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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Influence

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INFLUENCE

1. The influence of Christ during His life

(a) On His disciples.—This from the very first was remarkable. The short interview that John and Andrew had with Jesus after He had been pointed out by their old master as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, seems to have carried them away at once. Andrew has no misgivings, but goes off to his brother with the great news that they have found the Messiah (John 1:37 ff.). The disciples, spiritually minded though they were, must have felt all the prejudices that widely existed against the appearance of the Messiah as a poor and undistinguished person from a northern village of no reputation, and yet they were at once conquered. One evening’s conversation convinced them that He was their Prince. A like instantaneous recognition is recorded of Bartholomew, if he be, as seems likely, the same as Nathanael. He has difficulties to overcome which he had frankly stated to Philip when he ran in with the same great news that Andrew had told Peter. But they vanish before the presence and words of his Lord. The encouraging description of his own character set Nathanael wondering, and when this was followed by news which showed that He knew of some secret passage in his life, he confesses His greatness in the fullest terms, ‘Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel’ (John 1:49). In all these cases it is to be noted that the impression is made not by any miracle or sign, but by what Christ was and what He said. A little later there follows the first sign,—the changing of water into wine,—and with it the natural deepening of the hold Christ had on His disciples (John 2:1 ff.). All their previous hopes were confirmed (‘crediderunt amplius,’ Bengel). Up to this time there are no hostile influences at work. As simple-minded men they probably supposed that all the world would share their sanguine hopes. The cleansing of the Temple, followed as it was by public questioning as to His right to take that bold step (John 2:13 ff.), was probably the first indication that He would not be able to influence all men alike.

From that time onward the attempt to break down our Lord’s influence becomes much more definite and decided. His supposed birthplace,—Nazareth,—His humble parentage, His lack of a really good education, all these and many other objections were constantly urged (John 7:15), and must have caused some difficulty in the disciples’ minds. His great assertions that He was the Bread of Life and the Light of the world (John 6:35; John 6:48; John 8:12; John 9:5), aroused great opposition and lost Him many friends. But when after eighteen months of criticism, obloquy, and insult, He asked His disciples definitely as to their opinion about Him, they replied through Peter without hesitation: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Matthew 16:16). It is true that this was the conviction they had had at the outset, but it had not been tested, it had not been held against the whole world. The disciples were not fanatics, they were not indifferent to the opinion of their own Church and nation; they felt keenly the opposition and hatred which their view everywhere encountered, and yet they held it. It is a striking proof of our Lord’s personal influence. That He knew their difficulties is plain from the fact that He prayed for them before He asked the question (Luke 9:18). That He rejoiced in their loyalty is also plain from the great words spoken to Peter (Matthew 16:17-19). The Transfiguration followed quickly (Matthew 17:1 ff. ||), in order that the three disciples who knew Him best might have something to fall back upon in the greater difficulties that lay before them. Soon our Lord became a proscribed person, not only excommunicated from all the synagogues of the land, but bringing under that ban all His friends (John 9:22). Their loyalty, however, remained unbroken except in one case, that of Judas. This man must have felt our Lord’s influence at one time, and indeed been always more or less under it. He could not tear himself away from it, though he was feeling more and more uncomfortable in the barren prospects that Christ’s language and the hostility of the world seemed to suggest. Only little by little he stifled it, and we may well believe that it was not till the very last, even after he had promised to betray Him, that it failed. Then St. John (John 13:27) adds the significant words, ‘After the sop, then entered Satan into him,’ and the disciple was lost.

The severest test was felt after the arrest. That the Prince and Messiah should be betrayed by His own people into the hands of the heathen, and that they should clamour for His death, was the greatest trial that a faithful friendship has ever had to bear. It is true the disciples ought to have known their Scriptures; but, like good people to-day, they followed current interpretations instead of searching the Holy Writings for themselves. That our Lord’s influence would have remained with them had He not risen again is, of course, certain; but it would have been the influence of a holy life and a great example, not of an abiding Presence and a magnificent hope. This was given them by the Resurrection, which at once illuminated all the perplexities of the past and made His Messiahship a felt reality. And after Pentecost they found their minds and imaginations extraordinarily stimulated by the presence of the Holy Ghost who witnessed to every word and act of the Crucified and Risen Christ.

(b) On the people.—This was as surprising in its own way as His influence on the disciples. ‘They heard Him gladly’ (Mark 12:37). They would have taken Him ‘by force and made him king’ (John 6:15). They prevented any open act of hostility against Him on the part of the rulers, who were afraid of them (Luke 20:19; Luke 22:2). They never could make up their minds who He was, but yet were convinced He was no ordinary person. He was either Elijah, or the great expected Prophet, or Jeremiah, or even the Baptist risen again (Matthew 16:14 ||). That they turned completely round at the last was no doubt due to the malign influence of the Pharisees joined to the great disappointment experienced when nothing followed the events of Palm Sunday. Like the people of Lystra, they were enraged at having openly declared themselves on the side of a movement which seemed to have no result. Our Lord’s influence on the people was just what we should expect, as we shall see when we consider its particular character.

