ARTICLES

Volume 47 - Issue 1

Samuel Miller on the “Sanctified Judgment” of the Enlarged, Elevated, and Strengthened Mind: Piety, Learning, and the Right Kind of Bias

By Paul Kjoss Helseth

Abstract

This essay explores Samuel Miller’s understanding of the epistemological capacity of the mind that has been regenerated by God’s Spirit and sanctified by God’s Word. In response to those who would argue that Miller—as an early advocate of the Princeton Theology—accommodated an epistemological paradigm that was compromised by the naïve realism of the Scottish Enlightenment, this essay analyzes the works of Miller that are stored in the archives of Princeton Seminary and establishes that despite what the consensus of critical opinion would have us believe, he in fact stood squarely in the epistemological mainstream of the Reformed wing of the Augustinian tradition. In so doing this essay offers a fresh perspective not just on Miller’s understanding of the relationship between piety and learning, but also on the understanding of enlightened education that likely animated the founding of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1812.


1. Introduction: Old Princeton and “The Ahlstrom Thesis”

In his “ground-breaking”1 analysis of the impact that the Scottish Enlightenment had on American theology from the middle of the eighteenth to the beginning of the twentieth centuries, Sydney Ahlstrom argues that John Witherspoon—who emigrated from Scotland in 1768 to become the sixth president of the College of New Jersey—was “the first real ambassador” of the “Scottish Philosophy” in the developing Republic even though his “Evangelical bias blinded him to the real genius” of the Scottish intellectual tradition.2 According to Ahlstrom, shortly after Witherspoon arrived on the shores of the emerging nation he accommodated the most mature articulations of the Scottish Philosophy in order “to defend orthodox theology” against the rising tide of religious skepticism, and in so doing he introduced “the anthropocentrism” of the Scottish Enlightenment—including its endorsement of a form of naïve realism that was grounded in its rejection of the noetic effects of sin—not just into the mainstream of American culture more generally, but more specifically “into the nerve-center of American Presbyterianism”—the College of New Jersey.3 When Witherspoon’s accommodation of the Scottish Philosophy was eventually appropriated not just by his associates at the college but also by those who taught at Princeton Seminary from the time of its founding in 1812 to the time of its reorganization in 1929, Ahlstrom contends that the formative center of what he calls “the Witherspoon tradition” was established.4 He argues that rather than reclaiming “the fervent theocentricity” that was essential to the enduring essence of the Reformed tradition, those who founded and taught at the seminary throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries instead followed Witherspoon and embraced “the [moral, religious, and epistemological] optimism of the Scottish Renaissance,” and as a consequence “their theology lost its Reformation bearings, ‘the Augustinian strain of [their] piety’ suffered,” their belief “that Christianity had a proclamation to declare lost its vitality,” and for them “doctrine became less a living language of piety than a complex burden to be borne.”5 “As a result of Witherspoon’s powerful influence,” Ahlstrom concludes, the anthropocentrism of the Scottish Enlightenment “did supplant” the more orthodox commitments of more consistently God-centered thinkers at Princeton, and due to the “powerful advocacy” of those who taught at the seminary throughout most of the long nineteenth century, “the Scottish Philosophy was carried by Princeton graduates to academies, colleges, seminaries, and churches all over the country.”6

In recent years, Ahlstrom’s assessment of Witherspoon’s relationship to the Scottish intellectual tradition and to the theologians who taught at what is now known as Old Princeton Seminary has been subjected to both direct and indirect criticism by a number of thoughtful interpreters.7 While “the Ahlstrom thesis” would have us believe that the Old Princetonians accommodated a kind of rationalism that was grounded in the naïve realism of the Scottish Enlightenment, more recent scholarship has established that they in fact embraced a form of “chastened realism,” and they did so not just because they stood in the epistemological mainstream of the Reformed wing of the Augustinian tradition, but also because they were fundamentally opposed to what Mark Noll has called the sin-denying “hubris of Enlightenment rationality.”8 Substantial justification for this revisionist reading of the Old Princeton theologians can be found throughout their published and unpublished writings, including in an overlooked essay that was published by Samuel Miller (1769–1850) in 1796, approximately a decade before he helped to found a seminary for the training of ministers that was distinct from the College of New Jersey, an institution that he and the other founders of the seminary insisted was foundering due to the influence that Scottish Realism was having on Witherspoon’s successor as president of the college, Samuel Stanhope Smith.9 In a two-part essay entitled “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion,” which he published seventeen years before he became the second professor at Princeton Seminary—the seminary that he helped to found in 1812—Miller offers six critical responses to the then “fashionable” eagerness to “exalt” human reason “to the rank of an infallible guide, and [to] make her the only proper standard of right and wrong” not just in matters of science, but in moral and especially in religious matters as well.10 In so doing he articulates convictions that are difficult to reconcile with the prevailing consensus not just on how the founders of the seminary conceived of their relationship to the moral, religious, and epistemological optimism of the Scottish Enlightenment, but also on how they conceived of their calling to unite piety and learning.11

2. Miller on the Role of Reason in Moral and Religious Matters

Miller begins his response to the mistakes “into which those fall, who contend that human reason [and not revelation] should be our supreme standard in matters of [morality and] religion” by endeavoring to clarify “the real grounds of the dispute … between believers in revelation and others, concerning reason.”12 The real dispute, he contends, “is not whether men are to use their own reason, any more than whether they are to see with their own eyes, or hear with their own ears; but the question is, whether every man’s reason is to be his sole guide, upon which he is in all cases and implicitly to depend?”13 While “modern unbelievers” would have Christians believe “that receiving Christianity, or taking the light of the gospel for our guide, is equivalent to an entire renunciation of the rational character; and that the man who looks up to the Great Source of knowledge for instruction, ipso facto gives up the right of thinking and judging for himself in any sense or degree,” in fact, Miller argues, “Christians do not oppose unbelievers because they reason, but because, in their apprehension, they reason ill.14 In short, Miller insists that despite what unbelievers who champion “the dignity and power of human reason” contend,

[Christians] do not embrace revelation in order to suppress or destroy the light of their own minds, but to improve and assist it—not to take away their right of judging for themselves, but to secure them from erroneous judgments. Far from being disposed to extinguish rationality, they wish every Christian to be a rational one, and to be able to give a reason of the hope that is in him. Nay, they embrace Christianity because, in their opinion, it is most conformable to reason so to do; and because they suppose that all who reject it oppose reason, and discard evidence so rational and abundant, that in every other case they would be ashamed of such a decision.15

Having established that Christians do not in fact reject but endorse the right use of reason in moral and religious matters, Miller then challenges the “supposition” that he believes has been embraced by those who presumptuously contend “for the sufficiency of human reason as our supreme standard” in moral and religious considerations.16 According to Miller, “the advocates and votaries of reason” overestimate the dispositive authority of the human mind precisely because they have forgotten “that man is a fallen creature.17 Man, they mistakenly contend, “is now as he was originally created by God [to be],” and for this reason the human mind is not just “sufficient”18 but perfectly disposed to judging rightly in all matters, including those that have to do with morality and religion. In response to this supposition. Miller challenges “the presumptive claims of reason” by insisting, much like Jeremiah before him, that “the crown is fallen from our head.”19 We are simply “not what God originally made us [to be]” and “none of our faculties can be considered as perfect,” he contends, because the fall has “in some degree, either directly or remotely” affected the entirety of our nature, including “our rational powers.”20 Since this is “the case” and there is justification for concluding that “human reason” is “now defective” as a consequence of the fall, Miller argues that not only are there good reasons for supposing that our rational powers “are not such trusty guides as it is desirable to have,”21 but also that there are sufficient grounds for abandoning what is now commonly referred to as the Enlightenment myth of the neutral, disinterested knower. “When … we hear men talk of unbiased and unprejudiced reason; a reason not in the least degree tinctured with partiality in favour of falsehood and error; a reason disposed with perfect candor to apprehend and receive truth wherever it may be had; they talk of what never did nor will exist in any mere man after Adam, in the garden of innocence.”22

