John Angell James’ book, An Earnest Ministry, is a classic on the Christian ministry. The reason lies largely in the manner in which he presents one simple idea: he argues that the effect of preaching is directly related to the heart-condition of the preacher, ‘it is feeling which gives power to words and thoughts’. To command attention for the truth, its spokesmen must first be earnest, that is to say, be possessed by one single aim and by a devotion which leads them to surrender all that would hinder its attainment.
Born in 1785, at a time when the preaching of the leaders of the evangelical revival was still remembered, James served Carrs Lane Congregational Church, Birmingham for fifty-five years. In later life he believed that the pulpit generally had become less effective, even though there was an increase in the availability of men, talent and training. He saw an evident loss of the power which Whitefield ‘studied, discovered, and applied'; preaching was no longer ‘adapted to produce conviction and conversion’.
Employing Scripture and the lessons of outstanding preaching, drawn from both sides of the Atlantic, James’ Earnest Ministryrenewed the same call as Baxter’s Reformed Pastor of two centuries earlier and it proved to be a book of no lesser value.
At a time when many false explanations are offered for the decline in preaching, and when many have even ceased to pray, ‘Send us preachers’, this volume goes back to fundamentals and is itself a proof of the power of true earnestness.
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John Angell James (1785-1859) was thus an evangelical leader in the important era between the death of John Wesley and the advent of C. H. Spurgeon. He trained at David Bogue’s College at Gosport, Hants, and served his entire ministry at Carrs Lane Congregational Church, Birmingham. His published works were numerous and their circulation was probably not exceeded by any other Nonconformist leader of that day.