Rev. Thomas Jones 1819 -1882
Thomas Jones was born at Rhayader, Radnorshire on the 17th of July 1819; he grew up in the very heart of the religious movement. His ancestors were religious people, and he then became the successor of Griffith Jones, Howell Harris, and Rowlands, the creators of the movement.
At one time his parents were in comfortable circumstances, but the flannel business in which his father John Jones was engaged became depressed and, after the loss of his wife, he died, leaving Thomas (who was only four), and two brothers, one of whom became the father of the Rev Morlais Jones (minister of Lewisham Congregational Chapel), orphaned and homeless.
Thomas was brought up with his grandfather, a tenant-farmer of Cae-Newydd, whose ancestors had settled on a small freehold at Llandderw near Rhayader and had tilled the land for many generations. When Thomas was young a very little boy, his grandfather took him one morning to the top of the hill at Rhayader and prayed that he might grow up to be a good man, and always do God’s will with all his might. Then he told him that nothing else in the world was worth striving for but oneness with the Divine Spirit (this was the memoirs of Viriamu Jones and other Oxford Memories). He lived with his grandfather until he was twelve years old, attending school at Rhayader, and when the time came, he was apprenticed to a Mr. Winstone, a cloth weaver of Esgair Moel, near Llanwrtyd.
Mr. and Mrs. Winstone treated him like a child of their own, and it was under their care that he mastered Welsh; English had been the language spoken at Rhayader, although Welsh was used in chapel services. Mr. Winstone and his family were Calvinistic Methodists, and Thomas accompanied them on Sundays to chapel and attended Sunday school, learning by heart each week-long chapters of the Bible and a lesson from the Calvinistic Methodist Catechism, the ‘Instructor.’ To the sermons he listened with keen attention, and, after returning home, would astonish his friends by declaiming large parts of them; but, though his elders; evidently regarded him as unusually gifted, it was so little the custom of the day to take notice of children that he received small encouragement.
More than forty years later, when Thomas Jones returned to Llanwrtyd again, some of the elder brethren asked him one night to the ‘Society.’ Where children still repeated Scripture texts. Suddenly recalling his childhood there, he rose to address the children, pointing with his finger to the corner of the bench where he used to sit, and, turning to the aged deacon and others of his old friends, thanked them in tones of deep feeling.
The ‘Society’ or ‘Society Meeting’ (in Welsh “Seiet,’ a word derived from the Latin Societas, a partnership or company) is strictly a meeting of Church Members, i.e. those who have, according to the Trust Deed of the Voluntary Church, a right to take part in the management of its affairs. However, children of the members can be present, and strangers by consent. The Seiet initiates the children into the Church, reviews sermons of the week, elicit religious experiences, admonishes the erring and, if necessary, excommunicates and expels a member guilty of scandalous conduct. It also manages ultimately the material concerns of the church.
When Thomas was seventeen years old his younger brother died. Overcome with sudden loneliness and misery, Thomas escaped into the twilight sand to the ground and ‘wept his heart out.’ When outworn with grief, he lifted his eyes to the encircling mountains and suddenly took comfort: one day he might pass over them and be free. From this time onwards a feeling of discontent took possession of him and drove him a year later to leave Llanwrtyd and follow his elder brother to the coal mining district (Brynmawr) of Monmouthshire, where he worked as a hewer (chops wood with an axe) and check-weigher, and, afterwards also in the offices of a colliery for two years, spending almost all his earnings on buying books. How much he loved the friends with whom he lived six years we know by his leaving them silently in the dead of night to avoid the wrench of farewells this was in 1839.
He remained in the Monmouthshire district for four years, it was the time of the Chartist agitation, his sympathies were with them, and young as he was, it was at one of their meeting where he attempted his first speech. The next few years very little of him was known, he gave up his religious habits, but a great sermon ‘Backsliding’ which he preached in later years as if had been an appeal inspired by his memory of a bitter experience around that time.
Then in 1839 he went to Llanelli in Carmarthenshire, having rejoined the Calvinistic Methodists, and began to deliver temperance addresses, humorous and resourceful; there, too he began to preach. As young as he was, he was already eager to qualify himself for the ministry, and from time to time he would address his fellow-workmen in their dinner-hour, having earned respectful hearing at one of these early preaching’s, when descending from the pulpit, he challenged an insolent interrupter to a fight and taught him and his companions a lesson.
