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The modernism of the 20th century did not arise overnight. Lest someone think the current battles are anything new, here is evidence that truly there is nothing new under the sun. The battles we face today have deep roots in literally centuries of unbelief and the rejection of Scripture’s truth. 

A New Faith and an Old Folly
By the Rev. J.A. Waddell, D.D.
[The Central Presbyterian 30.35 (20 March 1895): 2.]

President Eliot, of Harvard, has written very hopefully and confidently concerning the prospects of the American Union. Among other encouraging signs, he refers to a new type of Christianity, which he represents as rapidly progressing amongst us. This revolution, as he calls it, has been effected since the beginning of the present century. The characteristic of the liberal Christianity seems to consist in a new conception of God, and new views of human life. God is no longer, as in ages past, regarded as a Judge who will call the impenitent to account; and life is not a season of preparation for a happier sphere. “By the multitude of the unchurched, also, it is generally understood that there is no angry God to propitiate, and that the only way to take securities for the morrow, whether in life or in death, is to do well the duties of to-day.” Without explicit statement of belief, and by the light of these shadowy hints, it is easy to see that the revolution in which he rejoices is a complete rejection of what the Bible teaches concerning condemnation and atonement.

President Eliot is high authority. His statement is questionable only as to the extent of the apostasy which he recognises and welcomes. Advocates are naturally apt to exaggerate the success of the cause they represent. But there is no doubt of the fact, that New England thought, if not that of the whole North, is largely infected with radical disloyalty to Christianity, as it is written in the sacred oracles. I do not propose to discuss this obvious trend of opinion on religious subjects, except in a single aspect. It is a part of a vast aggregate of popular error, that has thoroughly mastered the mind of many of the devotees of light literature in that region. The literati of New England, as a distinct class from the great thinkers of the land, are, with few exceptions, under the false impression that no equal area in the world can compare with their section in wisdom. The assumption of superiority to foreigners, by the Chinese literary class, is not more pronounced. This complacency is manifested, consciously and unconsciously on all subjects, and religion does not escape. With few exceptions, they concur in regarding the divine authority of the Scriptures as an untenable dogma, and erect self-consciousness into a final criterion.

This “revolution” in political, moral, and religious thoughts, which the President of Harvard regards with so much satisfaction, is set forth as the basis of his sanguine hopes for the country. We consider it, on the contrary, a very ominous portent of peril to our free institutions. The Bible is their chief bulwark, in the estimation of the most capable and devout patriots. The self-consciousness of enthusiasts cannot save us from the dangers that frown upon us on every hand. We are fully assured that the literary class are repeating the folly which has wrecked all the hopes of mankind in every age of the past. All experience proves that human effort for civilization and freedom is vain without the truth revealed from heaven. But the new philosophy substitutes for it the broken reed of spontaneous reform. It promises a perfection of our nature, only to be attained, if ever, at the close of an unmeasurable evolution, under which countless generations must pass away. It bids us turn our attention, not to the hopes set before us in the gospel, but to the indefinite results of our earthly lives. And to the individual, it holds out the prospect of a happy future, procured for himself by himself, through a life spent in doing good, as taught in the school of New England philosophy. All the Christian doctrines are more or less obscured or obliterated. God’s sovereignty is supplanted by his natural fatherhood, and the idea of reward and retribution is treated as purile. The piety that abases itself under a sense of sin, and trembles at God’s word, is represented as obsolete, and heaven and hell are mere metaphors to express the natural law that virtue promotes happiness!

This “liberal Christianity” which promises so much for our country to the optimistic mind, is, in short, nothing more than the distilled essences of natural religion and philosophy, with little or no regard for the Bible, newly put up as a spiritual perfume, to delight the nostrils of a generation intoxicated with imaginary sucess.

In opposition to this “revolution,” I maintain that society cannot be regenerated, or sinners be saved, in any way but that revealed in the gospel. I refuse to argue the matter. The problem has been attempted with conspicuous failure in every nation of the world. Man cannot save himself. The cultivators of light literature and a rose-colored philosophy, are deceiving themselves, and misleading others, with fanciful dreams of a perfection never to be realized. If they are right, Christ was wrong. The “leaves for the healing of the nations” are on “the tree of life,” and not in the novelettes and magazines of the hour. “The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” The American Union, if destined to survive, cannot prosper and remain free, independently of a Bible with a cross in it, distinct dogmas of revealed truth, teaching man his lost condition, and pointing him to a divine Saviour. It is not true, as President Eliot seeks to convince us, that society is improving through the influence of the new ideas in religion. Crime and vice are horribly prevalent in those very centres where their points ought to be manifested. No signs are visible of the altruistic millennium. Agitators and reformers, in societies without end, are at work unceasingly upon the corrupt mass of sinning and suffering humanity; and still the moral putrescence continues unchecked except so far as regenerating grace, breathing through the gospel, here and there infuses its spiritual life into dying souls. If the Bible were banished, the country would perish.

