Yes, God changed Sam Jones, and then used him to change the lives of thousands more.
Sam Jones was born on October 16,1847, and died the day before his 59th birthday. In the time between his first breath and his last, his influence, compelling preaching, and the power of the Holy Spirit doubled the number of Christians living in the United States at that time.
A ROUGH START
Sam's mother died when he was only 8 years old. He was too young to fight in the Civil War, but he accidentally got separated from his family when Sherman was marching through Georgia and was swept up by some Union soldiers and taken to Kentucky. The good event to come of that time was meeting Laura McElwain, who would become his wife.
After the war, Sam made his way back to Georgia and continued his education. When he was admitted to the Georgia Bar as an attorney, he was described as one of the brightest legal minds of the time. Shortly after beginning his law practice and marrying Laura, Sam developed a painful stomach problem called dyspepsis and began drinking wine to alleviate the symptoms. In a very short time, he had become an alcoholic. When his firstborn child, a daughter named Beulah, died before her second birthday, the problem escalated. He lost his practice and supported his family (which soon included 6 more children) very meagerly by his inconsistent wages as a day laborer.
Sam's father became gravely ill, and the whole family was called to his bedside. According to a book written by Sam's wife after his death, Sam's father looked at each family member to speak a parting word. When he came to Sam, the father said, "My poor, wicked, wayward, reckless boy. You have broken the heart of your sweet wife and brought me down in sorrow to my grave; promise me, my boy, to meet me in heaven." Sam was overcome with emotion and answered: "Father, I'll make you the promise, I'll quit, I'll quit, I'll quit!"
CONVERSION AND CALL TO MINISTRY
Within a very short time, Sam stopped drinking and made his way to the small Methodist church where his granddaddy was a circuit-riding preacher and went to the altar at the end of the service. Within a week of his conversion, and with the backing of his grandfather who vouched for him before the North Georgia Conference, Sam preached his first sermon. His text was Romans 1:16 - "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." He merely read that verse and shared his testimony. He was licensed to preach and then given a small circuit of churches to be their preacher.
(One tidbit of his life that caught my attention in particular was the fact that with his keen legal mind and tremendous motivational and people skills, he took on the role of raising money for the Methodist orphanage in Georgia and was very successful for that cause. Having been associated through my dad with the work of the Alabama Baptist Children's Home for thirty years, I can really appreciate the importance of that aspect of his ministry).
GOD BLESSED SAM'S COMMITMENT AND CALLING
God gave Sam amazing communication skills and within a very short period of time, he went from part-time circuit-rider and part-time evangelist to full-time evangelist drawing crowds of people to hear him preach. He used passion, humor and his own powerful testimony of God's grace to captivate his listeners in crusades throughout the U.S. and Canada. Many people came to know the Lord in Brooklyn, Cinncinati, Chicago, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Toronto, St. Paul, Memphis, Boston and many other cities. Just as Billy Graham became known as "The Pastor to Presidents," Sam Jones was honored by President Theodore Roosevelt.
A DIVINE APPOINTMENT IN NASHVILLE
Because of Sam's devastating experience with alcohol, he preached hard against liquor, but he also condemned dancing and gambling. (I have to wonder what he would preach passionately against in 2020). While he was preaching a crusade in Nashville, a man named Thomas Ryman decided he was going to attend the crusade for the purpose of heckling Sam Jones.
Thomas Ryman an astute Nashville businessman owned 35 steamboats floating up and down the Cumberland River with lots of alcohol and gambling aboard. His livelihood came from the very things Sam Jones was preaching against. Instead of heckling the evangelist, Ryman encountered the Holy Spirit and got saved on May 10, 1885. His change of heart was so real, he wanted to build a permanent place for preachers like Sam to come so they wouldn't have to pitch a tent anymore. The resulting building was called Union Gospel Tabernacle, but we know it today as the Ryman Auditorium, long-time home of the Grand Ole Opry.
SO MUCH GOOD IN SUCH A SHORT TIME
As I mentioned earlier, it is estimated that the number of Christians in this country during the years of Sam's ministry DOUBLED under his preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit. He died on a train coming back from a two-week crusade in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Much like Senator John Lewis has been honored in recent days, a number of ceremonies and processions were held honoring and commemorating the life of Sam Jones. In light of today's emphasis on racism, I thought this passage from his wife's book was especially telling.
"In single file the hundreds that gathered moved into the west parlor, where the remains lay, and going by the casket took a last look at the familiar face of the man they so loved. In through the front door went the thousands of white friends, while from the rear came the hundreds of colored people who almost worshipped 'Mars Sam,' and the two files met and passed at the casket of their beloved friend -- stood uncovered and equal in the presence of the mighty dead." Remember, this was 1906.
When you're in Cartersville, Georgia, I highly recommend that you tour the home where Sam Jones lived from 1885-1906. It is called Rose Lawn Museum, and the stories you will hear will inspire you thoroughly. If you can't get to Cartersville, or if you just want to know more about Sam Jones, then I would suggest his wife's book -- The Life and Sayings of Sam P. Jones By His Wife. At the very least, Google him. I can't believe I didn't know about Sam Jones before now.
Here are some of the "sayings" that I really like:
Going to church is like going shopping: you generally get what you go for -- no more and no less. A woman will go into a store with a hundred thousand dollars' worth of goods all around her, buy a paper of pins and walk out; that is all she came for.
Did you ever look at your heart until you saw it? You have glanced at it. The hardest thing a fellow ever tried to do in this world is to be good with a bad heart. A man was once trying to cleanse out his spring. He was working and tugging away, when a stranger came along and said, "Say, look here; take that hog out of the spring, and all will be well." Many a man is trying to cleanse the spring of his life with the devil wallowing in the fountain.
Just as the makers of a piano can put it in tune, God can set the Ten Commandments to music in man's soul, and all will blend in perfect beauty and harmony.