An Astonishing Change

In joy something goes out from oneself to the universe.

— RICHARD HOOKER

*    *    *    *    *

   Two thousand years ago there appeared on this planet a Person who brought about an astonishing change in the quality of life among human beings. Whatever this Person had, it was unique. It set Him apart and made Him utterly fascinating to others. For a few brief years He appeared in the villages and towns of Palestine, which at the time were under Roman occupation. Then He disappeared, although some of His close followers claimed they had reason to believe He was and is still around.

   Remarkable actions were attributed to Him, but He wrote no epics and raised no monuments. In early youth He seems to have worked with His hands. Later He taught, prayed, and healed, as many prophets had done before Him and have done since then. That He had noble character and personal charm, and uttered many wise things that people have been saying ever since, could be said also of others.

   Yet for this Person to be endowed with such universal appeal required something very special to attach to Him. The world has never forgotten Him. His name is on someone's lips

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every second of time; in fact, time is dated from His birth. A billion human beings today claim to be His followers, and most of them are convinced that He is the Author of their personal salvation.

   But if there was "something special" about Him, in what did it consist? Gilbert Chesterton tells us that He had a secret. But what secret? I believe you may find it in the pages that follow. It has been divulged before, but still many people appear not to have found it. Even among some of those who have risen to high eminence in His service, it is still, tragically, a secret. Some people are known to live earnest and godly lives. They perform wonderful deeds and achieve mighty goals that bring abundant blessings to the human race. It seems inexplicable that they should miss the secret, but the fact is that they do.

   What makes this all so strange is that it is an open secret, spread throughout the New Testament for everyone to read. It may not be spelled out on every page, for a very good reason; and yet its effect can be felt all through the 27 books and letters. It is a secret that explains, more than anything else, the grip that this Person has held upon the lives of ordinary mankind and womankind for these two millennia. It also helps to explain what God had in mind when He created the universe and placed humans in it.

   Millions of human beings today are going through a very hard time. They know something is wrong. Instinct tells them there is something better for them than what they are having to put up with, but they seem helpless to attain it.

Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die.1

   Lily Tomlin, the television comedienne who rose to television fame through her unforgettable portrayals in "Laugh-in," made this statement in an interview that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle: "In a world where so many things are brutalizing and desensitizing, maybe we yearn to make something that fills us with a kind of elation, a sense of something joyful or

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lovely, a sense of inspiration. Anything to make us rise above this banal, animalistic, low-grade, diminished, cockroach level."2

   I do not pretend to possess any special credentials or qualifications for this effort to "make something." But of what use are credentials when one is writing about the mind of the One who operates the cosmos? You may be certain that I have discovered nothing new. The secret has been there all the time, and while some people have found it, many others haven't.

   Back in 1870 a young American sailed to England with that secret. One person who heard him preach said of him that "he exulted in the free grace of God. His joy was contagious. Men leaped out of darkness into light, and lived a Christian life afterwards." Those words came from an English pastor, R.W. Dale, and the man he described was Dwight L. Moody.

   This "open secret" seems to have a special effect on other people. As for us, it has no direct effect on our standing with God, or our sanctification or glorification, but it has a lot to do with how we enjoy these privileges.

   That is what this book is all about.

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1. Alfred Tennyson, "In Memoriam."

2. San Francisco Chronicle, July 13, 1990.

Chapter 2 || Table of Contents