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Charles M. Sheldon
"Now, when Jesus heard these things, He said unto
him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou
hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have
treasure in heaven: and come, follow Me."
Henry Maxwell began to speak to the souls crowded into the
Settlement Hall that night it is doubtful if he ever faced
such an audience in his life. It is quite certain that the
city of Raymond did not contain such a variety of humanity.
Not even the Rectangle at its worst could furnish so many
men and women who had fallen entirely out of the reach of
the church and of all religious and even Christian influences.
What did he talk about? He had already decided that point.
He told in the simplest language he could command some of
the results of obedience to the pledge as it had been taken
in Raymond. Every man and woman in that audience knew something
about Jesus Christ. They all had some idea of His character,
and however much they had grown bitter toward the forms
of Christian ecclesiasticism or the social system, they
preserved some standard of right and truth, and what little
some of them still retained was taken from the person of
the Peasant of Galilee.
So they were interested in what Maxwell said. "What would
Jesus do?" He began to apply the question to the social
problem in general, after finishing the story of Raymond.
The audience was respectfully attentive. It was more than
that. It was genuinely interested. As Mr. Maxwell went on,
faces all over the hall leaned forward in a way seldom seen
in church audiences or anywhere except among workingmen
or the people of the street when once they are thoroughly
aroused. "What would Jesus do?" Suppose that were the motto
not only of the churches but of the business men, the politicians,
the newspapers, the workingmen, the society people -- how
long would it take under such a standard of conduct to revolutionize
the world? What was the trouble with the world? It was suffering
from selfishness. No one ever lived who had succeeded in
overcoming selfishness like Jesus. If men followed Him regardless
of results the world would at once begin to enjoy a new
Maxwell never knew how much it meant to hold the respectful
attention of that hall full of diseased and sinful humanity.
The Bishop and Dr. Bruce, sitting there, looking on, seeing
many faces that represented scorn of creeds, hatred of the
social order, desperate narrowness and selfishness, marveled
that even so soon under the influence of the Settlement
life, the softening process had begun already to lessen
the bitterness of hearts, many of which had grown bitter
from neglect and indifference.
And still, in spite of the outward show of respect to the
speaker, no one, not even the Bishop, had any true conception
of the feeling pent up in that room that night. Among those
who had heard of the meeting and had responded to the invitation
were twenty or thirty men out of work who had strolled past
the Settlement that afternoon, read the notice of the meeting,
and had come in out of curiosity and to escape the chill
east wind. It was a bitter night and the saloons were full.
But in that whole district of over thirty thousand souls,
with the exception of the saloons, there was not a door
open except the clean, pure Christian door of the Settlement.
Where would a man without a home or without work or without
friends naturally go unless to the saloon?
It had been the custom at the Settlement for a free discussion
to follow any open meeting of this kind, and when Mr. Maxwell
finished and sat down, the Bishop, who presided that night,
rose and made the announcement that any man in the hall
was at liberty to ask questions, to speak out his feelings
or declare his convictions, always with the understanding
that whoever took part was to observe the simple rules that
governed parliamentary bodies and obey the three-minute
rule which, by common consent, would be enforced on account
of the numbers present.
Instantly a number of voices from men who had been at previous
meetings of this kind exclaimed, "Consent! consent!"
The Bishop sat down, and immediately a man near the middle
of the hall rose and began to speak.
want to say that what Mr. Maxwell has said tonight comes
pretty close to me. I knew Jack Manning, the fellow he told
about who died at his house. I worked on the next case to
his in a printer's shop in Philadelphia for two years. Jack
was a good fellow. He loaned me five dollars once when I
was in a hole and I never got a chance to pay him back.
He moved to New York, owing to a change in the management
of the office that threw him out, and I never saw him again.
When the linotype machines came in I was one of the men
to go out, just as he did. I have been out most of the time
since. They say inventions are a good thing. I don't always
see it myself; but I suppose I'm prejudiced. A man naturally
is when he loses a steady job because a machine takes his
place. About this Christianity he tells about, it's all
right. But I never expect to see any such sacrifices on
the part of the church people. So far as my observation
goes they're just as selfish and as greedy for money and
worldly success as anybody. I except the Bishop and Dr.
