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Charles M. Sheldon
I am prolonging this letter, possibly to your weariness.
I am unable to avoid the feeling of fascination which my
entire stay here has increased. I want to tell you something
of the meeting in the First Church today.
I said, I heard Maxwell preach. At his earnest request I
had preached for him the Sunday before, and this was the
first time I had heard him since the Association meeting
four years ago. His sermon this morning was as different
from his sermon then as if it had been thought out and preached
by some one living on another planet. I was profoundly touched.
I believe I actually shed tears once. Others in the congregation
were moved like myself. His text was: 'What is that to thee?
Follow thou Me.' It was a most unusually impressive appeal
to the Christians of Raymond to obey Jesus' teachings and
follow in His steps regardless of what others might do.
I cannot give you even the plan of the sermon. It would
take too long. At the close of the service there was the
usual after meeting that has become a regular feature of
the First Church. Into this meeting have come all those
who made the pledge to do as Jesus would do, and the time
is spent in mutual fellowship, confession, question as to
what Jesus would do in special cases, and prayer that the
one great guide of every disciple's conduct may be the Holy
asked me to come into this meeting. Nothing in all my ministerial
life, Caxton, has so moved me as that meeting. I never felt
the Spirit's presence so powerfully. It was a meeting of
reminiscences and of the most loving fellowship. I was irresistibly
driven in thought back to the first years of Christianity.
There was something about all this that was apostolic in
its simplicity and Christ imitation.
asked questions. One that seemed to arouse more interest
than any other was in regard to the extent of the Christian
disciple's sacrifice of personal property. Maxwell tells
me that so far no one has interpreted the spirit of Jesus
in such a way as to abandon his earthly possessions, give
away of his wealth, or in any literal way imitate the Christians
of the order, for example, of St. Francis of Assisi. It
was the unanimous consent, however, that if any disciple
should feel that Jesus in his own particular case would
do that, there could be only one answer to the question.
Maxwell admitted that he was still to a certain degree uncertain
as to Jesus' probable action when it came to the details
of household living, the possession of wealth, the holding
of certain luxuries. It is, however, very evident that many
of these disciples have repeatedly carried their obedience
to Jesus to the extreme limit, regardless of financial loss.
There is no lack of courage or consistency at this point.
is also true that some of the business men who took the
pledge have lost great sums of money in this imitation of
Jesus, and many have, like Alexander Powers, lost valuable
positions owing to the impossibility of doing what they
had been accustomed to do and at the same time what they
felt Jesus would do in the same place. In connection with
these cases it is pleasant to record the fact that many
who have suffered in this way have been at once helped financially
by those who still have means. In this respect I think it
is true that these disciples have all things in common.
Certainly such scenes as I witnessed at the First Church
at that after service this morning I never saw in my church
or in any other. I never dreamed that such Christian fellowship
could exist in this age of the world. I was almost incredulous
as to the witness of my own senses. I still seem to be asking
myself if this is the close of the nineteenth century in
now, dear friend, I come to the real cause of this letter,
the real heart of the whole question as the First Church
of Raymond has forced it upon me. Before the meeting closed
today steps were taken to secure the co-operation of all
other Christian disciples in this country. I think Maxwell
took this step after long deliberation. He said as much
to me one day when we were discussing the effect of this
movement upon the church in general.
he said, 'suppose that the church membership generally in
this country made this pledge and lived up to it! What a
revolution it would cause in Christendom! But why not? Is
it any more than the disciple ought to do? Has he followed
Jesus, unless he is willing to do this? Is the test of discipleship
any less today than it was in Jesus' time?'
do not know all that preceded or followed his thought of
what ought to be done outside of Raymond, but the idea crystallized
today in a plan to secure the fellowship of all the Christians
in America. The churches, through their pastors, will be
asked to form disciple gatherings like the one in the First
Church. Volunteers will be called for in the great body
of church members in the United States, who will promise
to do as Jesus would do. Maxwell spoke particularly of the
result of such general action on the saloon question. He
is terribly in earnest over this. He told me that there
was no question in his mind that the saloon would be beaten
in Raymond at the election now near at hand. If so, they
could go on with some courage to do the redemptive work
begun by the evangelist and now taken up by the disciples
in his own church. If the saloon triumphs again there will
be a terrible and, as he thinks, unnecessary waste of Christian
sacrifice. But, however we differ on that point, he convinced
his church that the time had come for a fellowship with
other Christians. Surely, if the First Church could work
such changes in society and its surroundings, the church
in general if combining such a fellowship, not of creed
but of conduct, ought to stir the entire nation to a higher
life and a new conception of Christian following.
