The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Consecration of Influence in Society, as Friend and Acquaintance

by Mrs. Robert Jardine
Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 357-363

"I have heard very good people lay great stress on our becoming entirely emptied of self--mere channels through which God's grace may flow. But is not the personal element of the very essence of friendship? The gift without the giver is bare."

Friendship has always been a favourite theme with poet, essayist, and philosopher. But I fear we must admit that women's friendships have more frequently pointed a moral than adorned a tale, and that "feline amenities" were the stock-in-trade of the satirist long ere Punch coined that felicitous phrase. May we hope that such wilful desecration of a holy thing will grow less and less common as women better realize their responsibilities.

The name of friend should be sacramentally binding on us, pledging us to constancy and inspiring us with hope and courage. Yet how lightly we adopt or discard a title sanctified by the Master's own use, when He said, "I have called you friends." Emerson truly says, "the only way to have a friend is to be one." Certainly when we count our "friends" by the hundred, and in the country lassie's words, are "fair smoored wi' wimmen" on our days at home, we can hardly hope to taste the higher joys of friendship, nor to experience that electric thrill of glad responsive sympathy and comprehension when "thought leaps out to wed with thought" at the meeting of true minds. The modern multiplicity of interests, occupations, duties and amusements has its manifold disadvantages. The spirit of unrest possess us; "wisdom lingers"; and

          "Too fast we live, too much are tried,
          Too harassed to attain
          Wordsworth's sweet calm, or Goethe's wide
          And luminous view to gain."
                    Matthew Arnold

Are we not tempted to forget that Christ expects us to do our best in every relation of life? We are not to be lukewarm friends any more than we are to be indifferent wives or careless mothers. Indeed, friends have a quite peculiar claim upon us. Nowadays we hear much of heredity. It no longer suffices us to know generally that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, or that it is well to come of a good stock, and have "noblesse oblige" as a family motto. We learn from Weissman and Lombroso to repudiate personal responsibility for our failings, and to lay the blame of our actual sins on the uncomplaining shoulders of our ancestors. Still, we must take our relatives, past and present, as we find them. We may ignore, but we cannot exchange or alter them. They are ours whether we like it or not. Friends are on an entirely different footing. They are, in a sense, self-elected, yet to all intents and purposes they are chosen by ourselves, and we cannot disclaim the consequent responsibility. We cannot like all people alike. Few of us would even wish to be, as Sir Thomas Browne tells us he was, "of a constitution so general that it consorts and sympathizes with all things." True friendship is individual and particular. Your general lover is seldom your friend at need.

As we are distinctly told to covet the best gifts, our standard should be the highest. You may remember a saying of S. Chrysostom, quoted by Carlyle, to the effect that "every man should be a true Shekinah: a visible revelation of God to his fellow-men." I have heard very good people lay great stress on our becoming entirely emptied of self--mere channels through which God's grace may flow. But is not the personal element of the very essence of friendship? The gift without the giver is bare. Miss Havergal, who made it a constant subject of prayer that her life should be laid out to the best advantage as to God's glory and others' good, once wrote that "it really does seem as if God endorsed those means (of study and mental culture) and only very exceptionally uses the uncultivated ones." And we know with what success she set herself to "redeem the time," by cultivating to the utmost the faculties which she so fully consecrated to the Master's use.

Ours should be a ready sympathy, most divine of human attributes. The Autocrat of Breakfast Table [by Oliver W. Holmes] has truly said that "Evidences that one is on the highway of human experience lighten the footsteps wonderfully." The heart at leisure from itself is alone able to enter into the joys and sorrows of others. It alone never chills or repels confidences by indifference or preoccupation. It neither damps ardour nor ridicules enthusiasm, but, remembering that even Christ pleased not Himself, it struggles constantly against the snares of sloth and selfishness. Need I say that we must be absolutely sincere? No charm of manner, no grace of person can make up for a detected or suspected hollowness. Distrust is fatal to friendship. Our exaggerations may be merely playful, our deviations from accuracy trifling, yet they may work incalculable harm. On the other hand, many well-meaning people seem to have no discernment of the opportune. They say disagreeable things as M. Jourdain spoke prose. They jar upon your nerves, they wound your susceptibilities and cause a painful sense of irritation, a veiled antagonism, which, at best, leaves you coldly critical. Bad as it is to be a cumberer of the ground, it is far worse to be a stone of stumbling and rock of offence. If we are naturally impatient of contradiction, should we not avoid engaging in argument? If we are inclined to say sharp things, should we not imitate Dean Buckland and "talk always of things, and never of persons?" What a Pandora's box of mischiefs would remain sealed if we all set ourselves resolutely to follow this golden rule, a modernized version of à Kempis saying--"What I do not like to hear from others, I ought myself in every way to avoid."

