You Can See It in Their Very Faces
I had a fellow elder in Darlington, Clifford Scurr, who often expressed the conviction that living Christianity reflected itself in people’s very faces. It was something I was occasionally struck with myself – at least by force of contrast. A duty that fell to me to fulfil from time to time was to take funerals attended largely by people who weren’t Christians. And I could see just by looking at them that it was so. In an indefinable way it showed in their faces. As a pastor it was my privilege, every Sunday, to stand in front of a group of people who had been born again and truly loved the Lord. At these funeral services I could tell the difference. There was a hardness in the faces (I don’t know how else to express it) that was missing when I looked into the faces of my congregants.
A little while back I read a sermon on Christ’s transfiguration which brought these Darlington memories to mind again. The writer’s theme is the transfiguration that grace brings about in believers – first in the soul, and then in the face. He illustrates it from the observations of foreign missionaries:
‘Every traveller in heathen lands,’ he says [he is preaching this in the early 1900s], ‘is struck by the heathen face.’ As examples he then instances ‘the proud, and secretive, and sensual look of the Brahmin . . . the gross and brutish countenances of the African . . . the animal greed which is imprinted on the very lips of the South Sea Islander, and stamped on the poor and bleared faces of those decaying races which are the victims of their hates and lusts.’ Their appearance, however, can be transformed. ‘Let the Gospel of the redeeming love of Christ be preached to them. Let that change we call “the new birth” pass within their souls. Let grace begin to rule in their hearts,’ and it will show itself in their faces. ‘For a man to pass into a meeting of renewed heathen out of the streets of a Chinese city, or from amidst the thronged ways of an Indian village, is to see at a glance that the transfigured soul has been expressed in the transfigured face’.1
Later in the sermon he comments on ‘old age,’ and how it is
not always sweet and kindly and gracious. It is sometimes crabbed, exacting, selfish, exhausting even the patience of those who love. Many old faces have hard lines, grim angles, cold and cruel aspects. They reflect what the man has become in his soul. They are the faces of men who are self-centred, unloving, and unhelpful.2
You have seen such faces, as I have. And you have seen the opposite as well – faces that in their sweetness, gentleness, peace, and radiance reflect a heart and life long and deeply devoted to Christ.
The believer himself, of course, is unconscious of such beauty. Moses, after forty days of communion with God, ‘was not aware that his face was radiant’ (Exod. 34:29), and of the transfiguring power of grace in his very looks the believer in Christ is similarly unaware. But it is a reality, and all the more impressive when, in Paul’s words, the believer is ‘outwardly . . . wasting away’ (2 Cor. 4:16).
As humans we pay a great deal of attention to how we look, and up to a point it is proper that we should. Others, after all, have to look at us! A lengthened and deepening intimacy with Christ, however, will do something for your face no cosmetics can compete with, something no wrinkles can hide. You won’t see it when you look in the mirror. But others may see it – perhaps in contrast with the face of someone far from God. If they do, your very face will make you a blessing to them – and a praise to God.
- W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, pp. 186-7.
- Ibid., p. 188.
David Campbell is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
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