by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
So far, Douglas had only published books about the ministry, aimed at other ministers. In 1926 he reached out to a wider audience, and he told them about the teachings of Jesus. It was called These Sayings of Mine.
I have read this book several times over the past 25 years, and although there is a lot of good material in it, I sense now, as I did the first time I read it, that this effort fell short of what Douglas was trying to do. He was trying to present Jesus as the answer to the pressing moral and psychological problems of his age, and yet he did little more than make that claim – in many ways, and from a number of angles. He let us know that he thought Christ was the answer, but he didn’t connect the dots for us. He didn’t tell us precisely how Jesus can help us in contemporary times.
The raw materials were there. You can spot them throughout the book. But he had not yet figured out how to put them together into a coherent message.
He wrote that Christ was the Light of the World and that there was no one else in history who spoke like Jesus did or who related to people the way he did. He wrote that, in order to follow Jesus, we need to do the things he taught. He said that our creeds barely touch on Christ’s teachings; and at any rate, reciting creeds about Jesus does not get us any closer to following him, just as electricians would never get anywhere by declaring their belief in Volta or Faraday; they can only generate electricity by doing what Volta or Faraday said.
As to Christ’s teachings themselves, Douglas said that they were directed to different classes of people, depending on their gifts and abilities. He said that Jesus taught us to “launch out into the deep” and “make large demands on life,” recognizing that we have heavy responsibilities. He said that we should be able to sense Christ’s nearness when we’re at our place of employment, but also in our leisure time. This presence would establish a kingdom within us here and now – a domain that would banish fear and motivate us to live by the Golden Rule.
But it was all so vague! He talked around and around the subject but never quite helped his readers to connect. He was trying to convey something that he, himself, hadn’t quite come to terms with, even though he had experienced it in his own life.
When I say that the raw materials were there, I can point out no better example than his comments on the early verses of Matthew 6, in which Christ talks about doing our alms in secret. As I told you in an earlier post, Douglas himself had practiced that for years – so successfully, in fact, that it took me a lot of detective work in order to uncover just one of his secret projects. (See the PDF mentioned at the bottom of this page for more details.) And it had clearly made a difference in his life. But he still hadn’t put the pieces together; he still didn’t understand how to help others experience what he had experienced.
In These Sayings of Mine, he writes:
There is a peculiar psychology involved here which baffles explanation. Do your good deed and keep it a secret. You will achieve a great deal of satisfaction. Tell somebody you did it, and you divide your joy in half. Tell a dozen, and the joy is all gone. Whoever wishes to elucidate this mystery is welcome to the materials. One simply knows that it is true.These Sayings of Mine, p. 224
Again, after a guy named Jones does a good deed…
All day Jones goes about in a sort of golden mist. Never had he done anything in his life that gave him this particular kind of spiritual satisfaction. In the evening his closest friend and neighbor drops in for a call…. So Jones tells the story; and even while he is telling it, he feels the ecstatic joy of the thing gradually oozing out! Why? Who knows? But it is true. One can depend upon whatever Jesus said about these practical considerations. He was an astute and infallible psychologist.Ibid., p. 225
We know that Douglas himself wasn’t satisfied with what he wrote here because he ended up writing an entire book about it – a book that remained a bestseller for years and is still in print, almost 100 years later. That book was Douglas’s breakthrough, not because it made him famous but because it helped him put his great idea into words. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
For now, in 1926, Douglas published a book that promised or hinted at what was coming. And it seems to me that there was a particular reason why he wasn’t able to piece it all together yet: because he was still approaching the problem as a minister. He needed more practice thinking about the everyday lives of regular people. And he got it… in some unexpected ways. I’ll tell you about that in the next few posts.
For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C. Douglas, fill out the form below: