Born at Bargoed, South Wales, he entered Cliff College in 1927, where Samuel Chadwick recognised and encouraged his gifts of leadership. He was influenced by the Cliff College notion of ‘Methodist Friars’ to form, while at the college in 1928, his own band of ‘Holiness Trekkers’, committed to the Wesleyan emphasis on Christian holiness and inspired by John Wesley’s message ‘to spread scriptural holiness over the land'. He initiated a successful evangelistic trekking movement, coupled with ‘tent campaigns’ and supported by churches of the International Holiness Mission (IHM). This led to numerous converts, with new churches being established, mainly in industrial areas of northern England during the 1930s. In 1934, with others who had been at Cliff College and involved in itinerant trekking evangelism, he broke from the IHM, taking with them some churches to form the Calvary Holiness Church (CHC). This movement grew and in 1955 James as President, with other pastors and members of 22 CHC churches, united formally with the International Church of the Nazarene.
Until his death, James remained active in the Church of the Nazarene (and beyond) as a writer, preacher, and noted international evangelist and convention speaker, not only in Britain and Ireland but also particularly in America and southern Africa. In 1935, James had founded The Flame (‘A Bi-monthly Magazine for the Spread of Full Salvation’) which he continued to edit until his retirement in the 1980s. He was also the author of numerous articles and five popular books, the most well known being I believe in the Holy Ghost (1964). In 1947 he became the first Principal of the denomination’s new Beech Lawn Bible College, first established at Upper Mill and then at Stalybridge, near Manchester. Following the union of the CHC with the Church of the Nazarene, this College’s buildings were sold and the proceeds used in 1959 to help purchase new Nazarene College premises in Didsbury, Manchester.