This “revolution” lacks nothing but general prevalence to be far more disastrous than any political crisis. It is a radical change in the basis of morals. In its most consistent form, it is atheistical, since it rejects God as a moral governor. Its central doctrine is that virtue is to be practiced for its own sake, and not as Christ teaches, to please the Father. The motive of all moral action is thus converted into a self-satisfying sentiment of conformity to a standard of righteousness erected by each individual for himself. In fact this philosophy contradicts the gospel of our Lord at almost every point, and instead of regarding God as “the rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” represents him as little more than an abstraction of goodness. Before we can confide in the sufficiency of so novel an experiment, we have a right to demand an example of its success. We ought to be referred to some happy community in which Christianity is ignored, and the new philosophy substituted in its place. The Bible teaches us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and our Saviour says, “Whosoever shall do the will of God the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” For eighteen centuries the saints have been seeking to obey these blessed precepts, and the wicked have refused to submit to them. But now we are urged to subvert the whole system of morals and government, and forsake our relations to the Almighty, as the ruler and judge of men, and the giver of every good and perfect gift. The new theory bids us do good for the self-satisfaction it affords, and not to satisfy the demands of a lawgiver. It proposes to reform society and eradicate its evils, by means of agitation and instruction. The chief end of man is, to mount a hobby, and keep it in a gallop. But it is madness to adopt a remedy based on a mere theory. Let us have the facts of its efficacy upon communities. If an abstraction is more efficient in regenerating society than a holy God and a bleeding Redeemer, the power of its influence ought to be easily demonstrated, not by fine writing, which can never equal the Scriptures, but by substantial results in healing the evils and miseries of man.

[Emphasis added.]

Remembering Premise Magazine Online

In Periodicals on 13/08/2011 at 19:27

[Note: We seem to be running a day behind. Our software has a glitch and doesn’t post as scheduled. Our apologies for the delay.]

At my request, Dr. David W. Hall has very kindly provided a brief history of PREMISE, an exceptionally early web-based magazine which ran from 1994-1999.  Some exceptional content posted under the PREMISE banner, and the PCA Historical Center has providentially been able to preserve that content. Select portions will post either on this blog or elsewhere on the Historical Center’s web site in the future.  And now to Dr. Hall’s telling of the history of that effort.

The Short History of CAPO and Premise

by Dr. David W. Hall

August 13, 2011

In what seems like a land far away and in a time long ago, there once was publishing without the internet. Moreover, few reformed organizations seized that day. Thanks to a providential location for ministry and being surrounded by some very talented people, this pastor of a small church was able to participate in some of the unfolding of a new medium.

I was called to pastor the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in the spring of 1984. Possessing only low-tech skills and a humanities orientation, ironically I went to this historically high-tech community, filled with scientists and world-class technical researchers. I was steeped in liberal arts courses but a technical illiterate. My elders dragged me onto the information highway in its infant days, and with their support, we were able to form the first Reformed online journal, Premise, in 1994 (and continued through 1999). The Kuyper Institute started publishing its online briefings and analysis in the late summer of 1994, just prior to a sweeping congressional sea change.

Premise, however, was but one feature of the work of the larger domain: The Center for the Advancement of Paleo Orthodoxy (then www.capo.org). We chose the name to make two statements: first, we were not headed toward “neo”-anything. The content of our publishing was decidedly old school and traditionalist. In fact, anticipating our critics’ parries, our first banner logo featured a dinosaur. Our intent (and confession) was this: “Okay, yes, we’re old school. Got it. Now, what’s the rational argument after we’ve been pegged?” Second, CAPO was an online think tank, with seven different divisions. Each of those seven departments, aptly named after a great theologian or practitioner from our tradition, needed, we thought, a revival of reformed theology to renew its core. The seven different Institutes (see more below) were:

  1. The Calvin Institute for Theology
  2. The Kuyper Institute for Politics
  3. The Augustine Institute for Ethics
  4. The Van Til Institute for Apologetics
  5. The Newton Institute for Science
  6. The Groen Van Prinsterer Institute for History
  7. The Burke Institute for Economics

Yes, it was an ambitious vision that was never fully realized, although the fine articles which populated our e-pages were not only cutting edge for that day but also composed by a rising generation of evangelical scholars and organizational leaders. Ruling elder and friend (now Dr.) Mark Buckner was the primary poster, the brains, and the entire technical department; without him, there would have been no CAPO.

