princeton Seminary (1813), becoming the pedagogical guiding light for the likes of Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and others. His interests ranged from theater to slavery, and from history to government. He also served as Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly. He is a distinct link between the Colonial era and the nineteenth century.

Miller wishes to offer “a few general remarks on the important influence of the Christian religion in promoting political freedom.” Fully cognizant of the original setting and meaning of this passage in Corinthians, notwithstanding, Miller believed that “the proposition contained in our text is equally true, whether we understand it as speaking of spiritual or political liberty, we may safely apply it to the latter, without incurring the charge of unnatural perversion.” Far from hesitating to apply this ancient text to his moment, he preached:

The sentiment, then, which I shall deduce from the text, and to illustrate and urge which, shall be the principal object of the present discourse, is, That the general prevalence of real Christianity, in any government, has a direct and immediate tendency to promote, and to confirm therein, political liberty.

This important truth may be established, both by attending to the nature of this religion, in an abstract view; and by adverting to fact, and the experimental testimony with which we are furnished by history.

Like Calvin before him, Miller still spoke of human depravity and referred to “tyranny” (used 6 times in this sermon) as the causative enemy both to be avoided and which justified rebellion. Further, political liberty did not automatically flow from consent of the governed, dispersed governmental branches, nor did “political liberty . . . rest, solely, on the form of government, under which a nation may happen to live.” Instead, “It must have its seat in the hearts and dispositions of those individuals which compose the body politic; and it is with the hearts and dispositions of men that Christianity is conversant.” Thus, enduring liberty, “that perfect law of liberty, which this holy religion includes, prevails and governs in the minds of all, their freedom rests upon a basis more solid and immovable, than human wisdom can devise. For the obvious tendency of this divine system, in all its parts, is, in the language of its great Author, to bring deliverance to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to undo the heavy burdens; to let the oppressed go free; and to break every yoke.

With piercing specificity, he claimed: “The prevalence of real Christianity, tends to promote the principles and the love of political freedom, by the doctrines which it teaches, concerning the human character, and the unalienable rights of mankind; and by the virtues which it inculcates, and leads its votaries to practice.” A correlate of this biblical faith was:

Christianity, on the one hand, teaches those, who are raised to places of authority, that they are not intrinsically greater than those whom they govern; and that all the rational and justifiable power with which they are invested, flows from the people, and is dependent on their sovereign pleasure. There is a love of dominion natural to every human creator; and in those who are destitute of religion, this temper is apt to reign uncontrolled. Hence experience has always testified, that rulers, left to themselves, are prone to imagine, that they are a superior order of beings . . .

In contrast to the religion of self,

Christianity, wherever it exerts its native influence, leads every citizen to reverence himself-to cherish a free and manly spirit-to think with boldness and energy-to form his principles upon fair inquiry, and to resign neither his conscience nor his person to the capricious will of men. It teaches, and it creates in the mind, a noble contempt for that abject submission to the encroachments of despotism, to which the ignorant and the unprincipled readily yield. It forbids us to call, or to acknowledge, any one master upon earth, knowing that we have a Master in heaven, to whom both rulers, and those whom they govern, are equally accountable. In a word, Christianity, by illuminating the minds of men, leads them to consider themselves, as they really are, all coordinate terrestrial princes, stripped, indeed, of the empty pageantry and title, but retaining the substance of dignity and power. Under the influence of this illumination, how natural to disdain the shackles of oppression-to take the alarm at every attempt to trample on their just rights; and to pull down, with indignation, from the seat of authority, every bold invader!

One of Miller’s clearest summaries asserts: “The prevalence of Christianity promotes the principles and the love of political freedom, not only by the knowledge which it affords of the human character, and of the unalienable rights of mankind, but also by the duties which it inculcates, and leads its votaries to discharge.” Further, he sees “the native tendency of the Christian religion” as promoting “civil liberty.” Miller adds: “When we compare those nations, in which Christianity was unknown, with those which have been happily favored with the light of spiritual day, we find ample reason to justify the remarks which have been made.”

Miller not only extols the value of religion for the public square but also he claimed that “there never was a government, in which the knowledge of pure and undefiled Christianity prevailed, in which, at the same time, despotism held his throne without control.” As a specific, Miller thought Christianity mitigated against slavery, which yielded “to the mild and benign spirit of Christianity. Experience has shown, that domestic slavery also flies before her, unable to stand the test of her pure and holy tribunal. After the introduction of this religion into the Roman empire, every law that was made, relating to slaves, was in their favor, abating the rigors of servitude, until, at last, all the subjects of the empire were reckoned equally free.” He also expected that “Christianity shall extend her scepter of benevolence and love over every part of this growing empire-when oppression shall not only be softened of his rigors; but shall take his flight forever from our land.”

This sermon is available in printed form in both Election Day Sermons (Covenant Foundation, 1996) and the excellent anthology by Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998); it is accessible online at: http://consource.org/document/a-sermon-on-the-anniversary-of-the-independence-of-america-by-samuel-miller-1793-7-4/
I
t is also available as a photographic scan of an original copy, here.

Excerpts from Miller’s stirring conclusion are below to entice the reader to access the whole.

Again; if it be a solemn truth, that the prevalence of Christianity, has a natural and immediate tendency to promote political freedom, then, those are the truest and the wisest patriots, who study to increase its influence in society. Hence it becomes every American citizen to consider this as the great palladium of our liberty, demanding our first and highest care. . . .To each of you, then, my fellow citizens, on this anniversary of our independence, be the solemn address made! do you wish to stand fast in that liberty, wherewith the Governor of the universe hath made you free? Do you desire the increasing prosperity of your country? Do you wish to see the law respected-good order preserved, and universal peace to prevail? Are you convinced, that purity of morals is necessary for these important purposes? Do you believe, that the Christian religion is the firmest basis of morality? Fix its credit, then, by adopting it yourselves, and spread its glory by the luster of your example! And while you tell to your children, and to your children’s children, the wonderful works of the Lord, and the great deliverance which he hath wrought out for us, teach them to remember the Author of these blessings, and they will know how to estimate their value. Teach them to acknowledge the God of heaven as their King, and they will despise submission to earthly despots. Teach them to be Christians, and they will ever be free.

