Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Overwhelming Power of One

Jan 30, 2013

It is one of the profound truths of history that just one solitary individual can in fact change the course of history. Great masses are not needed to bring about radical social change or cultural upheaval. Often just one committed person who has an embracing vision can forever alter the direction of a nation or even the entire world.

And this cuts both ways: one evil person with a sinister vision can cause tremendous damage and misery on untold millions. But it is also true that one good person can impact the world for good, and leave a lasting positive legacy. Thus for good or ill, a single soul can quite literally be a world-changer.

Some of the individuals for ill are easy enough to identify. Consider the impact of a Nietzsche or a Stalin or a Hitler or a Mao. Millions upon millions of lives were lost because of some of these men, and their ideas have negatively reverberated throughout the halls of history.

And if it is not an individual, it is a small, dedicated band, often rallying around a powerful individual. Think of Lenin and his small band of Bolsheviks. They managed to overthrow an entire nation, and then some, and cause a global reign of terror to plague much of the earth for three-quarters of a century.

But the good guys too have had their influence. Think of someone like William Wilberforce. This great abolitionist never had a large group around him in his many years of struggle against the slave trade. In fact, his very supportive Clapham Sect never numbered more than 20 to 30 active, hard-core individuals. Yet they too changed the course of history.

So we find time and time again just one strong individual or one small but determined group of individuals bringing about major changes which have become the stuff of history books. Many others of course have commented on these truths. Let me cite just a few, both religious and non-religious:

-“It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” Samuel Adams

-“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world…indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Anthropologist Margaret Mead

-“The power of one man or one woman doing the right thing for the right reason, and at the right time, is the greatest influence in our society.” Jack Kemp

-“The greatest works are done by the ones. The hundreds do not often do much – the companies never; it is the units – the single individuals, that are the power and the might. Individual effort is, after all, the grand thing.” Charles Spurgeon

-“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.” Mother Teresa

-“I alone can’t change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Mother Teresa

The story of Christianity is replete with such figures – its founder of course being the greatest example of this. This single man has forever altered the direction of human history. We even measure history based on his life. No wonder so many argue that history is really His Story.

And because of his incredible example, there have been countless followers of Jesus who have also been world-changers. Both history and church history are filled with such individuals and small groups. Far too many examples can be mentioned here – enough to fill many more such articles.

Let me therefore just focus on one. He is not the greatest or the most well-known. But his life – indeed, his one small step of obedience – has sent shockwaves throughout much of the world over the past two centuries. By simply being open to the leading of God, this very ordinary man helped to change radically the Christian church and the surrounding culture.

I refer to John Egglen. Never heard of him? No, I did not expect that you had. But I take it almost all of you have heard of someone I have already cited above: Charles Hadden Spurgeon. We all know who he was, like so many other great men and women of God.

But what is often not so well known is how so many of these great saints came to be. Some of them would not even be known in the annals of church history if not for some other seemingly insignificant and almost forgotten individuals. So let me offer you a quick story of the conversion of C. H. Spurgeon.

Just over 163 years ago in Colchester, England a heavy snowfall hit the area. The first Sunday morning of January 1850, church goers awoke to find their town buried in snow. One church member looked out his windows and would have reasonably thought, “Why bother going to church today?” But he was evidently more open to God’s leading than to caving in to his own flesh.

So being the good deacon that he was, he bundled up and made the long and laborious six-mile march through the snow to the Methodist church. When he got there he discovered that even the pastor couldn’t – or wouldn’t – make it in that morning. Indeed, only 13 people showed up: 12 members and one visitor, a 13-year-old boy.

Some of the church folk suggested that everyone should just go home. But the deacon refused – after all, they did have a visitor. But the big problem was, who would preach? The deacon had never preached before, but it was decided he would take a stab at it.

His complete inexperience showed big time: his sermon only lasted for around ten minutes and was certainly far from elegant. The text he used was Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” After stumbling and stammering a bit, he gathered a bit of courage and looked straight at the youthful visitor and said, “Young man, look to Jesus. Look. Look. Look.” The boy did look to Jesus, and was instantly and gloriously saved.

That faithful and committed deacon was John Egglen. And that boy was the young Charles Spurgeon. And the rest as they say is history. Isn’t it amazing how just one person can make such a huge difference? Aren’t you glad John Egglen didn’t stay in bed that day? Aren’t you grateful that he was willing to put the spirit over the flesh, and obeyed the promptings of God that day?

One man, with conviction and determination, made a huge difference in the 13-year-old’s life. And that boy of course went on to make a huge difference in the lives of millions. Nearly two centuries later we are still feeling the impact of that one individual and that one act of obedience. For more on Spurgeon, see my write-up here:

Such stories can be multiplied millions of times over. And the good news is, we all have a role to play in God’s Kingdom. We all have an important part to play in doing his work on earth. We all have spheres of influence which almost no one else on the planet has: our family, our friends, our workmates, our classmates, our neighbours, etc.

