The Christian Professor

John Angell James, 1837


By the young professor, I mean the person recently converted, and who has but recently assumed the Christian name, whether in the morning or in the meridian of his days. I cannot do better than submit to the consideration of such people, the following judicious advice given by the justly celebrated Jonathan Edwards, of America, to a young lady who had just commenced the life of faith.

My dear young Friend,
As you desired me to send you in writing, some directions how to conduct yourself in your Christian course, I would now answer your request. The sweet remembrance of the great things I have lately seen at S—, inclines me to do anything in my power, to contribute to the spiritual joy and prosperity of God's people there.

1. I would advise you to keep up as great a strife and earnestness in religion as if you knew yourself to be in a state of nature, and were seeking conversion. We advise people under conviction, to be earnest and violent for the kingdom of heaven; but when they have attained to conversion, they ought not to be the less watchful, laborious, and earnest in the whole work of religion; but the more so, for they are under infinitely greater obligations. For lack of this, many people, in a few months after their conversion, have begun to lose their sweet and lively sense of spiritual things, and to grow cold and dark, and have 'pierced themselves through with many sorrows,' whereas, if they had done as the apostle did, (Philippians 3:12-14.) their path would have been 'as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day.'

2. Do not leave off seeking, striving, and praying for the very same things that we exhort unconverted people to strive for, and a degree of which you have had already in conversion. Pray that your eyes may be opened, that you may receive sight, that you may know yourself, and be brought to God's footstool; and that you may see the glory of God and Christ, and may be raised from the dead, and have the love of Christ shed abroad in your heart. Those who have most of these things, have need still to pray for them; for there is so much blindness and hardness, pride and death remaining, that they still need to have that work of God wrought upon them, further to enlighten and enliven them, that shall be bringing them out of darkness into God's marvelous light, and be a kind of new conversion and resurrection from the dead. There are very few requests that are proper for an impenitent man, that are not also, in some sense, proper for the godly.

3. When you hear a sermon, hear for yourself. Though what is spoken may be more especially directed to the unconverted, or to those that, in other respects, are in different circumstances from yourself; yet, let the chief intent of your mind be to consider, 'In what respect is this applicable to me? and what improvement ought I to make of this, for my own soul's good?'

4. Though God has forgiven and forgotten your past sins, yet do not forget them yourself—often remember, what a wretched slave you were in the land of Egypt. Often bring to mind your particular acts of sin before conversion; as the blessed apostle, Paul, is often mentioning his old blaspheming, persecuting spirit, and his injuriousness to the Christians, humbling his heart, and acknowledging that he was the least of the apostles, and not worthy 'to be called an apostle,' and the 'least of all saints,' and the 'chief of sinners.' Be often confessing your old sins to God, and let that text be often in your mind—that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth any more, because of your shame, when I am pacified toward you for all that you have done, says the Lord God.'

5. Remember, that you have more cause, on some accounts, a thousand times to lament and humble yourself for sins that have been committed since conversion, than before, because of the infinitely greater obligations that are upon you to live to God, and to look upon the faithfulness of Christ, in unchangeably continuing his loving kindness, not withstanding all your great unworthiness since your conversion.

6. Be always greatly abased for your remaining sin, and never think that you lie low enough for it; but yet be not discouraged or disheartened by it; for though we are exceedingly sinful, yet we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous—the preciousness of whose blood, the merit of whose righteousness, and the greatness of whose love and faithfulness, infinitely overtop the highest mountain of our sins!

7. When you engage in the duty of prayer, or come to the Lord's supper, or attend any other duty of divine worship, come to Christ as Mary Magdalene did—come and cast yourself at his feet, and kiss them, and pour forth upon him the sweet perfumed ointment of divine love, out of a pure and broken heart, as she poured the precious ointment out of her pure broken alabaster box.

8. Remember that pride is the worst viper in the human heart! Pride is the greatest disturber of the soul's peace, and of sweet communion with Christ. Pride is with the greatest difficulty rooted out. Pride is the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lusts! Pride often creeps insensibly into the midst of religion, even, sometimes, under the disguise of humility itself!

9. That you may pass a correct judgment concerning yourself, always look upon those as the best discoveries, and the best comforts, that have most of these two effects—those that make you least and lowest, and most like a child; and those that most engage and fix your heart in a full and firm disposition to deny yourself for God, and to spend and be spent for him.

10. If at any time you fall into doubts about the state of your soul, into dark and dull frames of mind, it is proper to review your past experience; but do not consume too much time and strength in this way—rather apply yourself with all your might, to an earnest pursuit after renewed experience, new light, and new lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ's face, will do more toward scattering clouds of darkness in one minute, that examining old experience, by the best marks that can be given, through a whole year.

11. When the exercise of grace is low, and corruption prevails, and by that means fear prevails; do not desire to have fear cast out any other way than by the reviving and prevailing of love in the heart; by this, fear will be effectually expelled, as darkness in a room vanishes away when the pleasant beams of the sun are let into it.

12. When you counsel and warn others, do it earnestly, and affectionately, and thoroughly—and when you are speaking to your equals, let your warnings be intermixed with expressions of your sense of your own unworthiness, and of the sovereign grace that makes you to differ.

