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Local Columnist

by Ronald R Johnson (

During the last two school years Lloyd Douglas was at the University of Illinois, he wrote a weekly column in the Daily Illini, the student newspaper. In 1915, when he accepted a call as Senior Minister at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, he widened the circle. Since he was no longer strictly involved in campus ministry, he knew he also had a responsibility to reach out to the larger community. One way he did that was to write a weekly column in the Ann Arbor Times-News. The column was called “The Saturday Sunset Sermonette,” and it began in September of 1915. Despite the word “sermonette,” the topics were quite down-to-earth. Here are some examples:

On your kid’s first few weeks in elementary school: “Be very patient with him. He is learning a new craft. His little world is being melted and stirred and shaken… all the fences are being torn down and rebuilt after a different pattern and for a different purpose, around his small domain…. No wonder if… he seems distracted; forgets the errand he promised to run; omits doing his customary chores. Be patient. If you were going through any such radical revision of your life-processes, just now, likely they’d have you in a straitjacket with an ice-pack on your head.”

From an extremely tongue-in-cheek essay on why women should not be allowed to vote: “In the first place, Providence never intended woman to be man’s equal, as is clearly proved by the fact that the first woman was made of the first man’s rib. Anybody can see that this disqualifies her for citizenship. The first man, it will be remembered, was made of dirt. This gave him such a fine start that woman has never been able to overtake him in ability to manage politics, which is pretty dirty business in many localities.”

On sending Christmas cards: “Among the people we should plan to remember with a card or a note of good wishes are the old friends whom we seldom see and from whom we rarely hear: our teachers, back in the old days, who wonder if we have forgotten that they exist; the schoolmates of long ago; the men and women, now aged and infirm, who used to take a kindly interest in us as children; the nurse who pulled us through scarlet fever; the man who fished us out of the river that day we were unsuccessfully attempting the ambitious aquatic performance. To be sure, we have lost track of many of these good angels of our youth. We are not sure they are alive. But, by beginning, early, to make inquiries, we may be able to locate some of them.”

From an essay entitled, “The Hated Job”: “To touch humanity with the power of an uplifting personality; to make it think, make it act, make it want to live four-square and above the fog because you do – because your character is contagious – this is the secret that transforms many a humdrum house of merchandise into a temple and many a common workbench into a shrine.”

By just such humorous and practical essays, Douglas reached out to people in the community who might not step inside a church. It was through this column that Douglas also rallied the people of the city around a charity case during the 1915 Christmas season. I’ll tell you about that in the next blog post.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C. Douglas, fill out the form below:

What Douglas Wanted Most

by Ronald R Johnson (

Sometime while he was pastor at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC (between Fall 1909 and Summer 1911), Lloyd Douglas preached a sermon that must have puzzled his parishioners (Lloyd C Douglas, The Living Faith (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955), pp. 14-21).

He claimed that the local congregation was like the Bethesda Pool in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. Paralyzed people gathered on porches around the pool because it was rumored that an angel sometimes stirred up the waters, giving them momentary healing powers; the first to wade in would be made whole. Of course, those most in need were never able to reach the water first. “Some of our churches are like that Pool of Bethesda,” he argued. “They are handsomely equipped…. But there seems to be such a noticeable lack of provision for bringing in just the people who are in such obvious need of its curative agencies.”

It was not enough for the churches to welcome visitors, he said. There had to be a way to get the gospel out to people rather than just trying to bring them in. The members of Luther Place Memorial Church must have wondered what Douglas was talking about, because Douglas’s predecessor, Dr. J.G. Butler, had been very effective at reaching out to the larger community, not only by being chaplain of both the House and the Senate, but also by mentoring young black men who were called to ministry. The church even had a health clinic run by one of Butler’s sons, who was a doctor. So why was Douglas saying that the church needed to find a way to get its “curative agencies” out to the people who needed it most?

Because Douglas wasn’t talking about social programs. He was talking about accessing the power of God and putting it to work in our lives, and he was saying that the church had not yet found a way to get this access out to the people who would never come to church. For him, the gospel was not so much about church attendance as about harnessing divine energies to make the world a better place. The mission of the church was to get that power into people’s hands – even people who did not attend church. In his sermon on the Bethesda Pool, he said that, if he knew how to accomplish this, then “by next week I would be figuring in headlines an inch high in a thousand metropolitan papers.” Although this was an expression of youthful hyperbole, it shows just how important this issue was to Douglas. He wanted to articulate a gospel that would have practical effects in everyday life, and he insisted on taking that message to the larger public.

