Seventh-day Adventists have always manifested much zeal in promoting a great cause, in serving an essential organization, in developing an important institution or in standing by a prominent leader. This manifold devotion has produced phenomenal results. The movement has developed beyond the expectations of many.
In the emphasis on a work to be done throughout the big, wide world there is a risk that the church member and his unique contribution as an individual be overlooked. In his dedication to a great cause and its parts he himself can lose his essential identity. On the other hand, a sincere devotion, like a great treasure in an earthen vessel, can transform the possessor and make his life iridescent and glorious.
The philosopher may insist that the universe exists for the individual only as his mind is conscious of its existence. In unconsciousness the man comprehends nothing. "The dead know not any thing" (Eccl. 9:5). Since consciousness of the universe and its activities about the man are so important, he himself does not lose all value as an identity. If he makes a worth-while contribution to a cause, it will be the greater when he becomes alert to his opportunities and offers deliberately his unique gilt to it. This attitude will increase the pleasure and magnify the privilege of being even a small part of a cause much greater than the man himself.
There were times in history when the individual as such counted for less. In the days of ancient Israel, pagan tribes often offered chosen children in fiercely burning fires to appease Moloch. Later and annually the Aztecs selected the finest young warrior of their tribe for a living sacrifice to the sun-god. At Verdun alone in Word War I the French laid 200,000 of their best on the altar of the god of war. The Germans vainly sacrificed 300,000 at that same place. In World War II many a Japanese pilot in his devotion to emperor and empire stepped into a plane alone and sacrificed both himself and the plane in an all-out effort to win the war.
Importance of the Individual
In the life and teachings of Jesus, the individual is the object of His love and sacrifice. The Father so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever, as an individual, should believe in Him should have everlasting life. Had there been only one sinner, Christ would have died to save him and to vindicate the Father. That makes the individual of tremendous importance.
In the parable where Jesus compared Himself to a man taking a far journey He gave to every man his work. The talents were distributed "to every man according to his several ability" (Matt. 25:15). Each man was held to a strict accounting. When the shepherd of the one lost sheep found it he called his neighbors to rejoice with him, and Jesus said there would be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth (see Luke 15:7). The prodigal son was such an individual.
On many an occasion Jesus spoke to a multitude, but His power centered in the fact that He spoke directly to the individuals composing the multitude. His words went direct to the heart of the man before Him. When the Pharisees sent officers to apprehend Him all the men could say of that great individual was "never man spake like this man" (John 7:46). Ellen G. White said in explanation: "Never man lived as He lived."—Ministry of Healing, p. 469.
The disciples came to Jesus as individuals, as all men must do today, received instruction fitted to their particular needs, and wrote their own unique accounts of His life and ministry, with a few details differing enough to cause critics perplexity. Even the Lord of glory, the greatest individual in all history, said to these individualistic disciples, "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30), and cautioned them that without Him they could do nothing (John 15:5).
Individual's Distinctive Contribution
The individual has not only the high privilege of being a distinct person and having a unique personality and character, but he has a particular task that distinguishes him from the crowd. He may be moving in step with the beat of a drum that no one else hears. It may sound a martial tone that sends him into contest and struggle, or it may soothe with its gentle, melodious notes.
Others may be content to step with the uniform tread of regulation and system. He hears the call to investigation and experimentation on his own. As a result he may uncover a new way or open channels of thought for many later to travel. No one should condemn him for what may appear to be irregular or awkward. He can be in step with the drum he hears.
Elaine V. Emans in her "Unwritten Registry" grants range of choice, latitude as well as longitude, for the distinctive character and work of the individual.
Each, for his own remembering, has a list Of lovely things, and yours may be unlike Mine as the day from night: a river kissed By sun is in my own, a flaming spike Of hollyhocks may be in yours, while snow, Light-swirling but persistent, is as fair To me as music. You have hours that glow Jewel-like and exquisite, and I have rare Mornings and afternoons and midnights, too. You've loved a city you cannot forget, And I a hill and wood in April; you, Bird song and voices I've not known. And yet My list is strangely similar to yours: Each warms the heart, and comforts, and endures.
At a college chapel hour many years ago a distinguished guest was presented by the president. He was an authority on the Moslem world of that day but mentioned the field of his own missionary record only incidentally. His topic for the students was "The Price of Leadership." The president emphasized the importance of the words spoken by having them recorded. Excerpts of the address were printed in the campus paper.