Finally, after pointing out that “the most strenuous contenders for the supremacy of reason have always been the most bitter opposers of the humbling doctrine of human depravity,”23 Miller concludes the first part of his essay by anticipating a critique of Enlightenment rationality that continues to be advanced by committed postmodernists in our day. According to Miller, “those who contend for the sufficiency of reason to guide us in all cases whatsoever, seem to make another mistake, in talking of something as an universal and uniform standard, which really is not so, but is almost infinitely variable in its nature, being found in a different measure in different persons, and delivering opposite precepts with regard to the same things.”24 The Enlightenment assumption that dispositive guidance in matters of morality and religion can be discovered by appealing to the light of nature alone is simply misguided, Miller argues, because “the dictates of reason” are, in fact, “as variable as the fashion of the country in which we live.”25 Since, then, it just is the case that “the advocates for the sufficiency and perfection of human reason” overestimate the ability of reason to serve as a standard that is adequate to the “guidance and regulation of [all men],” Miller concludes the first part of his essay by insisting that the light of nature can never be “a perfect guide” “without the assistance of divine revelation.”26 “When … I contemplate a guide of this kind,” Miller contends,

—a guide thus variable, accommodating, and having no regular mode of operation; when I see the very men who profess, above all others, to have enlisted under her banners, differing among themselves, and either suspended in uncertainty, or else wandering into the most dangerous and hurtful paths;—when I see this, I am constrained to suspect her of insufficiency, and to say of her, as our Lord once said of teachers not wholly unlike her, “when the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch.”27

In the second, considerably shorter part of his essay, Miller continues his analysis by quickly dispatching with three more of what he believes are the most significant mistakes into which “the advocates for the supreme and unlimited guidance of human reason are apt to fall.”28 The first of these has to do with what he maintains is the rationalist’s failure to distinguish properly “between the light of nature, or the powers of reason, strictly so called, and the light of revelation.”29 According to Miller, modern “infidels” erroneously contend “that all those principles which we now arrange as parts of the system of natural religion, are the dictates of unassisted reason. But do they not here assume,” he asks, “more than can be justly granted? Do they not ascribe to the light of nature much of that information concerning God and his will, which revelation only has given?”30 He insists that they do and maintains instead that “the best ideas which pagan nations have of religion, are derived not from the unaided efforts of their own minds, but from tradition.”31 “The knowledge first communicated to Adam, in his original state of innocence, concerning divine things,” he argues, “has probably been transmitted through him to all his descendants, and preserved, by tradition, in a greater or smaller degree, until this day.”32 If there is merit to this line of reasoning—which, if nothing else, points to Miller’s unambiguous commitment to the priority of revelation over reason when assessing the natural order—then it follows that for Miller, “much, if not the whole of that feeble light and knowledge which many in the heathen world possess of God and his will, is not to be considered the offspring of reason, but may fairly be traced to the first of all God’s revelations to man.”33

Miller then turns his attention to what many interpreters will contend is a more consequential and certainly less speculative mistake into which he believes the votaries of reason “continually fall,” namely their failure to remember that improvements in “reason and [in] religion—[in] scientific knowledge, and [in] holiness,” are secured through different means.34 According to Miller, “Were we to admit the entire sufficiency of reason as our guide to perfection and happiness”—which he insists is precisely the point that the votaries of reason would have the faithful concede—“it would necessarily follow, that he whose reason is [the] most cultivated, would also be the most holy, or the best man,” for it would necessarily follow that “the greatest advances in intellectual improvement, and in speculative knowledge [would always be] … accompanied with a proportionable eminence in moral worth.”35 But the facts of history and of our everyday experience make it plain, he argues, that such a state of affairs is not now, nor has it ever been, “the case.”36 Indeed, just as “we daily meet with men whose intellectual acquirements, [when] taken alone, would raise them to the highest rank in society, degraded to the lowest [rank], and rendered completely infamous by their want of moral principle,” so too we often encounter those who, “though totally unacquainted with the arts of reasoning, exhibit a life and conversation of the most amiable and exemplary kind.”37 For this reason, Miller challenges his “opponents” to remember that “improvement[s] in reason, and [improvements] in religion” belong “to entirely different spheres; that, for the most part, … employ different powers of the human mind; and that … rest upon … essentially different foundation[s].”38 While all men have the rational wherewithal to improve themselves intellectually even though many of them are, “with regard to all moral considerations, … mere devils in human form,” still “there must be something besides [mere intellectual discernment] to cleanse the polluted recesses of a vitiated heart; to curb an irregular appetite; and to restrain the impetuosity of passion” if improvements in morality and in religion are to be obtained.39 What, then, does Miller believe that this “something besides” must be? Miller ends his discussion of the fifth mistake into which he contends the votaries of reason continually fall by claiming that since reason alone is not sufficient to serve as “our guide to perfection and happiness,” “some such provision must be made as we find in the Christian system for the energy of divine operations, and the influence of the Holy Spirit, to purify the soul, and, through this medium, to regulate the outward conduct.”40

Finally, Miller concludes his analysis of the mistakes into which his opponents continually fall by addressing the baseless conceit that he insists is at the heart of all of the previous mistakes that he has challenged, namely the conceit that leads “infidels” to imagine that they are justified “in considering and treating as contrary to reason, every thing that [in fact] is [just] above it.”41 While Miller acknowledges that it is “extremely difficult to draw a distinct and definite line” between those things which in fact are contrary reason and those things which in fact are just above or beyond its present reach, nevertheless he insists that “it is unphilosophical … to pronounce, that every thing which we cannot comprehend is absurd; or that every thing [which is] beyond our circle of vision, is deformed and unworthy of regard.”42 This is especially the case, he maintains, “with moral truth, and the various grand subjects of which revelation treats.”43 “We may hastily pronounce certain doctrines incompatible with the divine character, and opposite to the reason and nature of things; when a more enlarged acquaintance with the divine character, and with the different relations of things, would satisfy us of their reasonableness and reality.”44 If, then, it just is the case that some things are not in fact contrary to reason but simply “[surpass] the limits of [our present] understanding, and [baffle our] most painful research,”45 then how should we proceed in our efforts to use our minds in the pursuit of truth, especially in moral and religious matters? In short, Miller brings the second part of his essay to a conclusion by making explicit what has been implicit throughout the entirety of his analysis, namely that we reason best not only when our reasoning is formed, shaped, and enlarged by the substance of what God has revealed in his Word, but also when we avoid making judgements “precipitately.”46 It just is the case, he concludes, that we all “may entertain prejudices against particular truths, when, did we know all, it would be found, that these prejudices spring from the most narrow and illiberal views; that their apparent opposition to reason arises only from our not knowing what true reason is; and that our whole mistake is founded on ignorance.”47

3. The Work of the Spirit and the Life of the Mind

The forgoing summary of Samuel Miller’s essay on the extent and province of reason in moral and religious matters has established that Miller was not a naïve but a chastened realist, for while he affirmed that there is an objective moral and religious order that can be known by moral agents with more or less certainty, nevertheless he was self-consciously opposed to a number of the assumptions that were essential to what he regarded as the presumptuous epistemological “cant” of his day.48 Indeed, he appealed to revelation not to destroy reason but to improve and correct it; he was persuaded that reason by itself cannot supply a standard that is adequate to the guidance and regulation of all men because it is fallen and inclined to bias; he insisted that not only can the light of nature not account for that system of moral and religious truth that is typically associated with natural religion but he also maintained that reason alone cannot purify the soul so that it can pursue the wisdom that human flourishing requires; and finally he refused to grant that reason alone is sufficient to judge between those things which in fact are contrary to reason and those things which in fact are just above it. If this is the case, then how might Miller’s clear insistence upon the “intrinsic insufficiency”49 of reason to judge rightly in matters of morality and religion without the forming, shaping, and enlarging guidance of divine revelation be related to his understanding of what is now commonly referred to as the life of the mind? Is there a relationship between his understanding of the life of the mind and his clear insistence upon the “intrinsic insufficiency” of reason to judge rightly in matters of morality and religion, and if there is, then what is the nature of that relationship and how are we to account for it? In the remainder of this essay I will argue that just as Miller was persuaded that reason alone is not sufficient “to guide [men] in safety” to what he called “the realms of eternal blessedness,”50 so too he was convinced that learning which is not “sanctified” or “consecrated by [piety or] real religion” will never lead an individual to a true understanding of the world as it objectively is,51 for he recognized that there is an essential relationship between the disposition or inclination of the heart and all of the organic operations of the whole soul or mind, including those operations that have to do with the judgements that stand at the very center of every aspect of the life of the mind.