Dr. David W. Hall, Pastor
Midway Presbyterian Church
Powder Springs, Georgia

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It was on this day, January 21st, in 1843 that The Charleston Observer published a letter from the Rev. Nathan Hoyt, in which he took care to defend the views of Dr. Samuel Miller, stating that Miller was quite clearly opposed to plagiarism and anything which might be construed as such. In proof of his point, Hoyt provided a letter from the Princeton professor, in which he sets for his high standard and consistent expectation for the ministry.

[For the Charleston Observer]

Charleston, S.C., January 21, 1843.

Brother Gildersleeve,—During the sessions of the Hopewell Presbytery, recently convened in Greensboro’, it was asserted, no doubt through mistake, that the Rev. Dr. Miller of Princeton, did not disapprove of one Minister’s making use of the plans or skeletons of another in his public performances. I addressed a letter to Dr. Miller, touching this point, and also requesting him to give me his views relative to Plagiarism, as I had been requested by some members of Presbytery to write and publish an article upon that subject. I send with this a copy of almost the entire letter of Dr. M., and would request you to publish it in the Observer, as I have his permission to make what use of it I think proper. It is due to this venerable Father in the Ministry that thosee portions of his letter which I herewith transmit, should be published, ast least, throughout the bounds of Hopewell Presbytery.

Whoever reads the Doctor’s letter will perceive that he is the last man upon earth to sanction any approach to Plagiarism. I regard this letter, (which the Doctor says was written in haste,) as richly worthy of being preserved. Yours, &c.

N. Hoyt.

Athens, Jan. 10, 1842.

(Copy,) “Princeton, Dec. 29, 1842.


miller_Samuel_1812Rev.
and Dear Brother,—Your letter of the 21st instant, reached me last evening; and, though somewhat pressed with engagements, I seize the first opportunity to reply. It has always been my aim, in my Lectures on Sermonizing, to express the strongest disapprobation of Plagiarism in every form, as basely deceptive and mean, as really immoral in its character, and as calculated to injure the man who practices it, and ultimately, if he be a Minister, those who attend on his ministrations. When I have been asked what Plagiarism is? I have uniformly answered, that it is not easy, in all cases to draw the line. On all the great leading subjects of pulpit instruction, there is a large mass of common-place ideas which have been repeated by successive writers, for hundreds of years past. He who, in preaching on Faith and Repentance—on Justification and Sanctification—on Christian hope and Eternal Blessedness—should resolve to say nothing but what was strictly original with himself; nothing that had ever been expressed, even in substance, by any one before, would certainly never be able to preach at all. In this sense, no man, however great his talents or his learning, can hope to be regarded as an original at the present day.

[pictured above right, Dr. Samuel Miller, as portrayed by the artist Thomas Sully, in 1812]

If a preacher, at the present day, were about to prepare a sermon on the doctrine of Original Sin, or on the doctrine of Atonement—and, as a preparation for the work, were carefully to read over President Edwards‘ Treatise on the former subject, and Mr. Symington’s on the latter—and even then to compose his Sermons on those subjects respectively in strict conformity with the Treatises just mentioned—but in his own language throughout—I should not charge him with Plagiarism; the substance would, in this case be borrowed, but the style, the form, would be all his own. I do not know that there is, in either of those books, a single truth which had not been substantially set forth by preceding writers; but there is in each of them a clearness, a force, and an amplitude of illustration, which render their works, respectively, of great value. But I have always denounced as Plagiarism, in the true and proper sense of that word, any of the following practices, viz.:—

I. When a writer or speaker delivers, as his own, the whole, or the greater part of the work of another, in the language of the original writer. This is the most gross and shameful form of the offence.

II. When a writer or speaker copies the whole plan of another—adopting his divisions, his subdivisions, and, in the main, his whole arrangement—making only some trivial alteration here and there in the style and minuter details, for the sake of avoiding the charge of being a servile copyist; such a person deserves to be called a Plagiarist. He is nothing but an humble retailer of the thoughts and language of others.

III. He who allows himself to copy verbatim even a single paragraph, without acknowledgment, exposes himself to the charge of Plagiarism. One who means to be strictly delicate and accurate on this subject will never copy the very words of another, without advertising his hearers or readers of the fact, by saying, as he passes along–”to use the language of another,” or “in the language of an elegant writer,” &c. I would certainly advise that this be done, even if the quotation extend only to a single sentence.

IV. If a thought be very striking and original, I would not allow myself to adopt it, without acknowledgment, even if it were expressed in my own language. It were easy to select some remarkably beautiful thoughts from Bacon, from Milton, or other great masters, of sentiment and diction, which so exclusively belong to them, and that it were great injustice to repeat any of them without tracing the property to its right owner, either by directly naming him, or acknowledging, in some way, that they do not belong to him who quotes them.

I have sometimes advised my pupils, whenever they hear sermons which exhibit a very striking or happy plan, to make a record of it, and have suggested to them, that although copying the plan or plans, thus recorded on the same texts, or even when treating the same subjects, would be Plagiarism; yet, that to a watchful, active mind, looking out for analogies and relations, a happy plan on one subject may suggest a still more happy one on an allied subject—or even on one very remote at first view.

