Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

It is not our design to present even an outline of these volumes, as if to diminish, in any degree, the importance of giving them a thorough perusal, but rather, by briefly sketching the life and character they so faithfully represent, to induce our readers to explore for themselves the source from which our material is drawn. We shall content ourselves with just glancing at Dr. Miller's eminently useful life, and then endeavoring to find out the secret of it.

It is impossible to form a correct estimate of the good influence which Dr. Miller exerted, without viewing it in connection with his various relations; for each relation was a channel through which that influence, in some form or other, flowed out upon the world.

First of all, we may view him as the head of a family, and as a Christian gentleman. In no condition can a good man be placed in which his influence acts with greater power than in his own home circle. Here he is brought in contact with immortal-mind in its earliest development; and has the opportunity of lodging in the memory and the heart, truths and principles which may ultimately give complexion to the whole character. It is not certain, indeed, that his best efforts will always prove successful-for there is sometimes an onergy in the proclivities of human corruption that no earthly power is able to control—and yet there is no other sphere in which his fidelity is more likely to be crowned with the Divine blessing. Dr. Miller was the father of several children, who have lived at once to honor their parentage and to bless their generation. One daughter (the oldest) was married to the Rev. Dr. John Breckenridge, whose life forms an important part of the history of the Presbyterian Church, and her beautiful character is the subject of a fitting and graceful memorial. Another daughter (also deceased) was the wife of an able lawyer in Princeton,-one of the trustees of the Theological Seminary,--and was a model in every relation that she sustained. Yet another daughter-thanks to a generous Providence-still lives; and may many years pass, before her whole life shall be a legitimate subject for review. Several of the sons have occupied important posts of public usefulness, while one of the two clergymen is the author of these memorial volumes. It was indeed through the joint influence of the parents that this successful training was accomplished --they were fellow-helpers in the good work of thus mould. ing their offspring to lives of honorable usefulness.

But Dr. Miller's social influence reached far beyond his own domestic circle—as a Christian gentleman, mingling with different classes, and occupying various fields of useful activity, he made himself felt both benignly and powerfully. He would be at home as well in the hovels of the poor as the dwellings of the rich; in the vale of ignorance and obscurity as in circles of intelligence and refinement. With the former class he never took on airs of superiority, as if to make them sensible of the distance between himself and them, but, by his kind words and genial and accommodating manner, endeavored to breathe into their hearts the spirit of contentment and good-will. With the latter he could mingle with the utmost freedom, and, from his ample stores of intellectual wealth, could dispense thoughts on almost any subject to which it was a privilege to listen. Wherever he moved, or wherever he paused, his bland and gentle manner, and his well-ordered and kindly words, drew around him friends who felt it a privilege to listen to his conversation and share his regards.

Passing from the scenes of social life, in which Dr. Miller figured so extensively and so brightly, we may view him next in the higher relation of a minister of the Gospel. His whole pastoral life was in connection, first with the Collegiate Presbyterian churches, and, after the dissolution, with the Wall Street Church, New York. It lasted just twenty years —from 1793 to 1813; and though there were some causes of disquietude operating in connection with it, especially the question of a separation of the associated churches; yet it may safely be said that it was characterized throughout by great dignity, fidelity, and success. Not only was the congregation to which he ministered numerous and wealthy, but it embodied a large amount of intellectual culture and social and political influence; and it was no small matter, especially for a young man, to prepare sermons suited to such an atmosphere. He succeeded, however, admirably in this difficult duty; and while he failed not to preach the whole counsel of God plainly and earnestly, his discourses were framed with so much symmetry and good taste that the most fastidious hearer rarely, if ever, went away unsatisfied. It is difficult, especially at this late period, to estimate correctly the measure of good influence which his ministry exerted; but we cannot doubt that the Gospel preached with such admirable simplicity and impressiveness, and to such a congregation, and for so long a time, must have produced the grandest results. Though he was, by no means, what, in modern phrase, would be called, a sensational preacher, yet he had a reputation in the country at large, that attracted many strangers to his church ; and all who went with open ears and hearts were sure to be edified as well as gratified by his ministrations. Even in New England, where he was known much less than in some other parts of the country, his fine qualities as a preacher were often spoken of, and well do we remember that when it was announced, in the prospect of the retirement of Dr. Griffin in the Park Street Church, Boston, in 1811, that Dr. Miller was expected to preach on the occasion, a strong desire to hear him was expressed by many persons, and his ultimately failure to preach occasioned much disappointment.

