Thursday, July 01, 2010

A Day's March Nearer Home by J. Graham Miller

A Day's March Nearer Home: Autobiography of J. Graham Miller,
Edited by Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 2010, 328pp.

In a care home in Wangaratta, Australia lived an elderly couple, Graham and Flora Miller. They had been married for over sixty years. Although now rather frail, their faith in Christ and love for each other was evident to all. In a letter to his son, Graham Miller wrote, “Our health grows poorer as our expectations grow richer… we advance ‘a day’s march nearer home.’” That line from James Montgomery’s hymn, For ever with the Lord! admirably sums up the Millers’ attitude to life. It is also the title of Graham Miller’s journal from which this autobiography was drawn. The journal was originally written as a family archive for his grandchildren to read with “interest and surprise”. But you don’t have to be a member of the Miller family for this autobiography to fascinate, astonish and inspire.

Graham was a Presbyterian Minister. He began his ministerial career in the early 1940’s as a missionary in the New Hebrides, then a UK/French Condominium, now the independent Republic of Vanuatu. Under Graham’s enlightened leadership the native church became self-governing, paving the way for national independence and self-government in 1980. A charming account is given of the challenges and joys faced by the missionary couple and their growing family on the islands of the New Hebrides. Miller’s death in 2008 was marked by a day of mourning by the grateful people of Vanuatu.

In 1953 the Millers returned to their native New Zealand and Graham Miller became the Minister of Papakura Presbyterian Church. The church was blessed under his solid biblical teaching and Miller was given opportunities to minister overseas, including preaching at the Keswick Conference in the UK. After a short spell as Principal of Melbourne Bible Institute, Graham and Flora once again served on the New Hebrides before taking up his final pastorate at St. Giles’, Sidney.

After such a busy and fruitful life retirement could have proved a difficult prospect for Graham Miller. But he made good use of his latter years, giving himself to writing and above all, intercessory prayer. As such he regarded retirement the most rich and productive phase of his ministry, the crown of his life’s work.

Miller was a man of decided Reformed convictions. With grace and integrity he stood against the liberalising tendencies of his denomination, the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand and did all he could to promote the Reformed faith. Miller did not follow the Lloyd-Jones line of separation from theologically mixed denominations. But when, during his St. Giles’ pastorate the Presbyterian Church of Australia merged with Methodists and Congregationalists to form the Uniting Church, Miller sided with those who opted to retain their distinctive Presbyterian and Reformed identity. Again, unlike Lloyd-Jones, Miller was an enthusiastic participant in the Billy Graham crusades that took place in New Zealand and Australia.

There is no sense of self-aggrandizement or self-justification in this autobiography. Miller honestly chronicles set backs and disappointments as well as the successes of his ministerial career and is careful to give God all the glory. The work is full of human interest, from the simple joys of Christian family life to facing earthquakes and hurricanes on the New Hebrides.

The Millers lived as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth”, seeing each day as “a day’s march nearer home.” This journal, ably edited by Iain Murray will inspire its readers to adopt a similar mindset. It is the most heavenly minded who will do the most earthy good.

* An edited version of this review will appear in Protestant Truth magazine.

1 comment:

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thanks for the tip re this book, Guy. Alas, the Presbyterian Church in NZ was particularly ravaged by liberalism. I don't know how it is faring now, but at least the Presbyterian Church of Australia is recovering its confessional heritage. In as much as that means a recovery of the great truths of the Reformation, I as a Lutheran can take heart from it.
Btw, Billy Graham had a great inmpact here in the late 1950s & 60s - since his policy was to send formerly nominal Christians back to their denomination, even the Lutheran Church found it necessary to issue a statement on co-operation with him.