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: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/12/30/notable-christians-c-h-spurgeon/
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?