“An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times” by John Angell James (Part I)
John Angell James gives a compelling and biblical account of the task, message, method, and mode of Christian ministry in his book “An Earnest Ministry.” The main theme of the work is that of earnestness, or an “intense devotedness” (28). This is the great want of the times, men who are earnest in laboring for the gospel and earnest in their devotion to Christ. His words—though written over 170 years ago in England—provide pertinent wisdom for those entering ministry and are just as relevant today. He calls Christian ministers to be earnest in laboring for the salvation of the lost and leaves readers convicted, challenged, and motivated.
Upon reading the work, it becomes evident quite quickly that James lies in the evangelical tradition of the Reformers, Puritans, and Revivalists (Calvin, Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley, Baxter)—men he can’t help but quote from as examples of true earnestness. James begins by showing how the task of Christian ministry is rooted in the work of the Apostles (21-29). This leads to an extended ‘puritan-style’ definition of the nature of earnestness (29-85) and its form in preaching (86-98). This leads to a variety of examples of earnestness found in Christian authors and preachers from the past (99-148) with the most inspiring likely being Whitefield. Then there is a discussion of earnestness in the pastorate (149-181), further motives for earnestness (182-244), diverse means of pursuing earnestness (245-281), and the absolute necessity of God being the person who makes an earnest ministry possible (282-295).
Out of the many passages and quotations which I underlined and learned from, the following are my favorite and most relevant for pastoral ministry today:
- The task and message of a Christian minister: “It is his to proclaim the treaty of man’s peace with God, to explain its terms, to urge its acceptance, and to bring the sinner into friendship with his offended lawgiver; to carry peace into man’s troubled bosom, and reconcile him to his own conscience; to cast out the enmity and prejudices of his selfish and depraved heart, and to unite him by charity to his fellows; to calm down the violence of his temper, and give him peace on earth, and at last to conduct him to the realms of undisturbed tranquility in the celestial world. This is his business” (25).
- The use of secular knowledge by the preacher: “His aim is at the heart and conscience, and if anything poetic, literary, logical, or scientific, will at any time polish and plume his shafts or sharpen the points of his arrows, he will not reject them, but will avail himself of their legitimate use, that he may the more certainly hit and pierce the mark” (45).
- The link between prayer and the pulpit: “We are weak in the pulpit, because we are weak in the closet…our own personal religion is the mainspring of all our power in the pulpit. We are feeble as preachers, because we are feeble as Christians. Whatever other deficiencies we have, the chief of them all lies in our hearts” (57).
- Prevailing defect of modern preaching = NOT PREACHING LAW AND GOSPEL: “…a sinner cannot repent of his transgressions against the law, which he has violated, if he know it not… No man can know sin without knowing the law: and herein appears to me one of the prevailing defects of modern preaching: I mean the neglect of holding up this perfect mirror, in which the sinner shall see reflected his own moral image…Law without the gospel will harden, as the gospel without the law will only lead to carelessness and presumption: it is the union of both that will possess the sinner with loathing of himself, and love to God. Still our danger in this age lies not so much in neglecting the gospel, as in omitting to associate with it the preaching of the law” (83-85).