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miller01 copyIt was on this day, August 26, in 1829 that the Rev. Dr. Samuel Miller delivered a sermon at the installation of the Rev. William Buell Sprague. While a student at Princeton, Sprague sat under the teaching of Drs. Alexander and Miller, and came to renounce the unitarian views he held as a young man. Miller and Sprague subsequently became life-long friends, with Miller preaching this sermon at Sprague’s installation as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in the city of Albany, New York. Rev. Sprague later brought the eulogy, in 1850, at Miller’s funeral.

The first several points of Dr. Miller’s sermon are reproduced below, with a link to the full text of Dr. Miller’s sermon provided at the end of today’s post.

Titus I. 9.   Holding fast the faithful word, as he hath been taught,
that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

The inspired Apostle is here giving directions concerning the proper character and qualifications of ministers of the Gospel. Some duties are common to all Christians; while others belong either exclusively, or in an eminent degree, to pastors and teachers.  The latter is the case with regard to the injunction implied in our text.  On all the disciples of Christ is laid the charge to “hold fast the faithful word;” but on the guides and rulers in the house of God is this obligation especially devolved; among other reasons, for this, that they “may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort, and to convince the gainsayers.”

By “the faithful word,” here spoken of, we are evidently to understand the pure, unadulterated doctrines of Christ; the genuine Gospel, as revealed by a gracious God for the benefit of sinful men.  Not the doctrines of this or the other particular denomination of Christians, as such, but the doctrines of the Bible. This system of doctrine is represented as that which we “have been taught.”  The Gospel which we preach, my friends, is not our Gospel.  We neither invented it, nor can we improve it.  “I certify you,” says the same Apostle who penned the words of our text —“ I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man.  For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The original word, here properly translated “hold fast,” is very strong and expressive in its import.  It signifies keeping a firm hold of any thing, in opposition to those who would wrest it from us.  Of course, it implies that Gospel truth is and will ever be opposed by enemies and “ gainsayers ;” and that maintaining and propagating truth must always be expected, in such a world as this, to require unceasing effort and conflict.

The general position of our text, then, is — That the Ministers of our holy Religion, if they desire to convince, to convert, or to edify their fellow-men, are solemnly bound to maintain for themselves, and diligently to impart to those around them, “ sound doctrine,” or, in other words, the genuine truths of the gospel.

To illustrate and confirm this position, let us, first, inquire, why we ought to maintain sound doctrine ; and, secondly, how it ought to be maintained ; or in what manner, and by what means ? I. The first inquiry which demands our attention, is,—why ought we to maintain sound doctrine? Why is it important that all believers, and Ministers of Religion in particular, should hold fast the faithful word ? And here, let me ask,

1.  Can any thing more be necessary to establish the duty before us, than the consideration thatthe faithful wordof which we speak is from God ; that it was given to us for our temporal and eternal benefit ; and, of course, given, not to be disregarded, but to be respected, studied, loved, and diligently applied to the great purposes for which it was revealed ? To suppose that we are at liberty lightly to esteem such a gift, coming from such a source ; or that we commit no sin in voluntarily permitting a deposit so precious to be corrupted, perverted, or wrested from us, is a supposition equally dishonourable to God, and repugnant to every dictate of reason.

2.  But further ; “ holding fast” the genuine system of revealed truth, is frequently and solemnly commanded by the great God of truth. Both the Old Testament and the New abound with injunctions to this amount. In the former, we are exhorted to “ cry after knowledge, and lift up our voice for understanding ; to seek it as silver, and search for it as for hid treasures.” We are exhorted to “buy the truth, and not to sell it.”  And they are highly commended who are represented as “ valiant for the truth.” In the latter, the language of the Holy Spirit is, “ Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast received.” And again, “ Contend earnestly for the faith”—that is, the revealed doctrine which is the object of faith—“ once delivered to the saints.”  And again, “ Be not carried about with every wind of doctrine, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” And again, “ Hold fast the profession of your faith firm without wavering.” And again, “ If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine”—that is, the true doctrine of Christ—“ receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed ; for he that biddeth him God speed, is a partaker of his evil deeds.” Nay, the inspired Apostle pronounces, “ If any man come unto you, and bring any other Gospel” — that is, any other system of doctrine concerning the salvation by Christ—“ than that which ye have received, let him be accursed.”
[* Prov. ii. 3, 4; Prov. xxiii. 23; Jer. ix. 3; II.  Tim. i. 13; Jude 8; Eph. iv. 14; Heb. x. 23; II.  John, 10, 11; Gal. i. 9.]

