PART 2 of 24 parts

Henry Maxwell and a group of his church members remained some time in the study. The man, whose name they discovered was Jack Manning, lay on the couch there breathing heavily. When the question of what to do with him came up, the minister insisted upon taking the man to his house. He lived nearby and had an extra room.

Rachel Winslow said, "Mother has no company at present. I am sure we would be glad to give him a place with us." She looked strangely agitated. No one noticed it particularly. They were all excited over the strange event, the strangest that First Church people could remember.

But the minister insisted on taking charge of the man, and when a carriage came, the unconscious form was carried to his house. With the entrance of that humanity into the minister’s spare room, a new chapter in Henry Maxwell’s life began. Yet no one, himself least of all, dreamed of the remarkable change it was destined to make in his Christian discipleship.

The event created a great sensation in the First Church parish. People talked of nothing else for a week. It was the general impression that Jack Manning had wandered into the church in a condition of mental disturbance caused by his troubles, and that all the time he was talking he was in a strange delirium of fever and really ignorant of his surroundings. It was the general agreement also that there was a singular absence of anything bitter or complaining in what Manning had said. He had spoken throughout in a mildly apologetic tone, almost as if he were one of the congregation seeking for light on a very difficult subject.

Throughout the week after his removal to the minister’s house there was little change in Jack Manning’s condition. Saturday morning he began to fail and Dr. West was called. When the physician arrived, Jack Manning rallied for a while and asked to see his daughter.

"Your child is coming," Mr. Maxwell said, his face showing marks of the strain of the week’s vigil. The minister had found the daughter’s address through some letters in Manning’s pocket and had sent for her.

"I shall never see her in this world," Jack whispered. Then he uttered with great difficulty the words, "You have been good to me. Somehow I feel as if it was what Jesus would do." After a few moments he turned his head slightly, and before Mr. Maxwell could realize the fact, the doctor said quietly, "He’s gone."

Sunday morning dawned on the city of Raymond exactly as it had the Sunday before. Mr. Maxwell entered his pulpit to face one of the largest congregations that had ever crowded First Church. He was haggard and looked as if he had just risen from a long illness. His wife was at home with the little girl, who had arrived several hours after her father had died. The minister could see Jack Manning’s face as he opened the Bible and arranged his different notices on the lectern as he had been in the habit of doing for ten years.

The service that morning contained a new element. No one could remember when Henry Maxwell had preached in the morning without notes. As a matter of fact, he had done so occasionally when he first entered the ministry, but for a long time he had carefully written every word of his morning sermon and nearly always his evening discourse as well. It cannot be said that his sermon this morning was impressive. He talked with considerable hesitation. It was evident that some idea struggled in his thought for utterance, but it was not expressed in the theme he had chosen for his preaching. It was near the close of his sermon that he began to gather a certain strength that had been painfully lacking at the beginning. He closed the Bible and, stepping out at the side of the lectern, faced his people and began to talk to them about the remarkable scene of the week before.

"Our brother"—somehow the words sounded a little strange coming from his lips—"passed away yesterday afternoon. I have not yet had time to learn all his history. He had one sister living in Chicago. I have written her and have not yet received an answer. His little girl is with us and will remain for a time."

He paused and looked over the congregation. He thought he had never seen so many earnest faces during his entire pastorate. How was he to tell his people about the crisis through which he was even now moving?

"The appearance and words of this stranger in church last Sunday made a powerful impression on me." The pastor continued. "I am not able to conceal from you, or myself the fact that what he said, followed by his death in my house, has compelled me to ask as I never asked before, ‘What does following Jesus mean?’"

He stopped a moment, struggling for the right words. "What Jack Manning said here last Sunday was a challenge to Christianity as it is practiced in our churches. I have felt this with increasing emphasis every day this past week. And I do not know that any time is more appropriate than right now for me to propose to you the plan that has been forming in my mind as an answer to the stranger’s challenge to us."

Again Henry Maxwell paused and looked into the faces of his people. There were some strong, earnest men and women in the First Church. He could see Edward Norman, editor of the Raymond Daily News. He had been a member of First Church for ten years. No man was more honored in the community.

There was Alexander Powers, superintendent of the railroad yards in Raymond, a typical railroad man, one who had been born into the business. There sat Donald Marsh, president of Lincoln College, situated in the suburbs of Raymond, having in his employ hundreds of men in various plants.

There was Dr. Philip West, who, although still comparatively young, was quoted as an authority in special surgical cases. And young Jasper Chase. He was the author who had written one successful book and was said to be at work on a new novel.

There was Miss Virginia Page, an attractive heiress in her thirties who, through the recent death of her father, had inherited a million at least. A statuesque blonde of attractive proportions, Virginia had an appealing face. The spectacles she wore simply emphasized her gifted intellect. And not least of all, Rachel Winslow, whose youthful brunette beauty this morning seemed to bring a radiance to the whole choir.

This congregation was indeed blessed with many important and attractive people. Henry Maxwell noted. But as he watched their faces this morning, he wondered how many of them would respond to the strange proposition he was about to make. He continued slowly, taking time to choose his words carefully.

"What I am going to propose now is something which ought not to appear unusual or at all impossible of execution. Yet I am aware that it will be so regarded by a large number of the members of the church. But in order that we may have a thorough understanding of what we are considering, I will put my proposition very plainly, perhaps bluntly. I want volunteers from First Church who will pledge themselves earnestly and honestly for an entire year not to attempt anything without first asking the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’"

He stopped again as if he expected some kind of response. There was none. Every eye was fixed intently on the pastor.

