Charles M. Sheldon
Henry Maxwell and a group of his church members remained
some time in the study. The man lay on the couch there
and breathed heavily. When the question of what to do
with him came up, the minister insisted on taking the
man to his own house; he lived near by and had an extra
room. Rachel Winslow said:
has no company at present. I am sure we would be glad
to give him a place with us."
She looked strongly agitated. No one noticed it particularly.
They were all excited over the strange event, the strangest
that First Church people could remember. But the minister
insisted on taking charge of the man, and when a carriage
came the unconscious but living form was carried to his
house; and with the entrance of that humanity into the
minister's spare room a new chapter in Henry Maxwell's
life began, and yet no one, himself least of all, dreamed
of the remarkable change it was destined to make in all
his after definition of the Christian discipleship.
The event created a great sensation in the First Church
parish. People talked of nothing else for a week. It was
the general impression that the man had wandered into
the church in a condition of mental disturbance caused
by his troubles, and that all the time he was talking
he was in a strange delirium of fever and really ignorant
of his surroundings. That was the most charitable construction
to put upon his action. It was the general agreement also
that there was a singular absence of anything bitter or
complaining in what the man had said. He had, throughout,
spoken in a mild, apologetic tone, almost as if he were
one of the congregation seeking for light on a very difficult
The third day after his removal to the minister's house
there was a marked change in his condition. The doctor
spoke of it but offered no hope. Saturday morning he still
lingered, although he had rapidly failed as the week drew
near its close. Sunday morning, just before the clock
struck one, he rallied and asked if his child had come.
The minister had sent for her at once as soon as he had
been able to secure her address from some letters found
in the man's pocket. He had been conscious and able to
talk coherently only a few moments since his attack.
child is coming. She will be here," Mr. Maxwell said
as he sat there, his face showing marks of the strain
of the week's vigil; for he had insisted on sitting up
nearly every night.
shall never see her in this world," the man whispered.
Then he uttered with great difficulty the words, "You
have been good to me. Somehow I feel as if it was what
Jesus would do."
After a few minutes he turned his head slightly, and before
Mr. Maxwell could realize the fact, the doctor said quietly,
"He is gone."
The Sunday morning that dawned on the city of Raymond
was exactly like the Sunday of a week before. Mr. Maxwell
entered his pulpit to face one of the largest congregations
that had ever crowded the First Church. He was haggard
and looked as if he had just risen from a long illness.
His wife was at home with the little girl, who had come
on the morning train an hour after her father had died.
He lay in that spare room, his troubles over, and the
minister could see the face as he opened the Bible and
arranged his different notices on the side of the desk
as he had been in the habit of doing for ten years.
The service that morning contained a new element. No one
could remember when Henry Maxwell had preached in the
morning without notes. As a matter of fact he had done
so occasionally when he first entered the ministry, but
for a long time he had carefully written every word of
his morning sermon, and nearly always his evening discourses
as well. It cannot be said that his sermon this morning
was striking or impressive. He talked with considerable
hesitation. It was evident that some great idea struggled
in his thought for utterance, but it was not expressed
in the theme he had chosen for his preaching. It was near
the close of his sermon that he began to gather a certain
strength that had been painfully lacking at the beginning.
He closed the Bible and, stepping out at the side of the
desk, faced his people and began to talk to them about
the remarkable scene of the week before.
brother," somehow the words sounded a little strange
coming from his lips, "passed away this morning.
I have not yet had time to learn all his history. He had
one sister living in Chicago. I have written her and have
not yet received an answer. His little girl is with us
and will remain for the time."
He paused and looked over the house. He thought he had
never seen so many earnest faces during his entire pastorate.
He was not able yet to tell his people his experiences,
the crisis through which he was even now moving. But something
of his feeling passed from him to them, and it did not
seem to him that he was acting under a careless impulse
at all to go on and break to them this morning something
of the message he bore in his heart.
So he went on: "The appearance and words of this
stranger in the church last Sunday made a very powerful
impression on me. I am not able to conceal from you or
myself the fact that what he said, followed as it has
been by his death in my house, has compelled me to ask
as I never asked before 'What does following Jesus mean?'
I am not in a position yet to utter any condemnation of
this people or, to a certain extent, of myself, either
in our Christ-like relations to this man or the numbers
that he represents in the world. But all that does not
prevent me from feeling that much that the man said was
so vitally true that we must face it in an attempt to
answer it or else stand condemned as Christian disciples.
