What Would Jesus Do?

In each situation they found out as they walked



What Would Jesus Do?

For the first time in their lives, The Reverend Henry Maxwell and his congregation are forced to consider this question and its consequences.

Deeply shaken by the appearance of a mysterious stranger in town and his impassioned plea for the poor and downtrodden, the minister and five influential parishioners begin a year-long experience in Christianity. Each has resolved to conduct his life according to the precepts of Christ, applying His behavior to their own lives.

"What would Jesus do?" Mr. Maxwell searches his soul for guidance, suddenly alert to the trials that lie ahead…the newspaper editor awakens to an opportunity to do great good for his neighbors, even though his job is endangered…the heiress realizes spiritual fulfillment is within her grasp, even at the cost of bitter family opposition…the novelist sees a chance to win the woman he loves, through deception…the executive faces up to community responsibility in his business dealings…

No one in town is left untouched by the brief, probing question. These people learn the answer—and so have millions of readers who have accepted the challenge to walk "In His Steps."



In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon has been challenging readers to a spiritual adventure now for over eighty-five years. Behind the writing of this book is a fascinating story. Dr. Sheldon was the pastor of the Central Congregational Church in Topeka, Kansas.

One hot June afternoon in 1896, the minister decided to try an unusual kind of sermon for his Sunday night services. He would write a continued story, one chapter to be given each week about what happened in the lives of various persons, with different backgrounds and vocations, who applied to every decision the question "What would Jesus do?"

Dr. Sheldon was soon preaching to a packed church with standing room only. Young people especially crowded these Sunday evening services.

When the series was over, the story was published as a serial in the Advance, a weekly religious paper in Chicago. It was then offered to three different publishers. All turned it down. Finally the Advance put it out in a ten-cent paperback edition. Over 100,000 copies of this edition were sold in a matter of weeks.

The amazing part of the story followed. Because the Advance had sent only a portion of the manuscript to the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C., the copyright was later declared invalid. Thus, because it belonged to "the public domain," sixteen publishers in the United States were soon printing it. The editions then spread around the world—England, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Bulgaria, on to Greece and India—in the end, 45 countries. There is no way of knowing the total number of copies sold and the numbers of lives touched by the challenge of Jesus’ way of life. A conservative estimate would be over 22 million copies of In His Steps distributed, the world’s record next to the Scriptures.

Although Dr. Sheldon realized almost no royalty from these remarkable sales, that fact never made him bitter. He felt that the defective copyright had been turned by God to unprecedented good. In His Steps, carefully edited and updated for modern readers, remains today as timely as it was when first published so many years ago.

Part 1 of 24 parts 


It was Friday morning, and the Reverend Henry Maxwell was trying to finish his Sunday morning sermon. He had been interrupted several times and was growing nervous as the morning wore away and the sermon grew very slowly toward a satisfactory finish.                                                                       

"Mary," he called to his wife as he went upstairs after the last interruption, "if anyone comes after this, I wish you would say that I am very busy and cannot come down unless it is something very important."                                                                          

 "All right, Henry. But I am going over to visit the kindergarten, and you will have the house all to yourself."          

The minister went up into his study and shut the door. In a few minutes he heard his wife go out, then everything was quiet.                

He settled himself at his desk with a sigh of relief and began to write. His text was from 1 Peter 2:21: "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps."                                     

 He had emphasized in the first part of the sermon the atonement as a personal sacrifice, calling attention to the fact of Jesus’ suffering in various ways, in His life as well as in His death. He had then gone on to emphasize the atonement from the side of example, giving illustrations from the life and teaching of Jesus, to show how faith in Christ helped to save men because of the patterns or character He displayed for their imitation. He was now on the third and last point, the necessity of following Jesus in His sacrifice and example.                                                         

He had just put down: "Three steps: what are they?" and was about to enumerate them in logical order when the doorbell rang sharply.                                                                        