(c) On His enemies.—At first it strikes us strangely that One who not only did no harm, but always went about doing good, One who refused to be entrapped into any political movement, One who observed fasts and festivals, attended synagogue and temple, should have excited such bitter hostility. He had none of the marks of a great social reformer, disliked crowds and great cities, refused to take advantage of any excitement caused by His words or deeds, chose for His intimate friends plain middle-class men who had no particular mark about them except their religiousness. All His teaching was constructive rather than destructive. He did not speak of the Gentiles as His servant Paul did, nor of the Temple as Stephen did. He was indignant at the abuses of the time, and was unsparing in His condemnation of Pharisees and scribes, but the hostility had set in before that, and its only explanation is the hatred of bad men to a holy life.

(d) On individuals.—(α) The visit of Nicodemus shows something of the power Jesus exercised in public. Although Nicodemus was a person of some importance, he treats our Lord, in spite of His humble circumstances, as not only a great but a Divine teacher from whom he would gladly learn (John 3:2). And the conversation with Him on that occasion bore fruit. (β) Pilate, too, was evidently greatly impressed by Jesus. With his inborn contempt for the Jews he would have decided the matter the Sanhedrin brought before him very quickly, had it not been for the majesty of Jesus’ presence and the brief but striking words He spoke. That he should have been afraid when the Jews told him that the prisoner had claimed to be the Son of God and at once sought another interview, shows that there was a mysterious influence about our Lord which made the governor feel uncomfortable; and this fear was only increased when his question, ‘Whence art thou?’ received no answer (John 19:8 f.). (γ) Even Caiaphas treats Christ with a respect which he would have gladly dispensed with. His continued silence led the high priest to take the very unusual step of forcing some statement out of Him by solemn adjuration (Matthew 26:63). (δ) The most touching illustrations of Christ’s influence are found amongst the sinful. They were drawn to Him as steel to the magnet. He was their friend (Matthew 11:19), to whom they could give their confidences. Tired of life they turned instinctively to Him, and gladly gave Him their all. Matthew, Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, the woman that was a sinner, are only typical of hundreds of men and women who came to Him because they were sure of His love, and recognized that He had power to forgive.

2. Secret of Christ’s influence

(a) Not the influence of His position as Son of God.—When we remember who He was, the Word made flesh, the eternal Son of God, we are perhaps surprised that our Lord never used the influence of His unique position. Had He chosen, He could have done what He was tempted to do, forced men to believe by some plain unmistakable wonder like that of throwing Himself from the pinnacle of the Temple (Matthew 4:5). He could have appeared as the great I AM attended by legions of angels (Matthew 26:53). He could have declared authoritatively that He was the great God, and proved it by the destruction of the towns and villages which denied it (Luke 9:52 ff.). He could have used His position and forced men to recognize it. And again and again, as the above references show, He was tempted to do it. But He rejected the temptation. It is a method, as we know, freely employed in the world, and widely popular. People prefer the influence of the direct to the indirect. They like to have some sign from heaven which will save them the trouble of thinking, and be a short cut to a difficult conclusion. And the Jews were always seeking this (Matthew 12:38); always hoping that He would either show that His claims were invalid and that He was unable to give a sign, or satisfy their curiosity by some miracle. Our Lord tells them that, even if He gave them a sign, the sign of a man risen from the dead, it would have no effect in changing their lives (Luke 16:31). It may be asked—But what about His miracles? In the first place, they were never done as a proof of His claims. He never proclaimed a great truth and then worked a miracle to show it was true. They were all in obedience to an earnest call for help; and faith, where it could be had, was a condition essential to His working (Mark 6:5). When done, they were evidences, but only secondary to the evidence of His own personality. If men were too dull to believe in Him for what He was, then there was still the sign of His works. ‘Though ye believe not me, believe the works’ (John 10:38); ‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father, in me; or else believe me for the very works’ sake’ (John 14:11).

(b) Not the influence of popularity.—In the next place, Jesus did not seek influence through flattering people or rulers. Satan recognized in Christ extraordinary attractive powers. His love and manners were such that He could, had He chosen, have won over the whole world to His side. Never in anyone had there been such rich human gifts, such wide sympathies, such intimate knowledge of men’s ways and hearts. Satan’s attempt to persuade Christ to do him homage (Matthew 4:9 || Luke 4:7) was more subtle than is often supposed. It was the temptation to win, through flattery of the world-power,—a path that has again and again been pursued by great men. It is needless to point out that Christ never sought influence that way. The Pharisees and Herodians only expressed the general feeling in saying, ‘Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, and carest not for anyone: for thou regardest not the person of men’ (Matthew 22:16).