He did not remain with the Calvinistic Methodists long. A violent controversy had arisen concerning the Atonement and the Work of the Spirit, this moved him to reconsider his beliefs. He found that he could not subscribe to some of the doctrines in the ‘Confession of Faith’; and the elders, therefore rejected him, some pronouncing him ‘worse than an infidel.’
His more liberal views led him in 1841, when he was twenty-two years of age, to join the body of Independents, or Congregationalist, in which he worked and preached until his death. Together with his friend and colleague, the Rev Thomas Owen, he travelled at one time from place to place in Mid and North Wales, usually preaching twice a day.
After some schooling at a private school for three to four years at Llanelli and then at Rhyd-y- Bont. Thomas was ordained as a pastor of Capel –y-Bryn, Llanelli in 1844, he then moved to Tabor (Llanwrda) with Hermon and Tabor in 1845 near Llandeilo and then to Libanus, Morriston in 1850, where he won great repute as preacher and lecturer.
Mr. Owen had described how Thomas Jones set out from Hermon and himself from Penybanc, their meeting at Crugybar, Aberystwyth, Talybont, and Bala, till they reached Bangor for a great Whit-Sunday meeting. At one such “Cymanfa,’ the good people of the place were somewhat dismayed to find two young and unknown men were to preach on the first night, but their fears were soon allayed.
Mr. Owen also said to us that at the opening of the Ebenezer Chapel, Aberdare in 1853, he preached perhaps the greatest of his sermons. He read his text swiftly but quietly: ‘Ask for the old paths.’ He then spoke rapidly and fluently and held the congregation spellbound to the end, though his sermon lasted one hour and twenty minutes.
‘Cling to the old truths;
Worship in the old style;
Enjoy the old experiences;
Pray for the old influences;
Ask of the old paths.’
Here he became known as and as ‘Jones Treforris’ which became known throughout Wales for eloquence and originality. He also lectured on such subjects as ‘Mahomet’ (published in 1860), ‘The Elevation of the Working Man,’ and the ‘Martyr of Erromanga.’
In Liverpool in 1858, he preached upon the text: ‘The Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious,’ in which he spoke of the unchangeableness of God, signified by His name ‘Jehovah,’ and the changeableness of all else. He told how as a lad he had visited his native place, an orphan and alone. The old folk he knew had gone; the companions he had loved were scattered. He walked the streets, but no one knew him: he was a stranger in his, own city. He went to the house where he was born, where he first smiled in his mother’s face and climbed on his father’s knee, but all there were strangers to him. Going by night to the old churchyard, where the bodies of his parents had been laid to rest, he knelt by the green mounds which marked their graves, in the silence of the moonlight; and there, in his loneliness, his heart almost breaking with desire, he raised his eyes and beheld the encircling hills ranged as an army to defend him, just as when a child he saw them first; and he heard a voice saying; ‘I, the Lord, change not; Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.’ Members of that congregation remembered the tender minor cadences in which he spoke, followed by the sudden uplifting of his voice in the delivery of his memory.
Thomas Jones had then attained his greatest influence as a preacher in Welsh. The strength of his character, the intensity of his emotional temperament, his intellectual grasp, his restrained and loft eloquence, his tenderness for all weakness, won the admiration of his hearers. He had become a great force in Wales. His friend then, the Rev E. Griffiths-Jones, Principal of the Independent College at Bradford wrote of him:
His wonderful exploits as a ‘Cymanfa’ preacher were very widely discussed by people during my early youth. He had the power of electrifying audiences in a perfectly magical manner; and though he became the foremost English (Nonconformist) preacher of his day, he never quite attained the extraordinary magnetism as an orator which he possessed in his native language. Many years later, I remembered a conversation I had with an old man who, in his youth, was a member of Thomas Jones’s congregation at Tabor, in which he told me the method which the great preacher followed in the preparation of one of his ‘Cymanfa’ sermons.
