Who was Sam Jones?Samuel Porter Jones was born in Chambers County, Alabama on October 16, 1847. His father, Captain John J. Jones, was a lawyer and businessman. He moved the family to Cartersville when Sam was ten years old. The young boy studied with private tutors and later attended Euharlee Academy.
Sam planned to attend college; however, he struggled with ill health. One biographer noted that he had "nervous dyspepsia." I'm not sure what this means, but it doesn't sound good! One Internet site defined it as "Gastric Neurasthenia." So there you go. Regardless of the diagnosis, Jones suffered terribly. He began drinking to ease the pain and soon became an alcoholic.
Sam's life went from bad to worse. In later sermons, Jones vividly described one morning after a night's debauchery. Lying in the sawdust covered with vomit, he begged the barkeep for the remnants of whiskey remaining in the dirty glasses. Jones was heavily indebted with no future prospects. He appeared destined to be one of those young men so full of potential who waste their lives.
Then his father became quite ill. On his deathbed, Mr. Jones looked at Sam and 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." Overcome with emotion, Sam promised that he would quit drinking and change his life. The young man kept his word. A while later he attended church at Felton's Chapel where his grandfather was preaching. At the end of the service, Sam walked the aisle and became a Christian.
His grandfather, Samuel Jones, told Sam that he was called to preach. In a wonderful line, the older minister said: "You are called to preach, you can come willingly into it, or you can be whipped into it, or you will lose your religion if you refuse!" A week after his conversion, Sam preached his first sermon at New Hope Church two miles outside of Cartersville. He decided to become an ordained Methodist minister in the North Georgia Annual Conference.
His wife, Laura, was less than thrilled at the prospect. She confronted him one night and said, "Look here, husband, when I married you I married a lawyer, and I'll never be an itinerant Methodist preacher's wife in this world, never! So, if you join the North Georgia Conference, you'll go without me." Sam answered, "But, wife, the Lord has called me to preach the gospel, and he'll remove obstacles in my way." Laura responded, "Well, he'll have to remove me, then!"
During the night, Laura became quite ill. She feared that God had indeed decided to remove her as an obstacle! The next morning, she awoke Sam, fed him breakfast, and put him on the train for Atlanta. In the middle of the darkness, Laura had promised God to make the very best itinerant preacher's wife she could.
Jones received his first appointment to a five point "circuit." He did so well that his second appointment had nine churches! After serving at the United Methodist Children's Home, he became a full-time evangelist. His first major revival occurred in Saint Louis. The local paper claimed their coverage "made" Sam Jones. When he heard the remark, Jones responded, "Well, why don't you make another?"
When describing Sam Jones today, people often say: "He was the Billy Graham of his day." This is an apt description. He was probably the best known preacher of his time. His crusades attracted standing-room-only crowds wherever he went. The Ryman Auditorium in Nashville was built to house his crusades long before it become home to "The Grand ‘Ole Opry." The evangelist did not preach a complicated gospel. He often admonished his listeners: "Quit your meanness!"
On October 15, 1906, Sam Jones was returning home on the Rock Island Train from a western revival. While the train waited on a siding in Perry Arkansas, the evangelist suddenly slumped over and then died. The entire nation mourned his passing. His body came by train to Cartersville where thousands waited at the depot. He rested in state at Capitol and was then buried at Oak Hill. The sanctuary at Cartersville Episcopal Methodist Church was being completed at the time. The congregation unanimously voted to change the name to Sam Jones Memorial Methodist Church.
Sam Jones example lives on in our community. His memory challenges us to keep up with the Jones. Quit your meanness, embrace God's goodness, and live for the Lord.