But it was not merely as a preacher, but as a pastor, that Dr. Miller exhibited his rare qualities in connection with the ministry. His intercourse with his people was always genial and affectionate, and yet always marked by that dignity which constitutes a leading element of a minister's usefulness. His congregation were bound to him by the strongest of all cords—those of love; and they welcomed him to their houses with an intensity of good-will and affection, that could hardly have been exceeded if he had been a member of their respective families. He was at home especially amidst scenes of domestic sadness, his tender heart responded quickly to every expression of grief, and, from a richly-stored and deeply-sanctified mind, he poured forth the wisest counsel and the richest consolation. He was always forward to enlist his people for the relief of human woe, or for the prevention of folly and crime, or for the encouragement of any enterprise designed to act auspiciously on the well-being of society. While he recog

a

a

nized his own congregation as forming the immediate field of his labors, much of what he did in connection with them had a wider influence, and was instrumental in originating or sustaining large plans of public usefulness.

That would be a very inadequate view of Dr. Miller's ministry, that should not include the great amount of timely and judicious labor that he performed in connection with the judicatories of the church. His influence in the presbytery, and the synod, and on the floor of the General Assembly, was scarcely exceeded by that of any other man. His plans were always the result of mature thought, and were generally marked by great wisdom and moderation. Sometimes he was thrown amidst scenes of excitement and collision, that ill became those who were legislating for the interests of the church; but his presence was generally found to be an element of quietude. Not that he desired peace at the expense of principle, or that he was not ready to stand up for the right against any opposition that could be arrayed against him; but he was always tolerant of men's mistakes and infirmities, and never imputed wrong motives when the necessity was not imposed upon him. Nearly all who were associated with him, even in the later period of his active ministry, have now passed away. But we greatly mistake if the recollections of the few who survive, are not in full harmony with our estimate of his influence in this department of his official duty.

After a twenty-years' ministry in New York, Dr. Miller entered on a professorship of nearly forty years at Princeton; and this was undoubtedly the crowning glory of his life. He had had an important agency in establishing the Theological Seminary, and had not only given his vote for Dr. Alexander as the first professor, but had publicly urged his acceptance of the appointment. The very next year he was himself ap

. pointed to the chair of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government; and though he shrank from the responsibility of the office, and would, on some accounts, have preferred to continue in pastoral life, yet, as a matter of duty, he yielded to the general wishes of the church, and was inaugurated as professor on the 29th of September, 1813. The discourse which he delivered on the occasion, on the characters and

opinions of some of the more conspicuous witnesses for the Truth during the dark ages, he declined to publish, on the ground that it was hastily written, and that some of its statements would require to be fortified by numerous references and quotations, which would make too large a draft upon his time.

Though the number of students that he found in the seminary did not much exceed a dozen, he lived to see it increased many fold; and all the successive classes that enjoyed the benefit of his instruction were witnesses at once to his ability and fidelity. His professorship was one for which his natural tastes and previous studies had eminently qualified him; and he entered upon it with great zeal and under the influence of a ruling passion. Not only was he perfectly familiar with the text-books used by his classes, but he had read and digested kindred works in other languages, so that the whole range of ecclesiastical history and church government seemed perfectly familiar to him. His questions were always simple and intelligible, and suggestive, never designed to embarrass or bewilder. His lectures were luminous exhibitions of his sub

ct, full of well-digested thought, arranged with such graceful naturalness as to leave a vivid impression on the memory. There may have been some who thought they were sometimes deficient in vigorous earnestness; but we are sure that we speak for much the larger number when we say that, in respect to both thought and expression, they were admirably adapted to the purpose they were designed to answer.

But it was not merely as a teacher and lecturer that Dr. Miller reflected high honor upon his professorship, but in his oft-recurring labors in the pulpit, and in all his more private intercourse with his pupils. His preaching was singularly adapted to profit theological students ; it was clear, direct, logical, and full of evangelical truth,-in short, each of his sermons seemed to have the force of a lecture on the art of preaching, while yet it dealt fairly and honestly with each individual's heart and conscience. In his meetings with the students on the afternoon of the Sabbath, he delivered himself with perfect freedom, and yet with great impressiveness; and never more than then were they brought to realize the dignity

« ElőzőTovább »