Having chosen his text, he took several weeks to brood over it and gather materials. Then, having very carefully prepared to memorise the first half, he announced on the previous Sunday that he was going to preach the first half of his next great sermon, and asked the people to come out in force to hear him. This would take about an hour in delivery. Then he would set about preparing the second half, and when it was ready, he would announce his intention of preaching it on the following Sunday. This also would take about an hour to deliver. Then he would condense and rearrange, omit or enlarge certain portions of the sermon, and then preach it in its totality, has now reduced its length to about an hour. Then the sermon would be ready for delivery on one of those great occasions when the whole population would turn out in force from the village and countryside to the preaching festival. By frequent repetition to such audiences as these, the discourse would gradually become more and more perfect from an oratorical and homiletic point of view, until at last it was a perfect instrument for the conveyance of the preacher’s thought and appeal to his people.
This incredibly careful and elaborate method of preparation was continued by him, in common with all the great Welsh Nonconformist preachers of his age, for many years.
Thomas Jones energies were not to be confined to Wales, in 1858 the year of his great sermon at Liverpool, he was called to London; and for three years 1858-1861 at Albany Chapel, Regent’s Park, and afterwards till 1870 at Bedford Chapel, Camden Town, his ministry attracted hearers of all classes and interests from every part of London. He knew that, with the advance of science, the consequent development of materials benefits, and the fuller recognition of intellectual achievement, the message of the Church was in danger of neglect. Thomas Jones strove to meet the needs of thinkers and of doubters.
Rev: Thomas Jones was minister of Libanus, Swansea from 1850-1858.
The new Pastor of Albany Chapel 1858
For some two years past, the Congregation attending the above Chapel, which was situated in Frederic Street, Regent’s Park, near the Trinity Church, had been without a stated Minister; but now, at last, they have unanimously chosen a Rev Mr. Jones, a native of Wales, to be their pastor. In appearance he is forty years of age; under the middle height; with dark, and strongly marked features. He was, left an orphan when young, and being without the assistance of faithful friends, he has been like many other worthies, consequently, the sole architect of his present position, that is, “a self-made man.”
For the last eight years he had been pastor of Libanus Chapel Morriston, Glamorganshire; and was there understood not only by his Church but by the entire of the Welsh people, as one of their gifted and extraordinary preachers and lecturers. He wished to increase his circle of usefulness, and therefore, he felt it his duty to come to the metropolis, and accept the warm invitation given to him by the Christians of Albany Chapel; however, when the Welsh people heard of his intended removal, they convened a large meeting to express their extreme regret at the loss they were about to suffer, presenting him, at the same time, with a testimonial of forty pounds as a token of their esteem.
He entered upon his duties on Sunday, October 3rd; and on Sunday evening last the 31st and gave an eloquent and powerful discourse upon “The Bible, worthy of God.” Founding his remarks on a text in Psalm exix. 18. Observing that the Bible is the law of God in this world. That it was a perfect rule, by which all must speak, think, and act. The rule by which we are all to live and die, and by which we shall be judged. That the Bible is a law to the world; it was not a collection of unimportant traditions merely written to elevate, &c. No, it had the seal of the Eternal attached to it. The authority of heaven. Many people go thousands of miles to see the Niagara Falls, to see the ruins of the Nineveh and Babylon to see any great man in the world, or they would be anxious perhaps to see the stranger in the heavens (the Cornet), but there were more wonderful things to see in the Bible, than all these. Jehovah is revealed there, the fall of man is there, God and man, creation and providence, death and judgment; these are wonderful things, the deep things of God.
We are sorry to curtail, for want of space, but the preacher proceeded to prove that the purity of this book is quite worthy of God; it is a holy book, that is adapted for all classes of minds; man has not been able to disprove it. Worthy of God in its object, i.e.- to save the soul.
Concluding with a deeply earnest appeal to his audience, to seek instantly the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and they might see, as the Psalmist expresses it in the text “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”
We might add, that the Rev Thomas Jones, is hardly yet at home in our language, and he has this difficulty, as he mentioned in one of his discourses, he has to think on one language and speak in an another.
Albany Chapel, Frederick Street, Albany Street, Regent’s Park Nov 26, 1859
Rev Thomas Jones will deliver a Lecture in aid of the funds of the Chapel Subject: “The Elevation of the Working Man,” on Wednesday evening, November 30th, in the above Chapel. Tickets, 1/ each, to be had of Mr. Bremner, 51. Warren Street; Mr. Cooper, 24, Osnaburgh Street; Mr. Davies, 15 Wigmore Street; and Mr. Dash, 118 Tottenham Court Road. To commence at Seven o’clock.