Henry Maxwell sat at his desk and frowned a little. He made no movement to answer the bell. Very soon it rang again. Then he rose and walked over to one of his windows that commanded a view of the front door.                                      

A man was standing on the steps. He was a young man, very shabbily dressed.                                                          

 "Looks like a tramp" said the minister. "I suppose I’ll have to go down, and—"                                                           

He did not finish his sentence, but went downstairs and opened the front door.                                                         

 There was a moment’s pause as the two men stood facing each other. Then the shabby-looking man said, "I am out of a job, sir, and thought maybe you might give me a lead toward something."                                                                        

"I don’t know of anything. Jobs are scarce," replied the minister, beginning to shut the door slowly.                                   

"I didn’t know but that you might perhaps be able to give me a lead to the railroad office or the plant superintendent or something," continued the young man, shifting his faded hat nervously from one hand to the other.                               

"It would be of no use. You will have to excuse me. I am very busy this morning. I hope you will find something. Sorry I can’t give you something to do here, but I do the work myself." The Reverend Henry Maxwell closed the door and heard the man walk down the steps. As he went up into his study, he saw from his window that the man was going slowly down the street, still holding his hat between his hands. There was something in the figure so dejected, homeless and forsaken that the minister hesitated a moment as he stood there at the window. Then he turned to his desk, and with a sigh began the writing where he had left off.                                                                     

He had no more interruptions. When his wife returned two hours later, the sermon was finished, the loose leaves gathered up and neatly tied together and laid on his Bible, all ready for the Sunday morning service.                                                       

"A queer thing happened at the kindergarten this morning, Henry," said his wife while they were eating dinner. "You know I went over with Mrs. Brown to visit the school, and just after the games, while the children were at the tables, the door opened and a young man came in, holding a dirty hat in both hands. He sat down near the door and never said a word, only looked at the children. He was evidently a tramp, and Miss Wren and her assistant, Miss Kyle, were a little frightened at first. But he sat there very quietly, and after a few minutes he went out."                                  

 "Perhaps he was tired and wanted to rest somewhere, Mary. The same man called her, I think. Did you say he looked like a tramp?"                                                                            

"Yes, very dusty and shabby. Probably in his early thirties, I should say."                                                                    

"Did you finish your sermon, Henry?" his wife asked, after a pause.                                                                          

"Yes, all done. It has been a very busy week with me. The two sermons have cost me a good deal of labor."                         

 "What are you going to preach about in the morning?"              

"Following Christ. I take up the atonement under the head of sacrifice and example, and then show the steps needed to follow His sacrifice and example."                                                      

"I am sure it is a good sermon. I hope it won’t rain Sunday. We have had so many stormy Sundays lately."                       

"Yes, I’m afraid people will not come out to church in a storm." Pastor Henry Maxwell sighed as he said it. He was thinking of the careful, laborious efforts he had made in preparing sermons for large audiences that failed to appear.                          

 On Sunday the town of Raymond had one of the perfect days that sometimes come after long periods of wind and rain and mud. The air was clear and bracing, the sky free from all threatening signs. When the service opened at eleven o’clock, the large building was filled with an audience of the best-dressed, most comfortable-looking people in Raymond.                               

The First Church of Raymond believed in having the best music money could buy, and its quartet choir this morning was a source of great pleasure to the congregation. The anthem was inspiring. All the music was in keeping with the subject of the sermon. And the anthem was an elaborate adaptation to the most modern music of the hymn:

Jesus, I my cross have taken

All to leave and follow thee.

          Just before the sermon, the soprano, Rachel Winslow, sang the well-known hymn:

Where He leads me I will follow

I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.

          Rachel looked very beautiful that morning as she stood up behind the screen of carved oak that was significantly marked with the emblems of the cross and the crown. Her voice was even more lively than her face, and that was saying a great deal.         

