Christ Comes To Texas by William Cowper Brann

Story type: Essay


The editor was reading a report of the regular meeting of the Dallas Pastors’ Association, at which the Second Coming of Christ was learnedly considered. Dr. Seasholes declared that all good people will rise into the air, like so many larks, to meet the Lord and conduct him to earth–with flying banners and a brass-band, I suppose– where he will reign a thousand years. At the conclusion of this felicitous period Satan is to be loosed for a little season, and after he has pawed up the gravel with his long toe-nails and given us a preliminary touch of Purgatory, we are to have the genuine pyrotechnics. Some of the divines did not agree with the spectacular ceremonies arranged by Dr. Seasholes for the Second Coming; but he seems determined to carry out his program or enjoin the procession. The editor was musing on this remarkable controversy and wondering, in a vague, tired way, why the fool-killer did not take a pot-shot at the Dallas Pastors’ Association, when there came a gentle rap at his door and a strange figure stood before him. It was that of a man of perhaps three-and-thirty years, barefoot, bareheaded and clothed in a single garment, much worn and sadly soiled.

“Peace to this house,” he said, in a voice soft and sweet as that of a well-bred woman. “A cup of cold water, I pray you.” “Water? Cert. Steer yourself against the cooler over there. You look above the Weary Willie business. Sit down until I find a jumping-off place in this article on ‘The Monetary Situation,’ and perhaps I can fish up a stray quarter that’s dodged the foreign mission fund.” He bowed his thanks and sank wearily into the proffered seat. In five minutes he was sleeping softly, and the editor made a careful study of his face. It was of the Jewish type, strong but tender. The beard was glistening black and had evidently never been to the barber’s, while a shock of unkempt hair, burned by the sun, hung around his shoulders like the mane of a lion.

“Hello,” said the business manager, as he helped himself to the editor’s plug tobacco; “another of your Bohemian friends? Some fellow who’s tramping around the world on a wager of ‘steen million dollars? Good face, but a bath wouldn’t hurt him.” The stranger roused himself and the B. M. continued: “Neighbor, we were just about to crack a bottle of beer. Have you any conscientious scruples about joining us?” He winked at the bookkeeper, and the stranger bowed his thanks, accepted the amber fluid, scrutinized it curiously and drank it off with evident relish.

“That is very refreshing,” he commented as he wiped the foam from his black beard with his sleeve. “Will it intoxicate?”

He was informed that if taken on the allopathic plan it would make one drunk some, but not the wild-eyed, murderons mania peculiar to Prohibition booze. He declined a second glass, saying gently, “We should not abuse the good things of life.” The bookkeeper was so startled that he missed his face with a pint cup, and the mailing clerk did up a package of hymn books for a dealer who wanted “Potiphar’s Wife.” But the stranger was evidently unconscious that he had forever queered himself with the Bohemian Club. He took a dry crust from a leathern wallet, and, blessing it, offered a portion to the editor.

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“Jesus Christ! You don’t eat that, do you?”

The visitor rose, a startled look on his face.

“You know me, then? Yes, it is I–Jesus of Nazareth. I have walked the earth an entire year, clad as I was eighteen centuries ago, living as I did then, mingling with those called by my name, conversing with those who profess to teach my doctrine, and none knew me. Nay more: They sometimes spurned me from their doors, and even delivered me to the minions of Caesar as a vagabond. You look incredulous. Behold the nail-prints in my hands and feet, the spear wound in my side, the scars made by the crown of thorns upon my brow.”

“But I thought your second coming would be in power and glory, and all the righteous would rise up into the atmosphere to meet you and show you a soft spot to ‘light. Dr. Seasholes says so, and if he doesn’t know, who does?”

