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A Day’s March Nearer Home – A Review by Hugh Cartwright

Category Book Reviews
Date December 24, 2010

J Graham Miller (1913-2008) was the son of a Presbyterian minister and his wife who had emigrated with their parents from Scotland to New Zealand when they were children. After graduating in law from Otago University and studying theology at his denomination’s Knox College (where he discovered that the professors were undermining confidence in Biblical inerrancy and more-or-less-subtly promoting liberal doctrinal views) Graham Miller served as a missionary in the New Hebrides (1941-1952), minister in Papakura, Auckland (1953-1965), principal of Melbourne Bible Institute (1965-1970), missionary in the New Hebrides (1971-1973) and minister of St Giles’ Presbyterian Church, Hurstville, Sydney (1974-1980). In retirement he produced several books1 which were published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

This book is taken from the subject’s manuscript account of his life, from childhood in a New Zealand Presbyterian manse through to his closing years in retirement in north-east Victoria, written in the hope that ‘later on children’s children will browse through these family archives with interest and surprise’. The selection has been made by his personal friend and successor in St Giles, Rev Iain H. Murray, who has added some additional and explanatory material.

This is a modest and unselfconscious story of personal, domestic and ministerial godliness lived out in a variety of environments by a perhaps rather-private Christian whose convictions and circumstances often forced him to take a lonely stand in the public arena. He faced opposition in Church courts and mission committees because of his adherence to, and contention for, the avowed confessional position of his Presbyterian denomination on matters such as the bodily resurrection of Christ and the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible in its entirety as the written Word of God. He came into conflict with his former fellow student, Principal L G Geering, whose ‘brash and bold unbelief’ he claimed ‘so flattened the Church that it has not recovered’. He maintained that the failure of the leaders of the more conservative Westminster Fellowship within the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand (which he himself had led for some time) ‘to make any publicly convincing protest over the laudatory endorsement of Principal L G Geering at the 1966 General Assembly’ was a lost opportunity which permanently reduced the testimony and influence of the Fellowship.

An Appendix containing extracts from public addresses lays down ‘as an axiom that our theology will determine our preaching, our conduct of worship and all the varied elements of the entire service,’ and expresses his thought-provoking views on the relation between theology and preaching, the priorities and patterns for a long preaching ministry, prayer in public worship and the public reading of the Scriptures. He affirmed: ‘It is fatal merely to be activated by enthusiasm – even by evangelistic zeal – unless these are ballasted by doctrinal realities powerfully attested by the Holy Ghost’.

In his Introduction, Mr Murray comments that ‘once or twice some readers may surmise that my own judgement would not be identical with his’. So it is with us. Dr Miller was personally committed to the theology of Calvin and the Westminster Confession and was at home among the works of the Puritans and old Scottish divines, which makes one wonder at his enthusiasm for the Keswick-type conventions of that time and the Billy Graham evangelistic crusades. One suspects that the attraction of such was their commitment to the biblical view of the Bible which he himself embraced.

He chose to conduct his ministry within denominations where the abandonment of fundamental truths was tolerated, though he resisted movements for union which would have further diluted their testimony to truth. The archives of the New Zealand Presbyterian Church describe him as a ‘firm opponent of organic Church Union in NZ’, and he was prominent in the section of the Presbyterian Church of Australia which remained out of the 1977 Union. Although he insisted on the use of the Authorised Version of the Holy Bible in public worship, he was open to the use of other versions in private devotions. There were matters of ecclesiastical practice which we would not endorse.

Others besides ministers can find Mr Miller’s view of retirement helpful:

Retirement should be the crown of our life’s work, not its nadir. It is the time for us to take up the vocation of intercessory prayer. All that has gone before, first in the preparation for ministry, and then in the exercise of that ministry, is but the preparation to the third and final earthly ministry of prayer. Many of God’s saints have made this discovery, and, as a by-product, it has exorcised the demons of despondency and loneliness.

He draws attention to Anna (Luke 2:36-38). In his diary he notes approvingly John Calvin’s comment: ‘God does not prolong the lives of His people that they may pamper themselves, but magnify Him for His benefits which He is daily heaping upon us’.

It is surely testimony to the influence of the gospel in the New Hebrides that the President of the Republic of Vanuatu concluded a letter of condolence to the family of Dr Miller after his death in 2008: ‘I thank the Lord for all the many known and unknown blessings which the Lord has given to the New Hebrides and Vanuatu through the dedicated life of His good servant’.

Notes

    • Book Cover for 'A Day's March Nearer Home'

      A Day’s March Nearer Home

      Autobiography of J. Graham Miller

      by J. Graham Miller


      price $29.00 $26.10

      Description

      J Graham Miller (1913-2008) was the son of a Presbyterian minister and his wife who had emigrated with their parents from Scotland to New Zealand when they were children. After graduating in law from Otago University and studying theology at his denomination’s Knox College (where he discovered that the professors were undermining confidence in Biblical […]

    • Book Cover for 'An A-Z of Christian Truth and Experience'
      price $21.00 $18.90

      Description

      J Graham Miller (1913-2008) was the son of a Presbyterian minister and his wife who had emigrated with their parents from Scotland to New Zealand when they were children. After graduating in law from Otago University and studying theology at his denomination’s Knox College (where he discovered that the professors were undermining confidence in Biblical […]

    • Cover Image of 'Calvin's Wisdom'

      Calvin’s Wisdom

      An Anthology Arranged Alphabetically

      by J. Graham Miller


      price $28.00 $25.20

      Description

      J Graham Miller (1913-2008) was the son of a Presbyterian minister and his wife who had emigrated with their parents from Scotland to New Zealand when they were children. After graduating in law from Otago University and studying theology at his denomination’s Knox College (where he discovered that the professors were undermining confidence in Biblical […]

    • Treasury Of His Promises

      Treasury Of His Promises

      366 Daily Bible Readings by Graham Miller

      by J. Graham Miller


      price $19.00 $17.10

      Description

      J Graham Miller (1913-2008) was the son of a Presbyterian minister and his wife who had emigrated with their parents from Scotland to New Zealand when they were children. After graduating in law from Otago University and studying theology at his denomination’s Knox College (where he discovered that the professors were undermining confidence in Biblical […]

Reprinted with permission from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, December 2010 edition. [Notes added.]

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