The Christian Professor

John Angell James, 1837


A profession of Christianity is the most solemn engagement on earth, and he who makes it, is either one of the best or one of the worst members of society. Much then does it behoove all who call themselves by the name of Christ, to inquire with the deepest concern, whether they are sufficiently aware of the nature and obligations of the act which they performed, when by entering into fellowship with the church of God, they publicly said, "I am a Christian." Being apprehensive that there is much ignorance on this subject, and much neglect even where there is not ignorance, I most earnestly entreat the serious and prayerful attention of all professors who may read these pages to what may now be stated, as to a matter personally and individually applicable to them.

To "profess" means "to declare publicly and solemnly something that we believe, or that we intend to do so," that a "profession" of Christianity signifies, a public, solemn and emphatic declaration that we believe the truths and submit to the obligations of Christianity. The translators of the Scriptures have given in our English version, two renderings of the same original word, sometimes construing it profession, and sometimes confession. In this they have conformed to a difference which modern use has established, and by which profession means, the declaration of our religious faith in the ordinary and tranquil circumstances of the Christian Church, without any reference to persecution; while confession means the avowal of our belief, in times of danger, and before persecuting rulers. A confessor is synonymous with a martyr—while a professor means simply a person publicly declaring himself a Christian. Still, however, it must be admitted that as there is no difference in the original Scriptures, so there is none in reality; for he who makes a profession of religion declares, if he be sincere, his intention to seal his testimony, if required to do so, with his blood.

It may not be amiss to present the reader with some of those passages of holy writ in which the two words are employed. Speaking to Timothy, the apostle Paul tells him that he had "professed a good profession before many witnesses." 1 Tim. 6:12. This refers to the declaration of his faith before the Church—while in the text verse he is said to have witnessed or testified a good confession before Pontius Pilate. Jesus Christ is called "the Apostle and High Priest of our profession." Heb 3:1.; and in Heb. 4:14, it is said, "Seeing we have a great High Priest who has passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession." The passages in which the other term is used are still more numerous; only a few of which need be given. "Whosoever," said Christ, "shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 10:32. "If you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved—for with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Rom. 10:10, 11. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him, and he in God." 1 John 4:15.

Let us now consider,

1. WHAT the Christian profession includes.

It is a public, solemn, and emphatic declaration to this effect, "I am a Christian; I wish to be considered one; and I mean to live as one." Or, to use the comprehensive language of Christ, it is confessing HIM before men. It is important to remark, that whatever be its import, it has special and explicit reference to Christ; it is not a declaration of belief merely in the existence, attributes, and purposes of God, as the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the universe; an avowal of Theism, as opposed to idolatry—no, it is a profession of CHRIST! Whoever, said our Lord, shall confess ME, I will confess him. Whoever, repeats the Apostle, "shall confess that he is raised from the dead shall be saved. To him every tongue shall confess." This is both instructive and impressive, and contains a strong presumptive proof of his true and proper divinity.

The Christian church is a collection of witnesses for Christ; a public embodied testimony to Christ—a spiritual temple, bearing on its lofty front the inscription "TO THE GLORY OF CHRIST." Everything under the New Covenant refers to HIM; the Sabbath is to honor HIM, it is the Lord's day; the Lord's table is to commemorate HIM; the Christian profession is to testify of HIM—so that if Christ is not divine, we are under a dispensation which seems to shut God out. If Christ is not divine, worship and obligations are diverted from God, and directed to a mere creature. There was nothing like this under the Old Covenant. Moses was but a servant of the house under that economy, and is not held up as receiving the honor of a proprietor; but Christ is a Son over his own house. This is our profession—that we are Christ's.

But what is it concerning CHRIST that we declare when we make a profession of him? We profess to believe in him and receive him as the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, divinely appointed by the Father as the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God, to be the great PROPHET by whom is made known to man the nature of Jehovah and his purpose of redeeming mercy towards our fallen race; and that with docility and meekness we receive all his doctrines, whether declared by his own personal ministry on earth, or by his inspired apostles, however mysterious their nature, or humbling their tendency.

