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He introduced his subject by showing the purpose and duty of the church: that it was not a social club, not simply a place to see and be seen, not a musical organization, and not an intellectual battlefield; but that it was a place to build Christ-like characters, and that the church had no excuse for living, save as it preached Christ's gospel and did His work. Then he asked, "Is the church doing this?" and called attention to the magnificent buildings, expensive organs, paid choirs, large-salaried preachers, and in the same city hundreds and thousands of men and women who were going to eternal ruin. "Did Christ make a mistake when he said, 'And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto myself?' Or was it that men were lifting up themselves instead of the Master?"
He showed that the reason why more laborers and business men were not Christians was because Christianity had become, not a work, but a belief; that it had grown to be, not a life, but a sentiment; and that laborers and business men had not much place for beliefs and sentiments. "The church," said Cameron, "must prove herself by her works as did Christ, and her work must be the same as Christ's."
It caused a great deal of talk, of course. No preacher can branch out from the old, well-beaten paths, without creating talk. He was roundly scored by his Brethren in the ministry, and accused of all sorts of sensationalism, but bore it all without a word, except to say, "I am glad if I can even stir you up enough that you will condemn me; though I cannot help but think that if you would spend the same energy in remedying the evils you well know exist, you would do more for Christ and your fellow men." But to his wife he said, "Fanny, I am convinced that if we ever have a practical working plan for helping the poor and needy, and for the protection of the boys and girls in this city, on a scale sufficient to at all meet the needs, it will come from the citizens and not from the preachers. The world really believes in Christ, but has lost confidence in the church. And if some plan could be started, independent of the churches, but on a Christian basis, I believe it would succeed."
"Well," said his wife, with a smile, "I think I know one preacher who will have a hand in it anyway, and I know you do not include the Young People's Society with the church."
Cameron jumped to his feet and walked rapidly up and down the room. "Fanny," he said at last, facing his companion. And as he stood, with both hands in the side pockets of his short coat, and his feet braced wide apart, he looked so much a boy that the good wife laughed before she answered, "Yes sir, please, what have I done?"
"Do you know that I am to speak at the regular union meeting of the Young People next Sunday night?"
"Yes sir," meekly.
"And you know that the subject of the evening is 'Beaching the Masses.'"
"And do you know what I am going to do?"
"Well, just wait and see," and planting a kiss on the upturned lips, he ran off to shut himself up in his study.
The practical Christian work of the home established by the young people of the Jerusalem Church, and the remarkable success of the reading rooms, was proving a great educational factor in the life of Boyd City. The people were beginning to realize the value of such work, and the time was ripe for larger things. As has been said, Cameron's sermon caused no little talk, while the preachers did not hesitate to help the matter along, and to keep the pot boiling by the fire of their criticism.
It was a custom of the Young People's Societies in the city, to meet for union services once each month, at which time one of the pastors would speak on some topic of particular interest to young Christians, dealing with social, civil, or political questions, from the standpoint of Christianity, and this happened to be Cameron's turn to deliver the address. The young pastor was a favorite generally, in spite of his somewhat questionable standing with the theologians; so when it was announced that he would speak, and that the subject was one upon which he was known to have strong ideas, the public looked forward to the meeting with more than usual interest. When the time came, the Zion Church, which was the largest in the city, was crowded to its utmost capacity.
Cameron began by reading from the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my Brethren, ye have lone it unto me."
Then he said that as his talk was in no way to be a sermon, he felt free to give himself more liberty perhaps, than if he were in the pulpit; and that he would discuss the question not simply from the standpoint of Christianity, but of good citizenship, and the best interests of the people as well.
The audience settled itself at these words and waited breathlessly.
The speaker then laid down the proposition, that the question of reaching the masses, did not have to do simply with those who called themselves Christians, but with all society, all business, all government; in fact, with all that touched mankind. He showed how the conditions of the least of these gave rise to bad conditions everywhere, and bred crime, anarchy and animalism; and how that the physical, moral and intellectual life of all men is concerned. Then he took his hearers from street to street in their own city, bidding them to look at the young men and women on the corners, in the saloons and wine rooms, and asked, without any reference to Christianity in any way, "What will be the legitimate fruit of such sowing? What influence are we throwing about our boys and girls, and upon what foundation are we building our social, business and municipal life?"
