The Christian Professor

John Angell James, 1837


It is every man's duty to confess Christ. But there is a previous duty to be performed, and that is to receive him. We should first be a Christian, and then declare ourselves such; and anxious, most anxious, yes tremblingly anxious should we be—not to advance to the second position, until we have taken up the first. Everything is, or should be subsequent to this. The business immediately to be done by any human being, any fallen creature—is to believe the Gospel, and be at peace with God. He should, without any delay, have the faith of God's elect—and as soon as he has it, he must avow it. We must not, either through timidity, or from any prudential considerations, wish to keep our religion a secret, or covet to go by a secluded and unobserved path to heaven. It is not enough for us to commend ourselves to God as sincere, but we must acknowledge our faith "before men."

This is most clearly and most solemnly taught us by our Lord; "Whoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven—but whoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven." Matt. 10:32, 33. "Whoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation—of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels." Mark 8:37. "Therefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord." 2 Cor. 6:17. "The word is near you—in your mouth and in your heart, that is the word of faith which we preach—that if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and 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. 10:8-10.

I have already described what this confession means, and shown that it is substantially the same as profession—and it now only remains to bring forward these solemn passages in proof that it is our duty to make it. The bare reading of them is enough to show that this is binding upon our conscience, by all the weight of divine authority. Christ forbids not only 'open enmity' towards himself—but 'secret love'. Christ forbids not only towards himself—but concealed allegiance. He has commanded a profession, and made it one of the laws of his kingdom, under the peril of our being disowned by him—and he who refuses to comply with this law seems to put his salvation in jeopardy.

THE DESIGN AND USES of this Christian profession are manifest, and should be constantly kept in view. I need scarcely premise that it is not to make us Christians, for it supposes that we are Christians already. It is a fearful, though it is not an uncommon thing, for people to substitute the profession for the possession, and to consider that they become Christians, by saying publicly they are such.

The ends of a Christian profession are various, some of them refer to CHRIST. It is confessing Christ, and intended, as we have already shown, to honor him by a public declaration—that we have believed his divine mission, as the Son of God and Savior of the world; the Mediator between God and man; the Prophet, Priest and King of his Church; that we worship him as our God, rely upon him as our Savior, and serve him as our Master. This is, of course, to glorify him; it is to fulfill the prediction, that to him every knee should bow, and every tongue confess. Yes, every professor adds another voice to swell the chorus of praise that is rising to the honor of Jesus; adds another witness to the multitude that speak of him to the world, and roll his name round the globe; adds another trophy to the spoils which are accumulating in the Church to celebrate his victory over sin and Satan. It is a sweet and cheering reflection to the professor, that his very connection with the Church, if it is maintained with consistency, is to the honor of Him who has bought him with his blood!

But there are designs relating to OURSELVES. It rescues us from the reproach and wipes off the stigma of our being Christ's enemies, and puts upon us the honor of being accounted his friends. The great multitude of mankind lie under the disgrace of being the foes of Jesus; and this in appearance is the case with all who have not separated themselves from the world by a profession. There may be real Christians among them, who in other parts of their conduct are sufficiently distinguished from them—but they are like Peter in the hall of the High Priest, among the foes of Christ. They are in the enemy's camp—though they do not wear his color and costume. When we join the Church, we say publicly, "Account me no longer an enemy of Christ. I believe in him, adore him, love him, and serve him." Who would not be eager to say this? Who would have a shadow of a shade attaching to them of being his enemy? Who does not glory in the thought of saying to those who despise and reject him, "I am not one of you. I cannot treat the Savior as you do."

Christian profession gives us a right and title to all the privileges and comforts of communion with his church. It is our saying to his disciples, "I come into the house in the Master's name, and take a seat at his table invited and accepted by him. He has given me a share in all the benefits of his family." It is therefore our act of association with his people, our title of admission to the fellowship of the faithful. Until we profess, they have no warrant to receive us; and when we do, they have no right to reject us. We have then a claim upon their confidence, their sympathy, their affection and their prayers; and they upon ours. How cheering the idea, that we have thus acquired an interest in the hearts of the brethren, the communion of the church, and the supplications of those who have power with God to prevail. The solemn festivities of the sacramental table, the consultations and decisions of the church meetings, the maintenance of the lovely order of Christ's house, all belong to us then by grant and covenant.

Nor is comfort the only benefit that results to us by profession—but holiness, help, safety. Trees grow best in plantations and gardens; so do Christians in church fellowship. Christ has gathered his people into churches, that they may enjoy the benefits of reciprocal watchfulness, care, help, and love. Christians do, or should, rally round one another, to warn those who are unruly, to comfort the feeble-minded, to support the weak. They are commanded to exhort one another daily, lest any be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Profession draws many friendly eyes upon us, and many affectionate arms around and underneath us.

