Chapter Twenty-Five of In His Steps by Charles Sheldon – inspiration for the “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) movement
THREE months had gone by since the Sunday morning when Dr. Bruce came into his pulpit with the message of the new discipleship. They were three months of great excitement in Nazareth Avenue Church. Never before had Rev. Calvin Bruce realized how deep the feeling of his members flowed. He humbly confessed that the appeal he had made met with an unexpected response from men and women who, like Felicia, were hungry for something in their lives that the conventional type of church membership and fellowship had failed to give them.
But Dr. Bruce was not yet satisfied for himself. He cannot tell what his feeling was or what led to the movement he finally made, to the great astonishment of all who knew him, better than by relating a conversation between him and the Bishop at this time in the history of the pledge in Nazareth Avenue Church. The two friends were as before in Dr. Bruce’s house, seated in his study.
“You know what I have come in this evening for?” the Bishop was saying after the friends had been talking some time about the results of the pledge with the Nazareth Avenue people.
Dr. Bruce looked over at the Bishop and shook his head.
“I have come to confess that I have not yet kept my promise to walk in His steps in the way that I believe I shall be obliged to if I satisfy my thought of what it means to walk in His steps.”
Dr. Bruce had risen and was pacing his study. The Bishop remained in the deep easy chair with his hands clasped, but his eye burned with the blow that belonged to him before he made some great resolve.
“Edward,” Dr. Bruce spoke abruptly, “I have not yet been able to satisfy myself, either, in obeying my promise. But I have at last decided on my course. In order to follow it I shall be obliged to resign from Nazareth Avenue Church.”
“I knew you would,” replied the Bishop quietly. “And I came in this evening to say that I shall be obliged to do the same thing with my charge.”
Dr. Bruce turned and walked up to his friend. They were both laboring under a repressed excitement.
“Is it necessary in your case?” asked Bruce.
“Yes. Let me state my reasons. Probably they are the same as yours. In fact, I am sure they are.” The Bishop paused a moment, then went on with increasing feeling:
“Calvin, you know how many years I have been doing the work of my position, and you know something of the responsibility and care of it. I do not mean to say that my life has been free from burden-bearing or sorrow. But I have certainly led what the poor and desperate of this sinful city would call a very comfortable, yes, a very luxurious life. I have had a beautiful house to live in, the most expensive food, clothing and physical pleasures. I have been able to go abroad at least a dozen times, and have enjoyed for years the beautiful companionship of art and letters and music and all the rest, of the very best. I have never known what it meant to be without money or its equivalent. And I have been unable to silence the question of late: ‘What have I suffered for the sake of Christ?’ Paul was told what great things he must suffer for the sake of his Lord. Maxwell’s position at Raymond is well taken when he insists that to walk in the steps of Christ means to suffer. Where has my suffering come in? The petty trials and annoyances of my clerical life are not worth mentioning as sorrows or sufferings. Compared with Paul or any of the Christian martyrs or early disciples I have lived a luxurious, sinful life, full of ease and pleasure. I cannot endure this any longer. I have that within me which of late rises in overwhelming condemnation of such a following of Jesus. I have not been walking in His steps. Under the present system of church and social life I see no escape from this condemnation except to give the most of my life personally to the actual physical and soul needs of the wretched people in the worst part of this city.”
The Bishop had risen now and walked over to the window. The street in front of the house was as light as day, and he looked out at the crowds passing, then turned and with a passionate utterance that showed how deep the volcanic fire in him burned, he exclaimed:
“Calvin, this is a terrible city in which we live! Its misery, its sin, its selfishness, appall my heart. And I have struggled for years with the sickening dread of the time when I should be forced to leave the pleasant luxury of my official position to put my life into contact with the modern paganism of this century. The awful condition of the girls in some great business places, the brutal selfishness of the insolent society fashion and wealth that ignores all the sorrow of the city, the fearful curse of the drink and gambling hell, the wail of the unemployed, the hatred of the church by countless men who see in it only great piles of costly stone and upholstered furniture and the minister as a luxurious idler, all the vast tumult of this vast torrent of humanity with its false and its true ideas, its exaggeration of evils in the church and its bitterness and shame that are the result of many complex causes, all this as a total fact in its contrast with the easy, comfortable life I have lived, fills me more and more with a sense of mingled terror and self accusation. I have heard the words of Jesus many times lately: ‘Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least My brethren, ye did it not unto Me.’ And when have I personally visited the prisoner or the desperate or the sinful in any way that has actually caused me suffering? Rather, I have followed the conventional soft habits of my position and have lived in the society of the rich, refined, aristocratic members of my congregations. Where has the suffering come in? What have I suffered for Jesus’ sake? Do you know, Calvin,” he turned abruptly toward his friend, “I have been tempted of late to lash myself with a scourge. If I had lived in Martin Luther’s time I should have bared my back to a self-inflicted torture.”