The justification for this contention can be found throughout Miller’s published and unpublished writings, particularly in those sermons that expound the doctrinal convictions that give form and substance to the “philosophy of mind52 that lies at the foundation of his insistence that though “intellect is power, and … knowledge is power,” the learning that is the essential means to both will never enable moral agents to see the world for what it objectively is until it has been brought “under the sanctified guidance of genuine piety.”53 In these sermons—which disclose that Miller stood squarely and self-consciously in the Reformed wing of the Augustinian tradition—Miller argues that when Adam was created, “the primitive state of man, with respect to his intellectual, moral, and social character, was the highest that he has ever enjoyed, or ever will enjoy, on this side of heaven.”54 Adam, he contends, was created in the moral image of God, and for this reason all of the faculties or powers of his soul were governed by “knowledge, righteousness[,] and true holiness.”55 Indeed, “His understanding was enlightened by divine and immediate inspiration;—His will was perfectly conformed to the divine law;—his affections [were] placed on their proper objects;—and every desire of his heart [was] pure and holy.”56

However, when Adam sinned in “the garden of innocence,”57 Miller contends that he lost that moral image “which was the most invaluable treasure, and [the] true ornament of his nature,” and as a consequence his heart—or “the fountain head, from which every part of the human conduct and character takes its rise”58—became “entirely depraved”59 and all of “the faculties [or powers] of [his] soul” were subjected to “the power and dominion of sin.”60 While Miller acknowledges that the children of Adam retain the rational wherewithal to “unfold and improve” upon “the various departments of science … and the numerous arts of life,”61 nevertheless he insists that they—like Adam—are by nature neither “impartial inquirer[s] after truth,62 nor do they have the intellectual ability to discern “the [true] character of those things which are presented to [their] view,”63 for they are—as a consequence of their covenantal union with Adam—“entirely destitute of all spiritual discernment” and “all cordial taste and relish” for “the real excellence and glory of Divine things,64 no matter where those divine things are being revealed. In short, Miller contends that the children of Adam are born “dead in trespasses [and sins]”65 and have “carnal” minds that are by nature “enmity against God66 because they are under “the dominion” of that unsanctified disposition “which [they] bring with them into the world”67 as a consequence of Adam’s sin. For this reason, their minds are not just “clouded” by sin,68 but they are “as blind as midnight” to the “real beauty and excellence” of God’s revelation of himself not just in his Word, but also—as we shall see in the discussion that follows—in his world as well.69

If this is the case and it is therefore true that moral agents who are in bondage to “the degrading thralldom of nature’s depravity”70 are—in a truly comprehensive sense—“as insensible to spiritual beauty and glory, as the blind man is to the beauty of colours; as a deaf man is to the charm of music;—or as the sick man is to the relish of the most savory food,”71 then where does Miller believe that a remedy for the sinner’s natural aversion to the moral excellence and beauty of “every thing which brings [God’s] real character and glory distinctly before [his] mind”72 is to be found? Again, like believers standing in the mainstream of the Reformed wing of the Augustinian tradition before him, Miller argues that the natural bondage of the depraved sinner is always and everywhere moral and not structural or constitutional. It has to do, in other words, neither with an intrinsic deficiency in the composition of the sinner’s soul, nor, he adds, with a form of bondage to an “external power” of some sort, but with the sinner’s “voluntary submission to the dictates of sin and folly, which arises from having a heart and affections enlisted in their favour.73 For this reason, Miller insists that those who are “sold under the government of sin”74 and who are therefore entirely “destitute of all taste for God and his service75 can be liberated from their “spiritual slavery76 only through a work of the Spirit that restores the susceptibility of their souls to the moral excellence and beauty of spiritual things. According to Miller, it is the Spirit who grants the fallen sinner the “capacity to enjoy [God’s] holy kingdom forever”77 not by “impart[ing] to him any new faculty, or [by] creat[ing] in his soul any new substance,”78 but by restoring his soul to “the [moral] image of God,”79 thereby giving “a new impulse and direction80—“a new bias81—to his faculties and “attuning” his soul “to the perception and relish of the Divine excellence,” wherever that excellence is being revealed.82 In short, Miller maintains that the remedy for the sinner’s natural aversion to the moral excellence and beauty of spiritual things can be found only in that work of the Spirit which restores the moral image of God to the sinful soul not by working on that soul in a structural or constitutional, but in a moral or spiritual fashion, i.e., by

enlighten[ing],—elevat[ing],—purify[ing],—and turn[ing] to new objects those intellectual and moral faculties which the sinner already possesses! That understanding which was before alienated from the life of God, is now so wrought upon as to be turned to Him with intelligence and with pleasure! That will which was lately opposed to the will and service of God, is now brought into cordial subjection to Him! And those affections which were once supremely fixed on earthly things, are now raised, and supremely placed on things divine and heavenly! In a word, the quickening [that is the “workmanship” of the Spirit] … consists not merely in presenting truth to the mind, but in restoring all the powers of the soul to their right use and action,—in rescuing them from the torpor,—the disease and the perversion under which they had before laboured, and preparing them for those holy and elevated exercises which constitute their true happiness and glory!83

But what, in a fuller and therefore more precise sense, does Miller believe that the work of the Spirit entails, and how does it provide a remedy for the comprehensive blindness of the depraved sinner, particularly if it is true that the kingdom of God is “a kingdom of means,” as he claims it is?84 According to Miller, in addition to immediately creating a “holy taste for holy objects”85 in the heart of the chosen moral agent, the Spirit also cultivates true religion—the “essence” of which is found, he argues, “in our having right apprehensions of spiritual objects,—right affections toward them,—and right practice flowing from those views and affections86—by “enlarg[ing] and elevat[ing] the mind” of that agent through the means and according to the truth of God’s Word.87 When the Word of God is applied to the mind of the chosen moral agent by the sanctifying power of the Spirit of God, Miller argues that it gives “a just and pure direction to the various faculties of [that agent’s] mind,”88 for “It enlightens [his] understanding,—it awakens [his] conscience,—it softens [his] heart,—it inspires [his] hope, … It furnishes [him with] the strongest motives for the attainment of holiness,” and it elicits all of these enlargements and elevations simply by setting “the most excellent and glorious objects” clearly before his regenerated mind.89 What this suggests, then, is that for Miller, the Spirit enables the chosen moral agent “to see spiritual objects as they really are90 by working on his mind in both mediate and immediate senses. Indeed, the Spirit does not just endow the chosen agent’s mind with the moral capacity to discern the moral excellence and beauty of spiritual objects, but the Spirit also enables that agent to actually see the moral excellence and beauty of the objects that he is perceiving by enlarging and elevating his vision through the means and according to the truth of God’s Word, i.e., by making it possible for him to see and assess those objects in light of “the Word of truth and grace [that is] contained in the Holy Scriptures,” which Miller contends are the believer’s “grand weapon … for extending” not just the perception, but the reception of God’s kingdom “into all the world.”91

If this is in fact an accurate summary of what Miller contends the work of the Spirit entails, then to what kinds of objects does he believe that the “sanctified judgment”92 of the enlarged and elevated mind extends? Does he believe that it extends only to those objects that are spiritual in the narrower, more limited, or distinctly modern sense of the term, and if so, does he therefore maintain that a moral agent can see the world for what it objectively is apart from the mediate and immediate operations of the Spirit of God? Or does he believe that the “sanctified judgment” of the enlarged and elevated mind in fact extends to all objects without exception—including those more mundane objects that we encounter throughout the world in which we live—and if so, does he therefore insist that a moral agent can see the world for what it objectively is only when his seeing is grounded in the renewing, forming, shaping, enlarging, and elevating work of the Spirit in regeneration and sanctification? At various points throughout the second half of this essay I have intimated that for Miller the “sanctified judgment” of the enlarged and elevated mind in fact extends to the whole of the kingdom of God, which is just to say that it in fact extends even to the more mundane aspects of the world that we inhabit. That such an intimation is warranted, and that interpreters are right to conclude that for Miller objective knowledge of the world in which we live is possible only when it is grounded in the mediate and immediate operations of the Spirit of God, is established by Miller’s endorsement of two ideas that have an essential—indeed, a kind of symbiotic—relationship to one another. The first has to do with Miller’s contention that in a very real sense the kingdom of God—or the realm of God’s dominion that just is declaring his glory in some sense—encompasses not just some, but “all the works of creation.”93 When the phrase “the kingdom of God” is taken “in its most extensive sense,” Miller argues, it denotes “that universal dominion of God, which embraces all ranks of beings, and pervades all space. It is that unlimited government of Jehovah which takes in his enemies as well as his friends—which extends to all the works of nature and of Providence, and which comprehends heaven, earth[,] and hell.”94

