Chapter Eighteen of In His Steps by Charles Sheldon – inspiration for the “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) movement
“What is that to thee? Follow thou me.”
WHEN Rollin started down the street the afternoon that Jasper stood looking out of his window he was not thinking of Rachel Winslow and did not expect to see her anywhere. He had come suddenly upon her as he turned into the avenue and his heart had leaped up at the sight of her. He walked along by her now, rejoicing after all in a little moment of this earthly love he could not drive out of his life.
“I have just been over to see Virginia,” said Rachel. “She tells me the arrangements are nearly completed for the transfer of the Rectangle property.”
“Yes. It has been a tedious case in the courts. Did Virginia show you all the plans and specifications for building?”
“We looked over a good many. It is astonishing to me where Virginia has managed to get all her ideas about this work.”
“Virginia knows more now about Arnold Toynbee and East End London and Institutional Church work in America than a good many professional slum workers. She has been spending nearly all summer in getting information.” Rollin was beginning to feel more at ease as they talked over this coming work of humanity. It was safe, common ground.
“What have you been doing all summer? I have not seen much of you,” Rachel suddenly asked, and then her face warmed with its quick flush of tropical color as if she might have implied too much interest in Rollin or too much regret at not seeing him oftener.
“I have been busy,” replied Rollin briefly.
“Tell me something about it,” persisted Rachel. “You say so little. Have I a right to ask?”
She put the question very frankly, turning toward Rollin in real earnest.
“Yes, certainly,” he replied, with a graceful smile. “I am not so certain that I can tell you much. I have been trying to find some way to reach the men I once knew and win them into more useful lives.”
He stopped suddenly as if he were almost afraid to go on. Rachel did not venture to suggest anything.
“I have been a member of the same company to which you and Virginia belong,” continued Rollin, beginning again. “I have made the pledge to do as I believe Jesus would do, and it is in trying to answer this question that I have been doing my work.”
“That is what I do not understand. Virginia told me about the other. It seems wonderful to think that you are trying to keep that pledge with us. But what can you do with the club men?”
“You have asked me a direct question and I shall have to answer it now,” replied Rollin, smiling again. “You see, I asked myself after that night at the tent, you remember” (he spoke hurriedly and his voice trembled a little), “what purpose I could now have in my life to redeem it, to satisfy my thought of Christian discipleship? And the more I thought of it, the more I was driven to a place where I knew I must take up the cross. Did you ever think that of all the neglected beings in our social system none are quite so completely left alone as the fast young men who fill the clubs and waste their time and money as I used to? The churches look after the poor, miserable creatures like those in the Rectangle; they make some effort to reach the working man, they have a large constituency among the average salary-earning people, they send money and missionaries to the foreign heathen, but the fashionable, dissipated young men around town, the club men, are left out of all plans for reaching and Christianizing. And yet no class of people need it more. I said to myself: ‘I know these men, their good and their bad qualities. I have been one of them. I am not fitted to reach the Rectangle people. I do not know how. But I think I could possibly reach some of the young men and boys who have money and time to spend.’ So that is what I have been trying to do. When I asked as you did, What would Jesus do?’ that was my answer. It has been also my cross.”
Rollin’s voice was so low on this last sentence that Rachel had difficulty in hearing him above the noise around them, But she knew what he had said. She wanted to ask what his methods were. But she did not know how to ask him. Her interest in his plan was larger than mere curiosity. Rollin Page was so different now from the fashionable young man who had asked her to be his wife that she could not help thinking of him and talking with him as if he were an entirely new acquaintance.
They had turned off the avenue and were going up the street to Rachel’s home. It was the same street where Rollin had asked Rachel why she could not love him. They were both stricken with a sudden shyness as they went on. Rachel had not forgotten that day and Rollin could not. She finally broke a long silence by asking what she had not found words for before.
“In your work with the club men, with your old acquaintances, what sort of reception do they give you? How do you approach them? What do they say?”
Rollin was relieved when Rachel spoke. He answered quickly: “Oh, it depends on the man. A good many of them think I am a crank. I have kept my membership up and am in good standing in that way. I try to be wise and not provoke any unnecessary criticism. But you would be surprised to know how many of the men have responded to my appeal. I could hardly make you believe that only a few nights ago a dozen men became honestly and earnestly engaged in a conversation over religious matters. I have had the great joy of seeing some of the men give up bad habits and begin a new life. ‘What would Jesus do?’ I keep asking it. The answer comes slowly, for I am feeling my way slowly. One thing I have found out. The men are not fighting shy of me. I think that is a good sign. Another thing: I have actually interested some of them in the Rectangle work, and when it is started up they will give something to help make it more powerful. And in addition to all the rest, I have found a way to save several of the young fellows from going to the bad in gambling.”
