J. Graham Miller – A Personal Memoir
Graham Miller was a friend and mentor to many – not least to me – and ‘I thank my God in every remembrance of [him].’ Many will echo this sentiment as they read A Day’s March Nearer Home, compiled from his journals, formed into an autobiography by the Rev Iain Murray, and published by the Banner of Truth Trust in 2010.
Those who were touched by his extensive ministry in New Zealand, Vanuatu, Australia and beyond, will be refreshed as they find that ‘he, being dead, yet speaketh’. And those for whom Graham Miller is just a name from the past should be stimulated when they read of God’s gracious dealings with one of his choice servants and see how wonderfully the Great King and Head of the Church can use a life completely surrendered to him.
Graham Miller’s character was such that all of us who knew him will have our own favourite stories to tell of the times we spent with him. For example a story has come down of his own mother-in-law saying at a family gathering that, ‘All of Graham’s geese were swans’, a more picturesque way of saying that Graham could always see the best in people and the brighter side of a dark event or trying situation.
During the late 1970’s Graham Miller and I were ministers of neighbouring parishes in the southern suburbs of Sydney (Australia) – Graham towards the closing years of his parish ministry and I just past the beginning of mine. He was a true father-in-God, always concerned for my well-being and growth in the faith. His first question whenever we met was: ‘Are you encouraged, Bob?’ Graham himself was always encouraged, and he was in turn ‘a great encourager of the brethren’. If he discerned in our conversation that I could benefit from some guidance, he’d ask, ‘Have you read . . . ?’ The answer of course would be ‘No.’ ‘Oh, well, I’ll lend it to you.’ In due course the book would be handed over, an envelope strategically placed as a bookmark and with an appropriate Bible verse written on the flap.
He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture, and many of his friends, colleagues and parishioners will have a collection of envelopes on which he wrote down for them just the right verse to fit just the right situation at just the right time.
Graham Miller held the Bible to be the Word of God wherein the Christian finds all that he needs to know for salvation, faith and life, the only rule of faith and practice. Just as in classical debating speakers are marked on matter, manner and method, Graham Miller found that the Bible provided him with a fathomless depth of material to teach, demonstrated the way in which he should teach that material and provided him with a methodology beyond which he needed no other. Because of this he was willing to swim against the tide of the prevailing shallowness of our day and the hankering after using the world’s methods in doing the Lord’s work, which now afflicts so many. He fervently believed with Spurgeon that ‘we cannot do the Lord’s work with the devil’s weapons’.
Each of his ministries brought many blessings to those in each particular place, whether for a short time as in a convention ministry or in a longer and more settled ministry on the mission field or in a parish. There was a transparency in his life which enabled people to see clearly that he practised what he preached, modelling what it meant to be ‘a man in Christ’.
He left many legacies. Throughout his life Graham practised the art of ‘praying through’, praying at all times and in all things. He found contentment in the providence and purposes of God. He was always prepared to go wherever God called him, to do whatever God asked him to do and to trust in God’s enabling to do it. He was a great encourager of the brethren, particularly of younger ministers. His home and family life were exemplary. He spoke and wrote in a gentlemanly way which I liked to describe as ‘Milleresque’ and which is sadly losing currency in the English-speaking world today.
Of all the many things I learnt from him, the most helpful has been Personal Daily Bible Study (PDBS). The concept is simple enough, and he never claimed originality for it, but I doubt that anyone ever took it to the heights he did. Just take a portion of Scripture each day. Give it a title. Write down the main character, and if you write down ‘God’ write what attribute of God is displayed in that passage. Choose a key verse. Write down five important facts, with verse references. Meditate on the passage and in conclusion write down its most important lesson for you.
‘Bob’, he said in high Milleresque, ‘if you do this every day you’ll soon have a multitude of sermons rising up and crying: “Preach me! Preach me!” And you’ll never be up late on Saturday night wondering what you’ll preach on the next day.’ Time has proved him true. My ever-growing collection has given me the bones to be fleshed out as sermons, addresses and devotionals on all sorts of occasions, and as the basis for leading Bible study groups. In fact, to give each participant in a Bible study group a sheet of paper marked out for PDBS and lead them through doing it is to form the basis for much meaningful discussion and to put a premium on time.
Graham Miller was an avid, disciplined and critical reader. Some of the books he had read and passed on were value-added, with useful passages marked, doubtful passages questioned and his own helpful comments added in the margins. This practice provided him with a storehouse of anecdotes and quotes for preaching and teaching and enabled him to compile books gathered from Calvin’s writings in particular but other reformed authors as well, and published by Banner as An A-Z Of Christian Truth And Experience, Calvin’s Wisdom: An Anthology, and The Treasury of His Promises.
He once made a ‘confession’ to some of us – that he never had a trail of people coming to his door seeking counselling, which he put down to the fact that he was answering their questions and bringing Scripture to bear on their problems in his preaching – Graham’s way of saying ‘go and do thou likewise’.
Every day for Graham Miller was a walk with the Lord – ‘a day’s march nearer home’ – and now he is ‘forever with the Lord’. Thanks be to God for such a faithful servant, ‘whose faith follow’.
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