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.