Although no one who heard that sermon probably realized it, he was telling them the thing he wanted to accomplish above all else. And the missing puzzle piece was this: he wanted to reach people outside the church through his writing.

Although his parents groomed him for the ministry from a young age, he seems to have sensed an even deeper calling to be a writer. Nor did he just want to publish sermons and religious essays. For as far back as his scrapbooks take us, he was kicking around the idea of writing something for the mass reading public, and what he had in mind was fiction. In his letters to friends and family, he made light of this aspiration, calling himself “a scribbler” and speaking as though his passion for writing were an addiction.

In a letter to his cousin Edith Kirkwood in 1910 (while he was pastor at Luther Place), he said, “Lately I have revived an old slumbering passion for writing yarns. Not long ago I sold a small ornament off my desk to Eddie Bok [an editor] and the sight of that check, with its beautiful corrugated edges – albeit it was not for more than two figures – started up my old trouble; and the gnawing at my vitals… has compelled me to scribble some more. God help the preacher who isn’t content to stick to his parish duties!… I have a lot of old mummies in my ecclesiastical museum who would feel that Hell had opened up its maw (and its paw, for that matter) to embrace me, were the news to out that I had disgraced the profesh and besmirched the cloth by writing fiction. I shall spare them the discomfort by seeing to it that nobody finds out. I am now on the hunt for a satisfactory nom-de-plume…” (Quoted in Virginia Douglas Dawson and Betty Douglas Wilson, The Shape of Sunday: An Intimate Biography of Lloyd C Douglas (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952), p. 66.)

In 1910 he was willing to keep his fiction writing a secret by using a pen name, but a year later, when the YMCA offered him a job and a chance to say “Good riddance” to the “old mummies,” that seemed like a better plan. As it turned out, he didn’t tell his employers at the Y that he was writing fiction, either, but that was all right; his fiction wasn’t good enough to display yet. At this phase in his life, he had a lot to learn about the craft of writing fiction. The point is this: his devotion to “scribbling” went so deep, he couldn’t beat the addiction, even though he felt guilty about indulging in it while being a man of the cloth. But deep down, he always believed he was going to make it as a writer. It may seem like a small thing, but take a look at the opening page of his very first scrapbook in 1903.

That’s more than a signature; if I’m not mistaken, he was practicing his autograph – the same one he used years later to sign copies of his bestselling novels. Here’s a signed copy of the inside page of Forgive Us Our Trespasses, published almost thirty years later, in 1932. It is practically identical:

Lloyd Douglas the Author was always there in germinal form, even while he was working so hard to establish himself as a minister. And he obviously felt those two things were incompatible, at least in the minds of some of his parishioners.

Over the past several blog posts, I’ve addressed the question, “Why did Douglas resign his important post at Luther Place Memorial Church to work for the YMCA?” So far I’ve answered this question in bits and pieces, but now I’m ready to pull it all together into a coherent explanation.

Douglas resigned for many reasons, most of which he kept concealed. He wanted to go back to school and get the kind of education he could only get from a state university. At that institution, he wanted to rethink his theology and align it with the latest, most up-to-date information available. Pursuant to this goal, he wanted to leave the Lutheran Church and start fresh with some other denomination. And he wanted to do all this not only so that he could preach again, but – more importantly – because he wanted to write something… probably fiction. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it. If anyone had asked him in 1911, he would have been incapable of telling them what he had in mind. But he did have something in mind, and he sensed that he would never bring it to full expression unless he could shed his current social limitations and start over.

And that’s why Lloyd C Douglas moved his family west to Champaign, Illinois in the Fall of 1911. He had great hopes. But he was taking a tremendous risk.

For a free PDF of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:


by Ronald R Johnson (

Lloyd C Douglas in 1910. From Virginia Douglas Dawson and Betty Douglas Wilson, The Shape of Sunday: An Intimate Biography of Lloyd C Douglas (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952).