The second idea is related organically to the first and has to do with Miller’s understanding of the central role that redemption must play in the ability of a moral agent to discern the objective, essentially sacramental or God-centered nature of the glory-displaying truth that is being revealed throughout the whole of the kingdom of God, which he again contends “embraces the whole creation of God.”95 In a sermon that he first preached in 1804 entitled “The Wonderful Condescension of God in Regarding and Visiting Man,” Miller encourages the members of his congregation to remember that the people of God “are taught in Scripture to believe, that, in consequence of the work of redemption, the friends of holiness, in every part of the creation, see and understand more of God … than they could otherwise have done!”96 When we consider the idea that is addressed in the paragraph above in light of the idea that is being addressed in this paragraph—in other words, when Miller’s emphasis on the all-encompassing nature of the kingdom of God is understood in light of his clear insistence upon the epistemological advantages that are associated with the Spirit’s work of applying the saving work of Christ to the hearts and minds of chosen moral agents—we see that for Miller, the mediate and immediate operations of the Spirit of God have a renewing, forming, shaping, enlarging, and elevating impact upon every aspect of the life of the mind simply because it is the work of the Spirit in regeneration and in sanctification that attunes the minds of those who have been redeemed to the essentially sacramental or God-centered nature of the truth that is being revealed throughout the whole of the kingdom of God, thereby enabling them to see the vast expanse of the created order in a more objective and therefore more fully truthful fashion than they could otherwise have done. In short, since everything in the world “is God’s”97 and everything that he has made just is declaring his glory in some sense, it follows that everything in the created order is seen and assessed in a qualitatively superior and therefore more objectively truthful fashion when it is laid hold of by a mind that has been regenerated by God’s Spirit and sanctified by God’s Word, for such a mind—and such a mind alone—has “a moral as well as an intellectual power of discerning between good and bad, and judging and acting accordingly,”98 for it stands no longer in a hostile, but in a cordial relationship to the essentially sacramental or God-glorifying nature of the truth that is being revealed throughout the entirety of the reality-encompassing expanse that constitutes the kingdom of God.

4. Conclusion: Piety, Sound Learning, and the Evangelistic Posture of the Believing Scholar

If there is something to this reading of Miller’s understanding of the relationship between the work of the Spirit and the life of the mind, and if it is therefore true that for Miller, the God-given wisdom of the enlarged and elevated mind in fact “embraces moral and spiritual, as well as intellectual rectitude,”99 then two concluding observations about his conception of the relationship between piety and learning are in order, particularly if it is the case that he and the other founders of Princeton Seminary conceived of the relationship between piety and learning in precisely the same fashion, as I think it is. The first has to do with Miller’s insistence that since we live in a universe that just is imbued with sacramental significance, the “vital, practical piety” that is the workmanship of the Spirit is essential to education that is enlightened in the true sense of the term not just because it is the only means to turning “seminaries of learning” into “nurseries of genuine virtue,” but also because it is “the ONE THING [that is] NEEDFUL” for transforming colleges and seminaries into “salubrious Fountains” of “sound learning.”100 Indeed, it is “THE SALT OF GENUINE PIETY” alone that can render a college or a seminary “a real blessing to society,” Miller argues, not just because it inspires students “with wisdom; controlling their passions; purifying their hearts and lives; working in them the fear and the love of God; and disposing them, in their studies, and in all their intercourse, to make his will the sovereign guide of their conduct, and his glory the great end of their pursuits,” but also because—as this essay has sought to establish—it “accomplishes much for [a] man … as an INTELLECTUAL BEING.”101 In short, Miller insists that the piety “which is common to all … sincere disciples of Christ” is the indispensable—in fact the only—means to transforming colleges and seminaries into fountains of “sound learning,” and he does so precisely because he recognizes that wherever the piety that is the workmanship of the Spirit

exists in its purity and power, the mind of its possessor is more enlarged, more [strengthened,] vigorous, and better disciplined, than it could possibly have been, without this precious gift of God. And, if there be any truth in this assertion, then it is plain, that he who should propose to conduct a band of Youth through a course of liberal education, without the aid of religion, would neglect one of the most potent and precious auxiliaries to which he could resort, even putting entirely out of view its power as a principle of sanctification, and its essential connexion with everlasting happiness.102

The second concluding observation is related closely to the first and has to do with Miller’s understanding of the evangelistic stance or posture that should characterize the more scholarly pursuits of those whose minds have been enlarged, elevated, and strengthened by the Spirit of God. According to Miller, the Christian religion not only “has a tendency to produce an astonishing greatness of soul,” but it also “creates and cherishes a divine ambition103 for the advancement of the kingdom of God through various means, including those that have to do with the life of the mind. Just as he contends that “perverted” or “unsanctified” learning “has been the means of turning millions away from the kingdom of Christ, rather than bringing them into it,” so too he insists that “Genuine … and even profound learning,” when united with the kind of piety that is generated by the mediate and immediate operations of the Spirit of God, “is an instrument in the propagation of religion, of inestimable value.”104 For this reason, Miller exhorts the faithful to advance the kingdom of God by engaging the life of the mind in a holistic and self-consciously Christian fashion. On the one hand, he encourages believers to take a forceful stand against the “presumptuous criticism” of those enemies of the faith who would subvert the advancement of the kingdom and the extension of genuine piety by appealing to learning that is finally accursed, or, grounded in a commitment to what he refers to as the “proud reasonings” of “corrupted reason.”105 “‘Accursed be all that learning,’” he exclaims like John Witherspoon before him, “‘which sets itself in opposition to vital piety! Accursed be all that learning which disguises, or is ashamed of vital piety! Accursed be all that learning, which attempts to fill the place, or to supersede the honours, of vital piety! Nay, accursed be all that learning, which is not made subservient to the promotion and the glory of vital piety.’”106

On the other hand, Miller encourages the faithful to remember that in addition to taking a forceful stand against the presumptuous claims of those who are “found perverting, torturing[,] and reasoning away” those “most precious truths” which are “the life and the hope of the Christian,”107 believers must also endeavor not just to counter, but to conquer those claims by engaging in an “offensive”—and not merely a defensive—apologetic.108 While Miller eagerly acknowledges that the “spiritual” weapons of the Christian’s warfare can be and often are useful “for the protection and defence” of the Christian faith, he insists that those weapons can and also should be used to serve a more “offensive” or aggressive end, namely the end of vindicating the truth claims of the Christian religion by “attacking and vanquishing the enemies of [the Christian’s] Master.”109 When the weapons of the Christian’s warfare are used in such a fashion, he argues, they are properly used not “to injure, but to save; not to inflict violence on the persons of those to whom they are directed; but to enlighten, to convince, to sanctify, to comfort, and lead to perfect and eternal blessedness,” and they are properly used in this fashion because the “strong holds” which the faithful are called “to pull down … are not those of physical, but of moral power.”110 They are, in other words, “those of pride, unbelief, self-righteousness, love of the world, superstition, sensuality, and all that enmity to God, his truth, and his commandments, which every where characterize unsanctified men; together with all those vain pleas by which they are wont to excuse, if not justify themselves in their rebellious course.”111 Since these are the strongholds in which “the children of this world are, as it were, entrenched,” Miller contends that the faithful should always endeavor not just to teach and preach the substance of God’s Word with boldness and integrity, but they should also commit themselves to “pulling down” the “unhallowed fortification[s]” of the children of this world, for such efforts, he maintains, are among the most effectual means not just to defending the truth claims of the Christian religion, but also to “constraining … [the children of this world] to surrender themselves [as] willing captives to the blessed Redeemer.”112

With this emphasis upon the offensive or evangelistic dimension of the believer’s more scholarly pursuits in mind, I conclude by suggesting that although the quotation below is referring specifically to the stance or posture that should characterize the work of the minister who is endeavoring to be faithful to his ministerial calling, nevertheless it has a larger, more paradigmatic kind of relevance for all believers who in some sense are committed not just to “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God … [but also to] bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”113 According to Miller, it is not just faithful ministers of the gospel who should pursue their calling while at the same time acknowledging that they are living and moving and having their vocational being in God’s world, but all believers—including all believing scholars—should as well. For this reason, it is not just faithful pastors who should endeavor to afford the Bible the place of priority and privilege in their efforts to advance the kingdom of God in the context that they inhabit, but faithful scholars should too, and they should do so precisely because they should recognize—just like faithful ministers of the gospel should recognize—that the “sanctified judgment” of the enlarged, elevated, and strengthened mind—the kind of judgment that finds itself eagerly deferring to the final authority of Scripture in all matters of faith, learning, and living—extends not just to some things, but to all things without exception.

