Thursday, April 13, 2006

John Angell James on a Learned Ministry

Here is one more post from James’ An Earnest Ministry. One other strength of the book is his treatment of the place of learning in the pastorate. After reading just a few pages one can tell that James himself was a learned man, just with the words he uses and the way he uses them. It is not uppity but powerful.

James has no place for anti-intellectualism. He repeatedly holds up the value of learning.

“God forbid we should ever be afflicted by so great an evil as an unlearned one[ministry]” (27).

“All other things being equal, he is likely to be the most useful preacher, who is the most learned one.” (50)

“A minister . . . can never have too much knowledge.” (50)
Then, one of my favorite quotes is one that James borrows from a Dr. Wiseman:
If God hath no need of our learning, he can have still less of your ignorance.” (51)

Well put! However, if James has no place for anti-intellectualism, neither does he have any place for mere intellectualism- the idea that learning is an end in itself.

“Learning as an ultimate object and for its own sake, is infinitely below the ambition of a holy and devoted servant of Christ; but learning employed to invigorate the intellect, to enrich the imagination, to cultivate the taste, to give power to thought, and variety to illustration; to add to the skill and energy with which we wield the weapons of our warfare, is in some cases indispensable, and in all invaluable.” (55)

Learning is a tool which we should make use of as much as possible in order to be all the more useful in the proclamation of the gospel. Next, I give here a long quote, knowing that many will not choose to read it. However, I include it because it states so well the danger of the errors on both side (anti-intellectualism & mere intellectualism) and calls for the right path.

“We trust that among the rising ministry no one will allow himself to be tempted to the task for the mere reputation of learning. The real value of learning, in the estimate of a faithful servant of Christ, lies solely in the use that can be made of it. He who employs time and toil in rendering himself a learned man, which employed otherwise, would more effectually render him a useful man, is unfaithful to his Master. There are few things more important than the right appreciation of learning. There are some who spend their whole lives in acquiring it, in amassing hoard upon hoard; as it were the object of life to try how much may be got in a given time; not how much good may be done with it, or to what uses it may be turned as it is acquired. It is get, get, get; all getting and no giving. This is of a piece with the mania by which some are possessed in the mercantile world, the mania of money-making: with whom life’s problem is, how they may die rich, how much they can be worth in the world, before the moment comes when they must leave it. There is one material difference between the two cases; and, strange to say it is in favour of the rich rather than of the learned man. The rich man leaves his amassed treasures behind him; so that, although to himself they have been of little use while he lived, and now are of none, thy are not lost; others may use them, and use them well. But he, who has been acquiring learning all his days without expending it in its appropriate uses, leaves nothing behind him. He carries all with him. There is no bank for deposits of learning, as there is for lodging silver and gold. So far as his fellow-men are concerned, therefore, the money-hoarding miser does most good. And should it be thought an advantage on the side of the miser in learning, that he carries his mental stores away with him, as being treasures that belong to the immortal mind, there are two serious deductions to be made from this advantage: the first that the large proportion of what he had acquired, is of a nature to be of little use to him, in all likelihood, in the world to which he is going; and the second, that in common with the man of wealth, he carries with him to that world, the guild, (unthought of by him here, it may be, but noted in his account with his Divine Master,) of not having laid out his acquisitions for the good he might have accomplished by them, where and when alone they could be available. Let it not be forgotten that mere learning is not wisdom; that wisdom is learning or knowledge in union with the disposition and ability to make a right use of it. Neither let it be forgotten that there is an opposite extreme to that which has just been described. If there are some who are ever getting and never giving, there are some too who would fain be ever giving while they are never getting. They are fond of preaching, but not of reading and study. Such young ministers may be well-meaning; but they are under the influence of a miserable mistake. Itinerants they may be, and useful ones: but efficient pastors they can never be. They may preach the simple elements of the gospel, from place to place; but for the constant regular instruction of the same flock they are utterly unfit. He must be an extraordinary man who has resources in himself for such a work, that render him independent of reading and study. Barrenness, tameness, sameness, triteness, irksome and unprofitable repetition, must be the almost invariable result of such presumption. There are some too, who, by way of honouring the Bible, make it their rule to study nothing else, not even such human helps as may fit them for understanding and illustrating its contents. This also, though a better extreme than his, who neglecting the Bible itself, studies only human opinions about it, yet is still an extreme, and an extreme which, while it professes to put honour upon the Bible, indicates no small measure of self-sufficiency. We put most honour upon the Bible, when we manifest our impression of the value of a full and clear comprehension of its contents, in the diligent application of all accessible means for the attainment of it.” (52-54 – quoting Hagenbach)


slmayes said...

A lengthy quote, but full of practical wisdom. The expression may be trite, but there is truth contained in it, that we are not meant to be reservoirs but channels. Our understanding and learning as pastors is intended to be used to strenghten, challenge, encourage, and bless those who have been placed under our care.

Thanks for bringing the work of this gentleman to my attention. I am certain that your students have benefited greatly from the material you have shared on this blog.

Gordon Cloud said...

This should be required reading for all young ministers. (And a few older ones as well)