Will you think it strange if I name a sense of humour as a heavenborn gift to be highly prized? Yet what a potent influence it may exert. How it brightens life, and gives zest and flavour to the daily fare! It saves us from many a blunder and many a heartache. It shows things in their true perspective. It takes the sting wonderfully from little worries and disappointments. Above all, it tends to practical piety and not to that visionary dreaming which provoked Mrs. Linnet's complaint: "It's very well to be speretial, I've nothin' again' that. But I likes my potatoes mealy."

The higher the spiritual nature of the man, the brighter will his religion be. You remember how it is told of the saintly Fenelon that he could rise from his knees to play like a little child, and resume his interrupted devotions with no sense of incongruity.

Readily as we speak on any other subject which interests us, it is strangely difficult to speak on religion to our friends and acquaintances. For one thing, we may as easily over-rate as under-rate our influence. A well-known preacher had once a rather humbling experience of this kind. After an eloquent sermon preached in a strange church one evening, a country woman came into the vestry, in evident agitation.

"Well, my good woman," he said, "What can I do for you? What part of my discourse has struck you?"

"Deed, sir, I'm sure it was all verra fine, but it's just a bit word of oor ain minister at last prayer meeting that I canna get oot o' ma heid."

Have we always due reverence for our neighbour, as an individual entity, "breathing thoughtful breath?" Do we never unwarrantably intrude upon his sanctities and profane his Holy Place with our rash tread? You remember the irritation and heartburnings described in Miss Austin's novel, "Persuasion," as the effect produced on the Musgroves of the Cottage and of the Hall by their perpetual invasions of each other's privacy. We may not actually practise such well-meant, but ill-advised, familiarity, but there is a spiritual sense in which we may need to be reminded, to "refrain our foot from our neighbour's threshold." Surely, his soul has as much right as his body to seclusion, and he may not unjustly resent our interference. Let us beware of being led to talk glibly of religious experiences that are not ours. Humbling as it is to confess to ignorance of the joys of close communion with Christ, and to the want of a realizing sense of His nearness, it is, surely, far better, frankly, though sadly, to admit such spiritual poverty than to utter platitudes which must have a ring of unreality to your own ear, if not to that of the hearer. The false herald, whatever his message, merits no better fate than the short shrift meted out to the Bohemian Hayraddin by Charles the Bold. [possibly a reference to Quentin Durward]

Let ours be counsels of perfection. We are told by St. Paul that in order to be changed into the very image of Christ, we have only to reflect Him as in a glass. This is the open secret of all spiritual progress. We are made higher by reverencing what is above us. We grow like what we love and admire. Proverbial philosophy bids us know a man by the company he keeps. The colour of our life depends much on our environment. We are "subdued to what we work in." Not only our dress and our diction are affected by the standards of contemporary taste; our acts are guided and our minds are moulded by our associates. For good or evil, consciously or unconsciously, we sway and are swayed by our fellows. "No man liveth to himself." We help to weave the web of others' destiny, ignorant of the strange issues that may wait on the every-day and common-place. It is impossible to fix the boundaries of personal influence. Undoubtedly, the word "influence" may be strangely interpreted. I know a child who gravely told his mother that Sam (the coachman's little boy) would say no more bad words now, for he had used his influence with him. But when the pleased mother asked how he had done it, she received the unexpected reply, "Oh, I told him I'd throw him into the pig-sty if I heard him at it again!" That has been the view of the legitimate scope of influence held by persecutors in all ages. I fear it is one not absolutely unknown in our day. For the Garrison of Mansoul and the denizens of Vanity Fair change more in name than in nature as the years roll by. Influence, like every other gift and grace, must be offered on God's altar, that it may be received back purified, elevated, and sanctified. How infinitely saddening, nay, how awful it would be, should we, relying on our wisdom, cause others to offend or even to relax their hold on God! If we were more willing to surrender our own will to that of the Master, we should find it far easier to keep under our own vanities, and to make allowances for differences of temperament and culture. It is by what we are, far more than by what we say or do, that we exert the most potent influence. To teach Christ's lore aright we must first follow it ourselves. He only can--