Surely that professed servant of Christ who suffers himself to wander into the regions of speculative philosophy; who subjects Christian doctrine to the torturing ordeal of unsanctified reason; who begins by deciding, upon philosophical principles, what truth ought to be, and must be, and then recurs to the Bible to see what it is; and who is more intent on the honour of being thought an “inventor” and an “original” in theology, than on simply ascertaining and proclaiming “what God the Lord hath spoken”; surely such a servant cannot be said to “follow Christ.” On the contrary, he may be said to have embraced, whether he be aware of it or not, the radical principle of the worst heresy, and, indeed, of all unbelief. The minister who truly follows Christ; regards his Word as the only infallible rule of faith and practice. He approaches the sacred volume with reverence; studies it with humble and devout diligence; and makes its simple declarations the test of truth. He faithfully employs his reason, indeed, in examining the Bible; but he employs it only to decide two questions—Has God spoken in that Bible? and, if he have [sic] spoken, What has he said? Having ascertained this, he humbly bows every power of his soul to the heavenly message, and is cordially willing, with meekness and docility, to make it “the man of his counsel,” and the sovereign guide of all his instruction. In short, he considers the great subjects of his ministry as made ready to his hand; and feels that his only business is to bear them faithfully, clearly, and without alteration, to a benighted world.114


[1] James H. Moorhead, Princeton Seminary in American Religion and Culture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 201.

[2] Sydney Ahlstrom, “The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology,” Church History 24 (1955): 261.

[3] Ahlstrom, “The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology,” 262, 266–67. It is important to note that while the College of New Jersey was, “like many other church-related institutions established before the Revolutionary War, … technically a nondenominational college,” nevertheless from the time of its founding “many looked upon … [it] as a de facto Presbyterian school devoted to meeting the educational needs and upholding the intellectual ideas of Presbyterians and the larger Protestant community” (P. C. Kemeny, “From ‘Old Time’ Christian College to Liberal Protestant University: The Forgotten Interlude in the History of the Secularization of Princeton University,” in Faith, Freedom, and Higher Education: Historical Analysis and Contemporary Reflections, ed. P. C. Kemeny [Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2013], 38).

[4] Ahlstrom, “The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology,” 267, 266.

[5] Ahlstrom, “The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology,” 268, 266, 268.

[6] Ahlstrom, “The Scottish Philosophy and American Theology,” 262. Just a few of the many works that in some fashion are indebted to Ahlstrom’s thesis and therefore are susceptible to the critique that is being advanced in the substance of this analysis include: Gary Dorrien, The Remaking of Evangelical Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1998); Peter S. Heslam, Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); Mark A. Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Roger E. Olson, Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007); Andrew T. B. McGowan, The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging Evangelical Perspectives (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007); Stephen B. Sherman, Revitalizing Theological Epistemology: Holistic Evangelical Approaches to the Knowledge of God, Princeton Theological Monograph Series 83 (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2008); Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2011); Paul C. Gutjahr, Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). It is important to note that while more progressive as well as more conservative critics of “the Witherspoon tradition” ground their criticisms of the tradition in an endorsement of the same basic interpretive paradigm, there is a sense in which the more progressive appropriation of that paradigm is more compelling than that of more conservative scholars even though the paradigm itself—which reduces Witherspoon, the Old Princeton theologians, and their theological descendants to naïve realists of one sort or another—is fundamentally flawed. Indeed, whereas more conservative interpreters wrongly insist that Scottish Realism undermined—or at least seriously compromised—the religious—and especially the classically Reformed—bona fides of the Old Princeton theologians, more progressive interpreters rightly conclude that for the Old Princetonians, the basic realism of the Scottish intellectual tradition reinforced the basic realism of historic Christian orthodoxy, and in so doing it played at least an ancillary or supporting role in their reluctance to abandon their religious orthodoxy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Please note that in this context, I am suggesting that a commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy is grounded in an endorsement of some form of realism simply because historic Christian orthodoxy presupposes that which is a necessary entailment of the Creator-creature distinction, namely a commitment to a source of religious authority that is finally outside of or objective to the religious experience not just of the professing believer, but of the believing community as well. Gary Dorrien notes, “Before the modern period, all Christian theologies were constructed within a house of authority. All premodern Christian theologies made claims to authority-based orthodoxy. Even the mystical and mythopoetic theologies produced by premodern Christianity took for granted the view of scripture as an infallible revelation and the view of theology as an explication of propositional revelation” (Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion, 1805–1900 [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001], xv). If Dorrien is correct, then we may say that for more progressive interpreters, the basic realism of the Scottish intellectual tradition had a consequential impact upon Witherspoon and the Old Princeton theologians more generally because it played at least a supporting role in preventing them from becoming progressives or theological liberals themselves. In other words, it helped to prevent them from accommodating the theological paradigm that committed liberals themselves had accommodated, for it helped to prevent them from embracing a theological paradigm that is formed and shaped by the idea that is essential to the enduring essence of the liberal tradition, namely “the idea of a genuine Christianity not based on external authority” (Dorrien, The Making of American Liberal Theology, xxiii, emphasis added).

[7] For the most recent and most direct challenges, see Gideon Mailer, John Witherspoon’s American Revolution (Williamsburg, VA: The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2017); and Kevin
DeYoung, The Religious Formation of John Witherspoon: Calvinism, Evangelicalism, and the Scottish Enlightenment, Routledge Studies in Evangelicalism (London: Routledge, 2020).

[8] Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 84. Examples of historical and theological analyses that have challenged matters relating to “the Ahlstrom thesis” include: James M. Garretson, Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005); Paul Kjoss Helseth, “Right Reason” and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010); Fred G. Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010); Fred G. Zaspel, Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012); David P. Smith, B. B. Warfield’s Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2011); W. Andrew Hoffecker, Charles Hodge: The Pride of Princeton (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011); Annette G. Aubert, The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century American Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Bradley J. Gundlach, Process and Providence: The Evolution Question at Princeton, 1845–1929 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013); Gary Steward, Princeton Seminary (1812–1929): Its Leaders’ Lives and Works (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014); Glen Sadlier, “Triangulating the Princeton Paradigm: B. B. Warfield’s Theology of Human Knowledge and the Task of Pastoral Ministry” (PhD thesis, McMaster Divinity College, 2017); Jeffrey A. Stivason, From Inscrutability to Concursus: Benjamin B. Warfield’s Theological Construction of Revelation’s Mode from 1880–1915, Reformed Academic Dissertations, ed. John J. Hughes (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017); and Alan D. Strange, The Doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church in the Ecclesiology of Charles Hodge, Reformed Academic Dissertations (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2017). See also important contributions to this revisionist historiography from the not so recent past, including: W. Andrew Hoffecker, Piety and the Princeton Theologians: Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin B. Warfield (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1981); John D. Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982); David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1994–1996); and Peter Hicks, The Philosophy of Charles Hodge: A Nineteenth-Century Evangelical Approach to Reason, Knowledge and Truth (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1997). Note that in his recent doctoral dissertation, Allen Stanton argues convincingly that despite Ahlstrom’s assertions to the contrary, Samuel Miller was simply not guilty of accommodating the moral, religious, and epistemological optimism of the Scottish Enlightenment. See Allen M. Stanton, “Samuel Miller (1769–1850): Reformed Orthodoxy, Jonathan Edwards, and Old Princeton” (PhD thesis, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, 2020).