Albany Chapel, Frederick Street, Albany Street, Regent’s Park Jan 15, 1860
Rev Thos. Jones will preach at Albany Chapel, Frederick Street, Albany Street, on Sunday evening, January 15th on “The Three Hebrews Heroes, or a Noble Protest against Wrong-Doing.
Service at half-past Six.
Albany Chapel, Frederick Street, Albany Street, Regent’s Park 18th March 1860
Rev. Thomas Jones
Will Preach (D.V.) on the following subject,
“The Angel in the Field; or God’s Care for His Church on Earth.”
On Sunday morning nest the 18th inst.
Bedford New Town Chapel, London
The chapel will accommodate 1,200 adults’ 642 on the ground-floor, 558 in the galleries. The style of architecture is Roman, and although very plain and simple, has a bold and striking effect. The walls outside are of Kentish rag. The heads and mullions of windows, jambs of doors and windows, upper part of turrets, and all the moldings, are of Bath stone. The roof is partly open, and the timbers, which are exposed, are stained and varnished. Three vestries, with other conveniences, are at the back. Inside dimensions, length, seventy-four feet; width forty-nine feet; height from floor to ceiling, thirty-nine feet; the height of sidewall from the ground to top of parapets, twenty-nine feet, six inches; and in front, from the ground to top of a gable, fifty-four feet; and to top of turrets, including vane, seventy feet, nine inches. The total expense, including warming and lighting, and the architect’s commission, amount to about £3,100. John Tarring Esq., architect, 23 Charles Street, Middlesex Hospital, and 26, Bucklerbury.
“Let learned and able men, to whom God has given power, continue their intellectual efforts to remove the difficulties that stand on the way of faith; but the emphatic, clear and, overwhelming answer of the Church must be moral and spiritual. Christianity was given in the divine life of the Son of God, and in and by the divine life of the Church it must be preserved.”
Rev E. Griffith-Jones said when Thomas Jones turned to English, he carried with him the same painstaking method of initial preparation, and, though he did not repeat his sermons, as is the custom in the Welsh ministry owing to the itinerary method of preaching, yet the mental and oratorical discipline was conveyed into the new language, and his sermons were always wonderfully perfect in form and phrasing, as well as in the arrangement and disposition of his material.
Dr. Hannay, who knew Thomas Jones and his work during the years he spent in London, speaking of the effect of his preaching upon English congregations, said that he made all present:
One in thought and feeling for the time by the enchantment of his words. It was the incantation of genius. But it was genius compelled to work, compelled also to be patient and humble regarding what he understood not, Perhaps no man ever put more of conscience, more of work commanding every faculty he had, straining all his resources, into preparation for the pulpit than Mr. Jones did in the earlier years of his ministry in London. Again, in 1873 at Westminster Chapel he preached before the same constituency and the secret of all this untiring labour was the conviction to which he attained in early manhood, that there was no work for a man in this world comparable with that of the ministry. Of his appearance as a preacher, Robert Browning, his friend, and hearer, speaks:
The clear-cut Celtic features the lips compressed as with the retention of a discovered prize in thought or feeling, the triumph of the eyes, brimful of conviction and confidence, these, no less than the fervency of faith and hope, was the orator’s own. (The Divine Order, and other sermons; introduction by Robert Browning 1884).
He then moved to Bedford Chapel, Oakley Square in 1861, which was a much larger church, where he ministered with the highest success till December 1869. Most of his old friends migrated with him to the new sanctuary, which was for the next nine years the meeting place of the most remarkable and distinguished assemblies ever drawn together by the genius and eloquence of a congregational pastor Robert Browning the poet, Lance the painter, Liefchild, Davidson, Godwin and other divines, barristers, authors, artists, mingled with the crowd, charmed and fascinated by the glowing splendour, the devout simplicity the sublime earnestness of the poet preacher Thomas Jones. He was soon selected to preach one of the annual sermons before the London Missionary Society in the Old Tabernacle. The impression made was deep and wonderful. Henceforth whatever distinctions could be won by public fame among dissenters were assured to him.
The poet Robert Browning, who was a seat-holder in Bedford Chapel, says that Jones attracted listeners by the ‘outpour of impetuous eloquence’ and his ‘liberal humanity.’ his health being seriously affected by the strain and excitement of his work, he yielded to a yearning for his native land which he never lost, and accepted the pastorate of the new English Congregational Church at Walters Road, Swansea, he moved back in December 1869; from 1870 to 1877.
