SAM P. JONES of Cartersville, Georgia may be the most representative figure of 'The Old Time Religion': the major influence that defined America at the birth of the Twentieth Century. (America is now defined by 'Hollywoodism'-the entertainment industry.) And Jones remains probably history's most unusual Christian Evangelist. Certainly one of the most effective; a man of transparent courage, integrity, wit, and universal love. His most enduring monument is 'The World's Most Unusual University,' Bob Jones University, in Greenville, South Carolina. An historic building, built in his lifetime, in his honor, Ryman Auditorium, in Nashville, Tennessee, has been an entertainment center for many years. Will Rogers transformed one aspect of his style into a remarkable career (and Jones was unconsciously mimicked by the late Lewis Grizzard of The Atlanta Newspapers -- Lewis was our own Will Rogers).
But, it was south Alabama Evangelist Bob Jones, Sr. who deliberately absorbed, and expressed through his thoroughly distinctive personality, the philosophy of religion, ethics and common sense of this 'sallow faced Georgia cracker.' The fierce emphasis on ethics and righteous living made Bob Jones University an anachronism in a century dedicated, in the realm of Evangelical Theology, to a fanaticism, which has, for this entire hundred years, been powerfully and compellingly presented by many otherwise great and devout souls. Even Billy Sunday, in his last years espoused the Darby time-table; and, saddest of all, Bob Jones University itself, to a tragic extent, has marked this awful century as somewhat of a prisoner of the little known 'original fighting fundamentalist' from Dublin. (It should be noted that the general 'Plymouth' Brethren atttitude toward BJU has been cool, since Darby's interpretation of separatism is to denounce all demoninational names, as well as the concept of a professional ministry.)
A popular writer for the Atlanta Constitution, Samuel White Small was converted from a life of dissipation at a Sam Jones Meeting which he was assigned to cover for that newspaper. He immediately distributed a message over Atlanta inviting all to the steps of Atlanta City Hall where most a most important news item would be announced. There he told of his conversion and of his dedication to sobriety and gospel service. He became very popular with Sam as a co-evangelist. Sam Small was asked (around 1927, when he was seventy-six) to write a mission statement and statement of faith for the new college being built by Bob Jones, Sr. (who then was thirty-nine). Though some have pressed for the inclusion of Dispensationalism, not a word has been changed from Sam Small's inscription , written, immediately, upon Bob Jones Sr.'s request, on the back of an envelope. Hundreds of times a year, that Creed is repeated in the Chapel and Worship services of Bob Jones University.
Protestant Christianity has lost more in this century than in any period since the 5th Century. And it is because of the prevailing view that history is over. This was a view hated and ridiculed by Sam Jones. It is obviously unlearned and uninformed (who could know, and how could anyone know?); a theory dreamed up (literally) by a sixteen year old girl (Margaret McDonald) in Scotland in the late 1820s and fleshed out by the dynamic, combative, egocentric, indefatigable and devout John Nelson Darby, onetime effective soul-winner in Ireland, then, cultish proselytizer and builder of the Empire of Defeat.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, of London, commonly recognized as the greatest preacher in Christian History, shared a low opinion of John N. Darby and his influence. It is interesting, and extremely remarkable, that Sam Jones credited Spurgeon as his teacher of preaching. Jones read and reread the Fifth Volume of Spurgeon's Sermons (Spurgeon is certainly the most published minister in history -- if we discount the works published about the Great Apostle) and learned how to preach by this study (we can be sure this was not the sole shaping force on Jones, for he lived in an age of the greatest pulpiteers). The remarkable thing, and an indicator of the genius of Jones, is that this great Methodist, in his style and content, mirrored Spurgeon, the Calvinistic Baptist, not in the least whit. But both spoke directly from the heart. ("Aim at the heart and undermine the head" was the way Bob Jones, Sr. expressed, in his own distinctive style, one of the sayings of Sam Jones.)
