By John Angell James, 1846


My Dear Brethren—Grace, mercy, and peace, be with you, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

You cannot have forgotten, that, on the first sabbath morning of January, when discoursing to you from 1 John 5:14, 15, and showing you from this scripture, the rule and encouragement of prayer, I proposed to you a subject, with much solicitation and earnestness, as an appropriate matter of supplication for the present year—that subject was, the increased holiness of the church. Through the sovereign mercy of God, and the outpouring of his Spirit upon the preaching of the gospel, and the administration of religious ordinances among us, we have now become a large community of believers, amounting nearly to eight hundred members—a fearful as well as joyful number for me to consider, when I recollect that for the spiritual care of each one of these immortal souls, I am to give account in the day of final judgment! How much do I need, and how urgently do I solicit, your prayers, that I may obtain grace to be faithful, and the supply of the Spirit through our Lord Jesus Christ.

You have heard me declare, that, although it is not my intention to relax in any efforts for the conviction and conversion of the impenitent and unbelieving, yet is my purpose, as God shall assist me by his grace, to labor more carefully for the edification, consolation, and spiritual improvement, of those who through grace have believed.

The magnitude of the church, instead of diminishing—greatly augments my concern for its internal spiritual state; since the greater in bulk a body becomes, whether it be a natural or moral one, the greater is the necessity of looking well to its healthy and prosperous condition. God is my witness, that I am desirous, not only of a large church, but of a holy one. He who follows us all into the closet of private prayer, and sees in secret, knows how devoutly, fervently, and constantly I say, "Lord give me a holy church!" What is the addition of numbers, without the increase of piety? It is only like the influx to a nation of a multitude of inhabitants, without any loyalty or patriotism in their hearts; or like the swelling of a body with diseased flesh.

This, then, is the subject of prayer, which I have already from the pulpit, and now from the press, propose as the peculiar matter of your solicitations for the present year, so far as they regard the church—its increased holiness. In submitting such a subject for your consideration and adoption, I do not intend to insinuate that you are, in this respect, below the standard of other churches of your own denomination, or the average of other denominations; or even below your own former state—no, but I do intend to say, that neither you nor they are as holy as you should be, and might be. You have been much occupied of late in rejoicing over accessions to our numbers, forgetting, perhaps, that each new member, seemed to bring this message from God to you, "Be holy, for I am holy, and I require you to be holy, for the sake of those who are come to have fellowship with you, in the privileges and duties of the church."

Holiness is a very comprehensive word, and expresses a state of mind and conduct that includes many things. Holiness is the work of the Spirit in our sanctification. Holiness is the fruit of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Holiness is the operation of the new nature, which we receive in regeneration. Holiness may be viewed in various aspects, according to the different objects to which it relates. Toward God, holiness is supreme love; delight in his moral character; submission to his will; obedience to his commands; zeal for his cause; observance of his institutes; and seeking his glory. Toward Christ, holiness is a conformity to his example, and imbibing his spirit. Toward man, holiness is charity, integrity, truth, mercy. Toward sin, holiness is a hatred of all iniquity, a tender conscience easily wounded by little sins, and scrupulously avoiding them; together with a laborious, painful, self-denying, progressive mortification of all the known corruptions of our heart and a diligent seeking for such as are unknown. Toward self, holiness is the control of our fleshly appetites; the eradication of our pride; the mortification of our selfishness. Toward divine things in general, holiness is spirituality of mind, or the habitual current of godly thought, and devout affections flowing through the soul. And, toward the objects of the unseen world, holiness is heavenly-mindedness, a turning away from things seen and temporal, to things unseen and eternal.

Oh, what a word is holiness! How much does it comprehend! How little is it understood, and how much less is it practiced! Who can read the above description of it, and not admit that we need much, very much more of it than we possess, and that we may well make it the subject-matter of our prayers for another year. Study holiness as a whole, and in all its parts.

How important is that view of it, which brings your conduct under the notice of men, and by whom, not only your own religion may be suspected, but all religion will be reviled, if they see any lack of consistency between your actions and your profession. And how important also is that view of holiness, which considers your conduct in reference to God and Christ. To which duty, brethren, shall I most earnestly direct your attention, to a deeper spirituality, or a stricter morality? To a more elevated heavenly-mindedness, or a more uniform exhibition of the graces that shed their fragrance, and exhibit their beauty upon earth? I exhort you to seek both—I want to see the devotion of the church, incorporated with, and vitalizing and animating the morality of the house and of the shop. I want to see the spirit of prayer shedding a luster, and diffusing the beauties of holiness over the whole character. I want to see the saint blended with and sustaining the husband, the father, the master, and the tradesman. To adopt apostolic and inspired language, I covet to see you exemplary in holiness. "You ought to live holy and godly lives." 2 Peter 3:11.

