This article is about the life and ministry of John Angell James.Β 

Source: The Banner of Truth, 1982. 10 pages.

John Angell James

On the morning of Wednesday May 12th 1819 a vast throng of people filled the Surrey Chapel for the annual sermon of the London Missionary Society. In order to secure a seat the majority had arrived two or three hours before the service was due to commence. In the front row of the balcony sat many well known ministers of the day. What had brought this vast crowd together was not simply enthusiasm for the missionary enterprise initiated some twenty or so years earlier, but the growing reputation of the preacher. Not yet thirty-four, he had lost his wife less than four months previously. He had accepted this invitation to preach from the Mission's Director partly in the hope that it would help him to rise above his sorrows.

While he preached that morning his brother sat at the back of the pulpit with the preacher's manuscript in his hand, ready to prompt at the slightest hesitation. The precaution was unnecessary. The sermon, preached from memory, and corresponding word for word with the manuscript, lasted for two hours. The eloquent and rousing flow was interrupted only by a hymn at the end of the first hour, during the singing of which some of the congregation threw oranges into the pulpit to refresh the weary preacher and encourage him to go on!

The preacher was John Angell James. The sermon not only established him as one of the most sought after preachers in the land, but both as to its occasion and content summed up the major concerns of his lifelong ministry.

Early Life and Conversionβ€’πŸ”—

John Angell James was born in 1785, the son of a draper, in Blandford Forum, Dorset. His father's faith seems to have been nominal, at least until towards the end of his life; but his mother was a devout Christian to whose prayers he was in later life to look back with deep thankfulness.

The local Independent church was typical of many in the last decades of the 18th century. Spiritual power had been replaced by efficient refinement. The minister was a scholarly but drowsy preacher. So, although her loyalties were there, Mrs James often went to the little Methodist meeting where there was less polish but more power β€” and she took young John with her.

James' schooldays, he tells us, were more marked by pugilistic prowess than learning, and they passed by without any decided religious thought or feeling.

At the age of thirteen he was sent to Poole to be apprentice to a draper, and about a year later he began to think seriously about religion. He said 'I wanted to be pious but knew not how'. So he prayed that God would raise up someone in the house where he was living to help him.

God answered his petition by bringing a new apprentice who shared a room with him and who each night knelt at his bedside to pray. This lad introduced James to a local shoemaker who was very poor but rich in faith and piety. They, together with two others, would go to his home after church on Sunday evenings. A decided Calvinist, he taught them and prayed with them and encouraged them to pray. This, together with the preaching in the Independent church in Poole β€” more orthodox and more lively than that at Blandford β€” were the means of his conversion.

His conversion was no sudden or dramatic affair. But there were evidences of a real change, not least a great delight in prayer. He became a Sunday School teacher and began to feel a call to the ministry. His pastor at Poole discouraged him, as did his own father. But through the influence of a family friend, his father was persuaded to allow him to terminate his apprenticeship three years early at the age of seventeen and to go to study under Dr David Bogue at Gosport.

Prepared and Callingβ†β€’πŸ”—

Dr Bogue was himself an Independent minister and had been one of the founders of the London Missionary Society. His academy was attended by a handful of students and met in his church vestry. A number of the students were missionary candidates and one of James' contemporaries was Robert Morrison, later to become famous as a pioneer missionary to China. His friendship with Morrison was almost certainly the most significant benefit of his time at Gosport. The course itself was extremely limited and James was always to regret the inadequacy of his academic preparation for the ministry.

In the summer of 1804 after James had been at Gosport for just a year and a half, he was invited to supply the pulpit of Carr's Lane Chapel in Birmingham for three or four consecutive Sundays. The church was in a low state. It had recently dismissed its minister on a charge of immorality and he had gone off with nearly half the congregation to set up elsewhere in the city. This left about 150 people, many of whom were elderly, in a chapel seating 800. But the preaching of the young nine-teen-year-old made a great impression. The congregation increased. They asked James to stay for an additional weekend before he left Birmingham. To James' astonishment the church invited him to become their pastor. He took some months to give a firm reply, but early in the following year he wrote his acceptance. In September, having completed his course at Gosport, he moved to Birmingham to take up his responsibilities. Here he remained until he died 54 years later despite various attempts to persuade him to move to pastorates in London, Liverpool and Manchester.

