The abiding impressiveness of John Angell James' classic on the Christian ministry lies largely in the manner in which he presents one simple idea: he argues that the effect of preaching is directly related to the heart-condition of the preacher, 'it is feeling which gives power to words and thoughts'. To command attention for the truth, its spokesmen must first be earnest, that is to say, be possessed by one single aim and by a devotion which leads them to surrender all that would hinder its attainment.
Born in 1785, at a time when the preaching of the leaders of the evangelical revival was still remembered, James served Carrs Lane Congregational Church, Birmingham for fifty-five years. In later life he believed that the pulpit generally had become less effective, even though there was an increase in the availability of men, talent and training. He saw an evident loss of the power which Whitefield 'studied, discovered, and applied'; preaching was no longer 'adapted to produce conviction and conversion'.