John Angell James.

An earnest ministry : the want of the times online

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Professor op Sacred Rhetoric and Pastoral Theology in Auburn
Theological Seminary, N. Y.




No. 821 Chestnut Street.



This work was republished a nuir,bci' of years
ago in the city of New York, and had at that time an
extensive circulation. But it gradually disappeared
from the market, and for some years has been out of
print or not procurable, although often inquired for.

A generous friend of the Board of Publication re-
cently found an opportunity to purchase the stereo-
type plates, which he did wholly at his own cost, and
presented them to the Board, which is thus enabled,
advantageously to the Church and to itself, to repro-
duce this valuable book.

There are some references in the volume to per-
sons and to local circumstances peculiar to Great
Britain which, some may suppose, could have been
omitted with advantage from this new issue. But
after a careful examination and much reflection
and counsel, it has been deemed best, to avoid any
possible charge of injustice to the author, who has
within a few years gone up to his reward, to reissue it
without alteration or abridgment. Let it^ however,


be borne in mind tliat it was originally ii.f>2ndcd
more especially for British readers.

The volume is now sent forth afresh, w^ith the
earnest hope of all concerned that it may carry new
life and a blessing from on high to the ministry of onr
American Presbyterian Church, and especially to onr
more youthful ministers.

Editopw of the Board.

Fhiloflelphia, A. D. 1868.



The Christian ministry, in its character and work, is a
subject of growing interest in this country. During the
hist twenty-five years it has been the object of much effort
to furnish a sufficient number of men to meet the demand.
The chiims of the office have been set forth strongly in
view of our extending and destitute population. Institu-
tions have been multiplied for the purpose of educating
men for the work. So deeply has this necessity been felt,
and so many were the agencies to be organized and sus-
tained to supply it, that we have been in danger of think-
ing too little of the character of the ministry. While the
efforts to increase its numbers ought not to be diminished,
it must not be forgotten that a numerous ministry may not
be an efficient one.

Many, it is believed, will rejoice in the appearance of
this work by Mr. James, who has presented the subject,
in one of its departments, in a most impressive manner.
If the respected author had written for American readers,
doubtless some things would have been omitted. But
nothing will be found in the book to hinder its usefulness.


It is obvious that the subject hr.s deeply interested tl^.e
mind of the writer. An earnest heart guides liis able pen.
No minister, or candidate for the ministr}^ can read the
book without receiving a deep impression of the greatness
of the trust and some valuable nid in the discharge of it.

It is generally acknowledged, that we must rely on the
living ministry as the principal agency for the extension of
the Gospel in this land, not simply in view of the prom-
inence which Christ has given it in his word, and in the
progress of the church, but because of its adaptation to
the condition and character of the people.

The mind of this nation presents some remarkable fea-
tures in its present character and position, deeply interest-
ing to the Christian as well as the philosopher and states-
man. It is an intellectual life which is not marked by tlie
quiet pursuit of its object, but by an incessant and hurried
movement. It is not the intellectual action of a few, con-
centratinfTf in one constellation the lio-ht of the ajje, but
it involves the entire people. It is pre-eminently a dif-
fused mental activity. The superiority of mental energy
is acknowledged from the town-hall of the country village,
to the chamber of the senate. If this action is somewhat
superficial, and if it is often sustained by unhealthy means,
yet it is everywhere discernible.

This mind is not of one common type, not having been
educated under the same political institutions, nor taken
the impress of any one system of religious faith. Many
old erroneous opinions, as well as new, have their ad-
herents, and are struggling for prevalence over the truth.
We have a mixture of intellectual and moral elements,
strikingly diverse. Tributaries from every quarter of the
globe are finding their way into our stream, and must ul-
timately impart to it tl 3U' diflereut hues. We wonder not


tliat the Avi-;.*st are unable to foretell what is to be the result
in respect to the strength and permanence of government or
the religious character of comin£r ijenerations. We wonder
not that we witness the conflict of thou^-ht and feehnef : or
that we are sometimes shaken with a sudden and violent con-
cussion. These cross-currents of mind will be likely to keep
up a deep agitation.