This, then, is what I press upon you as the object to be sought by us this year, and indeed, through every future year of our lives—more holiness. And for whom should we seek it? For the PASTOR—that his mind may be more filled with holy light, his heart with holy love, and his life with holy actions. Do not leave him out of your prayers. Much, under God, even in reference to yourselves, will depend upon him; upon his preaching; the tone of his piety—and the wisdom, sanctity, and blamelessness of his conduct. Appointed to be an example to the flock, as well as its teacher and ruler, it is for your own advantage that you should seek for him an abundant supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus. If apostles asked the prayers of the righteous, with how much greater propriety and correctness may we say, "Brethren, pray for us!"

Pray for the DEACONS that they may be all men of eminent and consistent piety; men to whom the church may look up with esteem and confidence, on account of the measure of their holy gifts, and heavenly graces; men who shall feel their responsibility in being raised to office in Christ's kingdom, and who shall give themselves, not only to the temporal, but also to the spiritual interests of the church, and be always ready, in conjunction with the pastor, to lay themselves out for promoting the growth of piety among the members.

Pray for the whole CHURCH, in its collective capacity, and in all its wide extent, and variety of circumstances, people, and station; that it may be full of the Holy Spirit, replenished with his divine benediction, as a Spirit of holiness, and made to abound in all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory of God.

Let each individual consider HIMSELF as the representative of the whole church; and as the piety of the whole body is made up of the piety of the separate members, it is his duty to begin the increase with himself. Let each seriously consider into how much higher degrees of holiness he would have the church advance, and let him immediately seek grace to advance into that state himself. Let each grow in grace—then all will grow in grace. Let each seek a revival of religion in his own soul, then the whole church will be revived. Let each, therefore, say, "I solemnly purpose and resolve, as God shall assist me, to be more holy this year than ever. I will seek to increase with all the increase of God, and to be filled with all his fullness. My aim and direction shall be more holiness."

But, perhaps, you would wish me to specify some points to which, above others, I would have you direct your attention, in order to an increase of holiness. Holiness consists of two general branches. The mortification of sin—and the vivification of Christian graces.

As to mortification of sin, carry on this year a more determined crucifixion of all heart-sins, all evil thoughts, and evil feelings. "Crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts thereof." "Blessed are the pure in heart," said Christ, "for they shall see God." A real Christian should "keep the heart with all diligence," a duty too much neglected. We are too apt to be satisfied if the life is free from visible sins, forgetting that God sees and searches the heart! Direct your attention more fixedly, and your aim more constantly, to the destruction of besetting sins. "Lay aside every weight," said the apostle, "and the sin which most easily besets you." You know what they are, whether lusts of the flesh, or lusts of the mind; whether bad tempers toward man, or sinful dispositions toward God; whether violations of piety, or of social propriety.

Let this year, then, be distinguished by a great mortification of besetting sins. May we all go afresh to this work in the exercise of faith and prayer. What a year will it be, if all of us would come to the close of it, in a state of blessed freedom from sins that had distressed us, disgraced us, and hindered us in our progress heavenward, more than anything else. No sins require such severe mortification, such incessant labor, such earnest prayer, such strong faith for their destruction as these—but all this is necessary, for if they are not destroyed, they will probably destroy us.

Connected with this, must also be the cultivation of a tender conscience—a conscience tender as the pupil of the eye; and that shrinks from little, as well as from greater injuries. The Christian's soul is severely injured, the credit of religion is greatly lessened, and the minds of sinners much hardened—by the little sins of professors.

But there must also be the vivification of our graces. I propose two things, greater spirituality of mind, that is, a greater delight to think, to talk, to meditate, on spiritual subjects—a keener relish for what is divine; a more ardent and habitual delight in God; a more intense apprehension of the love of Christ; a hungering and thirsting after righteousness; a pleasure in prayer, reading the Scriptures, and attending the means of grace.

And with this a heavenly-mindedness, by which I mean, a sense of our pilgrimage-state on earth—a proneness to think of heaven, to long and prepare for it. In short, I intend the disposition expressed in such passages as these, "Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth."—"Looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearance of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."—"I have a desire to depart, and be with Christ."—"For we are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." This is what I am anxious to see, a religion of the affections; a spiritual and heavenly religion; a religion that makes you spiritual amid worldly things—and heavenly amid earthly ones.

Such are the things I propose to you, as the object of pursuit this year. Do you not need them? Are you holy enough, spiritual enough, heavenly enough? Can you so far impose upon yourselves, any of you, as to imagine you may be satisfied with your present attainments? God preserve you from the Laodicean mistake, of supposing you have "need of nothing."

