The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXXV. ThE Tie That Binds
"The Ally was there in power. The day of the rack, the thumbscrew and the stake, is long past: in place of these instruments of religious discipline we have--the Ally."
All the next day Dan remained at Dr. Harry's home, returning to his own rooms in the evening. Early the following morning he was to take the train for the annual gathering of the denomination, that was to be held in a distant city. He would be away from Corinth three days at least.
The minister's little study, when he had lighted the lamp that night, seemed filled with a spirit that was never there before. It was as if, during his absence, some unseen presence had moved in to share the apartment with him. The very books and papers impressed him as intimate companions, as if, in thus witnessing and--in truth--taking part in the soul-struggle of the man, they had entered into a closer relation to him, a relation sacred and holy. He was conscious, too, of an atmosphere of privacy there that he had never sensed before, and, for the first time in his life, he drew the window shades.
In the battle that Hope Farwell had set for him to fight Dan had sought to be frankly honest with himself, and to judge himself coldly, without regard to the demands of his heart. If he had erred at all it was in an over-sensitiveness to conscience, for conscience has ever been a tricky master, often betraying its too-willing slaves to their own self-injury. It is, a large question whether one has a greater right to injure himself than to harm another.
Dan could not admit, even to himself, that he had in any way neglected the church, or fallen short of his duties as a hired shepherd. But after all, was he not to some degree in error in his judgment of his people? Had he not, perhaps, misunderstood the spirit that moved them? He had come to Corinth from his school with the thought fixed in his mind that the church was all right. Had he not, by the unexpected and brutal directness of his experience, been swung to the other extreme, conceiving conditions as all wrong?
Groping in the dark of his ministry he had come to feel more and more keenly his inexperience. After all, was he right in taking the hard, seldom-traveled path, or was not the safe way of the church fathers the true way? Was not his failure to put himself in tune with things as he found them, only his own inability to grasp the deeper meanings of those things? He had come to doubt those leaders whom he had been taught to follow, but he had come to doubt more his own ability to lead, or even to find the way for himself. It was this doubt that had led him to decide as Hope Farwell knew he would.
For Big Dan could not turn from the church and his chosen work without the same certainty that had led him to it.
Least of all could he, after that which Hope had made so clear, go to her with a shadow of doubt in his mind.
His convictions were not, as yet, convincing. His new-born love for the woman bulked too large in his life for him to trust his own motives. So it came that he had chosen at such cost to himself, and--making the greatest sacrifice possible to one of his nature--turned to give himself wholly to that which he still felt to be his ministry.
He looked forward now with eagerness to the gathering of church men to which he was going on the morrow. There he would meet the great leaders of his church, those with life-long experience in the work to which he had given himself; those whose names were household names in the homes of his people. There he would come into touch with the spirit of the church as a whole, not merely the spirit of his own local congregation, and in the deliberations of the convention, in their reports of work accomplished, of conditions throughout the country, and in the plans for work to be done, he would find--he must find--the key that would put him in full harmony with those who were his fellow-workers.
Dan's thoughts were interrupted by a familiar knock at the door. The old Doctor entered.
Of the recently-renewed talk of the community regarding Dan and Hope, and of the growing sentiment of Memorial Church the Doctor knew all that Dan knew--with this more. From long observation he understood, as Dan did not, the real significance of this revival of activities by the Ally, and the part that Judge Strong had in its inspiration. Concerning Dan and Hope he could only conjecture, but the Doctor's conjectures amounted almost to certainties. That the lad so dear to him was passing through some tremendous crisis he knew, for he had talked with Dr. Harry that afternoon. Seeing by the light in the window that Dan had returned, he had run across the way to see if all was well with the boy. It was characteristic of the Doctor that, while he did not make known the object of his visit in words, he made the minister feel his sympathy and interest, and his readiness, as he himself would have said, "to stand by."
