The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XL. The Final Word
"'This closes my ministry as you understand it. It by no means closes my ministry as I have come to understand it.'"
Dan's farewell sermon was to be given in the evening. John Gardner, who--true to the promise he had made when he challenged the minister, after that sermon on "Fellowship of Service"--had become a regular attendant, was present in the morning.
In the afternoon the farmer called on Dan in his study.
"Look here, Dan," he said. "You are making the mistake of your life."
"You're wrong, John. I made that mistake nearly two years ago," he answered.
"I mean in leaving Corinth as you are leaving it."
"And I mean in coming to Corinth as I came to it."
"But wait a minute; let me tell you! You have done a lot of good in this town; you don't know--."
"So have you done a lot of good, John; you don't know either."
The farmer tried again. "You have helped me more than you know."
"I'm glad, John, because you have helped me more than you know."
"Oh, come; you know what I mean!"
"Well, don't you know what I mean?"
"Yes, I think I do. I've been listening pretty close to your sermons and so have a lot of others. I have managed to talk with a good many church people since it was known that you were going; just common plugs in the congregation, like me, you know." Dan smiled. "We all understand what you have been driving at in your preaching, and we know pretty well what the bosses think about it, and why they have let you out. No one takes any stock in that foul gossip, not even Strong himself. Now what I came to say is this: a lot of us want you to stay. Why can't we have another church for our people right here in Corinth? There's enough of us to back you, and we mean business."
Dan shook his head sadly.
"Thank you, John," he said simply. "It is useless for me to try to tell you how much good this does me; but I can't accept. I have thought of the possibility you mention, but I can't do it. You do not need another church in Corinth. You have more than you need now."
Nor could any argument move him.
"Well," said the farmer, when at last he gave it up and rose to say good-bye, "I suppose I'll keep right on being a church member, but I reckon I'll have to find most of my religion in my work."
"And that," said Dan, as he gripped his friend's hand, "is the best place I know of to look for it. If you cannot find God in your everyday work, John, you'll not find Him on Sunday at the church."
That farewell sermon is still talked about in Corinth or rather--it should be said--is still remembered, for it was one of those sermons of which, while little could be said, much could never be forgotten. And the picture of the big lad, whose strong, clean-looking body drooped so as if in great weariness; whose frank open countenance was marked with drawn lines; in whose clear brown eyes were shadows of trouble and pain; whose voice betrayed the sadness of a mighty soul, will also remain long in the memory of those who were there that evening.
The place was crowded. The triumphant Judge and his friends of the inner circle were there in force, striving in vain to hide, with pious expression of countenance, the satisfaction and pride they felt in their power. The other members were there, curious to hear what Dan would say; wondering how much he knew of the methods that had brought about his dismissal; a little sorry for him; a little indignant; and with a feeling of impotence withal that made their sorrow and indignation of no worth whatever. With identically the same emotions as the members, except that it felt free to express them more freely, the world was there. To a portion of the congregation Dan stood in the peculiar position of a friend whom, as an individual, they loved and trusted, but whom, as a preacher, they were forced to regard as unsafe and dangerous.
It would not do to report all he said, for much of his sermon was not fashioned for the printed page.
But his final words were: "It is not the spirit of wealth, of learning, or of culture that can make the church of value, or a power for good in the world, but the spirit of Christ only. It is not in fidelity to the past but in fidelity to the present that the church can be Christian. It is not the opinion of man, but the eternal truths of God that can make it a sacred, holy thing. It is holy to the degree that God is in it. God is as truly in the fields of grain, in the forests, in the mines, and in those laws of Nature by which men convert the product of field and forest and mine into the necessities of life. Therefore these are as truly holy as this institution. Therefore, again, the ministry of farm, and mine, and factory, and shop; of mill, and railroad, and store, and office, and wherever men toil with strength of body or strength of mind for that which makes for the best life of their kind--that ministry is sacred and holy.
"Because I believe these things I am, from this hour, no longer a professional preacher, hired by and working under the direction of any denomination or church leaders. This closes my ministry as you understand it. It by no means closes my ministry as I have come to understand it."
When he had finished they crowded around him to express regret at his going--sorry that he was leaving the ministry; the church needed men of his great ability--prayed God to bless him wherever he should go--all this and much more, with hand-shaking and many tears from the very people who had made it impossible for him to stay. For this is the way of us all!
As quickly as he could Dan left the church, and with the Doctor walked toward home. The two made no exchange of words, until they reached the monument, where they paused to stand silently contemplating the cast-iron figure. At last Dan turned with a smile. "It is very good cast-iron, I suppose, Doctor."
Then, as if dismissing the whole matter, he took his old friend's arm and, with a joyous ring in his voice that had not been there for many months, said, "Doctor, you'll do me one favor before I leave, won't you?"
"Go fishing with me tomorrow. There is something, still, before I can leave Corinth--. I do not know how--Will you go?"