In His Steps is a 1896 Christian novel by Charles Monroe Sheldon. It begins with a tramp, whose name the reader later finds out is Jack Manning, appearing at the house of Henry Maxwell, the minister of the First Church of Raymond (a town on the outskirts of Chicago). Maxwell,...
however, is busy writing a sermon and turns the tramp away.
That same Sunday, Manning comes to the First Church of Raymond and interrupts Maxwell's sermon to tell the congregation what he thinks of the town. Questioning their dedication to Jesus, he says,
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 . . . if the people in the big churches had good clothes and nice houses to live in, and money to spend for luxuries, and could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, thousands of them . . . grow up in misery and drunkenness and sin.
Moments later he collapses at the pulpit and dies.
His death deeply affects Maxwell and Maxwell begins to question his attitude towards life and the church, which the author suggests had, up to that point, revolved around the rich elements of the town:
The church was the first in the city. It had the best choir. It had a membership composed of the leading people, representatives of the wealth, society and intelligence of Raymond.
Maxwell, who had a reputation of giving sensational but often superficial sermons, surprises his congregation by asking for volunteers to join him in living life by “What would Jesus do?” One of the volunteers is the owner of the Raymond Daily News, Edward Norman.
Though a religious man, Norman readily admits that he makes a living from the unsavoury elements of the city.
Why not? Raymond enjoyed a system of high license, and the saloon and the billiard hall and the beer garden were a part of the city's Christian civilization. He was simply doing what every other business man in Raymond did. And it was one of the best paying sources of revenue.
His opinion begins to change when he begins to ask what would Jesus do? He stops printing adverts on alcohol and stories on prize fights and starts focusing on the real problems of the area.
As the author states,
The First Church of Raymond had never touched the Rectangle problem. It was too dirty, too coarse, too sinful, too awful for close contact. Let us be honest. There had been an attempt to cleanse this sore spot by sending down an occasional committee of singers or Sunday-school teachers or gospel visitors from various churches. But the First Church of Raymond, as an institution, had never really done anything to make the Rectangle any less a stronghold of the devil as the years went by.