Along with the four Gospels of the Bible, the books “In His Steps” and “Peace Pilgrim” have had the most significant influence on the development of all I have done, and the choices I have made, since 1994 when I left a twenty year business career to pursue the path I felt God calling me to.  I give away copies of both of these books (as well as Bibles to anyone who does not have one) at the Teaching & Sharing Center of Grand Ledge. 

When the book “In His Steps” was first published (as a series of sermons in 1896), the publisher made an error that threw it into the “public domain” unprotected by copyright law.  As a result, because of the great number of publishers who picked it up, the book has had a larger circulation than any other book except the Bible.  As well as the many print options, you can find various e-versions of it online. 

Right from the start in 1995, the sign in front of the Teaching & Sharing Center of Grand Ledge has asked the question “What would Jesus do?”  I almost removed it when the WWJD craze seemed to trivialize the question by making it trendy.  Since it remains at the core of my choices, the sign remained.  Each Christian must decide for themselves what Jesus would do in their place, but if you are not asking the question . . . well, that is between you and Him.  I offer up this excerpt from Charles M Sheldon’s classic for whatever inspiration it might have. 

Keep in mind the book was written in 1896.  The issues of those days are voiced in the vocabulary of the day, but they are not so different than our times, and with very little adaptation can still be seen as contemporary. 

 

Excerpt from chapter thirty-one (the last chapter of “In His Steps”)

. . . . “Is it true,” continued Henry Maxwell, and his fine, thoughtful face glowed with a passion of appeal that stirred the people as they had seldom been stirred, “is it true that the church of today, the church that is called after Christ's own name, would refuse to follow Him at the expense of suffering, of physical loss, of temporary gain?  The statement was made at a large gathering in the Settlement last week by a leader of workingmen that it was hopeless to look to the church for any reform or redemption of society.  On what was that statement based?  Plainly on the assumption that the church contains for the most part men and women who think more ‘of their own ease and luxury’ than of the sufferings and needs and sins of humanity.  How far is that true?  Are the Christians of America ready to have their discipleship tested?  How about the men who possess large wealth?  Are they ready to take that wealth and use it as Jesus would?  How about the men and women of great talent?  Are they ready to consecrate that talent to humanity as Jesus undoubtedly would do? 

“Is it not true that the call has come in this age for a new exhibition of Christian discipleship?  You who live in this great sinful city must know that better than I do.  Is it possible you can go your ways careless or thoughtless of the awful condition of men and women and children who are dying, body and soul, for need of Christian help?  Is it not a matter of concern to you personally that the saloon kills its thousands more surely than war?  Is it not a matter of personal suffering in some form for you that thousands of able-bodied, willing men tramp the streets of this city and all cities, crying for work and drifting into crime and suicide because they cannot find it?  Can you say that this is none of your business?  Let each man look after himself?  Would it not be true, think you, that if every Christian in America did as Jesus would do, society itself, the business world, yes, the very political system under which our commercial and governmental activity is carried on, would be so changed that human suffering would be reduced to a minimum? 

“What would be the result if all the church members of this city tried to do as Jesus would do?  It is not possible to say in detail what the effect would be.  But it is easy to say, and it is true, that instantly the human problem would begin to find an adequate answer. 

“What is the test of Christian discipleship?  Is it not the same as in Christ's own time?  Have our surroundings modified or changed the test?  If Jesus were here today would He not call some of the members of this very church to do just what He commanded the young man, and ask them to give up their wealth and literally follow Him?  I believe He would do that if He felt certain that any church member thought more of his possessions than of the Savior. The test would be the same today as then. I believe Jesus would demand — He does demand now — as close a following, as much suffering, as great self-denial as when He lived in person on the earth and said, ‘Except a man renounce all that he hath he cannot be my disciple.’  That is, unless he is willing to do it for my sake, he cannot be my disciple. 

“What would be the result if in this city every church member should begin to do as Jesus would do?  It is not easy to go into details of the result.  But we all know that certain things would be impossible that are now practiced by church members. 