Would you not be more happy, if you were more holy? Would you not thus have clearer evidence of your personal interest in the blessing of salvation, and be less troubled with doubts and fears; and at the same time experience a more blessed degree of spiritual liberty? Would you not bear your cares and troubles with greater ease and comfort?

Would you not be more useful by your example, your influence, your prayers, if you were more holy? And surely you cannot be indifferent to usefulness.

Would you not be thus fitting for heaven, and more rapidly training up for glory? Grace is glory begun, glory is grace completed; and according to your degrees of grace on earth, will be your degrees of glory in heaven.

Is not holiness the design of all God's dispensations of grace and providence toward you? For what were you chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world? To be holy. Ephes. 1:4; 5. What was Christ's purpose in dying for you upon the cross? That you might be holy. Ephes. 5:26, 27. Titus 2:11-13. For what is the Spirit poured out from on high? To make you holy. Gal. 5:16-26. Ephes. 5:22-32. John 3:4-8. What is the nature of your effectual calling? A holy one. "For we are called to holiness." 1 Thess. 4:7. What is the design of the Bible? To make us holy. John 17:17. Why are we afflicted? "To be made partakers of his holiness." Heb. 12:10-14. What is heaven? The perfection of holiness. Ephes. 5:27. 1 John 3:2. Rev. 21:27; 22:11. See, dear brethren, how everything concurs in your being made holy!

Let me then entreat you, as your friend, your pastor, the watchman of your souls, and overseer of your spiritual interests, to strive after holiness. Take up the subject in real earnest. Enter into the idea, and let it take full possession of your souls, that you must be a more holy people. Oh, if this year should be devoted to such an object, what, what, might we not expect! In order to this,

Let it be a matter of constant, earnest, believing prayer in your closets, at your family altars, and in your social meetings; for it is "the Spirit of Holiness" from heaven who must make you holy. Depend upon him, and express your dependence by believing prayer.

Expect it—look out for it—believe that your prayers will be heard. James 1:6.

Diligently use the means of grace; not only on sabbath-days, but on weekdays. Take pains to attain this state of mind. Give yourselves to it as something of importance you must attain to.

Bend everything to it; seek that your mercies may be sanctified, and your afflictions sanctified. Go to hear sermons in order to be more holy. Go to prayer-meetings to be made holy. Go to the Lord's Supper to be made holy. Read the Bible to be made holy.

Keep up a spirit of faith in Christ Jesus. All fullness is in him; and all supplies must be had from and through him.

Such are my wishes, my prayers, and my pursuits, concerning you. By God's grace I mean to take more pains with you, and to be more in earnest for you than ever. But this will be of no avail, unless you take pains for and with yourselves. You can no more grow in holiness, by merely wishing for it, than a child can increase in stature and strength, by desiring it, while, at the same time, he neglects all the means of growth. Do not abuse the doctrine of the Spirit's influence, to live in indolence. The promised aid of the Spirit is to stimulate, and not to paralyze your energies. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, to will and to do according to his good pleasure." In this instructive passage, we are encouraged to work, because God works.

Do not reconcile yourselves to imperfection, by the idea that there is no perfection in this world. "Having these promises, dearly beloved," says the Apostle, "let us purify ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." 2 Cor. 7:1. It is obviously our duty to aim at perfection, though we shall never attain it in this world.

You are already aware that I have suggested one or two new measures for promoting your increased holiness. I have recommended the purchase and daily perusal by everyone of the members of the church, of that eminently simple and spiritual little manual of piety, "Bogatzky's Golden Treasury;" and I trust that each of you will possess the book, and as each day comes round, will read the portion allotted to it; and make it the subject of devout meditation, during the intermissions of domestic care, and secular business. It will produce a sweet and blessed fellowship of sentiment and feeling, between the members of the church, necessarily separated from each other.

I pray to God, and entreat your prayers, that I may be assisted to write these addresses in a plain and scriptural manner—and that you may read them much to your edification. I recommend the frequent perusal of them, and that they be read the first time on the sacrament sabbath, alone in your closet of private prayer; with great solemnity, and with earnest desire to profit by them. I recommend also the perusal of the Scriptures during the month, which I shall mention; as well as the reading, at the time of the perusal of the tract, the texts referred to, but for the sake of brevity not quoted. The chapters suited to this address are, Matthew 5, 6, 7. Romans 6, 7, 8, 12. Galatians 5, 6. Ephesians 4, 5, 6. James 2, 3. 1 Peter 1, 2. 2 Peter 1, 3. 1 John 1, 2, 3, 5.

May God render this plan a means of your spiritual edification and growth in holiness. Commending you to God and the word of his grace!