The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke


Henry Van Dyke’s masterpiece, “The Mansion” features one John Weightman, a man of fortune, a dispenser of political power, a successful citizen. The extended version of his story is preferred but below is the cryptic tale with an almost equally powerful message.

“One evening John sat in his library in a comfortable chair contemplating his wealth. Before him were spread descriptions and pictures of the Weightman wing of the hospital and the Weightman Chair of Political Jurisprudence, as well as an account of the opening of the Weightman Grammar School. John Weightman felt satisfied. He had built a large fortune, and when he gave, he wanted to be recognized. His philosophy toward giving could be summed up in his own statement: “No pennies in beggars’ hats! … Try to put your gifts where they can be identified.”

He picked up the family Bible which lay on the table, turned to a passage, and read to himself the words:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19–20). The book seemed to float away from him. He leaned forward upon the table, his head resting on his folded hands. He slipped into a deep sleep.

As he dreamed, John Weightman was transported to the heavenly city. A guide met him and others whom he had known in life and advised that he would conduct them to their heavenly homes.
A devoted husband of an invalid wife was shown a lovely mansion, as was a mother, early widowed, who reared an outstanding family. A paralyzed young woman who had lain for 30 years upon her bed—“helpless but not hopeless”—received a lovely mansion. She had succeeded “by a miracle of courage in her single aim, never to complain, but always to impart a bit of her joy and peace to everyone who came near her.”

Pausing before a beautiful mansion, the guide said, “This is [the home] for you, [Dr. McLean.] Go in; there is no more [sickness] here, no more death, nor sorrow, nor [pain]; for your old enemies are all conquered. But all the good that you have done for others, all the help that you have given, all the comfort that you have brought, all the strength and love that you bestowed upon the suffering, are here; for we have built them all into this mansion for you.”
One after another the travelers were led to their own mansions and went in gladly; and from within, through the open doorways, came sweet voices of welcome.

By this time, John Weightman was impatient to see what mansion awaited him. As he and the guide walked on, the homes became smaller. At last they reached an open field, bare and lonely looking. In the center of the field was a tiny hut. Said the guide, “This is your mansion, John Weightman.”

Shocked, John Weightman told the guide that he must have confused him with some other John Weightman. With resentment in his voice, he cried, “Is this a suitable mansion for one so well known and devoted? Why is it so pitifully small and mean? Why have you not built it large and fair, like the others?”

Replied the guide, “That is all the material you sent us.”

John Weightman was mortified. “Have you not heard that I have built a school-house; the wing of a hospital; … three … churches.”
“Wait,” the guide cautioned. “… They were not ill done. But they were all marked and used as foundations for the name and mansion of John Weightman in the world. … Verily, you have had your reward for them. Would you be paid twice?”
A sadder but wiser John Weightman posed a sincere question: “What is it that counts here?”
Came the reply: “Only that which is truly given. … Only that good which is done for the love of doing it. Only those plans in which the welfare of others is the master thought. Only those labors in which the sacrifice is greater than the reward. Only those gifts in which the giver forgets himself.”

The voice trailed off as John Weightman was awakened by the sound of the clock chiming the hour. “Thin, pale strips of the city morning were falling into the room through the narrow partings of the heavy curtains.” He had slept the night through. Changed by the message of his dream, he yet had a life to live, love to share, and gifts to give.”

Old violin

The Touch Of the Master’s Plan


Who hasn’t heard, or read, or seen a rendition of Myra Welch’s “Touch of the Master’s Hand”. It reads:

T’was battered and scarred, and the auctioneer

Thought it scarcely worth his while

To waste much time on the old violin,

But held it up with a smile.

“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,

“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”

“A dollar, a dollar,” then, two! Only two?

“Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?

“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;

Going for three . . . “But no,

From the room, far back, a grey haired man

Came forward and picked up the bow;

Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,

And tightening the loose strings,

He played a melody pure and sweet

As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,

With a voice that was quiet and low,

Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”

And he held it up with the bow.

“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?

Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?

Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice;

And going and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,

“We do not quite understand

What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:

“The touch of a master’s hand.”

And many a man with life out of tune,

And battered and scarred with sin,

Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,

Much like the old violin.

A “mess of potage,” a glass of wine;

A game, and he travels on.

He is “going” once, and “going” twice,

He’s “going” and almost “gone.”

But the Master comes and the foolish crowd

Never can quite understand

The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought

By the touch of the Master’s hand.

It was Ms. Welch’s poem that came to mind on a cold bright wintry Sunday morning many years ago. I had taken my twelve-year-old Sunday School class to a local nursing home where we had regularly been visiting an older man who had no family. My class and I walked across the street from the chapel to visit him for the last time as I was moving the next week. It was December and the nursing home was in full regal. The tinsel and decorations were up and Christmas music filled the air. My class and I sat and talked with our friend for a while and then we gave him some gifts. He graciously accepted them then motioned to me to follow him to his room as he had a gift for us. My class of about ten youth and I piled into his tiny cramped room. The old man went directly to his small closet and pulled out, to my amazement, a violin. It was old and looked to be in need of repair. He smiled and started to tune it. I guess I had read Ms. Welch’s story too often, because my mind started to conjure up images of this old man playing the violin like a professional. This was going to be a special treat, I thought.

