Rufus Matthew Jones (January 25, 1863 – June 16, 1948) was an American mystic, writer, magazine editor, philosopher, and college professor. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Haverford Emergency Unit (a precursor to the American Friends Service Committee). Rufus Jones was the foremost interpreter of mysticism and Quakerism as well as the most influential Friend of modern times. He is the only person to have delivered two Swarthmore Lectures.
In “Rufus Jones and Mysticism for the Masses”, Matthew S. Hedstrom wrote:
“Mystical union with the divine, according to Jones, was not a privilege reserved only for the great spiritual athletes. But Jones did not just theorize — he also popularized. His willingness to market himself to the masses was a critical stimulus towards the popular embrace of a mystical emphasis in liberal Protestant spirituality, both because of his own direct influence and because of his influence on even more popular writers such as Howard Thurman and Harry Emerson Fosdick. This middlebrowing of mysticism paved the way for the success of a wide range of mystical writers to come, starting with Thomas Merton and lasting into the New Age.”
His simple and convincing style of speaking and writing, freely punctuated with apt quotations and humorous illustrations, won a worldwide audience for his message. In hundreds of editorials, articles, and pamphlets, and in 56 books, he presented the claims of a practical, everyday life with the everpresent Christ as Guide, Counsellor, and Friend.
Coupled with this talent in writing and speaking was a remarkable gift in organizing and guiding religious and humanitarian movements. He was the first editor of The American Friend, one of the organizers of the Five Years Meeting of Friends, one of the persons most responsible for the development of the American Friends Service Committee, and the one who conceived the idea of the Wider Quaker Fellowship. Much of his time, thought, and energy was devoted to work outside the Religious Society of Friends, particularly as a chapel speaker in American colleges.
Jones was born into an old Quaker family in South China, Maine. In 1885 he graduated from Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and stayed on to earn his M.A. there in 1886. From 1893 to 1912 he was the editor of the Friends’ Review (later called The American Friend); from this position he tried unsuccessfully to unite the divided body of Quakers. In 1901 Jones received another M. A., from Harvard.
For more than 40 years he taught psychology, philosophy, ethics, and the development of Christian thought, at Haverford College, profoundly influencing many generations of college students. He was an inspiring teacher and it was his work as a professor which meant most to him.
In 1917 he helped found the American Friends Service Committee. In 1927 Jones took a trip to Asia at the invitation of the YMCA. His main purpose was to address missionaries in China, but he made stops in Japan, India, and Palestine as well. While in India, Jones visited Mahatma Gandhi and the birthplace of the Buddha. This trip helped Jones formulate a new approach to missions—that of giving humanitarian aid to people while respecting other religions and not aggressively converting people to one’s own religion. In 1938 he went with George Walton and D. Robert Yarnall on a mission to Germany to try to find a peaceful way of dealing with the Nazis.
Jones worked hard at soothing some of the hurt from the 19th Century split among Friends and had some success. Jones wrote extensively on the topic of mysticism, which is one of the chief aspects of the Quaker faith.
He distinguished between negating or negative mysticism (making contact with an impersonal force) and affirming or affirmative mysticism (making contact with a personal being). He upheld that God is a personal being with whom human beings could interact. He wrote in The Trail of Life in the Middle Years:
“The essential characteristic of [mysticism] is the attainment of a personal conviction by an individual that the human spirit and the divine Spirit have met, have found each other, and are in mutual and reciprocal correspondence as spirit with Spirit.”
At the same time that he distinguished between negative and affirmative mysticism, he asserted that all negative mystics occasionally take the affirmative approach and that all affirmative mystics tread the negative path from time to time. He exerted a major influence on the life and work of theologian Howard Thurman, who studied with him in 1929-30.
Jones was a member of the Laymen’s Commission that toured mission fields in Asia and produced Re-Thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry after One Hundred Years (1932). The conclusions of this inquiry reflect his views as outlined above.
Jones died in Haverford, Pennsylvania.
