Chapter Thirteen of In His Steps by Charles Sheldon – inspiration for the “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) movement
WHEN the bell rang for tea she went down and her grandmother did not appear. She sent a servant to her room who brought back word that Madam Page was not there. A few minutes later Rollin came in. He brought word that his grandmother had taken the evening train for the South. He had been at the station to see some friends off, and had by chance met his grandmother as he was coming out. She had told him her reason for going.
Virginia and Rollin comforted each other at the tea table, looking at each other with earnest, sad faces.
“Rollin,” said Virginia, and for the first time, almost, since his conversion she realized what a wonderful thing her brother’s changed life meant to her, “do you blame me? Am I wrong?”
“No, dear, I cannot believe you are. This is very painful for us. But if you think this poor creature owes her safety and salvation to your personal care, it was the only thing for you to do. O Virginia, to think that we have all these years enjoyed our beautiful home and all these luxuries selfishly, forgetful of the multitudes like this woman! Surely Jesus in our places would do what you have done.”
And so Rollin comforted Virginia and counseled with her that evening. And of all the wonderful changes that she henceforth was to know on account of her great pledge, nothing affected her so powerfully as the thought of Rollin’s change of life. Truly, this man in Christ was a new creature. Old things were passed away. Behold, all things in him had become new.
Dr. West came that evening at Virginia’s summons and did everything necessary for the outcast. She had drunk herself almost into delirium. The best that could be done for her now was quiet nursing and careful watching and personal love. So, in a beautiful room, with a picture of Christ walking by the sea hanging on the wall, where her bewildered eyes caught daily something more of its hidden meaning, Loreen lay, tossed she hardly knew how into this haven, and Virginia crept nearer the Master than she had ever been, as her heart went out towards this wreck which had thus been flung torn and beaten at her feet.
Meanwhile the Rectangle awaited the issue of the election with more than usual interest; and Mr. Gray and his wife wept over the poor, pitiful creatures who, after a struggle with surroundings that daily tempted them, too often wearied of the struggle and, like Loreen, threw up their arms and went whirling over the cataract into the boiling abyss of their previous condition.
The after-meeting at the First Church was now eagerly established. Henry Maxwell went into the lecture-room on the Sunday succeeding the week of the primary, and was greeted with an enthusiasm that made him tremble at first for its reality. He noted again the absence of Jasper Chase, but all the others were present, and they seemed drawn very close together by a bond of common fellowship that demanded and enjoyed mutual confidences. It was the general feeling that the spirit of Jesus was the spirit of very open, frank confession of experience. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, therefore, for Edward Norman to be telling all the rest of the company about the details of his newspaper.
“The fact is, I have lost a great deal of money during the last three weeks. I cannot tell just how much. I am losing a great many subscribers every day.”
“What do the subscribers give as their reason for dropping the paper?” asked Mr. Maxwell. All the rest were listening eagerly.
“There are a good many different reasons. Some say they want a paper that prints all the news; meaning, by that, the crime details, sensations like prize fights, scandals and horrors of various kinds. Others object to the discontinuance of the Sunday edition. I have lost hundreds of subscribers by that action, although I have made satisfactory arrangements with many of the old subscribers by giving them even more in the extra Saturday edition than they formerly had in the Sunday issue. My greatest loss has come from a falling off in advertisements, and from the attitude I have felt obliged to take on political questions. The last action has really cost me more than any other. The bulk of my subscribers are intensely partisan. I may as well tell you all frankly that if I continue to pursue the plan which I honestly believe Jesus would pursue in the matter of political issues and their treatment from a non-partisan and moral standpoint, the NEWS will not be able to pay its operating expenses unless one factor in Raymond can be depended on.”
He paused a moment and the room was very quiet. Virginia seemed specially interested. Her face glowed with interest. It was like the interest of a person who had been thinking hard of the same thing which Norman went on to mention.
“That one factor is the Christian element in Raymond. Say the NEWS has lost heavily from the dropping off of people who do not care for a Christian daily, and from others who simply look upon a newspaper as a purveyor of all sorts of material to amuse or interest them, are there enough genuine Christian people in Raymond who will rally to the support of a paper such as Jesus would probably edit? or are the habits of the church people so firmly established in their demand for the regular type of journalism that they will not take a paper unless it is stripped largely of the Christian and moral purpose? I may say in this fellowship gathering that owing to recent complications in my business affairs outside of my paper I have been obliged to lose a large part of my fortune. I had to apply the same rule of Jesus’ probable conduct to certain transactions with other men who did not apply it to their conduct, and the result has been the loss of a great deal of money. As I understand the promise we made, we were not to ask any question about ‘Will it pay?’ but all our action was to be based on the one question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ Acting on that rule of conduct, I have been obliged to lose nearly all the money I have accumulated in my paper. It is not necessary for me to go into details. There is no question with me now, after the three weeks’ experience I have had, that a great many men would lose vast sums of money under the present system of business if this rule of Jesus was honestly applied. I mention my loss here because I have the fullest faith in the final success of a daily paper conducted on the lines I have recently laid down, and I had planned to put into it my entire fortune in order to win final success. As it is now, unless, as I said, the Christian people of Raymond, the church members and professing disciples, will support the paper with subscriptions and advertisements, I cannot continue its publication on the present basis.”
