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On September 1, 1894, in the deep woods of Minnesota, a huge forest fire came raging into a little lumber town named Hinckley. As walls of flame roared towards them, the terrified inhabitants raced in panic toward the railroad tracks, the only clear pathway through the forest.
As they ran wildly away from the town and its igniting buildings, they saw a passenger train heading down the tracks toward the town, bound for the city of St. Paul. Jim Root, the engineer at the throttle, saw the fire and thought that he could race past the inferno, but as he neared Hinckley he realized that it was too late. The trestle ahead had collapsed in flame.
Reversing his engine, Jim held his train there long enough to let the fleeing crowd of people clamber aboard. By the time the last person had climbed on, the flames were surrounding his train. Then it was full speed backward toward the nearest deep water, Skunk Lake, six miles back down the line.
Through a furnace of fiery flames they plunged. Overheated air exploded against the locomotive, and glass flew everywhere as the windows shattered. The baggage car caught fire, and their path led over burning railroad ties.
Flying pieces of debris tore into Jim’s face and shoulders; flame scorched his hair, face and hands. Faint from the smoke, he slumped into unconsciousness until Jack McGowan, the fire tender, threw a bucket of cold water on him. Gritting his teeth, he shifted the throttle back open, and the train continued through the inferno with its load of screaming, crying, praying people.
At last, Jim could tell through his swollen eyes that they were at the lake. He slammed on the brakes and collapsed. The passengers tumbled off and broke down the fencing around the water and dived into its cool wetness as the fire roared over them. McGowan and two other men pulled Jim Root from the cab. They dragged him, badly burned, into the lake.
The fire passed, leaving the train looking like a skeleton of twisted metal. Jim Root survived, but he was scarred for life. His bravery and courage had saved many lives, but at a terrible cost to himself.
There is another one who went through fire — the awful fire of the judgment of God upon sin. It was the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who suffered more on the cross than we can ever know or understand — and He did it to save others. (“He saved others; Himself He cannot save,” taunted the watching crowd at the crucifixion.) He too was wounded and scarred to bring us salvation: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
The fleeing villagers near Hinckley climbed aboard Jim Root’s train and were deeply grateful for his sacrifice in saving them from the fire. Those who accept Jesus’ sacrifice are saved as well, saved from the terrible fire of hell. The passengers were saved — are you? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).
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