Simeon the aged, when he held the child Jesus in his arms in the temple, prophesied that by contact with Him the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed; and this was one of the most outstanding features of Christ’s subsequent life. None who came near Him could remain indifferent. They might hate or they might love, they might admire or they might scorn Him; but in any case they are compelled to show the deepest that was in them.
So Jesus, by His mere presence among men, brought to the surface their deepest thoughts and feelings and made them display the best and the worst which their hearts concealed.
We get the most authentic glimpse of the moral stature of Jesus by observing the impressions he produced on the minds of others in the great moments of His life. At the gate of Gethsemane, when He encountered the band sent to arrest Him, the traces of the experiences which He had passed through in the garden were still upon Him, and the effect of His rapt and tragic air was extraordinary. At the sight of Him “they went backward and fell to the ground.”
All through the last six months of His life, indeed, He seems habitually to have been invested, through brooding on His approaching fate, with an awful dignity. His great purpose sharpened His features, straightened His figure and quickened His step; and sometimes, as He pushed ahead of the Twelve, absorbed in His own thoughts, “they were amazed; and, as they followed, they were afraid.”
Earlier, however, even in the serene beginning of His ministry, there were manifestations of this overpowering moral dignity. When He drove the buyers and sellers out of the temple, why did they flee crouching before Him? They were many, while He was but one; they were wealthy and influential, while He was but a peasant Yet there was that in Him which they never thought of resisting.
They felt how awful goodness is. There is a majesty in indignant virtue before which the loftiest sinners cower.
Christ made the evil in those who opposed Him show itself at its very worst. Pilate, for example, applied to the case of Jesus only the same principles of administration which he had made use of in hundreds of other cases-the principles of the self-seeker and time server dressed in the garb of justice. But never did these principles appear in all their ghastly unrighteousness till he released Barabbas and handed over Jesus to the executioner.
The inhumanity and hollowness of Sadducee and Pharisee were never seen in their true colors till the light which streamed from Jesus fell on them and exposed every spot and wrinkle of the hypocrite’s robe. Christ’s very meekness provoked them to deeper scorn of His claims; His silence under their accusations made them gnash their teeth with baffled malice; the castigation of His polemic made them cling to their errors with more desperate tenacity.
Although the presence of Jesus repelled some, it exerted on others the most powerful attraction, and the most characteristic feature of His character was moral attractiveness. He repelled those who were wedded to their sins and unwilling to abandon them, but He attracted all who in any degree were feeling after a new and better life.
Jesus naturally exerted this kind of influence in the strongest degree. Wherever there existed any tenderness or susceptibility toward what is high and pure, it was stimulated by His presence. Conscience, hearing His voice in its prison, woke up and came to the windows to demand emancipation. As the presence of a physician armed with a cure for some virulent disease excites a sensation among those afflicted with the malady-who communicate the news of relief to one another swiftly-so, wherever Jesus went the heavy-laden and the aspiring heard of Him and found Him. In publicans and sinners, and even in Pharisees, unaccustomed movements showed themselves: Nicodemus sought Him by night; Zacchaeus climbed into the sycamore tree to see Him; the woman who was a sinner stole to His feet to bathe them with her tears.
Jesus was engaged in a splendid work, Whose idea and results touched the imagination of all who were capable of anything noble. He was wholly absorbed in it; and to see unselfish devotion always awakens imitation. He was the author and leader of a new movement, which grew around Him, and the enthusiasm of those who had joined it drew others in.
The same power belonged in remarkable measure to all great spiritual leaders-to Saint Paul, to Savonarola, to Luther, to Wesley, and many more-who, filled with the Holy Spirit have been able to lift men above the instincts of pleasure and comfort and make them willing to deny themselves for a great cause. And no earnest life, in which the enthusiasm Jesus burns, fails to exercise in some degree the same influence.
It is one of the healthiest features of our day that all thinking people are growing sensitive about their influence. To many the chief dread of sin arises from perceiving that they cannot sin themselves without directly or indirectly involving others-and it would be to them the greatest of satisfactions to be able to believe that they are doing good to those with whom they are brought into contact, and not harm.
This is a feeling worthy of the solemn nature of our earthly existence, and it ought certainly to be one of the guiding principles of life. Yet it is not without its dangers. If allowed too prominent a place among our motives, it would crush the mind with an intolerable weight and cause conduct to appear so responsible that the spring of energy would be broken. It might easily betray us into living so much for effect as to fall into hypocrisy.
The healthiest influence is unsought and unconscious. It is not always when we are trying to impress others that we impress them most. They elude the direct efforts we make, but they are observing us when we are not thinking of it They detect from an unconscious gesture or chance word the secret we are trying to conceal. They know quite well whether our being is a palace fair within, or only a shabby structure with a pretentious elevation. They estimate the mass and weight of our character with curious accuracy; and it is this alone that really tells. Our influence is the precise equivalent of our human worth or worthlessness.
A man may strive for influence and miss it. But let him grow within himself-in self-control, in conscientiousness, in purity and submission-and then he will not miss it. Every step of inward progress makes us worth more to the world and to every cause with which we may be identified. The road to influence is simply the highway of duty and loyalty.
Let a man press nearer to Christ and open his nature more widely to admit the energy of Christ and, whether he knows it or not—it is better perhaps if he does not—he will certainly be growing in power for God with men, and for men with God.