Carr's Laneβ†β€’πŸ”—

The first seven years were comparatively lean ones and James became discouraged.

However, at the end of this period it was decided to renovate the rather uncomfortable chapel and while the work was being done the congregation met with another in the city. This gave rise to a measure of publicity and when Carr's Lane reopened the chapel began to be crowded. Within a few years it was too small and at a meeting of subscribers on Christmas Day 1818 it was agreed to proceed with the erection of a new chapel. A year and a half later it was opened with a seating capacity of 1800. This was soon filled regularly for the Sunday services and remained so till the end of his ministry, by which time the actual membership of the church had increased from 50 to about 1,000.

During those 54 years the activities and influence of the church mushroomed. Nearly 2,000 children attended the Sunday and day schools. There was a Dorcas Society for the poor, a Maternal Society with many branches in different parts of the city, a Female Benevolent Society for visiting the sick poor, a Religious Tract Society employing 90 distributors, and a Young Men's Brotherly Society for general and religious improvement running a library of 2,000 volumes. There were night classes and Bible classes for young men and women. The church raised large sums of money for the London Missionary Society and Colonial Missionary Society, and supported two town missionaries in Birmingham. Several new churches were started on the outskirts of the city, the founder members and initial financial support coming from Carr's Lane. But as he looked back on all this at his Jubilee,

James could say,

This is but an average of congregational exertion and liberality in this day of general activity. Yea, many churches of our own and other denominations perhaps greatly excel us. And after all, we none of us come up to our resources, our opportunities, or our obligations. We all could do more, ought to do more, must do more.

A young man who attended the church during the early years of James' ministry who was to be the minister of a Congregational Church in Dublin for 50 years, William Erwick, gives us an idea of a typical Sunday at Carr's Lane. 'I go to our prayer meeting at 7 o'clock and return at half past eight, school and morning service from 9 till 1, school again at 2 till 5, service at half past six in the evening, ending at 8'. I imagine most of the congregation would have worked all day on Saturday!

Throughout his ministry the church at Carr's Lane enjoyed almost unruffled peace and unity. But James had his trials, especially in the family circle. His first child was stillborn and three years later he lost a little girl aged six weeks. His first wife died before their thirteenth anniversary and his second after they had been married less than twenty years. His only surviving daughter was a lifelong invalid with whom it was difficult to communicate because of her deafness.

For the last six years of his life the responsibilities of the pastorate were shared with R. W. Dale, who was first Assistant Pastor and then Co-Pastor. But James continued to preach both in his own church and wider afield up till the last Sunday morning of his life. He died aged 74 and was buried in a vault in front of the pulpit in Carr's Lane where for so long he had preached the Gospel with great power and effect.

Preaching and Theologyβ†β€’πŸ”—

John Angell James was pre-eminently a preacher. Everything took second place to that, not least because of his conviction of its prime place among the means God uses to save men and women.

But what did he preach? His sermon at Surrey Chapel in 1819 is a fair sample of the great burden of his message. His text was John 12:32, 33, 'And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me'.

He preached the centrality of the cross:

the atonement is not so much a doctrine of Scripture as the very Scripture itself ...

from the cross as the tree of life hang in maturity and abundance all those fruits of grace which are necessary to the salvation of the soul. Are we guilty? Here is pardon. Are we rebels against God? Here is reconciliation. Are we condemned? Here is justification. Are we unholy? Here is sanctification. Are we agitated with conscious guilt? Here is peace for a wounded spirit. Here every curious enquiry which the mind might originate concerning God and the soul and death and eternity and moral obligation and personal accountability is answered satisfactorily and set at rest for ever.

He insisted on the deity of Christ: While the hope of a guilty world can rest nowhere else than on an atonement, that in its turn can be supported by nothing short of the Rock of Ages.

He believed in the sovereignty of God in salvation: Not that this effect will ever be produced independently of the influence of the Spirit or merely in the way of moral suasion. Nothing short of a supernatural agency accompanying the truth will render it in any case the power of God unto salvation.

He believed in the future triumph of the gospel: the power of anti-Christ shall be dissolved, all fundamental errors in Christendom shall be exploded, the blasphemies and infidelity shall be hushed. The Jews shall believe in Jesus, the pearl crescent of Mohammed shall set for ever in the blaze of the Son of Righteousness, the multiform systems of idolatry retire before the growing brightness of eternal truth, and the whole earth be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, the fruits of righteousness and the works of peace. So has God decreed. So has prophecy declared.