13. If you would set up religious meetings of young women by yourselves, to be attended once in a while, besides the other meetings you attend, I should think it would be very proper and profitable.

14. Under special difficulties, or when in great need of, or great longings after, any particular mercy for yourself or others; set apart a day for secret prayer and fasting by yourself alone; and let the day be spent, not only in petitions for the mercies you desire—but in searching your heart, and in looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God, not as is done in public prayer—but by a very particular rehearsal before God of the sins of your past life, from your childhood hitherto, before and after conversion, with the circumstances and aggravations attending them, and spreading all the abominations of your heart very particularly, and as fully as possible, before him.

15. Do not let the adversaries of the cross have occasion to reproach religion on your account. How holily should the children of God, the redeemed and the beloved of the Son of God, behave themselves. Therefore, 'walk as children of the light, and of the day,' and 'adorn the doctrine of God your Savior;' and especially, abound in what are called the Christian virtues, and which make you like the Lamb of God—be meek and lowly of heart, and full of pure, heavenly, and humble love to all; abound in deeds of love to others, and self-denial for others; and let there be in you a disposition to account others better than yourself.

16. In all your path, walk with God, and follow Christ, as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ's hand, keeping your eye on the marks of the wounds in his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin, and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robes of his righteousness.

17. Pray much for the ministers and the church of God; especially that he would carry on his glorious work which he has now begun, until the world shall be full of his glory.

—Jonathan Edwards

If it be necessary to add anything to the contents of this excellent letter, I would deliver it in the following particulars—

Set out in your profession with clear and impressive ideas of what it implies, and for what purpose it is to be made; and for this end, read with great attention the previous chapters which treat on these subjects.

Seek to possess and to retain a comfortable sense of your interest in the blessings of salvation, even the witness of the Spirit that you are a child of God; and remember that evidence of piety is not so much to be sought in strong and high emotions of any kind, as in real humility, self-distrust, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, sorrow for sin, and a continual effort to regulate your thoughts, feelings, and conduct by the Word of God.

Do not expect to find in your own case, everything you have heard or read of, in the experience of others. In the work of grace there is substantial uniformity, and circumstantial variety. Especially, remember that religion is not a principle of such self-preserving energy, as that when once planted in the soul, it will continue to thrive and increase without effort—but, on the contrary, is of so tender and delicate a nature as to require great, constant, and persevering anxiety, watchfulness, and care.

Do not expect to be made happy by religion unless you become eminent Christians. They who would enjoy their profession must drink deep of the wells of salvation. A lukewarm, half-hearted Christian, enjoys neither the world nor religion.

Do not make the average piety of professors the model or standard of your own; but look to the standard set up in the word of God. Consider not what professors are—but what they should be. Many are deceiving themselves, and if you copy them in their delusion, you will follow them in their ruin. This being satisfied to be as others are, has had a more disastrous influence on the church and the world, than all other causes put together.

Remember that your evidence of religion ceases when anything else has the first place in your thoughts and affections.

Never allow any day to pass, without reading a portion of Holy Scripture. Be jealous of every book that becomes a rival with the Bible.

Acquire and maintain great tenderness of conscience, and recollect that there are no little sins for a Christian.

Begin your Christian course with habits of usefulness. A constant desire and aim to do good as instruments of saving sinners, and raising the standard of piety and benevolent activity in our fellow Christians, is one of the ends of our conversion—and a convincing proof of its reality.

Do not neglect religious duty, because you suppose your feelings are not right at the time. Action begets emotion—and the right feeling comes with the right doing.

In the great work of mortification, do not despond and give up the work, although often defeated in the attempt to conquer and eradicate a corruption. It must be conquered; it may be by divine grace assisting your endeavors; and it will be, if you are resolute, and persevering.

Recollect, you as much need supporting and preserving grace, as you did converting grace. Regeneration supplies no stock of grace, which makes you independent of God. "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." Gal. 5:25. "We must know what is the exceeding greatness of God's power to us who believe." Our every action as believers, must be performed in the dependence and confidence of faith.

Do you need ENCOURAGEMENT? Are you alarmed at the difficulties and dangers of the wilderness way? Does your heart faint to think how many have made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience? Consider that you enjoy the sympathies and prayers of the whole church—the watchfulness and care of the pastor—and what is of far more value and consolation, the notice, the love, intercession, and the support of the Great and Good Shepherd, who gathers the lambs in his arms, and carries them in his bosom. He will not forget the lambs—their feeble bleat attracts his notice, their helplessness draws his attention, and for them he puts forth all his pastoral kindness and skill.

Consider also, that when Jesus Christ begins a good work he will carry it on to perfection. You have all the infinite resources of the Holy Spirit to depend upon, and to draw from. Exceeding great and precious promises, which are all yes and amen in Christ Jesus, are continually speaking encouragement to you from God. And behold in the church around you, professors gray in the service of the Lord, who were once young and trembling as you now are—but who have been kept through all the duties, the difficulties, and the temptations of perhaps forty or fifty years—and if you look into the unseen world, there are millions around the throne, who have been kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. The faithful love, and all-sufficient grace which have kept them can, and will keep you. With these considerations "go on your way rejoicing." ( Many of the particulars summarily expressed in this chapter will be amplified in the subsequent parts of the book.)