We must have a religious agency which is fitted to meet
this posture of things. It must be that w^hich will power-
fully arrest mind, in the midst of its warm conflicts, and
bring the Gospel in its full power to the sympathies and
hearts of the people. It must be that which will come in
where worldliness, ignorance, and corruption reign, with
resources adapted to overcome prejudice, supplant error,
and lay broad and permanent foundations for the reign of
truth and righteouness. It must possess the wisdom,
energy, and facility in action to meet character and opinion
of every type, and v/ith the divine blessing to mould them
according to the truth and law of God.

To what agency do such qualifications belong, if not to
the Christian ministry ? It comes with the power of a
living character, visibly illustrating and practically enforc-
ing the truth. By its ever-living presence it encompasses
mind with an attracting and moulding influence. To this,
it adds the wondrous influence of oral delivery. We im-
pute no magic charm to the human voice and countenance.
Yet that voicO' is made to speak the truth in tones which
move the heart. In the human face there is a strangle
power of speech. It is the language of the soul kindling
into sympathy with it the souls of the hearers. Reason
about it as we may, the fact is as wonderful now as it
ever was. There is no example of influence over mind
more simpl and sublime than that of a man of God in the


earnest dell.-ery of the gospel message. He does not
exert it by means of unholy stratagem or mere novelties in
style and action, but by the exhibition of truth on old,
familiar themes, with old and familiar tones. But he ex-
hibits that truth with a heart all glowing under its power.
He separates his hearers from the associations of worldly
business, and gathers them into the presence of Jehovah.
He charges their sins against them, arraigns them at the
bar of God, and pronounces their doom as impenitent men.
Now he collects over them the clouds of Divine wrath, and
then he draws them around the cross and makes them hear
the winninor voice of the Redeemer. He does it with the
strength and courage imparted by confidence in God, but
with the humility and love of a man and a sinner. They
love to hear the tones of such a voice ; to feel the power
of that speaking eye, as that voice and that eye utter the
gushing thoughts of a spirit intensel}- moved in sympathy
with them. What reader of Edwards' sermon, entitled
"Sinners in the hands of an angry God," is impressed
as they were who heard him utter it in the solemn earnest-
ness of the pulpit ? We read the sermons of Whitfield
without the realization of the power which accompanied
his preaching. We by no means attribute the astonishing
effects of his preaching only to his look, tone, and action as
a speaker. We forget not that these were the expression
of a soul, into the depths of which the truth had come with
a penetrating, awakening influence, and thai the power of
God attended him. Yet, in his ready speech, so as never
" to stumble at a word, and never to stop for the want of
one ;" in his natural gracefulness and inimitable power
of action ; in his ability "to paint with all the efi'ect of real
scenery," and to make sinners tremble, as if about to
sink into perdition, and even belisve themselves doomed


as in the tone and air of a judge he pronounced the sen-
tence, " Depart !" — we have those quahties which constitute
the pecuUar advantage of the preacher in gaining attention
to the truth, and which are worthy of being diUgently

Now we affirm that in view of the genius and habits of
our people, we must look to the living ministry to do a
great work in this nation. Such an agency will accord
with the method of awakening and guiding mind in other
departments of thought and action among all classes. If
this is true of the older sections of the country, it is even
more characteristic of communities less enlightened, and
less disciplined to the patient study of tiiith. The people
are accustomed to instruction and persuasion by the ear-
nest speaker. So the voice of the living preacher must
obtain the ear of the people, as, with the Bible in his hand,
he unfolds its doctrines, if these glorious truths find a
lodgment, and mould the mind and character of successive
generations. We tremble to think of the amazing re-
sponsibiHty resting on the gospel ministry in its relation
to our country's salvation. In view of its intrusted work,
what importance belongs to its spirit and character. How
shall it execute its trust without a large endowment of the
graces of the Spirit, and a Christ-like devotion and self-
denial ?