I have never given any advice or counsel different from what I have above stated. If Mr. _____” makes any different representations, he misunderstood and misrepresents me. Yet I can easily imagine how he might have mis-apprehended my suggestion—stated in the preceding paragraph—respecting striking plans of sermons. By a little inadvertence, he might have supposed me to mean, that such plans might, with propriety be used, when preaching afterwards on the same texts.

I am, my dear Sir, with much respect, your friend and brother in Christ,

SAMUEL MILLER.”

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, III.17 (21 January 1843): 9, where it first appeared in print. The letter was subsequently included in volume 2 of The Life of Samuel Miller, pp. 450-452.]

Image source: The Princeton University Library Chronicle, volume XIV, Number 3 (Winter 1953)

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Dr. Samuel Miller“A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”

It was on this day, January 7th, in 1850, that the esteemed Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller passed from this earth to stand before His Lord and Savior. Dr. Miller had long served as professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at the Princeton Theological Seminary. The Seminary had been established in 1812, and Dr. Miller was installed as the Seminary’s second professor in 1813, joining Dr. Archibald Alexander in the work. Miller proceeded to labor at this post until his retirement in 1849. The following text presents first that portion of the Report from the Board of Directors of the Seminary concerning Miller’s decease, and then in the second paragraph, the official response of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. as it met that same year. Drawn from Samuel Baird’s Digest (1855), pp. 303-304:—

174. Obituary notice of Dr. Miller, of Princeton Seminary.

1850, p. 621. [The Board of Directors of the Princeton Seminary report that] “at the tme of this inauguration, [of Dr. J.W. Alexander,] the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller, Emeritus Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government, who had been appointed by the Board to take a part in the exercises, was unable to be present by reason of the feeble state of his health. He continued gradually to sink, honouring religion, and enjoying in a high degree its supports and consolations, until on the 7th day of January, 1850, he departed this life in the eighty-first year of his age; having been Professor from the year 1813. The Board would here express their grateful sense of the divine goodness, in raising up for the Seminary in its infancy a man of such distinguished personal excellence, and such fitness for the high and important office in which he was so ably, so successfully, and so long employed.

p. 465. Resolved, That the Assembly record with deep emotion the decease of the venerable Professor Emeritus of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government, Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller, of whom becoming mention is made in the Report by the Board; and while the Church is, in this dispensation of Divine Providence, called to mourn the departure of one who has long stood among the foremost in her counsels, and in her confidence—one of the most prominent and able defenders of her faith and order—one of the staunchest friends of all her benevolent institutions—one whose conspicuous talents, ripe judgment, and elevated piety, made him eminently a fit model and a safe guide for her rising ministry; and whose rare excellence and purity of character beautifully exemplified, in the eyes of all who knew him, that religion to the cause of which his life was devoted—it is matter of profound thankfulness that such a man was raised up to the Church, and spared to her through so many years of usefulness, and permitted to perform so valuable a part in founding our first Theological Seminary—which has served to a great extent as the model of all our after institutions—in arranging its plan and giving it establishment; and that it was not until this great work of his life was done, and he had ceased from the active discharge of these duties, that he was taken to his glorious reward.

Excerpted from A Collection of the Acts, Deliverances, and Testimonies of The Supreme Judicatory of the Presbyterian Church, from its origin in America to the present time: with Notes and Documents explanatory and historical: constituting a complete illustration of her polity, faith, and history, by Samuel J. Baird. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1855, pp. 303-304.

Words to Live By:
In my work at the PCA Historical Center, I have been struck over the years at how just a very few in the Church are accorded an extra measure of respect and admiration. Those who knew them honor their memory as ones marked by an unusual depth of character, an undeniable piety, who were circumspect in all their dealings with others. Samuel Miller was such a man. So too was Dr. Robert G. Rayburn, of whom we wrote this past Monday, and Harold Samuel Laird was yet another. Would that all Christians had that same bearing and could command similar respect. Is that possible? How does one come to be such a person? There is no easy answer. The only answer I have thus far is that we must live our lives as close to the Lord as possible, always quick to confess our sins, and with our eyes fixed on Christ, (in the words of Eugene Peterson) striving to live “a long obedience in the same direction”.

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John, Father of Samuel

You see it in the Bible—when you wanted to bless someone, you looked to bless their father (1 Samuel 17:56). Conversely, a curse on a son was understood as a curse on the father (Gen. 9:25; 1 Kings 11:9-12). All Christians want their children to grow strong in the Lord, to be greatly used in His kingdom. So when we see such a child now grown, it is understandable that we might look to the parents, to see their character and method with their children, that we might learn and profit from their wisdom. Dr. Samuel Miller, of Princeton, was a man greatly used of the Lord, and so it fitting that we should look at the life of his father, the Rev. John Miller. This day, July 22, 1791, marks the date of Rev. John Miller’s passing.

John Miller was born in Boston, on December 24, 1722. By ancestry, he was the great-great-grandson of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. His father, John Miller, Senior, had immigrated from Scotland in 1710 and found remarkable success as a manufacturer, refining sugar. The Millers had two children, John, the eldest, and Joseph, who never married and who, in early adulthood, was lost at sea during a voyage to Great Britain. John, the subject of our post today, never graduated from any college, but did manage to obtain an excellent classical education at a public school of high reputation in Boston. Here he became proficient in Latin and Greek, and it was during this time that he also came to faith in Christ and began to aim toward the pulpit ministry.