“I attended the discussion by the Dallas Pastors’ Association,” he said wearily. “They permitted me to sweep out the room and stand down in the hall. It may appear incredible; but there are just a few things that the Dallas Pastors’ Association doesn’t know. Of course you couldn’t make those gentlemen believe it; but it is a lamentable fact. The world is young; it must run its course. Our Heavenly Father did not create it as the Chinese make crackers–just to hear it pop. Not until its power to produce and nourish life is exhausted will the end be. Your poet, Campbell, was a true prophet. The sun itself must die, and not until that mighty source of light and heat becomes a flickering lamp, will those fateful words be spoken. ‘Time was, but time shall be no more.’ I am not come as yet to judge the world, but to mingle once again with the sons of men, and observe how they keep my laws.”

An expression of unutterable sadness stole into his face and he sat a long time silent.

“I have suffered and sacrificed much for this people,” he said at length, as though speaking to himself, “and it has borne so little fruit. The world misunderstood me. The church planted by toil and nurtured with my blood has split up into hundreds of warring factions, despite my warning that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Nor has it stood–the Temple of Zion is a ruin, the habitation of sanctified owls and theological bats. The army of Israel is striving in its camp, tribe against tribe, or wandering desolate in the desert while the legions of Lucifer overrun the land. Here and there, among the simple poor, I find traces of the truths I taught–here and there a heart that is a holy temple in which abide Faith, Hope and Charity; but the shepherds do not keep my sheep.”

He leaned his head upon his hands and wept, while the editor shifted uneasily in his chair and strove in vain to think of something appropriate to say. During his reportorial career he had interviewed Satan and the arch-angel Gabriel. He had even inserted the journalistic pump into Gov. Culberson and Dr. Cranfill without being overwhelmed by their transcendent greatness; but this was different. The city hall clock chimed ten, the hour when the saloons set out the mock-turtle soup and potato salad, the bull-beef and sour beans as lagniappe to the heavy-laden schooner. The editor remembered that Christ first came eating and drinking, sat with publicans and sinners and was denounced therefore as a wine-bibber and a glutton by the Prohibitionists and other Miss Nancys of Palestine. Still he hesitated. He wanted to do the elegant, but was afraid of making a bad impression. A glance at the dry and moldy crust determined him. He tapped the visitor on the shoulder and said:

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“Let’s go and get some grub.”

“I wouldn’t worry about the world if I were you,” I continued, as he led the way to the elevator. “It is really not worth while. If the devil wants it, I’d let him have it. I can think of no greater punishment you could inflict upon him than to make him a present of it. It were equivalent to England giving Canada to the United States for meddling in the Venezuelan matter. Perhaps you know your business best, but I have lived the longest. I used to think that perhaps the world would pay the salvage for saving it; but that was before I moved to Waco. I tell you frankly that if I had your job in the New Jerusalem I’d nurse it and let Bob Ingersoll, Doc Talmage and the rest of the noisy blatherskites scrap it out here to suit themselves.”

He did not reply, and the editor, remembering that his advice had not been asked, changed the subject.

“I’m not going to steer you against a first-class hotel. Jim I. Moore wouldn’t let you into his dining-room with your shoes off, even though you brought a letter of credit from the Creator. Jim loves you dearly, but business is business. There’s a place down here, however, run by a man who doesn’t trot with the sanctified set, where you can waltz up to the feed trough in the same suit you wore when you preached the Sermon on the Mount, and that without giving the ultra-fashionables a case of the fantods.”

“Ah, there we will doubtless meet with many of the good brethren who do not observe empty forms and foolish ceremonies.”

“Rather. But perhaps I should tell you that the church does not approve of the place where we are going. They er–sell wine there you know; also that amber liquid with the–er–froth on it.”

“And why not wine?”

“Damfino–I mean–Oh, you’ll have to ask Brother Cranfill. I s’pose because old Noah jagged up on it.”

“Noah who?”

“Why just Noah; that old stiff–I mean that good man who was saved for seed, when the overflow came, and who’s the great gran’daddy of all the niggers.”