Grasping his young friend's hand in greeting and placing his other hand on Dan's shoulder, he studied his face as he would have studied a patient. "Come boy," he said, "don't you think we better go fishing?"
The minister smiled back at him. "I wish I could, Doctor; I need it, all right. But you see there's that convention tomorrow."
"Humph!" grunted the Doctor, as he seated himself. "Heard who's going?"
Dan named a few of his church people. The Doctor grunted again. They were nearly all of the inner circle, the Judge's confidantes in matters of the church.
"Judge Strong is going too," offered the Doctor.
Dan said nothing.
"Uh-huh; told me this evening." The old man chuckled. "I rather thought I'd go myself."
"You!" Dan said in surprise.
The other's eyes twinkled. "Yes, me; why not? I've never been to one of these affairs, but for that matter neither have you. I don't suppose they would put me out. Anyway I have some business in the city and I thought it would be fine for us to go up together. Martha's tickled to death! Thinks I'll get it sure if I can only hear some of the really big preachers."
Dan laughed, well-pleased. He could not know of the real motive that prompted the Doctor's strange interest in this great meeting of church men.
The next morning at an early hour they were off: Dan, the old Doctor, some six or eight of the active women leaders of the congregation, Charity, and Judge Strong. The Ally went also. There was no little surprise expressed, in a half-jesting manner, by the company, at the presence of Dr. Oldham, and there was much putting together of heads in whispered consultation as to what it might mean. The Judge and his competent associates, with the Ally, kept very much together and left Dan and his friend as much to themselves. Whenever the young minister, prompted by his thoughts of the last few hours, approached the group there was a significant hush, while his pleasantries were met by very formal, and as evidently forced, monosyllables, which very soon sent him back to his seat again with a face that made the old Doctor say things under his breath.
"Look here, Dan," said the old physician, as they neared their destination, "I understand that at these meetings the visiting delegates are always entertained at the homes of the local church people. I'm not a delegate, so I go to a hotel. You come with me; be my guest. Tell 'em you have already accepted an invitation to stop with a friend. Don't worry, they'll be glad enough to have one less to care for, and I want you."
The young man eagerly accepted.
At the meeting was the usual gathering of the usual types. There were the leaders, regularly appointed by the denomination, who were determined to keep that which had been committed to them, at any cost; and to this end glorified, in the Lord's service, the common, political methods of distributing the places of conspicuous honor and power, upon program and committee, among those friends and favorites who could be depended upon to respond most emphatically, or who were--in the vernacular--"safe." Equally active, with methods as familiar but not equally in evidence--for one must be careful--were the would-be leaders, who--"for the glory of Christ"--sought these same seats of the mighty, and who were assisted by those who aspired to become their friends and favorites--joint heirs in their success should they succeed. Then there were the self-constituted leaders who pushed and pulled and scrambled to the front; content if they could, only for the moment, be thought by the multitude to be something more than they were; who were on their feet instantly to speak upon every question with ponderous weight of words, and were most happy if they could fill some vacant chair on the platform. There were the heresy hunters who sniffed with hound-like eagerness for the scent of doctrinal weakness in the speeches of their brothers; and upon every proposed movement of the body, guarded with bulldog fidelity, the faith of their fathers. There were also the young preachers who came to look with awe on the doings of the great ones, to learn how it was done and to watch for a possible opening whereby they might snatch their bit of glory here on earth.
Many there were of this latter class who, from the highest religious motives, had answered the call to the ministry as to something sacred and holy, even as had Dan. These young men, though they knew it not, were there to learn how their leaders--while theoretically depending upon God for their strength and guidance in managing the affairs of the church--depended actually upon the very methods which, when used by the world in its affairs, they stamped ungodly.
The Ally was there in power. The day of the rack, the thumbscrew and the stake, is long past: in place of these instruments of religious discipline we have--the Ally.