 There was a general rustle of expectation over the audience as she rose. Mr. Maxwell settled himself contentedly behind the pulpit. Rachel Winslow’s singing always helped him. He generally arranged for a song before the sermon. It made possible a certain inspiration of feeling that he knew made his delivery more impressive.                                                                       

 People said to themselves that they had never before heard such singing, even in the First Church. It is certain that if it had not been a church service, her solo would have been vigorously applauded. It even seemed to the minister when she sat down that something like an attempted clapping of hands or a striking of feet on the floor swept through the church. He was startled by it. As he rose, however, and laid his sermon on the Bible, he said to himself that he had been deceived. Of course it could not occur. In a few moments he was absorbed in his sermon and everything else was forgotten in the pleasure of his delivery.                                      No one had ever accused Henry Maxwell of being a dull preacher. On the contrary, he had often been charged with being sensational—not in what he said so much as in his way of saying it. But the First Church people liked that. It gave their preacher and their parish a pleasant, agreeable distinction.                      It was also true that the pastor of the First Church loved to preach. He was eager to be in his own pulpit when Sunday came. That was an exhilarating half-hour for him as he faced a church full of people and knew that he had a hearing. He was peculiarly sensitive to variations in the attendance. He never preached well before a small audience. The weather also affected him decidedly. He was at his best before just such an audience as faced him now, on just such a morning. He felt a glow of deep personal satisfaction as he went on. The church was the first in the city. It had the best choir. It had a membership composed of the leading people, representatives of the wealth, society and intelligence of Raymond.      

He was going abroad on a two-month vacation in the summer, which reflected the circumstances of his pastorate, his influence and his position as pastor of the first church of the city.    The sermon was interesting. It was full of striking sentences which would have commanded attention if printed. Spoken with the passion of a dramatic utterance that had the good taste never to offend with ranting or declamation, it was very effective. If the Reverend Henry Maxwell that morning felt satisfied with the conditions of his pastorate, the First Church also had a similar feeling as it congratulated itself on the presence in the pulpit of this scholarly, refined, somewhat striking face and figure, preaching with such animation and freedom from all vulgar, noisy or disagreeable mannerism.                                         

 Suddenly into the midst of this perfect accord and concord between preacher and audience came a remarkable interruption. It would be difficult to indicate the extent of the shock which this interruption measured.                                                   

 The sermon had come to a close. Mr. Maxwell had just turned half of the big Bible over onto his manuscripts and was about to sit down, as the quartet prepared to rise to sing the closing selection,


          All for Jesus, all for Jesus,                                                       

          All my being’s ransomed powers.

          Suddenly the entire congregation was startled by the sound of a man’s voice. It came from the rear of the church. The next moment the figure of a man came out of the last row of seats and walked down the middle aisle.                                        

  Before the startled congregation fairly realized what was going on, the man had reached the open space in front of the pulpit and had turned about, facing the people.                                      

"I’m not drunk and I’m not crazy, and I’m perfectly harmless," he began. "But if I die, as there is every likelihood I shall in a few days, I want the satisfaction of thinking that I said my say in a place like this and before this sort of crowd."                  

Mr. Maxwell had not taken his seat, and he now remained standing, leaning on his pulpit, looking down at the stranger. Before him was the man who had come to his house the Friday before—the same dusty, worn, shabby-looking young man. He held his faded hat in his hands. It seemed to be a favorite gesture. He had not shaved, and his hair was rough and tangled. It was doubtful if anyone like this had ever before confronted the congregation and pastor of First Church.                                      

There was nothing offensive in the man’s manner or tone. He was not excited, and he spoke in a low but distinct voice. Mr. Maxwell was conscious, even as he stood there smitten into dumb astonishment at the event, that somehow the man’s action reminded him of a person he had once seen walking and talking in his sleep.                                                                     

