Children Desiring God Conference – Saturday Morning – April 28, 2007
After a stirring time of worship through song, Pastor Sam Crabtree introduced Pastor David Gerald Michael. David was born 53 years ago, the youngest of 4 children. From an early age, he aspired to become a gas station attendant and a pastor. He got in trouble in Sunday school for dismantling activities, and had trouble sitting still in the first and second grade. David responded in faith to the Lord Jesus at the age of 7. David eventually graduated from school and, along the way to the ministry, did log some hours as a gas station attendant.
Pastor Sam exhorted us from Heb. 11:1 and Heb. 2:3 to persevere in the work of ministry to children — by grace through faith in God and His promises . God’s designs for the fussy babies in our nurseries, that deviant junior high boy, and that talkative girl in the 2nd grade, will eventually unfold. “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” (Hab. 2:3)
Pastor David Michael then took the stage. He thanked Pastor Rick Melson and the worship team for serving us so well in four worship sets. He thanked the 130 volunteers and the many unseen people (like those working on the sound system), and the many personnel from Grace Church of Eden Prairie. He thanked the translators who helped our Spanish-speaking attendees. He thanked the Children Desiring God staff, and the fifteen seminar leaders. He thanked John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and C.J. Mahaney. The presence of such weighty plenary speakers, David noted, reinforces the truth that “children ministry is not rinky-dink. It is serious business.” David went on to thank the food service people, and Children Desiring God Director Brian Eaton. He thanked the attendees for coming all this way to bless this Conference with their camaraderie in the ministry, enthusiasm, energy, and a desire to get a sense of the vision of Children Desiring God. Most of all, he praised the Lord who prospers our work and defends us.
Message Title: John Angell James – Pursuing the Souls of the Next Generation
David began by recounting that he was first introduced to John Angell James more than a decade ago, first through the book The Christian Father’s Present to His Children. From there, he proceeded to Addresses to Young Men: A Young Man’s Friend and Guide.
And then onto Female Piety: A Young Woman’s Friend and Guide. David later discovered A Help To Domestic Happiness and The Sunday School Teacher’s Guide.
David told us that he was drawn to John Angell James for six reasons:
1. He was impressed from reading some of these works by the example that he was of (a) a father who was devoted to faithfully instructing his children; and (b) a pastor who took seriously and personally his responsibility to instruct and prepare the next generation.
Much of Pastor James’ labor, both in the pulpit and in his writing ministry, was devoted to the spiritual welfare of the young.
2. He felt a growing kinship with him.
David sensed his heart resonating with that of Pastor James. James had a way of saying things that gave expression to the passion and concern that David had for his daughters and for the young people at Bethlehem.
3. James’ vision for the next generation. A letter he wrote to the young people at Carr’s Lane Chapel in anticipation of his ministry there included this paragraph:
“With what comfort will your venerable parents and elders look upon you rising to fill their places! And, oh, with what joy will your minister behold his infant church! When standing over the grave of your parents, he will not sorrow as one without hope, he will not think that he has buried the church in the tomb of its aged members, he will not despair; you will cheer his mind, you are coming forward to hold up his hands, to be his friends, to assist him in the affairs of the church. My brothers, my sisters, God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of the Lord Jesus: My heart’s desire and prayer for you is, that you may be saved. For you I bend my knees at a throne of grace—for you my warmest prayers ascend, that God would conform you to faith, preserve you from all the snares to which your age peculiarly exposes you. May you rise respectable, valuable, and experienced members of the Church of God! May you grow up as the cedars of Lebanon, when your parents shall be laid in the silent tomb; and when ripe for glory, may you be transplanted to the paradise of God as trees of immortal life, and flourish in everlasting verdure through a thousand generations.”
4. He appreciated the urgency and serious tone in his writings.
James fueled David’s conviction that laboring for the souls of children is not work for “sissies.” The eternal destinies of children are at stake. Pastor James labored with the earnest conviction that his efforts in the present could and indeed would influence those who would occupy the future.
5. David appreciated and was helped by the fact that a thoroughly reformed pastor of that era (1785-1859) was so incredibly practical and down-to-earth in his instruction. Pastor James spent 53 years ministering in the same church and regarded his life as “happily monotonous.”
