Chapter Twenty of In His Steps by Charles Sheldon – inspiration for the “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) movement
“BUT I am prolonging this letter, possibly to your weariness. I am unable to avoid the feeling of fascination which my entire stay here has increased. I want to tell you something of the meeting in the First Church today.
“As I said, I heard Maxwell preach. At his earnest request I had preached for him the Sunday before, and this was the first time I had heard him since the Association meeting four years ago. His sermon this morning was as different from his sermon then as if it had been thought out and preached by some one living on another planet. I was profoundly touched. I believe I actually shed tears once. Others in the congregation were moved like myself. His text was: ‘What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.’ It was a most unusually impressive appeal to the Christians of Raymond to obey Jesus’ teachings and follow in His steps regardless of what others might do. I cannot give you even the plan of the sermon. It would take too long. At the close of the service there was the usual after meeting that has become a regular feature of the First Church. Into this meeting have come all those who made the pledge to do as Jesus would do, and the time is spent in mutual fellowship, confession, question as to what Jesus would do in special cases, and prayer that the one great guide of every disciple’s conduct may be the Holy Spirit.
“Maxwell asked me to come into this meeting. Nothing in all my ministerial life, Caxton, has so moved me as that meeting. I never felt the Spirit’s presence so powerfully. It was a meeting of reminiscences and of the most loving fellowship. I was irresistibly driven in thought back to the first years of Christianity. There was something about all this that was apostolic in its simplicity and Christ imitation.
“I asked questions. One that seemed to arouse more interest than any other was in regard to the extent of the Christian disciple’s sacrifice of personal property. Maxwell tells me that so far no one has interpreted the spirit of Jesus in such a way as to abandon his earthly possessions, give away of his wealth, or in any literal way imitate the Christians of the order, for example, of St. Francis of Assisi. It was the unanimous consent, however, that if any disciple should feel that Jesus in his own particular case would do that, there could be only one answer to the question. Maxwell admitted that he was still to a certain degree uncertain as to Jesus’ probable action when it came to the details of household living, the possession of wealth, the holding of certain luxuries. It is, however, very evident that many of these disciples have repeatedly carried their obedience to Jesus to the extreme limit, regardless of financial loss. There is no lack of courage or consistency at this point.
“It is also true that some of the business men who took the pledge have lost great sums of money in this imitation of Jesus, and many have, like Alexander Powers, lost valuable positions owing to the impossibility of doing what they had been accustomed to do and at the same time what they felt Jesus would do in the same place. In connection with these cases it is pleasant to record the fact that many who have suffered in this way have been at once helped financially by those who still have means. In this respect I think it is true that these disciples have all things in common. Certainly such scenes as I witnessed at the First Church at that after service this morning I never saw in my church or in any other. I never dreamed that such Christian fellowship could exist in this age of the world. I was almost incredulous as to the witness of my own senses. I still seem to be asking myself if this is the close of the nineteenth century in America.
“But now, dear friend, I come to the real cause of this letter, the real heart of the whole question as the First Church of Raymond has forced it upon me. Before the meeting closed today steps were taken to secure the co-operation of all other Christian disciples in this country. I think Maxwell took this step after long deliberation. He said as much to me one day when we were discussing the effect of this movement upon the church in general.
“‘Why,’ he said, ‘suppose that the church membership generally in this country made this pledge and lived up to it! What a revolution it would cause in Christendom! But why not? Is it any more than the disciple ought to do? Has he followed Jesus, unless he is willing to do this? Is the test of discipleship any less today than it was in Jesus’ time?’
“I do not know all that preceded or followed his thought of what ought to be done outside of Raymond, but the idea crystallized today in a plan to secure the fellowship of all the Christians in America. The churches, through their pastors, will be asked to form disciple gatherings like the one in the First Church. Volunteers will be called for in the great body of church members in the United States, who will promise to do as Jesus would do. Maxwell spoke particularly of the result of such general action on the saloon question. He is terribly in earnest over this. He told me that there was no question in his mind that the saloon would be beaten in Raymond at the election now near at hand. If so, they could go on with some courage to do the redemptive work begun by the evangelist and now taken up by the disciples in his own church. If the saloon triumphs again there will be a terrible and, as he thinks, unnecessary waste of Christian sacrifice. But, however we differ on that point, he convinced his church that the time had come for a fellowship with other Christians. Surely, if the First Church could work such changes in society and its surroundings, the church in general if combining such a fellowship, not of creed but of conduct, ought to stir the entire nation to a higher life and a new conception of Christian following.
