Wrecks on the Burma Road

 •  28 min. read  •  grade level: 6
I have just traveled the famous 'Burma Road' from Lashio in Upper Burma to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in China. It is about seven hundred miles of a truly wonderful road. I have never had such a drive in my life before. One mountain range after another had to be crossed, with rivers and streams between, some of them wide and swift and deep and dangerous. Indeed the greater part of the road was one of extreme danger. One skid, one mistake in judgment of the driver, one failure on the part of the truck, and we might have been gone.
We went through the pass in the top of the mountains above the Salween River at about two in the afternoon, and for four hours we went down, down, till we crossed the bridge at five minutes after six. We saw the broken timber and splintered wreckage showing where it had been bombed by the Japanese only a few days before; and we marveled at the courage and ingenuity of the Chinese as they kept the bridges clear, and the road open. Wrecked houses near the bridge, shell craters by the roadside, and numberless scars on the rocky hillside, told of the fierce attacks that had only succeeded in holding up the traffic for a day or two. But the road down the hillside impressed me almost more than the bridge itself. Much of it is cut out of the side of vast precipices that yawn far below, apparently thousands of feet of sheer drop, without a thing in the world to keep a truck from going over the edge. The curves, the hairpin bends, the terrible grades all add their dangers, not to speak of the new roadbed, and the possibility of its collapse, or the danger of landslides from above.
Indeed the whole road appeared to be fraught with the gravest danger, and one impossible obstacle after another seemed to loom before us to block the way, and yet a way had been made that covered the whole distance from start to finish. It was a wonderful trip, but the saddest part about it was the sight of so many wrecks strewn all along the road. I was forcibly reminded of the pathway of life, and the wrecks I have seen upon it. Many a time during that drive did the words of the old hymn come to my mind:
“Christian walk carefully, Danger is near!”
And yet there is a way by which any good truck, and careful driver, may go in safety from Lashio to Kunming. And there is a way by which the Christian may walk in safety without even a stumble (Jude 2424Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, (Jude 24) —New Translation) from earth to Heaven.
Why then, the wrecks? That is the question I asked myself as each wreck came in sight, and I would like to try to tell you of some of the causes. If they would act as a warning note to any fellow-traveler, how thankful the writer would be.
One of the saddest of the wrecks all along the road, was that of the new truck (almost nothing but trucks travel this road). It had a new body, freshly painted, bright and gay. New tires, new engine and all the equipment that was needed for the journey had been provided. There were drums of gas on board, enough to provide power all along the way. And yet the journey was hardly begun before it was a wreck. And why? It reminded me of a young Christian, equipped with all that loving heart and hands could give for the journey of life! Provided with a mighty Power, sufficient for all the road, right to the end. And yet that young life had hardly started, with such fair and bright promise, before it was a wreck. And why?
I suppose that the Bible tells us plainly the primary cause of all wrecks of life, and we, every one of us, do well to consider earnestly its warning voice. We read in 1 Tim. 1:1919Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: (1 Timothy 1:19), the following words: "Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith, have made shipwreck." "A good conscience!" Of what inestimable worth is a good conscience. There is nothing that can take its place.
There is no price high enough to cause us to part with a good conscience. And, if we do put away a good conscience, we may be sure that a wreck will follow.
Ever bearing in mind this primary cause of wrecks, let us travel together the Burma Road, and see if we can discover some of the causes for the wrecks upon it; and learn if we can, some lessons from it.
Perhaps the commonest cause of all for wrecks is the disregard of the clear and unequivocal warnings that meet us all along the way. For example, one of the most frequent signs that we meet, clearly painted in red and white, is a picture of a motor horn, and below the words: 'SOUND YOUR HORN'. We had some narrow escapes through disregarding this warning. It is one of the commonest temptations we, as Christians, have in life. We can always find an excuse for not sounding our horn; not letting people know Whose we are and Whom we serve, for not confessing with our mouths the Name of our Lord and Master before men. The time is not opportune. The place is not suitable: in truth, we are ashamed of our Lord, and a wreck is likely to follow. You remember the terrible wreck poor Peter had through this cause, and there has been many a wreck along the road of life since his day, from that same failure.
