Charles M. Sheldon
The Crucifixion of Philip Strong
Philip Strong could not decide what was best to do.
The postman that evening had brought him two letters and he had just finished reading them. He sat with his hands clasped over his knee, leaning back in his chair and looking out through his study window. He was evidently thinking very hard and the two letters were the cause of it.
Finally he rose, went to his study door and called down the stairs, "Sarah, I wish you would come up here. I want your help."
"All right, Philip, I'll be up in a minute," responded a voice from below, and very soon the minister's wife came upstairs into her husband's study.
"What's the matter?" she said, as she came into the room. "It must be something very serious, for you don't call me up here unless you are in great distress. You remember the last time you called me, you had shut the tassel of your dressing-gown under the lid of your writing desk and I had to cut you loose. You aren't fast anywhere now, are you?"
Philip smiled quaintly. "Yes, I am. I'm in a strait betwixt two. Let me read these letters and you will see." So he began at once, and we will copy the letters, omitting dates.
CALVARY CHURCH, MILTON.
REV. PHILIP STRONG.
DEAR SIR:—At a meeting of the Milton Calvary Church, held last week, it was voted unanimously to extend you a call to become pastor of this church at a salary of two thousand dollars a year. We trust that you will find it in accordance with the will of the Head of the Church to accept this decision on the part of Calvary Church and become its pastor. The church is in good condition and has the hearty support of most of the leading families in the town. It is the strongest in membership and financially of the seven principal churches here. We await your reply, confidently hoping you will decide to come to us. We have been without a settled pastor now for nearly a year, since the death of Dr. Brown, and we have united upon you as the person most eminently fitted to fill the pulpit of Calvary Church. The grace of our Lord be with you. In behalf of the Church,
WILLIAM WINTER, Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
"What do you think of that, Sarah?" asked Philip Strong, as he finished the letter.
"Two thousand dollars is twice as much as you are getting now, Philip."
"What, you mercenary little creature, do you think of the salary first?"
"If I did not think of it once in a while, I doubt if you would have a decent meal or a good suit of clothes," replied the minister's wife, looking at him with a smile.
"Oh, well, that may be, Sarah. But let me read you the other letter," he went on without discussing the salary matter.
CHAPEL HILL, CHURCH, ELMDALE
REV. PHILIP STRONG,
DEAR BROTHER:—At a meeting of the Elmdale Chapel Hill Church, held last week Thursday, it was unanimously voted to extend you a call to become pastor of the church at a salary of $2,000 a year, with two months' vacation, to be selected at your own convenience. The Chapel Hill Church is in a prosperous condition, and many of the members recall your career in the college with much pleasure. This is an especially strong centre for church work, the proximity of the boys' academy and the university making the situation one of great power to a man who thoroughly understands and enjoys young men as we know you do. We most earnestly hope you will consider this call, not as purely formal, but as from the hearts of the people. We are, very cordially yours,
In behalf of the Church, PROFESSOR WELLMAN, Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
"What do you think of that?" asked the minister again.
"The salary is just the same, isn't it?"
"Now, Sarah," said the minister, "if I didn't know what a generous, unselfish heart you really have, I should get vexed at you for talking about the salary as if that was the most important thing."
"The salary is very important, though. But you know, Philip, I would be as willing as you are to live on no salary if the grocer and butcher would continue to feed us for nothing. I wish from the bottom of my heart that we could live without money."
"It is a bother, isn't it?" replied Philip, so gravely that his wife laughed heartily at his tone.
"Well, the question is, what to do with the letters," resumed the minister.
"Which of the two churches do you prefer?" asked his wife.
"I would rather go to the Chapel Hill Church as far as my preference is concerned."
"Then why not accept their call, if that is the way you feel?"
"Because, while I should like to go to Elmdale, I feel as if I ought to go to Milton."
"Now, Philip, I don't see why, in a choice of this kind, you don't do as you feel inclined to do, and accept the call that pleases you most. Why should ministers be doing what they ought instead of what they like? You never please yourself."
"Well, Sarah," replied Philip, good-naturedly, "this is the way of it. The church in Elmdale is in a University town. The atmosphere of the place is scholastic. You know I passed four years of student life there. With the exception of the schools, there are not a thousand people in the village, a quiet, sleepy, dull, retired, studious place. I love the memory of it. I could go there as the pastor of the Elmdale church and preach to an audience of college boys eight months in the year and to about eighty refined, scholarly people the rest of the time. I could indulge my taste for reading and writing and enjoy a quiet pastorate there to the end of my days."
"Then, Philip, I don't see why you don't reply to their call and tell them you will accept; and we will move at once to Elmdale, and live and die there. It is a beautiful place, and I am sure we could live very comfortably on the salary and the vacation. There is no vacation mentioned in the other call."
"But, on the other hand," continued the minister, almost as if he were alone and arguing with himself, and had not heard his wife's words, "on the other hand, there is Milton, a manufacturing town of fifty thousand people, mostly operatives. It is the centre of much that belongs to the stirring life of the times in which we live. The labor question is there in the lives of those operatives. There are seven churches of different denominations, to the best of my knowledge, all striving after popularity and power. There is much hard, stern work to be done in Milton, by the true Church of Christ, to apply His teachings to men's needs, and somehow I cannot help hearing a voice say, 'Philip Strong, go to Milton and work for Christ. Abandon your dream of a parish where you may indulge your love of scholarship in the quiet atmosphere of a University town, and plunge into the hard, disagreeable, but necessary work of this age, in the atmosphere of physical labor, where great questions are being discussed, and the masses are engrossed in the terrible struggle for liberty and home, where physical life thrusts itself out into society, trampling down the spiritual and intellectual, and demanding of the Church and the preacher the fighting powers of giants of God to restore in men's souls a more just proportion of the value of the life of man on earth.'
"So, you see, Sarah," the minister went on after a little pause, "I want to go to Elmdale, but the Lord probably wants me to go to Milton."
Mrs. Strong was silent. She had the utmost faith in her husband that he would do exactly what he knew he ought to do, when once he decided what it was. Philip Strong was also silent a moment. At last he said, "Don't you think so, Sarah?"
"I don't see how we can always tell exactly what the Lord wants us to do. How can you tell that He doesn't want you to go to Elmdale? Are there not great opportunities to influence young student life in a University town? Will not some one go to Elmdale and become pastor of that church?"
"No doubt there is a necessary work to be done there. The only question is, am I the one to do it, or is the call to Milton more imperative? The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that I must go to Milton."
"Then," said the minister's wife, rising suddenly and speaking with