“The idolatry of talent” by John Angell James

“There is in this day an idolatry of talent running through society; and this man-worship has crept into the church, and corrupted its members. It is painful to perceive how far it is carried in many circles, and to see what homage is paid, and what incense is burnt, to their favourites.

It is not religion or holiness that is thus elevated, but genius and knowledge: it is not moral beauty, but intellectual strength, that is lauded to the skies: the loftiest models of goodness receive but scanty offerings at their shrine, compared with the gods of the understanding.

It is very evident that in many cases the gospel is loved, if loved at all, for the sake of the talent with which it is preached, and not the talent for sake of the gospel.”

–John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1847/1993), 249.

“Impress of eternity” by John Angell James

“Will anyone deny that we want an earnest ministry to break in some degree the spell, and leave the soul at liberty for the affairs of the kingdom which is not of this world? When politics have come upon the minds, hearts, and imaginations of the people, for six days out of the seven, invested with the charms of eloquence, and decked with the colors of party; when the orator and the writer have both thrown the witchery of genius over the soul.

How can it be expected that tame, spiritless, vapid common-places from the pulpit, sermons coming neither from the head nor the heart, having neither weight of matter, nor grace of manner; neither genius to compensate for the want of taste, nor taste to compensate for the want of genius; and what is still worse, having no unction of evangelical truth, no impress of eternity, no radiance from heaven, no terror from hell; in short, no adaptation to awaken reflection, to produce conviction, or to save the soul; how can it be expected, I say, that such sermons can be useful to accomplish the purposes for which the gospel is to be preached?

What chance have such preachers, amidst the tumult, to be heard or felt, or what hold have they upon public attention, amidst the high excitement of the times in which we live? Their hearers too often feel, that listening to their sermons on the Sabbath, after what they have heard or read during the week, is as if they were turning from brilliant gas-light to the dim and smoking spark of tallow and rush.”

–John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1847/1993), 194-5.


“We must not only direct but impel our hearers” by John Angell James

“But though a careful analysis of the text should form the basis of all our sermons, there must be something more than mere exegesis, however clear, correct, and instructive. We have to do not only with a dark intellect that needs to be informed, but with a hard heart that needs to be impressed, and a torpid conscience that needs to be awakened; we have to make our hearers feel that in the great business of religion, there is much to be done, as well as much to be known…

We must not only direct but impel our hearers. They all know far more than they practice of the Bible: the head is generally far in advance of the heart; and our great business is to persuade, to entreat, to beseech. We have to deal with a dead heavy vis inertiae [at rest stays at rest] of mind; yea more, we have to overcome a stout resistance, and to move a reluctant heart. If all that was necessary to secure the ends of our ministry were to lay the truth before the mind; if the heart were pre-disposed to the subject of our preaching, then like the lecturer on science, we might dispense with the hortatory manner, and confine ourselves exclusively to explanation.

Logic unaccompanied by rhetoric would suffice; but when we find every sinner we address, acting in opposition to the dictates of his judgment, and the warnings of his conscience, as well as to the testimony of Scripture; sacrificing the interests of his immortal soul to the vanities of the world, and the corruptions of his heart; madly bent upon his ruin, and rushing to the precipice from which he will take a fatal leap into perdition; can we, in that case, be satisfied with merely explaining, however clearly, and demonstrating, however conclusively, the truth of revelation?”

–John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1847/1993), 87-8.


“His earnestness has subdued me” by John Angell James

“There is a silent and almost unconscious process often going on in the mind of those who are listening to the sermons of a preacher really laboring for the conversion of souls. ‘Is he so earnest about my salvation, and shall I care nothing about the matter? Is my eternal happiness so much in his account, and shall it be nothing in mine? I can meet cold logic with counter arguments; or at any rate, I can raise up objections against evidence.

I can smile at the artifices of rhetoric, and be merely pleased with the displays of eloquence. I can sit unmoved under sermons which seem intended by the preacher to raise my estimation of himself, but I cannot stand this earnestness about me. The man is evidently intent upon saving my soul. I feel the grasp of his hand upon my arm, as if he would pluck me out of the fire. He has not only made me think, but he has made me feel. His earnestness has subdued me.'”

–John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the Times (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1847/1993), 30-1.