Quotes from Rufus Jones:
“The one really big business in this world or in any world is the business of being a coordinator, a transmitter, of the love of God, the love of God revealed in a man like us.”
“The task of religion is not like that of laboriously endeavoring to teach an elephant to fly; it is rather the discovery of the potential capacities for flight in a being that was framed for the upper air.”
“There is in most of us a vast acreage of our inner estate which has never been touched by the plow. It remains uncultivated. We are this, we have been this, but how much more we might be. Coming to our self, our true self, and reaching out with divine help and the gift of Grace to win the whole of oneself is to be ‘spiritual-minded.'”
“The reason we can hope to find God is that He is here, engaged all the time in finding us.”
“But we cannot find Him with a little fraction of ourselves….It is the business of the whole self, it is the task of the entire life of man.”
“Our human nature is unmistakably double. There is something in us that the divine Spirit can make its appeal to, something that draws us upward and onward, something that makes our moral and spiritual life possible. It think that this divine spark in us…is the most significant thing about us.”
“Let a person’s inner being be fortified with a faith in God and all his creative powers are quickened, his marching strength is heightened and his grip on everyday things is immensely increased. It is as though he had tapped a hidden reservoir of power.”
“….mysticism ought to be thought of simply as the experience of direct communion with the soul of God.”
“Mystical experience…is no more difficult than any other supreme achievement.”
“The mystic is a person possessed of conviction, which for him amounts to an experience, that he has come upon the goal of life, that he has come back to the spiritual Source of his being….that he has in very truth found God.”
“…all great prayer is born out of intense earnestness and out of a consciousness that only God through us as a feeble organ of His will can accomplish what we seek and what we need.”
“…those of us who pray have the best of all evidence that prayer is a vital breath of life, for we come back from it quickened and vitalized, refreshed and restored….”
“There are no known limits to the creative and transforming effects of this cooperation of the spirit of a believing person with the Great Divine Companion.”
“Prayer will always rise or fall with the quality of one’s faith, like the mercury in the tube which feels at once the change of pressure in the atmosphere. It is only out of live faith that a living prayer springs.”
“Fortunately we do not need to understand vital processes and energies of life before we utilize them and start living by them.”
“But salvation is not a transaction; it is the formation of a new life. There is but one salvation for all mankind and that is the life of God in the soul.”
“The greatest single fact of history is the breaking in of the Life of God through this unique Life. Here at last the Love of God found complete expression.”
He is the yes of a new creation, with its inexhaustible implications and possibilities.”
“The thing we need primarily is an enlarged capacity of appreciation of the range and quality of His personality. We need once more to see Him.”
“…it seems to me tremendously important that Christ is as truly a revelation of man as He is a revelation of God. We see at last in Him what man was meant to be….We have seen God revealed in Christ. I wish now that we might learn to see the divine possibilities of man revealed in Christ.”
“The first stage of ‘entry into life’ for Jesus is learning to love. To start executing a ‘social program’ without the creative and motive power of a great love behind it is like building a factory and forgetting to attach the machinery to any driving energy that would turn the wheels.”
“If God ever spoke, He is still speaking. If He has ever been in mutual and reciprocal communication with the persons He has made, He is still a communicating God, as eager as ever to have listening and receptive souls. If there is something of His image and superscription in our inmost structure and being, we ought to expect a continuous revelation of His will and purpose through the ages….He is the Great I Am, not a Great He Was.”
“As the sap flows through the branches of the vine and vitalizes the whole organism so that it burst into the beauty and glory of foliage and blossom and finally into fruit, so through the lives of men and women, inwardly receptive, the life of God flows, carrying vitality, awakening love, creating passion for goodness, kindling the fervor of consecration and producing that living body, that organism of the Spirit, that ‘blessed community’ which continues through the centuries the revelation of God as love and tenderness and eternal goodness…”
“To be a teacher who knows how to enlarge the depth and scope of a person’s life is the best gift there is.”