In May of 1748, John was licensed to preach by the Congregational association in Boston and soon began to travel throughout the Delaware and Maryland colonies. When a call came to serve the Presbyterian church in Dover, Delaware, John returned to Boston to secure ordination. Once installed in the Dover church, it was not long before an additional call came, to also serve the Presbyterian church in Smyrna (also known as Duck Creek), which was twelve miles north of Dover. Rev. Miller’s solution was to pastor both churches concurrently, establishing his home between the two churches, some four miles from Dover. And in this arrangement he spent the remaining years of his ministerial career, serving as pastor of these two churches for over forty years.

As seems so often to have been the pattern in those times, Rev. Miller had deferred marriage until he was established in a charge. But now, wasting no time, he courted and then married Margaret Millington, the daughter of a successful planter.  Dr. John Rodgers of New York was  on one occasion heard to pay the compliment that she was one of the most beautiful women that he had ever seen. Yet her physical beauty was exceeded by her moral beauty, and she proved to be a great blessing to her husband, to her children, and to all who knew her. Margaret was known for her good sense, for her prudence, for her skill and wisdom in keeping her home, and for her active engagement in charity towards others. Above all, Margaret’s life was characterized by an honest and sincere love of her Lord.

Not long after having been settled as a pastor, Rev. Miller purchased a farm of 104 acres, and here he resided for the remainder of his life. Never a man of great means, the farm allowed him to supply many of the basic needs of his family, and by careful husbandry, allowed Rev. Miller to eventually send four sons to college.

“On this estate his children were born, and from here they went forth to do good.” Of his children, two sons died in infancy, and one son died before his own passing—John, a medical doctor, who died in 1777,  at age 25. The remaining children were present at his beside when the Rev. John Miller died, at the age of 69, and in the 44th year of his ministry. These were: Elizabeth [1755-1817], wife of Col. Samuel McLane; Mary [1762-1801, wife of (1) Vincent Loockerman, Jr. (he died in 1790,) and (2) wife of Major John Patten; Edward [1760-1812];Joseph [1765-1798], who married Elizabeth Loockerman; Samuel [1769-1850],  who was twenty years pastor of the Wall Street Church in New York, then Professor of Theology in Princeton Seminary; and lastly, James [1772-1795]. Thus Samuel, who never enjoyed robust health himself, was the last surviving child of the Rev. John Miller, and that by over thirty years and more.

Words to Live By:
What distinguished the rearing of the Miller children? There are undoubtedly many things that we could look at and discuss. But one moment in their parents’ lives seems particularly significant. Ten years before Samuel Miller was born, his parents lost their first child, Joseph. A few days following, Joseph’s death, his father made this entry in his journal:

“October 5th, 1759. Last night my son Joseph, a promising child, aged nineteen months and eight days, departed this life, after a short but violent illness in the lungs. My heart was far too much bound up in the child. His little, pretty ways insensibly stole my affections from objects infinitely superior to all earthly comforts; the parting stroke has given me a much more affecting view of this than I had before. Oh that I may see the rod and him that has appointed it—see that God has a controversy to plead with me and my house.”

Our children belong to the Lord, and they are His alone. Perhaps what the Rev. John Miller learned is summed up in the words of Psalm 127:

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.
Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.

God gives us a great blessing in our children, but they belong to Him. And as difficult as it may be, our hearts must never be set upon His gifts, but always only upon the Giver.

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SpragueWBA Life of Prayer and Practice.

Late in the month of January, 1850, the Rev. William Buell Sprague performed the difficult task of saying goodbye to an old friend, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller of Princeton Theological Seminary. Dr. Miller had died early that month, on January 7th, and now it was Sprague’s duty to bring this tribute in praise to God for a life well lived.

Rev. Sprague’s memorial was subsequently published, under the title, A Discourse, Commemorative of the Rev. Samuel Miller, D.D., late Professor in the Theological Seminary at Princeton, delivered in the Second Presbyterian Church, Albany, on Sabbath evening, January 27, 1850 (Albany, Erastus H. Pease & Co., 1850).

Note: I don’t see where Sprague’s discourse can be found on the Web at this time, but if you care to have a copy, please write to me [archivist {AT} pcahistory /DOT/ org].

We present here just a small, but interesting portion of Sprague’s memorial concerning Samuel Miller:—

Dr. Samuel MillerHe possessed, in a high degree, the devotional spirit. No one could hear him pray without being struck with the humble, grateful, child-like temper that marked his supplications. There was a reverent freedom, an elevated fervour, in his approaches to the throne of grace, which showed that he was engaged in his favourite employment; and we felt that the fire which was burning so brightly in the lecture-room or the sanctuary, had been kindled in the closet. It was not necessary that one should be personally acquainted with his private religious habits, to feel perfectly assured that he was eminently a man of prayer; for his public devotional services proved it, as truly as the shining of Moses’ face proved that he had been on the Mount. And what he exemplified so well in his own character, he affectionately and impressively urged upon others, and especially upon his pupils. Many a student can testify that the last interview which his revered professor held with him, previous to his leaving the seminary, was concluded by his offering up a fervent prayer that God’s blessing might attend him in all coming time, and throughout a coming eternity.

Dr. Miller was distinguished by a benevolent spirit, in connection with a well directed Christian activity. I have already said that he possessed a large share of natural benevolence; but I refer here to that higher quality which is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and is habitually controlled and directed by Christian principle; and of this, I may safely say, he was a bright example. He walked constantly in the footsteps of Him who went about doing good. He watched for opportunities to do good; — good to the bodies and souls of men; — good to those near at hand and to those afar off. Without very ample pecuniary means, he was still a liberal contributor to the various objects of Christian benevolence that solicited his aid; and, in some instances, I know that he volunteered the most unexpected and generous benefactions. His benevolence, however, did not reserve itself for signal occasions; but was manifested in his daily intercourse with society and in connexion with all the little affairs of life. Indeed he seemed always to be acting in obedience to the impulses of Christian good will; and if an opportunity presented to confer innocent pleasure, much more substantial benefit, upon any of his fellow creatures, even the humblest, — provided no paramount interest required his attention, he deemed it an occasion not unworthy of his consideration and his efforts.