It was officially 98 degrees in Washington, DC, that day (107 degrees on “the street kiosk”), but the members of Luther Place Memorial Church must have stopped fanning themselves when they heard the announcement. It was Sunday, July 2, 1911, and as their young pastor, Lloyd C Douglas, ended his sermon and was about to begin administering the sacrament, he said these words, according to the next day’s Times Herald. They are remarkable for their brevity:

“This morning I celebrate the feast of the Lord’s Supper with you for the last time. Probably, too, it will be the last time I shall officiate in this capacity in our church.”

In less than half a minute, he told them two important pieces of information: (1) that he was resigning as pastor, and (2) that he was leaving the ministry of the Lutheran Church. He continued:

“For I have concluded, after most thorough and prayerful attention to a call to the University of Illinois to become religious work director of the Student Christian Association, that it is my duty to accept.”

A little less than two years earlier, he had been given an opportunity to lead this flagship church in the nation’s capital, and now he was throwing it all away to become a campus minister.

From the Washington Post:

“Hardly had the minister concluded his resignation when members of the church surrounded him and pleaded with him to give up the call. The officials of the church were loudest in their insistence that he remain, declaring that he was as much needed in this city as in his new field. To these claims Mr. Douglas replied that he had already accepted the call from the Young Men’s Christian Association and could not alter his decision now.”

From the Washington Herald:

“‘It seems clearly God’s own call,’ said one of the leading members afterward. ‘We are honored, though the regret in having Mr. Douglas go, just as he has really got well started with us, is sincere and universal in Luther Place Memorial Church.’”

From the Washington Times:

“‘I leave my church here with much regret, but I feel that my duty lies in the new field,’ said the pastor. ‘My relations with the church here are most pleasant and only the urgency of the call leads me to leave.’

The reporters at the Washington, DC papers had not yet become either as aggressive or as persistent as they would be in later years, for they all seemed to suspect that there was more to the story, but none of them pursued it. Douglas was giving up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at Luther Place, and his new job at the YMCA was a downward move, although he did his best to make it sound important.

A letter he received from the White House put it in perspective. The note came from Charles D Hilles, secretary to President Taft. “While I congratulate the University on securing your services,” Hilles said, “I very much regret that we in Washington are to lose you. I have no doubt that your pre-eminent success with young men fits you for the task you are about to assume. If I did not know of your fondness for such work, I should be unable to account for your departure from the fine old church in Washington.”

There it was: yes, we know you’re fond of working with young people; and yes, we know you’ll do well. But even taking those factors into consideration, we are “unable to account for your departure.”

It was a different day and time than the one we live in now. No one seriously pressed him about it. But their suspicions were correct: there was more to the story.

For although Douglas had strong feelings about the YMCA and had even been considering working for them when the Luther Place opportunity fell in his lap, this career move was about far more than that. Lloyd Douglas was at a crossroads – mentally, spiritually, and professionally. For reasons known only to himself and his wife Besse, he could no longer continue on his current trajectory. Over the next five blog posts, I’ll tell you about those reasons.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

A Sermon That Made a Difference

by Ronald R Johnson (

Douglas had only been in Lancaster, Ohio, for a year when he was honored with an unusual preaching opportunity. The city had a Ministerial Association through which the local Protestant ministers kept in touch with each other and cooperated in certain ways. Each year on Thanksgiving, they held special Union services in a few designated churches around town. Attendance was usually good, considering the fact that the members of the city’s many churches all gathered at only two or three places, chosen in advance by the Association. Because the occasion was Thanksgiving, a special collection was taken, and the monies received were split among the participating congregations.

In 1906, Douglas was selected to preach at the largest of the three host churches, and newspaper accounts say that the place was crowded. The message Douglas delivered that morning made a difference: it altered (at least slightly) the history of Lancaster.

Preaching on the text “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” Douglas asked the congregation whether they were Jesus’ “friends.” He dwelt on that question a while, making sure heads were nodding all around the room, then drove home the point that friendship with Christ, who gave his life for us, must manifest itself in “a keen desire to help others.”

There must have been gasps of disbelief as he gave the following description of their annual Thanksgiving Union service:

“We have come together in times past to eulogize ourselves for our prosperity, and readjust our homemade haloes… and brag and boast about what all we have to be thankful for, after the order of the Pharisee’s Thanksgiving prayer, ‘Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men are!’ We have even been so stupidly indifferent to the great tasks that belong to us, that we have divided our pitiful little Thanksgiving offering of nickels and dimes among the various church treasurers for them to use for their respective poor; and the church treasurers, for the most part deeming their own treasuries to be the most poverty-stricken creatures in town, have emptied this treasure into the coffers of their own churches, where it gently and silently evaporated into a calm, sweet nothingness…

“It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. Christ wants and has a right to expect something better of his friends.