We had another very narrow escape through a somewhat allied cause. It was a frightfully dark night, not a star to be seen, when suddenly our lights failed. We were in one of the most dangerous parts of the road high up in the mountains, with mist and clouds floating in to add to the darkness. There were sharp turns and high precipices all about us. Through the mercy of God we were going slowly, and the driver was able to stop almost instantly, so we were not wrecked. But we do need to remember the words of the Lord Jesus: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven." (Matt. 5:1616Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)). It is not enough to have our mouths alone confess; that is good, but the life must show forth Christ. We must see to it that men can see something in our lives that they have not got, so that they will glorify (not us, but) our Father which is in Heaven. We need lights, and we need to see that the lights are kept burning through this dark world.
And speaking of the mists and clouds that helped to darken the road on the dark nights, reminds me that even in the day they form a danger. One day when high up in the mountains we ran right into a cloud. We could see it before us, and I confess that I feared as we entered into the cloud. We had to slow down: we put on our lights, but they did not help much. You remember the disciples of old "feared as they entered into the cloud." (Luke 9:3434While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. (Luke 9:34)). These clouds that come along the path of life are terribly frightening things. One cannot see even one step ahead at times, and who can tell what there may be lurking in that cloud? I suppose most of us have feared as we have entered into the cloud. But you remember the disciples. There came a voice out of the cloud, saying, "This is my beloved Son; hear Him!" To tell the truth, many a cloud has come in my own life, clouds of perplexities so that I could not tell the way at all. Then it is best to stand still, and instead of a fearful enemy hiding in that cloud, we too will likely hear a well-known voice from it directing our hearts back to the One we love, to God's beloved Son, and the gentle admonition, "Hear Him!" And you remember the end of the story told us in another Gospel, they saw no man any more, save JESUS ONLY with themselves. Blessed company! Blessed clouds that shut the distractions out, and shut us in with Him alone!
Another warning post that often appeared on the Burma Highway bore a picture like this: ] [ and below the words, 'NARROW ROAD'. Disregard of this sign has wrecked many a life, perhaps especially amongst the young. The wide road is so much easier to travel, but the pathway to the Glory is a narrow pathway. There is only room for one at a time here, and you must keep to the center of the road, or you will likely go over the bank. I know there are those who make their boast of being broad: and let our hearts and our affections be as broad as the glorious old verse, John-Three-Sixteen; but let us see to it that our feet walk in the narrow road. May the Lord help us ever to remember the tremendous importance of that signboard, 'NARROW ROAD'.
There was another sign I often noticed: a very large exclamation mark, and below was written, BE CAREFUL, DANGER'. There is many a spot on the road you and I are traveling where this sign appears. The Book of Proverbs is full of signs of this kind for young folks on the road of life. On the Burma Road, it often happened that there was a very sharp turn, and beyond the turn, before there was time to prepare for it, lay some unexpected danger, and if the sign was disregarded, a wreck was likely to follow. And the enemy has his traps hidden round the corners in our lives: some special temptation that comes swiftly upon us, before we are aware, and alas, unprepared for it by disregarding the warning given by the Maker of the road, and then down we go and are wrecked.
One of the commonest causes of wrecks was not really the fault of the road at all, but entirely the fault of the drivers. I refer to the constant collisions between two trucks. It reminded me of the constant collisions that we may see between fellow-Christians. I am ashamed to say I have been in this sort of trouble myself, and indeed I fear it is a most common occurrence but one full of the gravest danger. James 3:1616For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. (James 3:16) says, "Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work." In fact, it is a wreck. Envying and strife, quarrels and disputes with our brethren wreck our own lives, and generally wreck our brother's life also. So do beware of collisions!
Another cause of trouble, and sometimes a cause of a wreck, was a certain class of driver who never would give the other truck its fair share of the road. If this class of driver had to pass another truck, he would generally force the other into the ditch, or dangerously near the edge of the cliff; or if the other truck refused to take the chance of accident this way, the two trucks probably clashed as they passed, and both trucks emerged, scratched and often broken. Selfishness in our lives is often a cause of a wreck, both to ourselves and to our brother. How different to the spirit of Eph. 4:1-31I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1‑3). "I therefore the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." If we will but heed those few words, they will save us from many a wreck along the way.
And then there was that most dangerous of spots, the slippery road. It looked right enough, but suddenly before the truck could stop, there was a skid, and a wreck. It brought to my mind those words, "the deceitfulness of sin." Sin may often appear outwardly right enough. We think we see "an angel of light", but in reality it is the Evil One himself. And before we are aware of it, sin has deceived us and has wrecked our lives. You remember how he wrecked our first parents in this way! Do beware of the slippery places. Asaph knew about them when he wrote, "My steps had well nigh slipped," (Psa. 33) when he found himself envying the wicked. And you recall the awful wreck in David's life caused by one look in the wrong direction, and he slipped.