6. David was motivated by Pastor James’ desire to be “useful.”
Pastor James defined usefulness as soul-winning. Toward the end of his life, he penned these words:
“I think it probable that with these few notes on dear Knill’s life and labors, I shall lay down my pen, which has written much; would God it had written better. But while I say this, I am not without hope, yes, I may add conviction that it has–in some degree– written usefully. In some humble degree I have sinned at usefulness both in my preaching and writing, and God has, to an amount which utterly astonishes and almost overwhelms me, given me what I sought. It seems a daring and almost presumptuous expression, but with a proper qualification it is a true one—that usefulness is within the reach of us all—the man who intensely desires to be useful and takes the proper means will be useful. God will not withhold his grace from such desires and such labors. Oh! My dear brother, how delightful is it, notwithstanding the humbling and sorrowful consciousness of defects and sins to look back on a life spent for Christ.” — from John Angell James, a review of his History, Character, Eloquence and Literary Labors, by John Campbell
David went on to shed some light on this pastor’s family, education, and conversion/call to ministry.
Born on June 6, 1785 in Blandford Forum (a town located in Southwest England in old Dorsetshire county), he was the 4th of 7 children born to Joseph and Sarah James. He had three older sisters named Harriet, Jane, and Sarah, and two younger brothers named Thomas and James. His father was a draper specializing in buttons. John observed that beyond church attendance, his father did not give much evidence of a spiritual mind, and cared little about the formation of his children’s characters. His mother, however, was a deeply pious woman, and John suggested that much of his spiritual growth was perhaps owing to her prayers. Thomas, like his older brother John, would go on to become a pastor.
In 1806, John married Fanny Smith (a young woman in the congregation). Eight months later she miscarried their first child. In 1809, they had a child named Thomas. In 1810, they had a little girl who died after a mere six weeks. In 1814, they had a daughter (Sarah Anne) who became an invalid in her childhood. John and Fanny were married 13 years until Fanny, after nursing her husband through a 9-month illness, contracted tuberculosis and, after four months of suffering, died on January 27, 1819. Three years later, on February 19, 1822, he married the wealthy widow of businessman Benjamin Neale. They were married 19 years until, after a lengthy illness, she died in June of 1841.
He had these kind words to say about his wives:
“I account both my marriages among the signal mercies of my life. Under God’s blessing, I owe not only much of the happiness of my life to them, but no small share of my usefulness. The counsel of my wives guided me, their prudence controlled me and their symphonies comforted me.” –The life and letters of John Angell James: Including an unfinished autobiography, by R.W. Dale., p.162. (This title is apparently out of print, but available at several libraries.)
His formal education began at a day school in Blandford, but, at age 8, having “contracted some improper associations” he was sent to a boarding school run by a man whose qualifications for teaching were slim. Two years later he was sent to another boarding school where he was given a general education and learned Latin. By age 13, his father removed him from school and sent him off to the village of Poole to apprentice as a linen draper.
Over the next five years the Lord began to awaken spiritual affections and an inclination for ministry. When his desire to study and prepare for the ministry was made known, his father vigorously opposed the idea. Not only was this throwing away all that had been invested in developing his trade but it would mean having to continue supporting his son for an occupation that offered little hope of success.
Through the intervention of a Mr. Bennett , John’s father gave his consent and at age 17 John began studying under Dr. David Bogue, at Gosport. Many of the students under Bogue were being trained as missionaries, so James was led, from the beginning of his studies, to take a deep interest in missionary matters. Among his fellow students was Dr. Morrison, the distinguished missionary to China. The passion that was awakened for missions, and for China in particular, never lost its influence in John Angell’s life and ministry.
Nevertheless, once again he was disappointed with the quality of his education. John writes, “My literary advantages at Gosport were of a most slender kind…Dr. Bogue, though possessing a great mind and noble heart, was not a great scholar. His theology was exclusively dogmatic. Of hermeneutics we heard little, of exegesis, nothing.” When his brother James considered studying at Gospert, John offered numerous objections.
His 2½ years at Gosport marked the end of his formal, unsatisfactory education. This thorn of educational disappointment pained (and humbled) him for the rest of his life and ministry.
CONVERSION AND CALL TO MINISTRY
His mother lamented that of all her children, John was her chief trouble and was making no progress at school. John Angell agreed with this assessment and says he came to the end of his childhood “in vanity and folly…without God and without hope in the world.”
During the first two years of his apprenticeship at Poole, James says he was a careless youth, except at intervals, when a serious thought would cross his mind and a remonstrance of conscience would disturb his tranquility. He said he never despised or ridiculed religion, but maintained respect for it, noting that “My mother’s example and prayers did, I dare say, come to my recollection.” In the third year of his apprenticeship a fellow apprentice introduced him to a pious shoemaker in town who eventually began discipling John–watching over his life and teaching him how to pray.