It was one great advantage that he possessed above many other good men, that his Christian life was ordered with the strictest regard to system. His purposes of good were formed, and his means of accomplishing them arranged, so as to occasion no perplexing interference. You would often find him greatly pressed with engagements which, with his feeble health and advanced age, he scarcely felt adequate to meet; but you would never find him thrown into an inextricable maze and not knowing what to do next, for want of due forethought and calculation. It was surprising to many that he accomplished so much, in various ways, in his last years: the secret of it was that he worked to the full measure of his strength and did everything by rule.

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Strongly Inclined to Be Devoted to the Ministry

Samuel Miller was born in Dover, Delaware on October 30, 1769. As was typical for his day, he studied theology privately in preparation for the ministry. Upon completion of his examinations he was ordained by the Presbytery of New York on June 5, 1793 and installed as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of New York City, where he then served from 1793-1801. He next served the Wall Street church from 1801-1813, before answering the call of General Assembly to serve as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey. As the second professor at the Seminary after Archibald Alexander, Miller served the Seminary from 1813-1849, finally taking emeritus status at the age of 80. He died less than a year later, on January 7, 1850.

Resting behind the simple facts of our first paragraph is the spiritual depth of this man of God.  Upon taking the new ministry at Princeton, he sat down and wrote out seven resolutions.  We don’t have space for all seven of them, but the first one stands out and indeed sums up all the rest.  It reads, “I will endeavor hereafter, by God’s help, to remember more deeply and solemnly than I have ever yet done, that I am not my own, but Christ’s servant; and, of course, bound to seek, not my own things, but the things which are Jesus Christ’s”  That says it all with respect to the character and conduct of this seminary professor.

Words to Live By: Samuel Miller’s first resolution is but a summary of those words written down by the Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, when he stated in the context of the need to live a moral life, the following: “Do you not known that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (NIV)  Whether soul or body, each of us should make Samuel Miller’s resolution our own resolution, and indeed recommit ourselves to it at pivotal points of our life, such as our birthday. It would be exciting to see what God would do with such a committed Christian if this is true of you and me.

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If You are Number Two, Do You Try Harder?

Samuel Miller was definitely number two among that faculty of Princeton Seminary that year of September 29, 1813.  Started only one year before, Archibald Alexander was the first professor of the Presbyterian Seminary with only a handful of students.  As another war with Britain was raging (the War of 1812), it was a trying time for a smooth start. On top of that, the students of Princeton College were anything but spiritual. College pranks had brought the college close to shutting down. Samuel Miller, fresh from a pastoral experience in a city church, would arrive on the campus and quickly became a force for spiritual good at both the seminary and the college, even in his position as Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government.

Helping this whole process were a number of personal resolutions which Miller wrote down for himself, as a way of guiding his relationship with other people at both the college and the seminary. Those resolutions are too long to print here, but two of them speak to Christian people being in a supporting role, whether in the church, your called profession, or in any organization.

Number 3 reads, “I will endeavor, by the grace of God, so to conduct myself toward my colleague in the seminary, as never to give the least reasonable ground of offence.  It shall be my aim, by divine help, ever to treat him with the most scrupulous respect and delicacy, and never to wound his feelings, if I know how to avoid it.”

Number 4 reads, “. . . Resolved, therefore, that, by the grace of God, while I will carefully avoid giving offence to my college, I will, in no case, take offence at his treatment of me.  I have come hither resolving, that whatever may be the sacrifice of my personal feelings—whatever may be the consequence—I will not take offence, unless I am called upon to relinquish truth or duty.  I not only will never, the Lord helping me, indulge a jealous, envious, or suspicious temper toward him; but I will, in no case, allow myself to be wounded by any slight, or appearance of disrespect. I will give up all my own claims, rather than let the cause of Christ suffer by animosity or context.  What am I, that I should prefer my own honor or exaltation to the cause of my blessed Master.”

These were only two of the seven resolutions.  But even considering these two alone, what would be the result in our churches if both officers and members would more fully reflect in their character and conduct these two resolutions.  Truth and duty indeed were the only two exceptions to the rule.  Otherwise, the guiding principle was to always esteem others more highly than yourself.

Words to live by:  Samuel Miller wrote above, “I will give up all my own claims, rather than let the cause of Christ suffer by animosity or conflict.”  What a magnanimous spirit!  What a change this would cause in many local churches, to say nothing of our evangelical and Reformed denominations, if all the officers and members possessed Samuel Miller’s spirit.  Examine yourself, dear reader, or examine your small group, or examine your local fellowship. How do you measure up?  What can be done if you find your character and conduct lacking?  Is it not time for a revival of religion in your circles?

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While still new to the pastorate, and not yet thirty years old, it was on this day, April 12, 1797, that the the Rev. Samuel Miller delivered a discourse in New York City, before the Society for the Manumission of Slaves. [For those unfamiliar with the term, manumission is the act of freeing a slave.] Only an excerpt of this discourse, the fifth of Miller’s published works, is presented below, but a link has been provided in the title for those who would like to read the entire discourse. Would that Miller’s words had gripped early American society to conviction and action, to the eradication of evil! For one practical example of manumission in that same era, in which Reformed Presbyterians freed their slaves and at great personal cost, read chapter four of the Memoir of the Rev. Alexander McLeod.  

Words to Live By: Remember this!—Individuals and nations are alike in this, that sin is not easily rooted out. Once it takes hold, it can be a most difficult thing to remove it, and like old injuries, the scars that remain constantly remind us of our sin. Far better to stop sin at its first rising, before it takes root.

