Wherever the names of the princes of the modern pulpit are mentioned, “Jones of Bournemouth” is sure to be one of them. For almost half a century this “man with the mouth of gold” delighted the people of Britain and America.
John Daniel Jones was born on the day after the assassination of Abraham Lincon, at Ruthin, Denbighshire, in Wales. His father, a Welsh schoolmaster and musician, was determined to name him Lincoln because of his admiration for the President, but family objections prevented this and he was given the good Welsh names which he bore through life, John Daniel.
His boyhood years coincided with a golden age of Welsh preaching. The pulpit was the predominant factor in Welsh life. Every Welshman was a sermon-taster, and great preachers were the idols of that day.
Jones’ father died of overwork at the early age of forty-three. Seven years later his mother married again, to D. M. Brymer, a Congregational minister in Chorley, Lancashire. There J. D. Jones went to the Grammar School until he won a scholarship to Owen’s College, now Manchester University, where he took his degree in 1886.
He spent three years in theological studies at Lancashire Independent College, Manchester, and a year at St. Andrews in Scotland, where twenty-five years later he was to receive his first honorary doctor of divinity degree.
In 1889, he was ordained and became pastor of Newlands Congregational Church in the Cathedral City of Lincoln. A penetrating critic of sermons and preachers, George Jackson, has said that the three qualities that endeared J. D. Jones to readers and hearers alike were: (1) a faith that never wandered far from the central things; (2) ease and simplicity in expounding it; and (3) an appealing winsomeness in commending it. All three qualities were developed during his first ministry at Lincoln.
He matured almost suddenly. The apprentice had become a master craftsman. His style and methods as a preacher underwent no change though the passing years, and riper experience merely added depth and enrichment to his sermons.
In those days it was his habit to memorize his sermons but as an insurance against any momentary lapse of memory, he carried his manuscript in his pocket when he entered the pulpit. He abandoned the practice before he left Lincoln because he found the labor of memorizing was an unprofitable tax on his brain.
Afterwards he read his sermons — never, however, allowing the written page to come between the preacher and the congregation. His memory was so good that a glance at a fresh page recalled its exact phrasing. By this reliance upon manuscript he sacrificed an early natural gift of eloquence, but he escaped the snare that often befalls extempore preachers of having to go on saying something until they have something to say.
Jones created a reverent atmosphere in the pulpit. His diction was simple and direct. His preaching had intellectual force and spiritual power. His voice had a haunting beauty: soft, musical, with a just detectable Welsh accent and that resonance that made him easily heard whenever he spoke.
He remained nearly nine years at Lincoln, having declined attractive invitations to leading Congregational churches and offers of a professorship and a principalship. In 1898 he was called to the city with which his name was to be linked so conspicuously for the next forty years.
Bournemouth is one of England’s most noted seaside resorts. Richmond Hill Congregational Church is one of the most famous congregations among the English Free Churches. It is a beautiful building seating over a thousand people, on one of the most commanding sites in the town — close to the Central Square, from which all roads radiate.
His predecessor, J. Ossian Davies, had drawn congregations which crowded the church. So J. D. Jones had not to face the task of gathering a congregation but the harder one of maintaining congregations gathered by the fiery eloquence and dramatic power of Davies. For thirty-nine years Richmond Hill enjoyed unbroken harmony, abounding prosperity and expanding religious influence.
Long lines of people outside the church doors were a familiar sight in the holiday season, and it often happened that many people could not gain admittance. His volumes of sermons, one of which was issued every other year, had large sales at home and abroad, especially to clergymen. He preached, as he once said, to the world.
He used to hold a service on Tuesday morning and would preach expository sermons on one of the Gospels, many ministers being present. Anglicans were always present in large numbers in what a little girl said was “the Church of St. Jones.”
Jones’ sermons were not particularly outstanding either in intellectual brilliance or in surpassing eloquence of delivery. His pulpit gifts were not of a startling order. There was nothing profound in his preaching.
