That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright
It was a strange coincidence that the Rev. James Cameron should have preached his sermon on "The Church of the Future," the Sunday following the incidents which have been related in the preceding chapters. If he had only known, Rev. Cameron might have found a splendid illustration, very much to the point, in the story of Dick Falkner's coming to Boyd City and his search for employment. But the minister knew nothing of Dick or his trouble. He had no particular incident in mind; but simply desired to see a more practical working of Christianity. In other words, he wished to see Christians doing the things that Christ did, and using, in matters of the church, the same business sense which they brought to bear upon their own affairs. He thought of the poverty, squalor and wretchedness of some for whom Christ died, and of the costly luxuries of the church into whose hands the Master had given the care of these. He thought of the doors to places of sin, swinging wide before the young, while the doors of the church were often closed against them. He thought of the secret societies and orders, doing the work that the church was meant to do, and of the honest, moral men, who refused to identify themselves with the church, though professing belief in Jesus Christ; and, thinking of these things and more like them, he was forced to say that the church must change her methods; that she must talk less and do more; that she must rest her claims to the love of mankind where Christ rested his; upon the works that He did.
He saw that the church was proving false to the Christ; that her service was a service of the lips only; that her worship was form and ceremony--not of the heart--a hollow mockery. He saw that she was not touching the great problems of life; and that, while men were dying for want of spiritual bread, she was offering them only the stones of ecclesiastical pride and denominational egotism. He saw all this, and yet,--because he was a strong man--remained full of love for Christ and taught that those things were not Christianity but the lack of it; and placed the blame where it justly belonged, upon the teaching and doctrines of men, and not upon the principles of Christ; but upon the shepherds, who fattened themselves, while the starving sheep grew thin and lean; and not upon Him who came to seek and save that which was lost.
Adam Goodrich walked out of the church with his aristocratic nose elevated even beyond its usual angle. He was so offended by the plebeian tastes of his pastor that he almost failed to notice Banker Lindsley who passed him in the vestibule.
"Fine discourse--fine discourse, Mr. Goodrich."
"Uh--" grunted Adam, tossing his head.
"Just the kind of sermon we need;" went on Mr. Lindsley, who was not a church member. "Practical and fearless; I'm glad to have heard him. I shall come again;" and he hurried out of the house.
It was not often that a sermon was honored by being discussed at the Goodrich table; nor indeed, that any topic of religion was mentioned; but Adam could not contain himself after the unheard of things which his pastor had preached that morning. "It's a pity that Cameron hasn't better judgment," he declared, in a voice that showed very plainly the state of his mind. "He could easily make his church the first church in the city if he would only let well enough alone and not be all the time stirring things up. He is a good speaker, carries himself like an aristocrat, and comes from a good family; but he is forever saying things that jar the best people. He might be drawing half as much again salary if only he would work to get those people who are worth something into the church, instead of spending all his time with the common herd."
"Perhaps he thinks the common herd worth saving too," suggested Miss Amy, a beautiful girl of nineteen, with dark hair and eyes.
"What do you know about it?" replied the father. "You're getting your head full of those silly Young People's Society notions, and your friends will drop you if you don't pay more attention to your social duties. The common classes are all right of course, but they can't expect to associate with us. Cameron has his mission schools; why isn't that enough? And he makes three times as many calls on South Broadway and over by the Shops, as he does on our street."
"Perhaps he thinks, 'they that are whole have no need of a physician,'" again suggested the young lady.
"Amy," said Mrs. Goodrich, "how often have I told you that it's not the thing to be always repeating the Bible. No one does it now. Why will you make yourself so common?"
"You agree with Cameron perfectly, mother," put in Frank, the only son; "he said this morning that no one used their Bibles now-a-days."
"It's not necessary to be always throwing your religion at people's heads," answered the father, "and as for Cameron's new-fangled notion about the church being more helpful to those who need help, he'll find out that it won't work. We are the ones who pay his salary, and if he can't preach the things we want to hear, he'll find himself going hungry, or forced to dig along with those he is so worried about. I don't find anything in the Bible that tells me to associate with every low-down person in the city, and I guess I'm as good a Christian as anyone in the church."