I only got as far as this in thinking about the wrecks when I was interrupted, and now we are on the return journey from Kunming to Lashio, over the same road. We have passed more wrecks, fresh wrecks, since we passed this way before. As I write we are taking refuge from Japanese airplanes, as there was an alarm an hour ago. We are hidden near great rocks, and have little to fear. But this is another constant danger that is ever hanging over travelers on this Burma Road. Those bombs from the air remind me of "the arrows of the Wicked One," or "the fiery darts of the Wicked One" (Eph. 6). We can praise God that we have a safe refuge from these arrows and darts, even behind the shield of faith. They have never pierced that shield yet, and never will, for true faith rests in Christ Himself, and He has overcome that Wicked One; but those darts are terribly real as most of us have proved to our sorrow, when we have let down the shield of faith for even a moment. You remember the old story of Christian and Faithful, and how Giant Despair got them into his castle, and kept them there till they recalled the 'key of faith'. That key of faith was like our shield of Faith, and sorry work the enemy makes of us, if we forget to hide behind that mighty shield. But as long as we are hidden there, the arrows and darts of the Wicked One will do us no more harm than would the bombs of the Japanese were they to drop them on top of the mighty rock under which we are taking refuge as I write this.
One of the most solemn monuments along the road is the scorched steel wreckage of a Chevrolet truck. It was an almost new truck, I was told, and had a cargo of sixteen drums of gasoline. Beside the poor wreck are the charred remains of three houses. What happened? The driver undertook to fill his gasoline tanks by the light of a candle. "Fool!" you say. Yes, he was a fool. But I saw drivers filling their gas tanks with lighted cigarettes in their mouths. They deserved the same fate, but were mercifully spared. But this man must have known better. How could he take such a chance to lose so much by one act of folly? But how many a life is wrecked in just the same way! One act of folly, and in a moment long and useful years are wrecked! It reminded me of the old proverb—'Playing with fire'. Dear fellow-traveler, let me warn you with all the earnestness that I possess, never, NEVER play with sin. Sin is something with which you may not trifle. How we would shudder, as I did, when we saw drivers filling their tanks with lighted cigarettes in their mouths. How should we shudder as we see a young man or a young woman 'playing with sin'! It will surely end in an awful wreck. Do not do it. A candle is such a little thing. Who would have guessed it could have wrought such awful havoc? So it is with sin. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil, not to play with it. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth. And perhaps the saddest part of all is that it was not only the truck and cargo that were lost, but three houses, and all that was in them went down as well. How often we drag down other lives in our own fall. Let us, dear fellow-traveler, seek by the Grace of God, never to 'play with Fire'.
Another fatal cause of wrecks was the drink. It brought to my mind the words directed to us, "Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit." (Eph. 5:1818And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; (Ephesians 5:18)). A friend of mine on this same road was traveling with an Indian driver. All went well at first. He was a good and careful man. But as the day wore on, he felt the need of a little stimulant, and then a little more. It was not long before they ended up in a wreck. And it is so amazingly easy for the Christian to get intoxicated. I do not mean with wine or whiskey, though he is not by any means exempt even from them. But I have found that I can get `drunk' through an exciting book, or even in conversation with a friend. I imagine we all of us need to watch ourselves in this matter though no doubt some of us are more addicted to this danger than others. Let us then "watch and be sober!”
And another common cause of wrecks is weariness. The driver keeps on longer than his physical strength can stand, and he sometimes falls asleep at the wheel, or else with brain and body exhausted, he is unable to meet an emergency, and even with the best intentions in the world, he is wrecked. A friend of mine was driving on this road, when he saw a car coming towards him. He sounded his horn, he drove to one side of the road as far as he was able, but the car still came on and in a moment had crashed into his radiator. The driver was sound asleep. We all need to watch this danger. You recall how the disciples slept when they should have been praying, and it was a terrible wreck for all of them, as they forsook their Master and fled. Let us not, then, sleep as do others, but let us watch unto prayer. And let us take heed, too, as we find our bodies, the temples of the Holy Ghost, becoming too weary. His service is a service of rest, and though we may, like the Apostle of old, often know "weariness and painfulness," let us beware, if this becomes a condition. We are in grave danger of a wreck.
