Charles M Sheldon

Charles Monroe Sheldon was a Congregational Minister active in the Social Gospel Movement.

He was born February 26,1857 at Wellsville, New York, son of Stewart Sheldon and Sarah Ward. In 1877 he left his parent's ranch in South Dakota for Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He graduated from Brown University in 1883 and from there went to the Andover Theological Seminary.

After graduation from the Seminary he recieved a call to the Congregational Church in Waterbury, Vermont. He reported to his Vermont Parish in the fall of 1886 after spending the summer in Great Britain.

In 1888 the Central Congregational Church in Topeka Kansas called him. During his tenure there he wrote thirty stories between 1891 and 1919 that he read to the audience members of his Sunday evening services a chapter at a time. The first such story was Richard Bruce, or the Life that Now Is.

The most popular of his books is In His Steps. It was written and read at the Sunday evening service in 1896 and 1897. Proving that the Lord moves in mysterious ways, a string of circumstances propelled it into becoming a massive best seller.

In His Steps was popular with the church members, and at the same time it was being read at the services it was serialized in a small church newspaper, the Chicago Advance. After the story was completed Sheldon got requests for the story in book form. Three Chicago publishers rejected it as being too religious to ever sell, so he went back to the Advance publishers and convinced them to put out a paper covered version. They were not in the business of book publishing, but in the end put out the first edition of In His Steps priced at ten cents.

At this point the book began to sell, and the expected few hundred copies ended up over one hundred thousand. This is where the circumstance that launched In His Steps into best sellerdom took place. The Advance publishers made an error in the registration of the copyright and the copyright was declared invalid. At this point a great many publishers decided to put out editions since it was available to them without having to pay any royalties and it had a record of selling.

In His Steps has gone on to sell over thirty million copies. By 1925 it was available from more than fifty different publishers around the world and with only a very few exceptions Sheldon received not one dollar from the sale of an estimated twenty two million copies sold up to that time. Bowden Publishing of London, who sold several million copies, sent twenty pounds (about $100,) and Grosset and Dunlap gave him $1000, or one cent for each of one hundred thousand copies they sold. Advance Publishing Company paid him ten per cent, but their sales were minor compared to the other sixteen US publishers and the thirty in Great Britain who paid him nothing.

In His Steps caused a great deal of controversy in religious circles and made the question "What Would Jesus Do?" part of life in America.

In The Heart Of The World Sheldon tells the story of Rev. Fredrick Stanton, D.D., who wrote a book titled The Christian Socialist. It is the tale of a Pastor who writes a book under an assumed name.

Sales of The Christian Socialist start off slowly, with Fredrick wondering if it was going to sell at all. Then as Christmas approaches he's surprised to get a letter from the publisher that it is into a third edition and demand is increasing. It is savagely attacked in the press, and Mrs. Rodney, a prominent member of his parish declares it to be "The most dangerous book ever written!" It becomes a runaway best seller and the lives of everyone in the city of Lenox are affected.

The Heart Of The World came out in 1905, so Sheldon had eight years to contemplate the reactions to and the results of In His Steps when he began work on The Heart Of The World . It is an especially interesting read thinking of the comparison between Sheldon's own story as the author of In His Steps and Rev. Fredrick Stanton's story as the author of a runaway best selling and highly controversial book on the Social Gospel.

The Heart Of The World didn't sell as many copies as In His Steps, but Sheldon had eight years of practice writing between them. Although both books pack a powerful message, The Heart Of The World shows that practicing your craft leads to improvement.

Click HERE for a bibliography of Sheldon's works.


Copyright © Stephen C. Lovely