“If you have a thankful heart this day, reveal it by your sacrifice. Then let this handsome gift, amassed, initiate some fund that will put us on record for having this day, as friends of Christ, remembered in gratitude the boundlessness of his love…”

All of this was prelude. Now came the pitch: it was time to build a hospital in Lancaster.

“Every few days we are confronted with a problem, gigantic and soul-searching. A man is severely wounded. Maybe his home is not appointed to meet the exigencies that have arisen. He must be subjected to an operation. He must receive the most careful subsequent attention. One of two courses lies open. Either he must run the gauntlet with the pitiable circumstances in his humble home… or else the other alternative will be chosen and he is taken on a cot in the baggage car to Columbus for hospital treatment. And if he has not all the odds in his favor, in either case he hasn’t had a fighting chance.”

Douglas went on to argue that it made as much sense from a civic as from a religious perspective to build a hospital in town rather than shipping people off to Columbus for medical attention. He added:

“I believe that the highest adoration to God is rendered by the man who accompanies his ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’ with a check on his bank account. I believe that a man can express more real, conscientious Christianity with his pocketbook than with his prayer book.”

As one of the local papers remarked, “So effective were his words that at the conclusion of his address Mr. James T Pickering [Lancaster’s Postmaster General] arose and moved that the day’s collection be used as the nucleus of a hospital fund. The motion met with practically unanimous approval and the offertory which followed aggregated over $100.” These were 1906 dollars, bear in mind. One online calculator estimates that it would be $3018.84 in 2021 dollars. By comparison, the collection at the other two Union services totaled $4 ($12 by today’s values).

In 1907, the “Park Street Hospital” opened in a private home in the 200 block of Park Street. It was not unusual for cities of that size to set up their first hospitals in houses. The city where I live (Kalamazoo, Michigan) did the same thing : Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo began in 1889 in a private residence, and what is now Bronson Hospital did the same thing in 1900. (See Jacqueline L Wylie and Anna M Stryd, Bronson Women and the School of Nursing: Journeys Through One Hundred Years (Kalamazoo: Alumni Association of Bronson Methodist Hospital School of Nursing, 2005), pp 4, 9-10.)

Others had pushed for a hospital in Lancaster prior to November 1906, but Douglas’s sermon helped move the project along. Most of us never get a chance to make history, even on the local level, but Douglas did. And it started as nothing more than an opportunity to preach. It tells us something about Douglas that he saw larger possibilities in that invitation.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Dear Valentine: Douglas and the Lutheran Observer

by Ronald R Johnson (

One of the biggest boosts to Douglas’s career as both a minister and an author was the invitation to contribute, on a regular basis, to The Lutheran Observer, a weekly newspaper published in Baltimore from 1840 to 1915. The invitation came from the Rev. Dr. Milton Valentine, who was editor of the Observer from 1899 to 1915.

In a letter to Douglas dated June 25, 1906, Valentine described himself as “intently scanning the horizon” for new writers. Douglas had sent him something before, apparently, and he wrote to Douglas on June 2oth asking him to contribute again. Douglas responded quickly. The essay he sent pleased Valentine so much that he wrote to Douglas on the 25th asking him to be a regular contributor:

“The very first communication you sent me showed promise of great aptness for this kind of work, and I think I have not observed a more marked development in gifts for it than in your case. Your style is clean, clear and direct. You not only think clearly but you have the power of finely and forcibly expressing your thoughts. The Church is in great need of just such talents as yours…”

That was all Douglas needed to hear. For the next five years, Douglas’s articles spiced up the Observer, tackling controversial issues with boldness, imagination, and a powerful command of the English language. “There is not another man in our Church who could have written that article of yours,” Valentine said on another occasion (October 11, 1911).