In view of the work which it is called to perfoi'm, the
Christian ministry in this land must be eminently spiritual
and p?'actical in its character. The importance of a com-
plete intellectual fm-niture is not disputed. The point is
settled that the men who are to occupy the sacred office
must have the opportunity for making thorough literary
and theological attainments. The demand for learning iu
the ministry is too loud to be disregarded. Wherever the



preaclier finds his field of action, lie v:'i\\ have occasion
for the most skilful use of the best weapons. Let him not
venture forth into the field of battle .vithout full armor.
But if the result of that intellectual training is to appear
in abstract, philosophical preaching, the American pulpit
will never accomplish its appropriate work. Far off be
the day when the ministers of Christ shall exalt meta-
physical subtleties above the doctrine of the cross ; when
they shall seek to attain skill in frigid argumentation, rather
than a holy facility in the spiritual and practical work of
guiding souls to Christ and to heaven ; when intellectual
gratification shall be more thought of than the edification
of the humble Christian ; in their mode of exhibiting truth,
overlooking the spiritual wants and difficulties of the com-
mon mind. Such ministers Avill make the pulpit jejune and
powerless in respect to its most essential objects. Their
cold linfht will shine without touchinor the hearts of men.
They will defeat the mission of truth from the throne to this
world of sin and darkness. They cannot compass the mighty
work which God puts into their hands.

We need a ministiy whose intellectual furniture and
energy have come under the influence of a spiritual piety,
nurtured in communion with Christ. Then it will be
"strong and do exploits." The preacher must not only
know what conscience is, but how to reach it with the
truth. He must know what is the hunofcrino: of a soul
after the bread of life, and how to divide and distribute the
word so as to satisfy the hungry. It must be the " living
oread," and not the speculations of the theorist, however
expert he may be ; that which will be the element of vigor
and life to the spiritual man. To show unto men the way
of salvation, he must regard as the olject worthy of his
most select and untiring ciTorts. The practical rules of


Christian livinnr, must be his famihar themes of discourse.
Hence scliolastic learnino- is not enoui^h, lest he be a mere
scholastic pieacher. Rhetorical rules, however thoroughly-
mastered, are not enough, lest he be a mere orator. His
investigations ot truth, though pursued with enthusiasm,
and presented in elaborate discussion, will affect no human
heart, if they are not made to bear directly on the repent-
ance, faith, and sanctification of men. If his commission
as minister of the gospel is executed in a manner appro-
priate to its high designs, he must be a man skilled in the
workings of the human soul, interested in all the relations
of common life, and aut in the inculcation of truth with
regard to all the difficulties and duties of those relations ;
while he is absorbed in the one great object for which Christ

This characteiistic of the ministry is worthy to be
greatly exalted above the observance of any one law in the
structure of sermons. Yet this is not a point of little mo-
ment. We should much regret if the American pulpit
should ever become chiefly hortatory. Examples have
proved that the pulpit has lost power when the hortatory
style has been habitually adopted. Earnestness in the pul-
pit is entirely consistent with a discriminating and instruct-
ive exhibition of truth. It is by no means supposed that
this can only be done with written discourses. Yet, while
some are eminent for such a style of preaching, who seldom
write, we believe if this practice should become universal,
the instances would be multiplied in which the perma-
nent interest and power of the pulpit would not be sus-
tained. It is admitted that the immediate effects of Pay-
son's preaching were often most striking in connection with
some of his unwritten discourses. But this might not have
been, if he had not preached one written sermon every Sab


bath. This, his practice, was doubtless indispensable to
make his ministry what it was, and to perpetuate its re-
markable influence.