His belief in the necessity of the work of the Spirit to make preaching effective did not prevent him from doing all he could to apply his message to his hearers and obtain a response from them. So as he concluded this sermon he urged first the Directors of the Mission to cultivate friendly relations with other missionary societies in their great enterprise. He exhorted missionaries and ministers to preach the Gospel of the cross of Christ with unbounded confidence in its power. He exhorted the congregation first of all to ascertain that they themselves were saved and then by believing prayer and sacrificial giving to do all they could to send the Gospel to the 600 million without Christ. If necessary they should sell the church plate in order to send missionaries. But he adds that it should not be necessary!

Like others in his day, purple patches were scattered fairly liberally throughout some of his sermons in a way that would not go down well today and did not in fact with some of his own hearers. But there can be no doubt about the solid Gospel substance in all his preaching. John Elias was I think rather unfair to comment after that Surrey Chapel sermon, 'I believe the cross was there but it was so heaped up with flowers I could not see it'. Certainly it is clear enough as we read it today.

Along with his forthright preaching of the Gospel, he urged his people to a life of deep devotion and practical piety. For him, prayer was the life of religion, holiness the hallmark of the Christian and the pre-requisite for usefulness. 'Talents may make us shine, but piety alone can make us glow'.

R. W. Dale calls James a 'moderate Calvinist'. He would probably have used the same description of George Whitefield in whose line of succession he saw James standing. For James a concern for maintaining strict Calvinistic orthodoxy was subordinated to his concern for the salvation and holiness of his hearers.

The young Spurgeon and the elderly James held each other in high regard and frequently exchanged notes. In the very early years of his own ministry Spurgeon had made the journey to Birmingham especially to hear James preach. Spurgeon never forgot that sermon and told James some years later of how much he had appreciated it. James replied, 'Ah! that was a Calvinistic sermon. You would enjoy that, but you would not get on with me always'. No doubt James reacted against some of the deadness in some Calvinistic preaching in the previous century. He judged that in his day there was no need for him to fight over-much or emphasize some of the great truths which it is nevertheless clear he himself believed. After all, Calvinistic evangelicalism was in the ascendancy of non-conformity at least during the first half of the last century. However, towards the end of his days he was becoming apprehensive about the Arminian tendencies in the ministry of such men as Charles Finney.

Several major concerns dominated the ministry of John Angell James:


For James the supreme aim of any minister of the Gospel must be usefulness in the conversion of the lost. They are, 'not merely to preach well or to preach acceptably but to preach successfully, and what is successful preaching short of the conversion of immortal souls?' Everything else in a minister's work must be subservient to this. He felt deeply his responsibility in this respect for his own congregation.

Writing to them whilst absent in Wales he says:

I cannot forget that the interests of your immortal souls are in a measure confined to my hands. Oh, what a deposit! Lord, who is sufficient for these things? If through my neglecting to instruct you in sound doctrine, or to admonish you with seriousness and fidelity, you should be lost, indescribably dreadful will be the consequences both to you and to me. You will die in your sins and your blood will God require at my hand.

Whilst he regarded preaching as the pre-eminent means of discharging this tremendous responsibility, it did not in his view end there. He was aware of the danger of an impression created by preaching being lost afterwards. So from time to time he would announce a series of mid-week evening classes to which those who were anxious about their souls were invited. For a number of weeks he would instruct the class in the way of salvation, and after this he would invite each member of the class to come and talk with him personally. His most famous book entitled The Anxious Enquirer After Salvation Directed and Encouraged was originally written for such a class (at a time when there were 50 or 60 enquirers attending it), and gives us the substance of his teaching during those sessions. Hundreds of thousands of this book were sold in James' lifetime and it was translated into several languages. Spurgeon rates it alongside Doddridge's 'Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul', Baxter's 'Call to the Unconverted', and Alleine's 'Alarm to Unconverted Sinners', all books which had had an influence upon him as a young lad. It was partly the means of the conversion of James' successor, R. W. Dale β€” despite his criticism of certain aspects of it in later years.

There can be no doubt that James' single-minded desire to be useful in the conversion of others was amply honoured and rewarded by God. He could look back at the end of his ministry to great numbers of people who had turned to the Lord as a result of his ministry.