Mostly those on the firing line were ministers, though here and there a prominent woman leader pushed to the front. The rest were brothers and sisters, mainly sisters; who like other mortals, always backed their favorites in the race that was set before them all. These prayed sincerely and devoutly that somehow, in ways beyond their bewildered ken, the good God would bless the efforts that were being made for righteousness and truth, hoping thus for heavenly results from very worldly methods.
Judge Strong was an old campaigner. A heavy contributor to the general work and missionary funds to which the leaders looked for the practical solution of their modest bread and butter problems, he had the ears of them all. Nor was the Elder slow to use his advantage. He could speak his mind with frankness here, for these great men of the church lived far from Corinth and, while knowing much of the Elder--the church man, knew nothing of the Judge--the citizen and neighbor. More than this such reports as the Elder had to make must, in the very nature of things, for the good of the cause, be strictly private.
While the Judge was holding these little confidential chats with the leaders, and the leaders were holding equally confidential chats with their friends and favorites, and these in turn were doing as they had been done by, the Elder's assistants, assigned to various church homes in the city, were confidentially exchanging confidences with their hostesses. And this is the simple truth of the whole matter, and the way it all came about.
Dan was introduced to the secretary. "Ah--yes, Brother Matthews of Corinth! Glad to meet you. Ah, excuse me I--ah, see a brother over there with whom I must speak."
Dan was presented to the treasurer. "Oh yes, I have heard of you--at Corinth. Why, hello, Brother Simpkins"--catching a passing preacher by the arm--"glad to see you! How are you and how is the work?"
Dan introduced himself to one or two of those whom he had hungered to see, those who were noted in the church papers for their broad wisdom and saintly character, and somehow Dan felt rebuked for his forwardness when each, from his pedestal, looked at him and said, "Oh yes; Brother Matthews! I have heard of you, Brother Matthews!"
During the forenoon session of the second day the order of business was reports of the churches. In response to roll call, one after the other, the representatives of the various congregations would tell what they had done and what they were going to do. Dr. Oldham remarked later, "No one told what they had failed to do, or what they were not going to do."
As a rule the ministers reported for their own churches, save when some delegate whom the pastor knew to be peculiarly qualified, was present. Generally speaking the ministers consider the value of such a report to be greatly increased if it can be given by some such member. The minister himself always sees that the report is properly prepared.
Judge Strong, without consulting Dan, responded to the call for the Memorial Church. There was a distinct hush, and heads went forward in interest. The Elder regretted to report that, while they had held their regular services every Sabbath, and their preacher was the most popular preacher in Corinth, the conversions for some reason had not been as numerous as in some previous years. But Memorial Church could be depended upon to remedy that very soon, for they were contemplating a great revival meeting to begin as soon as a competent evangelist could be secured. [Loud applause from the professional evangelists present.] They felt that a series of good old Jerusalem gospel sermons would put them again to the front in the matter of additions. [Loud applause from the defenders of the faith.]
Dan listened in silent amazement. This was the first he had heard of a meeting in Corinth. The Doctor saw the boy's face grow burning red.
The Elder continued his report, touching every department of the church in like vein, and finished by "regretting exceedingly that their offering for the missionary, and for the general work for the present year, had fallen short of previous years." The Judge did not explain that he had subtracted from his part in the church offering an amount exceeding the shortage, which amount he had added to his usual personal subscription. As for the regular expenses of the congregation, he went on, they had been cared for.
"And," remarked the state secretary in a loud voice, rising instantly as the Judge sat down, "I want you all to know that Judge Strong's personal contribution to our funds is larger this year than ever before. We who know Brother Strong's splendid Christian generosity will understand how the regular expenses of Memorial Church have been paid." Whereupon the leaders-who-were and the leaders-who-would-like-to-be joined with one accord in loud applause.
Not a preacher there but understood exactly what the Elder's report signified.