Still, Premise may have been the most widely read of our organs. That monthly magazine, first published in December 1994, featured editorials, essays, book reviews, substantive theological articles, political briefings, sermons, chapters from forthcoming works, and other writings. At the time, although we were unsuccessful, we sought to drag other fine reformed ministries and educational institutions onto the internet. However, after a few years, many ministries came to realize that the internet was neither a fad among college students nor reserved for the military.

Little could most elders predict how wide ranging and developed internet publishing would become. Those of us who ventured onto the internet a decade before the explosion of blogs were on new technical turf, despite our protestation to the contrary that in the realms of ideas there was nothing new under the sun.

This was in the day before Amazon was launched. And very few newspapers were online. I remember when Mosaic software was the first truly graphical interface and how much that advanced our online publishing. I recall a time before Microsoft had web publishing software and the time before either Mozilla or Internet Explorer. Yet, we did think the day would come when personalized news services were available and information would be interlinked. Moreover, the international access led to stunning missiological possibilities.

With gratitude to God for all his gifts, thus, I am happy to dedicate the digital version of Premise to the PCA Historical Center, both with my thanks to that organization and to its director, Mr. Wayne Sparkman.


The explanations from our home page were:

CAPO is the umbrella organization, which provides funding, direction, and facilities for:


The Kuyper Institute for Politics is named for Dutch pastor and politician Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). It focuses on applying biblical standards to politics, particularly House and Senate races. Regular briefings by email are available. To subscribe send an email message to:
with SUBSCRIBE CAPO-L in the body of the message.

Back issues and other studies remain posted, providing a unique timely biblical analysis of American politics. Among all the other political think tanks, The Kuyper Institute is unique in this: It alone has been created and developed to promote a distinctively Christian critique of modern politics.

The Calvin Institute for Theology, is named after John Calvin (1509-1564). It contains essays on various historical periods of theology and offers in-depth analysis and critique. Included are essays on current themes, historical essays, bibliographies, and numerous other studies, providing a unique online theological repository.

The Van Til Institute for Apologetics is our center for the reasoned defense of the historic Christian faith. Named for a ground-breaking 20th century apologist, Cornelius Van Til, this center provides some of the finest cutting edge scholarship in the world. This center serves an international community with the highest caliber of thoughtful apologetic studies and resources.

The Augustine Institute for Ethics specializes in, medical, legal, and philosophical ethical issues. Named after Augustine of Hippo (354-430), this center concentrates on applying the most solid of ethical criteria to modern issues, frequently contrasting the two philosophical oppositions observed by Augustine: The City of God or the City of Man. Current, analytic, and systematic studies are contained.

The Burke Institute for Economics seeks to apply historic Christian norms to economics. This center honors the work of Edmund Burke (1729-1797). Long under-appreciated in terms of its impact, economic theory and practice is as value-laden as anything else. This center seeks to champion a biblical approach to economics in theory and practice.

The Groen Van Prinsterer Institute for Historyfollows the method of Dutch thinker Guillaume Groen Van Prinsterer (1801-1876). Recognizing the two major philosophical explanations in modern times as either an Enlightenment humanism or a Reformation base, this center collects numerous essays on a widerange of historical subjects.

The Newton Institute for Science. Few areas need more attention than science. Isaac Newton (1642-1717) applied scripture to science; this center encourages the same by its thoughtful studies on the interface of science and Christianity.

CAPOFellows included:

Stanley Bamberg, Ph.D., Fellow
Doug Bandow, J.D., Sr. Fellow
* Michael Bauman, Ph. D., Research Fellow
* E. Calvin Beisner, M.A., Fellow
* Joel Belz, M.A., Distinguished Fellow
Mark Buckner, M.S., Ph.D., Research Fellow
* J. Ligon Duncan, III, Ph. D., Fellow
Nick Eicher, Fellow
Darwin Glassford, Ph.D., Fellow
T. David Gordon, Ph.D., Fellow
* George Grant, Ph. D., Distinguished Fellow
David Hall, M. Div., Sr. Fellow
Michael S. Horton, Ph. D., Fellow
* Frank James, Ph.D., Fellow
Doug Jones, M.A., Fellow
Reggie Kidd, Ph.D., Fellow
Peter Leithart, M.A., Fellow
* Peter Lillback, Ph.D., Research Fellow
R. Russell Miller, M.S., Research Fellow
* Marvin Olasky, Ph.D., Sr. Fellow
F. Edward Payne, M.D., Fellow
M. Dale Peacock, J.D., Fellow
Patrick S. Poole, Fellow
Tim Rake, M.Div., Fellow
W. Duncan Rankin, Ph. D., Fellow
R. C. Sproul, Jr., M. A. Fellow
Hilton Terrell, M. D., Ph. D., Fellow
Timothy Terrell, M. A., Fellow