His deep concern for evangelism at home was linked with a great missionary heart. In fact it was a missionary sermon that established his reputation.

Perhaps because of his long-standing friendship with Robert Morrison; it was China which attracted the concern of James. He prayed for China daily. He organized an appeal to raise funds to send a million New Testaments to China through the British and Foreign Bible Society. The appeal was so successful that twice that number were sent. A year before he died in 1859 the western powers secured freedom and protection throughout China for Christian missionaries, and toleration for Chinese Christians. James was thrilled and seized the opportunity to write and circulate a pamphlet pleading the interests of China and calling for a hundred new missionaries to that great land:

The conversion of China is, one way or other, the business of every Christian upon earth β€” and every Christian upon earth can do something for it and ought to do what he can. The man who says 'What have I to do with this matter?' is either ignorant, indolent or covetous and is altogether heartless towards the cause of Christ. He that says 'What concern have I in China's conversion?' just asks the question 'What fellowship have I with Christ?' We are all too apt to think of what the church can do and ought to do and not what we individually can do and ought to do, and either through modesty, timidity or avarice, lose ourselves and our individual obligations in the crowd. Do you ask then whose business the conversion of China is, I answer, yours whosoever you are who may read this page. Yours, I say, as truly as that of any other man on the face of the earth. Here it is, I offer it to you, and in the name of Christ bid you take it. Take it into your hand, your heart, your purse, your closet β€” you dare not refuse it!


Although James ministered in an age which was still enjoying some of the fruits of the 18th-Century revival, and despite the fruitfulness of his own ministry, he longed to see days of revival again. His awareness of the need of it seems to have intensified during his latter years. He lamented the decay of piety in the evangelical churches and the relatively small numbers of conversions compared with the means employed to secure them. There was much sowing but little reaping, a tremendous amount of activity but all too little effectiveness.

His desire for revival was quickened by what he heard of what was happening in America. He corresponded regularly with a number of ministers in the States, including William B. Sprague whose 'Lectures on Revivals' he was responsible for getting published in this country. He wrote a preface for the British edition.

In the last year of his life he wrote several letters to the Evangelical Magazine concerning the low state of the church and the need for revival. These were subsequently reprinted, along with some additional material, as a book but it was not well received.

In this connection the date of his death was profoundly significant β€” 1859! He had prayed much for revival and urged others to do so. As God called his servant to his reward in heaven, prayer was being answered at least in many churches in Ireland and Wales. But England and his own denomination were little affected. Further consideration of James' own ministry may reveal some of the reasons for this.

John Angell James was one of the founders of the Congregational Union. But we would be quite wrong to conclude from this that he was of a strongly denominational turn of mind. In fact quite the opposite was true. He was an evangelical first, a non-conformist second, and a Congregationalist third. Indeed, R. W. Dale was critical of his lack of concern for denominational witness. He did not like his 'undenominational temper' or his satisfaction with 'fellowship of an accidental and precarious kind'.

Christian Unityβ†β€’πŸ”—

In the autumn of 1830 James called together at Carr's Lane Chapel a meeting of a number of ministers from the Midlands. It was agreed to seek the formation of a Congregational Union similar to the one which had already existed in Scotland for a number of years. The idea had been mooted some years before but had come to nothing, not least because the Independents wished to do nothing which would shut them off from other churches. In May of the following year at a meeting of ministers and church delegates in London, the following resolution proposed by James was adopted:

that it is highly desirable and important to establish a union of Congregational Churches and ministers throughout England and Wales, founded on a full recognition of their own distinctive principles, namely, the Scriptural right of every separate church to maintain perfect independence in the government and administration of its own particular affairs, therefore, that the Union shall not in any case assume legislative authority or become a Court of Appeal.

At a meeting in May 1832 after James had read a paper on 'Principles of Faith and Order' the Union was formed. It is interesting to notice, in the light of its subsequent history, that the whole idea had met with some serious opposition. Some of the older men looked upon it as a 'germ of mischief in the way of an organized controlling body'. They feared it would threaten the equality of pastors and the independency of churches, and that it would involve all churches in responsibility for the purity of others. How could discipline be exercised without a central body exercising control over the churches? James thought the fears were groundless; but, alas, he was to be proved wrong. In the last few years of his own life the Union came near to breaking because of this very issue of discipline. This was in relation to the publication of Thomas Tuke Lynch's collection of hymns, The Rivulet. While James never seems to have expressed any regret for what he had encouraged to take place, he was nevertheless disappointed by its outcome. The amount of time consumed by meetings was in his view hardly warranted by what was achieved. How many would echo that sentiment in the decades that followed!