Milton Valentine was a godsend for Douglas: full of praise and encouragement while giving Douglas a free hand. Although the Observer seems to have had a wide circulation within the denomination, Valentine didn’t micromanage, even when Douglas spoke frankly on hot topics (which he did regularly). Douglas’s articles in the Observer made him a rising star within the Lutheran Church in America. These publications, and his many speaking engagements around the country, put his name on many people’s lips within the denomination.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Greatness Trying to Break Out

by Ronald R Johnson (

“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

That was the text of Lloyd Douglas’s sermon at Grace Lutheran Church in Muscatine, Iowa (USA), sometime in the spring or summer of 1905. They were considering calling him as pastor, and they ended up doing so; but he turned them down. He was on his way to bigger and better things than they could offer him in small-town Iowa.

His sermon topic, taken from John 1:46, says it all. He had spent the last two years as the pastor of another small-town church in North Manchester, Indiana, and he was ready for a break-out.

“Nazareth,” he said, “is for us whatever fetters and binds. It may be a town; it may be poverty; may be disease; may be the one black stain on the escutcheon of a family. Nazareth may be a long vista of years when education was denied; may be an occupation, hated and scorned.”

It was an odd choice of topic, for he was speaking to people in a little town in Iowa, and for Douglas, who had always hoped to make his mark on the larger society, this place was a backwater. It’s strange that he even accepted the invitation, knowing that it was for the purpose of calling him to be their pastor. But it’s even stranger that he stood before them and hinted that they were living in a modern-day Nazareth. He was always trying to reach young people, and it almost seems like he was saying to some imaginary boy or girl in the pews, “Don’t lose hope. I grew up like you, but I’m moving on… and so can you!” His sermon was not aimed at those who were complacent; it was meant for the restless ones in his audience – people just like himself.

For even though he did (for whatever reason) make the trip back to Iowa (he had served as a student pastor at a church in Des Moines in 1902), he was even at that moment being wooed by another congregation in Lancaster, Ohio. This, too, was a small-town church, but it was close to Columbus (a larger metropolitan area that was also the state capital), and it was growing. Douglas wanted to contribute to that growth. But until he got a solid offer from Lancaster, he felt he needed to keep the poor souls of Muscatine, Iowa, on the hook. And that is the only reason I can give for the fact that he was now, on this Friday evening, preaching to them about how boring it was to “come from Nazareth.”

But whatever his listeners thought the sermon meant, or however they might have applied his message to their own lives, it is clear how Douglas applied it to himself. He had been born and raised in Nazareth, but he was determined to get out of it, one way or another. And so this rather odd sermon was a sort of Declaration of Independence, even if nobody who heard it on that occasion knew what he really meant.

He concluded with a note of warning – whether to himself or to his hearers is not clear. He said, “There are responsibilities attached to any departure from Nazareth. The reconstruction of environment brings added capabilities and commensurate burdens. The road leading from Nazareth may pass the cross.”

Be that as it may, he was ready to go; and a short time later, he did, for he was offered the job in Lancaster and moved there in the summer of 1905. But the two years he had just spent in North Manchester were not wasted, for even though he was restless to leave such humble surroundings, his work in that little town had already shown signs of his future greatness.

[The sermon discussed above is described in an undated newspaper clipping on p. 31 of Scrapbook 1 in Box 5 of Douglas’s private papers at the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. The sermon was entitled, “Environment: Its Limitations and Possibilities.”]

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Douglas’s Open Letters to the Shut-Ins

by Ronald R Johnson (

During his first pastorate at Zion Lutheran Church in North Manchester, Indiana (USA), Lloyd Douglas published a weekly newsletter. One of the notable features of the paper was a weekly editorial addressed specifically to the homebound members of his congregation. These open letters are fascinating because they are so tender, thoughtful, wise, and compassionate, while at the same time being pretentious, pompous, condescending, and preachy (coming as they do from a young man just out of seminary talking to people two or three times his age).

The article I am about to share with you is from The Church and Sunday-School, Published by Zion Lutheran Congregation, North Manchester, Indiana, Vol. 1, No. 2, September 11, 1903, p. 3. It’s in Douglas’s earliest scrapbook, p. 15, Box 5 of the Lloyd C Douglas Papers at the Bentley Historical Library.)