A Discourse, delivered April 12, 1797, at the Request of and Before
the New-York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves,
and Protecting such of them as have been or may be Liberated.

by Samuel Miller, A.M., one of the ministers of the United Presbyterian churches
in the city of New-York, and Member of said Society.
New-York: Printed by T. and J. Swords, No. 99 Pearl-street, 1797.

. . . That, in the close of the eighteenth century, it should be esteemed proper and necessary, in any civilized country, to institute discourses to oppose the slavery and commerce of the human species, is a wonderful [i.e., a thing to be wondered at] fact in the annals of society! But that this country should be America, is a solecism only to be accounted for by the general inconsistency of the human character. But, after all, the surprise that Patriotism can feel, and all the indignation that Morality can suggest on this subject, the humiliating tale must be told—that in this free country—in this country, the plains of which are still stained with blood shed in the cause of liberty,—in this country, from which has been proclaimed to distant lands, as the basis of all our political existence, the noble principle, that “ALL MEN ARE BORN FREE AND EQUAL,”—in this country there are slaves!—men are bought and sold! Strange, indeed! that the bosom which glows at the name of liberty in general, and the arm which has been so vigorously exerted in vindication of human rights, should yet be found leagued on the side of oppression, and opposing their avowed principles!

Much, indeed, has been done by many benevolent individuals and societies, to abolish this disgraceful practice, and to improve the condition of those unhappy people, whom the ignorance or the avarice of our ancestors has bequeathed to us as slaves. Still, however, notwithstanding all the labours and eloquence which have been directed against it, the evil continues; still laws and practices exist, which loudly call for reform; still MORE THAN HALF A MILLION of our fellow creatures in the United States are deprived of that which, next to life, is the dearest birth-right of man.

To deliver the plain dictates of humanity, justice, religion, and good policy, on this subject, is the design of the present discourse. In doing this, it will not be expected that any thing new should be offered. It is not a new subject; and every point of view in which it can be considered has been long since rendered familiar by the ingenious and the humane. All that is left for me is, to bring to your remembrance principles which, however well known, cannot be too often repeated; and to exhibit some of the most obvious arguments against an evil which, though generally acknowledged, is still practically persisted in.

And here I shall pass over in silence the unnumbered cruelties, and the violations of every natural and social tie, which mark the African trade, and which attend the injured captives in dragging them from their native shores, and from all the attachments of life. I shall not call you to contemplate the miseries and hardships which follow them into servitude, and render their life a cup of unmingled bitterness. Unwilling to wound your feelings, or my own, by the melancholy recital, over these scenes I would willingly draw a veil; and confine myself to principles and views of the subject more immediately applicable to ourselves.

That enslaving, or continuing to hold in slavery, those who have forfeited their liberty by no crime, is contrary to the dictates both of justice and humanity, I trust few who hear me will be disposed to deny. However the judgment of some may be biassed by the supposed peculiarity of certain cases, I presume that with regard to the abstract principle, there can be but one opinion among enlightened and candid minds. What is the end of all social connection but the advancement of human happiness? And what can be a more plain and indisputable principle of republican government, than that all the right which society possesses over individuals, or one man over another, must be founded either upon contract, express or implied, or upon forfeiture by crime? But, are the Africans and their descendants enslaved upon either of these principles? Have they voluntarily surrendered their liberty to their whiter brethren? or have they forfeited their natural right to it by the violation of any law? Neither of these is pretended by the most zealous advocates for slavery. By what ties, then, are they held in servitude? By the ties of force and injustice only; by ties which are equally opposed to the reason of things, and to the fundamental principles of all legitimate association.

In the present age and country, none, I presume, will rest a defence of slavery on the ground of superior force; the right of captivity; or any similar principle, which the ignorance and the ferocity of ancient times admitted as a justifiable tenure of property. It is to be hoped the time is passed, never more to return, when men would recognize maxims as subversive of morality as they are of social happiness. Can the laws and rights of war be properly drawn into precedent for the imitation of sober and regular government? Can we sanction the detestable idea, that liberty is only an advantage gained by strength, and not a right derived from nature’s God. Such sentiments become the abodes of demons, rather than societies of civilized men.

Pride, indeed, may contend, that these unhappy subjects of our oppression are an inferior race of beings; and are therefore assigned by the strictest justice to a depressed and servile station in society. But in what does this inferiority consist? In a difference of complexion and figure? Let the narrow and illiberal mind, who can advance such an argument, recollect whither it will carry him. In traversing the various regions of the earth, from the Equator to the Pole, we find an infinite diversity of shades in the complexion of men, from the darkest to the fairest hues. If, then, the proper station of the African is that of servitude and depression, we must also contend, that every Portuguese and Spaniard is, though in a less degree, inferior to us, and should be subject to a measure of the same degradation. Nay, if the tints of colour be considered the test of human dignity, we may justly assume a haughty superiority over our southern brethren of this continent, and devise their subjugation. In short, upon this principle, where shall liberty end? or where shall slavery begin? At what grade is it that the ties of blood are to cease? And how many shades must we descend still lower in the scale, before mercy is to vanish with them?