"After asking that question of yourself, each of you will follow Jesus exactly as he knows how, no matter what the results may be. I will, of course, include myself in the company of volunteers, and shall take for granted that the members of my church here will not be surprised at my future conduct as based upon this standard of action and will not oppose whatever is done if they think Christ would do it. At the close of the service I want all those members who are willing to join such a company to meet in the lecture room, and we will talk over the details of the plan.

"To sum it up, we who volunteer will attempt to follow Jesus’ steps as closely and as literally as we believe He taught His disciples to do. We will pledge ourselves for an entire year, beginning with today, so to act."

Henry Maxwell paused again and looked out over his people.

It is not easy to describe the sensation that such a simple proposition apparently made. Men glanced at one another in astonishment. It was not like their pastor to define Christian discipleship in this way. There was evident confusion of thought over his proposition. It was understood well enough, but there was apparently a great difference of opinion as to the application of Jesus’ teaching and example.

He calmly closed the service with a brief prayer. The organist began his postlude immediately after the benediction and the people began to file out. There was a great deal of conversation. Animated groups stood all over the church, discussing the minister’s proposition.

When the church sanctuary had emptied, Henry Maxwell bade goodbye to several visitors at the front entrance and entered the lecture room. He was almost startled to see that there were perhaps fifty present. Among them Rachel Winslow and Virginia Page, Mr. Norman, President Marsh, Alexander Powers, Milton Wright, Dr. West and Jasper Chase.

The pastor closed the door of the lecture room, then went and stood before the little group. His face was pale and his lips trembled with emotion. No man can tell until he is moved by the divine Spirit what he may do, or how he may change the current of a lifetime of fixed habits of thought, speech and action. Henry Maxwell did not yet know himself all he was passing through, but he was conscious of a great upheaval in his definitions of Christian discipleship, and he was moved with a depth of feeling he could not measure as he looked into the faces of these men and women.

He first asked them all to pray with him. "Lord, we are here to begin an adventure with You. We come very uncertain about the future but with total trust that You will guide and direct us step by step…"

Almost with the first syllable he uttered there was a distinct presence of the Spirit felt by them all. As the prayer went on, this Presence grew in power. They all felt it. The room was filled with it as plainly as if it had been visible. When the prayer closed there was a silence that lasted several moments. All heads were bowed. Henry Maxwell’s face was wet with tears. If an audible voice from heaven had sanctioned their pledge to follow the Master’s steps, not one person present could have felt more certain of the divine blessing. And so the most serious movement ever started in the First Church of Raymond was begun.

"We all understand," said he, speaking very quietly, "what we have undertaken to do. We pledge ourselves to do everything in our daily lives after asking the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’, regardless of what may be the result to us. Sometime I shall be able to tell you what a marvelous change has come over my life within a week’s time. I cannot now. But the experience I have been through since last Sunday has left me so dissatisfied with my previous definition of discipleship that I have been compelled to take this action. I did not dare begin it alone. I know that I am being led by the hand of divine Love in all this. The same divine impulse must have led you also. Do we understand fully what we have undertaken?"

"I want to ask a question," said Rachel Winslow, her lovely eyes alive with excitement. "I am a little in doubt as to the source of our knowledge concerning what Jesus would do. Who is to decide for me just what He would do in my case? It is a different age. There are many perplexing questions in our civilization that are not mentioned in the teaching of Jesus. How am I going to tell what He would do?"

"There is no way that I know of," replied the pastor, "except as we study Jesus through the medium of the Holy Spirit. You remember what Christ said, speaking to His disciples about the Holy Spirit:

Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth is come., he shall guide you into all the truth; for he shall not speak from himself; but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall take of mine and shall declare it unto you. All things whatsoever the Father hath are mine; therefore said I that he taketh of mine and shall declare it unto you.

(John 16:13-15)

"There is no other test that I know of. We shall all have to decide what Jesus would do after going to that source of knowledge."

"What if others say of us, when we do certain things, that Jesus would not have done it the same way?" asked the superintendent of railroads.

"We cannot prevent that. But we must be absolutely honest with ourselves. The standard of Christian action cannot vary in most of our acts."

"And yet what one church member thinks Jesus would do, another refuses to accept as his possible course of action. What is to render our conduct uniformly Christlike?" asked President Marsh.

Mr. Maxwell was silent some time. Then he answered: "No, I don’t know that we can expect that. But when it comes to a genuine, honest, enlightened following of Jesus’ steps, I cannot believe there will be any confusion either in our own minds or in the judgment of others. We must be free from fanaticism on the one hand and too much caution on the other. If Jesus’ example is the example for the world, it certainly must be feasible to follow it. But we need to remember this great fact. After we ask the Spirit to tell us what Jesus would do and have received an answer to it, we are to act regardless of the results to ourselves. Is that understood?"

All the faces in the room were raised toward the minister in solemn assent. As he studied the faces, Henry Maxwell saw no opposition.

They remained a little longer talking over details and asking questions, and agreed to report to one another the result of their experiences in following Jesus this way in a weekly meeting. Henry Maxwell prayed again. And again the Spirit made Himself manifest. Every head remained bowed a long time. They went away in silence. There was a feeling that prevented speech. The pastor shook hands with them all as they went out. Then he went into his own study room back of the pulpit and knelt. He remained there alone for nearly half an hour.

Though he sensed a change in his own life, Henry Maxwell did not realize that a movement had begun that would lead to the most remarkable series of events that the city of Raymond had ever known.



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