THE ANXIOUS INQUIRER AFTER SALVATION
DIRECTED AND ENCOURAGED
by John Angell James, 1834
DIRECTIONS FOR THE PROFITABLE
READING OF THE FOLLOWING TREATISE
It may seem strange to some people, that I should give
directions for the performance of an act so well understood as the perusal
of a book; and especially the perusal of a book of so simple and elementary
a kind as this. But the fact is, that multitudes either do not know, or do
not at the time remember how to read to advantage; and, therefore, profit
but little by what they read. Besides, simple and elementary as is this
treatise, it is on a subject of infinite and eternal importance, and will be
perused in the most critical season of a man's everlasting history; when, in
a very peculiar sense, every means of grace, and this among the rest, will
be either "a savor of death unto death, or of life unto life," to the
reader. Tremendous idea! But strictly true.
Reader, whoever you are, you will remember the
contents of this small treatise, either with pleasure and gratitude in
heaven, or with remorse and despair in hell! Can it then be an
impertinently officious act, to remind you how to read with advantage what I
1. Take it with you into your closet.
I mean your place of retirement for prayer;
for, of course, you have such a place. Prayer is the very soul of all
religion, and privacy is the very life of prayer itself. This is a book to
be read when you are alone; when none is near but God and your conscience;
when you are not hindered by the presence of a fellow-creature from the
utmost freedom of manner, thought, and feeling; when, unobserved by any
human eye, you can lay down the book, and meditate, or weep, or fall upon
your knees to pray, or give vent to your feelings in short and sudden
petitions to God. I charge you then to reserve this volume for your private
seasons of devotion and thoughtfulness—look not into it in company, except
it be the company of a poor trembling and anxious inquirer, like yourself.
2. Read it with deep seriousness.
Remember, it speaks to you of God, of
eternity, of salvation, of heaven, and of hell. Take it up with something of
the awe, "that warns you how you touch a holy thing." It meets you in your
solicitude about your soul's welfare; it meets you fleeing from destruction,
escaping for your life, crying out, "What shall I do to be saved?" and
offers its assistance to guide you for refuge to "the hope set before you in
the gospel." It is itself serious; its Author is serious; it is on a serious
subject; and demands to be read in a most devout and serious mood. Take it
not up lightly, nor read it lightly. If your spirit be not as solemn as
usual, do not touch it; and when you do touch it, put away every other
subject, and endeavor to realize the idea that God, salvation, and eternity
are before you; and that you are actually collecting the ingredients of
the cup of salvation, or the wormwood and gall to embitter the cup of
3. Read it with earnest prayer.
It can do you no good, without God's blessing—nothing short of Divine grace
can render it the means of instructing your mind, or impressing your heart.
It will convey no experimental knowledge, relieve no anxiety, dissipate no
doubts, and afford neither peace nor sanctification--if God does not give
his Holy Spirit—and if you would have the Spirit, you must ask for his
influence. If, therefore, you wish it to benefit you, do not read another
page, until you have most fervently, as well as sincerely, prayed to God for
his blessing to accompany the perusal. I have earnestly prayed to God to
enable me to write it, and if you as earnestly pray to him to enable you to
read it, there is thanksgiving in store for us both; for usually what is
begun in prayer, ends in praise.
4. Do not read too much at a time.
Books that are intended to instruct and impress should
be read slowly. Most people read too much at a time. Your object is not
merely to read this treatise through, but to read it so as to profit by it.
Food cannot be digested well, if too much be eaten at a time; so neither can
5. Meditate on what you read.
Meditation bears the same office in the mental
constitution, as digestion does in our corporeal system. The first mental
exercise is attention, the next is reflection. If we would gain a correct
notion of an object, we must not only see it, but look at it; and so, also,
if we would gain knowledge from books, we must not only see the matters
treated of, but steadily ponder them. Nothing but meditation can enable us
to properly understand or feel. In reading the Scriptures and pious books,
we are, or should be, reading for eternity. Salvation depends on knowledge,
and knowledge on meditation. At almost every step of our progress through a
book which is intended to guide us to salvation, we should pause and ask,
"Do I understand this?" Our profiting depends not on the quantity we read,
but the quantity we understand. One verse in Scripture, if understood and
meditated upon, will do us more good than a chapter, or, even a book, read
through in haste, and without reflection.
6. Read regularly through in order.
Do not wander about from one part to another, and in
your eagerness to gain relief, pick and cull particular portions, on account
of their supposed suitableness to your case. It is all suitable; and will be
found most so by being taken together and as a whole. A rambling method of
reading, whether it be the Scriptures or other books, is not to
edification—it often arises from levity of mind, and sometimes from
impatience; both of which are states very unfriendly to improvement.
Remember it is salvation you are in quest of; an object of such transcendent
importance, as to be a check upon volatility; and of such value, as to
encourage the most exemplary patience.
7. Read calmly. You are
anxious to obtain eternal life—you are eagerly asking, "What shall I do to
be saved?" But still, you must not allow your solicitude so far to agitate
your mind; as to prevent you from listening calmly and coolly for the
answer. In circumstances of great concern, men are sometimes so much under
the power of excited feelings, that their judgment is bewildered, and thus
they are not only prevented from finding out what is best to be done, but
from seeing it when it is laid down by another. This anxious and hurried
state of mind is very common in those who are just awakened to a concern
about salvation; they are restless and eager to gain relief, but are
defeated in their object by their very solicitude to obtain it. The
Scriptures are read, sermons are heard, advice of friends is received, in a
confused state of mind. Now you must guard against this, and endeavor so far
to control your thoughts, and calm your perturbation as to attend to the
counsels and cautions which are here suggested.
8. I very earnestly recommend the
perusal of all those passages of
Scripture and chapters which I have quoted,
and which, for the sake of brevity, I have only referred to, without quoting
the words. I lay great stress upon this. Read this book with the Bible at
your elbow, and do not think much of the trouble of turning to the passages
quoted. If, unhappily, you should consider me, or my little volume, as a
substitute for the Bible, instead of a guide to it, I shall have done you an
injury, or rather you will have done yourself an injury by thus employing
it. "As new-born babes," says the apostle, "desire the sincere milk of the
word, that you may grow thereby." And as those infants thrive best who are
fed from the bosom of their mothers, so those converts grow most in grace,
who are most devoted to a spiritual perusal of the Scriptures. If,
therefore, I stand between you and the word of God, I do you great
disservice; but if I should persuade you to read the Scriptures, I shall
greatly help you in your pious course. Perhaps, in the present state of your
mind, it is not desirable to begin and read regularly the word of God, but
to go through those passages which I have selected and recommended.
And now may God, of his great goodness and sovereign
grace, deign to bless the perusal of this book to many immortal souls, by
making it, however humble the production, the means of conducting them into
the path of life!