Virginia asked a question. She had followed Mr. Norman’s confession with the most intense eagerness.
“Do you mean that a Christian daily ought to be endowed with a large sum like a Christian college in order to make it pay?”
“That is exactly what I mean. I had laid out plans for putting into the NEWS such a variety of material in such a strong and truly interesting way that it would more than make up for whatever was absent from its columns in the way of un-Christian matter. But my plans called for a very large output of money. I am very confident that a Christian daily such as Jesus would approve, containing only what He would print, can be made to succeed financially if it is planned on the right lines. But it will take a large sum of money to work out the plans.”
“How much, do you think?” asked Virginia quietly.
Edward Norman looked at her keenly, and his face flushed a moment as an idea of her purpose crossed his mind. He had known her when she was a little girl in the Sunday-school, and he had been on intimate business relations with her father.
“I should say half a million dollars in a town like Raymond could be well spent in the establishment of a paper such as we have in mind,” he answered. His voice trembled a little. The keen look on his grizzled face flashed out with a stern but thoroughly Christian anticipation of great achievements in the world of newspaper life, as it had opened up to him within the last few seconds.
“Then,” said Virginia, speaking as if the thought was fully considered, “I am ready to put that amount of money into the paper on the one condition, of course, that it be carried on as it has been begun.”“Thank God!” exclaimed Mr. Maxwell softly. Norman was pale. The rest were looking at Virginia. She had more to say.
“Dear friends,” she went on, and there was a sadness in her voice that made an impression on the rest that deepened when they thought it over afterwards, “I do not want any of you to credit me with an act of great generosity. I have come to know lately that the money which I have called my own is not mine, but God’s. If I, as steward of His, see some wise way to invest His money, it is not an occasion for vainglory or thanks from any one simply because I have proved in my administration of the funds He has asked me to use for His glory. I have been thinking of this very plan for some time. The fact is, dear friends, that in our coming fight with the whiskey power in Raymond–and it has only just begun–we shall need the NEWS to champion the Christian side. You all know that all the other papers are for the saloon. As long as the saloon exists, the work of rescuing dying souls at the Rectangle is carried on at a terrible disadvantage. What can Mr. Gray do with his gospel meetings when half his converts are drinking people, daily tempted and enticed by the saloon on every corner? It would be giving up to the enemy to allow the NEWS to fail. I have great confidence in Mr. Norman’s ability. I have not seen his plans, but I have the same confidence that he has in making the paper succeed if it is carried forward on a large enough scale. I cannot believe that Christian intelligence in journalism will be inferior to un-Christian intelligence, even when it comes to making the paper pay financially. So that is my reason for putting this money–God’s, not mine–into this powerful agent for doing as Jesus would do. If we can keep such a paper going for one year, I shall be willing to see that amount of money used in that experiment. Do not thank me. Do not consider my doing it a wonderful thing. What have I done with God’s money all these years but gratify my own selfish personal desires? What can I do with the rest of it but try to make some reparation for what I have stolen from God? That is the way I look at it now. I believe it is what Jesus would do.”
Over the lecture-room swept that unseen yet distinctly felt wave of Divine Presence. No one spoke for a while. Mr. Maxwell standing there, where the faces lifted their intense gaze into his, felt what he had already felt–a strange setting back out of the nineteenth century into the first, when the disciples had all things in common, and a spirit of fellowship must have flowed freely between them such as the First Church of Raymond had never before known. How much had his church membership known of this fellowship in daily interests before this little company had begun to do as they believed Jesus would do? It was with difficulty that he thought of his present age and surroundings. The same thought was present with all the rest, also. There was an unspoken comradeship such as they had never known. It was present with them while Virginia was speaking, and during the silence that followed. If it had been defined by any of them it would perhaps have taken some such shape as this: “If I shall, in the course of my obedience to my promise, meet with loss or trouble in the world, I can depend upon the genuine, practical sympathy and fellowship of any other Christian in this room who has, with me, made the pledge to do all things by the rule, ‘What would Jesus do?’”
All this, the distinct wave of spiritual power emphasized. It had the effect that a physical miracle may have had on the early disciples in giving them a feeling of confidence in the Lord that helped them to face loss and martyrdom with courage and even joy.
Before they went away this time there were several confidences like those of Edward Norman’s. Some of the young men told of loss of places owing to their honest obedience to their promise. Alexander Powers spoke briefly of the fact that the Commission had promised to take action on his evidence at the earliest date possible.