“He reminded one of George H. Morrison,” says Alexander Gammie, “in a simplicity which was so deceptive as to conceal the art behind it all. It was truly said that ‘perhaps only one in fifty had any adequate or educated idea of the preacher’s consummate technique and homiletic mastery; the remaining forty-nine were attracted by the note of quiet strength and comfort which ran through all his utterances.”
Jones was essentially a comforting preacher, in the proper sense of that much misused word — that is, one who fortified and reassured his hearers. He sent people home from church quieted and strengthened for the coming days.
He was from first to last an evangelical. To Jones the only thing worth preaching was the gospel of the grace of God and the redeeming life and death of Christ. Ernest Jeffs, for many years the Editor of The Christian World, says of Jones:
“No preacher of my generation had a closer knowledge of the Bible, or a more perfect skill and felicity in quoting from it. He was saturated both in the matter and the manner of the Bible. He loved at all times to use a biblical phrase rather than one of his own. But in using it he made it his own — in the sense, I mean, that it all went to making up the total impression of the sermon upon the congregation.”
There were no dramatic moments in his preaching. Once he began his sermon, the hearer could foretell its line of development with some degree of certainty. His friend and fellow Congregationalist minister Silvester Home said: “His style is supremely artless. That is where ‘J.D.’ is unique. ‘Let us take this pleasant country walk,’ he seems to say and because you cannot possibly refuse his winning invitation you go with him and you feel your feet are across the frontiers of the divine Kingdom before you realize where you are.”
Jones never appealed to mere emotion or sentiment apart from good cogent argument. He expounded the Christian faith as an eminently reasonable thing. His round, full voice and dignified style entirely suited the message. The illustrations were unforced, the theological framework was competent, and the spiritual interpretation was quietly powerful.
He addressed himself to the personal needs of individuals and brought them consolation and gave them a new courage for life. That explains his popularity in an age when men were crying out for a sure word from the pulpit. He was a true pastor. He knew his people by name and carried their burdens on his heart.
He was once asked to be a candidate for Parliament but replied in the words of Nehemiah: “I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down.” It is fitting that on his tombstone he is described simply as “Preacher of the Gospel,” though he was an ecclesiastical statesman of the first rank, often described as the unmitred Bishop of Congregationalism.
J. D. Jones was one of the few great preachers whose sermons were of uniform excellence. Ernest Jeffs claims that Jones never preached a sermon or made a speech which failed to interest and delight his audience. The reason for this was that he prepared for everything with great care, and especially for his pulpit.
His preaching was textual and expository; it was his constant practice to derive his sermons from the text and not to attach his own ideas to a verse of Scripture. He was interpreter and teacher as well as evangelist, for he possessed expository genius and a vast experience of men and things.
It was Jones’ practice to jot down potential texts for sermons in little notebooks, or on the pages at the end of a pocket diary, with a few key words or even with the division. From these beginnings the sermon took shape in his mind, growing as he traveled up and down the country and ready for committing to paper when he returned home.
In two hundred sermon manuscripts which his biographer examined there was not a single correction or sign of momentary hesitation in the choice of words or the shaping of a sentence. “Every page was uniform, written in his copper-plate calligraphy, each line with its regular quota of words, every page of lined sermon paper containing nearly the same number of words and every sermon with almost exactly the same number of pages. (A. Porritt, J. D. Jones).
He wrote his sermons easily and rapidly, and they never sounded, when delivered, like literary compositions. The smooth, even flow of speech was the natural medicum for the simplicity and directness of his thought.
Jones never cultivated the epigram or strained after the polished sentence. He loved and used Anglo-Saxon words. Preaching to him was not the reading of a correct little essay. He defined it in his address from the Chair of the Congregational Union in 1925 as “a man — a real man — speaking real things out of a real experience,” and as “the greatest, highest and most sacred ministerial act.”
In June 1937 Jones retired from the pastorate in Bournemouth, just thirty-nine years after he had entered upon it. He went to live in Wales and, as long as his health and strength permitted, he continued to preach. “The greatest work in the world,” he called it.