“Is it possible that the church is retailing that wretched old myth which my Hebrew fathers borrowed of the barbarians. Noah? There was no such man. By the shifting of the earth’s axis about 16,000 years ago a portion of the Asiatic continent was overflowed.”

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“But the Noah story is in the Bible.”

“So is the story of Adam and Eve, and many other absurdities which really intelligent people would purge it of. O will men be mental children ever!”

He ate sparingly, but scanned the visitors closely. At the next table a quartette of Texas colonels were absorbing mint juleps through rye straws. The Nazarene nudged the editor and inquired what the beverage consisted of. The latter explained the mystery, and would have placed one before his guest, but the latter insisted that a little wine for the stomach’s sake would suffice. Several entered into conversation with him and would have given him money, but he gently declined to accept it, saying that the good Father would provide that he was seeking to do good, not to lay up treasures.

“Are these people sinners?”

He was informed that, according to the theology of the Prohibs, they would occupy the hottest corner of Perdition.

“But they give to the poor, speak kindly to the stranger, even though he be clothed in rags. I am sure they would not lie or steal or kill.”

“But they will blaspheme a little sometimes. Just listen to those colonels. Didn’t you hear them say ‘damn’ and ‘Hell’s fire’ and ‘Devil’? O, according to our theology there’s no hope for ’em. A man may defraud a widow or swindle an orphan and make a landing; but when he talks about the Devil and Hell he’s sure to be damned.”

“Is Satan a sacred person, or Hell a place to be mentioned reverently? Blasphemy is speaking evil of God. The priesthood of every religious cult has manifested a propensity to magnify venial faults into cardinal sins and thereby bring worship into contempt by trifling. To Hell with those who make religion a trade and thrive thereby!”

We were on the street and it chanced that a well-fed, silk-hatted dominie, sporting a diamond stud, was dawdling by as the man of Galilee uttered this emphatic protest against gain-grabbing preachers. His face flushed with anger, and turning upon the ill-clad stranger, he said:

“Do you mean to insult me, fellow?”

The Nazarene faced his heated interlocutor and replied with quiet dignity: “Assuredly not. I did not suspect you of being a minister. You are not clad like one of the Apostles. Surely you are not one of those disputatious sectaries who wear purple and fine linen and fare sumptuously every day while countless thousands cry to their Father in Heaven, ‘Give us to eat and to drink lest we die’?”

“I want no lectures from you, sir. I know my business,” exclaimed the man of God, with rising color.

“Ah, I fear that ‘business’ is to coin the blood of Jesus of Nazareth into golden guineas.”

The infinite pity in the speaker’s voice cowed the pugnacious preacher, and he was about to pass on; but a brown, toil-stained hand–the hand of a carpenter–was laid upon his shoulder. “Wait, my brother. Let not the sun go down upon thy wrath. Him ye serve was even as I am– poor and friendless. He spake as I speak, the truth that welled up in his heart. Cruel things were said of him, but he resented it not. He was beaten with many stripes, and mocked, and crucified; but he freely forgave. Be thou humble as he was humble; be thou forgiving even as he forgave. Love God and thy fellow-men. That is the whole law given by him ye serve. Words are but as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, but a good example endureth forever.”

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“Lord! Lord!” exclaimed the editor. “Why didn’t you reveal yourself to him?”

“He would not have believed me. No; though I performed before him miracles more wonderful than those accredited to me in Palestine. I have resumed my earthly raiment and adopted my old mode of life as the best possible disguise. Believing me a vagabond, those pretending to worship with all their heart and all their soul, show unto me what they really are. Now as ever do men polish the outside of the cup while within is all uncleanliness.”

“Have you interviewed many of the big preachers?”

