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Mornings In The College Chapel by Francis Greenwood Peabody


John xx.8.

About fifty years ago, one of the most distinguished of New England preachers, Horace Bushnell, preached a very famous sermon on the subject of |Unconscious Influence,| taking for his text this verse: |Then went in also that other disciple.| The two disciples had come together, as the passage says, to the sepulchre, but that other disciple, though he came first, hesitated to go in, until the impetuous Peter led the way, and |then went in also that other disciple.|

There are always these two ways of exerting an influence on another's life, the ways of conscious and unconscious influence. A few persons in a community have the strength of positive leadership. They devise and guide public opinion, and may be fairly described as personal influences. But such real leaders are few. Most of us cannot expect to stand in our community like the centurion of the {22} Gospel and say to one man: Come, and he cometh; and to another: Go, and he goeth; and to a third: Do this, and he doeth it. Most of us must take to ourselves what one of our professors said to a body of students: |Be sure to lend your influence to any good object; but do not lend your influence until you have it.| On the other hand, however, there is for all of us an unavoidable kind of influence; the unconscious effect on another's life, made not by him who preaches, or poses, or undertakes to be a missionary, but simply by the man who goes his own way, and so demonstrates that it is the best way for others to follow. That is what Laurence Oliphant once called, |living the life;| the kind of conduct which does not drive, but draws.

Peter might have stood before the sepulchre, and tried all in vain to influence and urge his friend to come in with him, but instead of this he simply enters, and then, without any conscious persuasion on his part, that other disciple enters too. So it is that a man to-day just takes his stand among us in some issue of duty, not dragging in allies to help him, but quietly standing on his own isolated conviction, and some day |that other {23} disciple| just comes and stands by him for the right. Or a man is passing some morning the door of this Chapel, and just slips in and says his prayer, and falls into the habit of worship from which he had of late been falling out, and some day as he sits here, as he supposes, quite out of the circle of his friends, he turns and finds |that other disciple| sitting by his side. Or a man enters just a little way into the power of the religious life, just enough to feel how incomplete is his faith, and how little he can do for any one else, and one day as he gropes his way toward the light he feels a hand reaching out to his, and |that other disciple| gives himself to be guided by the strength which had seemed to its possessor until that moment weakness. Here is the encouragement and the interpretation of many an insignificant and apparently ineffective life. Positive and predetermined influence few of us can boast of possessing, but this unconscious influence not one of us can escape. And indeed, that is the profounder leadership even of the greatest souls. One of the most extraordinary traits in the ministry of Jesus Christ is his undesigned persuasiveness. He does not seem to expect {24} a generally accepted influence. He recognizes that there are whole groups of souls whom he cannot reach. Only they who have ears to hear, he says, can hear him. He just goes his own great way, misinterpreted, persecuted; and at last the world perceives that it is the way to go, and falls into line behind him. When he puts forth his sheep, he goes before them, and they follow him. It is simply the contagion of personality, the magnetism of soul, the spiritual law of attraction, which draws a little soul toward a great soul, as a planet is drawn in its orbit round the sun.

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