2011 Note: those marked by an asterism (*) went on to lead major reformed or evangelical organizations.

Our motto was: Looking for Wisdom as Ancient as the Scriptures.”Since June of 1994.

And our front page introduced our work as follows:

The Center for the Advancement of Paleo Orthodoxy

An Innovative
. . . high-tech
. . . Electronic
. . . Analytic
. . . On-line Archive and
. . . Publishing Forum
. . . With Serious and
. . . Distinctively biblical perspectives.

Mailing Address and Offices
190 Manhattan Ave.
Oak Ridge, TN 37830
Phone: (423) 482-7549
Fax: (423) 483-5581

Our Story:
In early 1994 an insightful Board conceived, funded, prepared, and launched the first evangelical think tank on the World Wide Web, a service that is . . .

  • as large as the world;
  • comprehensive enough to provide a worldview;
  • unsurpassed in terms of evangelical online scholarship and analysis;
  • consistently reflective of the ancient (paleo) biblical faith.

In terms of human thought, we agree with Solomon: Nihil novum sub sole (“There is nothing new under the sun.”)

With a consortium of 7 distinct think tanks, a monthly award-winning journal, numerous electronic publishings, and a publishing arm, and an online bookstore [2011 Note: This was pre-Amazon.com but we did not have the business savvy to develop this], this center combined the best of modern technology with proven truth.

The Center for the Advancement of Paleo Orthodoxy is a distinctively biblical and historic consortium of networked think tanks, publications, and scholars. The purpose of the Center, located in Oak Ridge TN, is to shed ancient biblical light on modern issues. Admidst the demise of modernity and postmodernism, CAPO is unconvinced that all earlier thinkers should automatically be excluded from modern discussions, as if moderns are inherently and categorically superior. CAPO reaches thousands of international readers per month and has won the following awards . . .

Christ Himself Is Our Comfort.

A difficult lesson, and a deep theology here, from the diary of the Rev. J. J. Janeway, a prominent Philadelphia pastor in the early 19th-century. 

Sabbath, August 12, 1810. 

“I have been examining myself with respect to my growth in grace, and I find, that although I have reason to mourn, that with the privileges I enjoy I make so small improvement in the Divine life, yet I make some. Blessed be God for it! Oh, to make more rapid advances! On Friday evening I felt much assisted in conducting worship in Mr. Bradford’s family. This day I preached on the great duty of forgiving our enemies. Oh, for a heart truly to forgive mine!

“The Lord was pleased to assist me at His table. I felt some movements of the affections, though not much. I was, however, enabled to act faith in the sacrifice of Christ, so as to have communion with Him in His broken body and shed blood, receiving them as broken and shed for me. My mind was composed, so that I was able to meditate. My confession respected sins, which I have for some time been in the habit of confessing, and my petitions respected blessings, which have for some time formed the burden of my prayers. I hope I prayed in faith, pleading the fulness, the death of Christ, the promises, and oath, and covenant of God, and my future destination to perfect purity. My mind one day last week seemed turned toward the grave, and it seemed that it would be a sweet resting-place. My heart is dreadfully depraved. What envy! What selfishness! I have endeavoured to mourn over them, and nail them to the cross of my Saviour. I pray to be delivered from them. Victories over them, I have, I trust, gained by divine grace, and this is my encouragement to carry on the conflict. Happy period, when I shall be freed from them entirely, and from all other sin!”

The first breach in Dr. Janeway’s family occurred at this time. A child of uncommon loveliness and promise was removed by death. His father returned from church in time to see him expire. There was much of comfort in his departure, and his father was enabled to resign him with humble confidence, into the hands of a gracious God. The lessons of submission which he had enforced on others, he now learned, and all the recorded exercises of his heart were in accordance with the calm dignity of his piety. Gone, but not lost! In glory before the throne, and not amid the sins of earth. On the next Sabbath he endeavoured to improve it to his people’s good, and to profit himself by God’s dealings.