A good deal that was said here last Sunday was in the
nature of a challenge to Christianity as it is seen and
felt in our churches. I have felt this with increasing
emphasis every day since.
I do not know that any time is more appropriate than the
present for me to propose a plan, or a purpose, which
has been forming in my mind as a satisfactory reply to
much that was said here last Sunday."
Again Henry Maxwell paused and looked into the faces of
his people. There were some strong, earnest men and women
in the First Church.
He could see Edward Norman, editor of the Raymond DAILY
NEWS. He had been a member of the First Church for ten
No man was more honored in the community. There was Alexander
Powers, superintendent of the great railroad shops in
Raymond, a typical railroad man, one who had been born
into the business. There sat Donald Marsh, president of
Lincoln College, situated in the suburbs of Raymond. There
was Milton Wright, one of the great merchants of Raymond,
having in his employ at least one hundred men in various
shops. There was Dr. West who, although still comparatively
young, was quoted as authority in special surgical cases.
There was young Jasper Chase the author, who had written
one successful book and was said to be at work on a new
novel. There was Miss Virginia Page the heiress, who through
the recent death of her father had inherited a million
at least, and was gifted with unusual attractions of person
and intellect. And not least of all, Rachel Winslow, from
her seat in the choir, glowed with her peculiar beauty
of light this morning because she was so intensely interested
in the whole scene.
There was some reason, perhaps, in view of such material
in the First Church, for Henry Maxwell's feeling of satisfaction
whenever he considered his parish as he had the previous
Sunday. There was an unusually large number of strong,
individual characters who claimed membership there. But
as he noted their faces this morning he was simply wondering
how many of them would respond to the strange proposition
he was about to make. He continued slowly, taking time
to choose his words carefully, and giving the people an
impression they had never felt before, even when he was
at his best with his most dramatic delivery.
I am going to propose now is something which ought not
to appear unusual or at all impossible of execution. Yet
I am aware that it will be so regarded by a large number,
perhaps, of the members of this church. But in order that
we may have a thorough understanding of what we are considering,
I will put my proposition very plainly, perhaps bluntly.
I want volunteers from the First Church who will pledge
themselves, earnestly and honestly for an entire year,
not to do anything without first asking the question,
'What would Jesus do?' And after asking that question,
each one will follow Jesus as exactly as he knows how,
no matter what the result may be. I will of course include
myself in this company of volunteers, and shall take for
granted that my church here will not be surprised at my
future conduct, as based upon this standard of action,
and will not oppose whatever is done if they think Christ
would do it. Have I made my meaning clear? At the close
of the service I want all those members who are willing
to join such a company to remain and we will talk over
the details of the plan. Our motto will be, 'What would
Jesus do?' Our aim will be to act just as He would if
He was in our places, regardless of immediate results.
In other words, we propose to follow Jesus' steps as closely
and as literally as we believe He taught His disciples
to do. And those who volunteer to do this will pledge
themselves for an entire year, beginning with today, so
Henry Maxwell paused again and looked out over his people.
It is not easy to describe the sensation that such a simple
proposition apparently made. Men glanced at one another
in astonishment. It was not like Henry Maxwell to define
Christian discipleship in this way. There was evident
confusion of thought over his proposition. It was understood
well enough, but there was, apparently, a great difference
of opinion as to the application of Jesus' teaching and
He calmly closed the service with a brief prayer. The
organist began his postlude immediately after the benediction
and the people began to go out. There was a great deal
of conversation. Animated groups stood all over the church
discussing the minister's proposition. It was evidently
provoking great discussion. After several minutes he asked
all who expected to remain to pass into the lecture-room
which joined the large room on the side. He was himself
detained at the front of the church talking with several
persons there, and when he finally turned around, the
church was empty. He walked over to the lecture- room
entrance and went in. He was almost startled to see the
people who were there. He had not made up his mind about
any of his members, but he had hardly expected that so
many were ready to enter into such a literal testing of
their Christian discipleship as now awaited him. There
were perhaps fifty present, among them Rachel Winslow
and Virginia Page, Mr. Norman, President Marsh, Alexander
Powers the railroad superintendent, Milton Wright, Dr.
West and Jasper Chase.
