Samuel Miller was one of the founders of Princeton Seminary in 1812. He himself taught at Princeton for 36 years. The article we publish is part of the sermon that Miller preached at the installation of Archibald Alexander as first professor at Princeton in August, 1812. The full sermon has been published by Presbyterian Heritage Publication, P.O. Box 180922, Dallas, TX 75218. The excerpt reprinted here is taken from this publication with permission.
. . . A further means which the Church is bound to employ for providing an able and faithful ministry isfurnishing a seminary in which the candidates for this office may receive the most appropriate and complete instruction which she has it in her power to give. In vain are young men of fervent piety, and the best talents, sought after and discovered; and in vain are funds provided for their support, while preparing for the ministry, unless pure and ample fountains of knowledge are opened to them, and unless competent guides are assigned to direct them in drinking at those fountains. This, however, is so plain, so self-evident, that I need not enlarge upon its proof.
But perhaps it may be supposed by some, that there is no good reason why the means of education should be provided by the Church, as such. It may be imagined, that they will as likely be provided, and as well provided, by private instructors, as by public seminaries. But all reason, and all experience, pronounce a different judgment, and assign, as the ground of their decision, such considerations as these.
First, when the Church herself provides a seminary for the instruction of her own candidates for the ministry, she can at all times inspect and regulate the course of their education; can see that it is sound, thorough, and faithful; can direct and control the instructors; can correct such errors, and make such improvements in her plans of instruction, as the counsels of the whole body may discover. Whereas, if all is left to the individual discretion, the preparation for the service of the Church may be in the highest degree defective, or ill-judged, not to say unsound, without the Church being able effectually to interpose her correcting hand.
Again, when the Church herself takes the instruction of her candidates into her own hands, she can furnish a more extensive, accurate, and complete course of instruction than can be supposed to be, ordinarily, within the reach of detached individuals. In erecting and endowing a seminary, she can select the best instructors out of her whole body. She can give her pupils the benefit of the whole time, and the undivided exertions, of these instructors. Instead of having all the branches of knowledge, to which the theological student applies himself, taught by the single master, she can divide the task of instruction among several competent teachers, in such a manner as to admit of each doing full justice both to his pupils and himself. She can form one ample library, by which a given number of students may be much better accommodated, when collected together, and having access to it in common, than if the same amount of books were divided into a corresponding number of smaller libraries. And she can digest, and gradually improve a system of instruction, which shall be the result of combined wisdom, learning, and experience.Whereas those candidates for the sacred office who commit themselves to the care of individual ministers, selected according to the convenience of the caprice of each pupil, must, in many cases, at least, be under the guidance of instructors who have neither the talents, the learning, nor the leisure to do them justice—and who have not even a tolerable collection of books to supply the lack of their own furniture as teachers.
Further, when the Church herself provides the means of instruction for her own ministry (at a public seminary), she will, of course, be furnished with ministers who have enjoyed, in some measure, auniform course of education; who have derived their knowledge from the same masters, and the same approved fountains, and who may, therefore, be expected to agree in their views of evangelical truth and order. There will thus be the most effectual provision made, speaking after the manner of men, for promoting the unity and peace of the Church. Whereas, if every candidate for the holy ministry is instructed by a different mater, each of whom may be supposed to have his peculiarities of expression and opinion (especially about minor points of doctrine and discipline), the harmony of our ecclesiastical judicatories will gradually be impaired; and strife, and perhaps eventually schism, may be expected to arise in our growing and happy Church.
It is important to add, that when the Church provides for educating Can a number of candidates for the ministry at the same seminary, these candidates themselves may be expected to be of essential service to each other. Numbers being engaged together in the same studies will naturally excite the principle of emulation. As “iron sharpeneth iron” (Prov. 27:17), so the amicable competition, and daily intercourse of pious students, can scarcely fail of leading to closer and more persevering application; to deeper research; to richer acquirements; and to a more indelible impression, of that which is learned, upon their minds, than can be expected to take place in solitary study.