Ten years after the formation of the Congregational Union, James was advocating a wider expression of evangelical unity in the form of a General Protestant Union. His aim was to secure the mutual recognition by evangelical Christians of one another as brethren in Christ and the mutual recognition of pastors across the various denominational barriers. Whilst his first concern was with nonΒ­conformists he hoped that evangelicals in the Anglican Church might join in such a union. Indeed he hoped that before long such a union might become a world-wide body. He secured the support of the Congregational Union and of some brethren in the Scottish churches for his scheme. A meeting of 200 ministers drawn from nearly twenty denominations was held in Liverpool in 1845, at which the Evangelical Alliance was formed.

But once again, James was to be disappointed. Although remaining an enthusiastic supporter of the Alliance to the end of his days, he felt it had achieved little. On reflection he felt that it would have been better to begin in a small way rather than with the blaze of publicity that had in fact been the case; to begin at the grass roots rather than to try and impose something from the top. He also came to feel that its aim had been too vague. It had come to be known as a 'do-nothing society'. He himself had urged that the Alliance should adopt as one of its objectives the diffusion of evangelical truth on the continent of Europe. But this had been rejected.

James' concern for visible evangelical unity was surely wholly good and right. Behind it was a concern for greater evangelistic effectiveness, and a strong defence against popery, Puseyism, and Plymouth Brethrenism! The difficulties he encountered in bringing it into being are still with us today. There are lessons we have to learn from the subsequent failures of James' schemes, but we surely cannot rest content with the status quo.

Training for the Ministryβ†β€’πŸ”—

Despite, or perhaps because of, his own meagre preparation for the ministry, James took an intense interest in those who were training to preach in this country or to go to the mission field. While still a young minister he had clashed with the Directors of the London Missionary Society over the very inadequate training opportunities they were giving to missionary candidates. During his pastorate at Carr's Lane, Springhill College was founded in Birmingham and from the outset he was the Chairman of its Board of Education. On Saturdays he would regularly invite two or three of the students to have lunch with him and then spend the afternoon talking with them about the work of the ministry. Those Saturday afternoons left an unforgettable impression on many men. He would urge upon them the priority of effective evangelism and the necessity of personal piety: 'An academy whilst a hot house for the mind is often an ice house for the heart'.

Addressing students of Springhill College on one occasion he said that to be useful preachers they would need brains, bowels and bellows! Brains to take in learning, bowels because pathos and tenderness were essential for successful preaching, bellows to make themselves heard. 'Get out of doors in the summer months and give free play to your lungs in the open air, and make all your classical attainments bear on the one great object β€” saving souls!'

His Successorsβ†β€’πŸ”—

James was succeeded by R. W. Dale. He had responded somewhat reluctantly to a pressing invitation from James to become his assistant immediately on completion of his course at Springhill College in 1853. Mercifully (I suspect) this meant Dale had to abandon plans to study in Germany for a year or two. Things might have been worse! A year later he became co-pastor. During the following six years James and Dale seemed to have worked happily together. Each held the other in high esteem, and the younger man in no way undermined the congregation's loyalty to or love for its ageing senior pastor. Undoubtedly Dale was a godly pastor who shared with James a very real evangelistic zeal. He was to become one of the greatest names in Congregational history.

There were, however, very considerable differences between the two men and their ministries. Dale had a far greater intellect and was much more of a theologian than James. But sadly his theology diverged increasingly from that of his predecessor.

Like many another young evangelical in his day and in ours, Dale wanted to question some of the assumptions of evangelical orthodoxy. In his early years at Carr's Lane (while James was still alive) Dale preached a series of sermons on Romans which caused quite a furore in the congregation, particularly among the older members. First of all he suggested that some of the heathen might be saved in virtue of Christ's death even though they had never heard of him. When he came to Romans, chapter 3, while holding to the fact of the atonement, he rejected the idea that Christ had paid the debt for sin in his death on the cross. When he came to chapter 5 he outrightly rejected the traditional understanding of the doctrine of original sin. While Adam's sin affected the whole race this did not mean that children were born with a depraved nature.