Australia Years (the small version on the history of St Michael’s Church)
At a time, therefore, when Con¬gregationalism in England saw itself as a large middle-class denomination which, contrary to the belief of Matthew Arnold, was modifying itself following new ideas and practices, the colonial dissenters held an ambivalent view to innovation and change in the practice and setting of worship. This ambivalence was to endure at least until the third quarter of the century when, under the influence of the Reverend Thomas Jones, the interior of the present church began to assume its decorative richness. To be sure, this colonial society was a mobile one which may have been conducive to the acceptance of new forms; yet the process of settlement was inherently destabilising and it is not surprising that conservative cultural tendencies would predominate. Nowhere is the stress upon continuity with the past more apparent than in the retention of the older term `Independent’ in the face of growing use of `Congregationalist’. Preachers emphasised the difference, stressing the importance of older usage
Another manifestation of the preoccupation with tradition and de¬nominational continuity may be found in the constant recounting in public addresses of the history of the denomination from its Reformation roots. Such histories traced the lineage of dissent through the Reformation and the English Commonwealth, the development of the American Colonies, and the dangers which followed from too close identification of Church and State to the creation of the English Union and the Colonial Missionary Society. Often, remarks concerning the problems faced by the denomination in Canada concerning the dispersed nature of the population provoked discussion of `the current situation’ in the Australian colonies. History was seen, therefore, as a continuum from the sixteenth century, and not surprisingly it was the earlier period when dissent was weak-in-numbers but strong-in-conviction, that received the most attention.
The then Reverend Henderson had preached his last sermon at Collins Street in 1875, before being granted a leave of absence for a year to recover his failing health. His anxious congregation was regularly informed of his health and activities as he traveled first to New Zealand, then to the United States and then Canada in search of a cure for his illness. Henderson died in Toronto on 23 June 1876. The deacons now faced the challenge of replacing their revered pastor with a minister of equal caliber. Their first choice was the Reverend Llewelyn David Bevan, pastor of Tottenham Court Road Chapel, London, protégé of the great Thomas Binney, and the most prominent of the younger preachers of the denomination in Britain. The merchant Henry Brooks, now living in London, was deputed to approach Bevan. But despite a tempting offer of a stipend of £1000 with the use of a manse, Bevan declined the call. Repeated offers to Bevan by a London-based committee of former Collins Street members failed, despite the raising of the stipend.
By January 1877, the choice swung to the Reverend Thomas Jones, a renowned preacher now living in semi¬retirement in his native Wales. Jones was then 50 years of age and in delicate health. Although it was clear that Jones would not fill the vacuum created by Henderson’s death, it was hoped that a short ministry by an eminent preacher would at least avert the danger of a decline in the congregation and a fall in morale. Jones declined the first overture from Collins Street, but after persistent pressure from the London committee, he finally accepted the call in March 1877.
The separation from his elder children, especially from his daughter, and the change to new scenes, were sore trials for him. Even the voyage proved a severe ordeal; nor did the climate of Melbourne, from the effects of which much good had been hoped, prove at all beneficial.
But his work went on with increasing fruitfulness. The people who, moved by what they heard of him, had entreated him to come over and help them, thronged to listen to his sermons, could not find means enough to express their profound appreciation of this man who brought, and not to members of his sect only, the supreme gift, the light by which to live when his term was drawing to its close.
It was not in Melbourne only that Thomas Jones’ influence was felt. From the first he would spend as much of the week as possible in up-country stations, enjoying the incidents of Bush life, and making well as taking opportunities for addressing the settlers.
Two things in this life especially appealed to him, the yearly sheep-shearing and the firing of the scrub; the last would be, if possible, put off by his kind hosts against his coming
When Jones arrived to assume the pastorate in May 1877, the Church had been without a regular minister for eighteen months. The Welsh `poet-preacher’ was welcomed enthusiastically by the congregation, and the official welcome was staged at the Melbourne Town Hall since the church, with a seating capacity of 1250, could not accommodate all the guests. The members could not suppress their pride in gaining a preacher whose reputation was still strong in London, but it was also a victory for the denomination. As the chairman of the Victorian Con¬gregation Union proclaimed at the official welcome:
“We had scarcely dared to hope that even the Mother and Metropolitan Church of our Denomination in this Colony would succeed in securing the services of one so well-known, highly esteemed, and gifted as yourself”
The Church had good reason to believe that their choice of a preacher was justified. By the close of the year, ninety-nine new members had been admitted to the fellowship, equal to the total number admitted in the previous four years combined. By 1879 the membership had reached 584, the highest it had been in the Church’s history.