Rollin spoke with enthusiasm. His face was transformed by his interest in the subject which had now become a part of his real life. Rachel again noted the strong, manly tone of his speech. With it all she knew there was a deep, underlying seriousness which felt the burden of the cross even while carrying it with joy. The next time she spoke it was with a swift feeling of justice due to Rollin and his new life.
“Do you remember I reproached you once for not having any purpose worth living for?” she asked, while her beautiful face seemed to Rollin more beautiful than ever when he had won sufficient self-control to look up. “I want to say, I feel the need of saying, in justice to you now, that I honor you for your courage and your obedience to the promise you have made as you interpret the promise. The life you are living is a noble one.”
Rollin trembled. His agitation was greater than he could control. Rachel could not help seeing it. They walked along in silence. At last Rollin said: “I thank you. It has been worth more to me than I can tell you to hear you say that.” He looked into her face for one moment. She read his love for her in that look, but he did not speak.
When they separated Rachel went into the house and, sitting down in her room, she put her face in her hands and said to herself: “I am beginning to know what it means to be loved by a noble man. I shall love Rollin Page after all. What am I saying! Rachel Winslow, have you forgotten–”
She rose and walked back and forth. She was deeply moved. Nevertheless, it was evident to herself that her emotion was not that of regret or sorrow. Somehow a glad new joy had come to her. She had entered another circle of experience, and later in the day she rejoiced with a very strong and sincere gladness that her Christian discipleship found room in this crisis for her feeling. It was indeed a part of it, for if she was beginning to love Rollin Page it was the Christian man she had begun to love; the other never would have moved her to this great change.
And Rollin, as he went back, treasured a hope that had been a stranger to him since Rachel had said no that day. In that hope he went on with his work as the days sped on, and at no time was he more successful in reaching and saving his old acquaintances than in the time that followed that chance meeting with Rachel Winslow.
The summer had gone and Raymond was once more facing the rigor of her winter season. Virginia had been able to accomplish a part of her plan for “capturing the Rectangle,” as she called it. But the building of houses in the field, the transforming of its bleak, bare aspect into an attractive park, all of which was included in her plan, was a work too large to be completed that fall after she had secured the property. But a million dollars in the hands of a person who truly wants to do with it as Jesus would, ought to accomplish wonders for humanity in a short time, and Henry Maxwell, going over to the scene of the new work one day after a noon hour with the shop men, was amazed to see how much had been done outwardly.
Yet he walked home thoughtfully, and on his way he could not avoid the question of the continual problem thrust upon his notice by the saloon. How much had been done for the Rectangle after all? Even counting Virginia’s and Rachel’s work and Mr. Gray’s, where had it actually counted in any visible quantity? Of course, he said to himself, the redemptive work begun and carried on by the Holy Spirit in His wonderful displays of power in the First Church and in the tent meetings had had its effect upon the life of Raymond. But as he walked past saloon after saloon and noted the crowds going in and coming out of them, as he saw the wretched dens, as many as ever apparently, as he caught the brutality and squalor and open misery and degradation on countless faces of men and women and children, he sickened at the sight. He found himself asking how much cleansing could a million dollars poured into this cesspool accomplish? Was not the living source of nearly all the human misery they sought to relieve untouched as long as the saloons did their deadly but legitimate work? What could even such unselfish Christian discipleship as Virginia’s and Rachel’s do to lessen the stream of vice and crime so long as the great spring of vice and crime flowed as deep and strong as ever? Was it not a practical waste of beautiful lives for these young women to throw themselves into this earthly hell, when for every soul rescued by their sacrifice the saloon made two more that needed rescue?
He could not escape the question. It was the same that Virginia had put to Rachel in her statement that, in her opinion, nothing really permanent would ever be done until the saloon was taken out of the Rectangle. Henry Maxwell went back to his parish work that afternoon with added convictions on the license business.
But if the saloon was a factor in the problem of the life of Raymond, no less was the First Church and its little company of disciples who had pledged to do as Jesus would do. Henry Maxwell, standing at the very centre of the movement, was not in a position to judge of its power as some one from the outside might have done. But Raymond itself felt the touch in very many ways, not knowing all the reasons for the change.
The winter was gone and the year was ended, the year which Henry Maxwell had fixed as the time during which the pledge should be kept to do as Jesus would do. Sunday, the anniversary of that one a year ago, was in many ways the most remarkable day that the First Church ever knew. It was more important than the disciples in the First Church realized. The year had made history so fast and so serious that the people were not yet able to grasp its significance. And the day itself which marked the completion of a whole year of such discipleship was characterized by such revelations and confessions that the immediate actors in the events themselves could not understand the value of what had been done, or the relation of their trial to the rest of the churches and cities of the country.