Brethren Archive

Our Shadow Influence

by Inglis Fleming

Influence! that “unseen power of one person over another.” There is something strange, almost inexplicable about it.

A stone is cast into the midst of a small lake. There is the resultant splash, the following eddies extending, ever extending, until the whole surface of the lake is covered.

Today A affects B. Tomorrow B affects C. The next day C affects D and so on in an endless succession. Again tomorrow A affects E. Then E affects F and so interminably. And every day the effect of influence is felt and will be until time is no more. And—serious thought—our influence may be felt in eternal issues too. Am I not right then in saying this is almost inexplicable?

And then it is not what we say only, but what we are which is operative upon others. And, perhaps, it is more what we are than what we say which moulds and fashions those about us. Our unconscious influence is the most powerful, probably, of all that which we exert.

Dr. A. T. Schofield, the mental specialist, used to tell a story of how he had been affected by the thought of unconscious influence. As a young man he was listening to a somewhat prosy sermon being read by an aged preacher in an uninteresting voice. Suddenly the youth was awakened to attention by the expression, “Our life casts a shadow as well as our body.” The brief utterance was never forgotten. On the contrary it was frequently referred to. And passing it on, Dr. Schofield would refer his hearers or readers to the fact that it would seem that God was pleased to cause the shadow of Peter as he passed by on his way to have a healing effect upon the sick ones who were brought and placed by the wayside where Peter might walk (Acts 5:15).

Thinking of Peter we may recall how his influence was powerful. At the tomb of our Lord when at His resurrection, it had been vacated, Peter entered at once though John “that other disciple” had come first to the sepulchre. But when Peter had entered “then went in that other disciple . . . and he saw and believed.” So far his influence was good (John 20:38). But at Antioch Peter feared the legal Jews from Judea and ate no longer with the Gentiles as he had done afore time In the liberty of the gospel. His example affected Barnabas. Others also were carried away into a path of deceit. This conduct of Peter brought upon him the strong censure of the apostle Paul, who felt the truth of the gospel was at stake (see Gal. 2:11-16)

But Peter is not the only individual of whose influence—conscious or unconscious—we might speak. All down the centuries instances are forded us of its far-reaching power.

Eve influenced Adam. Abram influenced Lot. Naomi influenced Orpah and Ruth. Daniel influenced Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (Dan. 1:8-21). Andrew influenced Peter, Philip influenced Nathaniel and so we might continue to quote the Old Testament and the New for examples of the power of our ways and of our words.

But perhaps the most beautiful instance of unconscious influence is found in that of John the Baptist (John 1:35-37), “Looking upon Jesus, as He walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God.” He was soliloquising it seems, gazing upon the Son of God. Two of his disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Blessed influence indeed!

There is an atmosphere created by the presence of some which is indefinable but forceful in truth. It may be for good or for evil, but it is there, and cannot be fully concealed if the person producing it so wished.

Moses’ face when he came from the mount shone—sent forth beams or horns of light and power. Of this apparently at first he was unaware. Others took knowledge of it. So with the disciples who had been with Jesus. The fact became known around.

The prayerful desire of one in our own day was, “To shine and not to know it.” And this shining will be produced as one is with the Lord in private and personal communion. “Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord,” we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

In the great chapter on Christian care and consideration for others (Romans 14—Read the chapter), we are exhorted to consider the result of our conduct and warned that “none of us liveth to himself.” No! we cannot prevent our influence.

Many of us as children have sought to run away from our shadow but always found our endeavour profitless and vain. Our shadow was never defeated in the race, try as we would. This is as true in spiritual things as in physical. Hence the seriousness of the matter.

We, Christians, are—not should be—“the epistle of Christ.” Alas that we should blot and blur by our blunders and sin this writing of our Lord by the Holy Spirit.

And we are, as often pointed out, a fifth gospel, the only gospel which many will read, and of what importance it may be in the lives of some.

It is said that one who had gone to the foreign mission field, was about to leave it as he was unable to master the language of those he had gone to help. But the voices of the white workers and of the black natives were as the voice of one, that he should remain at the post. His whole life was such that he was a more powerful witness for Christ than the choicest words could have been.

May it be ours to bear such a testimony to have such an influence, to cast such a shadow, that “Christ liveth in me” may be a practical reality in each of our lives, and not a Christian doctrine merely.


S.T. 1935

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