The year closed by asking himself the question, “What comfort do I derive from religion?” and his answer was, that he was not favoured with those lively consolations which are the lot of some of God’s dear people; yet he could share in various ways in its comforts. He blesses God for the steady hope that he enjoyed, and that uneasy doubts seldom disturbed his serene peace. While God’s grace was the cause of this, yet, as a means to this blessed end, he recognizes frequent self-examination, and searching into the nature and evidences of a gracious state. Casting himself, and all his cares and anxieties upon God, with all the unfeigned resignation of a child who trusted in its father, he prays—God’s will be done, and give me grace to acquiesce.

Excerpted from THE LIFE OF DR. J. J. JANEWAY, pp. 176-177.

Words to Live By: 
Dearly beloved, are you pressing to know the Lord Jesus Christ better, to love Him more? Are you seeking after Him with your whole heart? He is your Comfort. Bring all your cares and anxieties and cast yourself upon God, “with all the unfeigned resignation of a child” who trusts in the Father, praying, “God’s will be done, and give me Thy grace.”

Indentured Servant and Iron Maker Signs the Declaration of Independence
by Rev. David T. Myers.

Born in Ireland on 1716, and one of eight signers who was foreign-born, George Taylor disappointed his minister father in educational plans to  become a doctor by sailing to  the American colonies. Indentured in service to  Samuel  Savage to work as a common laborer in his iron forge in the new country, his passage across  the Atlantic Ocean was paid. However his expertise as a book-keeper enabled him to move higher up in the company.  When the owner of Warrick Furnace and Coventry Forge died in 1742, Taylor’s had by this time risen in the company to become the  manager for the furnace and forge. He  married the owner’s widow, Ann Savage.

Working there for the next decade, he was marking time as the will of Samuel Savage dictated that his son would take over the business when he came of age.  In 1755, Taylor moved to Bucks County to take over an iron works company there.  From the latter, ammunition was provided to the colonies in the French and Indian War.

In the Bucks County deed book, there is a record which states that George Taylor, along with a number of others, purchased one acre of land to be used by the Presbyterian Church in Tinicum Township for a cemetery.  This is the first reference we have which speaks of George Taylor as a Presbyterian.

In 1764, Taylor began his political career, short as it was.  He served on various committees, picking up an opposition to the British government on the way.  Still working in the iron business, he was one of the first business men to supply ammunition to the Continental Army, though there were complaints that his cost was too steep.

It was on July 20, 1776, that he was elected to the Continental Congress, representing Pennsylvania.  Like many delegates, he signed the Declaration of Independence later than others, pledging his life and honor to the new nation, on August 2, 1776.

George Taylor died on February 23, 1781.  While his name is not found in the records of the Red Hill Presbyterian Church, it is likely that he was a member there, given the above  reference of the purchase of a cemetery for Red Hill Presbyterian Church.  Further, in the biography of the signers of the Declaration, the religious affiliation of Taylor is listed as Presbyterian.

Words to Live By: 
We don’t read of any pithy statements by this Presbyterian signer with respect to the Bible, or salvation through Christ alone, or other Christian convictions, such as is the case with other Presbyterian founders of our country.  Perhaps like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus of biblical days, he was a secret follower of Jesus.  We cannot commend that principle or practice.  But, like the two biblical characters, there were deeds of commitment to the Lord, as with George Taylor, who purchased  land for a Presbyterian cemetery.  For that we highlight him in this series of Presbyterian signers of the cardinal document of our American Independence.

With sincere apologies to our readers, we have been absent for several days due to some sort of bug or flaw in the software, which prevented our posting new content. Hopefully that problem is now solved (for good!).

Wise Words of Counsel

“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.”

These are the words of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller, of Princeton fame. The quote comes from what is to the best of our knowledge Dr. Miller’s first published work, a sermon delivered on the anniversary of the Independence of America, July 4, 1793. Alert readers will recognize this as a repeat of our post from earlier in January of this year, and we are posting it again in preface to the opening today of the Republican National Convention. Next Monday, we will similarly re-post another selection from among this year’s Election Day Sermon series, which has been presented to us by our guest author, Dr. David W. Hall, pastor of the Midway Presbyterian Church in Powder Springs, Georgia. 

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 portrait

Samuel 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/
t is also available as a photographic scan of an original copy, here.

Excerpts from Miller’s stirring conclusion are repeated here again, 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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