THE POWER OF ONE
Frustrated and angry and fearful for their welfare, Paul in Galatians in 3:1 (NJB) hotly rebuked the apostatizing believers with this: “You stupid people in Galatia! After you have had a clear picture of Jesus Christ crucified, right in front of your eyes, who has put a spell on you?” He found it astonishing that having seen a clear, sharp, focused picture of Jesus that a counterfeit portrait of a nationalist Jesus who restricted salvation only to Jews and Jewish proselytes could fool them.
If the original picture of Jesus didn’t hold the Galatians it certainly held Paul, or rather, drove Paul, gave him no rest even while it filled him with peace. Some images do that to us. Pictures have such power, but they only have power over us if they have power resident in them.
Charles Simeon turned the eyes and heart of Henry Martyn not only toward God but toward a life spent in missionary endeavors. Martyn was a gifted linguist and on reaching the Middle-East he translated the NT scriptures into Indian, Persian and a number of dialects. He preached and taught and argued and placed himself in jeopardy in places far from home for Jesus’ sake and died in Turkey, a bit over thirty-one years old.
Simeon was anything but a slacker but over his fireplace he kept a picture of his young friend and he’d often remark, “There! See that blessed man. What an expression on his face! No one looks at me as he does. He never takes his eyes off me, and seems always to be saying: ‘Be serious! Be in earnest! Don’t trifle! Don’t trifle!’ Then with a smile he would gently bow and say, “And I won’t trifle; I won’t trifle!”
O. Henry, the famous short story writer of several generations ago, tells us about a swindler with a most marvellous name. Hasting Beauchamp Morley. Isn’t that a name to be proud of! I think I’ll say it again: Hastings…Beauchamp… Morley! He would steal a pittance from a child without remorse and in late evening he’d fleece a bewildered out-of-towner of all that he had, and leave him desperate and without shelter, standing in the street. Safely in the park on a bench, smoking an expensive cigar, with the air of a special one, he would give a dollar bill to a beggar along with a quietly passionate lecture about the world of greenhorns. The planet was there for him to manipulate, people were sheep to be fleeced and he was just the man to do it with his smooth way and pleasing appearance. “Front!” That’s what was needed and boy he had plenty of it, he said. It was a great life and “what a wonderful moon,” he told himself as he followed his cigar smoke toward the grand hotel he had booked into for the night with the money he stole from the luckless stranger.
He turned the corner and coming toward him, in a simple white dress with the radiance of purity and sincerity written all over her, was a girl he had been to school with some eight years earlier. There had been no romance between them—nothing but the warm friendship of innocent days but he knew instantly that he didn’t want her to see him so he ducked into an alley until she was past. Leaning his hot face against the cold metal of a lamp-post he muttered, “O God, I wish I could die.” The very sight of her wouldn’t allow him peace since he had so cheapened and trifled with his life.
And there was “Groggy” Douglas who had just come from the graveyard where he had laid clumps of pink carnations on a grave when Frank Boreham met him and later became acquainted with him. When Douglas was a younger man he had gained the nickname of “Groggy” because he had been a hard drinker, well known around town. In a conversation some time later Douglas told Boreham that he had put the flowers on the grave of a woman called Jessie Glencairn—a woman he had fallen in love with many years before. He said it was almost blasphemy for him to say he loved her because she was so far above him. He knew, he said, it wasn’t for the likes of him to love her and he had always wanted her to marry someone who would fill her life with joy though the thought of it made him so envious that at times he felt like biting his tongue off.
Though he knew she could never be his Douglas said the very sight of her turned him around and he cut out the booze. Jessie never knew how Douglas felt about her but one day they happened to be walking in the same direction and he told her that people were saying he would soon be back on the drink. “She gave me a look I’ll never forget to my dying day,” he said, “and told me she was certain I never would.”
Sometimes when the craving raged, he said, he seemed to see her with that look on her face and those words on her lips, and he felt he hated the stuff but however difficult it was, however great the pressures he said, “I knew I’d be safe as long as I felt the same toward her.” And he remained booze-free until Boreham buried him several years later.
The tragic truth is that unforgettable images and glorious visions don’t keep all of us from collapse but the uplifting truth is that down the years countless people have been kept from wreck and ruin by a face, an image, an event that has become part of their inner worlds.
Scots preacher, Arthur Gossip, said that the Scottish town of Forfar wasn’t much given to emotion but it held Alexander Cumming in reverence. He crowded his happy days with kindness and concern and “faces everywhere lit up at the sight of him; and people, their voices suddenly grown softer, grew kindlier when he hove into sight.” Gossip spoke of a man he knew, a self-reliant, strong type, not one you would have thought could have easily been touched. That man looked after the departing Cumming and said to Gossip, “Often I pull myself together with this thought, that if I threw away my life, I think I could bear my punishment without whining, but…but”—and the man’s voice sagged a little—“I couldn’t face the pain in Mr. Cumming’s eyes.”
To be such a one, to be such a face, such a vision or image to someone, just one—would that not be a life well lived?
Is this something of what the Hebrew writer had in mind—in addition to his specific agenda—is this something of what he had in mind when he said (12:2), “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus”? And isn’t this part of the reason we’ll want to live in the image of Jesus in whose face the glory of God is seen (2 Corinthians 4:6)?