We profess that we are convinced of sin as transgressors of the law of God, that we repent of our manifold and aggravated transgressions; that God will be just in our destruction; and that hating and forsaking iniquities, we mean to live a righteous and holy life.

We profess that as sinners lost and condemned, not only by the fall of Adam, but by our own actual transgressions—we truly believe in him and thankfully receive him as the divinely appointed PRIEST and sacrifice for sin, and that we rest exclusively upon the infinite merit of his obedience unto death for our justification, together with all the blessings of grace here, and glory hereafter; and that through faith in him we have received a present salvation, and do really hope for an eternal salvation.

We profess that we cordially receive Christ and cheerfully submit to him as our KING, Lawgiver, and Judge—who has promulgated his Laws in the New Testament, and who requires an unhesitating, unreserved, willing, affectionate and uninterrupted submission to his authority; however self-denying that submission may sometimes be as regards our ease, wealth and worldly esteem. We acknowledge his right to rule over the body, with all its senses, organs, members, and appetites; and the soul, with all its varied and noble faculties. We declare that the rigid, refined, solemn morality of the sermon on the Mount, and the law of brotherly love laid down in the epistle to the Corinthians, are and shall be the rule of our conduct; and that as Christ has enjoined it, we will, by God's help, follow whatever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. And also since he has instituted various ordinances of religion for his own glory, and our benefit, such as the Sabbath, the sacraments and other public services—we will punctually, and seriously, and constantly observe them.

"Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession." Heb 3:1. We profess that we receive Christ as our pattern and example, and that we are determined, as God shall assist us, to conform ourselves to him in our spirit, temper, and conduct; that we will strive to come, as near as our circumstances will allow, to Him, who was so dead to this world, that he renounced wealth, rank, ease, fame. Jesus was so holy that he could appeal to the most malignant of his foes for the sinless purity of his conduct. Jesus was so submissive to the divine will, that he drank the deepest, fullest, bitterest cup of human woe, without a murmur. Jesus was so meek and lowly, as to bear the greatest injuries and insults with unruffled serenity and peacefulness. Jesus was so full of benevolence, as to pray for his foes, to die for them, and save them. Yes, we say to the world, "Look at Jesus of Nazareth in his holy and beneficent life, or in his ignominious and agonizing death—see him whose whole character was a compound of purity and love—and there is our model."

We profess to receive his cause and kingdom in the world, as ours; to identify ourselves with true religion, and to unite our hearts with the church as the most important community on earth; we avow that whatever relative and temporal importance may attach to the cause of literature, science, liberty, commerce, yet the salvation of immortal souls is the most momentous interest in the universe, and that our time, influence, talents and property, are at Christ's command, to promote this object.

We profess that we have received Christ as the scope and end of our very existence; that we have ceased to live for wealth, ease, or reputation, as the supreme object of pursuit; that for us to live is Christ; and that so long as he is honored by us, it is of secondary consequence in what situation or circumstances he may place us for this purpose.

We profess to be looking for Christ's universal spiritual reign and second coming to manifest himself to his church and to judge the world, as the supreme object of our joyful hope; and compared with which, all the greatest changes and most glorious revolutions that are expected on earth, are but as insignificant and uninteresting events.

We profess that we hope to be accepted by Christ in the day of judgment; expect to be received into his heavenly kingdom, where we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is, and dwell for ever with the Lord; and that until then, we are living by faith on earth, sending our affections after him to glory. And considering our situation in this world as that of an affectionate wife left for a season for wise reasons in a strange land, and looking forward with eager anticipation to the time of meeting with her husband to part no more; and that by the prospect and faith of that glory to be revealed, we have overcome the 'love of life' and 'fear of death'.

