Methodist Heritage: Brother Stanley —
By Edmund Robb III —
Good News Archive, July-August 1976 —
TIME magazine, Oct. 20, 1948: “A grand old man among U.S. missionaries is a rugged Methodist preacher named Eli Stanley Jones. Baltimore-born Missionary Jones went to India in 1907, and his 35 busy years there made him one of India’s best known and respected Americans. His preaching has converted many a Hindu and Moslem to Christianity; his 14 books (best known: The Christ of The Indian Road) have quickened the faith of Christians all over the world.”
Little did the Time editors realize how rugged this “grand man among U.S. missionaries” really was! What was apparently intended as a career epitaph report, wasn’t. His “35 busy years” stretched to 61. His “14 books” increased to 27. And the number of his converts swelled dramatically.
Dr. Jones – “Brother Stanley” – never seemed willing to quit. He often said, “When I die and get to heaven, I will take the first 24 hours to rest, the next 24 hours to seek out and talk with my friends, then I think I will go to Jesus and say, ‘Lord, do you have any other lost worlds where you need an evangelist? Please send me.’ ”
E. Stanley Jones – energy extraordinary! But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, he almost died of appendicitis in 1914. Only an emergency midnight trip from Sitapur to Lucknow in an army truck saved him – and even then he almost didn’t make it because 10 days after his operation tetanus set in. It looked as though Jones’ missionary career was over.
Somehow, he survived. Later, Brother Stanley recounted, “I had no intention of dying.” But within a few months the young missionary suffered the first of several nervous breakdowns. Eight years of strain in India had taken their toll, and so he was furloughed back to America for a year of recuperation.
Then he returned to India – and collapsed again. He later wrote, “I went to India with a deepening cloud upon me. Here I was beginning a new term of service in this trying climate and beginning it – broken.
“I saw that unless I got help from somewhere, I would have to give up my missionary career, go back to America and go to work on a farm to try to regain my health. It was one of my darkest hours. At that time – while in prayer, not particularly thinking about myself – a Voice seemed to say, ‘Are you yourself ready for this work to which I have called you?’
“I replied: ‘No, Lord, I am done for. I have reached the end of my rope.’
“The Voice replied, ‘If you will turn that over to Me and not worry about it, I will take care of it.’
“I quickly answered, ‘Lord, I close the bargain right here.’ That moment was the turning point of E. Stanley Jones’ missionary career – indeed, of his whole life!
The Voice was nothing new to Brother Stanley. He had been listening to it since college days – and it had led him to India. He later wrote, “At the close of four years here [Asbury College, 1906], I was perplexed and needed guidance as to where I should spend my life. At that particular moment I received a letter from the college president saying, ‘It is the will of the townspeople, it is the will of the faculty, it is the will of the student body, and we believe it is the will of God for you to come and teach in this college.’“
At that same moment he got a letter from a friend saying, “I believe it is the will of God for you to go into the evangelistic field here in America.”
He then received a letter from the Methodist mission board saying, “It is our will to send you to India.”
“Here was a perfect traffic jam of wills!” he recalled. “I had to get my way out, to find my way into clearness. I … knelt down in my room, spread [the letter] out before God, and said, ‘Now, my Father, my life is not my own. Anywhere you want me to spend it, I will go.’
“Just as quietly the inner Voice said, ‘It is India.’ I arose from my knees, sure it was India.”
And so, E. Stanley Jones went to India at a critical period in its history. The country was in a great flux. The India which he saw was fascinating, alluring, but paradoxical. He described it:
“The Indian Road! The most fascinating Road of all the world. Every Road seems tame alongside this Road. There is no sameness here; and hence no tameness. A surprise awaits you at every turn.
“On this Road you will find the world’s most beautiful building the Taj Mahal – cheek by jowl with the world’s most miserable hut. Here men disdain the world as evil and money as base, and yet on certain days will worship their own account books. … Here you will find the gentlest souls of the world … alongside of which you will find an explosive mentality….”
In 1907, young Jones landed in Bombay. His first impressions struck him like a blow. “People were lying on beds in the day time under trees, or they moved about very slowly. I was used to life keyed up and energetic. Here life seemed to be run down and tired. Its poverty seemed to be accepted and life had adjusted itself to that fact.”
Though respected as a missionary, it was Jones’ prolific writing which brought him into world prominence. Since publication of his first book in 1925, he averaged authoring a book every two years. In addition he wrote scores of magazine articles.
After his death in 1974, his daughter, Eunice, and son-in-law, Bishop James Matthews, wrote, “Some of his books have become modern Christian classics … translated into more than 30 languages.”
Strangely enough, “It was almost by chance that E. Stanley Jones became a writer. It developed from his preaching. Dr. Ralph E. Diffendorfer of the Methodist Board of Missions suggested in 1925 that he incorporate into a book the addresses he had been delivering all across America the previous year. These were based on his missionary work among the intellectuals of India, with whom he had developed an unusual rapport. The unexpected result, a month later, was The Christ of the Indian Road, an immediate best seller.”
At age 83, Stanley Jones began his third autobiography. (He had scrapped the other two.) When asked why he chose to write his own biography, Stanley Jones characteristically replied, “If anyone else writes it, they’ll talk only about E. Stanley Jones, but if I do it, it will be about Jesus.”
In spite of his writing success, until his death Jones insisted, “I am not a professional writer. I have not written for the sake of writing, nor for the sake of material gain. Rather, I have seen a need and have tried to meet that need.”
