The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XXXVII. Results
"When he had finished his letter, he bowed his face in his hands and wept."
Dan could not--or perhaps it should be written would not--understand rightly his experience at the church convention. Sadly puzzled and surprised by the spirit and atmosphere of that meeting to which he had gone with such confidence, and sorely hurt by his reception, he had no thought of the real reason for it all. He only blamed himself the more for being so out of harmony--for failing so grievously to find the key that should put him in tune.
In the great steel works among the sweating, toiling men; with the superintendent of the plant, under whose hand men and machinery were made to serve a great world's need; and with the president whose brain and genius was such a power in the financial and industrial world Dan had felt a spirit of kinship. Amid those surroundings he had been as much at home as if he were again in his native hills, and for the hour had forgotten his fellow churchmen and their ministries. But as their train drew nearer and nearer Corinth, the Doctor saw by his companion's face, and by his fits of brooding silence, that the minister was feeling again the weight of his troublesome burden.
By this and by what he had seen at the convention, the old physician knew that the hour in Dan's life for which he watched with such careful, anxious interest, was drawing near.
With Hope gone out of his life he turned to his work with grim, desperate, determination. What, indeed, had he now to which he might turn but his work? He realized that now he must find in this work for which he had made the supreme sacrifice of his life, the only thing that would, to him, justify his choice--the choice that had cost both him and the woman he loved so much suffering. His ministry had now become something more to him than a chosen life work. To those high motives that had led him to the service of the church, he added now the price he had paid in giving up the woman who had grown so much into his life. He must find that in his ministry which would make the great price paid, not in vain.
So, with all the strength of his great nature, he threw himself with feverish energy into what had, in spite of himself, come to be a too-empty ministry. Crushing every feeling of being misunderstood, and unjustly criticized; permitting himself no thought that there were under the surface treacherous currents working for his overthrow; blaming himself always and others never, when he felt a lack of warmth or sympathy in his people; yielding for the time even his own conviction as to his teaching, and striving to shape his sermons to the established lines of the Elders, he fought to put himself into his work.
And always, at the beck and call of Dan's real masters, that other servant of the church--that spirit that lives in Corinth--wrought the will of those whose ally it is.
That last meeting of Dan and Hope in the Academy yard, as if by appointment; the sudden departure of the nurse so soon after; and Dan's too-evident state of mind, were all skilfully used to give color to the ugly whispered reasons for the nurse's leaving town so hurriedly.
The old Doctor knowing, watching, waited for the hour he knew would come; understanding Dan as he had always understood him; wisely recognizing the uselessness of doing aught but let him go his own strong, hard, way. And Dr. Harry also, knowing the malignant power that was forcing the end, and conscious what the end would be, watched silently, hopelessly, helplessly, as many a time he had watched the grim drawing near of that one whose certain coming his professional knowledge enabled him to recognize, while giving him no power to stay.
Memorial Church was all astir, and on the tiptoe of expectancy, preparing--they said--for the greatest revival ever held in Corinth. The professional evangelist selected by the Elder, whose choice was, as a matter of course, approved by his fellow officials and congregation, had sent full instructions for the proper advertising of himself, and--as his instructions stated--"the working up of the meeting." Dan ignoring the slight to himself in the matter of calling the evangelist, did everything in his power to carry out his part of the instructions.
The evangelist arrived. Royally received by the Elders and the inner circle, he was escorted in triumph to the Strong mansion, which was to be his home during the meeting, and within the hour began his professional duty of "setting the church in order, and gathering a mighty harvest of souls."
This evangelist was a good one, of his kind. His kind is that type of professional soul-winner evolved by the system whereby the church pays for the increase of its flock at so much per head, inasmuch as the number of his calls, and the amount of his hire depend upon the number of additions per meeting to the evangelist's credit. A soul-winner with small meetings to his credit receives a very modest compensation for his services, and short notices in the church papers. But the big fellows--those who have hundreds of souls per meeting, come higher, much higher; also they have more space given them in the papers, which helps them to come higher still. Souls may have depreciated in value since Calvary, but one thing is sure, the price of soul-winners has gone away up since the days of Paul and his fellow ministers.