The quality of the ministiy to which allusion has been
made, would naturally tend to give it a more scriptural
character. And what improvement is more desirable than
a richer infusion into the discourses of the pulpit of the
pure word of God ? Not only make the text penetrate
the sermon, but let other parts of the Scriptures be made
to gather around it, to shed light upon it and receive light
from it. Occasional American hearers of some ministers in
England and Scotland have marked this characteristic with
great pleasure. If it should diminish the brilliancy of the
pulpit it would add to its richness. Fewer orations will be
delivered, but many better seiTnons. A prevalent unhealthy
taste may not be so well satisfied for a time, but a better
taste will soon be formed. It will furnish the best oppor-
tunity for awakening emotion and affecting the conscience,
as well as imparting instruction. Thus obtaining vivid im-
pressions of truth, the preacher will possess one element of
true earnestness in the pulpit ; for he will speak not only
with all the autliority of truth, but with a soul deeply im-
bued with the spirit of it. Then he will have a holy unc-
tion, and will give forth both light and heat. A spiritual,
practical, scriptural, as well as learned ministry will be ear-
nest ; and that is the ministry God will bless for the enlight-
enment and salvation of our country.















Preface t ^ . n

The Apostolic Ministiy, £3


The Nature of Earnestness, 33

Earnestness Exemplified in the Matter and Manner of Preach-
ing. .... 71

Earnestness in Reference to Manner, ..,.,. 88

Specimens of Earnestness from various Authors, . i , 101

Earnestness, as Manifested in the Delivery of Sermons, . . 124

Earnestness Manifested 'n the Pastorate, 153

Examples of Earnestness, 167

Motives to Earnestness, 181

tieans to be used for obtaining an Earnest Ministry, . . . 243

)n the Necessity of Dn-ine Influence for an Efficient Ministry, . 27G


-^>N^\ ■v/^y^^-

Has the modern evangelical pulpit lOst, and is it still
losing, any of its poAver ? This is a question far too ^
momentous to be asked in the spirit of mere curiosity, or
to be answered in unreflectinor and iijnorant haste. An
affirmative reply involves consequences so deeply and so
painfully affecting the eternal Avelfare of mankind, as well
as the cause of orthodox doctrine, that it should not be
given but upon indubitable evidence ; while on the other
hand, a negative answer will only perpetuate the evil, if it
really exists, by preventing all measures which might be
taken to correct it. In settling this question, it is neces-
sary to define what is meant by the loss of the power of
the pulpit. If by this it is intended only to ask whether
evanofelical ministrations have lost their attractiveness in
drawing the people together to hear them, it may be un-
hesitatingly affirmed that they have not, for perhaps thei-e
was never anything approaching the numbers which now
are found listening to the glad tidings of salvation. The
true intent of the inquiry then is this : Has the modern
pulpit lost any of its efficacy as regards the great end for
which the Gospel is preached, that is, the conversion of


sinners, and the spititiial advancement of believei'S ? In
coming to a right conclusion upon tlus matter, another in-
quiry still must be proposed, which is this : With past
period of history is the present compared ? If we go back
to the time of Baxter, Howe, Owen, Bates, Manton,
and Ciiarnock, there can be little reason to believe, it may
be presumed, that the modeins preach with the same results
that these men did. As little can it be (questioned whether
Vv'iiiTFiELD and Wesley, with the men Ccdled up by their
labors, proclaimed the gospel of the gjace of God, with
more power and success than the preachers of the present
day. It is better, therefore, to limit the range of inquiry
to the last quarter of a century, and to state the matter
thus : Does the pi-eaching of the gospel now, taking all
evangelical denominations into the investigation, appear to
be followed with the same saving and sanctifying results,
as it w^as then ; and if not, does there ap})ear to be a pro-
gressive diminution of effect still going on ?

