Chapter Fifteen of In His Steps by Charles Sheldon – inspiration for the “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) movement
“He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness.”
THE body of Loreen lay in state at the Page mansion on the avenue. It was Sunday morning and the clear sweet spring air, just beginning to breathe over the city the perfume of early blossoms in the woods and fields, swept over the casket from one of the open windows at the end of the grand hall. The church bells were ringing and people on the avenue going by to service turned curious, inquiring looks up at the great house and then went on, talking of the recent events which had so strangely entered into and made history in the city.
At the First Church, Mr. Maxwell, bearing on his face marks of the scene he had been through, confronted an immense congregation, and spoke to it with a passion and a power that came so naturally out of the profound experiences of the day before that his people felt for him something of the old feeling of pride they once had in his dramatic delivery. Only this was with a different attitude. And all through his impassioned appeal this morning, there was a note of sadness and rebuke and stern condemnation that made many of the members pale with self-accusation or with inward anger.
For Raymond had awakened that morning to the fact that the city had gone for license after all. The rumor at the Rectangle that the second and third wards had gone no-license proved to be false. It was true that the victory was won by a very meager majority. But the result was the same as if it had been overwhelming. Raymond had voted to continue for another year the saloon. The Christians of Raymond stood condemned by the result. More than a hundred professing Christian disciples had failed to go to the polls, and many more than that number had voted with the whiskey men. If all the church members of Raymond had voted against the saloon, it would today be outlawed instead of crowned king of the municipality. For that had been the fact in Raymond for years. The saloon ruled. No one denied that. What would Jesus do? And this woman who had been brutally struck down by the very hand that had assisted so eagerly to work her earthly ruin what of her? Was it anything more than the logical sequence of the whole horrible system of license, that for another year the very saloon that received her so often and compassed her degradation, from whose very spot the weapon had been hurled that struck her dead, would, by the law which the Christian people of Raymond voted to support, perhaps open its doors tomorrow and damn a hundred Loreens before the year had drawn to its bloody close?
All this, with a voice that rang and trembled and broke in sobs of anguish for the result, did Henry Maxwell pour out upon his people that Sunday morning. And men and women wept as he spoke. President Marsh sat there, his usual erect, handsome, firm, bright self-confident bearing all gone; his head bowed upon his breast, the great tears rolling down his cheeks, unmindful of the fact that never before had he shown outward emotion in a public service. Edward Norman near by sat with his clear-cut, keen face erect, but his lip trembled and he clutched the end of the pew with a feeling of emotion that struck deep into his knowledge of the truth as Maxwell spoke it. No man had given or suffered more to influence public opinion that week than Norman. The thought that the Christian conscience had been aroused too late or too feebly, lay with a weight of accusation upon the heart of the editor. What if he had begun to do as Jesus would have done, long ago? Who could tell what might have been accomplished by this time! And up in the choir, Rachel Winslow, with her face bowed on the railing of the oak screen, gave way to a feeling which she had not allowed yet to master her, but it so unfitted her for her part that when Mr. Maxwell finished and she tried to sing the closing solo after the prayer, her voice broke, and for the first time in her life she was obliged to sit down, sobbing, and unable to go on.
Over the church, in the silence that followed this strange scene, sobs and the noise of weeping arose. When had the First Church yielded to such a baptism of tears? What had become of its regular, precise, conventional order of service, undisturbed by any vulgar emotion and unmoved by any foolish excitement? But the people had lately had their deepest convictions touched. They had been living so long on their surface feelings that they had almost forgotten the deeper wells of life. Now that they had broken the surface, the people were convicted of the meaning of their discipleship.
Mr. Maxwell did not ask, this morning, for volunteers to join those who had already pledged to do as Jesus would. But when the congregation had finally gone, and he had entered the lecture-room, it needed but a glance to show him that the original company of followers had been largely increased. The meeting was tender; it glowed with the Spirit’s presence; it was alive with strong and lasting resolve to begin a war on the whiskey power in Raymond that would break its reign forever. Since the first Sunday when the first company of volunteers had pledged themselves to do as Jesus would do, the different meetings had been characterized by distinct impulses or impressions. Today, the entire force of the gathering seemed to be directed to this one large purpose. It was a meeting full of broken prayers of contrition, of confession, of strong yearning for a new and better city life. And all through it ran one general cry for deliverance from the saloon and its awful curse.
But if the First Church was deeply stirred by the events of the last week, the Rectangle also felt moved strangely in its own way. The death of Loreen was not in itself so remarkable a fact. It was her recent acquaintance with the people from the city that lifted her into special prominence and surrounded her death with more than ordinary importance. Every one in the Rectangle knew that Loreen was at this moment lying in the Page mansion up on the avenue. Exaggerated reports of the magnificence of the casket had already furnished material for eager gossip. The Rectangle was excited to know the details of the funeral. Would it be public? What did Miss Page intend to do? The Rectangle had never before mingled even in this distant personal manner with the aristocracy on the boulevard. The opportunities for doing so were not frequent. Gray and his wife were besieged by inquirers who wanted to know what Loreen’s friends and acquaintances were expected to do in paying their last respects to her. For her acquaintance was large and many of the recent converts were among her friends.