3.  The obligation to “ hold fast” the genuine doctrines of the Gospel, appears from considering the great importance which the Scriptures every where attach to evangelical truth.

I am aware that it is a popular sentiment with many who bear the Christian name, that doctrine is of little moment, and that practice alone is all in all.  But such persons surely forget that there can be no settled and habitual good practice, without good principles ; and that sound, correct doctrine, is but another name for sound principle.  Take away the  doctrines of the Gospel, and you take away its essential character.  You take away every thing that is adapted to en-lighten, to restrain, to purify, to console, and to ele-vate.  Take away the doctrines of our holy Religion, in other words, the great truths of which the “ glad tidings of great joy” are composed, and you take away the essence of the whole message ;—the seed of all spiritual life ; the aliment on which every believer lives ; the vital principles of all experimental piety, and of all holy practice.  What is Faith, but cordially embracing, with confidence and love, the great truths concerning duty and salvation which the Scriptures reveal ?  What is Repentance, but a holy sorrow for sin, founded on a spiritual perception of those doctrines concerning God, his character, his law, and the plan of mercy which his word proclaims ?  What is Hope, but looking forward with holy desire and expectation to that “ exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” which “ the truth as it is in Jesus” freely offers to our acceptance ?  What, in short, is Religion, in the largest sense of the term, but the combination of “ knowledge of the truth,” “ love of the truth,” and “ walking in the truth ?” What is it but having just apprehensions of those great Objects which are revealed in Christian doctrine ; just affections and desires toward them ; and acting out these desires and affections in the temper and life ? No wonder, then, that when the impenitent are converted, they are said to “ come to the knowledge of the truth ;” that they are said to be “ born again by the word of truth ;” to be “ made free by the truth,” and to “ obey the truth ;”—by all which expressions we are plainly taught, that truth, or, which is the same thing, Christian doctrine, is the grand instrument, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, by which spiritual life is begun, carried on, and completed in every subject of redeeming grace.

Hence it is, that the scriptures every where represent bringing the truth, in some way, to men, as absolutely necessary to their conversion and salvation.  “ How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard ?” Hence they so plainly teach us, that there can be no real piety where the fundamental  doctrines of the Gospel are not embraced.  “ Whosoever abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.”  On this principle, too, it is, that the inspired volume, with awful emphasis, declares certain “ heresies” to be “ damnable”—that is, inevitably destructive to the souls of men. And on the same principle it is, that all Scripture, and all experience teach us, that wherever the preaching and the prevalence of true doctrine has declined, there piety, immediately, and in a corresponding ratio, has declined ; good morals have declined ; and all the most precious interests of the church and of civil society, have never failed to be essentially depressed.

We cannot, indeed, undertake to pronounce how much knowledge of sound doctrine is necessary to salvation ; or how much error is sufficient to destroy the soul.  But we know, from the nature of the case, and especially from the word of God, that all error, like poison, is mischievous, and, of course, ought to be avoided. I know not, indeed, how large a quantity of a given deleterious drug might be necessary, in a particular case, to take away life : but of one thing there can be no doubt, that it is madness to sport with it, and that the less we take of it the better. As nothing but nutritious food will support the animal body ; so nothing but Zion’s provision, which is truth, can either commence, or sustain “ the life of God in the soul of man.”

. . . 

To read the full sermon, click the link below:—

Miller, Samuel, Holding Fast the Faithful Word: A Sermon, Delivered in the Second Presbyterian Church in the city of Albany, August 26, 1829, at the installation of the Reverend William B. Sprague, D.D., as pastor of the said church. Albany; Packard and Van Benthuysen, 1829., 49 pp.

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Mercy Gives Rise to Atonement.

ThornwellJH_smAn important sermon by the Southern Presbyterian pastor and professor, James Henley Thornwell. The text of this sermon, as originally printed, was 72 pages long and it probably took Dr. Thornwell close to two hours to deliver this message, even if speaking at a fast rate. But getting past the length of his message, there is much here that is worth your time. It may seem to start slowly, and the reading may be challenging, but Thornwell quickly gets up to speed, and the content is good, solid theology drawn directly from Scripture. [Emphasis has been added for a key point toward the end of this transcript].

A Sermon, preached in the Chapel of the South Carolina College, on the 1st day of December, 1844.
by James H. Thornwell, Professor of Sacred Literature and Evidences of Christianity.
Published by Request.
Columbia: Printed by Samuel Weir, at the Southern Chronicle Office, 1845.


Romans 1:16.