And Jones, like Spurgeon, hammered on a single idea, across every octave in their respective personalities. Alexander Whyte defined preaching as "the transmission of personality, laden with truth," and every effective preacher has demonstrated this axiom. Bob Jones, Sr. was greatly influenced by the knowledge that "one day Sam Jones realized that the pulpit is a throne not a prison--and that day was a turning point in his ministry and life."
Spurgeon's single idea was the beauty of Jesus. Sam Jones's theme was the meanness of sin. "Look to Jesus" the Brit called out, "quit your meanness" the Georgian scolded in a scalding manner. Are any two concepts more needed in any age? And each demands the existence and acceptance of the other. (The distinctive note of Bob Jones's preaching was a very personal relationship--filled with profound love and loyalty-- with a very real Jesus.) Though Sam Jones was, and still is, criticized for not expressing the same emphasis as Spurgeon, the criticism has never been justified. To such a critic, Jones would reply, "Can you name anything that church members need more than a call to quit their meanness?" In every part of the country, ministers of all denominations forgot their criticisms and eagerly welcomed the holy influence of this righteous man who loved the Bible and the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and preached repentance. Christians repent first. Then the unsaved, in and outside the churches. The great T. DeWitt Talmage, even more eloquent that Spurgeon in his preaching of Grace and Heaven, called upon the plain-spoken boy from the South to preach revival in Brooklyn.
Can any claim that religion that does no good is any good? That is the summation of Sam Jones, his message and The Old Time Religion.
During the height of Jones work in the final decades of the Nineteenth Century, America welcomed millions of immigrants, mostly Catholic and Jews. Dwight L. Moody, himself an admirer of Jones, ministered to these masses in a remarkable way. Some Evangelicals thought they needed to be opposed in some manner, although they had migrated to America for love. Moody certainly gave love to all. And when Sam Jones was asked why he didn't 'jump on the Catholics,' he replied, "When I get through with the Methodists, it's bedtime."
The Jones experienced profoundest sorrow with two of their children. In those trying experiences, Mrs. Jones was the stern voice of righteousness and Sam was the broken heart of longsuffering pain. When Sam died at 58, Mrs. Jones excluded the offending children from the home, something not permitted while Sam was alive.
CHRISTIANITY AND MUSIC are inseparable. Sam Jones co-labored with a great musician named Edwin Othello Excell. He has several works in the hymnals. 'Since I Have Been Redeemed' is an enduring favorite. Excell was a perfect complement for Jones. He was a great and humble lover of Jesus. And he was music: "The man has swallowed a brass band," was an apt descripton from his admirers. E. O. Excell was two years younger than Jones and died in 1921 while working with Gypsy Smith.
VERY FEW, IF ANY, will have the intelligence to use wit, sarcasm, scorn, rebuke, invective and ridicule as Sam Jones did. The element so likely to be omitted will be universal sympathetic love. It is remarkable that Bob Jones did not try to imitate Sam's personality at all; he learned from him and perpetuated the philosophy of life and religion.
All of us can be comforted in knowing that, even so great a soul as Sam Jones had his imperfections (although Jones did endorse and preach Sanctification as a distinct work of Grace). Like his mentor, Spurgeon, Sam Jones enjoyed cigars. Spurgeon embarrassed himself (requiring public apology) by proclaiming, in response to criticism, that he was going home to have a cigar to "the glory of God;" Jones, responding to critics from the North, gave up the habit, but later resumed it. Most Southern ministers did use tobacco in those days.
Another question was (is) his racial views. They appear quite strange and bothersome today. But, they were the same as his equally famous contemporary, the great editor and statesman, Henry Grady, who was a hero of a successor, the late Atlanta Constitution Editor, Ralph McGill, a very loud liberal. Grady, whose statue has dominated downtown Atlanta for most of this century, was for progress in 'The New South,' but he did not believe 'Negroes' should be educated. (Of course, they were less than three generations from Jefferson, America's greatest thinker, who, after much thought, could not think of a solution nor offer hopeful predictions on the American race issue.)