The Christian Professor

John Angell James, 1837


The substance of most of the chapters of this volume, was delivered in a course of sermons addressed to the church of which the Holy Spirit has made me overseer. The seasons chosen for delivering them were those Sabbath mornings on which the Lord's Supper was administered; and this time was selected, because it may be supposed, that if ever the minds of Professing Christians are more than usually softened to receive the impression of practical truth, it is when the emblems of which they are about to partake, stand uncovered before them, and as they silently point to the cross, say in the ear of faith, "You are not your own, for you are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."

When I look into the New Testament, and read what a Christian should be, and then look into the church of God, and see what professing Christians are—I am painfully affected by observing the dissimilarity; and in my jealousy for the honor of the Christian Profession, have made this effort, perhaps a feeble one, certainly an anxious one—to remove its blemishes, to restore its impaired beauty, and thus raise its reputation.

What my opinion of the prevailing state of religion in the present day is, will appear still more clearly in the following pages, and especially in the chapter devoted to the consideration of this subject. That evangelical piety is advancing and spreading over a wider surface, I have not a doubt—but what it is gaining in breadth, it is losing, I am afraid, in depth. Church politics, and their sad accompaniments—party strife and animosity—carried on as it has been, with such rage of competition, together with that worldly spirit to which an age of growing selfishness and luxury usually gives rise—are exceedingly adverse to a religion, of which the elements are faith, hope, love. The church of Christ, at present, is sadly mixed up with both the spirit of the world, and many of its customs; and the great body of professing Christians are far less marked in their separation from the 'followers of pleasure', and the 'worshipers of Mammon', than they ought to be. "You are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God," is the description of a religion too rarely to be seen in this day!

A few years ago, an attempt was made to call the attention of the churches to the subject of a 'revival of piety'—and some efforts, not wholly ineffectual, were made to rouse the slumbering people of God, and induce them to seek for a more copious effusion of the Holy Spirit. But the call to united and fervent prayer, soon subsided amidst the busy hum of church business, the noise of party strife, and the strife of tongues. Still, however, I believe, notwithstanding, that the cause of the Lord is advancing upon the earth, and that the work of grace is begun in many people, whose lot and whose grief it is, to be far more occupied with things seen and temporal—than accords with their eternal happiness.

Some of the great masters of painting have manifested their skill in drawing portraits of themselves. Conceive of one of those noble pictures, fresh from the artist's pencil, presenting in the magic of drawing and painting, an almost lifelike representation of the great original. By some neglect, however, it is thrown aside, and in its unworthy banishment, amidst the lumber of an attic, soon becomes covered with dust and dirt, till its beauty is disfigured, and its transcendent excellence is disguised. Still, in despite of these defilements, there is the likeness and the workmanship of the immortal author, which, by a careful removal of the incidental filth, again shine forth upon enraptured spectators, as a glorious display of human genius.

Is it a profane or unworthy simile, to say that a Christian in his present state of imperfection, is something like this? He is the image of God, as delineated by God himself, but O, how covered with the dust and impurities of his earthly condition! Still, however, beneath that blemished exterior, there is the likeness and workmanship of the Great God, and which, when purified from every defilement and disfigurement, He will present in its restored state—to the admiring gaze of the universe!

I am anxious that as much as possible of the imperfections of the Christian character, should now be displaced in our earthly sojourn, and as much as may be, of its great excellence should now be seen. For if we profess as Christians, to have the mind of Christ, and to bear the image of God—how tremblingly anxious, how prayerfully cautious, should we be, not by retaining anything in our conduct, which is opposite to the Divine nature—to circulate a slander against God himself.

There is an ineffable beauty in the Christian character, as delineated by our Lord Jesus Christ in his personal ministry, and by his holy apostles, and there lacks nothing but the tolerably fair copy of this in the conduct of all who bear the Christian name, to silence, if not convince, the spirit of infidelity. If the Christian church were composed only of people whose characters were truly formed upon the model of the Sermon upon the Mount, or the Apostle's description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, there would be no need of defenses of Christianity—men would see that Christianity came from heaven, because there was nothing like it upon earth.

The gospel is its own witness, but then its testimony is so often contradicted by its professed believers, so far as their conduct goes, that its testimony is gotten rid of, because of the alleged unbelief of its friends; for it is said, if they believed it the reality of the gospel—they would act in greater conformity to its requirements. When the Church of Christ, shall by its spirit and conduct, bear the same testimony for the gospel, as the gospel does for itself; then in the mouth of these two witnesses, shall the truth of Christianity be established, beyond, I will not say the power of refutation, for that it is already, but beyond the possibility of objection.

It is I think, extremely probable, that great injury is done to the Christian character and profession, by an abuse of the commonly admitted fact that there is no perfection upon earth. By the aid of this humiliating concession, it is to be feared that many reconcile themselves to far more and greater imperfections, than are in any case compatible with consistency, and in some with sincerity. There is no perfection here on earth. But is there no command to us to seek after it? Is it not our duty to obtain it? The man who does not make perfection the object of his desire and pursuit; who does not wish and endeavor to obtain every kind of holy excellence, and in every possible degree—has reason to doubt the reality of his religion. A Christian ought to be a character of universal loveliness and holiness, in which no degree, not even the smallest, of any kind of known imperfection, should be allowed to remain. It should be with him as to holy character, as it is with people of much neatness and nicety as to their dress, who are not only rendered uncomfortable by great defilements, but who are uneasy till every discernible speck of dust is removed, and the whole garment presents an unsullied surface.

There is such a thing as moral neatness, which, in addition to freedom from and abhorrence of greater sins, adds a sensitiveness to lesser ones, and a studious effort after universal purity. Perfection is our duty; perfection should be our wish, and perfection our aim; by which I mean to say, that a Christian is not to allow himself to practice any degree of any sin; and is to seek every possible degree of every holy virtue. How different an view would the Christian Profession present, if all who made it were to make perfection of character their aim, and according to apostolic exhortation, were to "perfect holiness in the fear of God." "You are to live blameless and pure lives, as children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe" Philippians 2:15. "You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

It was not my intention in this work, to enter into the consideration of private, experimental, or doctrinal religion; so much as into its practical parts; and to contemplate the believer in relation to the church and to the world, than in his individual capacity, or in his personal devotional aspects.

I design this little volume as a sequel to "Christian Fellowship—The Church Member's Guide," and as an amplification of some topics touched upon incidentally in that work. It has been the destiny of that book, to obtain for its author a notoriety which he certainly did not contemplate in composing it.

Advantage has been taken, by one of the tricks of controversy, of the admissions of abuses to which, like everything else that is good, the principles of nonconformity have been subjected in the practices of some of the churches, to turn these candid exposures, against the whole system of voluntary churches. This is a hypocritical artifice, a miserable sophism, a dangerous weapon—since no system in this world of imperfection can stand before it; no, not even that set up by Apostles themselves; for the same kind of evils which I have acknowledged are to be found amongst its, are to be traced in all the primitive churches planted and superintended by inspired men.

Perhaps the same deceptive means will be employed in reference to this volume. If so, those who use them are quite welcome to them. To guard, however, as much as possible against misconception, or misrepresentation, I would affirm, once for all, that I think professors of all denominations are much below their privileges, their principles, and their obligations; and that I have not addressed the contents of these chapters to my own flock, because I think they are behind others in piety—but because I wish them to be above and beyond the average religion of the day.

John Angell James,
Edgbaston, April 21, 1837.