Later on he came down on the side of conditional immortality β€” the view that the unsaved are annihilated and only the saved live for ever. On this point he once summed up the difference between himself and his predecessor in this way:

Affection and reverence for my friend and predecessor prompt me to say that when he is described as believing in the eternity of punishment and plenty of it, a wrong impression is given of the kindliness of his nature. He believed an appalling doctrine but had a most tender heart.

Furthermore he is said to have declared that a doctrinal acceptance of the deity of Christ was not essential to the experience of saving faith. For him Christian experience was the final authority for the Christian. He thus sat lightly to the attacks made on the reliability and infallibility of Scripture by the Higher Critical movement. In a book in 1890 he could argue that Christ is not lost to us though we discard the old belief in the inerrancy of Scripture.

It is interesting and significant to note that Dale was much more involved in political and social issues than James had ever been. James regarded his responsibility as the conversion of souls and the building up of the church of Christ. Dale believed that he should be directly involved in seeking to reform society and did not hesitate to align himself with the Liberal party. This tendency was even more pronounced in Dale's successor, Dr J. H. Jowett β€” and became a boasted characteristic of Congregationalism in this century.

Dale remained at Carr's Lane until his own death in 1895. He was there for 40 years altogether. He was followed by J. H. Jowett, a renowned preacher, but one whose theology was even more divergent from the old evangelicalism. The same I think would have to be said of all his successors. So I believe we are justified in saying that John Angell James' ministry there represents the end of an era. Carr's Lane was typical of the denomination as a whole in the following century.

The differences between James and Dale were subtle but highly significant. They were the beginning of a trend, a theological downgrade which was to gather increasing momentum. Inevitably we ask, who was to blame? Was there an inherent weakness in James' ministry or in his personal judgement?

The answer is 'yes', at any rate with regard to James' judgement. After all, he had introduced Dale to the church and when the trouble arose from Dale's exposition of Romans, he had urged the protesters to let 'the young man have his fling' because he was convinced he had 'the root of the matter in him'. No doubt he had, but he had the roots of other things as well! Undoubtedly James was aware of the very real differences in emphasis between the two of them. A year after Dale's arrival at Carr's Lane he wrote to him, 'Continue your attachments to evangelic truth ... watch against the liberalism to which I think you have some little tendency'. Less than a week later he wrote:

Perhaps also there may be in you a little too much of the subjective in religious experience β€” a tinge of mysticism which turns away the eye of the mind from the great objective realities of our faith. I have sometimes thought your mind is still struggling with unacknowledged, perhaps almost unsuspected, doubts on some points of dogmatic theology, and I do not think your Unitarian association likely, though it is professedly only a literary one, to be of service to you.

But despite that he went on, 'not that I suspect you of heterodoxy, or tending to it'. He warned him against the errors of the writings of men like F. D. Maurice and urged him to read alongside some of the modern authors, men like Howe, Baxter and Owen:

I know that among most of our young men there is an extreme aversion to go in the ruts, but is there not also a danger of getting off the rails? There is a richness and fullness of divine truth in the old writers which, with all their antiquated style and scholastic technicalities and somewhat narrow views, the moderns lack. And oh, their devotion β€” their communion with God, their sustained and elevated piety! This, this is what we want β€” this is our deficiency.

James' warm heart, his desire to believe the best about his young colleague, his concern for the unity of the brethren and peace in the church made him reluctant to admit that there was any real danger in Dale's teaching. But one has the impression that he was beginning to be uneasy.

But what about the congregation itself? Too easily do we blame all the ills of the church on its ministers! But after all, the place we give to the solemn responsibility of the church membership is both the strength and the weakness of Congregationalism. The same congregation who had sat for years under the robust evangelicalism of James sat under Dale, and after the initial protest received his ministry gladly. Could this at least warn us of the fearful possibility of being more in love with good preaching than with sound truth? With learning rather than with Scripture? Dr Lloyd-Jones used to say, 'The last thing your people will learn is discernment'.

A great evangelical ministry does not secure the future, even for the pulpit in which it has been primarily and for many years exercised. The Congregational principle implies a solemn responsibility to be ever watchful and on our guard, to hold fast the form of sound teaching which has been delivered to us, to search the Scriptures daily to see whether those things which we hear are so.


