Long-Sustained Usefulness in Ministry: The Story of William Jay

514369Immediacy offered William Jay a chance to do something large and notable as a gospel preacher. A great door for the gospel lay before him wide and open. A fan base for urban ministry waited eagerly for his sermons to take London by storm. Taking up this post, Jay would have served as a right hand man with one of the preeminent pastors of the moment. He also would have labored within proximity to other renowned pastors of reputation at the time. How could anyone say “no” to such a future? And yet, “no” is exactly what William Jay said.  He turned the offer down and chose instead to start his pastoral ministry in a small, obscure and impoverished pastoral call in the country. Why did he do this? What was the result? What can we learn?

Why did he choose to start small?

First, because his older pastoral friend and mentor, Cornelius Winter advised him to. Jay listened to his mentor’s counsel, even though at the time, he did not foresee all of the reasons why.

Second, because Jay thought that his experience did not yet match his gifts. Because he was so young, it would prove wise for him to “secure more preparation for the office” of a pastor.

What was the result?

After three years of pastoral work, Jay received a call to a church in which he would serve for the next sixty-two years. “In terms of long-sustained usefulness” Jay’s ministry at Argyle Chapel, “can scarcely have a parallel in English Church history.” He likewise became anyway, “one of the best known preachers in England” for over half a century.

Looking back, William Jay said that if he had chosen to respond to the London call when he was nineteen, it would have been a “wrong step.” For truly his mentor  (whom he deemed a “friend and father”) had foreseen things clearly.

What can we think about from this?

  • Saying “yes” to a wonderful opportunity to do something large, notable and immediately, requires, not just one set of skills, but two. The “before you get there” skills and the “after you get there” skills. The “before you get there” skill set, allows one to imagine a future, dream, assess, and make a move. The “after you get there” skill set is what one requires in order to stay in the new place once you arrive. It is one thing to dream of a thriving urban ministry just down the street from the likes of John Newton as it would have been for Jay. It is another thing to actually do the work day after day for those people and also as a young man apprenticed to the authoritative direction, personality and fame of a Mr. Rowland Hill, whom Jay would have served under. Possessing the gifts to get us someplace does not mean that we have the experience, seasoning, temperament or savvy to keep us there. We need wise counsel to assess both.
  • Saying “no” to a wonderful opportunity does not mean that our lives and ministries are over or that we missed out. A different kind of ministry, which Jay could not at the time imagine, was on God’s heart for him. We do not experience William Jay’s story today as one of the greatest preachers in church history (even though those who heard him then may have felt the worth of such a statement in their own way). To most of us his story remains unknown. What those who do know William Jay remember is this: a body of pastoral work–a long sustained usefulness of weekly preaching, occasional writing and daily pastoral care in a local place; A legacy that stands out in time even today.

Charles Spurgeon said: “O for more Jays. We would give some two or three dozen of the general run of doctors of divinity for one such a Master in Israel as William Jay of Bath.”

(See The Autobiography of William Jay, pages 52, 130, 348. See also, “William Jay the Preacher” in The Banner of Truth Magazine)

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