Rev Jones was universally acknowledged as a fine preacher, and the large congregations and increase of Church membership confirmed his popularity in Melbourne. But he was not strong enough to meet all the demands of a metropolitan pastorate. In February 1878, the veteran pastor the Reverend Edwin Day of Castlemaine (who had arrived in Victoria with Fletcher and Poore in 1854) was appointed as an assistant to Thomas Jones. It was to undertake the duties of pastoral visitation and oversee the activities of the Sunday school and missions.6 Jones’ health precluded the kind of leader¬ship exercised by Henderson, so the task of administering the Church’s social activities and societies fell to the long-standing activists in the fellowship. It was these lay people who initiated new activities such as the organisation of a ragged school (a school for poor children) and a system of neighbourhood visiting by `Bible women’ in this period. The deliberate reduction in Jones’ pastoral and administrative duties was an attempt to conserve the preacher’s energies and thus to gain time to search for a permanent minister. By early 1879, Jones was pressing the Church to find a new pastor.
Rev. Jones advised the Church to again approach the Reverend L. D. Bevan, who, he stressed, was in personal appearance, health, refinement, scholarship, oratory, Godliness, and generally adapted¬ness well suited to the pastorate of this church and the best of all the available men’.7 Jones was persuaded to remain until a new pastor was found. Bevan declined a third call from the Church, and four other men were approached by the London committee between July 1879 and April 1880, but to no avail. In March 1880, Jones presided over his last church meeting-ill and homesick, he had finally insisted on retiring. The Church had known that his pastorate was to be temporary, but they had failed to secure a new minister of equivalent, international standing as they had hoped. The London committee had approached all the leading Congregational preachers in Britain and had even offered Bevan the princely stipend of C1450. But by 1880 they had come to the view that if a man of established reputation could not be attracted to the colony, even temporarily, the best alternative would be to appoint a young minister who would grow into popularity and spend his life in the colony’.
At this point, the Church could have approached any number of ministers working with Victorian or colonial congregations, but it chose instead to wait for a more illustrious overseas appointment. It was almost six months before the London Missionary Society of the denomination found a replace¬ment for Jones. Samuel Hebditch was an experienced preacher who, like so many of the Congregationalist ministers of Victoria, had trained at Highbury College. In poor health, Hebditch had agreed to serve Collins Street for, a period of a year, and the Church had agreed, on the understanding that in the interim the London Missionary Society would seek a permanent minister.
But the strain of colonial life became too great. After three years of faithful and inspiring service, his strength gave way. Many of his friends observed, on his return from Australia in 1880, that he had become old before his time, as he said, he had come home to rest a little and to die.
Soon after his return, he was offered the ministry of the Congregational Church in Oxford; and it was probably in connection with this offer he came to spend one night with his son as 10a St Giles, when Professor Poulton met him and heard, for the first and last time, ‘the low, musical voice, with all its suggestion of power in reserve, like the rhythmic rush of the sea in a sandy shore, which was the chief external secret of his power over his hearers.’ Despite the temptation of the offer to work among young men, Thomas Jones went back to Swansea, took up again his ministry at the chapel in Walter Road, and for two years preached as regularly as his failing powers allowed.
He went to reside at Swansea, in order, as he said at a large meeting held in that town to welcome him back, “to rest a little and to die,” without intending to take another charge; but the pulpit of his old church at Walters Road being vacant in 1881, he undertook to officiate there as often as the state of his health would permit; and the Rev. E. Jenkins having been appointed his co-pastor, he carried out this undertaking until his death, which occurred on June 24th, 1882.
The grave of Rev Thomas Jones
Note: The Church in Walters Road moved to the Tabernacle Church, Swansea.
The subject of the last sermon he tried to write was ‘Obedience to Christ.’ At the end of the unfinished manuscript, writing of how men delay a decision in the supreme issue saying, ‘Oh, there is plenty of time to think of those things!’ he had added: ‘Time to think! Eternity is at hand!’ These were his last written words.