Do not think, dear brother or sister, that because you are afflicted, we have forgotten you. Our prayers ascend for you very often, and our hearts yearn for the time when you can be with us again. If some of us are so busy with toils and cares that we do not come to see you, do not take that to mean that we are not inquiring about you often and wishing best possible things for you. The church is doing splendidly; all the departments are taking on new life. Really, you would not recognize some of our auxiliaries, they have changed so. The prayer-meeting is becoming in favor with a great many people. The Sunday-school is witnessing an ingathering of some who had outgrown it years ago and are just now getting back. We are anxious to have you with us, but until you can come, will you do us the service of praying for the church and her work? On Wednesday evening, for instance, ask God to speak to those who are not housed up as you are, and tell them to go to His House and receive strength for better service.

The next week (Vol. 1, No. 3, September 18, 1903), he wrote this on pp. 3-4:

Dear afflicted one—we are still missing you. You wish that you might come to our services, and we wish, too, that you might. You will be happy when we tell you that we are on the high road to prosperity. Do you remember the little handful of people who used to come to Prayer-meeting? Well, we have doubled, and trebled our number. Just at present we are having Bible Readings. Look up the topic for Wednesday Evening in the Calendar, and find all the Scripture references you can on that subject—just so you will feel that you are having a part in our work. Know how to do that? Here is an example: Next Wednesday evening the topic is ‘Baptism.’ Find some verse relating to Baptism—John 3:5. In the verse you will find a letter that refers you to a marginal reference. Find this letter in the margin and it will refer you to Mark 16:16. Read that verse and discover a clue to other verses on the subject. This is systematic Bible study. You will be greatly helped by it. Do not forget to pray for others in affliction. No matter how distressed you are, you will always find someone who is worse off than yourself. Let your prayer for your own happiness be made in humble submission. Ask God to remove your affliction, if it is His Will, and if not His Will, to give you Divine Grace for your trials, that you may bear them.

In Vol. 1, No. 6, October 9, 1903, p. 3, he said,

Dear Friend: We are confident that you were thinking very seriously last Sunday morning while your brothers and sisters in the church were gathering about the altar to receive the ‘Broken Body’ and ‘Shed Blood’ of the Savior. We wished you, too, might have been with us, and we prayed for you, that the Savior would manifest Himself to you in the Spirit of the Comforter while this sacrament was being ministered. There are few burdens so heavy that might not be still heavier. Be thankful for the blessings you have, and pray for grace to sustain you in your trials.

Sometimes he just filled them in on what was happening at the church. But these words excerpted from a longer communication in Vol. 1, No. 5, October 2, 1903, pp. 2-3, are especially touching:

Dear Afflicted One: The Autumn days are fast approaching, bringing with them the knowledge to you that your possibilities for getting to church are more meagre than they were in the summer. However, you can hold sweet communion with your Saviour wherever you are. Time was when men thought the only way to worship God was in His Temple; that adoration and praise were only to be rendered in the House of Prayer. Those were the days of burnt offerings, and as such offerings were made through the media of the priests, the Temple was the only place where such worship might be rendered. But now conditions are changed. ‘The Sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.’ Since Christ is our Great High Priest, we may worship God through Him, and since He is a Spirit, it is not necessary that we should defer our prayers until the time we may go into a church set apart for sacred homage to the King.

After some newsy items, he concluded with this (and it could serve as a benediction for us all):

May the compassionate Christ be very dear to you in your afflictions. ‘No pathway so thorn-strewn that He cannot guide securely; no night so long and dark that He, the Bright and Morning Star, does not bring the dawn; no burden so heavy that He, the burden-bearer, does not beg to share it; no trial so sore, no temptation so threatening, no sorrow so sad, that He, the compassionate, does not say in tenderness: ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Ten Commandments for the “College” Church

by Ronald R Johnson (

Photo of University of Illinois campus from Jack A. Scanlan Scrapbook, 1907-1911, University of Illinois, Archives Research Center, RS 41/20/39. This is how the campus looked when Lloyd Douglas arrived in 1911.

Reprinted below is a humorous article by Lloyd C. Douglas published in the magazine, The Intercollegian, April 1919. During ten of his years as a minister, Douglas was on a university campus, first as the religious director of the YMCA at the University of Illinois (1911-1915), then as Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, adjacent to the University of Michigan (1915-1921).

Of particular note is the Tenth Commandment. Douglas had obviously run out of numbers, so he crammed several commandments into the last one. I especially like how he warns against asking big-name faculty members to teach Sunday School if their “spiritual thermostat” is below the freezing point.

