“Eminent piety, and ministerial ability”: James Hinton to his son on pastoral ministry


The following letter was written by James Hinton (1761–1823) of Oxford to his son while he was studying at the University at Edinburgh.[1] It was either written to his first-born and biographer, John Howard Hinton (1791–1873)[2] or his third-born James Hinton Jr. (1793–1862),[3] both of whom studied at Edinburgh and went into pastoral ministry.[4] In the letter, Hinton’s most significant concerns are these: will his son be both able, that is, useful, and godly?

Hinton stressed labouring in the development of ministerial abilities. Leaning on God for success, he urged his son to be diligent in learning and improving his mind. To learn well, Hinton argued, will enable his son to teach the flock of God well. He entreated him not to lose sight of evangelism and sermon preparation, though, and to use every opportunity through meditation to be creating sermons in his mind. For Hinton, diligence in cultivating ministerial abilities will serve much better than natural genius.

Hinton also emphasized the need for godliness. To labour in his study to make excellent sermons, though important, is not the end goal. He must be personally impacted by his study. Only after seeing the glory of God in Christ, his own unworthiness, and the stunning beauty of salvation will he find a message to preach that is as “a fire shut in his bones” and cause him to delight in preaching. Only from this place can he genuinely be in a position to minister to anyone. Hinton also urged his son to practice the discipline of regular mediation. Meditation causes one to be “warmed by the devotion of a heart breathing forth benevolent wishes for our fellow-sinners.” Filling his heart full of the riches of Christ will cause him to overflow of warmth and devotion to those he is ministering to and will lead to usefulness. Other morsels of practical advice were sprinkled throughout the letter.

Like much of the pastoral theology of the eighteenth-century Particular Baptists, a pressing concern was for both pious and useful ministers.[5] We would do well to glean from this wise counsel of James Hinton, who was a shining example of what it looks like to embody both “eminent piety, and ministerial ability.”[6]

James Hinton to his son on pastoral ministry

I feel all things else respecting you to be absorbed in the great question, “Will my son be an able, godly minister?” The highest literary honours are vanity compared with this. … Never for an hour lose sight of these two things—eminent piety, and ministerial ability. Learn well, and you will teach well. Make preaching your great delight. Lay in a good store. Glean in every field. Be forever making sermons in your imagination. Stir up the gift that is in you, and lean on an almighty helper for success. I had rather see you a preacher than an emperor: I am ready to say, O God, grant me this one thing before I die … Set before yourself the highest models of excellence. Think what Spencer,[7] Pearce,[8] and Doddridge[9] were at twenty-three—neither of them men of genius, but of great goodness and diligence.

Above all things, do not suffer a day to pass without seeking the Spirit of God to witness with your spirit that you are born of him. Get your heart full of all that can interest your hearers when it is brought forth. I had rather, if it must be so, that you should sacrifice literature than piety.

Let me entreat you, my dear son, never to lose sight for a single day of the work of an evangelist. Give the Lord no rest, till you find the message you have received from him as a fire shut up in the bones,[10] which must have vent; till you equally dread and long to preach—the first from a deep sense of your own unworthiness, the last from an ardent desire for the salvation of souls; till you feel as Isaiah did when he said, “I am a man of unclean lips, send by whom thou wilt send”[11]—and a live coal from the altar purify and quicken your lips, so that you exclaim, “Here am I, send me.” Nothing will grieve me so much as to have you habitually rejoice in proportion to the fewness of sermons you shall have to make: of all work on earth, ours will be drudgery or delight in the extreme.

An irksomeness in commencing the study of sermons should be exchanged for a zest, a perpetual activity of meditation, securing every thought that may turn to good account. Every morning’s lesson might suggest a text, warmed by the devotion of a heart breathing forth benevolent wishes for our fellow-sinners. To this point also some reading—and all hearing—of sermons should tend. Lay hold particularly on every mode of illustration. Enrich your imagination. Store your memory. Give force and variety to your diction; manly cheerfulness to your address; and a freedom, approaching by degrees to an entire deliverance from the memoriter system, to your manner.

In your habitual converse with men of wisdom and learning remember the fine adage, Keep within compass. Assert nothing of which you are not master. Be the modest inquirer, and gain something from everyone you meet with. Qualify yourself for conversation on all points of literature, history, philosophy, and theology, and habituate yourself in common conversation to a chaste diction, with nothing of the pedant.

It is easier to procure invitations for a young minister, than it is for him to gain such a character in the congregation inviting him, as will secure his stay and usefulness among them. We are apt to boast when we gird on the harness, as though we were putting it off.

The popularity of many young ministers is very short lived, because they do not go on to add to their stock of knowledge and talent, and then the people cease to respect the understanding of their teacher.

The spirit of his office leads a minister to be always making sermons, whether he wants them or not. The labour of choosing out acceptable words, words of truth well arranged, becoming a master in Israel, will tell more indirectly than it does directly; and your great danger is that of giving way to a reluctance to compose. I do not wish you to read your sermons, but it is impossible you can write too many. Much of your usefulness must depend on your not having to preach over again sermons now so well known. I hope you will have several, yea many, written, that you would not be ashamed to print; and a stock that will render unnecessary the starving work to your own soul, and the disreputable work to others, of serving up nothing but hashed meat.