We profess that for the performance of duties so solemn, so weighty, so important, so difficult—we have no ability of our own, that all our dependence and hope are founded on the supply of the spirit of Christ Jesus; and that conscious of many defects, we are humble before God and man, and constantly need the exercise of God's forbearing and forgiving mercy.

Such is the Christian profession.

What height, what length, what depth, what breadth! Well might we ask, who dare take it up? Or who taking it up can sustain it? We now consider,

2. HOW the Christian profession is made.

What I have before stated contains the matter of our profession, but in what manner is it to be made? What is the precise formal act in which it consists? To whom, and in what way, is the declaration of our faith to be delivered? If we go back to the promulgation of Christianity, we find our Lord delivering the following commission to his disciples, "Go therefore, and teach, (or make disciples of, as the word signifies,) of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." In compliance with this charge, the apostles required all who believed in Christ to be baptized, join themselves to the church, receive the Lord's Supper, and observe the other ordinances of the Christian religion—and upon a profession of their belief in Jesus, they were received into the fellowship of the faithful. This their declaration of faith, accompanied as it was by baptism, and their reception into the church, was their profession. Until they did this, however frequently they may have attended the Christian assembly, however deeply they may have been convinced of the truth of the gospel, however freely they may have communicated their sentiments to any members of the church privately, they made no confession, and were not ranked among professors.

In the conventional use which the term has acquired among our churches, it means much the same thing, and signifies a person's declaring to the pastor and the church, with which he desires to be associated in visible communion—his repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; and on the ground of that declaration, after it has been examined and found to be conformable to the mind of God, and sincerely made, so far as appears by inquiry, his being received into the church. It is his public witness to those whom God has authorized to receive the confession, his testimony to the character and work of Christ, and of the state of his own mind towards him. Public testimony in the scriptural manner, is essential; there may be religion, sincere, fervent religion, but till we have publicly and formally before the pastor and church, declared ourselves believers, there is no true profession. With us then profession means the act of joining ourselves with the people of God, upon an avowal of our sentiments, accompanied by a declaration, that we believe we are justified by faith and truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

It is professing this I say publicly,

Before the church; the particular church with which we enter into fellowship, and before that as the representative of the whole universal church. We say to the church, "I take your God to be my God, your Savior to be my Savior, your people to be my people, your ordinances to be my ordinances. I partake with you of the common salvation and like precious faith. I receive you as Christians, and beg in the name of our common Lord, to be received as such by you."

It is a profession before the world. It is saying, "Hear, you who are disobeying God, and neglecting Christ—I was one of you, but I am no longer one of you—I can no longer live as you do, and as I once did. I am in Christ a new creature, old things are passed away, and all things are become new. I come out and am separate from the world, and give myself up to Christ and his church, to follow him in all things, as my Savior, Ruler, Pattern; and I consent, and am willing that you should be judges how far I fulfil my solemn obligations."

And then, be it recollected, the declaration is made not only before the world, but in the world, in the shop, in the market, in the exchange. It is a profession not only for Sabbath days, but for all days; not only for the place of religious meetings, but for the places of secular resort. "Wisdom calls out in the street; she raises her voice in the public squares. She cries out above the commotion; she speaks at the entrance of the city gates—How long, foolish ones, will you love ignorance? How long will you mockers enjoy mocking and you fools hate knowledge?" and wisdom's children must do the same, honoring by imitating their mother. To the man who invites or tempts them to an unkind, untrue, unjust, dishonest, malicious word or action—or who suspects them to be capable of one, they should reply, "I profess Christ, and can I deny or betray him?"

It is a profession before angels, who, as the ministering spirits that minister to the heirs of salvation, must be the spectators of their conduct. It is a profession before devils, who tremble as they hear those solemn words, "I am a Christian," drop from their lips, and from that moment have all their enmity and subtlety roused and employed to make them if possible faithless to their calling. Yes, it is a profession before God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus Christ bends from his throne to hear them utter the announcement, "I am a Christian!" and from thenceforward ever looks from his seat of glory to see how they fulfill the obligations which they have thus publicly, solemnly, and voluntarily taken upon themselves. He never loses sight of them for a moment—but is ever watching to see how they sustain his name—his dear, and sacred and honored name—which is above every other name, and which they have confessed before men.

