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“How They Grow”: Part 15

This entry is part 15 of 16 in the series How They Grow

Public Domain1

Isaiah Reid

The Attrition of One Soul on Another

  • And you shall be a blessing.
  • —Zechariah 8:13—
  • If you will not hear, and if you will not lay it to heart, to give glory to My name, says the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings.
  • Malachi 2:2
  • The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
  • 1 Samuel 18:1
  • And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me; and blessed be your advice, and blessed are you, who have kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with my own hand.”
  • 1 Samuel 25:32-33
  • But there was none like Ahab, who sold himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.
  • 1 Kings 21:25
  • I have learned by experience that the Lord has blessed me for your sake.
  • Genesis 30:27
  • And it came to pass from the time that he had made him overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian”s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house and in the field.
  • Genesis 39:5

I can’t tell you everything, even some things that I would like very much to say to you. You are aware, doubtless, that there are some things upon which, though we do not quite understand them ourselves, light comes as we try to tell them to others. I found this the case the other day when in conversation with a sister. I was led to say some things upon which my mind had been turning, and found that in trying to give her some of these passing thoughts, new light on them seemed to come in with the voicing of them for her. The fact is, there are many questions that I long to have someone who has comprehension that way come and sit down by me and read and talk over. There is a helpfulness of this kind which comes from God directly, though it is delivered through the medium of some human soul. In fact, human souls are nearest and the easiest way that God has to reach us, save by his Spirit directly. Humanity is His chosen agency to reach humanity. Not even angels could be well substituted. God chose man to be His medium of redemption, and made no mistake. Even now, communication with angels would not be so beneficial.

It is not unfair to suppose that all persons with whom we are brought in direct contact have a mission for us. God has something that they are to accomplish in our behalf. It may be in one way, or another. They may be hard messengers to receive at times, but hard or easy, they should not be disclaimed. One man I could name has taught me what prejudice, mulish selfishness, and soul littleness can do for a man made in the image of God. No description in word painting could have shown me like that man has what such traits of character are. The unbounded opportunities between young manhood and middle age have apparently been lost on him, so far as any improvement has been observable. Official positions have only served as occasions to magnify his office in these undesirable traits. It has been a hard lesson for me to take all these “dictations,” as the typewriters2 would say, and yet it has been profitable. God had a mission in him for me, if I would take it. Those that have acted as real enemies have had lessons for me. A remark made by a crabid, unsocial editor, in my young manhood, cut me like a knife; though it was occasioned almost wholly by ignorance rather than by any intentional word or act. However it set me to thinking as nothing else had done in that particular direction. An old minister who used to delight to find fault with me and my work, after all, overdid himself and helped me to avoid what he would have much liked to have sustained and proven up against me.

If these things are so in the worst of circumstances, what must it not be in the better and the best? How I recall today, with the kindest of memories, the friendly, encouraging and helpful words of Dr. Gillett,3 then president of Yellow Spring College, which came like new life to my yearning, sensitive nature. The former examples of littleness and meanness showed me how to avoid those things; but Dr. Gillett showed me how to reach and possess greater things. Those other men were red lights, signaling danger in that direction; Dr. Gillett’s was a hand that took hold of mine and as a guide led me up to a better manhood, and away from littleness and unworthiness. His was intentional effort made to rescue me and make a man of me. Their mission to me had no element of intentional helpfulness; rather it was full of desire to beat me and put me out if they could. I learned from them in spite of themselves; I learned of Dr. Gillett in spite of myself. His influence has reward in it; theirs can have none, because they had no intention that way. Their influence repulsed me; his won me. They hindered me; he helped me. They put briers in my path; he took them out and put in place thereof stepping stones to higher planes of being.

