In His Steps
by Charles M. Sheldon
SUNDAY morning dawned again on Raymond, and Henry Maxwell’s church was again crowded. Before the service began Edward Norman attracted great attention. He sat quietly in his usual place about three seats from the pulpit. The Sunday morning issue of the NEWS containing the statement of its discontinuance had been expressed in such remarkable language that every reader was struck by it. No such series of distinct sensations had ever disturbed the usual business custom of Raymond. The events connected with the NEWS were not all. People were eagerly talking about strange things done during the week by Alexander Powers at the railroad shops, and Milton Wright in his stores on the avenue. The service progressed upon a distinct wave of excitement in the pews. Henry Maxwell faced it all with a calmness which indicated a strength and purpose more than usual. His prayers were very helpful. His sermon was not so easy to describe. How would a minister be apt to preach to his people if he came before them after an entire week of eager asking, “How would Jesus preach? What would He probably say?” It is very certain that he did not preach as he had done two Sundays before. Tuesday of the past week he had stood by the grave of the dead stranger and said the words, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” and still he was moved by the spirit of a deeper impulse than he could measure as he thought of his people and yearned for the Christ message when he should be in his pulpit again.
Now that Sunday had come and the people were there to hear, what would the Master tell them? He agonized over his preparation for them, and yet he knew he had not been able to fit his message into his ideal of the Christ. Nevertheless no one in the First Church could remember ever hearing such a sermon before. There was in it rebuke for sin, especially hypocrisy, there was definite rebuke of the greed of wealth and the selfishness of fashion, two things that First Church never heard rebuked this way before, and there was a love of his people that gathered new force as the sermon went on. When it was finished there were those who were saying in their hearts, “The Spirit moved that sermon.” And they were right.
Then Rachel Winslow rose to sing, this time after the sermon, by Mr. Maxwell’s request. Rachel’s singing did not provoke applause this time. What deeper feeling carried the people’s hearts into a reverent silence and tenderness of thought? Rachel was beautiful. But her consciousness of her remarkable loveliness had always marred her singing with those who had the deepest spiritual feeling. It had also marred her rendering of certain kinds of music with herself. Today this was all gone. There was no lack of power in her grand voice. But there was an actual added element of humility and purity which the audience distinctly felt and bowed to.
Before service closed Mr. Maxwell asked those who had remained the week before to stay again for a few moments of consultation, and any others who were willing to make the pledge taken at that time. When he was at liberty he went into the lecture-room. To his astonishment it was almost filled. This time a large proportion of young people had come, but among them were a few business men and officers of the church.
As before, he, Maxwell, asked them to pray with him. And, as before, a distinct answer came from the presence of the divine Spirit. There was no doubt in the minds of any present that what they purposed to do was so clearly in line with the divine will, that a blessing rested upon it in a very special manner.
They remained some time to ask questions and consult together. There was a feeling of fellowship such as they had never known in their church membership. Mr. Norman’s action was well understood by them all, and he answered several questions.
“What will be the probable result of your discontinuance of the Sunday paper?” asked Alexander Powers, who sat next to him.
“I don’t know yet. I presume it will result in the falling off of subscriptions and advertisements. I anticipate that.”
“Do you have any doubts about your action. I mean, do you regret it, or fear it is not what Jesus would do?” asked Mr. Maxwell.
“Not in the least. But I would like to ask, for my own satisfaction, if any of you here think Jesus would issue a Sunday morning paper?”
No one spoke for a minute. Then Jasper Chase said, “We seem to think alike on that, but I have been puzzled several times during the week to know just what He would do. It is not always an easy question to answer.”
“I find that trouble,” said Virginia Page. She sat by Rachel Winslow. Every one who knew Virginia Page was wondering how she would succeed in keeping her promise. “I think perhaps I find it specially difficult to answer that question on account of my money. Our Lord never owned any property, and there is nothing in His example to guide me in the use of mine. I am studying and praying. I think I see clearly a part of what He would do, but not all. What would He do with a million dollars? is my question really. I confess I am not yet able to answer it to my satisfaction.
