Here’s a nourishing meal.
Enduring Voices books offer time-tested insights into God, scripture, and the Christian experience. With In His Steps, you’ll find a classic novel that has challenged countless believers for well over a century.
See how a self-satisfied, well-to-do church is turned upside-down by the visit of a poor, sick unemployed man who asks what exactly it means when Christians say they follow in the steps of Jesus. Find how the question changes lives in the congregation:
- Rev. Henry Maxwell, who urges his church to ask “What would Jesus do?” before making any decision
- Newspaper editor Edward Norman, who begins to question the prize-fight reports that sell copies
- Railroad superintendent Alexander Powers, who uncovers fraud in his employer’s activities
- Socialite Rachel Winslow, who senses God leading her to serve the poor
In His Steps has been a compelling favorite for generations of believers. Read on to find the substance your soul craves.
About the Author
Charles M. Sheldon was a pastor in 1896 when he chose to preach one Sunday night on the question "What would Jesus do?" A sermon became a series, that became an article, that became a book, that became a movement. And the book has sold over 30 million copies.
Read an Excerpt
"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." — 1 Peter 2:21 (NIV)
It was Friday morning and the Rev. 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 I am very busy and cannot come down unless it is something very important."
"Yes, Henry. But I am going over to visit the kindergarten and you will have the house all to yourself."
The minister went into his study and shut the door. In a few minutes he heard his wife go out, and 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: "To this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps."
He had emphasized in the first part of the sermon the atonement as a personal sacrifice for each of us, calling attention to the fact of Jesus' suffering in various ways, in His life as well as in His death. He then went on to emphasize the atonement by the use of examples, giving illustrations from the life and teachings of Jesus to show how faith in Christ helped to save us because of the pattern of character traits He displayed for us to imitate. He was now on the third and last point, the necessity of following Jesus in His sacrifice by His death and example by His life.
He had put down "Three Steps. What are they?" and was about to enumerate them in logical order when the doorbell rang sharply. It was one of those clock-work bells and always went off as a clock might go off if it tried to strike twelve all at once.
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 which commanded the view of the front door. A man was standing on the steps. He was a young man, very shabbily dressed.
"He 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 young man said: "I'm out of a job, sir, and thought maybe you might help me in the way of getting some employment."
"I don't know of anything. Jobs are scarce," replied the minister, beginning to shut the door slowly.
"I thought you might perhaps be able to give me a contact in the city railway or the superintendent of the shops, or someplace else," continued the young man, nervously shifting his faded hat 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 somewhere to work. Sorry I can't give you something to do here. But I keep only a horse and a cow and do the work myself."
The Rev. Henry Maxwell closed the door and heard the man walk down the steps. As he went up into his study, he saw from his hall 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 looking at him. Then he turned to his desk and with a sigh began to write where he had left off.
He had no more interruptions, and when his wife came in two hours later the sermon was finished, the loose pages gathered up, neatly tied together, and laid on his Bible all ready for the Sunday morning service.
"A strange 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; he 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. The same man called here, I think. Did he look like a tramp?"
"Yes, very dusty, shabby, and downtrodden. Not more than thirty to thirty-three years old, I should say."
"The same man," said the Rev. Henry Maxwell thoughtfully.
"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 turned out to be a lot of work."
"They will be appreciated by a large audience Sunday, I hope," replied his wife, smiling. "What are you going to preach about in the morning?"
"Following Christ. I take up the atonement as a way of example and sacrifice, and then show the steps needed to follow His example and sacrifice as found in His life and death."
"I am sure it will be a good sermon. I hope it won't rain Sunday. We have had so many stormy Sundays lately."
"Yes, the audiences have been quite small for some time. Some people will not come out to church in a storm." The Rev. Henry Maxwell sighed as he said it. He was thinking of the careful, laborious effort he had made in preparing sermons for large audiences that failed to appear.
But Sunday morning dawned on the town of Raymond one of the perfect days that sometimes comes after long periods of wind and mud and rain. The air was clear and bracing, the sky was free from all threatening signs, and most everyone in Mr. Maxwell's parish prepared to go to church. When the service opened at eleven o'clock, the large building was filled with an audience of the best-dressed, most well-to-do looking people of Raymond.
The First Church of Raymond believed in having the best music that 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 sang a solo, the well-known hymn, "Where He leads me I will follow, I'll go with Him, with Him, all the way."
Rachel Winslow looked very beautiful that morning as she stood up behind the screen of carved oak, which was significantly marked with the emblems of the cross and the crown. Her voice was even more beautiful than her face, and that was saying a great deal. There was a general rustle of expectation from the audience as she rose. Mr. Maxwell settled himself contentedly behind the pulpit. Rachel Winslow's singing always assisted his sermon. He generally arranged for a song before the sermon. It made possible a certain inspiration and mood that made his delivery more impressive.