So that is how it happened that Monday afternoon, at the tent, the funeral service of Loreen was held before an immense audience that choked the tent and overflowed beyond all previous bounds. Gray had gone up to Virginia’s and, after talking it over with her and Maxwell, the arrangement had been made.
“I am and always have been opposed to large public funerals,” said Gray, whose complete wholesome simplicity of character was one of its great sources of strength; “but the cry of the poor creatures who knew Loreen is so earnest that I do not know how to refuse this desire to see her and pay her poor body some last little honor. What do you think, Mr. Maxwell? I will be guided by your judgment in the matter. I am sure that whatever you and Miss Page think best, will be right.”
“I feel as you do,” replied Mr. Maxwell. “Under the circumstances I have a great distaste for what seems like display at such times. But this seems different. The people at the Rectangle will not come here to service. I think the most Christian thing will be to let them have the service at the tent. Do you think so, Miss Virginia?”
“Yes,” said Virginia. “Poor soul! I do not know but that some time I shall know she gave her life for mine. We certainly cannot and will not use the occasion for vulgar display. Let her friends be allowed the gratification of their wishes. I see no harm in it.”
So the arrangements were made, with some difficulty, for the service at the tent; and Virginia with her uncle and Rollin, accompanied by Maxwell, Rachel and President Marsh, and the quartet from the First Church, went down and witnessed one of the strange things of their lives.
It happened that that afternoon a somewhat noted newspaper correspondent was passing through Raymond on his way to an editorial convention in a neighboring city. He heard of the contemplated service at the tent and went down. His description of it was written in a graphic style that caught the attention of very many readers the next day. A fragment of his account belongs to this part of the history of Raymond:
“There was a very unique and unusual funeral service held here this afternoon at the tent of an evangelist, Rev. John Gray, down in the slum district known as the Rectangle. The occasion was caused by the killing of a woman during an election riot last Saturday night. It seems she had been recently converted during the evangelist’s meetings, and was killed while returning from one of the meetings in company with other converts and some of her friends. She was a common street drunkard, and yet the services at the tent were as impressive as any I ever witnessed in a metropolitan church over the most distinguished citizen.
“In the first place, a most exquisite anthem was sung by a trained choir. It struck me, of course–being a stranger in the place–with considerable astonishment to hear voices like those one naturally expects to hear only in great churches or concerts, at such a meeting as this. But the most remarkable part of the music was a solo sung by a strikingly beautiful young woman, a Miss Winslow who, if I remember right, is the young singer who was sought for by Crandall the manager of National Opera, and who for some reason refused to accept his offer to go on the stage. She had a most wonderful manner in singing, and everybody was weeping before she had sung a dozen words. That, of course, is not so strange an effect to be produced at a funeral service, but the voice itself was one of thousands. I understand Miss Winslow sings in the First Church of Raymond and could probably command almost any salary as a public singer. She will probably be heard from soon. Such a voice could win its way anywhere.
“The service aside from the singing was peculiar. The evangelist, a man of apparently very simple, unassuming style, spoke a few words, and he was followed by a fine-looking man, the Rev. Henry Maxwell, pastor of the First Church of Raymond. Mr. Maxwell spoke of the fact that the dead woman had been fully prepared to go, but he spoke in a peculiarly sensitive manner of the effect of the liquor business on the lives of men and women like this one. Raymond, of course, being a railroad town and the centre of the great packing interests for this region, is full of saloons. I caught from the minister’s remarks that he had only recently changed his views in regard to license. He certainly made a very striking address, and yet it was in no sense inappropriate for a funeral.
“Then followed what was perhaps the queer part of this strange service. The women in the tent, at least a large part of them up near the coffin, began to sing in a soft, tearful way, ‘I was a wandering sheep.’ Then while the singing was going on, one row of women stood up and walked slowly past the casket, and as they went by, each one placed a flower of some kind upon it. Then they sat down and another row filed past, leaving their flowers. All the time the singing continued softly like rain on a tent cover when the wind is gentle. It was one of the simplest and at the same time one of the most impressive sights I ever witnessed. The sides of the tent were up, and hundreds of people who could not get in, stood outside, all as still as death itself, with wonderful sadness and solemnity for such rough looking people. There must have been a hundred of these women, and I was told many of them had been converted at the meetings just recently. I cannot describe the effect of that singing. Not a man sang a note. All women’s voices, and so soft, and yet so distinct, that the effect was startling.
“The service closed with another solo by Miss Winslow, who sang, ‘There were ninety and nine.’ And then the evangelist asked them all to bow their heads while he prayed. I was obliged in order to catch my train to leave during the prayer, and the last view I caught of the service as the train went by the shops was a sight of the great crowd pouring out of the tent and forming in open ranks while the coffin was borne out by six of the women. It is a long time since I have seen such a picture in this unpoetic Republic.”
If Loreen’s funeral impressed a passing stranger like this, it is not difficult to imagine the profound feelings of those who had been so intimately connected with her life and death. Nothing had ever entered the Rectangle that had moved it so deeply as Loreen’s body in that coffin. And the Holy Spirit seemed to bless with special power the use of this senseless clay. For that night He swept more than a score of lost souls, mostly women, into the fold of the Good Shepherd.