Following the reports of the churches came the introductions of the new pastors. Skilfully the preachers were marshaled upon the platform, Big Dan towering at the foot of the line. Stunned and embarrassed as he was by the Judge's report, the boy would not have gone forward at all, had not the Doctor fairly pushed him into the aisle. The old philosopher told himself grimly that the lad might as well get all that was coming to him. In the ceremony that followed Dan got it.
One after the other the ministers were introduced by the secretary, who had a glowing word for each. "Brother Williams who has done such marvelous work at Baxter." [Loud applause for Brother Williams.] "Brother Hardy who is going to do a wonderful work at Wheeler." [Louder applause for Brother Hardy.] And so on down the line. Not one, from big church or little, from city pulpit or country district, but secured the boosting comment and the applause; for this was Christian enthusiasm.
Dan's turn came at last. His face was now white.
"And this," shouted the secretary, "is Brother Matthews, the present pastor of our church at Corinth." There was a hush still and significant; for this was church policy.
After a moment's silence the secretary continued, "Please sing hymn three-hundred and one:
'Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love.'
Everybody sing!" And the denominational papers agreed that they made a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Were the high officials and their mates on this ship of salvation to be blamed? Not a bit of it! The Elder's report made Dan "unsafe"--and he was. They were right. More than this, the Lord needed the Judge's influence--and money.
When the young minister came back to his seat his old friend thought his face the saddest he had ever seen.
At lunch the Doctor told Dan that he was going to call upon several friends that afternoon, and among them mentioned the superintendent of a famous steel plant in the city. Agreeing to meet at dinner in the evening they parted, Dan going alone to the convention building. At the door he paused.
Several ministers, chatting gaily with friends passing in for the opening of the afternoon session, looked curiously at the stalwart, irresolute figure standing there alone. Two or three greeted him with a word. All were sorry for him; for not one but understood the meaning of the incidents of the morning.
An hour later the superintendent of the great steel works greeted, with admiring eyes, the big clean-looking fellow and wondered at the look of sadness on his face.
"I am in the city with my friend, Dr. Oldham," explained Dan. "I expected to find him here. He told me at lunch that he was coming."
"Oldham in town? Good!" exclaimed the man of affairs. "Of course he would look me up, but he hasn't been here yet. Glad to meet any friend of the Doctor's. Sit down, Mr. Matthews; he'll be in presently, no doubt. Or perhaps while you're waiting, you would care to look about." At Dan's eager reply he touched a bell and, to the man who appeared, he said, "Jack, show Mr. Matthews around. A friend of my friend, Dr. Oldham."
And so the Doctor found the boy standing in the very heart of the great plant, where the brawny workmen, naked to the waist--their bodies shining with sweat and streaked with grime, wrestled with the grim realities of life.
For a little while the Doctor watched him; then, tapping him on the shoulder, shouted in his ear, above the roar of the furnace, the hissing of steam and the crash and clank of iron and steel. "Almost as good as a fishing trip, heh Dan?"
Back in the office again the superintendent introduced them to a gray-haired, smooth faced, portly gentleman--the president of the steel company, a well-known capitalist. The great man repeated Dan's name, looking him over the while.
"Matthews. By your name and your build, sir, you are related to the Grant Matthews who owns Dewey Bald."
"He is my father, sir," returned Dan, delighted.
"Ah yes. Through my interests in the lead and zinc industry, I am familiar with your part of the country, sir. I have met your father several times. It is not easy to forget such a man."
Dan now remembered the president's name, having heard it in connection with the mines on Jake creek, near his home.
The capitalist continued, "I have tried several times to persuade your father to open up that hill of his. He has a fortune in that mountain, sir, a fortune! Are you interested in mining, Mr. Matthews?"
"Not directly, sir."
"No? Well, if your people should ever decide to develop that property come to me; I know what it is. We would be glad to talk it over with you. Good-bye, sir; glad to have met you. Good day, Doctor." And he was gone.
The Doctor and Dan dined with the genial superintendent and his family that evening and the next morning set out for Corinth.