The Divine Magnet
( Originally Published 1895 )
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. "—John xii. 32.
PROBABLY the largest and strongest magnet in the world of a physical sort is that at Willet's Point, New York. It came to be made by accident. Major King happened to see two large Dahlgren guns lying unused side by side on the dock. He immediately conceived the idea that a magnet of enormous power could be constructed by means of the cannon, with submarine cable wound around them. The magnet stands about ten feet from the ground, is eighteen feet long, and has eight miles of cable wound about the upper part of the guns. It takes a force of twenty-five thou-sand pounds to pull off the armature. A crowbar applied to the magnet required the combined force of four strong men to tear it away. A seemingly impossible experiment was performed with some fifteen-inch cannon-balls. They were solid, and as much as a strong man could lift, yet the magnet held several of them suspended in the air, one under the other.
But that is an insignificant magnet compared to that about which we are to talk tonight—a magnet which is to draw men's wills, their hearts and affections, from all else toward this common center. Bishop Simpson said that in his boyhood he never could understand the prophecy which declares that the church of Christ shall be established on the top of a mountain and all nations shall flow unto it. He could not understand how the flowing would be up-hill. But he went one day into the workshop of a friend and saw in the dust a parcel of steel filings. His friend had a magnet, and as he drew it near to the steel filings they were attracted to it and kissed the magnet. Then said Simpson, " Give me a magnet large enough, place it on the mountain-top, and it will draw all nations unto it."
It is the sublime claim of Jesus Christ that he is that magnetic center, and that the moral natures of the world will continue to be attracted and influenced by the heavenly magnetism within him-self until all are drawn to him—" And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."
Our first thought, then, is a reflection or question based upon a fact. Jesus the Christ has been lifted up these eighteen and a half centuries. That is a fact which no one doubts. The veriest infidel will admit that no other name stands so universally before the public gaze, that no other utterances are so carefully studied by the thinking nations of the world, as the utterances of him who is the author of this text. Now the question which I desire to ask in view of this fact is this,—Is there that in the teaching and character of Christ which is likely to attract men and women of the world to him? I confess that if this question could be answered in the negative, then my hopes of the triumph of Christianity would be prostrated. Well, let us see. What are the real wants of the human soul? What is likely to attract us?
I am sure that we will all agree that the first anxious longing of the soul is for sympathy. Life's hurts and disappointments begin early, and the home is established and arranged to meet this want. A mother's sympathy is proverbial because this side the gates of heaven there is nothing to compare with it in depth of feeling and comforting power. Tho throbbing heart which is the center of every new life yearns for this sympathy, and pines and languishes without it. Every great soul that has exerted powerful mastery over the better side of human nature has appreciated this want. An interesting incident is recorded of Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary. Once on some field of labor where hundreds came with their needs, their questions, and their heart-hungers, he was worn almost to utter exhaustion by days and nights of serving. At last he said to his attendant : " I must sleep, I must sleep ! If I do not, I shall die. If any one comes, whoever comes, waken me not. I must sleep." He then retired into his tent, and his faithful servant began his watch. It was not long, however, till a pallid face appeared at the door. Xavier beckoned eagerly to the watcher, and said in a solemn tone, " I made a mistake; I made a mistake. If a little child. comes, waken me."
Well, now the time comes when the mother and father can follow me no longer. The day comes when I feel the personality and loneliness of my life. I step over the borders of the home fireside and become one of the larger family of the world. Men find me in the way of their ambitiousdesigns, and lay on me the cruel hand of opposition. I make blunders in my unskilled use of the busy world's sharp tools, and am wounded and sore in my toil. My heart grows lonely and weary and anxious. Those I learn to love sicken and fade before my eyes. I watch them, and they go down to the grave, while my heart breaks and my hopes vanish. How my heart yearns for sympathy ! I look this way and that, but the same story is writ-ten in the wrinkles of every cheek. The skeleton is in every house. The hearse is in every street. Where shall I find sympathy or comfort? I grow timid and shrinking and afraid. Above all other things in the world I need comfort and sympathy, and in that hour Jesus Christ comes and stands before me with loving, kindly presence and says : " Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Do you think there is anything in that to attract a world heart-broken with its sorrows and griefs? Ah, you might as well ask, "Is there anything in the mother's loving arms to attract the lonely child crying in its fright?"
But that is only one of my wants. I find that in the struggle for life evil spots have clung to my robes. A deep-seated sore has been made in my moral nature. I have formed habits that are evil, and that already begin to dictate to me my course, so that "when I would do good, evil is present with me, and the evil I would not, that I do." And to my great alarm, as I advance in years and character forms into permanence, this adverse feeling toward the good, this overmastering passion toward the bad, these evil lusts and appetites, grow with the years and fasten themselves more firmly in control. t seems certain that these sins which are mastering me intend to hold the reins of my weakening will down to the end, and I can see no reason why they shall not vault the gulf of death and maintain their mastery on the other shore.
