Chapter Twenty-Seven of In His Steps by Charles Sheldon – inspiration for the “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) movement
“Righteousness shall go before him and shall set us in the way of his steps.”
THE Bishop was not in the habit of carrying much money with him, and the man with the stake who was searching him uttered an oath at the small amount of change he found. As he uttered it, the man with the pistol savagely said, “Jerk out his watch! We might as well get all we can out of the job!”
The man with the stake was on the point of laying hold of the chain where there was a sound of footsteps coming towards him.
“Get behind the fence! We haven’t half searched him yet! Mind you keep shut now, if you don’t want–”
The man with the pistol made a significant gesture with it and, with his companion, pulled and pushed the Bishop down the alley and through a ragged, broken opening in the fence. The three stood still there in the shadow until the footsteps passed.
“Now, then, have you got the watch?” asked the man with the pistol.
“No, the chain is caught somewhere!” and the other man swore again.
“Break it then!”
“No, don’t break it,” the Bishop said, and it was the first time he had spoken.
“The chain is the gift of a very dear friend. I should be sorry to have it broken.”
At the sound of the Bishop’s voice the man with the pistol started as if he had been suddenly shot by his own weapon. With a quick movement of his other hand he turned the Bishop’s head toward’s what little light was shining from the alleyway, at the same time taking a step nearer. Then, to the amazement of his companion, he said roughly: “Leave the watch alone! We’ve got the money. That’s enough!”
“Enough! Fifty cents! You don’t reckon–”
Before the man with the stake could say another word he was confronted with the muzzle of the pistol turned from the Bishop’s head towards his own.
“Leave that watch be! And put back the money too. This is the Bishop we’ve held up–the Bishop–do you hear?”
“And what of it! The President of the United States wouldn’t be too good to hold up, if–”
“I say, you put the money back, or in five seconds I’ll blow a hole through your head that’ll let in more sense than you have to spare now!” said the other.
For a second the man with the stake seemed to hesitate at this strange turn in events, as if measuring his companion’s intention. Then he hastily dropped the money back into the rifled pocket.
“You can take your hands down, sir.” The man lowered his weapon slowly, still keeping an eye on the other man, and speaking with rough respect. The Bishop slowly brought his arms to his side, and looked earnestly at the two men. In the dim light it was difficult to distinguish features. He was evidently free to go his way now, but he stood there making no movement.
“You can go on. You needn’t stay any longer on our account.” The man who had acted as spokesman turned and sat down on a stone. The other man stood viciously digging his stake into the ground.
“That’s just what I am staying for,” replied the Bishop. He sat down on a board that projected from the broken fence.
“You must like our company. It is hard sometimes for people to tear themselves away from us,” and the man standing up laughed coarsely.
“Shut up!” exclaimed the other. “We’re on the road to hell, though, that’s sure enough. We need better company than ourselves and the devil.”
“If you would only allow me to be of any help,” the Bishop spoke gently, even lovingly. The man on the stone stared at the Bishop through the darkness. After a moment of silence he spoke slowly like one who had finally decided upon a course he had at first rejected.
“Do you remember ever seeing me before?”
“No,” said the Bishop. “The light is not very good and I have really not had a good look at you.”
“Do you know me now?” The man suddenly took off his hat and getting up from the stone walked over to the Bishop until they were near enough to touch each other.
The man’s hair was coal black except one spot on the top of his head about as large as the palm of the hand, which was white.
The minute the Bishop saw that, he started. The memory of fifteen years ago began to stir in him. The man helped him.
“Don’t you remember one day back in ‘81 or ‘82 a man came to your house and told a story about his wife and child having been burned to death in a tenement fire in New York?”
“Yes, I begin to remember now.” The other man seemed to be interested. He ceased digging his stake in the ground and stood still listening.
“Do you remember how you took me into your own house that night and spent all next day trying to find me a job? And how when you succeeded in getting me a place in a warehouse as foreman, I promised to quit drinking because you asked me to?”
“I remember it now. I hope you have kept your promise.”
The man laughed savagely. Then he struck his hand against the fence with such sudden passion that he drew blood.