This, it must be obvious, is a question which cannot be
settled by very accurate statistics, and for the solution of
which we must depend pretty much upon general reports,
and concurrent testimony. It may be asked, then, whether
the want of efficiency is not matter of acknowledgment
and lamentation by all evangehcal bodies ? True it is that
to a certain extent similar acknowledgments and lamenta-
tions have been made in every age, and by ministers of all
denominations. But the inquiry now supposed is mado
chiefly by those w^ho compare themselves with themselves ;
and their success at the present time, with their own suc-
cess in the past time. The confession from the United
States, made by Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Bap-
tists and Methodists, is concurrent, that there is a flatness
over the churches, that revivals are rai3, and conversions


few, while tne po',ver of godliness among professing Cliris-
tians is low. The Methodist body in these United King-
doms, reported last year but an increase of about seven
hundred members. The evangelical clergy of the Church
of England lament the want of couA^ersions by their preach-
ing, and confess thai the power of Venn, and Romaine,
and Cecil, and Newton, seems wanting to their succes-
sors. The Baptists and Independents have no better
report to make. Dr. Chalmers, in a late article in the
North British Review, in speaking of Scotland, and that at
a time when the disruption of the Presbyterian Establish-
ment might have been supposed to have given new
activity to the Free Church at least, uses the following
mournful language : " As things stand at present, our
creeds and confessions have become effete, and the Bible
a dead letter ; and the ortliodoxy wliich was at one time
the glory, by witliei-ing into the inert and lifeless, is now
the shame and reproach of all our churches." This is
strong language, and a startling opinion. But the most
melancholy thing connected with it is its truth.

Assuming then the fact that the modern evangelical
pulpit has lost, and is losing, something of its power, in
the way of converting sinners, find carrying forward the
spiritual life of believers, it surely becomes us all to reflect
upon the painful fact with the deepest seriousness, and the
most intense anxiety, and at the same time to inquire after
the cause. It would ill become us, in a spirit of antino-
mian indolence or fanaticism, to resolve this whole matter
into Divine sovereignty, and to say, " God wills it." With
the same reason, and on as good ground, might the im-
penitent sinner be satisfied with his condition, and trace it
up to a withholding of the influence necessary for his con-
version. That there is a suspension of Divine influence


must be admitted, if there be a diminished saving result ;
but as the Spirit uses appropriate means, may not this
very suspension itself be traced up to some fault of the
preachers themselves ? Would not a different order of
means lead to a removal of this suspension of the Spirit's
power ? The question for us to ask in all seiiousness and
prayerful examination, is this : Does the diminished power
of the pulpit arise from a diminished adaptation of the
pulpit, or is the deficiency which is lamented to be traced
up exclusively to the circumstances of the times that are
now passing over us ? Something may be set down to
both these causes.

This is a matter that concerns all, and deeply concerns
them too, for the tendency of decline is always downward;
what is weak will become weaker, if not stopped.

There is another consideration which may account for
the diminished effect of the pulpit, and that is an increased
power of the press and of the school. At one time the
preacher had the public mind almost to himself. There
were indeed Bibles, and schools, and tracts, but how few
and uninfluential, compared with what they are in the pres-
ent day ! Evangelical truth now comes before the million
in every possible variety of form, and in every variable quan-
tity : the child learns its lessons from the Sunday school
teacher, and the poorest adult reads it at home in the tract
and the penny magazine ; and though tliis is a help in one
respect to the preacher, it takes from him all the advantage
TV'hich novelty of representation can give him, for he has
been already forestalled by the Hving voice of the teacher,
and the silent invitations of the tract. These auxiliary-
means of conversion will never supersede the pulpit, if the
pulpit does not allow itself to he superseded ; but it is evi-
dent that such competitors with it as these for the pubhc


mind, should increase its labors to be, what God ever in-
tended it to be, his power to the salvation of men. That
the pulpit has nothing to fear from the increase of religious
knowledge by the school and the press, is evident from the
fact that as science multiplies its treatises, and cheapens
them down to the poorest pocket, it multiplies in equal
proportion its public lecturers.

The views thus set forth in this preface will account for
the subject of* the volume which they introduce. We live
in an earnest age, and nothing but an earnest ministry may
hope to succeed in it. With this conviction, wdien honored
with an invitation to preach hist year the anniversary ser-
mon for Cheshunt College* the author found his subject ia
his own views and convictions. The publication of the

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Online LibraryJohn Angell JamesAn earnest ministry : the want of the times → online text (page 1 of 22)