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.
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?
It was only a year before that Archibald Alexander had been taken under care of the Presbytery of Lexington, Virginia. He was young and extremely small in stature. In our day, such a move of spiritual oversight is usually granted by a Presbytery after it has heard your personal testimony, what God has done for you in Christ in your spiritual life, and an expression of your call to the ministry. In the eighteenth century however, it included all that, no doubt, and also a sermon preached before the presbytery.
On that occasion in October of 1790, Archibald Alexander stood before the esteemed members of this presbytery. The fact that the candidate before him had utterly failed to utter anything approaching a sermon, much less give any orderly address, didn’t seem to faze him. He stood up, without any idea of what he was going to say, and delivered an exhortation which astonished everyone present. In fact, after that occasion, he delivered “exhortation” after “exhortation” several times a week.
In the spring of 1791, Alexander was examined by the Presbytery of Lexington in his Latin and Greek knowledge. He had prepared an exegesis upon an assigned topic, and read it to the brethren. He delivered a speech to the Presbytery as well. It was then moved that he be assigned a text to preach at the next meeting of the Lexington Presbytery.
At that time, on September 20, 1791, the time had arrived for his proclamation before his elders, both in age and office, on the assigned theme, which was Jeremiah 1:7, “Say not, I am a child.” And indeed, he seemed but a little boy, but the effect of his trial sermon, quickly put that to rest. There was authority in the proclamation of the Word of God. It was no wonder then that at the next presbytery meeting in Winchester, he was licensed to preach the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Words to live by: If you have an opportunity, attend a Presbytery meeting as a visitor soon, especially one in which a candidate is brought under care, or licensed for the gospel ministry, or ordained by one of our conservative presbyteries. You will see the care which the church gives to its candidates, that they be sound in doctrine, proficient in the Westminster Standards, and practical in their understanding of their calling. It will be a day well spent.
Archibald Alexander served as moderator of the nineteenth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. With his departing sermon at the following year’s Assembly, Alexander made the case for the creation of a seminary, in keeping with a growing sentiment in the Presbyterian Church. Princeton Theological Seminary was founded in 1812 and the General Assembly almost unanimously voted Alexander its first teacher. He accepted and was inaugurated on August 12, 1812. Samuel Miller began teaching in 1813, and together the two men served as the anchors of education for the Presbyterian ministry until Miller’s death in 1849 and Alexander’s in 1851. Charles Hodge was the third professor at Princeton, and Alexander’s son, James Waddel Alexander, also served as professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.
“The inauguration . . took place on the twelfth day of August, 1812. It was an occasion of great solemnity and feeling. The older ministers, especially those to whom the direction was entrusted, looked with parental yearnings on the infant seminary, and none were more ready to hail with thankfulness and hope the approach of new means for training the ministry, than those excellent men who lamented the scantiness of their own early opportunities. But to none did the service of the day bring greater solicitude than to him who was about to put on armour for which he unaffectedly felt too weak. The first discourse was a sermon by Dr. [Samuel] Miller, of New-York, on the Duty of the Church to take measures for providing an Able and Faithful Ministry; from the words, “And the things which thou hast heard of men, among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also;” 2 Timothy, ii. 2. It was an able investigation of the question, what is to be understood by an able and faithful ministry, which was made to include piety, talents, learning and diligence; and of the means which the Church is bound to employ for providing such a ministry.
. . .The Inaugural Discourse of the Professor was founded on the words, “Search the Scriptures,” John v. 39; and was a learned argument in behalf of biblical study. In one respect the whole performance was true to the habit and character of the speaker; for it did not contain, from beginning to end, the faintest allusion to his own personality. All depreciation of censure, and all promise of fidelity, were equally absent. It was followed by a charge to the Professor and Students of Divinity, by the Rev. Philip Milledoler, D.D. . . . It is for the public to determine how far the work in which these good men then engaged, with such earnestness and many prayers, has conduced to the progress of religion and learning in the United States.
It was with an unfeigned reluctance that Dr. Alexander accepted the appointment. No man could entertain a higher estimate of the functions which awaited him; no man of eminence could think more humbly of himself. All his life long, he was free to acknowledge, that his training, however laborious, had lacked much of the rigor and method of the schools; and while he had pursued knowledge with enthusiasm, and in many fields, he knew that it had been with the neglect of certain forms which are supposed to give fitness for the academical chair. Theology had indeed been the study of his life. Its difficult questions had been the constant occupation of his profoundest meditations; and he had during his residence in Philadelphia gathered about him the great masters of Latin theology, whose works appeared in Holland, Switzerland, Germany, and France, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
A rare occasion for adding to his stock of Dutch theology was afforded by the sale [in 1813] of a library belonging to a learned minister from Holland, the Rev. Mr. Van Harlingen, of Somerset. . . These Reformed divines he regarded as having pushed theological investigation to its greatest length, and compacted its conclusions into the most symmetrical method. He was accustomed to say that in his judgment Reformed theology reached its culminating point about the epoch of the Synod of Dordrecht. To these great authors he turns with unabated zest during the whole of a long and studious life. He once said to the writer, that on a perplexed subject he preferred Latin to English reading; not only because of the complete and ingenious nomenclature which had grown up in the dialectic schools of the church, but because the little effort required for getting the sense kept his attention concentrated. It was indeed almost amusing to observe how he would hang over the massive quarto or folio, with all the awakened interest of a novel-reader. In consequence of the fiery controversy which characterized those times, and the scholastic acumen and philosophic adventure and logical exactness which belonged to the age, he considered these scholars as having anticipated most of the minor questions which have vexed the church in later times.”
Words to Live By: In his Introduction to Athanasius: On the Incarnation, C.S Lewis wrote these words on the value and place of reading older books.
“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.
This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.
Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
The Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander was born near Lexington, Va., on April 17, 1772. His classical and theological studies were pursued under the direction of the Rev. William Graham, of Liberty Hall, afterward Washington College. He was licensed to preach the gospel at the early age of nineteen. After spending a year or more in missionary labor according to the rules of the Synod, he was ordained and installed pastor of Briery Church, November 7, 1794. In 1796 he was chosen President of Hampden-Sydney College at the age of twenty-four. On May 20, 1807, he was installed pastor of the Pine Street Church, Philadelphia. In the same year, being thirty-five, he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly, and in his sermon made the suggestion of a Theological Seminary. In 1812 he was appointed Professor in the Theological Seminary just established at Princeton. Here he remained for the rest of his life.
Dr. Alexander was seized with his final illness in the summer of 1851. He died on October 22, 1851.
Dr. Alexander’s published writings are too numerous to recite here. We may only mention “History of the Colonization Society,” “Evidences of the Christian Religion,” “Thoughts on Religion,” “Counsels to the Aged,” “Practical Sermons.” He also published numerous tracts and was a frequent contributor to the Princeton Review.
Words to Live By: Our Lord calls us to bear the fruit of the Spirit in this life, giving evidence of the reality of our saving faith in Christ. We are not saved by our faithfulness, nor by our works, but if our trust in Christ as Savior is real, there will be evidence of that reality in our lives. We will die more and more to sin, and live more and more to righteousness.
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