His love for God grew, and at the end of his apprenticeship he volunteered to help with Sunday school. In those days, Sunday schools were evangelistic, an attempt to reform lower class children who were neglected by their parents. These kids were taught to read, instructed in the catechism and taken to church. Around this time, he occasionally received opportunities to preach. The same Mr. Bennett who had helped him earlier later recommended him for the pastorate at Carr’s Lane Church. He would begin preaching there at the age of 19 (right about the time he married). He would remain there for the rest of his life.
His first six years of ministry were characterized by disappointment and failure, but after that things flourished. In 1812, he was invited to preach for the British Foreign Bible Society. His sermon was printed and widely circulated. Other publications soon followed, and though offered a lucrative pastorate at the age of 30, he declined it for love of the people at Carr’s Lane. The Carr’s Lane congregation would grow from 400 to 2000 over the next 20 years.
I. One Holy Ambition — The Salvation of Our Children
At this point, David shifted from biography to impassioned plea. He strongly impressed upon us to labor for one great aim: salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ to the praise of His glory and grace. Everything else we do (praying, planning curriculum, meetings, conferences) must be subservient to the ultimate aim of conversion. It must be our ultimate aim and earnest prayer that every child who crosses the threshold of our homes and churches will come to the conviction of sin, repentance toward God, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, humble submission to the Bible, and manifestation of the form and power of genuine godliness in the hope that they will belong wholly to God and enjoy Him forever.
The world values the development of academic knowledge and the cultivation of social graces. But though learning, achievement and social graces are all beneficial, they cannot compare with the incalculable value of eternal salvation. “On the authority of God’s Word, I assure you that the trophies of social grace, the garlands of popularity, the power of wealth, and the influence of well-seasoned speech will neither comfort our children under trials of life nor save them from the worm that never dies and the fire that is never quenched.”
II. In What Manner Are We To Pursue This Holy Ambition?
Reply: With Earnestness
We will do nothing well which we do not do earnestly. Watch, labor, teach, pray—with earnestness. Be constant, and lose no opportunity. Be punctual, and lose not a moment. Eternity hangs upon every instant! Let no measure of duty satisfy you. Adopt your children as objects of interest and affection. Learn all you can about them. By loving them, you will acquire an influence over them.
Be Earnest in Your Concern for the Souls of Your Children
Society at large is unconcerned for the souls of our children. It is much more dignified in our day to be interested in their accomplishments, growth in knowledge or achievements in science and technology. We can be happy, if it pleases God, for our children to have a measure of health, income, and professional respectability. But we should be far more desirous that they have the fear of God in their hearts and are everlastingly saved. We should ponder the solemn significance of that word “damnation.” We should measure, if we can, the height of the word “salvation.”
Be Earnest in Your Example (Titus 2:7)
Let’s strive to be exemplary children’s workers, exemplary in our affections, and exemplary in matters of truth, integrity, and generosity.
Be Earnest in Your Teaching
Though it is of crucial importance that our children be led to salvation, we should never neglect the importance of building our young people up in faith. They must not only be born, but they must also be fed, watched, guided, and nourished up to maturity. Children in the faith are often carried through a season of testing—often a long one—and it is our business, through the careful teaching of the Word, and the exemplary influence of our lives, to assist them through the challenges and the dangers of the Christian life.
Be Earnest in Your Desire To Be Useful
Who would not want to be useful? Consider the opposite: A rational, social and immortal being doing no good, carrying on no benevolent activity, and exerting no beneficial influence toward others. A piece of dead wood floating down the stream, instead of a living fruit tree growing on its bank. Let’s be useful for the sake of the next generations, and let’s labor and earnestly pray that our children will be useful as well.
Be Earnest in Your Prayer
It is important for us to bear in mind the total and universal depravity of the human race. The human heart by its very nature is depraved of spiritual affections and inclinations. To affect true change, to produce spiritual appetites and new dispositions, to turn the heart in a new direction so that desires flow toward Christ and heaven, is the work of the all-powerful and eternal Spirit, who graciously employs unworthy souls like us to accomplish his purposes. God loves to bless the prayers of His people. Those who are most prayerful will be most successful.
On the other hand, if we neglect prayer, we should not be surprised if there is no spiritual benefit accompanying our efforts. If we neglect to pray, we will labor “in a field on which the dew of heaven seldom falls, a field which brings forth little more than thorns and briers.”
Be Earnest in Your Perseverance
David noted that his axiom has been to aim at great things, but that if he cannot accomplish great things, to do what he can, and be thankful for the least success. If one way does not succeed, new means must be tried. If we see no increase this year, perhaps we may the next.
A WORD ABOUT REFERENCES
1. A chronological list of John Angell James’ Writings
2. Google Books (search by title; for example, the Campbell biography is available as a free PDF)
3. Grace Gems (also contains many books, such as The Christian Father’s Present to His Children)