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A Song of Ascents - A Spiritual Autobiography

Greetings All,

This week's thought is really more of a personal testimony -- a fascinating testimony of one man's conversion -- that of E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) the well-known missionary evangelist to India who concentrated on reaching the educated classes of India, before branching out (through books and conferences) into a world-wide ministry. The following account can be found in his autobiography: "A Song of Ascents - A Spiritual Autobiography."
          His conversion took place just before the turn of the 20th century (in 1899) and getting a theological education at Asbury Seminary he left for India to pursue his dream of taking Christ to the nations in 1907. His books, The Christ of the Indian Road,  Victorious Living,  Abundant Living,  The Unshakable Kingdom, and The Divine Yes (written one year before he died, and one year after a stroke at 88 years old) were all popular books.

     He was a pacifist, and an advocate for Indian Independence for English rule, as well as a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi.  He wrote a biography of Gandhi after his assassination, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it was the book which inspired him to non-violence in the civil rights movement. This is the story of his conversion.  It is amazingly insightful, and greatly inspiring, so I thought I would pass it on to you. Enjoy.

     "I am an ordinary man doing extraordinary things because I'm linked with the extraordinary.  But apart from this I am very ordinary... and worse. A woman put it this way: "Apart from the Holy Spirit, Brother Stanley would be a mess."  She was right.  But with the Holy Spirit I am not a mess, but a message. This is not boasting. This is witnessing to Another.  To say anything else would be a false humility which is concealed pride.
     How did it all begin?  My first remembered contact with religion was when, as a little boy, I went to the Sunday school at Frederick Avenue Methodist Church, South, in Baltimore, dressed in a brand new suit. To call attention to my new suit, and me, I took a collection plate and began to pass it around before the grown-ups standing chatting. I didn't hope to get any money.  I hoped to collect compliments for my new suit and incidentally, for myself.  Hardly an auspicious beginning with religion.  And yet, I had unwittingly run into the central problem in religion -- the problem of the self-assertive self.

       My second crisis contact with religion was when, about ten years later, at the age of fifteen, I was in the gallery of the Memorial Church, with a group of boys, mostly my chums. The speaker was an Englishman from John Bunyan's church in England. He was a man of God, and at the close of his address, he pointed his finger to where we were seated and said: "Young men, Jesus said, "He that is not with me is against me."  It went straight to my heart. I knew I wasn't with him, but I didn't want to be against him.  It shook me.  I turned to my chum and said: "I'm going to give myself to Christ. Will you?"  He replied: "No, I'm going to see life first." Then I saw I would have to go alone, and I did.
       I climbed over the altar, and took my place among the seekers.  I felt undone and wept -- wept because I was guilty and estranged.  I fumbled for a latchstring to the kingdom of God, and missed it, for they didn't tell me the steps to find it. I stood up at the close when they asked us if it was all right with us.  I wanted the Kingdom of God, wanted reconciliation with my heavenly Father, but took church membership as a substitute.

       My mother came into my room the next morning and silently kissed me before I got out of bed. Her son was a Christian. But I soon found out I wasn't.  I felt religious for a few weeks, and then it all faded out and I was back again to where I was before, the springs of my character and my habit formation unchanged. I had been horizontally converted, but not vertically.  I was outwardly in, but not inwardly in.  It was a sorry impasse.  I could have lived out my life on that level the balance of my days, a cancelled-out person, neither here nor there.
       But as I look back, I am not sorry I went through that half-conversion which was a whole failure.  For the fact that I got out of that failure was used to encourage those who have settled down into a compromised stalemate, dull, listless, and with no note of victory. They too can get into the real thing. So my failure could be used to help others to victory.
       The real thing came two years later. An evangelist, Robert J. Bateman, came to Memorial Church. Through his rough exterior I saw there was reality within.  He was a converted alcoholic, on fire with God's love.  I said to myself, "I want what he has."  This time I was dead serious.  I was not put off by catch phrases and slogans.  I wanted the real thing or nothing. No halfway house for me; I wanted my home.  For three days I sought. During those three days I went to the altar twice.
       One of those times my beloved teacher, Miss Nellie Logan, knelt alongside me and repeated John 3:16 this way: "God so loved Stanley Jones, that he gave his only begotten Son, that if Stanley Jones will believe on him, he shall not perish but have everlasting life."  I repeated after her but no spark of assurance kindled in my heart.
       The third night came. Before going to the meeting I knelt beside my bed and prayed the most earnest prayer I had prayed so far in my life. My whole life was behind that simple prayer: "O Jesus, save me tonight." And he did!  A ray of light pierced my darkness. Hope sprang up in my heart. I found myself saying, "He's going to do it."   I now believe he had done it, but I had been taught that you found him at the altar of prayer. So I felt I must go to church to an altar of prayer.
         I found myself running the mile to the church. The eagerness of my soul got into my body. I was like Christian (in Pilgrim's Progress) running from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City!  I went into the church and took the front seat, a thing I had never done before.  I was all eagerness for the evangelist to stop speaking so I could get to that altar of prayer.  When he did stop, I was the first one there!  I had scarcely bent my knees when Heaven broke into my spirit. I was enveloped by assurance, by acceptance, by reconciliation. I grabbed the man next to me by the shoulder and said: "I've got it."
       "Got it?"  What did I mean?  I see now it was not an "it," it was a him. I had him -- Jesus -- and he had me.  We had each other.  I belonged. My estrangement, my sense of being an orphan, were gone. I was reconciled. As I rose from my knees I felt I wanted to put my arms around the world and share this with everybody. Little did I dream at that moment that I would spend the rest of my life literally trying to put my arms around the world to share this with everybody. But I have. 
       This was a seed moment. The whole of my future was packed into it. Crude? No, creative. Emotional? It took an emotional upheaval to carry me across from a self-preoccupied life to a Christ-preoccupied life. The center of my being was changed from self to Savior.  I didn't try by an act of my will to give up my sins -- they were gone. I looked into his face and was forever spoiled for anything that was unlike Him. The whole of me was converted. There was nothing the same except the name. It was the birthday of my soul. Life began there... He put a song in my heart, for I now had something to sing about. Many undertones and overtones have enriched that Song, but there I caught the standard note -- "Jesus" -- a Savior from what I didn't want to be to what I wanted to be... From the day I was given that "note" to this day, sixty-six years later, I have been sounding that "note" through all the world. And I hope my last gasp will be, "I commend my Savior to you.""

       What else needs to be said? Nothing!

With Prayers for Christ's Richest Blessings on your Life,  Pastor Jeff