Summary: Stutzman, an old order Amishman who built a chair for the return of Jesus, was wrong about a lot of things. But he had a passion for the presence of God. Do we?
Jonas Stutzmann’s Chair for Jesus
February 3, 2008
On a chilly, rainy day in October of 1871, Jonas Stutzmann was buried in the old Stutzmann cemetery in Holmes County, Ohio. He died in the home of his son Daniel and one of his last wishes was that his casket be carried to his grave. This posed a problem however, because the cemetery was seven miles from Daniel’s home. Nevertheless, two teams of pall bearers took turns, and they made the long walk to his gravesite.
At age 21, Jonas migrated from Pennsylvania to Ohio with a group of his Amish relatives. Everyone else stopped in Tuscarawas County, but he continued on a few miles farther west and became the first white man to settle in Holmes County. He settled in, began to farm the land, married and fathered nine children, taught school, built the first saw mill in the county, and bought the first grain thresher.
Two aspects which made him memorable to his friends and relatives, and which continue to astound historians today, is his down-to-earth practical and his profound spirituality. You see, Jonas Stutzmann believed that he has been given a special vision by God: a vision which was to guide his entire adult life. He is remembered primarily for two things: his white clothes and the hickory chair he built for Jesus.
In contrast to the black clothes worn by his religious tradition, he wore white and became known as Der Weiss or “The White One.” When someone once asked him why he refused to wear anything but white, he replied that the Lord had put that color on sheep, so he was going to wear it too.
By wearing white, he identified with those spoken of in the book of Revelation whose robes were made white in the blood of the Lamb. Just so, he believed that his hickory chair, built especially for Jesus, would be the throne upon which the Lord would sit upon his return. His white clothes and hickory chair for Jesus were reminders for him to pray and worship daily as well as strive to live on earth with the same kind of love as the angels of heaven, so that he would be ready when that great day appeared.
In Roman Catholic theology, the throne in St. Peter’s Basilica is reserved for Christ when he returns, but occupied in the meantime by the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Like the Bishop of Rome who occupied Christ’s chair in white robes, so Stutzmann occupied his chair dressed in his white attire.
In Jonas Stutzmann’s theology, Jesus was expected to return to earth, not in Rome, or Constantinople, or Jerusalem, but would come to rule from a hickory chair in Millersburg, Ohio.
Stutzmann’s final vision from God, received in January of 1850 was that the end of time was near…only three and a half years away. So he expected that it would be May or June of 1853 which would see the return of Christ to set up his new kingdom.
Obviously he was wrong. The spring of 1853 came and went, as have many springs since. That mistake in date-setting probably explains why so many people laughed at him then and why he is considered sort of a joke of history today.
Despite his mistaken time-table, he continued to wear white until his death in 1871. The hickory chair that he made for Jesus is still there. You may see it in your visit to the Mennonite Visitor’s Center in Berlin, Ohio.
Before you go and laugh about old Jonas Stutzmann and his hickory chair for Jesus, I want you to consider him as a faithful servant of God. Mixed up? Maybe a little. Mistaken in his reading of the Bible? Yes. Non-conformist? Absolutely. Joke of his neighbors? Yes, indeed. A curiosity of history? Without a doubt. Would I want him as a fishing buddy? Probably not. But then I’m not sure that I would like to spend a day on the lake with the Apostle Paul or John Wesley either. But let me ask you a simple question. Where was Jonas Stutzmann’s heart?
Let me remind you for a moment, of King David. David has fought long and hard to solidify his grip on the throne of Judah and Israel. Taken from the hill country around Bethlehem, he survived the treacheries of King Saul, the sword of Goliath, palace intrigues, and the ravages of old age.
Finally, he was at peace, and he could stop long enough to contemplate his heart’s greatest desire. He had, with the help of God, established a kingdom. He has mastered his enemies. He had built for himself a magnificent palace in which to live. But his heart was heavy. He was aware of the opulence of his palace, all the while the ark of the Covenant was till resting in a tent.