Loneliness a Price of Leadership
Part of the price of leadership, Dr. Zwemer said, was loneliness, an experience the uninitiated would hardly associate with the great whom they always picture as surrounded by a multitude of enthusiastic, loyal supporters. But men like Winston Churchill and President Eisenhower at times must face some issues alone and make their choices, facing the consequences whatever they may be, and accepting whatever may come as something for which they must assume full responsibility. There is a certain degree of majesty in standing out there apart from the crowd, but it takes strength, courage, and wisdom to do it well.
Not far from the massive walls of old Sterling Castle, made famous by the Scots who fought against the English armies that would subject their land to foreign control, stands a delicate doorframe of stone. The castle that once adorned the hillside disappeared long ago, but this lace-like doorway that must have provided passage for some Scottish chief bears a few thought-provoking words. The storms of centuries have not altogether effaced them. There, carved in quaint spelling, is the thought of the knight of the castle: "The moir I stand on oppin hitht my faults moir subject are to sitht." Out of the past comes the solemn thought that leaders as individuals cannot escape critical analysis.
Men to Match My Mountains
Over another doorway, this one on the capitol grounds of Sacramento, California, are the words, "Bring me men to match my mountains." To any who know intimately the great rugged Sierras, those words have significance and challenge. The poet prays that men would arise equal in strength, independence, and majesty to their tasks and responsibilities. What better prayer can the members of the church offer than that God would continue to give to the greatest of causes, in the future as He has in the past and the present, men to match the mountainous tasks and opportunities before this people?
What one says is of less importance than to whom it is said, and yet as Emily Dickinson wrote, "A smile so small as mine might be precisely their necessity." Whatever is uniquely individual has value distinctive and necessary. To withhold it would be to deny the world something that may never be again available through anyone. With Jesus enthroned in the life, the individual may not become a genius, but so long as Jesus is on the throne it is certain the person can no longer be just ordinary.
No greater, more compact summary of character and work standards can be found than that given by the Great Teacher in the Sermon on the Mount. Hearers of the words are not enough. Men must be doers. "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock" (Matt. 7:24). On the contrary, "Every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand" (verse 26).
Moreover, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt. 7:12). And to His hearers what could have been suggested that would have had more weight than the law and the prophets? Jesus Himself came to fulfill the law and to interpret it. He was the object of many prophecies.
As important then as the individual and his unique personality are, no one can escape the particular work that he alone can do. If he becomes a doer and not merely a hearer of the principles presented in the Sermon on the Mount, he will build a structure that will stand the storm; he will think of others and make room for their individuality and their work.
Jesus' Regard for the Individual
Jesus demonstrated His love for the individual by recognizing him in the parables, by preaching to him in the multitude, and by dying for him. He must have loved him with a supreme love; He gave His own precious life for him.
How much He regarded the individual is illustrated in His description of the scene where He sits upon the throne of judgment and all the nations are gathered before Him. Two great groups develop, one of sheep on the right, the other of goats on the left. The separation is clear and distinct and it is based upon unexpected standards.
To those on the right He says, "Inherit the kingdom prepared for you" (Matt. 25: 34). The condition of inheritance is simple: "I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me" (verse 35).
When they expressed their surprise at the reward, the King said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:40). The emphasis is on the treatment of unknown individuals, whom He definitely recognizes as His own and claims as heirs of the kingdom.
Looking at Yourself
A few years ago a book of some personal value was written with the title Take a Look at Yourself. It was well received and the author wrote Take Another Look at Yourself. There are many people who look too much in admiration at themselves. There are others who can find nothing good in themselves. Most people can profit from taking a detached view of themselves now and then. Some may conclude that they have already seen too much of themselves, as did the first Elizabeth of England who on an occasion had all the mirrors removed from her palace.
When Boswell, the biographer of Dr. Johnson, first saw Wilberforce he contemptuously looked upon him as being no larger than a small shrimp. After he had heard convincing arguments for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade throughout the British Empire and had come to know that stalwart statesman, Boswell acknowledged that Wilberforce had grown in size to that of a great whale. Rarely is it safe to form hasty estimates of strangers.
But sometimes men grow up in an eagle's environment and behave like sparrows.
Individuals, met on earth's highways of thought and action, seem to assume contrasting attitudes toward themselves. Some are consumed by a feeling of inferiority; others seem to find so much good in themselves to talk about that nothing else receives attention. The contrast for these fragments of society is presented in the following poem by Emily Dickinson:
I'm nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too? - Then there's a pair of us—don't tell! They'd banish us, you know.
