Forged in the Fire: A Pastor’s Lament

With the end of the Civil War in 1865, the black church and its worship gained a more public face, even in the South. Black groups within white churches could separate and begin self-determining congregations.

Accepting a call to become the pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in 1895 was what originally brought C.P. Jones to Jackson, MS.1 Mt. Helm was a split off of Jackson’s First Baptist Church, a white congregation with a black group meeting in the basement.

After a sharp division, Jones formed a separate black church: Christ Temple.

Besides being a dynamic preacher and church leader, C.P. Jones was a prolific songwriter. According to some calculations, Jones composed more than one thousand songs, most of them in the turbulent period from 1895 to 1905, during which rising conflict at Mt. Helm Baptist led to the planting of Christ Temple.2

The centrality of Christ is evident in his songs, with frequent use of the words “Jesus,” “only,” and “all” in differing combinations.

In this excerpt from Longing for Jesus: Worship at a Black Holiness Church in Mississippi, 1895–1913, Jones describes the origin of one of those songs.

***

In 1905, my church house and printing office were burned down by a mob sent out by Governor Vardaman. A white woman had been found mistreated in a white man’s yard in a strictly white part of the city. She said she did not know if her assailant was white or black. But the mob the governor sent out claimed that dogs had tracked the man to our meetinghouse (the one place where we cried out against all forms of sin), which was then a 60×100 [foot] tabernacle.

Our tabernacle was built on the side of a “rise” and therefore was on one side about six feet from the ground on pillars. We had built this building in 1903. A strong, substantial building that held twelve hundred people safely; fourteen hundred had been counted going in the doors.

The mob got coal oil and set the meetinghouse on fire; they said the culprit was under it, which, of course, nobody believed at all. It was a piece of malicious vandalism (Eccl 5:8).

Our printing office with two thousand new [copies of Jesus Only I and II] just shipped to me from the Baptist Publishing house at Nashville, and a new book of my own not quite finished, and a new issue of Truth, a paper I published [for] more than twenty years, were all burned up, with thousands of dollars of office material, type and presses, etc. The mob would not allow the fire [to be] put out.

But next day friends white and black began to give me money to rebuild—not large sums, for the poor have mostly cared for God’s work. I knew, however, that had I been gifted with the power to approach the wealthy, as my friend Dr. J.A. Jeter was, they no doubt would have rebuilt my work for me. For the better whites felt ashamed of this vandalism. . . .

God helped me to rebuild the house—all of brick and capable of holding 800 more people than the one so debasedly and undeservedly burned down. God is like that. He gives our souls great and sore troubles, then increases our greatness and comforts us on every side (Ps 71).

That house yet stands, and I saw it filled with people last year and years and years before that. Mr. Vardaman and most of his mob met God years ago—a merciful God, I am happy to say. Still, I am rejoicing in the exceeding riches of His grace. For, after all, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). God bless them all. What a debt we owe the souls of men! The Savior bids us to bless those who curse us and do good to those who hate us and pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us (Matt 5:38–43).

So this is all on the program. How could we obey that unless we were used despitefully? It is written: “The Lord trieth the righteous.” It is sometimes His way. He loves all men. All souls are His. He dies for all. What if one soul must suffer with Him to save another? In the end, it will be glory, glory eternal. And that glory is not far off for such as I. For who has suffered with and for him as much as he deserves that we should? Surely I have not. Praised be he.

Two weeks before this trial a song was given me as I stayed in the home of Deacon Charley Kendrick of the Terry Church.

I was reading Ecclesiastes, and this prophecy formed itself into words and became a song:

He that observeth the winds shall not sow;
Let them blow; let them blow;
He that’s discouraged success cannot know;
Let the bleak winds blow.

Jesus will shelter His own,
Guide them till life’s work is done.
Be not discouraged, the Lord is thy stay,
Jesus will shelter His own.

***

Read more about C.P. Jones, the history of the songs he wrote, and the church he pastored in Longing for Jesus: Worship at a Black Holiness Church in Mississippi, 1895–1913.

  1. Ruth, Lester. Longing for Jesus: Worship at a Black Holiness Church in Mississippi, 1895–1913. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013.
  2. Ibid.
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