[9] For an in-depth analysis of the relationship between Witherspoon and the founders of Princeton Seminary, see Paul Kjoss Helseth, “The Legacy of John Witherspoon and the Founding of Princeton Theological Seminary: Samuel Stanhope Smith, Ashbel Green, and the Contested Meaning of Enlightened Education,” in A New Divinity: Transatlantic Reformed Evangelical Debates during the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Mark Jones and Michael A. G. Haykin (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018), 233–59.

[10] Samuel Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” The United States Christian Magazine 1.1 (1796): 45, 46. Note that while Miller’s name does not appear on either part of the published version of this essay, evidence that he claimed to be the author of the essay can be found in a letter in the Princeton Seminary archives in which he is addressing the “insufficiency of natural Religion.” In this letter, Miller encourages readers to “see my own remarks on the nature and Province of human reason in matters of religion, in the U.S. Christian Magazine, etc” (Samuel Miller, “Six Letters Concerning Contemporary Issues,” circa 1812, Box 19, File 37:21, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection, Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary Library).

[11] Scholars who endorse “the Ahlstrom thesis” typically insist that Witherspoon and his most faithful descendants in “the Witherspoon tradition” conceived of the relationship between piety and learning in transparently modernist or Enlightenment terms. For this reason, these scholars typically insist that the members of the tradition were persuaded that authentically enlightened education does not have to do with seeing and assessing the world in a sacramental or God-centered fashion, but with simply adding the results of biblical/theological reflection to what are already presumed to be the “objective” conclusions of impartial empirical analysis. For substantive—though I would argue problematic—articulations of this contention, see George M. Marsden, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 122–52; and George M. Marsden, “The Collapse of American Evangelical Academia,” in Reckoning with the Past: Historical Essays on American Evangelicalism from the Institute for the Study of American Evangelism, ed. D. G. Hart (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 221–66. For a different perspective, see Paul Kjoss Helseth, “‘Congeniality’ of Mind at Old Princeton Seminary: Warfieldians and Kuyperians Reconsidered,” WTJ 77 (2015): 1–14.

[12] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 46–47.

[13] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 47.

[14] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 47.

[15] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 45, 47.

[16] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 47.

[17] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 47.

[18] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 48.

[19] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 49, 48. Cf Lamentations 5:16.

[20] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 48.

[21] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 48.

[22] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 48. In addition to the discussion that follows, see also the discussions that are associated with note 57 below, as well as with the contents of notes 27, 38, 61, 73, 81, 94, and 104 below.

[23] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 49.

[24] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 49.

[25] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 50.

[26] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 50.

[27] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 51. Note that while Miller anticipated a critique of Enlightenment rationality that is being advanced by committed postmodernists in our day—a fact, by the way, that will likely come as a surprise to those whose understanding of Old Princeton’s religious epistemology is grounded in an uncritical endorsement of “the Ahlstrom thesis”—he would have refused to stand shoulder to shoulder with contemporary postmodernists on a host of significant issues. For example, unlike contemporary postmodernists, Miller insists that objective knowledge of the world in which we live in fact is possible, and it is possible in the fullest sense of the term only—as the rest of this essay will argue—for those whose minds have been renewed, enlarged, elevated, and strengthened by the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Spirit of God. In short, Miller argues that Christians alone can see the vast expanse of reality more or less for what it objectively is because Christians alone can have not just a speculative, but a spiritual understanding not just of what God has revealed in his Word, but also of the truth that is being revealed throughout the entirety of the world that he has made and that he is providentially sustaining and governing from one moment to the next. For discussions that are related to this point, see the discussion that is associated with note 22 above, as well as the contents of notes 38, 61, 73, 81, 94, and 104 below.

[28] Samuel Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” in The United States Christian Magazine 2.1 (1796): 122.

[29] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 123.

[30] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 123.

[31] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 124.

[32] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 123.

[33] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 124.

[34] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 124.

[35] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 124.

[36] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 124.

[37] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 124–25.

[38] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 124, 125, emphasis added. Note that what Miller affirms in this section of his essay does not require us to conclude that he endorsed a more Scottish understanding of the faculty psychology, for it does not require us to acknowledge that he conceived of the faculties or powers of the whole soul or mind as discrete substances. (For more on the faculty psychology, see Helseth, “The Legacy of John Witherspoon and the Founding of Princeton Theological Seminary,” 233–59.) While he no doubt acknowledges that the soul or mind in fact has a range of faculties or powers, it is altogether clear—as the forthcoming discussion will establish—that in his “philosophy of mind,” those faculties or powers are themselves the exercises of a single soul or a unitary mind that is governed in all of its exercises according to the underlying disposition or inclination or character or nature of the heart. In the quotation above, the justification for this contention can be found, I believe, in the qualifying phrase, “for the most part,” which I have italicized to highlight its significance. Throughout his published and unpublished writings, Miller toggles between two ways of thinking about the heart that are intimately related to one another. On the one hand, he refers to the heart in a narrower sense, i.e., in terms of those feelings or passions that actuate the soul or mind and that must be brought more and more into subjection to the gospel through the cultivation of virtuous habits and the prayerful pursuit of godliness. In this regard, see, for example, Samuel Miller, “Man Is an Active Being” (Matt 6:24), undated, Box 18, File 22, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection; Samuel Miller, “Prayer for the Increase of Faith” (Luke 27:5), July 1792, Box 9, File 17, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection; Samuel Miller, “The Government of the Heart” (Prov 4:25), August 1795, Box 9, File 21, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection; and Samuel Miller, “Coming Out and Separating Ourselves from the World” (2 Cor 6:17–18), November 1810, Box 14, File 20, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection. On the other hand, Miller also refers to the heart in a broader and more basic sense, i.e., as that which has to do with “the moral temper of man—or, that system of principles and dispositions, which form the moral character and which excite to action” (Samuel Miller, “Hardness of Heart” [Prov 28:4], April 1808, Box 13, File 3:1, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection). Note that in this broader and more basic sense, the heart “is the seat of all the love and hatred—the choice and aversion—the joys and sorrows which enter so largely into the char[acter] and exercises of the mind, and which urge to moral activity—[In other words,] The heart [in this broader and more basic sense] is the seat of depravity—and it is also the seat of regeneration—and religion” (Miller, “Hardness of Heart,” 1–2). For more on the heart, see the quotation associated with note 58 below. Finally, note that for Miller, the new nature or the new disposition or “the gracious principle” that “is implanted in the soul by the power of the Holy Ghost” in regeneration “is not of a partial nature. It does not affect one faculty alone, without extending to any of the rest. It does not enlighten the understanding without renewing and transforming the will, but it pervades and rectifies every faculty, regulates their operations, and directs them to those pursuits and exercises which are agreeable to the divine will. It is a principle, in short, which reaches to all the moral powers of the soul, and maintains an influence over them that is permanent and universal” (Samuel Miller, “Faith Shown by Works” [Jas 2:18], October 1792, Box 9, File 18:7, 6, 7, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection). In light of the last sentence of this quotation, we may reasonably conclude that for Miller, while improvements in reason alone will never generate genuine improvements either in holiness or in true religion, genuine improvements in holiness or in true religion—which, as we shall see, are always and everywhere grounded in the mediate and immediate operations of God’s Spirit on the heart—will always generate genuine improvements in reason, for it is genuine improvements in holiness or in true religion alone that enable the regenerate to see reality more and more for what objectively is, namely the theater of God’s glory. For discussions that are related to this point, see the discussions that are associated with notes 22 and 27 above, as well as the contents of notes 61, 73, 81, 94, and 104 below.

[39] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 125.

[40] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 125.

[41] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 125.

[42] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 125, emphasis added.

[43] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 126.

[44] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 126.

[45] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 125–26.

[46] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 126.

[47] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. II,” 126.

[48] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 46.

[49] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 50.

[50] Miller, “Remarks on the Extent and Province of Human Reason in Matters of Religion, No. I,” 49.

[51] Samuel Miller, “The Work of Evangelists and Missionaries” (Isa 61:4), September 12, 1822, in Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry: A Collection of Addresses and Articles by Faculty and Friends of Princeton Theological Seminary, 2 vols., ed. James M. Garretson (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012), 1:435.

[52] Miller, “Man Is an Active Being,” 10.

