Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 481

Charles Sheldon uses the personal lives of the congregation of the Nazareth Avenue Church -- and later their contemporaries in Chicago -- to illustrate the joys of accepting a life devoted to Christ as well as the emptiness of a life devoted to more earthly concerns. 

By employing personal vignettes that...

(The entire section contains 481 words.)

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Charles Sheldon uses the personal lives of the congregation of the Nazareth Avenue Church -- and later their contemporaries in Chicago -- to illustrate the joys of accepting a life devoted to Christ as well as the emptiness of a life devoted to more earthly concerns. 

By employing personal vignettes that illustrate how Maxwell's challenge affects his congregation, Sheldon is able to show rather than tell a reader about the purpose of a life centered on the teachings of Christ. The changes wrought by choosing to live according to the idea of "What would Jesus do?" are evident in the stories of each of the people who accept it. For example, Rollin Page marries Rachel after he chooses a life of service to God over a life of earthly concerns. She isn't able to accept his proposal until he has a purpose. Alexander Powers takes a lesser position to expose corruption at the railroad company where he works. Edward Norman takes a financial hit when he changes his paper to better serve Christians and turns away from publishing on Sundays. 

Choosing to play out several scenarios also enables Sheldon to show how people who reject a life devoted to Christ may have other pleasures but will still be unsatisfied. Jasper Chase is cold and unhappy even though he's found fame and success. Rose Sterling is in an unhappy marriage with no love because she chose to marry an older, wealthy man to live in luxury.

Each of these people experiences major changes when they live according to Maxwell's challenge. Whether they're satisfied or not depends on whether they live according to the teachings of Christ. If Sheldon had followed only one character, the changes may have appeared to be a coincidence. By following an entire cast of characters, he makes it clear that living a godly life improves circumstances for everyone, while rejecting it leads only to unhappiness. 

Sheldon uses Maxwell's vision at the end of the novel to show how everyone's lives were ultimately impacted. Rollin and Rachel were satisfied, happily married, and serving God. Virginia was pleased with the service she was able to provide to those less fortunate than herself. Alexander Powers doesn't have an easy life, but he is honorable and faithful to God even when it means personal sacrifice. Edward Norman's paper becomes successful, and he inspires others. Since he can't follow the long-term lives of everyone, he uses a vision to wrap up their stories and illustrate his final purpose—a life devoted to God provides fulfillment, while another life serves only emptiness.

Sheldon uses the spread of Maxwell's challenge to demonstrate how good works can cause a ripple effect that impacts other communities. People in Chicago take up the challenge at the end of the novel. His good work doesn't stop with the town of Raymond; instead, it can spread all over the world.

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