And then there were the cars all along the way that could not stand up to the terrible strain of the journey. It was most interesting to note the various makes of cars, and to see how they could endure. One or two makes always seemed to be in trouble, and if ever I have to buy a truck for the Burma Road, I know certain makes that I would not want, even as a gift.
The engines just could not take those hills -those long, long hills, going up, up, up, in low gear. The engine heated, the cooling system failed, and one might see drivers wildly seeking for water to cool them off. It reminded me of certain 'brands of Christianity', that just cannot stand the strain of life. As the Lord Jesus Christ said, "When tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended.”
And we passed many a truck with the driver down on his back in the mud repairing the springs. The load had been too heavy and the road too rough, and the springs had gone. It made me think of Christians out of whose lives the spring has gone. "The joy of the Lord" used to carry them over the rough places of life, but that has faded away, and there is many a jolt in life now. We do need the springs. "The joy of the Lord is your strength," and you and I just cannot keep up the journey without it. And we each one may have it. We broke two or three springs on our return journey, but we stopped right there and then, and did not try to carry on till they were fixed up. You recall the Holy Spirit by the Apostle John wrote us a letter in order that our "joy may be full." It is sin that saps away the joy of the Lord from our lives. The great apostle could be "sorrowful yet always rejoicing," and so may we have His joy even through sad and dark days, if sin has not come in. But we just cannot have His joy and a bad conscience at the same time. And in that little Epistle of John, you recall we are told what to do when we sin. "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." And again, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." (1 John 2:11My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: (1 John 2:1)). May the Lord help us to detect and judge and confess immediately, the least thing that comes in to mar that joy, and it will surprise us how much more easy life will be for us, as the joy of the Lord carries us up over the rough places.
And there were not a few broken axles. It is the axle that, in the end, has to take the load. And we may learn a lesson here too. The Lord invites us to cast our burden upon Himself. (Psa. 55:2323But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction: bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in thee. (Psalm 55:23)). If we do that, we need not fear that the heavy load of life will cause a break-down, leaving us a wreck by the roadside. Let us, then, heed Peter's admonition, and cast all our care upon Him, remembering ever, that "He careth for you.”
As we got higher up into the mountains, the cold sometimes grew very intense, especially at night: and sometimes I would be so numbed with cold that I could not walk, or even stand, when we stopped. The driver showed me a sure remedy for this: he said, "Just keep close to the engine that drives the truck, and you need never fear the cold: it will keep you warm." And I have found in my journey through this world, that sometimes I grow cold: sometimes, indeed very cold. Perhaps you have found the same thing. But there is a sure remedy. Keep close to the Lord who gives the power for the journey, and we need never feel the cold. His Love will keep us always warm.
There was one make of truck that I do not think I ever saw in difficulties. It was always going quickly on its way, so it was hard to read the name, but it started like this, 'Thorn...' and then I noticed it had these letters in it, `cro...'. And it brought to my mind that Cross, and that crown of thorns, and I remembered the words in 2 Cor. 4:1010Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:10) (New Translation), "Always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh." There is absolutely no danger of a wreck as long as we heed those words, and though this make of truck appeared to be carrying the heaviest loads of all, as I remarked, I do not recall seeing one that had failed. There is no way like the Way of the Cross'. May the Lord help us not to shrink from it, but to take up our cross daily, and to follow Him.
I have not told you of these observations along the Burma Road to discourage anybody. Quite the reverse. And most, perhaps I should say, all those wrecks got safe home at last. There was one poor fellow we passed, standing gazing at his truck in utter despair. He was alone, and as the Old Book says, "Two are better than one... for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up," (Eccl. 4:9, 109Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. 10For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9‑10)); and so most trucks carried two men; and so the Lord sent them forth, two and two. Well, this poor fellow was alone, and his truck had evidently been unable to take a terribly steep bit of hill on a sharp curve, and the truck had slipped backwards, and the back of it had struck a great rocky cliff. All the end of the truck was smashed and broken. A drum of gasoline weighing over four hundred pounds had fallen off, and was lying in the road. It all looked so hopeless, and the driver was so discouraged that he looked as if in utter despair. Yet that truck passed us later on, and got 'home' first.