Bruce and a few others. But I never found much difference
between men of the world, as they are called, and church
members when it came to business and money making. One class
is just as bad as another there."
Cries of "That's so!" "You're right!" "Of course!" interrupted
the speaker, and the minute he sat down two men who were
on the floor for several seconds before the first speaker
was through began to talk at once.
The Bishop called them to order and indicated which was
entitled to the floor. The man who remained standing began
is the first time I was ever in here, and may be it'll be
the last. Fact is, I am about at the end of my string. I've
tramped this city for work till I'm sick. I'm in plenty
of company. Say! I'd like to ask a question of the minister,
if it's fair. May I?"
for Mr. Maxwell to say," said the Bishop.
all means," replied Mr. Maxwell quickly. "Of course, I will
not promise to answer it to the gentleman's satisfaction."
is my question." The man leaned forward and stretched out
a long arm with a certain dramatic force that grew naturally
enough out of his condition as a human being. "I want to
know what Jesus would do in my case. I haven't had a stroke
of work for two months. I've got a wife and three children,
and I love them as much as if I was worth a million dollars.
I've been living off a little earnings I saved up during
the World's Fair jobs I got. I'm a carpenter by trade, and
I've tried every way I know to get a job. You say we ought
to take for our motto, 'What would Jesus do?' What would
He do if He was out of work like me? I can't be somebody
else and ask the question. I want to work. I'd give anything
to grow tired of working ten hours a day the way I used
to. Am I to blame because I can't manufacture a job for
myself? I've got to live, and my wife and my children have
got to live. But how? What would Jesus do? You say that's
the question we ought to ask."
Mr. Maxwell sat there staring at the great sea of faces
all intent on his, and no answer to this man's question
seemed for the time being to be possible. "O God!" his heart
prayed; "this is a question that brings up the entire social
problem in all its perplexing entanglement of human wrongs
and its present condition contrary to every desire of God
for a human being's welfare. Is there any condition more
awful than for a man in good health, able and eager to work,
with no means of honest livelihood unless he does work,
actually unable to get anything to do, and driven to one
of three things: begging or charity at the hands of friends
or strangers, suicide or starvation? 'What would Jesus do?'"
It was a fair question for the man to ask. It was the only
question he could ask, supposing him to be a disciple of
Jesus. But what a question for any man to be obliged to
answer under such conditions?
All this and more did Henry Maxwell ponder. All the others
were thinking in the same way. The Bishop sat there with
a look so stern and sad that it was not hard to tell how
the question moved him. Dr. Bruce had his head bowed. The
human problem had never seemed to him so tragical as since
he had taken the pledge and left his church to enter the
Settlement. What would Jesus do? It was a terrible question.
And still the man stood there, tall and gaunt and almost
terrible, with his arm stretched out in an appeal which
grew every second in meaning. At length Mr. Maxwell spoke.
there any man in the room, who is a Christian disciple,
who has been in this condition and has tried to do as Jesus
would do? If so, such a man can answer this question better
than I can."
There was a moment's hush over the room and then a man near
the front of the hall slowly rose. He was an old man, and
the hand he laid on the back of the bench in front of him
trembled as he spoke.
think I can safely say that I have many times been in just
such a condition, and I have always tried to be a Christian
under all conditions. I don't know as I have always asked
this question, 'What would Jesus do?' when I have been out
of work, but I do know I have tried to be His disciple at
all times. Yes," the man went on, with a sad smile that
was more pathetic to the Bishop and Mr. Maxwell than the
younger man's grim despair; "yes, I have begged, and I have
been to charity institutions, and I have done everything
when out of a job except steal and lie in order to get food
and fuel. I don't know as Jesus would have done some of
the things I have been obliged to do for a living, but I
know I have never knowingly done wrong when out of work.