For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth.”

The exultation and triumph with which the Apostle was accustomed to contemplate the provisions of the gospel show, that, to his mind, the scheme of redemption unfolded the perfections of the Divine character in an aspect of benignity to sinners, equally unexpected and glorious. The freshness of interest and intensity of enthusiasm, with which he habitually dwelt upon the Cross, were such as are wont to be elicited by a combination, in objects, of novelty and importance.—From it he had received full satisfaction upon questions which had awakened a deep curiosity and baffled the resources of his wisdom to resolve. A light had been reflected from the Person and Offices of Christ, which dissipated doubts that had painfully perplexed him, and revealed a prospect which might well endear to him a crucified Redeemer and change the current of his life. Discarding the refined system of licentiousness which renders the happiness of man a more important object than the moral government of God, and makes the distinctions between right and wrong mutable and arbitrary to save the guilty from despair, he assumes, in the masterly exposition, which he gives us, of the economy of grace, as the fundamental principle of his whol argument, the inseparable connection between punishment and guilt.—”The wrath of God,” he informs us, “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”—”who will render to every man according to his deeds—unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.”

If sin be, in every instance, the object of Divine indignation; and such we perceive is the statement of the Apostle; it would seem to be impossible even for God, consistently with the perfections of His Own nature, to save the guilty from its doom. If every man must receive according to his deeds, and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, the universality of guilt would seem to close the door upon every prospect of hope. Nature, at least, left the resources of her own strength, must always entertain distressing apprehensions, that perfection of government and the power of pardon are mutually destructive of each other, and that whatever, consequently, might be the mercy of God, He could hardly be expected to yield to its impulse at the expense of justice, holiness and truth. To those who are impressed with the magnitude of sin, the purity of God and the stern inflexibility of the divine law, the possibility of pardon is a question fraught with the profoundest interest and veiled in impenetrable gloom. It is the glory of the gospel to remove the perplexities of unaided reason, and to explain the method by which God can be just and, at the same time, justify those who are ungodly. On this account it is styled by the Apostle the power of God unto salvation. This expression he seems to have employed as an exact definition of the scheme of redemption. The gospel is not to be regarded as a simple revelation of the mercy of God and His ability to pardon; it is itself His power as a Saviour. The implication is irresistible that by the rich provisions of its grace and by them alone can the Lord deliver from going down to the pit; that, apart from the righteousness revealed to faith, Jehovah Himself, has not the power to receive the guilty into favour; that the mediation of Christ was the wonderful device of infinite wisdom to enable the Almighty, in consistency with justice, to save the lost. The phraseology of the text is a favourite mode in which the Apostle describes the mystery of the Cross. “For the preaching of the Cross,” he declares in his first Epistle to the Corinthians—”is to them that perish, foolishness, but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God. The Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To the same purport is a passage in Isaiah, in which Jehovah Himself solemnly refers to the grace of the gospel as constituting His strength to save from death. The disobedient and unprofitable, addressed under the symbol of briers and thorns, are exhorted to make their peace with God and what is remarkable they are directed to do so by “taking hold of His strength.” Now as faith in the Divine Redeemer is the only means to tranquility of conscience; as there is no peace to those who are strangers to the blood of the covenant, Jehovah’s strength, is evidently the same as the atonement of His Son. There lay His power to save; and independently of that, He could only be as a devouring flame to briers and thorns. “Who wold set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together; or let him take hold of my strength that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.”

The Apostle, in his Epistle to the Galatians, seems to me directly to assert, that no scheme could have been devised, independently of the work of the Son of God, by which salvation could have been effected. “If there had been a law given, which could have given life, verily, righteousness should have been by the law; but the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” No method, in other words, could have been adopted, even in the plentitude of infinite power, by which God could acquit the guilty without the righteousness which His law demands’ and as such a righteousness is wholly impossible to human obedience, it must be secured by the mediation of a substitute. God cannot dispense with the claims of justice. His power to save is moral in its nature and cannot be exerted, cannot, in truth, be said to exist, while the law pronounces the sentence of death. The reasoning here is precisely analogous to that which succeeds the declaration of the text. The Gospel he pronounces to be the power of God unto Salvation, because “therein the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, the just shall live by faith.”

