Sermons on Important Subjects
By J. M. Pendleton
For none of us liveth to himself . Romans xiv:7
WE are formed for society. Our social propensities are such that we deprecate solitude. We see in it none of the charms which poetic pencilings might lead us to attribute to it, did we not remember that they are poetic. Man must have society, and his history proves that if he can not command that which is good, rather than dwell alone, he will make a virtue of necessity, and put up with that which is bad. When God had made Adam he saw that it was not good for him to be alone, and provided for him a companion.
All the arrangements adopted by communities, all the organizations of governments, and the constitution of every church of Christ, recognize the existence of the social principle. This principle renders every man susceptible of the influence which others exert, and enables him to exert an influence over others. We are prone to forget that we are as accountable to God for our influence as for any thing else. Hence ministers should occasionally, at least, make influence the theme of discourse. This is my present theme.
I. WE ARE BEINGS OF INFLUENCE.
Perhaps no man can be found who is destitute of the moral power of affecting for weal or for woe, the destiny of some other man. There is a vast difference as to the degree and extent of the influence which different persons may exercise. This arises from the fact that they occupy different positions, and move in different circles in society. Presidents, kings, and emperors fill elevated official stations; and if they were men of God, such would be the moral splendor inseparable from their conspicuity, they would resemble the angel that John saw standing in the sun. Their influence is proportionate to their prominence. What mighty influence do statesmen exert! How often has the adroit diplomacy of one man affected the physical, intellectual, and moral condition of nations. Ministers of the gospel are men of influence, and all Christians are constantly exerting their influence. In this remark the obscurest member of a church is not excepted. The rich and the poor, the wise and the ignorant, the proud and the humble, are all influential. They are always making impressions. So are the profane, the licentious, the covetous, drunkards, gamblers, liars, and all such abominable characters. If you ask why it is so, I answer, God has thus arranged the matter, and it is wisely arranged. Who does not see that it is a happy circumstance that parents have influence over their children? The operation of the imitative propensity of human nature is very
powerful in children. They are easily influenced. Parental influence and instruction have much to do in fixing their destiny. If parental influence were destroyed how changed would soon be the condition of our world. But it can not be destroyed. I notice,
II. OUR INFLUENCE IS INDESTRUCTIBLE.
We are all parts of a mighty system, and the trains of influence which we put into operation render it impossible for that system to be just what it would have been, had not those influences been originated. We are constantly creating elements of moral power to coalesce with other elements, and work with them, or to counteract and qualify antagonistic elements. One of the doctrines of natural philosophy is, that "action and reaction are equal." According to this doctrine, a pebble cast into a placid lake creates a wave which enlarges its circumference till it breaks on the shore, and in breaking illustrates still further the truth which its enlargement had demonstrated. There is an analogous doctrine in morals - the indestructibleness of influence.' Every act, every word, every thought, every feeling is something thrown into a moral ocean, producing waves which spread through all time, and reach the shores of eternity. We may determine what acts we will perform, what words we will speak, etc., but there our power of determination stops - our control goes no farther. The act being performed, or the word being uttered,
it is not optional with us to say what influence it shall exert. The influence commences its operation at once, and it is impossible to arrest it. It is transmitted from generation to generation. Who does not know that Adam's sin has affected the condition of his posterity to this day, and that the results of its influence will be eternal? Who does not know that the atonement of Christ has introduced a new feature into the moral system, affecting that system in all its parts? There is something perceivable and striking in Adam's sin and Christ's atonement. The evil we do may not exert the millionth portion of the influence created by Adam's disobedience; but its effects are as real. So of the Savior's mediation so of the Holy Spirit's operation. The grand tendency, both or the mediation of Christ and the operation of the Holy Spirit, is to glorify God and counteract the evil influences that are at work in the universe. All the good influences originated by our acts of obedience to God have a similar tendency. The inferiority of our influence is such as to defy all calculation, but its reality can not be questioned. Natural science teaches that the attraction of gravitation is such that all bodies attract other bodies, and aro themselves attracted. A stone thrown into thu air falls to the earth, for the earth attracts it; but the stone as really attracts the earth as the earth the stone. In one case the attraction is perceptible and appreciable; in the other it is not. Attraction is in proportion to the quantity
of matter the attracting bodies contain. The earth containing incalculably more matter than the stone, attracts with incalculably greater power; but the stone's attraction is as real as the earth's. So it is in the moral world. Every act affects the whole system with which the actor is identified. No man, however much he may desire it, can, at death, leave the world just as it was at his birth. The infant in the cradle exerts an influence - limited, it is true, but greater in the period of childhood, and still greater in youth, manhood, middle age, and old age. Nor does influence cease at death. The poets, orators, and philosophers of antiquity have an influence over us to this day. The best poets of modern times we scarcely ever read, without being reminded of Homer and Virgil. Demosthenes and Cicero still live in our orators, while our systems of philosophy are more or less tinctured with the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle.