It was his wish that his body should be buried in the highest and windiest part of the Swansea cemetery, overlooking the bay.
He was chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1871-2. He died on the 24th of June 1882.
He had from time to time published poems in Welsh; a volume of his sermons, “The Divine Order,” was published in 1884, with a preface by Browning and a biographical introduction.
Jones attained a unique position as a popular preacher in Welsh, is often classed with William Williams of Wern (1781–1840). But his fame mainly rests on the eloquent and undogmatic sermons preached by him in English at Bedford Chapel, where he avoided a strictly ‘popular’ style.
Jones himself published a few pieces of Welsh poetry. A series of his sermons appeared in ‘Words of Peace,’ Melbourne, 1877–1878, and another in the ‘Sunday Magazine,’ London, 1883. ‘The Divine Order and other Sermons and Addresses by the late Thomas Jones of Swansea, edited by Brynmor Jones, LL.B., with a short Introduction by Robert Browning,’ appeared London, 1884, 8vo. Besides Browning’s ‘impressions,’ the volume contains a portrait and a short memoir by his son, the editor. A small volume of selections entitled ‘Lyric Thoughts of the late Thomas Jones, with Biographical Sketch, edited by his Widow,’ was published in London in 1886.
Note: from Robert Browning
I am informed that a collection of sermons by the late Rev. Thomas Jones of Bedford Chapel, has been made and will be shortly published. Among them may probably appear some of those I listened to a long while since, and I shall have curiosity as well as interest in ascertaining how far the surviving speech, whether preserved by a reporter or printed from the author’s, own notes, will correspond in effect with the original extempore utterance, of which I retain a sufficient memory. I should think it impossible that such an outpour of impetuous eloquence could lie quietly condensed by the limitations of the ordinarily accepted sermon, it is regular beginning, middle, and end.
Indeed, as often as not, when the scheme of the projected discourse had been stated with due precision, its merely introductory portion would in delivery not merely grow alive but expand with ever fresh and fresh accretions of fact and fancy, old analogy and modem instance, till the orator (as those gone-by divines have it) sermocinando ultra elepsydram, ” would exceed his hour-glass,” to the dissatisfaction of nobody. Yet I was told at the time that this manager of fluent English — copious, varied, wanting in neither imagery nor colour, had acquired when adult such mastery over, and absolutely, foreign language. Some of the incitements to discursiveness might arise from facile promptitude in finding illustrations of whatever was the subject under treatment in occurrences of the actual day and hour, political or social. I remember that Thackeray’s funeral, with circumstances attending it that had been mentioned in a weekly paper issued the evening before, was made to exemplify some point of doctrine which it very profitably involved and absorbed altogether. This much is said to prepare me rather than the reader for a possible disappointment; the matter, the graver substratum of the sermon, will undoubtedly remain for judgment, and may fearlessly accept it; but the bright and glancing surface manner, the thorough earnestness, a sensibility quivering through that rich and flexible voice, and, of an illumination of intellect in every expressive feature, there must need to be taken on trust; and I should be hardly faithful to mine if I hesitated so far to bear witness. But it was not eloquence alone which attracted you to Bedford Chapel; the liberal humanism of the religionist to be heard there acknowledged an advocate wherever his quick sense could detect one, however unconscious that his sayings might be pressed into the service; and Tennyson, with Matthew Arnold, Ruskin, and Carlyle, would find themselves claimed as the most energetic of helpers when they least expected it. Indeed, it was a fancy of mine that, in certain respects and under certain moods, a younger Carlyle might sharing the same convictions have spoken so, even have looked so, but the clear-cut Celtic features, the lips compressed as with the retention of a discovered prize in thought or feeling, the triumph of the eyes, brimful of conviction and confidence, these, no less than the fervency of faith and hope, were the orator’s own. I had scarcely the honour of acquaintance with this distinguished person. He sent someone to invite me, a stranger, into the vestry after service, and I conversed a little with the preacher, still suffused by the thought and passion of the last hour: and afterwards he was occasionally admitted to the same privilege. I do not wonder he was short-lived. He subsequently paid me, at my own house, a visit, once only. And now there will remain of these excellence sermons, these few lines of “glittering gold.” That true “gold” will be discovered there by the worthy assayer I do not doubt; that it glittered once I seem bound to gratefully say, should there be any care for the impressions received more than fifteen years ago.
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