Book Recommendation: An Earnest Ministry

Ray Van Neste wrote a post today highlighting the important book for all ministers titled An Earnest Ministry written by John Angell James in the early to mid 1800’s. Neste’s post reminded me of a short review I had written a few years ago and which I had not yet posted. So here it is:James, John Angell. An Earnest Ministry. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust. 1993. 295 pp. $17.99.
John Angell James wrote An Earnest Ministry during his ministry in England between the ministries of John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon. The full title, An Earnest Minstry: The Want of the Times, indicates the author’s belief that earnestness was lacking in much of the ministry of his day. What was true in James’ day is no doubt just as true in our own day. There are always those who have “zeal without knowledge”, but equally indicting are those with a head full of knowledge combined with a complete lack of earnestness! An Earnest Ministry is a serious wake up call to those who are content with intellectual prowess devoid of a passionate ministry.
Application to Ministry
An Earnest Ministry was a needed challenge to me in my own ministry. Being raised in a church culture which valued “earnestness” over content has caused me to overreact away from a fitting earnestness in my own preaching ministry. However, this book has caused me to seriously reconsider my previous ideas about preaching. The challenge to earnestness as a means of communicating the seriousness and weightiness of the truth of Scripture was particularly helpful to me. Along the way, James’ volume provides instruction on the nature of earnestness, earnestness in preaching, illustrations of earnestness, earnestness of manner in the delivery of sermons, earnestness in the pastorate, examples of earnestness in the ministry, motives of obtaining earnestness, the means of obtaining an earnest ministry, and the necessity of Divine influence to make the ministry efficient. Obviously, the author’s main point is to elicit “an earnest ministry,” the structure of his book allowed him to accomplish this goal for those who read it.
Of first importance, obviously, is a discussion of the nature of earnestness. James understands earnestness to refer to the “distinctiveness of aim, . . . fixedness of purpose, . . . resoluteness of will, . . . diligence, patience, and perseverance in action” (p. 29). Earnestness is “the flames of enthusiasm” (Ibid.). But what is an earnest ministry? James explains, “In the first place then, earnestness implies, the selection of some one object of special pursuit, and a vivid perception of its value and importance” (p. 31). Later, James comments, “This is the first part of the description of an earnest minister: he too has selected his object, and made up his mind concerning it, and insulating it from all others, sets it clearly and distinctly before his mind” (p. 32). What should this object that the minister is fixed upon be? After listing several things it should not be, James declares: “The end and aim of the ministry are to be gathered from the apostle’s solemn and comprehensive language, ‘they watch for your souls as they that must give account.’ There in that short, but sublime and awful sentence, the end of the pastoral office is set before us” (pp. 34-35).
This call to undivided “fixedness of purpose” on the task of reaching lost souls is a great reminder to one who has been caught up in the mechanics of ministry. Even to one such as myself, whose focus is primary upon the ministry of the Word, I needed to be reminded that the purpose of all study is to impact souls with the truth of the gospel. I must study with a view to the evangelizing, equipping and encouraging of souls! Anything less falls beneath the dignity of the office of a pastor.
In particular, James makes much of the importance of earnestness in one’s manner of preaching. Sermons must appeal to more than just the intellect. As James notes, “We have to do not only with a dark intellect that needs to be informed, but with a hard heart that needs to be impressed, and a torpid conscience that needs to be awakened” (pp. 86-87). It is keeping with the very nature of man that preaching must appeal to more than just the mind. The soul must be stirred as well. This was the most instructive and convicting part of the book for me personally. My tendency is to seek to engage the mind, however I have been convinced by James of the importance of appealing to the emotions as well. In addition to providing a challenge to earnestness in preaching because of the importance of the subject matter, James also has compiled an extensive list of illustrations of earnestness collected from other authors. These illustrations further James’ argument and show the importance of earnestness in the preaching of many of history’s greatest preachers.

James also challenged his readers in the area of earnestness in the pastorate. This is important because much of our work is done outside of the pulpit in personal work with our church members. James commented that: “One half-hour’s conversation with a convinced but perplexed person may do more to correct mistakes, convey instruction, to relieve solicitude, and to settle the wavering in faith and peace than ten sermons” (p. 151). Recognizing the relative importance of this personal work should be more than enough to elicit the appropriate level of earnestness.

Another chapter of An Earnest Ministry contains numerous examples of earnestness in ministry. The first example set forth is none other than Jesus Christ who “is an example of all excellence, and an example to all persons” (p. 168). The apostle Paul was also given as an example of earnestness in ministry. Beyond these two Scriptural examples, numerous other examples of earnestness from church history were acknowledged. Each of these has deepened my conviction of the importance of earnestness. Seeing how these men were focused on and captured by a single purpose has helped me to realize the importance of being so single-minded myself.
James ends his volume with three successive chapters dealing with the motives, means and necessity of divine influence for earnestness. Most convincing of these motives to me is the sixth listed by James which simply stated is that little has been accomplished apart from earnestness. In the next chapter James provided a list of very practical means to produce earnestness. Each of these were helpful, but I was most convicted by the need to be actively involved in seeking young men who exhibit the qualities of earnestness in the things of God. I am currently in conversation with one young man who has a definite interest in serving God. Reading James’ comments on this subject encouraged me to continue pressing this young man about the ministry. Importantly, James recognized in a closing chapter the absolute necessity of divine influence for genuine earnestness to be present in our ministries. This is not just an add-on attached to the end, but the spirit that pervades the book. Earlier in the chapter regarding the means of earnestness, James mentioned that if revival were to come the problem of a lack of earnestness would be quickly solved. Ever and always we are dependent upon the Spirit of God.


As mentioned at the outset, this book was especially pertinent to me because of my predisposition against earnestness because of my own background. Reading this book has provided me with numerous examples of God-honoring, Bible-teaching preachers who both exhibited and encouraged earnestness in the Christian ministry. These examples, along with the example of my own father’s preaching, has influenced me to express the earnestness in my preaching both that my heart feels and which the content of Scripture demands. Upon reading this book, I immediately ordered two copies of this book to give to two preachers in the church where I pastor. I am praying that this book will have the same impact on them and their ministries as it has had already upon me and the ministry which the Lord has given to me.


  1. How cool it would be if all preachers were earnest.

    Many are almost random in their “messages: such that one can figure neither where they are coming from nor where they are going.

    Present company excluded, of course.

Join the conversation . . .

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s