But, perhaps, it will be suggested, that the Africans and their descendants are inferior to their whiter brethren in intellectual capacity, if not in complexion and figure. This is strongly asserted, but upon what ground? Because we do not see men who labour under every disadvantage, and who have every opening faculty blasted and destroyed by their depressed condition, signalize themselves as philosophers? Because we do not find men who are almost entirely cut off from every source of mental improvement, rising to literary honours? To suppose the Africans of an inferior radical character, because they have not thus distinguished themselves, is just as rational as to suppose every private citizen of an inferior species, who has not raised himself to the condition of royalty. But, the truth is, many of the negroes discover great ingenuity, notwithstanding their circumstances are so depressed, and so unfavourable to all cultivation. They become excellent mechanics and practical musicians, and, indeed, learn every thing their masters take the pains to teach them.* And how far they might improve in this respect, were the same advantages conferred on them that freemen enjoy, is impossible for us to decide until the experiment be made.

[*Having been, for two years, a monthly visitor of the African School in this city, I directed particular attention to the capacity and behaviour of the scholars, with a view to satisfy myself on the point in question. And, to me, the negro children of that institution appeared, in general, quite as orderly, and quite as ready to learn, as white children.]

Aristotle long ago said—“Men of little genius, and great bodily strength, are by nature destined to serve, and those of a better capacity to command. The natives of Greece, and of some other countries, being naturally superior in genius, have a natural right to empire; and the rest of mankind, being naturally stupid, are destined to labour and slavery.”* [*De Republica, book 1, chap. 5, 6.] What would this great philosopher have thought of his own reasoning, had he lived till the present day? On the one hand, he would have seen his countrymen, of whose genius he boasts so much, lose with their liberty all mental character; while, on the other, he would have seen many nations, whom he consigned to everlasting stupidity, show themselves equal in intellectual power to the most exalted of human kind.

Again—Avarice may clamorously contend, that the laws of property justify slavery; and that every one has an undoubted right to whatever has been obtained by fair purchase or regular descent. To this demand the answer is plain. The right which every man has to his personal liberty is paramount to all the laws of property. The right which every one has to himself infinitely transcends all other human tenures. Of consequence, the latter can never be set in opposition to the former. I do not mean, at present, to decide the question, whether the possessors of slaves, when called upon by public authority to manumit them, should be indemnified for the loss they sustain. This is a separate question, and must be decided by a different tribunal from that before which I bring the general subject. All I contend for at present is, that no claims of property can ever justly interfere with, or be suffered to impede the operation of that noble and eternal principle, that “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights—and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

These principles and remarks would doubtless appear self-evident to all, were the case of the unhappy Africans for a moment made our own. Were it made a question, whether justice permitted the sable race of Guinea to carry us away captive from our own country, and from all its tender attachments, to their own land, and there enslave us and our posterity for ever;—were it made a question, I say, whether all this would be consistent with justice and humanity, one universal and clamorous negative would show how abhorrent the principle is from our minds, when not blinded by prejudice. Tell us, ye who were lately pining in ALGERINE BONDAGE! [i.e., enslavement in Algeria. For several centuries Algeria was the primary base of the Barbary pirates]. Tell us whether all the wretched sophistry of pride, or of avarice, could ever reconcile you to the chains of barbarians, or convince you that man had a right to oppress and injure man? Tell us what were your feelings, when you heard the pityless tyrant, who had taken or bought you, plead either of these rights for your detention; and justify himself by the specious pretences of capture or of purchase, in riveting your chains?

. . . But higher laws than those of common justice and humanity may be urged against slavery. I mean THE LAWS OF GOD, revealed in the Scriptures of truth. This divine system, in which we profess to believe and to glory, teaches us, that God has made of one blood all nations of men that dwell on the face of the whole earth. It teaches us, that, of whatever kindred or people, we are all children of the same common Father; dependent on the same mighty power; and candidates for the same glorious immortality. It teaches us, that we should do to all men whatever we, in like circumstances, would that they should do unto us. It teaches us, in a word, that love to man, and a constant pursuit of human happiness, is the sum of all social duty.—Principles these, which wage eternal war both with political and domestic slavery—Principles which forbid every species of domination, excepting that which is founded on consent, or which the welfare of society requires.

Click here to read the whole of A Discourse, delivered April 12, 1797, at the Request of and Before the New-York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves, and Protecting such of them as have been or may be Liberated.

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The Glory of Christian Fellowship

As the Rev. Dr. William Buell Sprague worked to compile biographies of American pastors, he solicited submissions from other pastors. The famous Princeton Seminary professor Samuel Miller submitted a number of such recollections and among them, this eulogy on the life of the Rev. Alexander McLeod, a most remarkable Reformed Presbyterian pastor. Dr. McLeod died in 1833, the year that the Reformed Presbyterian denomination split. In that division, McLeod’s son, John Niel McLeod, sided with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod, a denomination which later merged with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church [1956-1965] to form the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), and the RPCES merged in with the PCA in 1982, thus making all of that history a part of the history of the PCA :—

Neagle-Sartain portraitFROM THE REV. SAMUEL MILLER, D.D.

Theological Seminary, Princeton. January 30,1849.

Rev. and dear Sir : In thinking of the appropriate subjects of the large work on Clerical Biography in  which you have  for some time been engaged, I of course expected you to include a notice of the life and character of the late Alexander McLeod, D.D., of the city of New York.  Few names among the departed have a higher claim to a place in your list, than the name of that distinguished divine.  When, therefore, I was requested, as one who had enjoyed the privilege of an early acquaintance and friendship with him, to make my humble contribution towards embalming his memory, I felt as if an honour had been conferred upon me, which I could not too promptly or cor­dially acknowledge.

You will no doubt be furnished from another source with all the desirable historical notices concerning his nativity, his education, and the leading events of his literary and ecclesiastical life. On these, therefore, I shall not dwell ; but shall content myself with merely stating my general impressions and esti­mate of his character, as a Man and as a Minister of the Gospel.

mcleod01My acquaintance with Dr. McLeod commenced in the year 1801, soon after he had accepted a pastoral charge in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the city of New York, where I then resided. I had never before heard of him; but my first interview with him gave him a place in my mind seldom assigned to one so youthful.  His countenance beaming at once with intelligence and benevolence, his attractive manners and his conversation, though marked with a modesty becoming his age, yet abounding in evidence of intellectual vigour and unusual literary culture, mature theological knowledge and decided piety, made an impression on me which I shall never forget. This impression was confirmed and deepened by all my subsequent intercourse with him.

