John J. Jones felt God calling him into the ministry, but he resisted, choosing instead the profession of law. His son followed in his footsteps. Young Sam Jones proved a brilliant attorney at first. But alcoholism quickly ruined his life and reduced him to shoveling coal. He was on a drinking binge when he heard of his father’s illness. He rushed home, and the old lawyer became a preacher at last, saying, “My poor, wicked, wayward, reckless boy. You have brought me down in sorrow to my grave. Promise me, my boy, to meet me in heaven.”

Sam fell to his knees and promised, then he flew to a bar and begged for a glass of liquor. But as he started to drink it, he saw himself in the mirror. Hair matted. Filth and vomit on his clothes. Lips swollen. He smashed the glass on the floor and gave his life to Jesus Christ. A week later, he preached his first sermon.

Jones became the most famous evangelist of the nineteenth century, save for Moody. He held crusades in major cities throughout America, winning an estimated 500,000 people to Christ. His most unusual revival began on March 5, 1899, in Toledo, Ohio. The mayor of Toledo was also named Sam Jones. Mayor Jones introduced Evangelist Jones on the revival’s opening night. The next mayoral election was only a month away, and he enjoyed the exposure. But he didn’t enjoy what Evangelist Jones had to say, for the preacher lost no time in attacking the mayor’s policies. There were 700 saloons and 150 gambling dens in Toledo, and city administrators were unconcerned about it. The evangelist said that if the devil were mayor of Toledo, he wouldn’t change a thing. He flailed away at alcohol and sin. He lifted high the cross, and preached with the zeal of a lawyer trying to save his client from the gallows. Men wept. Women groaned. Children were spellbound. The seats were packed night after night. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were converted during the Toledo meetings.

But the mayor won reelection the next month by a huge margin.

Who is always in trouble? Who argues and fights?
Who has cuts and bruises? Whose eyes are red?
Everyone who stays up late, having just one more drink.
Don’t even look at that colorful stuff Bubbling up in the glass!
(Proverbs 23:29-31a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Mar.5.

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