Joseph Cook quotes from the traveler Rancke a theory prevalent among the tribes of Greenland. Those men of the lonely North say that if a sorcerer will make a stirrup out of a strip of seal-skin, and wind it around his limbs, three times about his heart, thrice about his neck, seven times about his forehead, and then knot it before his eyes, that sorcerer, when the lamps are put out at night, may rise into space and fly whithersoever his leading passion dictates. So my poor soul puts itself into the stirrup of sin and rebellion against God. It coils the strands about itself. They are thrice wound about my heart, and three times around my neck, seven times around my forehead, and knotted before my eyes, and I can see no reason why, when the lamps are put out in my earthly life, I shall not rise into the unseen future and fly whithersoever that wicked, unholy passion dictates.
Who, then, shall free my soul from these evil bonds? How men have sought answers to that question, all history seeks to tell you. But they have sought in vain until, like Nicodemus, they have stood in the presence of Christ, and he has uttered his wondrous revelation, "Ye must be born again." He teaches us that men everywhere, high or low, ignorant or enlightened, partially moral or wholly degraded, without regard to class or caste, may under the forgiving influences of divine grace be in deed and in truth born again ; that it is possible that old things shall pass away and all things become new; that the evil mastery of the brute may be left behind, and the soul enter into the higher servantship of love and peace. Is there nothing in that, my brother, that will attract the soul, conscious of the cruel bondage of sin? So long as men hate slavery and love liberty, Christ will draw them to his victorious standard.
But I have still another great want. In an unexpected day a coffin comes gliding into my home, and when it goes out the light of my life goes with it. My breaking heart knocks against the walls of silence to find some doorway, or at least some answer to its questioning. Shall I see my beloved again?
I am to die. I know it. Sometimes I thrust it aside in the busy whirl of the day; but the consciousness lies down with me at night that I am here only for a few days. Soon I must go—ah, but where? Is there another life, or is the grave the end of all? Is the life of the flitting midge of evening, or of the poor foolish moth which extinguishes itself in my lamp, the symbol of my life—except that mine is a little longer? Is there naught of me but dust that shall return to dust? Or shall I live again? The mightiest hearts that have ever throbbed have quaked with terror in the presence of this all-absorbing problem.
This question finds its full and complete answer only in Jesus Christ. It is hinted at and suggested and implied in the Old Testament, but Jesus brought truth and immortality to light.
Many years ago, over here in Plymouth Church, Henry Ward Beecher painted a picture like this: You are a poor man and ignorant. There is a written document lying in a chest in your room. You cannot read the writing, and you do not know what that document contains, but you have a suspicion that by it you might become the inheritor of great fortune. You take it out sometimes and look at it, and vainly wish that you could read it; but you put it back without gaining any knowledge of its purport. By and by some kind friend, learned in the language in which it is written, comes to your home, and the document is taken out, and he examines it for you. He reads, and as he reads grows more and more attentive. He stops to ask you, " Who is your father? What was his father's name?" You are full of interest and impatience to know what its contents are, until, unable to control yourself, you cry out, " Tell me what it is. Do not hold me in suspense. What is the news?" At length he says, " Why, sir, do you know that whole estate is yours? Here is your title. This is a will. The evidence is unquestionable. You are a millionaire. Your poverty is gone." " Read it again !" you exclaim. " Read it aloud, so that I can hear the words ! Can it really be so?" Until at last you are convinced and enter into the sweet comfort of the knowledge.
So the world had heard whispers of immortality. There had been clouds and flaming chariots and vague, uncertain visions. But at last Christ came and opened to us God's will as it is revealed in the New Testament, and made known the wondrous treasures of our inheritance. He read it aloud to listening ears—" In my Father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that whore I am, you may be also"—until men caught up the refrain and have been preaching in every graveyard of earth that forever and ever man shall live.
So long as the life-boat will attract the sailor battling for his life amid the waves, just so long the glorious hope of immortality through Jesus Christ will charm men from their fears to his resurrected side.
And so we find that these great characteristics of our Savior have their echo deep down in the wants of human nature. Down at the mouth of the Columbia River are many great iron buoys anchored solidly in the bed of the ocean for the safety of the mariner. The sailor sails out past one of these buoys on his voyage and travels around the globe, and comes back after years of absence to be greeted by the same buoy, keeping its immovable watch. Since he last saw it the drift and float of a hundred storms have been washed past it on the current out to sea, yet it remains. It remains because it is not a mere drift, afloat on the surface of the water, but is anchored to the solid rock on the ocean-bed. So while the philosophies and speculation of men, and false religions, are swept from their moorings in the storms of the ages, and drift helplessly out to sea, the power and fame and gracious influence of Jesus Christ abide, and he multiplies his converts day by day, be-cause the great blessings with which his gracious hands are full meet those deep necessities and wants that are anchored in the very bed-rock of our being. And so long as man is man, and Christ is Christ, he and he only will be able to satisfy the longings of our immortal souls. My dear friends, I pray that you may yield to the heavenly magnetism that is tugging at your heart, and come to him even now !