As I have been writing, two Indians have been trying to mend the body of their truck; a nice new one, but with all the back corner of the body broken to bits. And almost beside me is a poor old truck that looks as if it could never 'make port'. The body is old and broken, and tied together with old wire and rope. The bottom is partly gone, and straw matting is stuffed into the hole to keep things from falling out. The fenders are all broken, or rusted away. I saw the poor old thing in Cumming, and thought it was on its way to the scrap heap; but it keeps going, and is doing the work just as well as some of the fresh new ones. It reminded me of some of those dear old saints, poor and worn out, despised by the world and by their brethren, but still laboring for their Lord. What a story that old truck could tell. And it may be there will be a far brighter reward for some of these dear old despised saints, than for others who can make a greater show.
There was one specially sad wreck. It was almost a new truck, and was almost at the end of its journey. It seemed to have come through without a scratch on its new paint. And then, on a straight road, with no apparent reason, there it lay, down a bank, its rear wheels in a river, and its front wheels hopelessly sticking in the air, as if its hands were spread out in hopeless despair. What was the cause? A word explains it: `Self-confidence'! It had done so well for more than six hundred miles. It had traveled all the hard parts in safety, and now, proud of its own attainments, down it went. And SELF-CONFIDENCE is the cause of not a few wrecks on the road of life.
But there was one more truck that I saw on that road, and I have been just longing to tell you about it, but I wanted to keep it for the very end. When I first saw it, I could not think what it was. It was quite different to all the other trucks. It was so big, and so strong, and it did not have a load of gasoline drums or cases or bags, as the rest of us had. And then I noticed in a great circle one Chinese character. I don't know many Chinese characters, but I recognized this one easily enough. It was like this: [illustration] and that character is the very character that we Christians use in the Chinese Bible for 'Savior'. True, we use another character with it, so that our translation might strictly be said to mean, SAVING LORD; but the only way that character on that truck could be translated is, I believe, 'Savior'. Yes, this was the `Savior Truck'. It was fitted with a great strong crane that could lift a poor wreck out of the ditch. It had powerful winches, and I saw it back up to the very edge of the road, unwind its great cables and send them down the steep precipice to where a poor wreck lay far below, and then draw that poor broken truck right up to itself. And my heart leaped for joy as I saw that truck, and I remembered that the very same Savior Who first lifted us out of sin and misery, and washed us and cleansed us, and made us His Own, is the One Who is caring for us all along the journey of life, and He has a special, tender care for the poor wrecks by the roadside, who have made such a failure of the journey set before them. Do you remember how tenderly He sought out Peter, and never rested till He had him safe back on the road, fully restored? And you remember John Mark, and the wreck he made, but what a grand end he had, as author of the second Gospel! And then you remember that the Lord Himself told us that those that are whole need not a physician, but those that are sick; so the Lord came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Just so was it with the 'Savior Truck'. I did not see it paying the slightest attention to any of the trucks that were in good shape, and able to carry on; but just as soon as a truck got into trouble, then the 'Savior Truck' went after it. As far as I could see there was no question as to whether it was the driver's own fault; the whole question was, "Is the truck wrecked?" And it was the wreck alone that brought the 'Savior Truck' along. And so we read, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." And if I look at my Greek Testament, I find that word 'Advocate', is Parakleton', and the literal meaning is, 'One called alongside to help', just exactly like the 'Savior Truck' on the Burma Road, called alongside to help a poor wreck that (through its own carelessness) had gone over the edge and was broken and shattered with the cargo scattered all about; and there helpless, and despairing, the 'Savior Truck' found it, put it back on the road again, fixed up the damaged parts, loaded on the cargo once more, and sent it on its way; or, if the damage was too bad for that, it just lifted the poor broken truck onto itself, and took it home.
Dear fellow-traveler on the road of life, have you had an accident? Has there been a wreck? Is it all your own fault? Have you sinned, and is there nothing before you but a ruined life? Call the 'Savior Truck' alongside to help. "We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Call on Him. That is why the 'Savior Truck' is on the road. That is why we have an Advocate with the Father; and the Advocate is the One Whom we have already learned to know as Savior.
But here the picture breaks down. As the trucks got home, many of them showed scars and scratches; they were battered and bruised, and showed all too plainly the signs of the long hard journey they had made. But with us, it is different. He will present His Own to Himself, "a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." All the sin and the failure will be gone. Not a trace of the wilderness journey to remind us of the wrecks and the falls. But we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.
“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be kept safe from wrath through Him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be kept safe by His life." (Rom. 5:7-107For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. 10For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:7‑10); See Moule)
“But to Him that is able to keep you without stumbling, and to set you with exultation blameless before His glory, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, might, and authority, from before the whole age, and now, and to all the ages." Amen! (Jude 2323And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. (Jude 23), 25, New Translation.)