People said to each other they had never 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 swept through the church. He was a bit startled by it. As he rose, however, and laid his sermon on the Bible, he said to himself he had only imagined it. Of course it would not occur. In a few moments he was absorbed in his sermon and everything else was forgotten in the smoothness 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 had 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 distinction that was noticeable.
It was also true that the pastor of the First Church loved to preach. He seldom exchanged pulpits. He was eager to be in his own pulpit when Sunday came. There was an exhilarating half hour waiting for him as he faced a church full of attentive people and knew that he had a hearing. He was peculiarly sensitive to variations in attendance. He never preached well before a small audience. The weather also decidedly affected him. He was at his best before just such an audience as faced him now, on just such a morning. He felt a glow of satisfaction as he preached on. The church was premier in the city. It had the best choir. It had a membership composed of the leading influential people, representatives of the wealth, society, and intelligence of Raymond. He was going abroad on a three-month vacation in the summer, and the circumstances of his pastorate, his influence, and his position as pastor of the First Church in the city were unchallenged.
It is not certain that the Rev. Henry Maxwell knew just how he could quietly display these feelings in connection with his sermon, but as he drew near the end of it, he knew that at some point in his delivery he had conveyed all of them. They had entered into the very substance of his content; it might have been all in a few seconds of time, but he had been conscious of defining his position, and his delivery partook of the thrill of deep, personal self-gratification.
The sermon was quite interesting. It was full of striking sentences. They would have commanded attention if printed. Spoken with the passion of dramatic utterance that had the good taste never to offend his listeners with a suspicion of ranting or judgment, they were very effective. If the Rev. 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 yet free of all vulgar, trite, or uncomfortable mannerisms.
Suddenly, into the midst of this perfect concord between preacher and audience, there came a very remarkable interruption. It would be difficult to indicate the extent of the shock which this interruption caused. It was so unexpected, so entirely contrary to any inkling of any person present, that it offered no room for consideration or, for the time being, resistance.
The sermon had come to a close. Mr. Maxwell had just turned the half of the big Bible over upon his manuscript and was about to sit down as the quartet prepared to arise to sing the closing selection, "All for Jesus, all for Jesus, All my being's ransomed powers," when the entire congregation was startled by the sound of a man's voice. It came from the rear of the church, from one of the seats under the gallery. The next moment this man came out of the shadows and walked down the middle aisle.
Before the startled congregation barely realized what was going on, the man had reached the open space in front of the pulpit and had turned around facing the people.
"I've been wondering since I came in here" — they were the words he used under the gallery, and he repeated them — "if it would be the right thing to say a word at the close of the service. I'm not drunk and I'm not crazy, and I am perfectly harmless, but if I die, as there is every likelihood I shall in a few days, I want the satisfaction of thinking that I had my say in a place like this, and before this sort of a crowd."
Henry Maxwell had not taken his seat, and he now remained standing, leaning on his pulpit, looking down at the stranger. It 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 two hands. It seemed to be a favorite gesture. He had not been shaved and his hair was rough and tangled. It is doubtful if anyone like this had ever confronted the First Church within the sanctuary. It was a tolerably familiar scene with this sort of humanity out on the street, around the railroad shops, but no one had ever dreamed of such an incident in the sanctuary here.
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 this spectacle, that somehow the man's action reminded him of a person he had once seen walking and talking in his own 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 a 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 which 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 turning white and sad. But he made no movement to stop him, and the people sat spellbound into breathless silence. One other pale face, that of Rachel Winslow from the choir, stared intently down at the shabby figure with the faded hat. Her face was striking at any time. Under the pressure of the present, unheard-of 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 invention, but I know six men who have killed themselves within 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 one trade, and that's all I can do. I've walked all over the country trying to find something. There are a good many others like me. I'm not complaining, am I? Just stating facts. But I was wondering, as I sat there under the gallery, if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said, 'Follow Me!'? The minister said" — here he turned about and looked up at the pulpit — "that it is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow in His steps, and he said the steps are 'obedience, faith, love, and imitation.' But I did not hear him tell you just what he defined that to mean, especially the last step. What do you Christians mean by following in the steps of Jesus?
"I've wandered 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 upon by the professional tramp that you have lost your interest in any other sort. I'm not blaming anybody, am I? Just stating facts. Of course, I understand you can't all go out of your way to hunt up jobs for other 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 souls, 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 in my case. 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 remember how my wife died in a tenement in New York City, gasping for air and asking God to take our little girl, too. Of course I don't expect you people to prevent everyone from dying of starvation, lack of proper nourishment, and foul tenement air, but what does following Jesus mean? I understand that Christian people own a good number of the tenements. A member of a church was the owner of the one where my wife died, and 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.'
and I kept wondering as I sat on the steps outside just what they meant by it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In His Steps"
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