Abraham and all the patriarchs, Isaiah and all the prophets, Paul and all the apostles, created influences which are still at work; and so did Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and the early enemies of Christianity, Celsus, Porphyry, Julian the apostate, with their modern brethren, Voltaire, Hume, Gibbon, and Paine. The influence of other individuals who have lived, is likewise operating on us - not in so great a degree, but really. The influence we now exert will continue to the end of time, and penetrate eternity. This is probably one reason why the day of judgment will occur
at the end of the world. The influence for good or evil, which every individual has exercised, will then be seen, and every one will be held accountable, not only for what he has done, but for the influence legitimately resulting from it. Will not Jeroboam be held responsible for the wicked course he pursued, and also for the influence that course had on others? for "he made Israel to sin." Every one who lives wickedly, promotes, to the extent of his influence, wickedness in others; and so every one who lives righteously promotes righteousness. This is done during life, and after death. The influence whether pernicious or salutary, survives the stroke of mortality, survives the pulverizing process of the grave, and will be found in operation when the last day ushers in the scenes of the final judgment. What a sublime, what an awful thing it is to live! Every human being, in passing through the world, strikes a chord, whose vibrations will not be silenced by the thunders of the resurrection-trumpet, but will make music in heaven, or discord in hell, through endless ages! I notice, -
III. OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD FOR OUR INFLUENCE.
We must give account to God for all our acts, words, thoughts, and feelings. This is just. He gives us the power requisite to perform acts, utter words, indulge thoughts, and exercise feelings. We see, therefore, the propriety of our responsibility
for these things. But these tnings are the elements of influence. Our influence results from them. If, then, we are responsible for those things from which our influence results, we must be responsible for the influence itself.
There is another consideration which shows that we are properly held responsible for our influence. God makes it our duty to do all the good we can in the world, and to abstain from all appearance of evil. How are we to do good? Not by bringing into requisition physical force, thus attempting to compel men to do right, but by the application of moral power, another name for influence. This is the way to do good; and if we are required to do good, we are certainly responsible for the influence which is the means of doing good. We do evil also by our influence. If, then, God holds us accountable for the evil we do, he must hold us responsible for the influence by means of which we do evil. And this is not all. We are not only worthy of condemnation for the evil we do, but for the good we might accomplish. Negative goodness is positive wickedness, and calls forth a curse like that pronounced on Meroz. "Curse ye Meroz," said the angel of the Lord, "curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty." Meroz did nothing. The fig tree was to be cut down, not because it bore bad fruit, but no fruit; the slothful servant was condemned not because he wasted his lord's money, but because
he did not use it to advantage. Let all remember that they are solemnly responsible to God for the influence they exert, at home, in the family; abroad, in society, in their business avocations, in their stores, shops, and offices.
1. How important it is that we be practically impressed with the fact that we are beings from whom there is constantly going an influence, either good or bad! From every pastor's study, from every pulpit, from every merchant's store, from every lawyer's office, from every doctor's shop, from every mechanic's bench, from every farmer's field, from every splendid mansion, from every humble cottage, from every school-room, from every kitchen, from every sick-bed, from every dying couch, there is a continuous emanation of influences, of which we shall hear when time shall be no more. Oh! if we thought of this, how careful would we be not to do many things we now do, and not to say many things we now say! The subject of influence, ought to make a practical impression.
2. How delightful the privilege of putting into operation good influences, to be kept in active exercise to the end of the world. How pleasant to think these influences will act when we are in our graves. Bunyan is exerting a thousand times more influence now than while alive, and so are others of whom the world was not worthy.
How stupendous the results of the influence of John Newton's mother! Her son ascribed his conversion to maternal instruction and example. The mother influenced the son, the son influenced Buchanan, who went to India, and afterward published his sermon entitled " Star in the East." This sermon directed the attention of Judson to the subject of missions. He went to Burmah, translated the Word of God, and laid the foundation of one of the most prosperous of modern missions. These results are traceable to the influence of Newton's mother.
3. How awful the thought of creating evil influences, whose operation will extend through time and eternity. Christians, I tremble while I say that the evil influences which you originated before your conversion, are now, no doubt, injuring immortal souls. Nor is this all. How often since your conversion have you originated unfavorable influences, whose exercise is hostile to the interests of holiness. Aaron Burr, when a youth, was, in time of a revival of religion, very seriously impressed in reference to his soul's salvation. His impressions continued until he accidentally heard a doctor of divinity speak in rather disparaging terms of the revival. His impressions then left him. He lived and died a wicked man. Who can say with confidence that the doctor of divinity did not ruin the soul of young Burr? The influence of the wicked lives, in most instances, when their names are forgotten. Those whose names are remembered are more
influential now than before they died. Paine, Voltaire, etc., are such men. What a disastrous work they are still doing! Influence can not die. It contains the elements of perpetuity.
4. How sinful it is for professors of religion so to act as to disqualify themselves for exerting a good influence in the world! Have you not known persons, who, by their petulance in their families, or by taking advantage in some petty trade, or by speaking slanderous words of absent individuals, have almost destroyed their Christian influence? We have all known such cases.
5. It is preeminently the duty of Christians to exert their influence in their Christian capacity. Religion should have the credit of all the good they do. Multitudes overlook this. They exert more influence as Masons, or Oddfellows, or Sons of Temperance than as Christians. Some even boast that Masonry, or Oddfellowship, makes men more benevolent than Christianity. Of course, everything of this kind discredits and disparages Christianity. All human organizations must forever stand in the rear of the church of Jesus Christ. Every object which can properly engage the attention of a Christian, is provided for in the gospel, the charter of a church's incorporation. A church of Christ is constitutionally a society, embracing the elements of all good.
[From James M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. Scsnned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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