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VI

EDUCATION BY CONTAGION

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven.”—Matt. xiii. 33.

THAT is a very vital education, perhaps the most vital of all, which is effected by contagion. It is given by touch rather than by teaching. The most profound education is not that which has been most deliberately given. There are professors in colleges and universities whose words no more affect the deep springs of the soul than the dripping of the broken spout outside their lecture-room. And even when they are not so entirely inefficient they may only inculcate certain doctrines while they do not educate the soul. It is the vital touch which tells upon character, and most frequently this touch is not conveyed through the medium of the spoken word. The touch may be given in a very temporary contact. A passing incident 29may convey the vital force. Or the experience may be more prolonged. We may brush against somebody for days and weeks together, and although never a moral precept or a spiritual counsel pass between us, we come under the power of an extraordinary contagion, and our character appropriates the virtue or the virus of our fellowship. It is education by contagion.

When we look back upon our early life from the high vantage-ground of later years, and we trace its turnings, and mark the great diversions which meant momentous destinies, we can see how often the change was made, not by a professional instructor, but by some influence which at that time was anonymous and untraced. I can look back upon my own early days, and I can see silent forces, which were then invisible, pouring their influences like tributaries into the main stream of my life. And I could now write some names in this paragraph, the bearers of which would be amazed to see them in print. There was T— F—, the ingenious playmate who gave me a hobby which has served me in all succeeding years. There was no deliberate leading; it was just education 30by contagion. There was P— G—. His love for politics made me a politician, and a very burning one, too! And then there was O— D—, who supplied our little circle with a standard of conduct. He never uttered an oracular word. He was a very shy and silent member of the boyish fellowship, but his very presence acted like a royal measure in the shaping and expression of our moral judgments and decisions. All these, and many others, knew nothing about what they were doing. I did not know it. But their fine contagion had a ceaseless ministry. The contact issued in forceful emanations and the vital currency was always flowing.

And so it is in higher interests still. Our contagions are usually far more educative and influential than our speech. Everybody is inclined to admit this on the bad side, but everybody is not so ready to admit it on the good side. They acknowledge that vice is contagious, but not virtue. They acknowledge that disease is contagious, but not health. It is more than likely that one is just as influential as the other. A truly strong and nobly consecrated life moves in 31human fellowship with tremendous power of contagion. The weight of human impressiveness is measured by the reality of its divine communion. It is touching and influencing everybody with whom it deals, and the touch is always holy and wholesome. “He that believeth in Me, out of him shall flow rivers of water,” and, “Everything shall live whither the river cometh.”

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