"Brother Cameron said that helping people and associating with them were two different things," said Amy.
"Well, it means the same, anyway, in the eyes of the world," retorted the father.
"Fancy," said Frank, "my going down the street with that tramp who called at the office last week. According to Cameron, you ought to have invited him home and asked him to stay with us until he found a job, I suppose. Amy would have liked to meet him, and to make his visit with us pleasant. He was not bad-looking, barring his clothes and a few whiskers."
"Who was that, Mr. Goodrich?" inquired the wife.
"Oh, an impudent fellow that Frank let into the office the other day; he claimed that he was a printer and wanted work; said that he was thrown out of employment by the Kansas City strike; anyone could see that he was a fraud through and through, just Cameron's kind. If I had my way I would give him work that he wouldn't want. Such people are getting altogether too numerous, and there will be no room for a respectable man if this thing keeps up. I don't know what we'll come to if we have many such sermons as that this morning; they want the earth now."
"They'd get Heaven too if Cameron had his way," put in Frank again. "Won't it be fine when the church becomes a home for every wandering Willie who happens along?"
"Did not Christ intend His church to be a home for the homeless?" asked the sister.
"Amy," interrupted Mrs. Goodrich, "you are getting too many of those fanciful notions; you will learn in time that the church is meant to go to on Sundays, and that people who know what is demanded of them by the best society, leave socials, aids, missions, and such things to the lower classes."
"Yes," answered Frank, as he arose to leave the table--"and don't go looking up that bum printer to teach him the way of the Lord."
The reader must not think that the Goodrichs were unworthy members of the church; their names were all on the roll of membership, and Frank and Amy were also active members of the Young People's Societies. Beside this, Adam contributed liberally (in his own eyes at least) to the support of the gospel; and gave, now and then, goodly sums set opposite his name on subscription lists, for various charitable purposes; although he was very careful, withal, that his gifts to God never crippled his business interests, and managed, in religious matters, to make a little go a long way.
The pastor of the Jerusalem Church, having been called to attend a funeral, was not present at the meeting of the Boyd City Ministerial Association, following his sermon, and the field was left open for his brethren, who assembled in the lecture room of the Zion Church on Monday morning. After the Association had been called to order by the president, the reports of the work given by the various pastors had been heard, and some unfinished business transacted, good old Father Beason arose, and, in his calm, impassioned manner, addressed the Chair.
"Brethren," he said, "I don't know how you all feel about it, but I would like to know what the Association thinks about Brother Cameron's sermon yesterday. Now, I don't want to be misunderstood, Brethren; I haven't a particle of fault to find with Brother Cameron. I love him as a man; I admire him as a preacher; and I believe that whatever he has said he meant for the best. But, Brother Cameron is a young man yet, and I have heard a good deal of talk about the things he said Sabbath morning; and I would just like to know what you Brethren think about it. Have any of you heard anything?" Six reverend heads nodded that they had, and the speaker continued:
"Well, I thought probably you would hear something, and with no harm meant toward our Brother, I would like to have you express yourselves. I have been in the ministry nearly forty years now, and I have never heard such things as people say he said. And, Brethren, I'm awfully afraid that there is a good deal of truth in it all--a good deal of truth in it all;" and slowly shaking his head the old man took his seat.
The Rev. Jeremiah Wilks was on his feet instantly, and, speaking in a somewhat loud and nervous manner, said: "Mr. Chairman, I was coming down town early this morning, after some thread and ribbons and things for my wife, and Sister Thurston, who runs that little store on Third Street--you know she's a member of my church, you know--and always gives me things lots cheaper than I can get them anywhere else, because she's a member of my church, you know--she says to me that Brother Cameron said that the average church of to-day was the biggest fraud on earth. Now she was there and heard him. I don't know of course, whether he really said that or not; that is, I mean, you know,--I don't know whether he meant it that way or not. But I've heard him say myself, that he didn't think the church was doing all she might along some lines. I don't know whether he means all the churches or only his own. My people gave fifteen dollars for foreign missions last year, and the Ladies' Aid paid fifty dollars on my salary. Besides that, they bought me a new overcoat last winter, and it will last me through next winter too. They paid eighteen dollars for that, I'm told; and of course they got it cheap because it was for me, you know. And we gave a pound social to Sister Grady, whose husband died some time ago, you know. It took almost all her money to pay funeral expenses--She's a member of my church you know; so was he, poor man; he's gone now. I'm sure I don't know about Brother Cameron's church; we're doing all we can; and I don't think it's right for him to talk against the work of the Lord." The reverend gentleman resumed his seat with the satisfied air of a school boy who has just succeeded in hitting a hornet's nest, and devoutly wishes that someone would come along to share the fun.