Then turning to Christians, he reviewed the grand work that the church had done in the past, in moulding the lives of men and nations; and plead that she prove true to the past by rising to the present and meeting the problems of to-day. He called upon them in the name of their common Master, to put their minds to this question and to rest not from their study until a practical solution had been found. He urged, too, that those standing outside the church with idle hands, content to criticize and condemn, were not doing even so much as the institution with which they refused to stand identified. "I can see no difference," he said, "and before God, I believe there is none, between an idle church member and a do-nothing man of the world. They both stand on the same plane, and that plane is the plane of death."
Then, after an earnest appeal that the teaching of Jesus be applied, that the worth of souls be judged by the price paid on Calvary, and that all men, within and without the church, unite for the common cause, humanity; he turned suddenly to the chairman and said: "Mr. President, because of these things regarding the church, which all men know to be true; because of these things regarding our city, which all men know to be true; for the sake of Christ and His gospel, for the sake of our country and our laws, for the love of our boys and girls, I suggest that each society in this union appoint a committee of three from their membership, each of these committees to add to itself one good business man who believes in the teaching of Christ, but who is not connected with any church; the joint committee to meet in council for the purpose of formulating some plan to meet the needs of this city along the lines of our subject this evening."
At this strange and unexpected ending of Cameron's address, the audience sat astonished. Then, from all over the house, voices were heard murmuring approval of the plan.
Rev. Jeremiah Wilks was the first to speak. "I'm heartily in favor of the suggestion," he said. "I think it's a good thing. It will get some of our moneyed men interested in the church and it will do them good. I've often told our people that something like this ought to be done, and I know the preachers of the city will be glad to take hold of the matter and help to push it along. I'll bring it before our Ministerial Association. You can count on me every time."
"But, Mr. President," said a strange gentleman, when Rev. Wilks had resumed his seat, "Is it the idea of the gentleman who suggests this plan, that the movement be under the control of or managed by the ministers?"
A painful hush fell over the audience. The president turned to Cameron, who answered, "It is certainly _not_ my idea that this matter be placed in the hands of the ministers; whatever part they have in the movement must be simply as Christian citizens of this community, without regard to their profession."
The audience smiled. Rev. Frederick Hartzel was on his feet instantly: "Ladies and gentlemen, I must protest. I do not doubt but that your young brother here means well, but perhaps some of us, with more experience, and with more mature thought, are better able to handle this great question. Such a plan as he has proposed is preposterous. A committee without an ordained minister on it, thinking to start any movement in harmony with the teaching of Christ is utter folly. It is a direct insult to the clergy, who, as you know, compose the finest body of men, intellectually and morally, in the country. I must insist that the regularly ordained ministers of the city be recognized on this committee."
Rev. Hugh Cockrell agreed with Hartzel, in a short speech, and then Uncle Bobbie Wicks obtained a hearing.
"I don't reckon that there's much danger of Brother Hartzel's amendment goin' through, but I just want a word anyhow. To-be-sure, you all know me, and that I'm a pretty good friend to preachers." The audience laughed. "I aint got a thing in the world agin 'em. To-be-sure, I reckon a preacher is as good as any other feller, so long as he behaves himself; but seein' as they've been tryin' fer 'bout two thousand years to fix this business, an' aint done nothin' yet, I think it's a mighty good ide' to give the poor fellers a rest, and let the Christians try it fer a spell."
"You've got to recognize the church, sir," cried Hartzel; and Uncle Bobbie retorted: "Well, if we recognize Christ, the church will come in all right, I reckon;" which sentiment so pleased the people that Cameron's suggestion was acted upon.
And thus began the movement that revolutionized Boyd City and made it an example to all the world, for honest manhood, civic pride and municipal virtue.
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