The Shadows We Cast
J. R. Miller
"For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself." Romans 14:7
Every one of us casts a shadow. There hangs about us, a sort of a strange, indefinable something, which we call personal influence—that has its effect on every other life on which it falls. It goes with us wherever we go. It is not something we can have when we want to have it, and then lay aside when we will, as we lay aside a garment. It is something that always pours out from our lives, as light from a lamp, as heat from flame, as perfume from a flower.
The ministry of personal influence is something very wonderful. Without being conscious of it, we are always impressing others by this strange power that exudes from us. Others watch us—and their thinking and actions are modified by our influence. Many a life has been started on a career of beauty and blessing—by the influence of a noble act. The disciples saw their Master praying, and were so impressed by His earnestness or by the radiance they saw on His face as He communed with His Father, that when He joined them again—they asked Him to teach them how to pray. Every sincere person is continually impressed by the glimpses he has of loveliness, of holiness, or of nobleness in others. One kind deed often inspires others to act in a kinder way.
Here is a story from a newspaper which illustrates this. A little newsboy entered a subway train, and dropping into a seat was soon asleep. At the next stop two young ladies came in and took seats opposite to him. The child's feet were bare, his clothes were ragged, and his face was pinched and drawn, showing marks of hunger and suffering. The young ladies noticed him, and seeing that his cheek rested against the hard window-sill, one of them arose and quietly raising his head, slipped her folded scarf under it for a pillow.
The kind act was observed, and now mark its influence. An old gentleman in the next seat, without a word, held out a quarter to the young lady, nodding toward the boy. After a moment's hesitation she took it, and as she did so, another man handed her a dime, a woman across the aisle held out some pennies and almost before the young woman realized what she was doing, she was taking a collection, everyone in the car passing her something for the poor boy. Thus from the young woman's one gentle little act—there had gone out a wave of influence touching the hearts of almost forty people, and leading each of them to do something.
Common life is full of just such illustrations of the influence of kind deeds. Every godly life leaves a twofold ministry in this world: that of the things it does directly to bless others; and that of the silent influence it exerts, through which others are made better, or inspired to do like good things.
Influence is something, too, which even death does not end. When earthly life closes, a godly man's work ceases. He is missed in the places where his familiar presence has brought blessings. No more are his words heard by those who have many times been cheered or comforted by them. No more do his benefactions find their way to homes of need where so often they have brought relief. No more does his loving friendship minister strength or hope or courage to hearts that have learned to love him. The death of a godly man in the midst of his usefulness, cuts off a blessed ministry of helpfulness in the circle in which he has lived. But his influence continues!
The influence which our dead have over us—is frequently very great. We think we have lost them—when we see their faces no more, nor hear their voices, nor receive the accustomed kindness at their hands. But in many cases, there is no doubt that what our loved ones do for us after they are gone—is quite as important as what they could have done for us had they stayed with us. The memory of beautiful lives is a blessing, softened and made more rich and impressive, by the sorrow which their departure caused. The influence of such sacred memories is in a certain sense, more tender than that of life itself. Death transfigures our loved one, as it were, sweeping away the faults and blemishes of the mortal life—and leaving us an abiding vision in which all that was beautiful and pure and gentle and true in him, remains to us.
We often lose friends in the competitions and strife of earthly life, whom we would have kept forever had death taken them away in the earlier days, when love was strong. Often is it true, "He lives to us—who dies; but he is lost—who lives." Thus even death does not quench the influence of a godly life. It continues to bless others—long after the life has passed from earth.
Therefore, we need to guard our influence with most conscientious care. It is a crime to carry contagion to men's homes. It is a worse crime to send out a printed page bearing words infected with the virus of moral death. The men who prepare and publish the vile literature which today goes everywhere polluting and defiling innocent lives, will have a dreadful account to render when they stand at God's bar to meet their influence. If we would make our lives worthy of God and a blessing to the world—we must see to it that nothing we do shall influence others to do evil in the slightest degree.
In the early days of American art, there went from the States to London, a young artist of genius and of a pure heart. He was poor—but had an inspiration for a holy life, as well as fine painting. Among his pictures was one that in itself was pure, but that by a sensuous mind might possibly be interpreted in an evil way. A lover of art saw this picture and purchased it. But when it was gone the young artist began to think of its possible damaging influence, and his conscience troubled him. He went to the buyer and said: "I have come to buy back my picture." The purchaser could not understand him. "Didn't I pay you enough for it? Do you want more money?" he asked. "I am poor," replied the artist, "but my art is my life. Its mission must be holy. The influence of that picture may possibly be harmful. I cannot be happy with it before the eyes of the world. It must be withdrawn."
We should keep watch over our words and deeds—not only in their intent and purpose—but also in their possible influence over others. There may be liberties which in us lead to no danger—but which to others with a less stable character, and less helpful environment, would be full of peril. It is part of our duty to think of these weaker ones and of the influence of our example upon them. We may not do anything in our spiritual strength and liberty, which might possibly harm others. We must be willing to sacrifice our liberty—if by its exercise, we endanger another's soul. This is the teaching of Paul in the words: "It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble" (Romans 14:21). "Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall" (1 Cor. 8:13).
How can we make sure, that our influence shall be only a blessing? There is no way—but by making our lives pure and holy. Just in the measure that we are filled with the Spirit of God, and have the love of Christ in us—shall our influence be holy and a blessing to the world. "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity." Ephesians 5:15-16