Little Hugh Cockrell arose, and, crossing his hands, meekly spoke: "Now, Brethren, I don't think we ought to be hasty in regard to this matter. I would advise caution. We must give the subject due and careful consideration. We all respect and love Brother Cameron. Let us not be hasty in condemning him. You know the Scriptures say, Judge not, and I believe we ought to be careful. We don't know what Cameron meant exactly. Brethren, let us try to find out. I know I have heard a great many things, and some of my members say that he spoke rather slightingly of the ministry as a whole, and seemed to think that the church was not practical enough, and my wife is a good deal hurt about some things that he said about the clergy. But, let's be careful. I don't want to believe that our Brother would cast a slur in any way upon us or the church. Let's be cautious and work in a Christianlike manner; find out by talking with people on the street and in their homes, what he said, and above all, don't let Cameron know how we feel. We ought not to be hasty, Brethren, about judging our Brother."
There were nods of approval as the minister took his seat, for he was much admired in the Association because of his piety, and much respected for his judgment. All knew that nothing could possibly harm them if they followed Rev. Cockrell's advice.
Then the Rev. Dr. Frederick Hartzell reared his stoop-shouldered, narrow-chested, but commanding figure, and, in a most impressive and scholarly manner addressed the Association.
"Of course I don't know anything about this matter, Brethren; it's all news to me. I am so confined by my studies that I go on the street very little, and, when I do go out, my mind is so full of the deep things of the Scriptures, that I find it hard to retain anything that has to do with the commonplace in life; and in-as-much as the reverend gentleman failed to consult me as to his sermon, which I understand he calls The Church of the Future, I am unable to say at present whether his position is orthodox or not. But Brethren, of one thing I am sure, and I don't care what Cameron or any other man thinks; the orthodox church of to-day is the power of God unto salvation. God intended that we ministers should be His representatives on earth, and as such, we ought to have a keen appreciation of the grandeur and nobility of our calling. After years of study on the part of myself, and after much consultation with other eminent men, I give it as my opinion that the church of the future will be the same as the church of the past. All denominations--that is, all evangelical denominations, are built upon a rock. Upon this rock I will build my church, Matthew 16-18. Brethren, we are secure; even the gates of Hades cannot prevail against us; and it is proven by the scholarship of the world, that we shall be the same in the future as we have been in the past. Rev. Cameron, whatever may be his opinions, cannot harm so glorious an institution. Why, Brethren, we represent the brains and culture of the world. Look at our schools and seminaries; we must be right. No change can possibly come; no change is needed. As to the gentleman's remarks about the ministry; if he made any, I don't think his opinion matters much anyhow, I understand that he is not a graduate of any regular theological institution; and I'm sure that he cannot harm my reputation in the least."
Secure in the impregnable position of his own learning and in the scholarship of his church; amid a hush of profound awe and admiration, the learned gentleman took his seat.
Rev. Hartzell's speech practically finished the discussion of the sermon by the Association. Indeed, the Rev. Frederick nearly always finished whatever discussion he took part in. One or two of the remaining preachers tried to speak, but subsided as soon as they caught the eye of the scholar fixed upon them, and the Association was adjourned, with a prayer by the president that they might always be able to conduct the Master's business in a manner well pleasing in his sight; and that they might have strength to always grapple boldly with questions concerning the church, ever proving true to the principles of the Christ, and following in His footsteps.