(c) The influence of personality.—Christ influenced men not by the majesty of His position nor by His marvellous works, but by His personality. It was what He was more than what He said or did. Men felt about Him that He was always infinitely greater than anything He said. And it was because of the tremendous force that sprang forth from His personality that He could say the most amazing things without amazing. It must be remembered that the disciples were, during His lifetime, feeling their way towards the mystery of His Person. They did not know at first what they knew afterwards. And yet they could feel thankful for teaching which placed Him before wife and child, before brother or sister (Matthew 10:37). They welcomed Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He did not point it out, for He was it. He did not give it as something apart from Himself. All this, which would have been intolerable from anyone else, was a relief from Him, as it expressed in words their own feelings (Matthew 7:29). So, too, the weight of His authority was not that of the scribes, dependent on others, but that derived from His own personality. It was this that astonished the people, who were accustomed in their teachers to quotations from others and to second-hand information. With Him it was always personal: ‘We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen’ (John 3:11). Now and again it flashed forth in a way that dazzled and overpowered, as when the men of Nazareth wished to fling Him over the cliff, as when those of Jerusalem would have stoned Him, as when those sent to arrest Him fell back when He declared who He was (Luke 4:29, John 8:59; John 18:6).

(d) Power of the Holy Ghost.—Beyond all this there is something far more difficult to explain, viz. the effect of the descent of the Holy Ghost at His Baptism. When the Baptist was asked to account for the influence of Christ, he replied, ‘A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven,’ and went on to say that not only was the Christ above all as coming from above, but that He was endowed with the Spirit beyond all measure (John 3:27; John 3:34). It would seem, though the passage is not clear, that part of His influence was due to the co-operation of the Holy Ghost with His own spirit. The Holy Ghost given to man in such measure as man’s limitations allow, was given to the infinite heart and mind of Christ fully, infinitely, without bound. And in the power of that Divine Spirit He began His ministry (Luke 4:18-21), not only teaching men’s minds, but by the ‘finger of God’ (Luke 11:20)—an expression interpreted by some of the Holy Ghost—casting out devils. But whatever may be the mystery of the union of the Holy Spirit with Christ, it is certain that He laid stress on this Power as being that which would be the source of the influence His disciples should exercise.

3. Influence of the disciples.—All Christ’s disciples, without exception, were to be influential. The words, ‘Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you’ (Acts 1:8), were probably spoken to the 120 disciples, numbering some women amongst them. They were to rely upon Him. He had told them previously that in the difficult situations which persecutions would create, they were not to be anxious as to how best to answer the accusations of their adversaries: He Himself would give them ‘a mouth and wisdom,’ and then further explained by saying, ‘for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 21:14 f.). They were then to influence the world not primarily by intellectual power or by wonderful signs, but by that which is deeper than thought or gifts, namely, their own personality. It would be what they were, not what they had, the power of their own inner spirit, not that of cleverness; and this through the power of the Eternal Spirit. Spirit can be touched only by spirit, personality can be developed only by personality. When, then, the Holy Spirit came down upon them on the Day of Pentecost, it was the depths, not the surface of their lives, that were stirred. It was not the development of mere intellectual gifts which enabled them to communicate with others, but such an enlargement of their own spirits that they felt in touch with the whole world, and in their struggle to express this rush of sympathy, found a language suitable for each person with whom they came in contact. So afterwards we do not find the gift of tongues a new language, but rather an endeavour to express the new enlargement of their own spirit. They felt more than they could express, more sometimes than their minds could recognize (1 Corinthians 14:13). And this growth of personality is what we see even in the brief records of the NT: Simon becomes Peter; Levi, Matthew; Bartholomew, Nathanael; Joseph, Barnabas; and Saul, Paul. Their characters are not only stronger, but fuller and larger, and through them they built up churches, and changed the face of the world in which they lived. Our Lord never supposes they will be effective through education or culture or the presence of gifts. ‘Apart from me ye can do nothing’ (John 15:4). But the co-operation which He promises as the secret of their success is not that of a master who gets over his pupil’s difficulty by solving it for him, but that of one who by his sympathy, power, and skill enables him to meet it for himself. Christ dwelt in them through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, and worked in them and through them in every painful task they had to accomplish.

Literature.—Phillips Brooks, Influence of Jesus; Dale, The Living Christ, ch. iii.; Stalker, Imago Christi, ch. xvii.; Newman, Gram. of Assent5 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 463 ff.

G. H. S. Walpole.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Influence'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/i/influence.html. 1906-1918.

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