Brother Stanley wanted to be known not as an author – but as a witness for Jesus Christ. Since the beginning of his long ministry, this was his sole goal.
He once wrote, “I think the word ‘evangelist,’ the bearer of good tidings, is the most beautiful word in our language descriptive of vocation. I have been tempted to desert the name, for it has fallen on evil days and has a bad odor, but I have never been able to let it go, for it would not let me go.”
At one point in his ministry, Jones came near to missing his way as an evangelist. While home from India attending General Conference, he was elected a Methodist bishop, though he had earlier withdrawn his name from consideration. After a restless night Jones decided, “A mistake had been made and I knew it. I was headed in the wrong direction.”
“Bishop” Jones was miserable but he revealed his doubts to only one man, a trusted and loved bishop. His reply was, “You’ve got to go on, no matter how you feel.”
Nevertheless, “Bishop” Jones listened to another voice – The Voice.
Jones recounts: “I went straight to the chairman, Bishop Johnson, and said I had a matter of high privilege. … He had to let me go on. I read my resignation, thanked them for the high honor … walked straight off the platform, out of the building at the back and down the street to my train. I did not wait to see if my resignation would be accepted. I was hastening to get back to the Indian Road – as an evangelist.”
Stanley Jones had learned the importance of being a witness (an evangelist) during his very first sermon. He had prepared for three weeks, feeling that he should act as God’s lawyer and plead His case for Him.
The little church was filled with relatives and friends, all anxious that the young man should do well. All went smoothly until he used the word, “indifferentism.” A young college girl smiled and put down her head. This unnerved him so much that he went blank. “I stood there clutching for something to say.” Finally he blurted out, “I am very sorry, but I have forgotten my sermon.”
On his way back to his seat, Jones heard the inner Voice say to him, “Haven’t I done anything for you? If so, couldn’t you tell that?”
Young Jones stepped down in front of the pulpit and said, “Friends, I see I can’t preach, but you know what Christ has done for my life, how He has changed me, and though I cannot preach, I shall be His witness the rest of my days.”
At the close of that service a youth was saved. Jones had learned a lesson – God wanted him as a witness, not a lawyer.
Brother Stanley was a faithful witness. He was fond of saying, “My theme song is Jesus Christ.” And He was. Long before the Jesus Revolution popularized the “One Way” sign of Christian faith, Jones used a three-finger sign of Christian discipleship. He would smile, hold up his right hand with three fingers extended, symbolizing one of the basic facts of his life: “Jesus is Lord.”
Christ was the focal point of Brother Stanley’s faith – and his life. “I will have to apologize for myself again and again,” he would say, “for I’m only a Christian-in-the-making. I will have to apologize for Western civilization, for it is only partly Christianized. I will have to apologize for the Christian church, for it, too, is only partly Christianized. But when it comes to Jesus Christ, there are no apologies upon my lips, for there are none in my heart.”
Stanley Jones was especially gifted in adapting new methods to present his constant message Christ. One such example is the Ashram (ah’ shrum) movement, which he brought to America.
Ashram is an Indian Sanskrit word, meaning “a retreat.” In India, an Ashram is a place where a guru, or spiritual leader, and his disciples go apart for disciplined spiritual growth. Jones combined this ancient Indian format with the Christian Gospel, and the result was an overwhelming success. (About 150 Christian Ashrams now meet annually around the world.)
One of the reasons for Ashrams’ popularity is their openness. “When we come into the Ashram as members,” Jones explained, “we lay aside all titles. There are no more bishops, doctors, professors – there are just persons. We call each other by our first names …. “ Hence, the Rev. Dr. Eli Stanley Jones became known to millions around the globe simply as “Brother Stanley.”
Above all, Brother Stanley was a disciplined person. His son-in-law, Bishop Matthews, characterized him as “the most disciplined man I have ever known, so much so that at times he seems in this respect almost an anachronism in this century.”
Disciplined, indeed! Every night at 9:30 he would excuse himself to exercise and pray. He prayed one hour every morning and evening – regardless.
Bishop Mathews said of him: “He is constantly reading; constantly writing; constantly replying to his extensive correspondence; constantly traveling …. “
But in spite of his relentless pushing, Brother Stanley is remembered by many as a “fun” person. For example, Rev. Dr. J. T. Seamands, Professor of Missions at Asbury Theological Seminary, and long-time colleague of Jones, shares the story of the time he and Dr. Jones were eating at a Japanese inn. Their repast was revealed to be octopus feet, two sparrows, raw fish, and seaweed. Upon examining the meal before them, Dr. Jones exclaimed: “Where He leads me I will follow; what He feeds me I will swallow!’’
Brother Stanley was full of life because he walked with the One who said, “I am Life.” He knew the Source of his indefatigable strength.
Jones frequently said, “One day you’ll pick up the newspaper and read that Dr. E. Stanley Jones is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I’ll never be more alive than at that moment; and should you look into my casket with a glum face, I’ll wink at you.”
POSTSCRIPT: TIME magazine, Jan. 23, 1973 – Died: Dr. E. Stanley Jones, 89, Methodist clergyman from Maryland, who became one of the world’s best known evangelists; in Barielly, India. . . .
Edmund Robb III was the associate editor to Good News at the time of this article’s publication. This article appeared in the July-August 1976 issue. Dr. Robb went on to be the founding pastor of The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas.
Photo: E. Stanley Jones showing poster of Jesus as the Word became flesh at Nykarleby, Finland Ashram, 1963 (courtesy of Asbury Theological Seminary special collections).