My walk with Christ began in my early teens, at which time, an aunt gave me a novel by a Congregational pastor, Charles Sheldon, it’s title, In His Steps. The story was written in 1896, and was read to the young people, a chapter at a time, on Sunday evening servicess in the Central Congregational Church, Topeka, Kansas.
That novel had a huge impact on my life. Later, as Scripture began to open up for me, I was often reminded of the tramp, of whom Sheldon writes, and his words to a church full of people, words which helped me avoid the problem of regarding the Gospel as simply a list of abstract facts, about which we are to learn.
Even though fiction, I think the tramp’s words are important in the “Christian” climate in which many of us live today,
“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 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 the 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, 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 His steps, and he said the steps are ‘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 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, 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 the little girl too. Of course I don’t expect you people can prevent every 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, 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.”
How familiar that all sounds to this old bird! The tramp had experienced exactly, the devastating cancer which a “Gospel” of abstract facts generates. Sadly that “Gospel” of abstract facts is far too common in the groups commonly called “church”.
Even into middle age, I was a zealous, sincere, idealist, but I created tsunami sized waves railing about the teachings of traditions different to mine, their founders and their “intellectualism without feet”, etc. I’m sure you know what I mean. Of course, I made sure that I emphasized how correct my own theological leaning were.
How utterly foolish! I was wasting my time, bashing my head against a brick wall, trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
Only the living Lord, Jesus Christ can do that, indwelling a person by His Holy Spirit and molding the hearts and minds of sinful humans to be living stones in the Church He is building.
The Lord Jesus Christ, stands over the whole of history like an enormous beacon, and we waste time playing church in His shadow, jumping from ideas of human beings, sinners like you and me. Instead of rivers of living water flowing from us, we spend our time jumping from author to author, new idea to new idea, like stepping stones over the living waters.
Information, whether from the Scriptures or a Puritan, or any other author IS NOT transformation.
Causing sinners to become religious fountains of Biblical knowledge who have flat backsides from sitting on pews, will NEVER grow them into disciples of a living, functioning, ministering family of brethren bound into relationship with one another, by their relationship with their Savior and Lord, which He called “My Church” (Matt. 16:18)