In the intervals between his engagements he worked steadily at his autobiography, which was published in 1940 under the title Three Score Years and Ten. He died on Sunday, April 19, 1942.
Later that year Arthur Porritt, who had written the life of Jowett, produced a short biography of J. D. Jones, which contains tributes by others to him as preacher, pastor, colleague, statesman of Congregationalism, and one bv Dean Lvnn Harold Hough on “A Christian Cosmopolitan.” The second part of the book contains fourteen sermons which were either written or recast by Jones after his retirement.
In all he published some twenty books, mostly volumes of sermons. One was a four-volume Devotional Commentary on St. Mark. His first book, which is still worth reading, was published when he was at Lincoln and deals with the Lord’s Prayer under the title The Model Prayer. There is a fine book of sermons delivered on Sunday mornings at Richmond Hill on the Apostles Creed, called Things Most Surely Believed, and a smaller book of sermons on the future life, entitled If A Man Die?
After his retirement he published a book of sermons for the Christian Year, Keep Festival. In the preface he refers to Dr. Dale’s habit of drawing up in December a list of some of the subjects on which he intended to preach during the following twelve months. He shared Dale’s conviction that constant and regular teaching on the central themes is necessary to the creation of a disciplined and instructed people.
“Preachers often seem to me to fight shy of the big themes and to be content with secondary and subsidiary topics. Since I have had the opportunity of sitting more often in the pew, I have heard sermons on social justice, on peace, on ethical subjects, but I can’t recall a single sermon on such a central theme as the Incarnation. We are never going to build strong churches that way. To make strong vigorous churches we must launch out into the deep. The observance of the great festivals will constrain us to do this. We shall be compelled to deal with the big themes and this will result in richer and deeper spiritual life in our churches. So let us keep festival.”
John A. Patten said: “Some seaside preachers think they fulfill their ministry by dwelling on the beauties of nature, but Dr. Jones has little to say about the lapping waves, the wind on the heath and the twinkling stars. Instead he preaches on the holiness of God, redemption through Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the conquest of temptation, the immortality of the soul.”
Jones often began by telling a Bible story and expounding it, particularly an unfamiliar one in the Old Testament, drawing from it a few practical lessons that he felt were needed by his congregation, but at all times the great central truths of the Christian religion were given prominence. Sometimes, while expounding his text, he would explain very simply the delicate shades of difference between two Greek words in the New Testament. He never preached on a verse taken from the New Testament without carefully consulting the Greek text.
All of Jones’ sermons are well constructed. We turn to a book of his sermons published in 1911 under the title The Hope of the Gospel for two examples of his facility in sermon division. There is a sermon on “The Rainbow,” based on Genesis 9:13. His introduction speaks of Nature as sacramental. It was the inner spiritual meaning of Nature that God was teaching Noah. Then he speaks of God’s rainbow in the cloud of sin, in the cloud of sorrow and in the cloud of judgment.
In the same volume there is a sermon on “The Christian Life as a Partnership,” where the three texts are his three divisions:
1. Partakers of the divine nature (11 Peter 1:4)
2. Partakers of Christ’s sufferings (1 Peter 4::3)
3. Partakers of the glory to be revealed (1 Peter 5:11)
Scripture is quoted with great effect in all Jones’ sermons. There are many quotations from poetry and the hymn-book, from theologians and expositors, from history and biography.
In the introduction to a sermon on Exodus 16:19, he says: “I am always amazed at the preachers who neglect and ignore the Old Testament, not simply because it is as impossible to understand the New Testament apart from the Old as it is to explain a flower without going back to the seed, but also because the Old Testament is so rich in homiletic material.” In each of his books of sermons nearly half are based on texts from the Old Testament.
Jones’ sermons are lengthy, belonging to more leisured days than the present, but they are models well worth studying, for his preaching was simple and direct and true to the greatness of the Gospel.

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