Then he placed the violin under his chin and started to play. The notes didn’t float nor sound in tune, but they squeaked and pitched and fought the air. I grimaced! “Yikes”, I remember thinking. But the longer he played the more recognizable the song became. He was playing “I am a Child of God”. I don’t know what happened next for sure, but I think the master’s hand passed right over that violin and touched something much more important; my heart! As I watched the old man’s face shine, and listened to the rendition of that Hymn on his violin, the caustic sound transformed into a perfect melody. I’ve heard and sung that hymn thousands of times over my lifetime. But only once have I experienced such power and beauty in its performance as I did that day. His performance reminded me that the “master’s” plan is all about worshipping Him, which is usually done by serving our fellowmen. What did the Savior teach us? “…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40) What I learned that day was that sometimes the “least of these my brethren”, end up teaching us powerful lessons about the attributes of Jesus Christ. I am sure that old gentleman has long since left this earth. But his performance has lingered in my heart to this day, a testimony that the smallest gifts of service can last long after we have departed this life and that no matter who we are, we can always be an instrument in the hands of the Lord by touching others lives through his master plan!


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The Shattered Music Box (The Drummer Boy Played On!)


A few years ago I was preparing to teach an early morning religious class for our youth. It was centered on the gift of “spikenard” that Mary used to anoint the head and feet of the Savior just prior to his death. The lesson asked the instructor to bring to class a memorable “gift” that they had been given, and then tell the class about the gift and its background. I immediately thought of several, one of which was a porcelain music box statue of “The Little Drummer Boy” one of my sisters gave to me almost thirty years ago. I dug through our Christmas decorations and there it was. I listened to its chime sounding the familiar tune.

Early the next morning, around 5AM, I put my cherished statue on the back seat of the car and then drove to the church building. It was a typical winter day; dark and cold. I pulled into the parking lot, got out and opened the back door of the car to get my things. To my horror, as soon as I opened the door, the “Little Drummer Boy” fell out of the car door and crashed onto the pavement. Pieces went flying all over the parking lot pavement. I stood there surveying the horrible scene in disbelief! Splinters of porcelain were everywhere! I just couldn’t believe it! The drummer boy’s body was in four pieces and the base was in five pieces! The musical components were completely exposed. My grief was mixed with the need to get ready for my class. My first thought was to toss the pieces into the garbage; yet I hesitated. I so loved it. Quickly I gathered up as many pieces as I could see. I placed them in the car and went in to teach the class.

Upon returning home, I painstakingly began the “reconstruction” of “The Little Drummer Boy”. I was mad and sad as I started to glue each piece together. Eventually “The Little Drummer Boy” took on shape. In the end, half an arm was missing and cracks were visible in several locations. A few splinters of porcelain were still sitting on the table, with no logical place in which to glue them. Still, he looked pretty good! I slowly picked it up and surveyed it from all angles. Then I gently wound it up. The sweet melody of the music was still the same. It floated on the air and I sat back and enjoyed it. As battered as my drummer boy looked, the music he played was still as sweet and rewarding as before. Maybe I could find another one on the internet, but, well… it wouldn’t be the same! I will guard him a little better, next time!

And so, the lesson I learned that morning is that sometimes life treats us like “the little drummer boy.” Many times we come out of trials and events looking haggard and worn. Perhaps we are missing an arm or leg or a foot. Splinters of our life might be in the parking lot or we can’t make sense of what’s left of it all! But the Savior will not throw us into the garbage because he loves us infinitely more than I love my music box, and he will help us put our lives back together. We may not look the same; we may not feel the same. But we can play the same beautiful melody that we have always played! We can still bless the lives of others! Look to the Savior for healing. Look for His saving grace! We can still be a “thing” of beauty, even in moments of great tragedy!



The ‘Good News’ Lives!


The two men stood together gazing at the crowd coming towards them. “Here he comes! Look at him. Who does he think he is, coming back to town while pretending to be someone who he isn’t! You and I know him, he grew up here. He was nothing special. He came from a background of simple means just like us. Yet, look at him. He pretends to be something he is not. So many people follow him and speak such wonderful things of him. But, we know better. He is not so special. I hear he speaks very well, and says the most outlandish things. They say he speaks with power, but I don’t care. I say he is a deceiver and is up to no good. A hometown boy who has worked his charm on so many, yet we know who he really is. I even worked with his father many years ago for a time. I once courted his sister. There is nothing special about that family!”

Just then a woman approached them with joy in her heart. “Is it him?” “Yes,” came the disgusted reply, “It’s him alright.” The women thanked them, and then ran out to greet the crowd. “What a fool!” said the one, as the other laughed. The two men slowly turned and strode towards town.

As they walked to Nazareth, one astonishingly said to the other, “Can you believe the things he preaches?” “No,” came the reply, “and neither will anyone else. The ‘good news,” is that he and his message will be forgotten by tomorrow. Of that I am certain.”

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) The Greek word for gospel means “good news.” The good news is that Jesus Christ lives and that he has made an atonement that will redeem all mankind from death and reward each individual according to his works.

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