In His Steps
by Charles M. Sheldon
"I AM just back from a visit to Raymond," Dr. Bruce began, "and I want to tell you something of my impressions of the movement there."
He paused and his look went out over his people with yearning for them and at the same time with a great uncertainty at his heart. How many of his rich, fashionable, refined, luxury-loving members would understand the nature of the appeal he was soon to make to them? He was altogether in the dark as to that. Nevertheless he had been through his desert, and had come out of it ready to suffer. He went on now after that brief pause and told them the story of his stay in Raymond. The people already knew something of that experiment in the First Church. The whole country had watched the progress of the pledge as it had become history in so many lives. Mr. Maxwell had at last decided that the time had come to seek the fellowship of other churches throughout the country. The new discipleship in Raymond had proved to be so valuable in its results that he wished the churches in general to share with the disciples in Raymond. Already there had begun a volunteer movement in many churches throughout the country, acting on their own desire to walk closer in the steps of Jesus. The Christian Endeavor Society had, with enthusiasm, in many churches taken the pledge to do as Jesus would do, and the result was already marked in a deeper spiritual life and a power in church influence that was like a new birth for the members.
All this Dr. Bruce told his people simply and with a personal interest that evidently led the way to the announcement which now followed. Felicia had listened to every word with strained attention. She sat there by the side of Rose, in contrast like fire beside snow, although even Rose was alert and as excited as she could be.
"Dear friends," he said, and for the first time since his prayer the emotion of the occasion was revealed in his voice and gesture, "I am going to ask that Nazareth Avenue Church take the same pledge that Raymond Church has taken. I know what this will mean to you and me. It will mean the complete change of very many habits. It will mean, possibly, social loss. It will mean very probably, in many cases, loss of money. It will mean suffering. It will mean what following Jesus meant in the first century, and then it meant suffering, loss, hardship, separation from everything un-Christian. But what does following Jesus mean? The test of discipleship is the same now as then. Those of us who volunteer in this church to do as Jesus would do, simply promise to walk in His steps as He gave us commandment."
Again he paused, and now the result of his announcement was plainly visible in the stir that went up over the, congregation. He added in a quiet voice that all who volunteered to make the pledge to do as Jesus would do, were asked to remain after the morning service.
Instantly he proceeded with his sermon. His text was, "Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest." It was a sermon that touched the deep springs of conduct; it was a revelation to the people of the definition their pastor had been learning; it took them back to the first century of Christianity; above all, it stirred them below the conventional thought of years as to the meaning and purpose of church membership. It was such a sermon as a man can preach once in a lifetime, and with enough in it for people to live on all through the rest of their lifetime.
The service closed in a hush that was slowly broken. People rose here and there, a few at a time. There was a reluctance in the movements of some that was very striking. Rose, however, walked straight out of the pew, and as she reached the aisle she turned her head and beckoned to Felicia. By that time the congregation was rising all over the church. "I am going to stay," she said, and Rose had heard her speak in the same manner on other occasions, and knew that her resolve could not be changed. Nevertheless she went back into the pew two or three steps and faced her.
"Felicia," she whispered, and there was a flush of anger on her cheeks, "this is folly. What can you do? You will bring some disgrace on the family. What will father say? Come!"
Felicia looked at her but did not answer at once. Her lips were moving with a petition that came from the depth of feeling that measured a new life for her. She shocked her head.
"No, I am going to stay. I shall take the pledge. I am ready to obey it. You do not know why I am doing this."
Rose gave her one look and then turned and went out of the pew, and down the aisle. She did not even stop to talk with her acquaintances. Mrs. Delano was going out of the church just as Rose stepped into the vestibule.
"So you are not going to join Dr. Bruce's volunteer company?" Mrs. Delano asked, in a queer tone that made Rose redden.
"No, are you? It is simply absurd. I have always regarded that Raymond movement as fanatical. You know cousin Rachel keeps us posted about it."
"Yes, I understand it is resulting in a great deal of hardship in many cases. For my part, I believe Dr. Bruce has simply provoked disturbance here. It will result in splitting our church. You see if it isn't so. There are scores of people in the church who are so situated that they can't take such a pledge and keep it. I am one of them," added Mrs. Delano as she went out with Rose.
When Rose reached home, her father was standing in his usual attitude before the open fireplace, smoking a cigar.
"Where is Felicia?" he asked as Rose came in.
"She stayed to an after-meeting," replied Rose shortly. She threw off her wraps and was going upstairs when Mr. Sterling called after her.
"An after-meeting? What do you mean?"
"Dr. Bruce asked the church to take the Raymond pledge."
Mr. Sterling took his cigar out of his mouth and twirled it nervously between his fingers.
"I didn't expect that of Dr. Bruce. Did many of the members stay?"
"I don't know. I didn't," replied Rose, and she went upstairs leaving her father standing in the drawing-room.
After a few moments he went to the window and stood there looking out at the people driving on the boulevard. His cigar had gone out, but he still fingered it nervously. Then he turned from the window and walked up and down the room. A servant stepped across the hall and announced dinner and he told her to wait for Felicia. Rose came downstairs and went into the library. And still Mr. Sterling paced the drawing-room restlessly.
He had finally wearied of the walking apparently, and throwing himself into a chair was brooding over something deeply when Felicia came in.
He rose and faced her. Felicia was evidently very much moved by the meeting from which she had just come. At the same time she did not wish to talk too much about it. Just as she entered the drawing-room, Rose came in from the library.
"How many stayed?" she asked. Rose was curious. At the same time she was skeptical of the whole movement in Raymond.