The commandments are listed with Roman numerals:


I AM the Spirit of Christianity. Thou shalt have no other business but to promote me.

Thou shalt not squander thy time by offering dissertations upon Genesis as a text book on anthropology, biology, geology, astronomy, or any other ology or onomy appertaining to the heavens above or the earth beneath or the waters under the earth; thou shalt not bother thyself overmuch with philosophical explanations of strange matters concerning which thou knowest nothing; for I, the Spirit of Christianity, am now exercised more about other things; notably, the character of thy summons in behalf of lofty ideals and worthy living.


Thou shalt not specialize upon indictments of Organized Christianity because of its ancient mistakes, for they are amply able to speak for themselves without thy help, and thy task is to remedy such blunders rather than commemorate them.


Remember the Faculty and keep its respect. Students come and go, and their opinions are easily modified; but the Faculty Man stays, and likewise do his convictions. Let him once give thee a black eye, and thou shalt be thus adorned for some time. In him thou shalt invest much of thy time and thought, that his good opinion of thy motives and methods may be won, lest he consider thee out of harmony with Truth and intolerant of truth-seekers, whereupon he hooteth at thee in his lecture-hall, after the which thou mayest as well lock thy door and throw away the key thereof.


Honor the student traditions of thy university, however silly they may seem to thee, that thy days may be longer in the academic community wherein thou hast chosen to live thy life and perform thy work.


Thou shalt not scold.


Thou shalt not commit sectarianism.


Thou shalt not bawl out the fraternities.


Thou shalt not cause thy most loyal students to flunk their courses by spending too much time scouring thy pots and pans, engineering thy pop-corn festivals, lest they evermore think of thee as one doth regard the tailor who built him the ill-fitting pants.


Thou shalt not covet university credits for thy courses in religion.


Thou shalt not covet the instructor’s right to consider it unprofessional to be interesting; thou shalt not toady to the professor who knifeth thee in the back after thou hast caused him to be made toastmaster of a student banquet within thy gates, nor ask them to teach thy classes in Bible study who, though they have large names and many letters affixed thereunto, register less than 32 degrees on their spiritual thermostat; thou shalt not covet the student’s slang, airs, dress, indifference, cold-bloodedness, or any other thing that undignifies thee and nullifies thy usefulness and causeth him to thrust his tongue in his cheek when he passeth thee by.

[These “commandments” may be of interest also – and profit – to Association Secretaries and other Christian workers in academic communities. – Edit.]

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

A Prayer for Insight

by Ronald R Johnson (

Lloyd Douglas wrote out the prayers he uttered in worship, because he did not want to make them up on the spur of the moment. They were meant to be thought-provoking, as well as to lead the congregation in prayer. Here is one of them, reprinted in The Living Faith, p. 299:

We beseech Thee to make known to us more and more clearly each day the duties we are expected to perform if we are to fulfill our destiny. We plead for that serenity of spirit which trusts confidently that Thy will may and must and can be done on earth as it is done in heaven.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

They Kept This Secret for Over a Hundred Years…

by Ronald R Johnson (

In his novel, Magnificent Obsession, Lloyd Douglas encouraged his readers to invest in the lives and talents of other people, but to do it secretly. By empowering others and doing it secretly, he claimed, we could strengthen our relationship with God in ways that would be visible in our personal and professional lives. Many of his readers wrote to him asking whether he truly believed what he was saying or was he just writing a story?

The answer is that he not only believed it; he lived it.

The obvious question is, If he spent his life investing secretly in other people, then how would we ever know… since he (and his beneficiaries) kept it a secret?

I’ve been studying the life and works of Lloyd Douglas for many years, and I believe I have uncovered one of the investments he made while he was working at the University of Illinois from 1911 t0 1915. A young man named Roger Zombro had recently set up shop as a clothing merchant on Green Street, just off campus. Lloyd Douglas had no money, but he made a huge – and clever – investment in Zombro’s future… an investment that changed both of their lives. As far as I can tell, neither of them ever broke their silence about it. What Douglas did has remained a secret for over 100 years. It’s a remarkable story.

I tell about it – and I share the detective work I did to uncover it – in a 32-page booklet entitled, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas. To get a free copy of this PDF document, please fill out the form below. I can’t wait to share this fascinating story with you. And I’d love to hear what you think about it.