James wrote: "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death." (5:20.) There are many ways of being a good influence, and all of them should have our full attention.
The person who in any way lessens the sorrows and increases the happiness of another person, is to be regarded, so far as his good influence extends, as a benefactor.
But every kind of good influence can't be extended by everyone. The poor person can't build up by public taxes the institutions of learning and of charity. Those without education can’t yet enrich others with treasures of wisdom that they don’t yet possess.
But every class of people, in their work and where they live, can contribute their good influence, whether it's small or great, to increase the amount of human happiness in the world.
Yet what is human happiness, if it's measured only by the span of our earthly existence? It has many sorrows, and soon passes away. Our distress and joy only last a short time here in this life.
But it’s the duty, and it ought to be a part of the happiness of our lives, to exert what influence we can to make the journey of life pleasant to our fellow travelers.
And of course extending our comfort and charity to others to heal their souls – the part that extends past this narrow existence on earth – is our highest dignity. However humble we are, we can be that kind of influence.
We call "sinners" those who live without any reference to God; or to the sacred principles of virtue and religion.
These are people who have never determined for themselves that they’ll serve our Creator or the one He chose to be our example, Jesus. They act influenced by motives which belong mostly to the present life, and they neglect the solemn consideration, that they will stand before the judgment seat of God, and that their eternal happiness is intimately connected with the habits they’re forming now.
They don’t consider the love of God as a powerful feeling of the soul; and the teachings of Jesus aren’t regarded by them as a rule of action that allows for no exceptions or excuses. In a word, the sinner is one who’s formed no fixed ideas about serving God, and they have no intention of doing it!
To convert a sinner, then, is to turn them from the practice of this neglect towards the love and practice of holiness, as taught by our Master.
It means having a positive influence that will dry up many of the sources of misery, to spread happiness, and even reaches forward into the eternal world, filling the soul with joy, so long as our souls exist.
I call upon you in the name of Jesus to engage in this work. You are surrounded by those who are strangers to faith and hope. Will you make no effort to direct their influence to the good, to resist the moral chaos which rages around you?
It's by gentleness, by kindness, by a genuine love, by patience and perseverance, that we are to succeed in this work of goodness. Your virtuous purity, submission, obedience and joy must speak for you in the cause which you wish to advocate.
To attempt this is the most generous work in which we can be involved; to do this is to save a soul. That’s something worth attempting! And if we do this in a spirit of love, we won’t labor in vain!
(Adapted from a sermon by Nathan Parker, 1831)