"About a hundred," replied Felicia gravely. Mr. Sterling looked surprised. Felicia was going out of the room, but he called to her: "Do you really mean to keep the pledge?" he asked.
Felicia colored. Over her face and neck the warm blood flowed and she answered, "You would not ask such a question, father, if you had been at the meeting." She lingered a moment in the room, then asked to be excused from dinner for a while and went up to see her mother.
No one but they two ever knew what that interview between Felicia and her mother was. It is certain that she must have told her mother something of the spiritual power that had awed every person present in the company of disciples who faced Dr. Bruce in that meeting after the morning service. It is also certain that Felicia had never before known such an experience, and would never have thought of sharing it with her mother if it had not been for the prayer the evening before. Another fact is also known of Felicia's experience at this time. When she finally joined her father and Rose at the table she seemed unable to tell them much about the meeting. There was a reluctance to speak of it as one might hesitate to attempt a description of a wonderful sunset to a person who never talked about anything but the weather.
When that Sunday in the Sterling mansion was drawing to a close and the soft, warm lights throughout the dwelling were glowing through the great windows, in a corner of her room, where the light was obscure, Felicia kneeled, and when she raised her face and turned it towards the light, it was the face of a woman who had already defined for herself the greatest issues of earthly life.
That same evening, after the Sunday evening service, Dr. Bruce was talking over the events of the day with his wife. They were of one heart and mind in the matter, and faced their new future with all the faith and courage of new disciples. Neither was deceived as to the probable results of the pledge to themselves or to the church.
They had been talking but a little while when the bell rang and Dr. Bruce going to the door exclaimed, as he opened it: "It is you, Edward! Come in."
There came into the hall a commanding figure. The Bishop was of extraordinary height and breadth of shoulder, but of such good proportions that there was no thought of ungainly or even of unusual size. The impression the Bishop made on strangers was, first, that of great health, and then of great affection.
He came into the parlor and greeted Mrs. Bruce, who after a few moments was called out of the room, leaving the two men together. The Bishop sat in a deep, easy chair before the open fire. There was just enough dampness in the early spring of the year to make an open fire pleasant.
"Calvin, you have taken a very serious step today," he finally said, lifting his large dark eyes to his old college classmate's face. "I heard of it this afternoon. I could not resist the desire to see you about it tonight."
"I'm glad you came." Dr. Bruce laid a hand on the Bishop's shoulder. "You understand what this means, Edward?"
"I think I do. Yes, I am sure." The Bishop spoke very slowly and thoughtfully. He sat with his hands clasped together. Over his face, marked with lines of consecration and service and the love of men, a shadow crept, a shadow not caused by the firelight. Once more he lifted his eyes toward his old friend.
"Calvin, we have always understood each other. Ever since our paths led us in different ways in church life we have walked together in Christian fellowship--."
"It is true," replied Dr. Bruce with an emotion he made no attempt to conceal or subdue. "Thank God for it. I prize your fellowship more than any other man's. I have always known what it meant, though it has always been more than I deserve."
The Bishop looked affectionately at his friend. But the shadow still rested on his face. After a pause he spoke again: "The new discipleship means a crisis for you in your work. If you keep this pledge to do all things as Jesus would do -- as I know you will -- it requires no prophet to predict some remarkable changes in your parish." The Bishop looked wistfully at his friend and then continued: "In fact, I do not see how a perfect upheaval of Christianity, as we now know it, can be prevented if the ministers and churches generally take the Raymond pledge and live it out." He paused as if he were waiting for his friend to say something, to ask some question. But Bruce did not know of the fire that was burning in the Bishop's heart over the very question that Maxwell and himself had fought out.
"Now, in my church, for instance," continued the Bishop, "it would be rather a difficult matter, I fear, to find very many people who would take a pledge like that and live up to it. Martyrdom is a lost art with us. Our Christianity loves its ease and comfort too well to take up anything so rough and heavy as a cross. And yet what does following Jesus mean? What is it to walk in His steps?"
The Bishop was soliloquizing now and it is doubtful if he thought, for the moment, of his friend's presence. For the first time there flashed into Dr. Bruce's mind a suspicion of the truth. What if the Bishop would throw the weight of his great influence on the side of the Raymond movement? He had the following of the most aristocratic, wealthy, fashionable people, not only in Chicago, but in several large cities. What if the Bishop should join this new discipleship!
The thought was about to be followed by the word. Dr. Bruce had reached out his hand and with the familiarity of lifelong friendship had placed it on the Bishop's shoulder and was about to ask a very important question, when they were both startled by the violent ringing of the bell. Mrs. Bruce had gone to the door and was talking with some one in the hall. There was a loud exclamation and then, as the Bishop rose and Bruce was stepping toward the curtain that hung before the entrance to the parlor, Mrs. Bruce pushed it aside. Her face was white and she was trembling.
"O Calvin! Such terrible news! Mr. Sterling -- oh, I cannot tell it! What a blow to those girls!" "What is it?" Mr. Bruce advanced with the Bishop into the hall and confronted the messenger, a servant from the Sterlings. The man was without his hat and had evidently run over with the news, as Dr. Bruce lived nearest of any intimate friends of the family.
"Mr. Sterling shot himself, sir, a few minutes ago. He killed himself in his bed-room. Mrs. Sterling--"
"I will go right over, Edward. Will you go with me? The Sterlings are old friends of yours."'
The Bishop was very pale, but calm as always. He looked his friend in the face and answered: "Aye, Calvin, I will go with you not only to this house of death, but also the whole way of human sin and sorrow, please God."
And even in that moment of horror at the unexpected news, Dr. Bruce understood what the Bishop had promised to do.