April 8: Rev. James Patterson Miller

First Historian of the Associate Presbyterian Church

James Patterson Miller, the son of Hugh and Mary (Patterson) Miller, was born at King’s Creek, in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, on August 1st, 1792. His father, while he was not directly involved in the legendary Whiskey Rebellion, did apparently permit his house to serve as a refuge for some of those who were caught up in that affair. While James was still a young child at that time, he clearly remembered seeing two men in his home who, when visitors approached, would retreat to the upper loft and draw the ladder up behind them. His mother was sincere in her Christian faith and from his birth, prayed that the Lord would use James in the ministry of the Gospel.

James was educated at Jefferson College and graduated there in 1818. His studies were threatened when his mother died of dysentery and both he and his younger brother nearly died as well. In the years following graduation, he worked as a teacher, taking charge of several different academies, first in Virginia, and later in Ohio. Along the way he managed to secure some of his theological education, intending to become a pastor. but James also had a keen interest in politics. For a time he worked as editor of a political newspaper, but when his wife died in 1824, that loss made him realize his life’s purpose, and he was finally licensed to preach the very next year.

Miller was ordained in 1827 by the Presbytery of Muskingum, of the Associate Presbyterian Church. Initially he was installed as a home missionary, and a year later received a call to serve a congregation in Argyle, Washington county, New York. For twenty-one years he faithfully served this church.

One biographer notes that “Mr. Miller was a close and diligent student of the Bible in the original languages. He preferred to go to the fountain-head to find out exactly the mind of the Spirit, rather than trust any translation. Both himself and some of his children were in the habit of using the Greek Testament in family worship.”

Throughout his ministry, Rev. Miller exhibited a deep interest in missions, and at the advanced age of 59, he resigned his charge, preached his farewell sermon to a weeping congregation, and departed for the Oregon Territory. There in a small village of Albany, Oregon, where no church could be found and where the Sabbath was never recognized as a day of rest, Rev. Miller set about to establish a church. By 1853, a small congregation was meeting regularly. Miller preached his last sermon on April 2, 1854, speaking on the glories of Christ’s kingdom. Two days later, he made a trip to Portland, and on the return trip, on April 8th, the boiler of the steamboat exploded and Miller was killed instantly by a piece of iron hitting his head. Sadly, his wife and one of his children were present to witness the tragedy.

In 1839, Rev. Miller had compiled what must apparently be the earliest written history of the Associate Presbyterian Church, titled Biographical Sketches and Sermons of some of the First Ministers of the Associate Church in America. The Associate Church began in the American colonies in 1754, and then in 1858 it merged with the northern branch of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church to form the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

Words to Live By:
From the historical introduction to Rev. Miller’s Biographical Sketches, the following short quote seems pertinent to our larger purpose on this blog :

“But if the members of any society [i.e, denomination] are unacquainted with the particular history of their own body, they are in a great measure disqualified for discharging their duties as members. Every parent in the whole nation of Israel was required to explain to his children, the meaning and design of every historical monument that was erected to perpetuate any of God’s mercies wrought for that people. That parent in Israel, who could not do so, was incapable of performing his duty to his children, whose right it was to be instructed in the use and design of those things. Yea, he was incapable of discharging his duty to God, who required him thus to instruct his children.”

For Further Study:
Rev. Miller’s work, Biographical Sketches, can be found on the Internet, here.

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