The Contagion of Faint-Heartedness
“What man is there that is fearful and faint-hearted? Let him go and return into his house lest his brethren’s heart melt as his heart.” (Deuteronomy 20:8)
Our moods are contagious, and they are swiftly contagious. Our words can act upon others like a bugle or they can act like a chilling, drizzling rain; so it is with our moods. Our deeds can be inspiring in leadership, or they can be the ministers of depression; even so it is with our moods. Our settled temper is contagious even though it be silent. Our temperament is an energy and it is never at rest. Our very presences are influential, and their influence is active even when we only seem to be the passive receivers in an assembly and not the active leaders of the fellowship. Everybody makes a vital contribution, and our contribution may be like that of an iceberg drifting south from polar seas and dulling the air for miles around.
All this is a commonplace in human experience. Who has not recognised the contagious influence of a mood or a temperament? For instance, the presence of a pessimist is always unfriendly to great ventures. He may say little or nothing, but his unglowing spirit lays an icy constraint upon everybody.
The presence of Mr. Fearing always lowers the moral temperature, and so does that of Mr. Despondency and his daughter Miss Much-afraid. It is not that they say much, for they are often very reticent, but they rob the atmosphere of its inspiring vitality, and they tend to freeze all the genial currents of the soul. Who has not known their influence? Who does not know the freezing influence of the Rev. Mr. Fearall whether at a wedding or a funeral?
And who does not feel that there is damp stuff in the fire when he is present, and we are trying to kindle some noble and venturesome enterprise? And who does not know Deacon Flat-soul, as flat as some once lively liquid which has lost its effervescence? What a business it is to keep exuberant when Flat-soul is at the meeting and stays to the very end! These moods are very contagious, and we have to bestir ourselves if we would keep immune.
But are we responsible for our moods? Do they belong to a realm where our decrees do not run? Are we impotent before them? If we listen to some people we should assume that ill-moods are tyrannies which ought to excite nothing but pity. “You see, it is my temperament!” And when that is said it is thought that the explanation is complete and final. That is to say, we speak of temperament as we speak of climates, and we regard the changing of a temperament as about as impossible as the warming of the Arctic circle or the cooling of the Equator. “I am temperamentally faint-hearted!” That is their climate, and they have to live in it to the end of their days.
But temperament is not an unchangeable climate. Grace is not checked when it touches moods. If God’s love can do anything it can change a man’s spiritual climate. If we read the letters of the Apostle Paul, marking every instance which betokens a radical change of temperament, we shall be surprised how great is the number of witnesses. Of all things which God’s grace can bring into human life, none is more sure than the coming of sweetness and light. There is sweetness for bitterness, and lo! the cynic becomes a saint. There is light for despondency, and lo! the pessimist becomes a child of hope.
So that if the faint-hearts are to return home, lest their contagion seize their fellows, let them return to the Lord, and He will change their faint-heartedness into valorous strength. “When they saw the boldness of Peter!” Yes, and he was once a faint-heart, and he fainted in the day of adversity!
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