Old Princeton: Samuel Miller and the Need of the Hour

Let me begin with a question.  When you think of politics, watch campaign news, or read the latest pollsters - does your heart race?  Do you get excited?  Do you have that "I've got to do something!" feeling?  Okay, if you answered "yes," then, at the very least, you are an emotionally invested citizen - and that is not a bad thing.   Let me ask another question.  Oh yeah, there is definitely a follow up.  What is the solution to our Nation's ills and woes?   If you answered that question with your political candidate of choice, then we had better talk.

In fact, why don't we sit down with Samuel Miller for a spell?  Don't know him?  Allow me to introduce the two of you.  Miller joined Archibald Alexander as the second faculty member of Princeton Seminary in 1813.  Officially, he was the professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church government but his knowledge went far beyond church history and ecclesiology.  He was a genuine Renaissance man.  Why talk to him, you ask?  Because he delivered the installation sermon of the Rev. William B. Sprague in 1829 at a church in Albany, NY, which contains counsel we Americans need to heed.

The sermon is, "Holding Fast the Faithful Word."[1]  It begins as you might expect, with Miller's assertion that ministers must teach the truth of the gospel.  However, it is the seventh sub point of the first main point that catches the eye.  Miller inquires as to why we ought to maintain sound doctrine.  He writes that it is "one of the surest means of establishing and perpetuating our national privileges."  Did you hear that?  The gospel maintains national privileges.  What kind of privileges?

According to this Princeton theologian, there is, for example, the "insanity of infidel fanaticism" that rejects "the religion of Christ" and renounces "the laws of marriage and of the Sabbath."  However, if infidel fanaticism rejects these - the gospel preserves them.   Friend, is it not simply amazing how there is nothing new under the sun?  This sermon was delivered in 1829!  Attacks on Christianity and even marriage are not new.  They are positions which grow out of spiritual ignorance.  And Miller reasons that an ignorant people must be an irreligious people.  An irreligious people must be an immoral people.  And an immoral people must be a miserable people.  Clearly, Miller takes his logic from Paul's letter to the Romans.   Sin is rooted in human nature and no temptation overtakes us but such as is common to man. 

However, if that is the case, then political parties and presidential candidates cannot be the solution to our present distresses.  But if not, then what?  According to Miller, "Christians!  Ministers of the gospel!  here lies our country's fairest, best, only hope!  To those who love the cause of Christ, is committed, under God, her precious destiny."  Now, dear friend, what do you think of that?  Do you say, "Yes, but…"  If so, let me urge you to reflect anew on the power of the gospel.  And if I can successfully urge you to do that, then perhaps I may urge you to pray for your minister today.  Pray for his time in the study.  Make time and space for him to do just that - study!  Pray for the people to whom he will preach.  And pray that those who hear (that means you!) will be so full of the gospel that their zeal for Zion overflows!  The need of the hour is great but when has it not been great?  What is more, when have we been without a cure?   Answer, not so long as the gospel is on our tongue.    

[1] See James M Garretson's Princeton and the Christian Ministry, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 2012) for the sermon.

Jeffrey A. Stivason has been serving the Lord as a minister of the gospel since 1995.  He was church planter and now pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the Managing Editor for Place for Truth.

Jeffrey Stivason