What a profession, and how publicly made! By how many spectators you are surrounded and watched. From the hour you call yourself a disciple of Christ, the church with a tender interest, the world with malignant curiosity, angels with kind solicitude, devils with rooted enmity, God with a jealous eye, and Christ with tender sympathy—mark every step of your progress; for "you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,

and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant."

The nature and obligation of the Christian profession is confirmed and forcibly stated in the following address to people on their joining the church, is taken from a manual used in one of the Presbyterian churches in America.


"You have now presented yourselves in this public manner before God, to take his covenant upon you—to confess Jesus Christ before men—to testify your faith, and hope, and joy in his religion—practically to condemn your former selves, together with the 'whole world as lying in wickedness'—unreservedly to dedicate yourselves to the service of your Creator—and definitely to incorporate yourselves with his visible people. You are about to profess supreme love to God, sincere contrition for all your sins of heart and life, and sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You are about publicly to ratify a solemn compact to receive 'the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,' as revealed in the Scriptures, in all the agencies they execute for the government of the world, and in all the offices they sustain for the salvation of the Church; and to 'walk, from this point on, in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless.'


"We trust you have fully considered the purpose of these several professions and engagements. The transaction before you is solemn in its nature, and will be followed with eternal consequences. God and holy angels, as well as this Church, these spectators, and your own consciences—your Pastor and these Elders, are witnesses. Your vows will be recorded in heaven—and they will be publicly exhibited on your trial at the last day. Nevertheless, with these reflections you need not be overwhelmed. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, which is 'as ointment poured forth,' you may 'boldly enter into the holiest, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh—and having a High Priest over the house of God, you may draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having your hearts sprinkled with his atoning blood, from an evil conscience, and your bodies washed with pure water. God is indeed great in majesty, infinite in power, 'glorious in holiness,' inflexible in justice, and 'fearful' even in 'praises,' still, he is abundantly 'merciful and gracious,' and as such, manifests himself by graciously condescending, through Jesus Christ, to enter into covenant with sinners. You may venture then, in the filial spirit, IRREVERSIBLY thus to commit yourselves, and trust to his promised and inviolable 'faithfulness,' for strength to discharge your obligations, and perform your engagements.


"And now, in the presence of God, angels, and men, you do solemnly avouch the LORD JEHOVAH to be your God and portion, the object of your supreme love and delight; and the LORD JESUS CHRIST to be your Savior from sin and death, your Prophet to instruct you, your Priest to atone and intercede for you, and your King to rule, protect, and enrich you; and the HOLY SPIRIT to be your Illuminator, Sanctifier, Comforter, and Guide, looking to HIM for light, grace, and peace—unto this TRIUNE GOD—this wonderful 'Name of THE FATHER, and of THE SON, and of THE HOLY SPIRIT,' into which we are baptized—you do now without reserve, give yourselves away, in a covenant never to be revoked, to be his willing servants forever, to observe all his commandments and all his ordinances, in the sanctuary, in the family, and in the closet. You do also bind yourselves by covenant to this Church, to watch over us in the Lord, to seek our purity, peace, and edification, and conscientiously to submit to the government and discipline of Christ as here administered; counting it a privilege and a favor—not a privation and a grievance—to be subject in the Lord, to that authority which HIMSELF has established in his church, and which HE has made it not more the duty of his officers to exercise, than of his members to obey. All this, in the divine strength, you do severally profess and engage.