[1] This letter is extracted from John Howard Hinton, A Biographical Portraiture of the late Rev. James Hinton, M.A. (Oxford: Bartlett and Hinton/London: B.J. Holdsworth, 1824), 62–64. Capitalization and spelling have been modernized. This edited extract is used with permission: Chance Faulkner, “‘Eminent piety, and ministerial ability’: James Hinton to his son on pastoral ministry” in The Journal of Andrew Fuller Studies 4 (February 2022): 71–74.

[2] John Howard Hinton ministered at Haverfordwest, Hosier Street Chapel, in Reading, and Devonshire Square Chapel in London, and was the first secretary of the Baptist Union. For more on John Howard Hinton see Ian Sellers, “John Howard Hinton, Theologian,” Baptist Quarterly 33.3 (July 1989): 119–132; George Clement Boase, “Hinton, John Howard (1791–1873)” in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, ed. Sidney Lee (New York: Macmillan and Co., 1891), 27:7–8

[3] Hinton’s second-born son was also named James (1792–1793) but died of measles at twelve months old. For more on James Hinton Jr (III), see Hinton, Biographical Portraiture, 51; Timothy C.F. Stunt, From Awakening to Secession: Radical Evangelicals in Switzerland and Britain 1815–35 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark Ltd., 2000), 283–285, 379; Tim Grass, “’The Restoration of a Congregation of Baptists’: Baptists and Irvingism in Oxfordshire,” Baptist Quarterly 37, no.6 (April 1998): 283–297.

[4] Hinton’s youngest, Isaac Taylor Hinton (1799–1847) also entered the ministry, but he was born several years later and would not have been at Edinburgh at the same time period. For more on Isaac Taylor Hinton see William B. Sprague, Annals of the American pulpit; or, Commemorative notices of distinguished American clergymen of various denominations, from the early settlement of the country to the close of the year eighteen hundred and fifty-five, vol. 11 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1860), 804–812; Lloyd A. Harsch, “From Publishing to the Pulpit: The Life and Ministry of Isaac Taylor Hinton.” Baptist History and Heritage 54, no. 3 (2019): 6–15. I am indebted to Michael A.G. Haykin for bringing this article to my attention.

[5] According to Andrew Fuller, “eminent spirituality in a minister is usually attended with eminent usefulness,” See Andrew Fuller, “The Qualifications and Encouragement of a Faithful Minister Illustrated by the Character and Success of Barnabas” in The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc., ed. and revised Joseph Belcher, 3 vols. (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), 1:143. On the pastoral theology of the eighteenth-century Baptists see Nigel Wheeler, The Pastoral Priorities of 18th Century Baptists: An Examination of Andrew Fuller’s Ordination Sermons (Peterborough, ON: H&E Academic, 2021). On the concept of usefulness in particular Baptist thought, see Christopher W. Crocker, “The Life and Legacy of John Ryland Jr. (1753–1825): A man of considerable usefulness—an historical biography” (Ph.D Dissertation, University of Bristol, 2018), especially 2–10, 268–270. On piety and usefulness see idem, 284–286.

[6] Hinton had an incredibly fruitful life and ministry. For example: the Oxford meeting house was enlarged twice under his care (1798, and 1819). Hinton was a founder of the Baptist Union and ran one of the most respected grammar schools in Oxfordshire. He was president of the Sunday School Society that he helped found in 1815. He was heavily involved with the Baptist Missionary Society. He was urged to replace Samuel Stennett at Little Wild Street Church in London as well as being asked to take over John Fawcett’s Baptist Theological Seminary in Hebden Bridge.  Additionally, the College of Rhode Island offered him honorary a Doctorate of Divinity, which he declined. For more on Hinton’s piety, see The Diary of James Hinton (1761–1823), ed. Chance Faulkner (Peterborough, ON: H&E Publishing, 2020).

[7] Thomas Spencer (1791–1811) was an Independent minister at Newington, Liverpool. He was ordained in June 1811 but drowned two months later. According to James Montgomery, “young as he was, the character of Spencer at the age of twenty, was such as even aged Christians might not blush to own. … As a Christian, he was fervent, holy, and humble … his piety was the ardor of an unquenchable flame” (in Thomas Raffle, Memoirs of the Rev. Thomas Spencer, of Liverpool [Boston: R.P. & C. Williams, and Samuel T. Armstrong, 1814], 243, 256). I am grateful to Dr. Timothy Whelan who identified Spencer and graciously provided biographical sources. See Dr. Whelan’s biographical index at https://sites.google.com/view/dissenting-studies-1650-1850/biograph/s/spencer-thomas.

[8] Samuel Pearce (1766–1799).

[9] Philip Doddridge (1702–1751).

[10] Jeremiah 20:9.

[11] Isaiah 6:5.

Picture of Chance Faulkner

Chance Faulkner

Chance Faulkner (@chancefaulkner) manages Union Publishing and oversees the content across all the ministries at Union. He holds an undergraduate degree in Theological Studies from Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College and is a Master of Theology candidate at Union School of Theology. He is a Jr. Fellow of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and the co-founder of H&E Publishing.
Picture of Chance Faulkner

Chance Faulkner

Chance Faulkner (@chancefaulkner) manages Union Publishing and oversees the content across all the ministries at Union. He holds an undergraduate degree in Theological Studies from Toronto Baptist Seminary and Bible College and is a Master of Theology candidate at Union School of Theology. He is a Jr. Fellow of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and the co-founder of H&E Publishing.