[53] Samuel Miller, “The Importance of Mature Preparatory Study for the Ministry,” July 3, 1829, in Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry, 1:530.

[54] Miller, “The Work of Evangelists and Missionaries,” 1:424.

[55] Samuel Miller, “The Excellent and Precious Nature of the Soul” (Matt 16:26), April 1792, Box 9, File 16:6, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[56] Miller, “The Excellent and Precious Nature of the Soul,” 6.

[57] See the discussion that is associated with note 22 above.

[58] Miller, “The Government of the Heart,” 3. For more on the heart, see the discussion in note 38 above.

[59] Samuel Miller, “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” (Jer 17:9), December 7, 1823, Box 17, File 9:4, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[60] Miller, “The Government of the Heart,” 4.

[61] Miller, “The Excellent and Precious Nature of the Soul,” 7. In the Preface to the first volume of his wide-ranging survey of the life of the mind in the eighteenth century, Miller notes that, “A man who is a bad Christian may be a very excellent mathematician, astronomer, or chemist; and one who denies or blasphemes the Saviour may write profoundly and instructively on some branches of science highly interesting to mankind. It is proper to commiserate the mistakes of such persons, to abhor their blasphemy, and to warn men against their fatal delusions; but it is surely difficult to see either the justice or utility of withholding from them that praise of genius or of learning to which they are fairly entitled” (Samuel Miller, A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century. Part the First; in Three Volumes: Containing a Sketch of the Revolutions and Improvements in Science, Arts, and Literature, During that Period [London: J. Johnson, St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1805], 1:viii). Note that hovering in the background of Miller’s willingness to celebrate the scholarly achievements of unbelieving academics is a philosophy of mind that makes it possible for him to affirm that truth claims that are truly true can be known or laid hold of in different senses, or with more or less competence or rightness. For Miller, a prime example of this reality can be found in the differing ways that the truth claims of the gospel are laid hold of by devils and by Christians. According to Miller, “The faith of Devils is a speculative conviction of the understanding and conscience, which, tho’ it fills them with anxiety and terror, is accompanied with no salutary impression on their temper or practice! While the faith of Christians, is an enlightened, cordial embracing of the Gospel, as a practical system!—It is receiving the record which God has given of his Son, in the love of it.—It is a reception in which the heart and affections accompany the exercise of the understanding leading to humble trust;—affectionate reliance;—and habitual, childlike obedience! In short, [while] the language of the faith of Devils is—We know thee who thou art, … The language of Christian faith, is My Lord and my God!” (Samuel Miller, “Christian Faith Distinguished from the Faith of Devils” [Jas 2:19], December 1810, Box 15, File 1:19, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection). This citation is relevant to the discussion in the body of this essay because it suggests that for Miller, just as it is possible for devils to have a true—even if only a speculative—understanding of a number of the truth claims that are grounded in and associated with the good news of the gospel, so too it is possible for unbelievers to have a measure—maybe even a large measure—of speculative competence with respect to truth claims that are truly true, even if they do not have the moral wherewithal to see those truth claims for what they objectively or rightly are, namely truth claims that testify in some true sense to the wisdom, glory, and beauty of the God who created and is providentially sustaining and governing the world that we inhabit from one moment to the next. This idea will be developed further in the discussion that follows. For discussions that are related to this point, see the discussion that is associated with note 22 above, as well as the contents of note 38 above, and notes 73, 81, 94, and 104 below.

[62] Samuel Miller, “The Good Old Way” (Jer 6:16), February 1813, Box 16, File 6:6, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[63] Miller, “The Excellent and Precious Nature of the Soul,” 2.

[64] Samuel Miller, “Wonderful Things in the Bible” (Ps 119:18), January 18, 1824, Box 17, File 9:10, 9, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection. See also Samuel Miller, “The Hearts of All Men Alike” (Prov 27:19), May 1809, Box 13, File 18:11, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[65] Samuel Miller, “It is the Spirit that Quickeneth” (John 6:63), January 4, 1836, Box 18, File 2:8, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[66] Samuel Miller, “The Carnal Mind Is Enmity against God” (Rom 8:7), August 1818, Box 16, File 20:5, 6, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[67] Samuel Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual” (2 Cor 10:4), October 13, 1826, in Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry, 1:467.

[68] Samuel Miller, “The Evil of Sin Considered and Improved” (Jer 2:10), June 1808, Box 13, File 6:12, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[69] Miller, “Wonderful Things in the Bible,” 10, 9.

[70] Samuel Miller, “The Servitude of Sin” (John 8:34), December 1798, Box 10, File 1:19, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[71] Miller, “It is the Spirit that Quickeneth,” 8. Note that Miller uses similar imagery elsewhere: The person who is dead in sin, he argues, is “like the blind man, who has learned the language pertaining to the science of light and colours … but has never yet seen colours with his own eyes, and knows nothing experimentally of those feelings which they excite” (Miller, “Wonderful Things in the Bible,” 12).

[72] Miller, “The Carnal Mind Is Enmity against God,” 5–6.

[73] Miller, “The Servitude of Sin,” 4. Elsewhere Miller insists that “anterior to the renewal of their minds by the Holy Spirit,” the unregenerate are “in love with the world;—in love with sin;—having their affections set on things below, not on things above;—having no desire to do the will of God, or to enjoy communion with him; in short, having no relish for his service;—no appetite for Zion’s provision;—no well founded (sic) hope toward God;—and no preparation for the holy joys of his presence” (Miller, “It is the Spirit that Quickeneth,” 9–10). But why does Miller believe that those who remain “dead in trespasses [and sins]” continually “[seek] their happiness any where but in God and religion”? (Miller, “It is the Spirit that Quickeneth,” 8, 10). Miller’s answer to this question reveals his clear endorsement of the notion that the inability of the unregenerated moral agent is always and everywhere moral and not structural or constitutional. According to Miller, the indifference of the unregenerate to the moral excellence and beauty of the things of God does not find its genesis in an intrinsic deficiency in the makeup or composition of their souls, but in the sinful disposition or inclination of their hearts. The unregenerate do not seek their happiness in the God of the Bible, he contends, not because “they are destitute of those faculties which the Creator requires to be spent in his service! No, they cannot urge any such excuse as this for turning away from God to the world! They have understandings capable of learning what is right;—wills capable of being turned to what is right;—and affections capable of being fixed upon what is right! But, alas! They have no heart—no relish—no taste for spiritual things! They are in this respect dead;—dead to God;—dead to the joys and glories of his kingdom here; and dead to all the treasures and attractions of his presence hereafter! And utterly unable to help themselves, or to effect their own deliverance from this guilt and misery!” (Miller, “It is the Spirit that Quickeneth,” 10–11). For unambiguous evidence that Miller endorses the notion of moral and not natural inability, a distinction that he argues is “deeply founded both in reason and in Scripture,” see Samuel Miller, “Sinners Their Own Destroyers” (Hos 13:9), September 1802, Box 10, File 11:20–22, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection. For discussions that are related to this point, see the discussion that is associated with note 22 above, as well as the contents of notes 38 and 61 above, and notes 81, 94, and 104 below.

[74] Miller, “The Servitude of Sin,” 3.

[75] Miller, “The Carnal Mind Is Enmity against God,” 5.

[76] Miller, “The Servitude of Sin,” 3.

[77] Samuel Miller, “Meetness for the Inheritance of the Saints in Light” (Col 1:12), September 21, 1817, Box 16, File 12, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[78] Miller, “It is the Spirit that Quickeneth,” 18.

[79] Miller, “Meetness for the Inheritance of the Saints in Light,” Box 16, File 12.

[80] Miller, “It is the Spirit that Quickeneth,” 18.

[81] Miller, “The Carnal Mind Is Enmity against God,” 6. Note that for Miller, in order for a moral agent to see and therefore know truth for what it objectively is, the soul or mind of that moral agent must be biased in the right way. In other words, there must be a kind of moral correspondence or likeness—or, to put it differently, a kind of moral cordiality or congeniality—between the knower and the thing being known. What this suggests, among other things, is that Miller rejects the myth of neutrality, for he rejects the idea that objective knowledge is possible only when the object that is being known can be laid hold of objectively, i.e., completely without any kind of moral bias whatsoever. For discussions that are related to this point, see the discussion that is associated with note 22 above, as well as the contents of notes 38, 61, and 73 above, and notes 94 and 104 below.