“Many, almost all. I attended Sam Jones’ recent services at Austin. He is simply a product of the evil times upon which the church has fallen. In religion, as in art and letters, decadence is marked by sensationalism. The trouble with Sam is that he mistakes himself for me–thinks he has been called to judge the world. I was pained to hear him consign about fifteen different classes of people to Perdition without sifting them to see if, perchance, there might not be one in the lot worthy of salvation. I presented him with a copy of my Sermon on the Mount. He took a fresh chew of tobacco and remarked that he was inclined to think he had read it before somewhere. Then he took up a collection. Sam represents the rebound from the old religious belly-ache. For years preachers had an idea that there was nothing of gladness in the worship of God–that it consisted simply of a chronic case of the snuffles. Jones has simply gone to the opposite extreme and transformed the Temple of the Deity into a variety dive. Nero fiddled while Rome burned; but Jones indulges in the levity of the buffoon while consigning millions of human beings to Hell. Alas, that so few preachers understand the pity which permeates all true religions.”

“All true religions?”

“Even so. All are true and of God that make people better, nobler, more pitiful. The Father is all-wise. He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb. He gives to each people a religion commensurate with its mentality. I had hoped that the church established nearly nineteen centuries ago would suffice until the end of the world; that the simple theology I taught would grow with the world’s mental growth and strengthen with its intellectual strength. It was a religion of Love. I bound its devotees to no specific forms and ceremonies–these were after-growths. I expected them. The child must have something to lean upon until it can walk; the barbaric worshiper must have symbols and ceremonies to aid his comprehension. These should have passed ere this in Europe and America. A religious rite appropriate to semi-savages becomes, when injected into an age of civilization, that good custom which doth corrupt the world. The people, seeing these savage non-essentials insisted upon by the priesthood as something sacred and necessary unto Salvation, turn skeptic and reject religion altogether because it is encumbered by ridiculous rubbish. O, when will men understand that the whole world is a temple and all right living is worship!”

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The editor was becoming really alarmed. He was fearful that his visitor was frightfully heterodox, hence he broke in with, “If you’re not careful, Doc Talmage will denounce you as an infidel!”

“Brother Talmage is like unto the west wind–he bloweth whithersoever he listeth, and no man knoweth whence his blow cometh or whither it goeth. I tried to have a talk with him while in Washington, but he was too busy writing a syndicate sermon on the political situation, demonstrating that Dives had already done too much for Lazarus, and peddling hallelujahs at two dollars apiece. I had heard much of him and expected to find him toiling early and late among the poor and wretched, the suffering of the Capital city. When I called at his residence the servant told me that his master could not be disturbed–said there had been a dozen tramps there that morning. I asked him what salary his master received in a city filled with homeless vagabonds for preaching Christ and Him crucified, but he vouchsafed me no answer. I went to hear the great man preach, but the usher told me there was a mission church around the corner where my spiritual wants would be attended to. If I failed to find a seat there I could stand on the street-corner and hear the Salvation Army beat the bass drum and sing, ‘Come to Jesus.’ I lingered in the vestibule, however, and heard his sermon. I asked for bread and he gave me wind-pudding. I was sorry that I didn’t attend the Salvation Army exercises. I prefer the bass drum to the doctor. It may be equally noisy, but hardly so empty. I saw men attired in fine cloth and women ablaze with jewels kneel on velvet cushions and pray to me. Then the choir sang,

” ‘Oh, how I love Jesus, for Jesus died for me.’

“And Dr. Talmage exclaimed, ‘Come, dear Lord, O come!’ I came. I walked down the center aisle, expecting that a mighty shout of joy would shake the vaulted roof of Heaven and be echoed back by the angels. I supposed that Dr. Talmage would advance and embrace me. But no; the men stared their disapproval; the women drew back their perfumed skirts of glistening silk, and Dr. Talmage thundered, ‘Sirrah! who are you?’ I raised my hand and exclaimed in a loud voice:

” ‘Jesus Christ!’ “

The editor started up from his siesta and rubbed his eyes– the foreman of the Baptist Standard had “pied a form.”

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