From the Pulpit to Perdition

Chapter 1

Dr. Star And The White Temple

Rev. Clarence Jordan Star, D.D., was a man of fine physical proportions, with natural mental endowments far above the average man. His school advantages had been of the best, beginning with excellent teachers in his early childhood and graduating at one of the leading universities of the country. He had, in addition to this, taken a three years’ course in a school of theology, gone well over the field literature, and traveled much abroad.

His social qualities were of a high order. With striking face, elegant, easy manners, and affable disposition, he won friends and admirers everywhere. He entered the work of the ministry under the most auspicious circumstances, and his rise was so rapid that within a few years from the time that he entered upon the duties of the pastorate, he was occupying one of the most important pulpits in the denomination to which he belonged. The Doctor was the personification of grace in the pulpit, and withal an eloquent speaker.

He enjoyed the reputation of being a liberal man, broad-minded, and tender-hearted. He was a popular man for occasions. If the cornerstone of a church was to be laid, or a monument to the memory of dead heroes to be unveiled, or the funeral of some prominent business man to be preached, Dr. Star was sought out for the service. The young people, not only of his congregation, but of the city generally, desired his presence and services on wedding occasions. Banquets and feasts seemed incomplete if Dr. Star did not say grace before the feast was served.

The church in which Dr. Star’s congregation worshipped was in every sense worthy of such a pastor. It was a massive stone structure, with tall steeple and gorgeous windows. The interior was finished in hardwood, and the floor was covered with Brussels carpet. The pulpit was an elegant piece of elaborately carved mahogany, covered in front with red plush velvet, and decorated with a beautiful white silk cross. The baptismal font was of whitest marble; in fact everything in and about the church gave evidence of most refined taste and largest wealth. The church was called “The White Temple.” The membership numbered about thirteen hundred, and was made up of merchants, manufacturers, bankers, and the first men of the learned professions of the city, with their families.

White Temple Church was a great center of fashion on the Sabbath, and of social life during the week days. In fact it had become, with its splendid festivals and beautiful entertainments, almost a rival of the theaters of the city. Besides the vast auditorium this church had lecture-rooms, sewing-rooms, dining-rooms, an immense kitchen, a reading-room and beautiful parlors.

The eloquence of Dr. Star, the fine music of his choir, with its variety of instruments, and its hired singers with trained voices, drew great congregations to The White Temple.

There was an unwritten, but perfectly well understood law, that drew the social lines closely between the masses and the classes, and The White Temple was the church of the classes. Dr. Star was not a sensational preacher — he was too cultivated a man for that. His drift was in the direction of higher criticism, his tastes were aesthetical, he believed in the highest mental culture for the mind both of men and women, and had in his church both Chautauqua Circles and Shakesperean Clubs. The Doctor’s salary was large, and he was in demand as a lecturer at the great summer gatherings where his services commanded substantial pecuniary remuneration, and thus it was possible for his family to live, both in table and apparel, as well as the most wealthy of his parishioners.

The church and its pastor were thoroughly opposed to revivals of religion. The method of increasing the membership of the church was to take in the children of the various families as they arrived at the proper age, and if persons of proper social standing were found, whom it was thought desirable to bring into the membership of White Temple, social influences were shrewdly brought to bear that generally resulted satisfactorily.

At the time of which I write there had, for some time, been a sort of lull in the social life of this great church, and the leaders of the hosts had become aware of the fact that a revival of church enthusiasm and social life was necessary. With this end in view a meeting was called, and a movement set on foot to give an entertainment at The White Temple which should eclipse anything of the sort ever before undertaken by that congregation. That time might be ample for full preparation for the cantata and festival, the great event was fixed on a date many weeks away from the time of the committee meeting, and now the whole congregation was astir, and excitement and expectation were in due time brought to fever heat.

The proper persons were selected and carefully trained for the various parts in the play, and others were selected to keep stalls, and others to wait on the table at the sumptuous luncheon that was to be served.

Handsome and gay costumes were made, and there was no sparing of money or pains in the preparation for the coming event of the season in the great society circles that revolved about White Temple as its common center.

I must call the reader’s attention to the fact that some years before the entertainment of which I write took place, a “Prophetic Convention” had been held in the city where this great church was located, in which the doctrines of entire sanctification and the second coming of Christ had been discussed. The discussion of these subjects had attracted much attention at the time. As one result of the convention several revivals had broken out and spread from place to place, resulting in a great awakening in many parts of the city, in which quite a number of the smaller congregations had participated. Many hundreds of persons sought forgiveness of sins, and some scores professed full salvation.

Every church in the city felt, to a greater or less extent, the effect of these meetings. Even fashionable White Temple did not escape. Some of the congregation being greatly troubled at the thought of Christ’s coming, and not a few of them much disturbed at the thought of holiness being necessary in order to escape the pit of outer darkness, it became necessary for Dr. Star to preach a series of sermons on the subjects discussed by the convention in order to quiet the fears of his people, and get them restored again to the even tenor of their ways.

I cannot here go into a detailed account of this series of sermons, or even undertake a systematic synopsis of them. It will suffice to say that Dr. Star followed the well-beaten track made by those who have gone before him, but it must be granted that he handled the subjects in a brilliant and striking way. He warned the people against fanaticism and narrow views of truth. He severely censured all sorts of religious excitement; he pointed out the hobby-rider and held him up to ridicule. He struck straight out from the shoulder at star gazers, who perverted the Scriptures on the subject of the second coming, and comforted his people by assuring them that time was yet in the early morning, with a vast sweep of centuries to roll by in an ever increasing development and culture of the race.

He said that only cranks and narrow-minded persons profess to be sanctified from all sin. He called their attention to the fact that Paul called himself the chief of sinners, and that John wrote, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

For some four Sabbaths in succession Dr. Star strove to comfort the disturbed consciences among his people, assuring them that all men sin every day, and that we need not hope for or expect anything else. These sermons had the desired effect, and the Doctor soon saw, with much satisfaction, that the agitation in his church on the subject of the second coming, and sanctification, was entirely dissipated, and his gay and thoughtless people went forward with dancing parties, theaters, cards, and church festivals, with as much enthusiasm as they did before the great awakening visited the city.