Such influence have souls one with another. We know far too little about this law of our human association. We might use it to our advantage were we better informed. We have a common way of confessing its truth when we speak of the power and the influence of evil company. At the same time we more than half forget that the opposite law is true, that by as much as evil company has power to affect character, by so much we know that all grades of character have their weight and influence. Really, lives take hold on lives—not simply as a piece of coal and chalk might mark each other on the outside on being rubbed together; but as sunshine permeates darkness, and fragrance the atmosphere of a room, or as moisture finds place in dryness. In some such like manner one’s life seems to have capacity not only to affect outwardly, but to flow into another life like a new current of influence and power. This higher kind of influence is not so common as the chalk or coal marking on the outside, but it is more potent and purposeful. That life which seems to come into your soul and touch the very springs of action has a far different mission from heaven with you than the one which seems to have nothing in it that strikes fire in you. Such a soul was Abigail to David.4 She evidently turned the channel of his life. Her words were wise, but there was something behind them that made them have weight. Her life came as a helpful, saving influence into the current of his. Under its power, revenge gave place to justice and largeness of soul. Murderous intention melted away into patience with divine retribution. No wonder David could say, as he looked back at his passion and lack of wisdom, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who sent you this day to meet me. And blessed be your advice, and blessed are you who have kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with my own hand” (1 Samuel 25:32-33).

This same thing is going on all around us. We may not hear much of it, but this is an undercurrent where one life, at some effective point of experience, enters another life and changes its future course. The celebrated philosopher, Auguste Comte,5 was a signal example of this. Madame Clotilde de Vaux, seventeen years his junior, and quite late in his career, changed the whole current of his philosophy. Up to that time Comte had regard­ed science as completely satisfying his nature, and utterly ignored all religious beliefs and practices. She came to his life with an influence that had the effect to open a fresh fountain in his nature hitherto unreached, by which he was led to take an entirely different view of life. His philosophy and all his teaching changed, and changed for the better. “From this period,” say his biographers,

may be dated the new birth of his moral nature. Up to this point knowledge had been everything to him; henceforward he confessed the supremacy of the affections and the claims of what he held to be religion….[His doctrine of] Positivism was transformed from a very secular doctrine into one in which everything was sub­or­di­nated to emotion, morality, worship and religion.6

Her life touched his where all others had failed. It was the effective counteraction of one life directly upon another, and was the most powerful influence brought to bear upon that life through human instrumentality.

We must not fail to note that this law of effect may work on the wrong side, as well as on the better side, of character building. Jezebel is a sample of this. Her influence on her husband made him a far worse man than he otherwise would have been. She “stirred him” up. Read the record and study this up further for yourself.7 It has wide margins and wide but positive bearings. The lessons are many. We touch souls, immortal souls, on all sides and wherever we go. We bless or curse. We help or we hinder. We save or we damn. With one or more persons, at least, our life becomes a positive current, like Abigails, molding the life of some David; or like Clotilde de Vaux, a power to revolutionize a whole school of philosophy; or like Jezebel, a queen on a throne, to use a king to her own, his own, or the people’s destruction. Tread softly here. The power to influence for hell or heaven lie close beside each other.

There is much more to say, but this is all the room there is that can be used now. Then you may not now care to hear more. God bless you and make you always a blessing to all to whom you may come.


  1. The text itself is public domain. The original book, How They Grow, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2008, 2011 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's How They Grow.
  2. Typewriters: that is, people who turn dictation into print via typewriting machines; in more recent years, the people became known as typists, and the machines as typewriters.
  3. Dr. Erastus Judd Gillett (1800-1880) was Reid’s early mentor, the man who inspired him to finish high school, get a bachelor’s degree, and ultimately attend seminary. It was under Gillett’s ministry, not only as the college president, but also as the minister of the Presbyterian church closest to the campus, that Reid came to salvation and later received his call into the ministry.
  4. Read the story to which Reid refers in 1 Samuel 25.
  5. For a bit more on Comte and his influence, see endnotes 2 and 3 of Growth, Not Mere Self-Assertion.
  6. This quote comes from a tract entitled Auguste Comte and the “Religion of Humanity” written by Rev. J. Radford Thomson and published by The Religious Tract Society of London.
  7. Jezebel, the idol-worshipping daughter of a pagan king, became queen of Israel when she married King Ahab (1 Kings 16:31). In a sense, it was Jezebel, rather than Ahab, who became the chief human opponent of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18, 19, and 21). As prophesied by one of the prophet Elisha’s young protégés, she died an ignominious death and was denied even a decent burial (2 Kings 9). The specific quote about Jezebel stirring up Ahab is found in 1 Kings 21:25.
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