Nor is it by any means unworthy of notice, that when the ministers of a Church are generally trained up at the same seminary, they are naturally led to form early friendships, which bind them together to the end of life, and which are productive of that mutual confidence and assistance, which can scarcely fail of shedding a benign influence on their personal enjoyment, and their official comfort and usefulness. These early friendships may also be expected to add another impulse to a sense of duty, in annually drawing ministers from a distance to meet each other in the higher judicatories of the Church; and which is scarcely less important, to facilitate and promote that mutual consultation respecting plans of research, and new and interesting publications, which is, at once, among the safeguards, as well as pleasures, of theological authorship.
These, brethren, are some of the considerations which call upon every Church to erect, and to support with vigor and efficiency, a theological seminary for the training of her ministry. If she desires to augment the number of her ministers; if she wishes their preparation for the sacred office to be the best in her power to give, and at the least possible expense; if she desires that they may be a holy phalanx, united in the same great views of doctrine and discipline, and adhering with uniformity and with cordial affection to her public standards; if she deprecates the melancholy spectacle of a heterogeneous, divided, and distracted ministry; and finally, if she wishes her ministers to be educated under circumstances most favorable to their acting in after life as a band of brethren, united in friendship as well as in sentiment; then let her take measures for training them up under her own eye, and control; under the same teachers; in the same course of study; and under all those advantages of early intercourse, and affectionate competition, which attend a pubic seminary.
In favor of all this reasoning, the best experience, and the general practice of the Church, in different ages, may be confidently urged. “It has been the way of God,” says the pious and learned Dr. Lightfoot, “to instruct his people by a studious and learned ministry, ever since he gave a written word to instruct them in.” “Who,” he asks, “were the standing ministry of Israel, all the time from the giving of the law, till the captivity in Babylon? Not prophets, or inspired men; for they were but occasional teachers; but the Priests and Levites, who became learned in the law by study (Deut. 33:10; Hos. 4:6; Mal. 2:7). And for this end, they were disposed into forty-eight cites, as so many universities, where they studied the law together; and from thence were sent out into the several synagogues to teach the people.”
They had also, the same writer informs us, “contributions made for the support of these students, while they studied in the universities, as well as afterwards when they preached in the synagogues.” He tells us further, in another place, “that there were among the Jews, authorized individual teachers, of great eminence, who had their Midrashoth, or Divinity Schools, in which they expounded the law to their scholars or disciples.” “Of these Divinity; Schools,” he adds, “there is very frequent mention made among the Jewish writers, more especially of the Schools of Hillel and Shammai. Such a Divinity Professor was Gamaliel, at whose feet the great apostle of the Gentiles received his education.”
Under the Christian dispensation, the same system, in substance, was adopted and continued. At a very early period, there was a seminary of high reputation established in the city of Alexandria, in which candidates of the holy ministry were trained up together, and under the ablest instructors, both in divine and human learning—a seminary in which Pantaenus, Clemans Alexandrinus, Origen, and others, taught with high reputation. Eusebius and Jerome both declare that this seminary had existed, as a nursery of the Church and had enjoyed a succession of able teachers from the time of Mark the evangelist. Writers on Christian antiquities also assure us that there were seminaries of a similar kind very early established at Rome, Caesarea, Antioch, and other places; and that they were considered as essential to the honor and prosperity of the Church.
At the period of the Reformation, religion and learning revived together. The Reformers were not less eminent for their erudition, than for their piety and zeal. They contended earnestly for an enlightened, as well as a faithful ministry; and, accordingly, almost all the Protestant Churches, when they found themselves in a situation to admit of the exertion, founded theological seminaries, as nurseries for their ministry. This was the case in Geneva, in Scotland, in Holland, in Germany, and, with very little exception, throughout Reformed Christendom. And the history of these seminaries, while it certainly demonstrates that such establishments are capable of being perverted, demonstrates with equal evidence that they have been made, and might always, with the divine blessing on a faithful administration, be rendered extensively useful.