It is a bond upon our constancy. Publicity has a tendency to make us watchful and cautious. We have taken up a profession of Christ; we have placed ourselves on high; we have invited notice before many spectators.

It might perhaps be thought that if a consciousness that the eye of God is upon us, be not enough to preserve us—the additional recollection that we are under the surveillance of our fellow-creatures will not increase our vigilance and circumspection. But this is contrary to fact. In certain states of mind we are wrought upon more by what we see, than by what we believe—the eye of faith may be sometimes too dim to see Him who is invisible, and then it is well that the eye of sense can see those who are visible.

Pastoral oversight is another benefit which profession brings to us, and is designed to bring. Is it no privilege, or even a small one—to have the wise counsels, the affectionate reproofs, the wakeful care, the tender sympathy, the fervent prayers of a minister of God?

Profession has a purpose that relates to THE CHURCH. It gives visibility to this holy community. The Church is God's witness in the world, and everyone who joins it strengthens the testimony. It speaks by its embodied piety, and by its united voice—for Christ. Everyone who enters its communion adds something to its strength and its stability. But for profession, it would cease to appear as a Church. Nor does each professor only add to the number and do something for the permanence of the Church—but also for its utility. The church is God's instrument for illumination, and converting the world. The church is the golden candlestick containing the lamp of truth. The church is the storehouse of ways and means for evangelizing the nations of the earth; and everyone who becomes a member carries an addition of zeal and piety to render it more and more efficient.

Profession is for THE WORLD. This we have already shown in what we have just considered—but it might be more extensively dwelt upon. "You are the salt of the earth—you are the light of the world," said Christ to his disciples. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth, intended to hold up, to send out, to hand down—the truth; to show what truth is, what faith is, what holiness is; to exhibit the truths of Scripture, and be a living commentary upon it—to send out life-giving voices attended by life-giving actions—to speak for God to, and act for God upon, the dark and inert mass around. The true Church of Christ is evidently designed not only to receive the truth by faith for its own sake—but to reflect it, by profession, for the world's sake. It seems to bear much the same relation to the word of God, as the moon does the sun; and to perform somewhat the same function to the spiritual economy as the satellite does in the planetary system. The Church is not the original source of light, for that is the Bible; but it is the recipient and depository of this light, which it receives for its own benefit, and reflects for the benefit of a benighted world.

The church revolves in the attraction of this moral orb, and exhibits to those who would not otherwise receive them, its glorious beams. Hence, by the Lord's Supper, which is strictly and exclusively an ecclesiastical ordinance, the church is said to "show forth" the death of Christ till his second coming. The word signifies to "publish openly and effectually," "to declare in a joyful and emphatic manner." To whom is this declaration to be made? Not to the church, for they are to make it, Not to the angels or spirits made perfect, for they do not need it; but to the careless, impenitent, and unbelieving world. The death of Christ, as a sacrifice for sin, is the great truth of Christianity; it is not so much a doctrine of scripture, as the scripture itself; it is in fact, the new covenant—and the church, gathered around the sacramental table, and jointly partaking of the elements of bread and wine, in believing remembrance of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus, is, in that act, as well as by its well known publicly declared sentiments, a witness for Christ—and a preacher of him to the world. He is thus evidently set forth crucified for sinners, who are thereby invited to behold him as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Every time the church is gathered together, the "Bride," the Lamb's wife, lifts up her entreating voice on behalf of her divine Lord, and says to those who are despising and rejecting him, "Come to Christ for salvation!" Every professor, therefore, who joins himself to the church, both by his declaration of faith and his approaches to the table of the Lord, sends forth the invitation to unbelievers, "Come to Jesus, and be saved." (Does not this expression of the apostle's plainly prove that the Lord's Supper ought to be observed publicly before the whole congregation? How else can we by that act "show forth" the death of Christ?)

The visible Church, i.e. the collective body of professors is, I repeat, the golden candlestick placed in a dark world—to hold forth in their profession the light of truth, of holiness, of love, and consequently of happiness. This light, it is true, shines forth as we have said from the word—but the great multitude will not come within the range of its rays; and it is therefore designed by a merciful God intent upon their salvation, that it shall be reflected upon them in a manner which they cannot avoid, in the conduct of those who profess to have received it. Hence, believers in that one solemn scene, where they are brought together around the visible symbols of their redemption and their union—are said to show forth the Lord's death—until he comes. Every consistent professor is a light shining in a dark place, shining not for himself but for others; shining to guide men to Christ, to his church, and to his heaven—a friendly lamp in the world's dark course, to assist them in finding their way to everlasting life.

