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Thoughts From E. Stanley Jones

Dear Friends,

Today's entry is the conversion story of E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) a very great man of God. Although not so well-known these days, in 1938, Time Magazine honored him with the title of, “The World’s Greatest Missionary Evangelist.”

His approach to evangelism was to present Christ as the universal Son of Man without the trappings of Western culture. He delivered tens of thousands of sermons and lectures, traveled 50 weeks a year, and often spoke two to six times a day! He was a man of grace who believed that, "the chief business of the Christian is reconciliation." Therefore, he spent a lifetime (primarily as a missionary in India) trying to reconcile East and West, white and black, and the world to the Lord Jesus Christ. His message centered around the need for a “surrender” to Jesus Christ as Lord, and he believed that if Christians were truly to win the world to Christ, they must be more willing to listen, love, and imitate the Christ they claimed to be followers of.

He was a good friend and confidant of Mahatma Gandhi, and was held in high esteem by the emperor of Japan. In fact, in 1941 he wrote a letter to the Japanese emperor in an attempt to persuade him not to go to war with the U.S. – but the letter arrived days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. A dignitary in the emperor’s inner circle later declared that if Stanley’s letter had arrived before the attack, the emperor would have called off the attack on Pearl Harbor, possibly averting war with the U.S.

In 1954 (at 71 years old) he was formally retired by the Methodist Board of Missions. Yet, he kept working at a rapid pace, thankful to be freed from denominational responsibilities. In 1963 (at 80 years old) he spent six months hopping from one missionary outpost to another in Asia and Latin America, preached 736 times, and spent his vacation writing his 24th book. Able at 80 to do 30 rapid pushups without strain, he set out for yet another evangelistic tour of Asia.

To study his life is to be inspired. I spent three days in July immersed in doing so, and it left me wishing I had done so years ago! The issue of “Christian History Magazine” which chronicles his life is worth its weight in gold. This is the story of his conversion. Enjoy.

“My first remembered contact with religion was when, as a little boy, I went to the Sunday School at Frederick Avenue Methodist Church, South, in Baltimore, dressed in a brand new suit. To draw attention to my new suit, I grabbed a collection plate and started to pass it around before the grown-ups. I didn’t hope to get any money, I hoped to collect compliments for my new suit, and incidentally for myself. Yet, I had unwittingly run into the central problem in religion – the problem of the self-assertive self.

My second crisis contact with religion was when, about ten years later, at the age of fifteen, I was in the gallery of the Memorial Church, with a group of boys, mostly my friends. The speaker was an Englishman from John Bunyan’s church in England. He was a man of God, and at the close of his message he pointed his finger to where we were seated and said, “Young men, Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me.” It went straight to my heart. I knew I wasn’t with Him, and I didn’t want to be against Him. It shook me. I turned to a friend and said, “I’m going to give myself to Christ. Will you?” He said, “No, I’m going to see life first.” Then I saw I would have to go alone, and I did. I climbed over the young men, went down the steps, up the aisle to the altar, and took my place among the seekers. I felt undone and wept – wept because I was guilty and estranged. I fumbled for the latch-string of the Kingdom, but missed it -- for they didn’t tell me the way to find it… I settled for church membership as a substitute… I felt religious for a few weeks, but then it all faded out and I was exactly where I was before…

The real thing came two years later. An evangelist, Robert J. Bateman, came to Memorial Church. Through his rough exterior I saw there was reality within. He was a converted alcoholic on fire with God’s love. I said to myself, “I want what he has." I did not want catchphrases and slogans, I wanted the real thing. I wanted the real thing or nothing… For three days I sought, and during those three days I went to the altar twice. One of those times my beloved teacher Miss Nelie Logan, knelt alongside me and repeated John 3:16 this way: “God so loved Stanley Jones that he gave his only begotten Son, that if Stanley Jones will believe on him, he will not perish but have everlasting life.” I repeated after her, but no spark of assurance kindled in my darkened heart.

The third night came, and before going I prayed the sincerest prayer I had prayed in my life. My whole life was behind that simple prayer: “O Jesus, save me tonight.” And He did! A ray of light pierced my darkness. Hope sprang up in my heart. I found myself saying, “He’s going to do it.” I now believe he had done it, but I had been taught that you found him at the altar in prayer. So, I felt I must get to the church to an altar of prayer. I found myself running the mile to church… I was like Christian (in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress) running from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. I went into the church and took the front seat, a thing I had never done before. But I was all eagerness, waiting for the evangelist to stop speaking so I could get to that altar of prayer! When he did stop, I was the first one there. I had scarcely bent my knees when Heaven broke into my spirit. I was enveloped in assurance, by acceptance, by reconciliation. I grabbed the man next to me by the shoulder and said: “I’ve got it.”

Got it? What did I mean? I see now it was not an “it” it was a “Him.” I had Him – Jesus – and He had me. We had each other. I belonged. My estrangement and sense of orphanage were gone. I was reconciled. As I rose from my knees, I felt I wanted to wrap my arms around the world and share this with everybody! Little did I dream at that moment that I would spend the rest of my life literally trying to wrap my arms around the world to share this with everybody. But I have. This was a seed moment. The whole of my future was packed into it… It took an emotional upheaval to carry me across from a self-preoccupied life to a Christ-preoccupied life. The center of being was changed from self to Savior. I didn’t try by an act of my will to give up my sins – they were gone. I looked into His face and was forever spoiled by anything that was unlike Him. The whole me was converted. There was nothing the same except my name. It was the birthday of my soul. Life began there. Note I say “began” – the whole of my life has been an unfolding of what enfolded me in that moment…”

Like Jones, we must often take a second look at what we are told/taught and re-evaluate it in light of Scripture. For there were many (a great number of the last generation) that thought it was necessary to "go forward" in response to some type of altar call in order to be saved. My dad had become convinced of that (one of the reasons that he as a very private individual struggled so much with faith in Jesus). People had convinced him he needed to "go forward," or "go to the altar," or "walk the sawdust trail" as some put it. It was something I corrected for him, only to see him come to Christ in faith shortly thereafter at 78 years old. Like E. Stanley Jones later came to see, he wasn't saved when he went forward, he excitedly ran that mile to the church with hope and light filling his heart -- and rushed to the altar! -- because God had already saved him in his house as he prayed that earnest prayer for Jesus to save him!

In conclusion, I can't encourage you strongly enough to read Christian History Magazine (Issue #136) on E. Stanley Jones. It is hard to read it and not be uplifted, encouraged and inspired. And not just by him, but by his wife Mabel, who almost single handedly changed the entire direction of education in India by bringing women into the educational system as teachers. That's covered as well!

In His Grace, Pastor Jeff


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