Samuel Miller, who taught church history and government at Princeton Theological Seminary in the first half of the nineteenth century, wrote a helpful book on manners for clergy. Despite the presence of a good deal of curious advice (to which Carl Trueman has already alluded), there is much profit for the young minister who will work through this book. I suspect there is profit for the older minister as well. The book presents itself as a series of letters written by Miller on a handful of subjects, touching on a whole host of issues from spitting on carpet to how to handle the seminary’s library books.
The eighth “letter” to the young seminarian touches on his “habits in the study.” I imagine there are a few seminarians who follow my unsteady attempts at blogging. If not, there may be some who stumble upon this post. I found Miller’s remarks on the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the young student of theology superb, and so I provide them for you (broken up for easier “blog reading”). I do so because I wish someone who have given me this advice when I was in seminary. Indeed, this is the kind of advice I need even today.
Constantly implore THE AID OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN STUDY. The duty of humbly and importunately asking the blessed Spirit’s influence, to sanctify our affections, and to aid us in cultivating all the graces and virtues of the christian life, will not, I suppose, be disputed by any one who has the smallest tincture of piety. But I fear it is not so universally recognised, even by pious students, that the same gracious aid ought to be solicited and expected, in all intellectual culture, and in all investigation of the truth.
Is it either unreasonable or unscriptural to believe, that the Spirit of God can, and often does, enlarge and invigorate the intellectual faculties, extend the scope of their vision, and given them deeper and clearer views than without this aid they could have taken? It were, it seems to me, a species of atheism to doubt it.
“Think with yourself how easily and insensibly, by one turn of thought, the Father of lights can lead you into a large scene of useful ideas. He can teach you to lay hold on a clew which may guide your thoughts with safety and ease through all the difficulties of an intricate subject. By his secret and supreme government, he can draw you to read such a treatise, or converse with such a person, who may give you more light into some deep subject in an hour, than you could obtain by a month of your own solitary labour.” [Miller cites here Watt’s Improvement of the Mind]
You remember, I presume, that Milton, in preparing to enter on the composition of the Paradise Lost, recognised, in the most explicit manner, his desire and expectation of the Divine help of which I speak. “This is not to be obtained,” says he, “but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit that can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and sends out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases.”
Did the poet speak thus of his work? And shall the divine, or the candidate for the sacred office, hesitate to adopt similar language concerning his infinitely momentous inquiries and employments? Nay, did even heathen poets frequently begin their compositions by invoking the aid of their fancies deities; and shall christian ministers, who know that they have an omniscient and omnipresent God, who is “able and ready to help,” neglect to apply day by day, for that help?
If you wish, then, to investigate profoundly and profitably; if you desire to avoid the deplorable delusions in which others have fallen, and to preserved from that pride and presumption of intellect which have ensnared some of the greatest men that ever lived; “pray without ceasing,” that the Spirit of all grace may enlighten your mind; may strengthen all its powers; may inspire you with wisdom and discernment; and may deliver you, in your search after truth, from the influence of that pride, vanity, prejudice, bigotry, and passion, which are so apt to blind the perceptive faculties, and control the judgments, even of good men.
Especially do this, with more than usual care and solemnity, when you are entering on a new study, or engaging in the perusal of a new book. Does every christian implore the blessing of God when he sits down to a social meal? And can a christian student sit down to an intellectual feast, or effort, without importunately asking of Him who gave him his mind, and supports it ever moment in exercise, to preside over all its operations, and to crown them with his abundant blessing?
Samuel Miller, Letters on Clerical Manners and Habits; Addressed to a Student in the Theological Seminary at Princeton, N.J. (New York: G. & C. Carvill, 1827), 253-55.