“What would Jesus do in the matter of wealth?  How would He spend it?  What principle would regulate His use of money?  Would He be likely to live in great luxury and spend ten times as much on personal adornment and entertainment as He spent to relieve the needs of suffering humanity?  How would Jesus be governed in the making of money?  Would He take rentals from saloons and other disreputable property, or even from tenement property that was so constructed that the inmates had no such things as a home and no such possibility as privacy or cleanliness? 

“What would Jesus do about the great army of unemployed and desperate who tramp the streets and curse the church, or are indifferent to it, lost in the bitter struggle for the bread that tastes bitter when it is earned on account of the desperate conflict to get it?  Would Jesus care nothing for them?  Would He go His way in comparative ease and comfort?  Would He say that it was none of His business?  Would He excuse Himself from all responsibility to remove the causes of such a condition? 

“What would Jesus do in the center of a civilization that hurries so fast after money that the very girls employed in great business houses are not paid enough to keep soul and body together without fearful temptations so great that scores of them fall and are swept over the great boiling abyss; where the demands of trade sacrifice hundreds of lads in a business that ignores all Christian duties toward them in the way of education and moral training and personal affection?  Would Jesus, if He were here today as a part of our age and commercial industry, feel nothing, do nothing, say nothing, in the face of these facts which every business man knows? 

“What would Jesus do?  Is not that what the disciple ought to do?  Is he not commanded to follow in His steps?  How much is the Christianity of the age suffering for Him?  Is it denying itself at the cost of ease, comfort, luxury, elegance of living?  What does the age need more than personal sacrifice?  Does the church do its duty in following Jesus when it gives a little money to establish missions or relieve extreme cases of want?  Is it any sacrifice for a man who is worth ten million dollars simply to give ten thousand dollars for some benevolent work?  Is he not giving something that cost him practically nothing so far as any personal suffering goes?  Is it true that the Christian disciples today in most of our churches are living soft, easy, selfish lives, very far from any sacrifice that can be called sacrifice?  What would Jesus do? 

“It is the personal element that Christian discipleship needs to emphasize.  ‘The gift without the giver is bare.’ The Christianity that attempts to suffer by proxy is not the Christianity of Christ.  Each individual Christian business man, citizen, needs to follow in His steps along the path of personal sacrifice to Him.  There is not a different path today from that of Jesus' own times.  It is the same path.  The call of this dying century and of the new one soon to be, is a call for a new discipleship, a new following of Jesus, more like the early, simple, apostolic Christianity, when the disciples left all and literally followed the Master.  Nothing but a discipleship of this kind can face the destructive selfishness of the age with any hope of overcoming it.  There is a great quantity of nominal Christianity today.  There is need of more of the real kind.  We need revival of the Christianity of Christ.  We have, unconsciously, lazily, selfishly, formally grown into a discipleship that Jesus himself would not acknowledge.  He would say to many of us when we cry, ‘Lord, Lord,’ ‘I never knew you!’  Are we ready to take up the cross?  Is it possible for this church to sing with exact truth . . . 

Jesus, I my cross have taken,

All to leave and follow Thee?

If we can sing that truly, then we may claim discipleship.  But if our definition of being a Christian is simply to enjoy the privileges of worship, be generous at no expense to ourselves, have a good, easy time surrounded by pleasant friends and by comfortable things, live respectably and at the same time avoid the world's great stress of sin and trouble because it is too much pain to bear it — if this is our definition of Christianity, surely we are a long way from following the steps of Him who trod the way with groans and tears and sobs of anguish for a lost humanity; who sweat, as it were, great drops of blood, who cried out on the upreared cross, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ 

“Are we ready to make and live a new discipleship? Are we ready to reconsider our definition of a Christian?  What is it to be a Christian?  It is to imitate Jesus.  It is to do as He would do.  It is to walk in His steps.” 

When Henry Maxwell finished his sermon, he paused and looked at the people with a look they never forgot and, at the moment, did not understand.  Crowded into that fashionable church that day were hundreds of men and women who had for years lived the easy, satisfied life of a nominal Christianity.  A great silence fell over the congregation.  Through the silence there came to the consciousness of all the souls there present a knowledge, stranger to them now for years, of a Divine Power.  Every one expected the preacher to call for volunteers who would do as Jesus would do. But Maxwell had been led by the Spirit to deliver his message this time and wait for results to come . . .  

 

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