“I could tell you what you could do with a part of it, said Rachel, turning her face toward Virginia. “That does not trouble me,” replied Virginia with a slight smile. “What I am trying to discover is a principle that will enable me to come to the nearest possible to His action as it ought to influence the entire course of my life so far as my wealth and its use are concerned.”
“That will take time,” said the minister slowly. All the rest of the room were thinking hard of the same thing. Milton Wright told something of his experience. He was gradually working out a plan for his business relations with his employees, and it was opening up a new world to him and to them. A few of the young men told of special attempts to answer the question. There was almost general consent over the fact that the application of the Christ spirit and practice to the everyday life was the serious thing. It required a knowledge of Him and an insight into His motives that most of them did not yet possess.
When they finally adjourned after a silent prayer that marked with growing power the Divine Presence, they went away discussing earnestly their difficulties and seeking light from one another.
Rachel Winslow and Virginia Page went out together. Edward Norman and Milton Wright became so interested in their mutual conference that they walked on past Norman’s house and came back together. Jasper Chase and the president of the Endeavor Society stood talking earnestly in one corner of the room. Alexander Powers and Henry Maxwell remained, even after the others had gone.
“I want you to come down to the shops tomorrow and see my plan and talk to the men. Somehow I feel as if you could get nearer to them than any one else just now.”
“I don’t know about that, but I will come,” replied Mr. Maxwell a little sadly. How was he fitted to stand before two or three hundred working men and give them a message? Yet in the moment of his weakness, as he asked the question, he rebuked himself for it. What would Jesus do? That was an end to the discussion.
He went down the next day and found Mr. Powers in his office. It lacked a few minutes of twelve and the superintendent said, “Come upstairs, and I’ll show you what I’ve been trying to do.”
They went through the machine shop, climbed a long flight of stairs and entered a very large, empty room. It had once been used by the company for a store room.
“Since making that promise a week ago I have had a good many things to think of,” said the superintendent, “and among them is this: The company gives me the use of this room, and I am going to fit it up with tables and a coffee plant in the corner there where those steam pipes are. My plan is to provide a good place where the men can come up and eat their noon lunch, and give them, two or three times a week, the privilege of a fifteen minutes’ talk on some subject that will be a real help to them in their lives.”
Maxwell looked surprised and asked if the men would come for any such purpose.
“Yes, they’ll come. After all, I know the men pretty well. They are among the most intelligent working men in the country today. But they are, as a whole, entirely removed from church influence. I asked, ‘What would Jesus do?’ and among other things it seemed to me He would begin to act in some way to add to the lives of these men more physical and spiritual comfort. It is a very little thing, this room and what it represents, but I acted on the first impulse, to do the first thing that appealed to my good sense, and I want to work out this idea. I want you to speak to the men when they come up at noon. I have asked them to come up and see the place and I’ll tell them something about it.”
Maxwell was ashamed to say how uneasy he felt at being asked to speak a few words to a company of working men. How could he speak without notes, or to such a crowd? He was honestly in a condition of genuine fright over the prospect. He actually felt afraid of facing those men. He shrank from the ordeal of confronting such a crowd, so different from the Sunday audiences he was familiar with.
There were a dozen rude benches and tables in the room, and when the noon whistle sounded the men poured upstairs from the machine shops below and, seating themselves at the tables, began to cat their lunch. There were present about three hundred of them. They had read the superintendent’s notice which he had posted up in various places, and came largely out of curiosity.
They were favorably impressed. The room was large and airy, free from smoke and dust, and well warmed from the steam pipes. At about twenty minutes to one Mr. Powers told the men what he had in mind. He spoke very simply, like one who understands thoroughly the character of his audience, and then introduced the Rev. Henry Maxwell of the First Church, his pastor, who had consented to speak a few minutes.