At the period of which I speak, there was a Clerical Association in the city of New York, which was in the habit of meeting on Monday morning of each week. This Association comprehended most of the ministers of the different Presbyterian denominations in the city. The exercises consisted of prayer, conversation, both general and prescribed, and reading compositions on impor­tant subjects. In this delightful Association I was so happy as to enjoy, for ten or twelve years, the privilege of meeting with Dr. McLeod weekly, and seeing him in company and conversation with the Pastors venerable for their age and standing, in that day; and I must say that the longer I continued to make one of the attendants on those interviews, the higher became my esti­mate of his various accomplishments as a Scholar, a Christian, and a Divine.

Dr. McLeod had a remarkably clear, logical and comprehensive mind. As a Preacher, he greatly excelled.  For, although he seldom wrote his sermons, and never read them in public, yet they were uncommonly rich and instruc­tive, and at the same time animated, solemn, and touching, in their appeals to the conscience and the heart.  As a Writer, his printed works are no less honourable to his memory. His Lectures on the Prophecies, his Sermons on the War of 1812, and his Discourses on the Life and Power of true Godliness, to say nothing of other publications of real value, though of minor size, all evince the richly furnished Theologian, the sound Divine, and the experimen­tal Christian, as well as the polished and able Writer. So great indeed was his popularity in the city of New York, far beyond the bounds of his own ecclesiastical denomination, that several of the most wealthy and respectable churches in the city, in succession, invited him to take the pastoral office over them.  His attachment, however, to that branch of the Presbyterian Body in which he began his ministerial career, was so strong that he never could be persuaded to leave her communion.

After I left New York, on my removal to Princeton, in the year 1813, I rarely visited the city, and almost always in the most transient manner, so that, after that year, I seldom saw Dr. McLeod. I had only two or three short interviews with him at different and distant intervals. In a few years his health became impaired, and not long after so fatally undermined, that he exchanged his ministry on earth for the higher enjoyments and rewards of the sanctuary above.  In the retrospect of my life, I often call to mind the image of this beloved and cherished friend, and dwell upon his memory as that of a great and good man, from my intercourse with whom I am conscious of having derived solid advantage as well as much pleasure.  But I, too, must soon ” put off this tabernacle,” and then I trust we shall be re-united in a better world, and be permitted to study and to enjoy together, to all eternity, the wonders and the glories of that redeeming love, which I have so often heard him exhibit with feeling and with power while he was with us.

That  you  and I, my dear Sir, may be more and more prepared  for that blessedness, is the unfeigned prayer of your friend and brother in Christ,

SAMUEL

Words to Live By:
What a wonderful privilege and gift is the fellowship that Christians share with one another. Cultivate it wherever you can, and don’t neglect it. It is a beautiful fruit of our union with Christ, that in our belonging to the Savior, so we belong to one another and share with one another all the joys and all the trials of this life. More than that, we share in our common love of a Savior who first loved us and died for us, that we might have fellowship with Him throughout all eternity. Beloved, pray for one another. Pray particularly for your brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer daily because of the salvation which is found in Jesus Christ alone.

For Further Study:
One of Rev. McLeod’s more notable works, Negro Slavery Unjustifiable, is posted on the PCA Historical Center web site in PDF format. This same text is available elsewhere on the Internet, but this particular edition faithfully retains the pagination of the original 1802 printing line for line, and may be used for citations. Additionally, annotations have been added in a light gray text to illuminate some of Rev. McLeod’s references.

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The Important Ministry of Ruling Elders

miller01 copyWith a lineage from the Mayflower, Samuel Miller was born in 1769.  Reared in a family of nine, in the home of a minister, he was home schooled and eventually studied at the University of Pennsylvania.  After prayer and fasting, he decided to enter the Christian ministry.  With his minister father, his home schooling in theology was a natural arrangement, and he was soon ordained to be a Presbyterian minister.  Serving as the pastor of a New York city congregation, he became convinced of the need to ordain ruling elders just as the church had long ordained teaching elders.

On January 10, 1809, he presided over the first ordination of ruling  elders in a congregation in New Jersey.  That same year, he preached a sermon on “The Divine Appointment, the Duties, and the Qualifications of Ruling Elders.”  This theme eventually became a book in 1831.  This fundamental conviction was communicated to countless students when Samuel Miller was appointed to be the second professor at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1813.  Hear him as he enunciates his position:

“And as the members of the church session, whether assembled in their judicial capacity or not, are the pastor’s counselors and colleagues in all matters relating to the spiritual rule of the church, so it is their official duty to encourage, sustain, and defend him in the faithful discharge of his duty.  It is deplorable when a minister is assailed for his fidelity by the profane and the worldly, if any portion of the eldership either takes part against him, or shrinks from his active and determined offense.  It is not meant, of course, that they are to consider themselves bound to sustain him in everything he may say or do, whether right or wrong, but that, when they believe him to be faithful, both to truth and duty, they should feel it is their duty to stand by him, to shield him from the arrows of the wicked, and to encourage him as far as he obeys Christ.”

[Above right: Title page of Miller’s work on the ruling elder, as it appeared in the 1832 reprint.]

Words to Live By: “It is the elder’s official duty to encourage, sustain, and defend (the teaching elder) in the faithful discharge of his duty.” – Samuel Miller

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