Dr. Bruce was very pale. Never had he seen the Bishop or heard him when under the influence of such a passion. There was a sudden silence in the room. The Bishop sat down again and bowed his head.
Dr. Bruce spoke at last: “Edward, I do not need to say that you have expressed my feelings also. I have been in a similar position for years. My life has been one of comparative luxury. I do not, of course, mean to say that I have not had trials and discouragements and burdens in my church ministry. But I cannot say that I have suffered any for Jesus. That verse in Peter constantly haunts me: ‘Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that ye should follow His steps.’ I have lived in luxury. I do not know what it means to want. I also have had my leisure for travel and beautiful companionship. I have been surrounded by the soft, easy comforts of civilization. The sin and misery of this great city have beaten like waves against the stone walls of my church and of this house in which I live, and I have hardly heeded them, the walls have been so thick. I have reached a point where I cannot endure this any longer. I am not condemning the Church. I love her. I am not forsaking the Church. I believe in her mission and have no desire to destroy. Least of all, in the step I am about to take do I desire to be charged with abandoning the Christian fellowship. But I feel that I must resign my place as pastor of Nazareth Church in order to satisfy myself that I am walking as I ought to walk in His steps. In this action I judge no other minister and pass no criticism on others’ discipleship. But I feel as you do. Into a close contact with the sin and shame and degradation of this great city I must come personally. And I know that to do that I must sever my immediate connection with Nazareth Avenue Church. I do not see any other way for myself to suffer for His sake as I feel that I ought to suffer.”
Again that sudden silence fell over those two men. It was no ordinary action they were deciding. They had both reached the same conclusion by the same reasoning, and they were too thoughtful, too well accustomed to the measuring of conduct, to underestimate the seriousness of their position.
“What is your plan?” The Bishop at last spoke gently, looking with the smile that always beautified his face. The Bishop’s face grew in glory now every day.
“My plan,” replied Dr. Bruce slowly, “is, in brief, the putting of myself into the centre of the greatest human need I can find in this city and living there. My wife is fully in accord with me. We have already decided to find a residence in that part of the city where we can make our personal lives count for the most.”
“Let me suggest a place.” The Bishop was on fire now. His fine face actually glowed with the enthusiasm of the movement in which he and his friend were inevitably embarked. He went on and unfolded a plan of such far-reaching power and possibility that Dr. Bruce, capable and experienced as he was, felt amazed at the vision of a greater soul than his own.
They sat up late, and were as eager and even glad as if they were planning for a trip together to some rare land of unexplored travel. Indeed, the Bishop said many times afterward that the moment his decision was reached to live the life of personal sacrifice he had chosen he suddenly felt an uplifting as if a great burden were taken from him. He was exultant. So was Dr. Bruce from the same cause.
Their plan as it finally grew into a workable fact was in reality nothing more than the renting of a large building formerly used as a warehouse for a brewery, reconstructing it and living in it themselves in the very heart of a territory where the saloon ruled with power, where the tenement was its filthiest, where vice and ignorance and shame and poverty were congested into hideous forms. It was not a new idea. It was an idea started by Jesus Christ when He left His Father’s House and forsook the riches that were His in order to get nearer humanity and, by becoming a part of its sin, helping to draw humanity apart from its sin. The University Settlement idea is not modern. It is as old as Bethlehem and Nazareth. And in this particular case it was the nearest approach to anything that would satisfy the hunger of these two men to suffer for Christ.
There had sprung up in them at the same time a longing that amounted to a passion, to get nearer the great physical poverty and spiritual destitution of the mighty city that throbbed around them. How could they do this except as they became a part of it as nearly as one man can become a part of another’s misery? Where was the suffering to come in unless there was an actual self-denial of some sort? And what was to make that self-denial apparent to themselves or any one else, unless it took this concrete, actual, personal form of trying to share the deepest suffering and sin of the city?
So they reasoned for themselves, not judging others. They were simply keeping their own pledge to do as Jesus would do, as they honestly judged He would do. That was what they had promised. How could they quarrel with the result if they were irresistibly compelled to do what they were planning to do?