Maxwell will never forget the feeling with which for the first time he stood before the grimy-faced audience of working men. Like hundreds of other ministers, he had never spoken to any gatherings except those made up of people of his own class in the sense that they were familiar in their dress and education and habits. This was a new world to him, and nothing but his new rule of conduct could have made possible his message and its effect. He spoke on the subject of satisfaction with life; what caused it, what its real sources were. He had the great good sense on this his first appearance not to recognize the men as a class distinct from himself. He did not use the term working man, and did not say a word to suggest any difference between their lives and his own.
The men were pleased. A good many of them shook hands with him before going down to their work, and the minister telling it all to his wife when he reached home, said that never in all his life had he known the delight he then felt in having the handshake from a man of physical labor. The day marked an important one in his Christian experience, more important than he knew. It was the beginning of a fellowship between him and the working world. It was the first plank laid down to help bridge the chasm between the church and labor in Raymond.
Alexander Powers went back to his desk that afternoon much pleased with his plan and seeing much help in it for the men. He knew where he could get some good tables from an abandoned eating house at one of the stations down the road, and he saw how the coffee arrangement could be made a very attractive feature. The men had responded even better than he anticipated, and the whole thing could not help being a great benefit to them.
He took up the routine of his work with a glow of satisfaction. After all, he wanted to do as Jesus would, he said to himself.
It was nearly four o’clock when he opened one of the company’s long envelopes which he supposed contained orders for the purchasing of stores. He ran over the first page of typewritten matter in his usual quick, business-like manner, before he saw that what he was reading was not intended for his office but for the superintendent of the freight department.
He turned over a page mechanically, not meaning to read what was not addressed to him, but before he knew it, he was in possession of evidence which conclusively proved that the company was engaged in a systematic violation of the Interstate Commerce Laws of the United States. It was as distinct and unequivocal a breaking of law as if a private citizen should enter a house and rob the inmates. The discrimination shown in rebates was in total contempt of all the statutes. Under the laws of the state it was also a distinct violation of certain provisions recently passed by the legislature to prevent railroad trusts. There was no question that he had in his hands evidence sufficient to convict the company of willful, intelligent violation of the law of the commission and the law of the state also.
He dropped the papers on his desk as if they were poison, and instantly the question flashed across his mind, “What would Jesus do?” He tried to shut the question out. He tried to reason with himself by saying it was none of his business. He had known in a more or less definite way, as did nearly all the officers of the company, that this had been going on right along on nearly all the roads. He was not in a position, owing to his place in the shops, to prove anything direct, and he had regarded it as a matter which did not concern him at all. The papers now before him revealed the entire affair. They had through some carelessness been addressed to him. What business of his was it? If he saw a man entering his neighbor’s house to steal, would it not be his duty to inform the officers of the law? Was a railroad company such a different thing? Was it under a different rule of conduct, so that it could rob the public and defy law and be undisturbed because it was such a great organization? What would Jesus do? Then there was his family. Of course, if he took any steps to inform the commission it would mean the loss of his position. His wife and daughter had always enjoyed luxury and a good place in society. If he came out against this lawlessness as a witness it would drag him into courts, his motives would be misunderstood, and the whole thing would end in his disgrace and the loss of his position. Surely it was none of his business. He could easily get the papers back to the freight department and no one be the wiser. Let the iniquity go on. Let the law be defied. What was it to him? He would work out his plans for bettering the condition just before him. What more could a man do in this railroad business when there was so much going on anyway that made it impossible to live by the Christian standard? But what would Jesus do if He knew the facts? That was the question that confronted Alexander Powers as the day wore into evening.
The lights in the office had been turned on. The whirr of the great engine and the clash of the planers in the big shop continued until six o’clock. Then the whistle blew, the engine slowed up, the men dropped their tools and ran for the block house.
Powers heard the familiar click, click, of the clocks as the men filed past the window of the block house just outside. He said to his clerks, “I’m not going just yet. I have something extra tonight.” He waited until he heard the last man deposit his block. The men behind the block case went out. The engineer and his assistants had work for half an hour but they went out by another door.
At seven o’clock any one who had looked into the superintendent’s office would have seen an unusual sight. He was kneeling, and his face was buried in his hands as he bowed his head upon the papers on his desk.