Such language must appear to those enigmatical and strange who view Christianity as little better than a republication of natural religion. Unaccustomed to the awful convictions of the malignity of sin and the holiness of God, which the enlightened understanding, through the pressure of conscience, is driven to adopt, they can perceive no difficulty in absolute forgiveness, and cannot consequently comprehend the mystery that restraints should be taken from the power of God, by the incarnation and death of the Redeemer. The necessity of the atonement, as assumed by the Apostle, is to them inexplicable jargon. The low views in which they indulge themselves, of the whole work and offices of the Saviour, are to be ascribed to imperfect apprehensions of the government of God. Their fundamental error consists in denying the need of satisfaction—in contemplating the Gospel in any other light than as “the power of God unto Salvation.” It is but a single step more, and the atonement itself is either formally discarded, or else frittered away through the subtle distinctions of philosophy and vain deceit. To appreciate aright the death and sufferings of Christ we must have a proper, if not an adequate, conception of the “needs be” into which He Himself resolved His undertaking; a needs be, which extended much farther than the fulfillment of prophecy; which had itself given rise to the predictions, in having given rise, in the depth of eternity, to the “counsel of peace.” We must enter into the meaning of the great Apostle when he measures the ability of God as a Saviour, by His power to provide a justifying righteousness.

The two great principles, on which the doctrine of atonement rests, are the inseparable connection between punishment and guilt, and the admissibility, under proper restrictions, of a surety to endure the curse of the law. The unpardonable nature of sin; the practicability of legal substitution, these are the pillars of the Christian fabric. In the first we acknowledge the indispensable necessity; in the other, the glorious possibility of an atoning Priest. In the first, we are taught the wages of sin; in the other, that they need not be reaped by ourselves. If the first were true to the exclusion of the second, eternal darkness would settle on the minds of the guilty; it is the second which opened the door of hope and furnished a field, magnificent and ample, in which God might display the resources of His wisdom and unfold the riches of His grace; be at once a just God and a Saviour.

The contemptuous confidence with which Sophists and Skeptics have denied the propriety of vicarious punishment, have evidently proceeded from the foolish apprehension that God, like ourselves, is bound to forgive upnn a confession of the fault. If these arrogant disputers of this world could be brought to feel the truth and severity of the first great principle on which the atonement has been stated to rest, they would cling to the second as the only anchor of hope; and instead of expending ingenuity in abortive efforts to undermine its strength, they would probably lay their learning under tribute to defend its fitness, while they permitted their heart to rejoice in its benignant aspect on the family of man. Let the position be firmly established that God can, by no means, clear the guilty; that sin must necessarily be punished, and all objections to the doctrine of suretyship would be given to the winds. To cling to them, under such circumstances, would be, with deliberate malice “to despise our own mercies.” The expectations of an easy pardon, secretly cherished, if not openly avowed, is the real source of pretended difficulties with “the righteousness of faith.” Hence, in discussing the doctrine of atonement, the foundations should be deeply and securely laid, in developing the Scriptural account of its necessity. Clear apprehensions upon this point would serve, at once, to define its nature, determine its extent, and put an end to cavils against its reality and truth.

The necessity of the atonement, it may be well to remark, is only the necessity of a means to an end.—The end itself, the salvation of the sinner, is, in no sense, necessary—that is the free and spontaneous purpose of Divine grace. Had all the tribes of men been permitted to sink into hopeless perdition, no violence would have been done to the nature of God, no breach been made in the integrity of His government. But the end having been determined, the death and obedience of Christ were indispensably necessary to carry it into execution : God could not receive the guilty into favor while the demands of His law were unsatisfied against them.

That the object of the atonement was to generate mercy in the Divine Being, to beget the purpose as well as the power to save, is the gratuitous caricature of those who have assailed the work, in order to deny the Divinity of the Redeemer. As well might it be pretended that the channel, which the torrent forces for itself among the rocks and declivities of the mountain, is itself the source of the impetuous current it conducts; or that the air, which daily transmits to us light and heat from the sun, is therefore the parent of these invaluable gifts. The mediation of Christ and the mercy of God are related to each other as cause and effect; but in an inverse order from that which is stated by Socinians; it is mercy that gives rise to atonement and not atonement that gives rise to mercy. The scriptural statement is: “God so loved the world, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His Only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitation for our sins.” It was not, therefore, the design of the atonement to make God merciful–He was merciful before; it was not to generate the purpose of salvation; that had existed in the bosom of Deity from all eternity. It object was to render the exercise of mercy consistent with righteousness, to maintain the stability of the Divine throne and preserve the integrity of the Divine government, while outlaws and rebels were saved from the fate which their transgressions deserved. It is not in the nature of God to take pleasure in the death of the wicked; it is equally remote from His nature to disregard the distinctions of moral conduct and treat the wicked as the righteous. The atonement, therefore, was necessary, not, as Socinians slanderously report that we affirm, to touch the Divine Mind with compassion for the miserable; but, supposing the compassion to exist, to prepare the way by which it might be freely indulged with honour to God and safety to His Law as well as blessedness to man. The Gospel springs from mercy; and all its mysterious arrangements are only the contrivances of infinite wisdom, instigated by infinite grace, to acquire the power to save.