Can anything be mentioned more solemnly admonitory as to the duties of professors or their responsibility? How clearly should the light of truth shine forth in an enlarged, correct, and scriptural acquaintance with the doctrines of grace. How clearly should the light of holiness shine forth in all holy living and godliness! How clearly should the light of love shine forth in brotherly kindness and charity! And how clearly should the light of happiness shine forth in the peace that passes understanding, and the joy unspeakable and full of glory! O, let it not be forgotten that a profession is designed to be a light for the world; and then again it may be asked, "What kind of men ought we to be?"

Have we considered these matters deliberately and with an intelligent mind? Have we asked ourselves the solemn question, "For what purpose have I come out of the world into the church, and have I answered, and am I answering that purpose? Am I a living martyr and faithful witness for Christ?—making him known and causing him to be loved? Am I a pointer to the cross, a road sign to heaven? Do I bear the image of Christ, and show the world for what purpose he came into the world, and died upon Calvary? Am I a useful addition to the church, increasing not only its bulk—but its strength, its beauty, and its health?—giving it visibility, not only as an ecclesiastical corporation of nominal Christians—but as the receptacle of heavenly communications, the vestibule of the celestial temple, yes, the tabernacle of God with man, and having the glory of Jehovah? Have I added anything to its spiritual excellence, and its moral power? Or have I been a mere appendage, a lifeless adjunct, a useless addition, and more of an encumbrance than a help to its utility?

As regards myself what benefit have I derived from my profession? I have obtained a public right to church privileges. I have taken my seat at the table of the Lord, and appropriated to myself my share of the blessings of fellowship and the prayers of the brethren. What am I the holier and happier for these things? Have I grown in grace, and found the communion of saints to aid me in a preparation for the fellowship of the blessed in heaven? Have I found that my profession has indeed proved a bond upon my constancy, and made me watchful, circumspect, and cautious? Has my profession separated me from the world, and kept me separate in association, spirit, and conduct? I have had the watchful eye of my pastor upon me, and have received his admonitions publicly and privately—and am I the better for this, and a comfort to his heart?

As respects the world, what good has it derived from me? Has the end of my profession been accomplished in reference to the unconverted part of mankind? What have they seen in me calculated to subdue their prejudices against true religion, and to conciliate their affection to it? Have I shown them the light of truth, the beauty of holiness, and the power of love? Like a lesser magnet touched by the mighty magnet of Mount Calvary, have I drawn men to Christ? Are there any who in looking to me, will say—there is the instrument of my conversion?"

Such interrogatories as these ought to be pressed home by every professor on his conscience at seasons; and such should frequently occur—of solemn examination into the state of the soul.

It may be, that some will read these pages who have not yet publicly professed faith in Christ, although they have reason to hope that they possess it. But why not profess it? Have you considered our Lord's demand, Mark 8:37—or the apostle's declaration, Rom. 10:8? Sit down and study those passages—ponder them well—apply them to your own case—and will you any longer believe secretly, when required to profess publicly? "I am startled," you say, "at the vast comprehension of a profession." True, it is vast—but it is demanded of you—yes, both the possession and profession. "I am afraid I shall disgrace my profession if I make it, as many have already done." True, they have—millions of souls have been led on to perdition by the misconduct of nominal Christians—and you ought to tremble at the idea of adding to the number—but God's grace is sufficient for you. The way of duty is the way of safety, and none are so likely to be kept from failing as they who enter on their course with a holy fear of falling. Besides, are you not dishonoring God by making no profession, and are thus guilty of the inconsistency of actually doing wrong—lest you should do it? "But I can go to heaven without making a profession." How do you know that? Perhaps not. It may be necessary for you, although some others may have reached the heavenly shore without it. It is not for us to say of any obvious duty, "I call go to heaven without it." Not that I mean to insinuate justification is by works; or, that absolute perfection is essential to salvation—but what I mean is this; God requires obedience in all cases of known duty, and where we make exceptions, he may be so displeased as to give us up to ourselves, and leave us to turn back again to the world.

"But if I make a profession I shall displease my friends."
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." Mark. 8:34-38. This is unbending, solemn language. What is the favor or displeasure of friends to this? Is there anything in the fear or frown of any mortal under heaven—that should deter us from our duty in the view of such a peril as this?

"But my parents or my husband do not make a profession, nor are they fit for it, and they would not like me to join the church without them, and I would scarcely like it myself." If they will not go to heaven, should that allow you to reject any of the means that help you thither? If they will not honor Christ, should that hinder you from doing it? Will you disobey the Savior out of compliment to any earthly friend whatever? It is your duty, your solemn duty, and is it better to please men or God? Perhaps your decision in this matter may be blessed to them. If not, you are to do what is right without considering consequences.

Abandon excuses and objections then, and confess with the mouth, even as God has given you grace to believe with the heart.