“Kept it! I was drunk inside of a week! I’ve been drinking ever since. But I’ve never forgotten you nor your prayer. Do you remember the morning after I came to your house, after breakfast you had prayers and asked me to come in and sit with the rest? That got me! But my mother used to pray! I can see her now kneeling down by my bed when I was a lad. Father came in one night and kicked her while she was kneeling there by me. But I never forgot that prayer of yours that morning. You prayed for me just as mother used to, and you didn’t seem to take ‘count of the fact that I was ragged and tough-looking and more than half drunk when I rang your door bell. Oh, what a life I’ve lived! The saloon has housed me and homed me and made hell on earth for me. But that prayer stuck to me all the time. My promise not to drink was broken into a thousand pieces inside of two Sundays, and I lost the job you found for me and landed in a police station two days later, but I never forgot you nor your prayer. I don’t know what good it has done me, but I never forgot it. And I won’t do any harm to you nor let any one else. So you’re free to go. That’s why.”
The Bishop did not stir. Somewhere a church clock struck one. The man had put on his hat and gone back to his seat on the stone. The Bishop was thinking hard.
“How long is it since you had work?” he asked, and the man standing up answered for the other.
“More’n six months since either of us did anything to tell of; unless you count ‘holding up’ work. I call it pretty wearing kind of a job myself, especially when we put in a night like this and don’t make nothin’.”
“Suppose I found good jobs for both of you? Would you quit this and begin all over?”
“What’s the use?” the man on the stone spoke sullenly. “I’ve reformed a hundred times. Every time I go down deeper. The devil’s begun to foreclose on me already. It’s too late.”
“No!” said the Bishop. And never before the most entranced audience had he felt the desire for souls burn up in him so strongly. All the time he sat there during the remarkable scene he prayed, “O Lord Jesus, give me the souls of these two for Thee! I am hungry for them. Give them to me!”
“No!” the Bishop repeated. “What does God want of you two men? It doesn’t so much matter what I want. But He wants just what I do in this case. You two men are of infinite value to Him.” And then his wonderful memory came to his aid in an appeal such as no one on earth among men could make under such circumstances. He had remembered the man’s name in spite of the wonderfully busy years that lay between his coming to the house and the present moment.
“Burns,” he said, and he yearned over the men with an unspeakable longing for them both, “if you and your friend here will go home with me tonight I will find you both places of honorable employment. I will believe in you and trust you. You are both comparatively young men. Why should God lose you? It is a great thing to win the love of the Great Father. It is a small thing that I should love you. But if you need to feel again that there is love in the world, you will believe me when I say, my brothers, that I love you, and in the name of Him who was crucified for our sins I cannot bear to see you miss the glory of the human life. Come, be men! Make another try for it, God helping you. No one but God and you and myself need ever know anything of this tonight. He has forgiven it the minute you ask Him to. You will find that true. Come! We’ll fight it out together, you two and I. It’s worth fighting for, everlasting life is. It was the sinner that Christ came to help. I’ll do what I can for you. O God, give me the souls of these two men!” and he broke into a prayer to God that was a continuation of his appeal to the men. His pent-up feeling had no other outlet. Before he had prayed many moments Burns was sitting with his face buried in his hands, sobbing. Where were his mother’s prayers now? They were adding to the power of the Bishop’s. And the other man, harder, less moved, without a previous knowledge of the Bishop, leaned back against the fence, stolid at first. But as the prayer went on, he was moved by it. What force of the Holy Spirit swept over his dulled, brutal, coarsened life, nothing but the eternal records of the recording angel can ever disclose. But the same supernatural Presence that smote Paul on the road to Damascus, and poured through Henry Maxwell’s church the morning he asked disciples to follow in Jesus’ steps, and had again broken irresistibly over the Nazareth Avenue congregation, now manifested Himself in this foul corner of the mighty city and over the natures of these two sinful sunken men, apparently lost to all the pleadings of conscience and memory and God. The prayer seemed to red open the crust that for years had surrounded them and shut them off from divine communication. And they themselves were thoroughly startled by it.
The Bishop ceased, and at first he himself did not realize what had happened. Neither did they. Burns still sat with his head bowed between his knees. The man leaning against the fence looked at the Bishop with a face in which new emotions of awe, repentance, astonishment and a broken gleam of joy struggled for expression. The Bishop rose.
“Come, my brothers. God is good. You shall stay at the Settlement tonight, and I will make good my promise as to the work.”
The two men followed him in silence. When they reached the Settlement it was after two o’clock. He let them in and led them to a room. At the door he paused a moment. His tall, commanding figure stood in the doorway and his pale face was illuminated with the divine glory.
“God bless you, my brothers!” he said, and leaving them his benediction he went away.