While the members of the Ministerial Association were engaged in discussing Rev. Cameron's much-abused sermon, the printer, George Udell, dropped in at the office of Mr. Wicks, to make the final payment on a piece of property which he had purchased some months before. Mr. Wicks, or as he was more often called, Uncle Bobbie, was an old resident of the county, an elder in the Jerusalem Church, and Rev. Cameron's right-hand man.
"Well," he said, as he handed George the proper papers, "that place is your'n, young man, what are ye goin' to do with it?"
"Oh I don't know," replied Udell, "it's handy to have round; good building spot, isn't it?"
"You bet it is," returned the other. "There aint no better in Boyd City, an' I reckon I know. Ye must be goin' to get a wife, talking about buildin'?"
Udell shook his head. "Well, ye ought to. Let's see--this is the third piece of property I've sold ye, aint it?--all of 'em good investments too--You're gettin' a mighty good start fer a young man. Don't it make ye think of the Being what's back of all these blessin's? Strikes me ye'r too blame good a man to be livin' without any religion. George, why don't you go to church anyway? Don't ye know you ought to?"
"Why don't I go to church," said Udell thoughtfully; "Well, Mr. Wicks, I'll tell you why I don't go to church. Just because I've got too much to do. I make my own way in the world and it takes all the business sense I have to do it. The dreamy, visionary, speculative sort of things I hear at meeting may be all right for a fellow's soul, but they don't help him much in taking care of his body, and I can't afford to fill my mind with such stuff. I am living this side of the grave. Of course I like to hear a good talker, and I enjoy the music, but their everlasting pretending to be what they are not, is what gets me. You take this town right here now," he continued, pushing his hat back from his forehead; "we've got ten or twelve churches and as many preachers; they all say that they are following Christ, and profess to exist for the good of men and the glory of God. And what are they actually doing to make this place better? There's not a spot in this city, outside a saloon, where a man can spend an hour when he's not at work; and not a sign of a place where a fellow down on his luck can stay all night. Only last week, a clean honest young printer, who was out of money through no fault of his own, struck me for a job, and before night fainted from hunger; and yet, the preachers say that Christ told us to feed the hungry, and that if we didn't it counted against us as though we had let him starve. According to their own teaching, what show have these churches in Boyd City when they spend every cent they can rake and scrape to keep their old machines running and can't feed even one hungry man? Your church members are all right on the believe, trust, hope, pray and preach, but they're not so much on the do. And I've noticed it's the do that counts in this life. Why, their very idea of Heaven is that it's a loafing place, where you get more than you ask for or have any right to expect."
"Gettin' a little excited, ain't ye?" smiled Uncle Bobbie, though there was a tear twinkling in his sharp old eyes.
"Yes I am," retorted the other. "It's enough to excite anyone who has a heart to feel and eyes to see the misery in this old world, and then to be asked eternally, 'Why don't you go to church?' Why look at 'em; they even let their own preachers starve when they get too old to work. Societies and lodges don't do that. I don't mean to step on your toes though," he added hastily. "You know that, Uncle Bobbie. You've proven yourself a Christian to me in ways I'll never forget. My old mother was a member of the church and they let her go hungry, when I was too little to take care of her; and if it hadn't been for you she would have died then. But you fed her, and if there's a Heaven, she's there, and you'll be there too. But what makes me mad is, that these fellows who never do anything, are just as sure of it as you who do so much."
"Ah, George," said Wicks; "that help I give your maw warn't nothin'. Do you think I'd see her suffer? Why, I knowed her when she was a girl."
"I know, Uncle Bobbie, but that isn't the question. Why, don't the church do some of the things they are always talking about?"
"Do infidels do any more?" asked Mr. Wicks.
"No, they don't," answered George, "but they don't thank God that Jesus Christ was crucified, so that they might get to Heaven, either."
"Thar's one fellow that I didn't feed," said the old man, after a long pause. "That same printer called here and I didn't give him nothin' to do. I've thought of it many a time since though, and asked the Lord to forgive me for sech carelessness. And so he's got a job with you, has he? Well, I'm mighty glad. But say, George, were you at our church yesterday?"
"No," answered Udell, "Why?"
"Oh, nothin'; only I thought from the way you've been preachin' Cameron's sermon, that you'd heard him give it, that's all."