He closed the door of the lecture- room and went and stood
before the little group. His face was pale and his lips
trembled with genuine emotion. It was to him a genuine
crisis in his own life and that of his parish. No man
can tell until he is moved by the Divine Spirit what he
may do, or how he may change the current of a lifetime
of fixed habits of thought and speech and action. Henry
Maxwell did not, as we have said, yet know himself all
that he was passing through, but he was conscious of a
great upheaval in his definition of Christian discipleship,
and he was moved with a depth of feeling he could not
measure as he looked into the faces of those men and women
on this occasion.
It seemed to him that the most fitting word to be spoken
first was that of prayer. He asked them all to pray with
him. And almost with the first syllable he uttered there
was a distinct presence of the Spirit felt by them all.
As the prayer went on, this presence grew in power. They
all felt it. The room was filled with it as plainly as
if it had been visible. When the prayer closed there was
a silence that lasted several moments. All the heads were
bowed. Henry Maxwell's face was wet with tears. If an
audible voice from heaven had sanctioned their pledge
to follow the Master's steps, not one person present could
have felt more certain of the divine blessing. And so
the most serious movement ever started in the First Church
of Raymond was begun.
all understand," said he, speaking very quietly,
"what we have undertaken to do. We pledge ourselves
to do everything in our daily lives after asking the question,
'What would Jesus do?' regardless of what may be the result
to us. Some time I shall be able to tell you what a marvelous
change has come over my life within a week's time. I cannot
now. But the experience I have been through since last
Sunday has left me so dissatisfied with my previous definition
of Christian discipleship that I have been compelled to
take this action. I did not dare begin it alone. I know
that I am being led by the hand of divine love in all
this. The same divine impulse must have led you also.
we understand fully what we have undertaken?"
want to ask a question," said Rachel Winslow. Every
one turned towards her. Her face glowed with a beauty
that no physical loveliness could ever create.
am a little in doubt as to the source of our knowledge
concerning what Jesus would do. Who is to decide for me
just what He would do in my case? It is a different age.
There are many perplexing questions in our civilization
that are not mentioned in the teachings of Jesus. How
am I going to tell what He would do?"
is no way that I know of," replied the pastor, "except
as we study Jesus through the medium of the Holy Spirit.
You remember what Christ said speaking to His disciples
about the Holy Spirit: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit
of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth:
for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever
he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare
unto you the things that are to come. He shall glorify
me; for he shall take of mine, and shall declare it unto
you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine: therefore
said I, that he taketh of mine, and shall declare it unto
you.' There is no other test that I know of. We shall
all have to decide what Jesus would do after going to
that source of knowledge."
if others say of us, when we do certain things, that Jesus
would not do so?" asked the superintendent of railroads.
cannot prevent that. But we must be absolutely honest
with ourselves. The standard of Christian action cannot
vary in most of our acts."
yet what one church member thinks Jesus would do, another
refuses to accept as His probable course of action. What
is to render our conduct uniformly Christ-like? Will it
be possible to reach the same conclusions always in all
cases?" asked President Marsh.
Mr. Maxwell was silent some time. Then he answered, "No;
I don't know that we can expect that. But when it comes
to a genuine, honest, enlightened following of Jesus'
steps, I cannot believe there will be any confusion either
in our own minds or in the judgment of others. We must
be free from fanaticism on one hand and too much caution
on the other. If Jesus' example is the example for the
world to follow, it certainly must be feasible to follow
it. But we need to remember this great fact. After we
have asked the Spirit to tell us what Jesus would do and
have received an answer to it, we are to act regardless
of the results to ourselves. Is that understood?"
All the faces in the room were raised towards the minister
in solemn assent. There was no misunderstanding that proposition.
Henry Maxwell's face quivered again as he noted the president
of the Endeavor Society with several members seated back
of the older men and women.
They remained a little longer talking over details and
asking questions, and agreed to report to one another
every week at a regular meeting the result of their experiences
in following Jesus this way. Henry Maxwell prayed again.
And again as before the Spirit made Himself manifest.
Every head remained bowed a long time. They went away
finally in silence. There was a feeling that prevented
speech. The pastor shook hands with them all as they went
out. Then he went into his own study room back of the
pulpit and kneeled. He remained there alone nearly half
an hour. When he went home he went into the room where
the dead body lay. As he looked at the face he cried in
his heart again for strength and wisdom. But not even
yet did he realize that a movement had begun which would
lead to the most remarkable series of events that the
city of Raymond had ever known.