“This is a grand idea, Caxton, but right here is where I find my self hesitating. I do not deny that the Christian disciple ought to follow Christ’s steps as closely as these here in Raymond have tried to do. But I cannot avoid asking what the result would be if I ask my church in Chicago to do it. I am writing this after feeling the solemn, profound touch of the Spirit’s presence, and I confess to you, old friend, that I cannot call up in my church a dozen prominent business or professional men who would make this trial at the risk of all they hold dear. Can you do any better in your church? What are we to say? That the churches would not respond to the call: ‘Come and suffer?’ Is our standard of Christian discipleship a wrong one? Or are we possibly deceiving ourselves, and would we be agreeably disappointed if we once asked our people to take such a pledge faithfully? The actual results of the pledge as obeyed here in Raymond are enough to make any pastor tremble, and at the same time long with yearning that they might occur in his own parish. Certainly never have I seen a church so signally blessed by the Spirit as this one. But–am I myself ready to take this pledge? I ask the question honestly, and I dread to face an honest answer. I know well enough that I should have to change very much in my life if I undertook to follow His steps so closely. I have called myself a Christian for many years. For the past ten years I have enjoyed a life that has had comparatively little suffering in it. I am, honestly I say it, living at a long distance from municipal problems and the life of the poor, the degraded and the abandoned. What would the obedience to this pledge demand of me? I hesitate to answer. My church is wealthy, full of well-to-do, satisfied people. The standard of their discipleship is, I am aware, not of a nature to respond to the call of suffering or personal loss. I say: ‘I am aware.’ I may be mistaken. I may have erred in not stirring their deeper life. Caxton, my friend, I have spoken my inmost thought to you. Shall I go back to my people next Sunday and stand up before them in my large city church and say: ‘Let us follow Jesus closer; let us walk in His steps where it will cost us something more than it is costing us now; let us pledge not to do anything without first asking: ‘What would Jesus do?’ If I should go before them with that message, it would be a strange and startling one to them. But why? Are we not ready to follow Him all the way? What is it to be a follower of Jesus? What does it mean to imitate Him? What does it mean to walk in His steps?”
The Rev. Calvin Bruce, D. D., of the Nazareth Avenue Church, Chicago, let his pen fall on the table. He had come to the parting of the ways, and his question, he felt sure, was the question of many and many a man in the ministry and in the church. He went to his window and opened it. He was oppressed with the weight of his convictions and he felt almost suffocated with the air in the room. He wanted to see the stars and feel the breath of the world.
The night was very still. The clock in the First Church was just striking midnight. As it finished a clear, strong voice down in the direction of the Rectangle came floating up to him as if borne on radiant pinions.
It was a voice of one of Gray’s old converts, a night watchman at the packing houses, who sometimes solaced his lonesome hours by a verse or two of some familiar hymn:
“Must Jesus bear the cross alone And all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for every one, And there’s a cross for me.”
The Rev. Calvin Bruce turned away from the window and, after a little hesitation, he kneeled. “What would Jesus do?” That was the burden of his prayer. Never had he yielded himself so completely to the Spirit’s searching revealing of Jesus. He was on his knees a long time. He retired and slept fitfully with many awakenings. He rose before it was clear dawn, and threw open his window again. As the light in the east grew stronger he repeated to himself: “What would Jesus do? Shall I follow His steps?”
The sun rose and flooded the city with its power. When shall the dawn of a new discipleship usher in the conquering triumph of a closer walk with Jesus? When shall Christendom tread more closely the path he made?
“It is the way the Master trod; Shall not the servant tread it still?”