In consequence of these your professions and engagements, we do affectionately open our arms to receive you as members of this Church, and, in the name of Christ, declare you entitled to all its visible privileges. We welcome you, as brethren in Christ, to this fellowship with us in the labors and the blessings, the toils and the honors, the crosses and the crowns, the trials and the rewards of the Gospel of our risen Redeemer—and on our part, engage, in his strength, to watch over you, to seek your edification, and to aid your progress through this wilderness—to the fields of real pleasure beyond it. Should you have occasion, in providence, to remove from us, to live within the bounds or in the neighborhood of another church, we shall hold it our duty to give, as it will be yours to seek, a recommendation from us, which will place you under the watch and care of that portion of the family of Christ—for, hereafter, you can never withdraw from the pale of the church, or live in the neglect of sealing ordinances, without a breach of covenant.


And now, beloved in the Lord, let it be impressed on your minds that you have entered into a solemn condition, from which you can never escape. Wherever you may be, and however you may act, these vows will remain upon you through life. They will follow you to the judgement of God, and in whatever world you may be fixed, they will abide upon you to eternity. You can never again be as you have been! You have unalterably committed yourselves, and henceforth you MUST be the servants of God! Hereafter, the eyes of the world will be upon you, and as you conduct yourselves, so will religion be honored or disgraced. Only let your life be as it befits the Gospel of Christ, and you will be a credit and comfort to us—but if it be otherwise, you will be to us a grief of heart, a stumbling block, and a vexation! and if there be a woe pronounced upon him who offends one of Christ's little ones—woe, woe to the person who offends a whole Church! But, dearly beloved, we hope better things of you, and things which accompany salvation, though we thus speak. May the Lord strengthen you, and give you a comfortable passage through this transitory life, and after its warfare shall be accomplished, bring us all together into that blessed Church, where our communion shall be forever perfect, and our joy for ever full. Grace be with you. Amen."

Christians, you who make this profession, and make it thus—does not the subject require and demand your very serious consideration, and your devout and prayerful examination, whether you are sincere and consistent? Do you understand what is included in that all-comprehensive appellative, "A CHRISTIAN," in that public declaration, "I AM a Christian"? Have you studied your name, analyzed your profession? Are you aware what the world, the church, and angels expect from you—and what God and Christ demand of you? Or have you thrust yourself into the church, rushed to the Lord's table, and thoughtlessly assumed the Christian name in ignorance! Do you understand your profession, and does the world believe that you are sincere in it? While you are telling them that you are Christ's—is your conduct such, that they are compelled to admit the truth of it? Do they see a copy of your profession written out in living letters upon all your conduct?

Perhaps the view that has been given of the Christian profession may startle some of you and make you tremble—I wish it may; for there is need of trembling with some. Should you endeavor to protect yourself against these searching inquiries, by affirming that I have represented the subject in too alarming an aspect, and have made the Christian profession too comprehensive, and too strict—I ask for proof. My appeal is to your Bible. I cite but one passage, "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." Rom. 14:7-9. This is what is required in every professor of religion, to live and die for Christ; to have no separate existence from the dominion of Christ, so as to be enabled to say with the apostle, "for me to live is Christ." Is this our profession or is it not? If it is—are we aware of it, or are we ignorant of it? Too comprehensive and too strict it may be for some, and if so, they are none of Christ's; they had better abandon his name, which they do but dishonor, and a profession which they only contradict. But better still is it that by studying it afresh, they should strive by divine grace to come up to the high and holy standard.

What cause for deep humiliation does this subject afford to the most eminent and consistent professors. Even the best of them must take shame and confusion of face to themselves that they have lived so far beneath their own public declaration. Well is it, that there is mercy for saints, as well as sinners; for even the most distinguished of them must exclaim, "God be merciful to me, a professor." O how little have we by ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years, honored Christ, glorified God, recommended religion, strengthened the church, and blessed the world. Therefore, be clothed with humility.

Shall we not from this time begin afresh. Let us read over this imperfect outline of our profession, this sketch of our covenant with the Lord, this bond of surrender to him, this record of our vows—and with a deliberate purpose, and a believing dependence on the promised help of the Spirit of God—let us consecrate ourselves afresh to the glory of Christ, according to the tenor of our Christian profession.