Preaching every night and conducting afternoon meetings, calling at the homes of the people, directing the efforts of the members of the inner circle, sometimes with Dan--oftener without him--fully informed and instructed by the Judge, whose guest he was and to whom he looked for a larger part of his generous salary, the evangelist made himself no small power in the church of Corinth. Assisted always by the skill and strength of the Ally, the effectiveness of his work from the standpoint of Elder Strong and the inner circle at least, was assured.
That was a great meeting; a mighty revival, far reaching in its influence and results! So the denominational papers had it from Judge Strong's report, written while the services were still in progress, and edited by the evangelist. And the papers published a greater truth than they knew. There were influences of which they were ignorant, and the results reached ends they dreamed not of.
Night after night--Dan heard the evangelist with harsh words and startling roughness of expression, declare the awful, eternal disaster that would befall every soul that did not accept the peculiar brand of salvation which he and his church alone offered. He listened to the long arguments planned to prove the rightness, and therefore righteousness, of the evangelist himself and his denominational way, and the equal wrongness, and therefore unrighteousness, of every other minister and church not of his way. Then as he heard these utterances most emphatically and enthusiastically indorsed by his Elders and people as the old Jerusalem gospel, the conviction grew upon him that his preaching would never be acceptable to Memorial Church.
And what place is there in the scheme of things as they are for the unacceptable preaching of any gospel? What gospel can a preacher deliver in order to be acceptable to his peculiar church save that church's peculiar gospel? Dan was not one to ask the oft repeated question of the ministry, "What must I preach in order that I may be saved?"
In the semi-secret workers meetings; in the still more private planning of the committees; in the jubilant reports of the uneasiness of the other churches; and in the satisfying accounts of the awakened opposition and answering sermons of the other preachers; in the evidence of the general stirring up of the community; and in the schemes for further advertising and boosting the evangelist and the cause, Dan felt himself growing ever more and more out of harmony--felt himself more and more alone.
In those days the sadness of his face grew fixed; his color lost its healthy freshness; strange lines, that did not belong to his young manhood, appeared; and the brown eyes that were wont to look at you so openly, hopefully, expectantly, with laughter half-hidden in their depths, were now doubting, questioning, fearful, full of pain.
The Doctor saw, and silently "stood by." Dr. Harry saw and wished that it was all over.
Then came a letter from the officials of the Chicago church of which Dr. Miles was a member. The letter asked if Dan would consider a call to that congregation. Again and again Dan read the letter. What should he do? He could not stay in Corinth. The sense of failure haunted him, while he was unable to fix upon the reason for it. He condemned himself for committing unknown offenses. Could he honestly go to another church? How should he answer the letter? He could not answer it at once--perhaps in a few days!
While he hesitated the meeting drew to its triumphant close. After one last, mighty, farewell effort, the evangelist departed to some other grand harvest of souls, to some other church that needed "setting in order." His work was well done! So well done that he was justified, perhaps, in making another substantial increase in his stated weekly "terms."
That night when the farewell meeting was over, and the last "good-bye" and "God bless you" had been said to the evangelist, Dan stood alone in his study, by the window that looked out upon Denny's garden. He was very tired. Never before in his life had he known such weariness. He felt that in the past few weeks he had neglected the garden down there. For Denny and Deborah he had planned that the little plot of ground should be more profitable that year than it had ever been before. He would not neglect it longer. There at least were visible, actual returns for his labor. Tomorrow he would spend in the garden.
Seating himself at his writing table he wrote the Chicago church that he could not consider their call. And then in that little room where he had made for his ministry the supreme sacrifice of his life; surrounded by the silent witnesses of his struggle and victory, he penned his resignation as the pastor of Memorial Church.
Dan Matthews will never outlive the suffering of that hour. He had lost the woman he loved with all the might of his strong passionate manhood. When she had waited and beckoned him to come, he had chosen his ministry. And now--God pity him!--now he had lost that for which he had sacrificed both himself and the woman he loved.
When he had finished his letter, he bowed his face in his hands and wept.