          "Take from our souls the strain and stress,
          And let our ordered souls confess
          The beauty of Thy peace."

As Emerson has it, "The unseen and spiritual in us determines the outward and actual." The quality of true influence is unstrained. It does not strive or cry. It comes softly stealing in, like a little child, to take your hand and lead you out from the narrow gloomy chamber of self into the blessed sunlight of God's own wide world. We may help or hinder others without being at all aware of it. With how many of our acquaintances we never, not even when exchanging hospitalities, get beyond the small coin of conversational inanities. We think no possible good can come of such intercourse, and probably sometimes grumble over "wasting our time on people with whom we have not an idea in common." But let us shun indifference and apathy as much as mere popularity hunting. Our consideration for others, our readiness to take personal trouble, our bright and happy spirit will not fail of their effect when they are seen to be the outcome of a consecrated life, and men "take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus." Let us hold fast by what Doctor Norman Macleod called "the gold thread of duty to God"--

          "No arm so weak but may do service here,
          By hands the feeblest can our God fulfil
          His righteous will."

You remember Browning's Pippa, "little gay silk-winding girl," content with the knowledge that "such only as God wills can work." Little she guesses, at the close of her holiday, how her morning's prayer has been answered, and how she has not only "approached" and "touched," but very truly "moved" for good and not for evil, those whom she innocently deems the four happiest ones in Asolo.

Surely we have all known some gentle soul, to whom it was not given "to know much, speak much, to write a book to move mankind," yet who was, none the less, "Earth's flower, she holds up to the softened gaze of God."

Just as the living voice is more persuasive, and comes "home to our business and bosoms" in a far more intimate sense, than the printed page, so an equal and contemporary can often gain access to a heart at whose doors one sitting in authority knocks in vain. I heard lately of a school boy, who declared that the beginning of the wonderful change in his life was his noticing that the very best fellows he knew all seemed to have something that he hadn't got, and he wanted to know what it was!

We know the dispositions and weaknesses of our friends. When they tell us that thus and thus they have been helped, we can judge for ourselves of the matter. The ordinary troubles of life press on them as on us. No mocking spirit can persuade us that their faith and trust are merely orthodox expressions, the unreasoned traditions of--

          "Country folk, who live beneath
          The shadow of the steeple,
          The parson and the parson's wife,
          And mostly married people."

We know better. Changes of mood and feeling there may be, but there is no mistaking those--

          "Whose heart is at the secret source
          Of every precious thing."

Those who live in close fellowship with Christ are truly candles lighted by the Lord. They bear about with them an atmosphere of sweetness and light. Ever accompanied by noble thoughts, they move "through the dark wood of this world" on errands of love and mercy, even as the saintly lady in "Comus" went, seeking her lost brothers, in utter forgetfulness of self. In many ways they reveal themselves, those violets of God's garden, who show forth Christ's love in their lives. To know them is to comprehend the adoration of saints, if not to believe in the prevailing power of their prayers. They enable us to thank God and take courage. They bring out all the best in our nature. They lift us up--at least for the time being--to a higher spiritual plane. To few is the grace given to be such "helpers and friends of mankind," cheering, sustaining and comforting others, throughout the toilsome march, on to the city of God. But we can all, like the dying saint Monica,

          "Keep by this: life in God and union there."

May the earnest aspiration of each one of us be,--

          "Oh, use me, Lord, use even me,
          Just as Thou wilt, and when and where,
          Until Thy blessed Face I see,
          Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share!"

Proofread May 2011, LNL