We are each placed specifically where God wants us to be. Our immediate circle of contacts and relationships is unique, and we all have a key role in utilising where we are at for Christ and his Kingdom. So are you open to being used? Do you believe you can be a world-changer?

Are you convinced of the power of one? Why not ask God to let you be that person of influence? After all, how many Charles Spurgeons are out there just waiting for their own John Egglen’s to come along and light a spark that will change human history?

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13 Responses to The Overwhelming Power of One

  • Don’t ever let anyone tell you to “Put that light out.”

    Bill Pertwee

  • Is that THE Bill Pertwee? If so he’s obviously a much better man than Captain Mainwaring gave him credit for.

    I think that Martin Luther would have to be in the top rank of those who who stood for the truth, at times virtually alone amongst his inquisitors.

    David Morrison

  • Many thanks for the article Bill.

    God’s providence never ceases to amaze me. Our church has a ‘deacon’s retreat’ this coming Saturday morning and this is a very timely reminder of what one anonymous and willing deacon can do. (Not “anonymous” in God’s eyes though – far from it). I have forwarded this article to all the guys as an encouragment and as an inspiration for the weekend….and beyond. Very timely indeed!!

    I’m sure you often wonder and question the impact that your articles have – be assured that in this case at least. God’s hand was guiding you! (As I’m sure He does with all your stuff.) Personally I found this inspirational and encouraging (and challenging) as to what a “little old anonymous deacon like me” can do – I’m sure our guys will feel likewise

    God bless
    Dave Billingham

  • Thanks very much for your kind words Dave. Much appreciated.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    I hear you were at the Ravi Zacharias meetings in Perth. I was there too and I thank God for his life and ministry. Much like you and your ministry, there are few men of God who have obeyed the mandate to keep the rest of the body of Christ on the straight and narrow path even in the midst of all the noise and craziness out there.

    I pray God’s blessings over you and your ministry.

    Nigel Onamade, Perth

  • Many thanks indeed Nigel

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The deacon was obedient, it is amazing what God can do as a person steps out.
    Rebecca Vantol

  • Yes quite right Rebecca.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Putting together the article on vertebrates and the power of one – today I happened to be reading Bishop Nicholas Ridley’s defence of the Protestant view of the Lord’s Supper. He was in prison when he wrote it and he knew that the very views he was writing were the ones which would most likely send him to the stake. The following year he and Latimer did indeed suffer that fate because they refused to acknowledge transubstantiation.

    That’s what I call standing up for one’s beliefs. He and Latimer did indeed light the proverbial candle as they underwent that very painful death.

    David Morrison

  • Bill, this is a timely article. Today at an undisclosed location in Britain, about twenty of us are meeting, in an upper room, in a small country town with Dr Scott Lively, to pray and seek the Lord’s guidance on how to save our nation – indeed and that of ever nation – from the terror of homosexuality, that is about to be unleashed on us by our own government. Dr Scott is a rallying point for our group of misfits, flunkies and outcasts who will be coming from all parts of the UK. Please pray that we will be listening to what the Lord would have us do, and not that which is right in his our own eyes (Judges 17:6). Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Pray that we would know that is not by “sword or spear” that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give the enemy into our hands.”

    David Skinner, UK

  • To add a few to Muehlenberg’s list:
    William Carey.
    Hudson Taylor.
    Martin Luther.
    And there are many Biblical examples.
    Yes, indeed, many “ones” have dramatically changed the world for good.
    May the Lord use each of us to do the same!

    John Allcott

  • ‘The terror of homosexuality’- interesting expression David. Good luck with your group. I opposed this homosexuality thing for eight years in a religious organisation I was with but finished up having to leave – the Americans say you can’t beat city hall – ain’t that the truth. I am an Australian but when it comes to Rugby I always say ‘never underestimate the Brits’. When it comes to the ‘terror of homosexuality’ never underestimate the Holy Spirit. Grace and Peace David.

    B T Walters

  • David Skinner; hope your meeting went well. I am feeling demoralised by those things happening here in the UK right now….I feel the oppression being brought to bear on all decent God-fearing folk by these aggressive gay groups; it’s like a creeping sickness, seemingly unstoppable; it has infiltrated governments and spread around the globe.

    On Feb 5th the UK government debates its Gay Marriage Bill. We fear it will be passed, despite the sterling efforts of large opposition groups like C4M; and despite the huge sackloads of letters that have been written to MPs by their constituency members (including myself), vociferously demanding that their MP vote against the government over this ludicrous plan.

    Yes I do believe one person can make massive changes. I don’t, though, think I’m one of them….I haven’t got the right temperament. I do what I can, though, within my natural capacity….if God has other ideas I’m sure He’ll let me know!

    Chris Dark, UK

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