John Angell James (1785–1859) was one of the great Congregationalist preachers of the nineteenth century. His ministry at Carrs Lane Independent Chapel in Birmingham began just after the death of my hero Samuel Pearce (1766–99), whom he seems to have always referred to as the “seraphic Pearce,” a term he probably picked up from John Ryland, Jr. He is little remembered now, though some of his works have been reprinted by the Banner of Truth and Quinta Press in recent years. In doing work on Samuel Pearce, I found myself re-reading some of James’ Autobiography. One paragraph that I came across is quite striking and quite true:
“I cannot say that I was a very diligent student on my entrance upon the ministry. I was not, it is true, a loiterer or saunterer, but my reading was desultory, for want of a wise and settled plan. I am persuaded that young ministers need a guide through the first two or three years of their ministry, as much as they do at college; and it should be an object with their tutors before they finish their curriculum to give them some directions as to the manner of carrying on their mental improvement when they have entered upon their pastoral occupation.”
(The Autobiography of John Angell James [London: Hamilton, Adams & Co./Birmingham: Hudson & Son, 1864, 151).
Birmingham during the early ministry of James was quite a different place than it is now—and yet, this remark, how timeless.