“What needs to grow clear in the minds of all who are responsible for the training of youth, whether within or entirely outside the Church, is the fact that all genuine education must have a spiritual quality to it, – that is, it must have to do with the formation of personality, the building of character, the enlargement of life, the transmission of the supreme experiences of the race, and with setting free the higher potential powers of the individual.”
“The time is coming when every sound teacher will realize that it is fully as important to have expert treatment for children’s fears and mental ‘complexes’ as for their defects of eyesight and hearing.”
“To discover a truth involves the apostolic task of going out and doing it.”
“God’s work, the doing of His will, is extraordinarily inclusive – raising food on the land, ordering a nurturing home, taking care of a child with loving insight, speaking simple truth, spreading love abroad in any spot of the world, praying and working for the Kingdom of God, being heroic in quiet ways, saying the right word when others do not dare, walking straight forward in the path of duty – these are some of the ways of doing God’s will.”
“The whole atmosphere of service must be pervaded by a calm mind, by a spirit of reconciliation, by clear insight, by undeviating fidelity, and by respect for the views of life which are precious to those whom you are serving.”
“What these pillar Quakers were talking about when they used their various figures of speech – ‘inward light,’ ‘immortal Seed,’ ‘Christ within,’ – was their certainty that God was not remote, not a far-off sky-God, not merely a Creator at some distant ‘beginning,’ not a Being Who left us with nothing but a Book as a Guide on our hazardous pathway, but a God here and now present in us, as near as breathing; moving not merely on the waters at some far-away date, but operating directly and immediately in the soul of man here and now.”
“We have won an enviable place in the eyes of the world as the purveyors of relief. We have learned to meet and to take up the sufferings of the world…Now we need to give as serious and as creative thought and consideration to the renewal of the spiritual life and power of our Meetings and of our membership as we have given to the constructive tasks of the world.”
“The home is the most favorable place on earth for transmitting to the new-born child the spiritual gains of the race and for the formation of a well-organized moral and spiritual character. The greatest thing a true home produces is the cementing power of love and tenderness and the stabilizing quality of faith in eternal Reality. The restoration of the home as the spiritual nursery of the children God gives us, is the major task of our time.”
“No one, I am sure, will suppose that I think that a religious experience is a substitute for a sound economic, or social, or financial, or political solution of the world’s troubles. I only mean that we must deepen the quality of life and enlarge our faith in the scope of human destinies before any of the fine schemes on hand will work.”
“We shall not be able to rebuild our shattered world until we recover our faith in eternal realities, and we shall not do that until we discover spirit within ourselves.”
“The only flowing refutation of the materialism and secularism of our time is a personal life which demonstrates a source of spiritual power.”
“Mysticism has been for the most part sporadic. It has found an exponent now here, now there, but it has shown little tendency toward organizing and it has manifested small desire to propagate itself. There have been types of mystical religion which have persisted for long periods and which have spread over wide areas, but in all centuries such mystical religion has spread itself by a sort of spiritual contagion rather than by system and organization.
It has broken forth where the Spirit listed, and its history is mainly the story of the saintly lives through which it has appeared. The Quaker movement, which had its rise in the English Commonwealth, is an exception. It furnishes some material for studying a “mystical group” and it supplies us with an opportunity of discovering a test and authority even for mystical insights
No person can ever hope to gain an adequate idea of the religious movement which has been called by the name of Quakerism until he has discovered what is meant by the “Inner Light.” It is the root principle of an important historic faith, and it deserves a careful examination.
The term “Inner Light” is older than Quakerism, and the idea which is thus named was not new when George Fox began to preach it. But this idea received a meaning and an emphasis from the Quakers which make it their own peculiar principle and their distinct contribution to religious thought.
The Inner Light is the doctrine that there is something Divine, “something of God,” in the human soul. Five words are used indiscriminately to name this Divine something: “The Light,” “The Seed,” “Christ within,” “The Spirit,” “That of God in you.” This Divine Seed is in every person good or bad.”