How dreadful to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Sometimes the individual overlooks value of transcendent importance. Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer, put it clearly in his famous lines:
Were I so tall to reach the Pole, Or grasp the ocean with my span, I must be measured by my soul; The mind's the standard of the man.
Ellen G. White added a word that broadens the description by saying, "The cultivated mind is the measure of the man."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 561.
Aside from Jesus, the founder of Christianity, the greatest individual in that youthful and growing organization dared to say to the Corinthian church, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). Only a person sure of his relation to Christ and worthy of following would venture such a bold invitation.
Individual Commitment to a Cause
For an individual to count positively and constructively for a cause as did the apostle Paul, he must have a clear idea of its importance and of his relation to it. He must be a man so thoroughly convinced of the quality of the cause and its worth as an object of sacrifice that the world cannot move him from his convictions. Such individuals must be counted in a crowd. They cannot be overlooked in the history of the world or of the church. How much they count is determined by the amount of the genuine values they have.
After Lincoln had been elected president he warned an audience of fellow citizens that he was only one American but that 30 million other Americans should become concerned about the safety of the Union and about their own liberties. As great a leader and individual as he was, the task was not for him alone. In unity there would be strength.
Such individuals owed much to other men of their time. In the very beginning Adam learned that it was not good for him to be alone. In the time of the potent Roman armies and the early Christian church Paul wrote that "none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself" (Rom. 14:7). Rome was a power to be feared so long as the individual soldier was obedient and yielded his might to the legion of which he was a part.
When Xerxes moved with his Persian host, estimated by credulous historians at one million, against the Greeks in 480 B.C. he counted his numbers of equal value, man for man, to the force opposed to him. Many of the host were not soldiers at all, only camp followers. But the individual soldier in the phalanx of Leonidas was many times the equal of the best of the Persians.
At the narrow pass of Thermopylae three hundred Spartans and about a thousand allied soldiers, opposed the Persian host. For two days the Greeks hurled the ablest of the enemy from the pass. Only treachery that led their enemy to the rear of these noble defenders of their homes accomplished what a frontal attack could not do. Teamwork had been more than a match for numbers.
Dr. Ribbands of Cambridge University writes in the annual report of the Smithsonian Institution of some experiments he performed with honeybees. A marked bee was trained to sip from a glass tube containing sugar. A radioactive solution was substituted and results were checked with a Geiger counter.
When the radioactive bee returned to the hive he shared his sugar with the other bees in the hive. This sharing was a random affair. In fact it was found that all the bees in the hive seemed to share every incoming bee's particular load of nectar. They all had the same diet and, strangely enough, acquired a common odor. This odor became a scent language of communication for all the bees in that particular hive. By it the bees recognized raiders from other hives and expelled them, at least when food was scarce. For them better sharing meant better defense. The experiments seemed to establish the same facts for all hives of bees.
Sharing With Others
Christ would have the members of His church share generously the good things they receive from Him. They too can learn a common language of recognition and defense. As requested in the prayer of John 17, when His followers are united, men of the world, too, will understand that language and know that the Son has really been sent by someone who loves them greatly. The individual cannot escape the responsibility of adding his forces to those of others in a great cause.
America had been affected by the first world war but was not yet in it when President Wilson gave an address in Pittsburgh. In it he spoke these significant words, words that, with only a slight adaptation, should mean much to the members of a world church. He said: "America is not anything if it consists of each of us. It is something only if it consists of all of us; and it can consist of all of us only as our spirits are banded together in a common enterprise."
To every man is appointed a particular work. That makes him distinct among all other men. His reward at least will be "according as his work had been." He cannot escape responsibility to the "least of these my brethren." He not only hears the sayings of Jesus but goes forth as a doer, and putting them into practice, builds on the rock that withstands the storm.
He ceases to be just an ordinary person. He "is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do."—Education, p. 17. Being an individual, as was each Spartan under Leonidas at Thermopylae, he, like those Greeks, unites his strength with that of others to become part of a mighty defense or of a conquering force.
He develops a becoming fearlessness and self-confidence that makes him a force in the cause he accepts as his own. He dares to open new doors and cross high thresholds into unexplored but conquerable areas of thought and achievement. The final assessment of his worth will be determined by the imponderable forces that have surged through his mind and heart and possessed them.