Sometimes I think maybe He would have starved sooner than
beg. I don't know."
The old man's voice trembled and he looked around the room
timidly. A silence followed, broken by a fierce voice from
a large, black-haired, heavily-bearded man who sat three
seats from the Bishop. The minute he spoke nearly every
man in the hall leaned forward eagerly. The man who had
asked the question, "What would Jesus do in my case?" slowly
sat down and whispered to the man next to him: "Who's that?"
Carlsen, the Socialist leader. Now you'll hear something."
is all bosh, to my mind," began Carlsen, while his great
bristling beard shook with the deep inward anger of the
man. "The whole of our system is at fault. What we call
civilization is rotten to the core. There is no use trying
to hide it or cover it up. We live in an age of trusts and
combines and capitalistic greed that means simply death
to thousands of innocent men, women and children. I thank
God, if there is a God --which I very much doubt-- that
I, for one, have never dared to marry and make a home. Home!
Talk of hell! Is there any bigger one than this man and
his three children has on his hands right this minute? And
he's only one out of thousands. And yet this city, and every
other big city in this country, has its thousands of professed
Christians who have all the luxuries and comforts, and who
go to church Sundays and sing their hymns about giving all
to Jesus and bearing the cross and following Him all the
way and being saved! I don't say that there aren't good
men and women among them, but let the minister who has spoken
to us here tonight go into any one of a dozen aristocratic
churches I could name and propose to the members to take
any such pledge as the one he's mentioned here tonight,
and see how quick the people would laugh at him for a fool
or a crank or a fanatic. Oh, no! That's not the remedy.
That can't ever amount to anything. We've got to have a
new start in the way of government. The whole thing needs
reconstructing. I don't look for any reform worth anything
to come out of the churches. They are not with the people.
They are with the aristocrats, with the men of money. The
trusts and monopolies have their greatest men in the churches.
The ministers as a class are their slaves. What we need
is a system that shall start from the common basis of socialism,
founded on the rights of the common people--"
Carlsen had evidently forgotten all about the three-minutes
rule and was launching himself into a regular oration that
meant, in his usual surroundings before his usual audience,
an hour at least, when the man just behind him pulled him
down unceremoniously and arose. Carlsen was angry at first
and threatened a little disturbance, but the Bishop reminded
him of the rule, and he subsided with several mutterings
in his beard, while the next speaker began with a very strong
eulogy on the value of the single tax as a genuine remedy
for all the social ills. He was followed by a man who made
a bitter attack on the churches and ministers, and declared
that the two great obstacles in the way of all true reform
were the courts and the ecclesiastical machines.
When he sat down a man who bore every mark of being a street
laborer sprang to his feet and poured a perfect torrent
of abuse against the corporations, especially the railroads.
The minute his time was up a big, brawny fellow, who said
he was a metal worker by trade, claimed the floor and declared
that the remedy for the social wrongs was Trades Unionism.
This, he said, would bring on the millennium for labor more
surely than anything else. The next man endeavored to give
some reasons why so many persons were out of employment,
and condemned inventions as works of the devil. He was loudly
applauded by the rest.
Finally the Bishop called time on the "free for all," and
asked Rachel to sing.
Rachel Winslow had grown into a very strong, healthful,
humble Christian during that wonderful year in Raymond dating
from the Sunday when she first took the pledge to do as
Jesus would do, and her great talent for song had been fully
consecrated to the service of the Master. When she began
to sing tonight at this Settlement meeting, she had never
prayed more deeply for results to come from her voice, the
voice which she now regarded as the Master's, to be used
Certainly her prayer was being answered as she sang. She
had chosen the words,
The voice of Jesus calling, Follow me, follow me!"
Again Henry Maxwell, sitting there, was reminded of his
first night at the Rectangle in the tent when Rachel sang
the people into quiet. The effect was the same here. What
wonderful power a good voice consecrated to the Master's
service always is! Rachel's great natural ability would
have made her one of the foremost opera singers of the age.
