The word "influence" occurs only once in the whole Bible, and that is in a sublime passage from the book of Job in which the Almighty asks Job unanswerable questions. Among the questions is this one (Job 38:31): "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" The Pleiades are a cluster of stars in Taurus, one of the constellations of the heavens. People today know a good deal about refrigerators and radios and automobiles, but the ancients knew more about the stars. Little is known about the Pleiades; but the intimation here is that they exert an influence—perhaps on other celestial bodies, perhaps upon the world, its life, and its climate. Whatever that influence is, it was thought of by this inspired author as benign, powerful, silent, irresistible. "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades?" A beautiful idea that, for the influence, not only of the heavenly bodies, but of the lives of men one upon another. There is an influence and a power which goes forth from one life to another.
A man once dreamed that he was in hell. When asked to give an account of what he had seen—if there were flames there, and suffering there, and wrecked and malign creatures with whom he had to associate, and if the place resounded with oaths of blasphemy—he said, "Yes, but there was something far worse than that: I was compelled to face my influence. I knew that I deserved punishment, for I had scorned and rejected Jesus Christ; but my sorest pain was to see what the effect of my life had been upon others."
He was a young man who undoubtedly belonged to Christ. But only in the last part of his life had he given himself to Christ. When he came to die, he was filled with regret that he had done so little for Christ, and with remorse that he had done so much against him. His dying request was this, "Bury my influence with me."
There is a story that Alexander the Great once sent to a certain province a beautiful maiden whose breath was like the perfume of richest flowers. All her life, however, she had lived amid poison, inhaling it until her body was full of poison. Flowers presented to her withered on her breast, and if she breathed on a bird it fell dead.
The legend embodies the truth that there are lives in whose presence nothing pure or beautiful can thrive, and whose moral breath is corruption and death.
Thomas Hughes in the introduction to Tom Brown's School Days describes the character of the famous master of Rugby, Thomas Arnold, and tells how the great teacher took pains to remind the boys under his care of the effect of their influence. "He taught that in this wonderful world no boy or man can tell which of his actions is indifferent and which not; that by a thoughtless word or look we may lead a brother astray!" How easily, alas, this can be done!
One of the most gifted preachers and poets of the early seventeenth century was John Donne, who at his death was dean of St. Paul's. His last sermon, "Death's Duel," preached shortly before his death, is a remarkable discourse in which with beautiful and moving sentences he points the sinner to Christ on the cross. The sermons of this great preacher, of whom Walton said, "He was a preacher in earnest, weeping sometimes for his auditory and sometimes with them; always preaching to himself, like an angel in the clouds," are always published in the same volume with his poems. Those who have patience to go through much dross and elaborated obscurity will find in the book real gems of poetry to reward them. There is much, however, in the verses written in the early manhood of Donne which seem a very strange accompaniment to the sermons in the close of the volume. One wonders how the man who wrote these earnest sermons and delivered them with such sincerity and eloquence could be the same man who wrote the erotic poems.
Men who heard Donne preach always noted in him a vein of sadness and melancholy; in truth, as Walton said, "like an angel out of the cloud" he preached unto himself, for he was shadowed and haunted by the recollection of the licentious poems which he had written with all the great talent which God had bestowed upon him, poems calculated to sow the seeds of licentiousness and immorality in other lives, and which he could never recall. Henceforth he had to face the fact that he must influence the world not only as a preacher of the everlasting gospel but as the author of amatory and lust-filled verses.
Samuel Morris was a black boy, son of an African king, who escaped from the neighboring tribe which captured him and, making his way to the coast, came to a Christian mission, where he heard the gospel and gave his heart to Christ. He stowed away on a sailing vessel bound for America, and after great hardships and cruelties reached New York, where a man whose name had been given him sent him across the country to Indiana college. Soon after he arrived, and under his influence, the college was swept by a revival.
The boy planned to go back to his African country and tell his people the story of the gospel. He would describe to his fellow students how he planned to gather his people about him on the sand and tell them of the way of salvation. But God had another plan for him.
The severe American winter was too much for this black boy—he was stricken with consumption, and after a brief illness died. It was a strange providence to those who had followed his marvelous career, but a providence which was soon vindicated. Three young men who stood at his grave gave themselves then and there to the work of Christ in foreign lands, to do what this boy had planned to do. Thus the power of his spirit-filled life was carried in every direction. His influence and his death became the chief endowment of that university. Students came from all parts of the world, drawn by his story. The grave of that black boy in the cemetery at Fort Wayne, Indiana, is the most visited grave in all that city; and when a monument recently was erected there, almost forty years after the boy's death, hundreds of citizens came from far and near to wonder at his grave and to give thanks to God.
After Bishop Simpson, the great Methodist preacher, returned from college he attended a camp meeting in Cadiz, Ohio. There he took an interest in a group of young men, and was anxious that they should be preserved from the temptations to which they were exposed. At the evening meeting he observed some of these young men go forward to the altar. Deeply moved, he was regretting that he, whose life had been so guarded by Christian influences, should not experience the same emotions that they were undergoing. He saw standing near the railing a young man who was not a professed Christian. The thought occurred to Simpson that while he himself was not being benefited, this young man might be. He laid his hand on his shoulder and asked him if he would like to go forward for prayer. The young man said he would go if Simpson would go with him, and together they went to the altar and knelt down. It was after this that Simpson became a member of the Church and dedicated himself to Christ.