is a grand idea, Caxton, but right here is where I find
my self hesitating. I do not deny that the Christian disciple
ought to follow Christ's steps as closely as these here
in Raymond have tried to do. But I cannot avoid asking what
the result would be if I ask my church in Chicago to do
it. I am writing this after feeling the solemn, profound
touch of the Spirit's presence, and I confess to you, old
friend, that I cannot call up in my church a dozen prominent
business or professional men who would make this trial at
the risk of all they hold dear. Can you do any better in
your church? What are we to say? That the churches would
not respond to the call: 'Come and suffer?' Is our standard
of Christian discipleship a wrong one? Or are we possibly
deceiving ourselves, and would we be agreeably disappointed
if we once asked our people to take such a pledge faithfully?
The actual results of the pledge as obeyed here in Raymond
are enough to make any pastor tremble, and at the same time
long with yearning that they might occur in his own parish.
Certainly never have I seen a church so signally blessed
by the Spirit as this one. But -- am I myself ready to take
this pledge? I ask the question honestly, and I dread to
face an honest answer. I know well enough that I should
have to change very much in my life if I undertook to follow
His steps so closely. I have called myself a Christian for
many years. For the past ten years I have enjoyed a life
that has had comparatively little suffering in it. I am,
honestly I say it, living at a long distance from municipal
problems and the life of the poor, the degraded and the
abandoned. What would the obedience to this pledge demand
of me? I hesitate to answer. My church is wealthy, full
of well-to-do, satisfied people. The standard of their discipleship
is, I am aware, not of a nature to respond to the call of
suffering or personal loss. I say: 'I am aware.' I may be
mistaken. I may have erred in not stirring their deeper
life. Caxton, my friend, I have spoken my inmost thought
to you. Shall I go back to my people next Sunday and stand
up before them in my large city church and say: 'Let us
follow Jesus closer; let us walk in His steps where it will
cost us something more than it is costing us now; let us
pledge not to do anything without first asking: 'What would
Jesus do?' If I should go before them with that message,
it would be a strange and startling one to them. But why?
Are we not ready to follow Him all the way? What is it to
be a follower of Jesus? What does it mean to imitate Him?
What does it mean to walk in His steps?"
The Rev. Calvin Bruce, D. D., of the Nazareth Avenue Church,
Chicago, let his pen fall on the table. He had come to the
parting of the ways, and his question, he felt sure, was
the question of many and many a man in the ministry and
in the church. He went to his window and opened it. He was
oppressed with the weight of his convictions and he felt
almost suffocated with the air in the room. He wanted to
see the stars and feel the breath of the world.
The night was very still. The clock in the First Church
was just striking midnight. As it finished a clear, strong
voice down in the direction of the Rectangle came floating
up to him as if borne on radiant pinions.
It was a voice of one of Gray's old converts, a night watchman
at the packing houses, who sometimes solaced his lonesome
hours by a verse or two of some familiar hymn:
Jesus bear the cross alone
And all the world go free?
No, there's a cross for every one,
And there's a cross for me."
The Rev. Calvin Bruce turned away from the window and, after
a little hesitation, he kneeled. "What would Jesus do?"
That was the burden of his prayer. Never had he yielded
himself so completely to the Spirit's searching revealing
of Jesus. He was on his knees a long time. He retired and
slept fitfully with many awakenings. He rose before it was
clear dawn, and threw open his window again. As the light
in the east grew stronger he repeated to himself: "What
would Jesus do? Shall I follow His steps?"
The sun rose and flooded the city with its power. When shall
the dawn of a new discipleship usher in the conquering triumph
of a closer walk with Jesus? When shall Christendom tread
more closely the path he made?
is the way the Master trod;
Shall not the servant tread it still?"
With this question throbbing through his whole being, the
Rev. Calvin Bruce, D. D., went back to Chicago, and the
great crisis in his Christian life in the ministry suddenly
broke irresistibly upon him.