To continue reading this sermon, click the link below:
A Sermon, preached in the Chapel of the South Carolina College, on the 1st day of December, 1844.
by James H. Thornwell, Professor of Sacred Literature and Evidences of Christianity.
Published by Request.
Columbia: Printed by Samuel Weir, at the Southern Chronicle Office, 1845.

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greenAshbelBorn in Hanover Township, New Jersey on July 6, 1762, Ashbel Green grew to become one of the more notable Presbyterians in the early years of this nation. During the Revolutionary War, he served with the New Jersey militia. Following the War, he studied theology under the Rev. John Witherspoon and graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1783.  From 1792 to 1800, he served as Chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives. And from 1812 to 1822, he served as President of the College of New Jersey. Rev. Green, who was closely tied to the establishment of the Princeton Theological Seminary, died on May 19, 1848.

Today’s sermon comes from a volume of Rev. Green’s, titled Practical Sermons, published in 1834.



1 Cor. 10:4 – “For they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.

By figurative representations some of the most important instructions of divine revelation are communicated. Under the typical dispensation of Moses especially, there was scarcely any public act, occurrence or institution, which did not import more than at first appeared; and while it served some obvious present purpose, did not point also to some more remote and hidden, but yet more spiritual and important object or end. This spiritual signification of the ancient Jewish symbols, though it was often perceived, and was highly beneficial to the believing Israelites, was not intended merely, nor perhaps principall, for their benefit. It is under the gospel dispensation that the intention of all the types is most clearly unfolded; so that by viewing them in retrospect, and with the advantage derived from the light of the gospel, more may be discovered by a Christian than could be known to a Jew.

To aid us in this useful investigation, the inspired writers of the New Testament often become our teachers and guides. They frequently advert to the Hebrew scriptures for the illustration and enforcement of what they deliver: and thus by a kind of double revelation, the wisdom of God is most conspicuously displayed, the faith of believers most powerfully confirmed, the beauty of sacred truth most engagingly exhibited, and its whole design most fully accomplished. Among innumerable passages which show the truth of this representation, the text [1 Cor. 10:4] is one of the most striking.

The apostle labours in the context to excite a holy circumspection in the Corinthian Christians, lest slighting or misimproving their peculiar privileges, they should lose the blessings which these privileges were calculated to convey. With this view, he points their attention, both for encouragement and warning, to the history of the people of Israel under the conduct of Moses in the wilderness. Speaking, in this connexion, of the miraculous supply of water which followed them on their journey, he denominates it “spiritual drink;” and then to explain the reason of his giving it this appellation, he says—”For they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.” By a figure of speech, too frequent in its use and too obvious in its import to be misapprehended, the people are here said to have drunk of the rock that followed them, instead of the water which flowed from it; and comprehensive metaphor which is used, when the apostle affirms that this rock was Christ.

To unfold the intention of this metaphor, and explain and apply the design of the whole expression, is the object of the present discourse. In doing this, it will be useful, in order to avoid the danger of torturing the figurative language of the inspired penman to a meaning foreign to his own, to consider attentively the spiritual truth intended to be conveyed; to state this truth distinctly and summarily at once; and then to recall the sensible images, only for the purpose of illustration or enforcement. Agreeably to this, let it be carefully remarked, that there are three distinct things comprehended in the type we consider. First,—The rock, which was the source, or fountain, from which the water flowed: Secondly—The streams themselves, by which the thirst of the people was allayed, and their strength invigorated: Thirdly—The ultimate object for which the whole was done; namely, to conduct the Israel of God to the promised land. Now, as the apostle asserts that this rock was Christ, I think the propositions of evangelical truth corresponding to the sensible and temporal things just stated, are plainly the three following—

I. That the believer’s hope of salvation must derive its very origin from Christ Jesus, or be placed on him alone.
II. That a resort must constantly be made to the never-failing fulness of the Saviour, for all those supplies of grace and strength, which are necessary to refresh and invigorate the Christian, in his passage through the world.
III. That the ultimate design, and the sure result of all, is, that the faithful disciple of Christ shall at length possess the heavenly inheritance. Read the rest of this entry »

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