No one in the church made any motion to stop the stranger or in any way interrupt him. Perhaps the first shock of his sudden appearance deepened into genuine perplexity concerning what was best to do. However that may be, he went on as if he had no thought of interruption and no thought of the unusual element he had introduced into the decorum of the First Church service. And all the while he was speaking the minister leaned over the pulpit, his face growing more white and sad every moment. But he made no movement to stop him, and the people sat smitten into breathless silence. One other face, that of Rachel Winslow from the choir, stared white and intent down at the shabby figure with the faded hat. Her face was striking at any time. Under the pressure of the present incident, it was as personally distinct as if it had been framed in fire.                                                             

"I’m not an ordinary tramp, though I don’t know of any teaching of Jesus that makes one kind of a tramp less worth saving than another. Do you?" He put the question as naturally as if the whole congregation had been a small Bible class. He paused just a moment and coughed painfully. Then he went on.                           "I lost my job ten months ago. I am a printer by trade. The new linotype machines are beautiful specimens of inventions, but I know six men who have killed themselves inside of the year just on account of those machines. Of course, I don’t blame the newspapers for getting the machines. Meanwhile, what can a man do? I know I never learned but my one trade, and that’s all I can do. I’ve tramped all over the country trying to find something. There are a good many others like me. I’m not complaining, just stating facts. But I was wondering, as I sat here in church this morning, if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said, ‘Follow me’?"             

Here the man turned about and looked up at the pulpit. "Your minister said that it was necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps, and he said the steps were obedience, faith, love and imitation. But I did not hear him tell you just what he meant that to mean, especially the last step. What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus? I’ve tramped through this city for three days trying to find a job, and in all that time I’ve not had a word of sympathy or comfort except from your minister here, who said he was sorry for me and hoped I would find a job somewhere. I suppose it is because you get so imposed on by the professional tramp that you have lost your interest in the other sort. I’m not blaming anybody, am I? Just stating facts.    "Of course, I understand you can’t go out of your way to hunt jobs for people like me. I’m not asking you to, but what I feel puzzled about is, what is meant by following Jesus? What do you mean when you sing, ‘I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way’? Do you mean that you are suffering and denying yourselves and trying to save lost, suffering humanity just as I understand Jesus did? What do you mean by it? I see the ragged edge of things a good deal. I understand there are more than five hundred men in this city just like me. Most of them have families. My wife died four months ago. I’m glad she is out of trouble. My little girl is staying with a printer’s family until I find a job. Somehow I get puzzled when I see so many Christians living in luxury and singing, ‘Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow thee…’ and remembering how my wife died in a New York tenement gasping for air and asking God to take the little girl, too.                            

"Of course I don’t expect you people can prevent one from dying of starvation, lack of proper nourishment, and tenement air, but what does following Jesus mean? I understand that Christian people own a good many of the tenements. A member of a church was the owner of the one where my wife died. I have wondered if following Jesus all the way was true in his case. I heard some people singing at a church prayer meeting the other night,

All for Jesus, all for Jesus;

All my being’s ransomed powers;

All my thoughts and all my doings,

All my days and all my hours;

          "I kept wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by it. It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me sometimes as if people in the big churches have good clothes and nice houses to live in and money to spend for luxuries, and can go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them, I mean, die in tenements and walk the streets for jobs, and never have a piano or a picture in the house, and grow up in misery and drunkenness and sin."                                                           

 The man gave a queer lurch over in the direction of the Communion table and laid one grimy hand on it. His hat fell upon the carpet at his feet. A stir went through the congregation, but as yet the silence was unbroken by any voice or movement. The man passed his other hand across his eyes, and then, without any warning, fell heavily forward on his face.                                

Henry Maxwell said, "We will consider the service closed." He was down the pulpit stairs and kneeling by the prostrate form before anyone else. The audience instantly rose and the aisles were crowded.                                                                   

 Dr. Philip West was the second to reach the inert figure and pronounced the man alive. "He seems to have a heart problem" the doctor muttered as he helped carry him to the pastor’s study.




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