Surely this audience had never heard such a melody. How
could it? The men who had drifted in from the street sat
entranced by a voice which "back in the world," as the Bishop
said, never could be heard by the common people because
the owner of it would charge two or three dollars for the
privilege. The song poured out through the hall as free
and glad as if it were a foretaste of salvation itself.
Carlsen, with his great, black-bearded face uplifted, absorbed
the music with the deep love of it peculiar to his nationality,
and a tear ran over his cheek and glistened in his beard
as his face softened and became almost noble in its aspect.
The man out of work who had wanted to know what Jesus would
do in his place sat with one grimy hand on the back of the
bench in front of him, with his mouth partly open, his great
tragedy for the moment forgotten. The song, while it lasted,
was food and work and warmth and union with his wife and
babies once more. The man who had spoken so fiercely against
the churches and ministers sat with his head erect, at first
with a look of stolid resistance, as if he stubbornly resisted
the introduction into the exercises of anything that was
even remotely connected with the church or its forms of
worship. But gradually he yielded to the power that was
swaying the hearts of all the persons in that room, and
a look of sad thoughtfulness crept over his face.
The Bishop said that night while Rachel was singing that
if the world of sinful, diseased, depraved, lost humanity
could only have the gospel preached to it by consecrated
prima donnas and professional tenors and altos and bassos,
he believed it would hasten the coming of the Kingdom quicker
than any other one force. "Why, oh why," he cried in his
heart as he listened, "has the world's great treasure of
song been so often held far from the poor because the personal
possessor of voice or fingers, capable of stirring divinest
melody, has so often regarded the gift as something with
which to make money? Shall there be no martyrs among the
gifted ones of the earth? Shall there be no giving of this
great gift as well as of others?"
And Henry Maxwell, again as before, called up that other
audience at the Rectangle with increasing longing for a
larger spread of the new discipleship. What he had seen
and heard at the Settlement burned into him deeper the belief
that the problem of the city would be solved if the Christians
in it should once follow Jesus as He gave commandment. But
what of this great mass of humanity, neglected and sinful,
the very kind of humanity the Savior came to save, with
all its mistakes and narrowness, its wretchedness and loss
of hope, above all its unqualified bitterness towards the
church? That was what smote him deepest. Was the church
then so far from the Master that the people no longer found
Him in the church? Was it true that the church had lost
its power over the very kind of humanity which in the early
ages of Christianity it reached in the greatest numbers?
How much was true in what the Socialist leader said about
the uselessness of looking to the church for reform or redemption,
because of the selfishness and seclusion and aristocracy
of its members?
He was more and more impressed with the appalling fact that
the comparatively few men in that hall, now being held quiet
for a while by Rachel's voice, represented thousands of
others just like them, to whom a church and a minister stood
for less than a saloon or a beer garden as a source of comfort
or happiness. Ought it to be so? If the church members were
all doing as Jesus would do, could it remain true that armies
of men would walk the streets for jobs and hundreds of them
curse the church and thousands of them find in the saloon
their best friend? How far were the Christians responsible
for this human problem that was personally illustrated right
in this hall tonight? Was it true that the great city churches
would as a rule refuse to walk in Jesus' steps so closely
as to suffer -- actually suffer -- for His sake?
Henry Maxwell kept asking this question even after Rachel
had finished singing and the meeting had come to an end
after a social gathering which was very informal. He asked
it while the little company of residents with the Raymond
visitors were having a devotional service, as the custom
in the Settlement was. He asked it during a conference with
the Bishop and Dr. Bruce which lasted until one o'clock.
He asked it as he knelt again before sleeping and poured
out his soul in a petition for spiritual baptism on the
church in America such as it had never known. He asked it
the first thing in the morning and all through the day as
he went over the Settlement district and saw the life of
the people so far removed from the Life abundant. Would
the church members, would the Christians, not only in the
churches of Chicago, but throughout the country, refuse
to walk in His steps if, in order to do so, they must actually
take up a cross and follow Him? This was the one question
that continually demanded answer.