[82] Samuel Miller, “The Secret of the Lord with Them that Fear Him” (Ps 25:14), September 1807, Box 12, File 11:6, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[83] Miller, “It is the Spirit that Quickeneth,” 18–20.

[84] Miller, “The Importance of Mature Preparatory Study for the Ministry,” 530. For a helpful sermon on the means that God uses to advance the kingdom of God in the lives of individual believers as well as in the world more generally, see Samuel Miller, “Seeking the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness First” (Matt 6:33), December 1810, Box 14, File 23, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[85] Samuel Miller, “The Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ” (Phil 3:8), May 1807, Box 12, File 8:11, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[86] Samuel Miller, “Sanctification by the Truth” (John 17:17), September 18, 1825, Box 17, File 17:21, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[87] Miller, “The Excellency of the Knowledge of Christ,” 19.

[88] Miller, “The Excellent and Precious Nature of the Soul,” 9.

[89] Miller, “Sanctification by the Truth,” 18.

[90] Miller, “Wonderful Things in the Bible,” 15.

[91] Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:474–75.

[92] Miller, “Meetness for the Inheritance of the Saints in Light,” 1.

[93] Samuel Miller, The Earth Filled with the Glory of the Lord: A Sermon Preached at Baltimore, September 9, 1835 before the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, at Their Twenty-Sixth Annual Meeting (Boston: Crocker & Brewster, 1835), 5–6.

[94] Samuel Miller, “Thy Kingdom Come” (Matt 6:10), March 1807, Box 12, File 6:3, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection. In a sermon that he first preached in New York City in 1811 entitled “The Mystery of Providence,” Miller makes it clear that in his estimation, not only is God’s kingdom all-encompassing, but God’s reign extends to the entirety of his all-encompassing kingdom, and it does so not just in a “general,” but in a “particular” sense as well. “There are multitudes[,] my friends[,] who would shudder at the thought of denying the general providence of God who are very far from acknowledging his hand and his agency in every thing—however apparently small, that may occur! Nay, many even of the pious appear to have much atheism in their habits of feeling, and to be grievously defective as to this part of Christian faith!—They see and confess the hand of God in great matters and [in] the rise and fall of Empires, and in great national conflicts; but in reference to the minute details of personal success and disappointment—the government of God is seldom practically realized—seldom devoutly adored!—Yet there is no point concerning which the Word of God is more perfectly explicit;—declaring that all events—even the smallest—… are all under the direction of that almighty Providence which never slumbers nor sleeps!—If there be a general providence it is plain there must be a particular one, for the greatest events are often connected with the smallest—nay are often dependent upon them! Let us, then, cleave to the doctrine of a particular Providence,—the doctrine of the holy and wise government of God in every thing,—not only as a pleasing theory,—but as the … anchor of our daily and hourly consolations;—As the animating principle of prayer,—and as the life of Christian hope! … Happy is that believer, then, who makes it his habitual study to walk with God, day by day, in the dealings of his Providence, as well as in the work of his Holy Spirit.—Who sees God in every thing, acknowledges him in every thing,—and enjoys Him in every thing! O, if there be any thing adapted to make a believer cheerful—to make him rejoice even in tribulation, it is the believing apprehension [that] God reigns … !” (Samuel Miller, “The Mystery of God’s Providence” [John 13:7], July 1811, Box 15, File 10:17–19, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection). For discussions that are related to this point, see the discussion that is associated with note 22 above, as well as the contents of notes 38, 61, 73, and 81 above, and note 104 below.

[95] Miller, “Thy Kingdom Come,” 3.

[96] Samuel Miller, “The Wonderful Condescension of God in Regarding and Visiting Man” (Ps 8:3–4), May 1804, Box 11, File 3:26–27, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[97] Samuel Miller, “The Christian’s Relation to God” (Ps 140:6), May 1810, Box 14, File 9:22, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[98] Samuel Miller, “The Choice and Prayer of Solomon” (1 Kgs 3:5–14), March 1, 1829, Box 17, File 24:14, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[99] Miller, “The Choice and Prayer of Solomon,” 15.

[100] Samuel Miller, The Literary Fountains Healed, A Sermon, Preached in the Chapel of the College of New Jersey (March 9, 1823) (Trenton: George Sherman, 1823), 37, 24, 30, 29, 30.

[101] Miller, The Literary Fountains Healed, 16, 24, 28.

[102] Miller, The Literary Fountains Healed, 37, 29. Note that the inclusion of the word “strengthened” in the quotation above is warranted by Miller’s insistence, earlier in the same paragraph from which I am quoting, that piety or “real religion” “enlarges and strengthens the mind; imparts to it a new and benign impulse; fixes the thoughts; begets habits of close attention, and sober reflection; leads the individual who is under its influence to turn his views inward; to converse with himself; to examine his own exercises, and, in short, to subject to a more regular discipline than before, all his mental powers” (Miller, The Literary Fountains Healed, 28–29).

[103] Miller, “Meetness for the Inheritance of the Saints in Light,” 1.

[104] Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:471. Note that Miller is eager—and never reluctant—to embrace “Genuine and even profound learning,” even if that learning is the learning of an unbelieving scholar (Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:471). “To despise [genuine learning],” he argues, “is at once, to insult our reason, and the almighty Author of reason. To decry it, is one of those devices of Satan, by which he ensnares even good men into the service of his kingdom” (Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:471). For a discussion of how the epistemological capacities of unbelieving scholars are related to those of believing scholars, see note 61 above.

[105] Samuel Miller, “Departing from the Simplicity That Is in Christ” (2 Cor 11:3), November 1804, Box 11, File 7:15, in The Samuel Miller Manuscript Collection.

[106] Samuel Miller, “The Duty of the Church to Take Measures for Providing an Able and Faithful Ministry: A Sermon,” The Sermon, Delivered at the Inauguration of the Rev. Archibald Alexander, D.D., as Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology, in the Theological Seminary of the Presbyterian Church, in the United States of America, To Which are Added, the Professor’s Inaugural Address, and the Charge to the Professor and Students (New York: Whiting and Watson, Theological and Classical Booksellers, 1812), 17–18. Note that Miller is here modifying a well-known quotation from Witherspoon in order to reinforce his conviction that learning in the fullest and best sense of the term—which for him just is sanctified learning, or learning that is grounded in the mediate and immediate operations of the Spirit of God—is always informed by “vital piety,” and it always serves to advance the interests of “vital piety,” whatever those interests happen to be in one context or another. The original Witherspoon quote reads as follows: “Accursed be all that learning which sets itself in opposition to the cross of Christ! Accursed be all that learning which disguises or is ashamed of the cross of Christ! Accursed be all that learning which fills the room that is due to the cross of Christ! And once more, Accursed be all that learning which is not made subservient to the honor and glory of the cross of Christ!” (John Witherspoon, “Glorying in the Cross” [Gal 6:14], in The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon, 2nd ed. [Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1802], 1:393).

[107] Miller, “Departing from the Simplicity That Is in Christ,” 15.

[108] Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:474.

[109] Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:473, 474. Note that for Miller, the need to both stand against and refute the erroneous conclusions of unsanctified learning is particularly pronounced in large cities. In this regard, see Samuel Miller, “The Difficulties and Temptations Which Attend the Preaching of the Gospel in Great Cities” (Romans 1:15, 16), October 9, 1820, in Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry, 1:400–21. For an excellent discussion of both the content and the significance of this sermon, see James M. Garretson, An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 291–304.

[110] Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:474, 478.

[111] Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:478.

[112] Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:478.

[113] Miller, “Christian Weapons Not Carnal but Spiritual,” 1:478.

[114] Samuel Miller, “Christ the Model of Gospel Ministers” (Matt 4:19), June 1, 1835, in Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry, 1:606. I would like to thank Robert Caldwell, Ardel Caneday, Kevin DeYoung, James Garretson, Hans Madueme, Walter Schultz, David Smith, Allen Stanton, and Brian Tabb for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.

Paul Kjoss Helseth

Paul Kjoss Helseth is a ruling elder at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Wayzata, Minnesota. He is also professor of Christian thought at the University of Northwestern—St. Paul, in Roseville, Minnesota.

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