No-one would have been more surprised than John Angell James to know that well over a hundred years after his death his books should be republished and interest awakened in his life and ministry. He always resisted requests to write an autobiography. In his view his life and ministry were not of sufficient significance to merit it. When he did at last agree to do something of this kind in a rather fragmentary fashion he wrote:

I do not at all desire, what probably no-one will think of writing, a published biography. I believe without vanity I may say it that my life has been in some measure a useful one, but even that has been in a very common method of procedure. I have been no comet in the solar system of Christianity but one of the planets revolving in the attraction and reflecting a little of the light of the sun of righteousness. No-one could say more about me than that for fifty years I was the pastor of one church, preached the Gospel, wrote some books, and was honoured of God to save many souls, and all this with a very slender stock of secular learning. Most thankful do I feel that this can be said of me.

The University of Princeton awarded him a D.D. but he says,

I locked it up in my drawers and said nothing to anybody about it and hoped that nobody would know it.

Similarly the University of Glasgow conferred a D.D. upon him, but he immediately wrote to say that he did not mean to assume it.

May I but be considered as a faithful, earnest and successful minister of the New Covenant, and be accounted such by the Great Master, and I am quite content that my name shall stand, wherever it is recorded, without any academic affix.

With regard to his seriousness, we have already seen many examples of this. As a minister he sought to model himself on Baxter's Reformed Pastor. He was scrupulous in his use of time β€” although when his son tells us that he could not remember his father giving up an evening to the family one wonders whether he had the balance quite right! He was equally scrupulous in his personal behaviour. He was once criticized for using his pony and cart on the Sabbath. He responded that he always walked on Saturday so that his pony could have its Sabbath then!

What was the foundation for this humility and seriousness? Surely it was what the Scriptures call the fear of the Lord. Like the Apostle Paul he had an intense awareness that he lived to face the all-searching eye of the Lord before whom he must one day appear. At the age of 55 he thought he had not long to live. After his death 19 years later (!) there was found among his papers a copy of a letter he had written to the congregation at Carr's Lane at that time. Some sections from it provide a fitting conclusion to this article on James' life:

In looking back upon the 5 and 30 years, or nearly that term, which I have spent among you and your fathers before you, I see abundant cause of gratitude and adoring love to the Divine Head of the church for directing my youthful feet to this town. My ministerial course among you has been one of such prosperity and comfort as rarely falls to the lot of a minister of Jesus Christ, and never, no never, has fallen to anyone who less deserved it or had less reason to expect it. I am filled with delighted surprise, not of what I have done, but of what God has done by me. I cannot of course be ignorant and I have not the hypocrisy to effect ignorance of what has been done, but now as in the sight of God, and perhaps shortly about to appear in His presence, I can truly adopt the language and with it I believe the humility of the apostle where he says "Not I but the grace of God in me", for I am nothing.

Dear brethren, we must meet at the bar of Christ. I think that in prospect of that awful interview, I can in some measure adopt the language of the apostle Paul and say I take you to record that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God. You are my witnesses that I have not been afraid or backward to bring forward any truth, however unpalatable it might be supposed to be to any that heard me. As far as I have known the truth I have declared it, not fearing the frown of many by fidelity or causing his smile by the suppression of what I deemed it to be my commission to make known. Some of you have been my witnesses also of my fidelity in private, though here perhaps I have been more deficient as we all are than in public. And now dear brethren, if you perish, your blood will not be upon me. Your ruin will lie at your own door. You know how constantly and how anxiously I have reminded you that to be a church member is not at all the same as being a real Christian, how often and how emphatically I have told you that many will spend eternity in the bottomless pit with Satan and his angels who have spent their time on earth in the nominal fellowship of the church of Christ. Once more I tell you this awful truth. I remind you of it now, not as before from the pulpit or the sacramental table, but from my grave and from my seat in glory. Once more, let me solemnly entreat you to examine your hearts whether ye are in the faith and Christ be in you. The mere name of a Christian will serve you in no stead in a dying hour and in the Day of Christ. Nothing but the reality will stand His scrutinizing search. Oh brethren, do not deceive yourselves. It is no easy thing to be Christian, however easy it is to be called one.

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