The Parable of the Defective Battery
In the course of certain laboratory investigations I had need of a primary electric current of considerable power. My assistant prepared a voltaic battery consisting of a dozen cells of simple type. He followed the usual procedure, but, as I discovered later, gave inadequate attention to the details, those seeming trifles that make or mar perfection.
Each cell consisted of a cylindrical jar, containing an acid liquid in which were immersed a pair of plates, one of carbon, the other of zinc. The cells were connected “in series,” so that the strength of the battery was the sum of the power developed by the twelve individual units. The working efficiency, or available and usable strength, was the total force developed less the resistance opposed by the cells themselves. The condition is comparable to that of income in the case of an individual or a company; the gross income includes all receipts, from which must be subtracted all costs, if we would determine the net income or actual profit. Or, by another simile, the condition presented by this battery was like that of a mechanical engine, the available efficiency of which is the total energy developed less the effect of friction and all other losses due to imperfect operation.
I was disappointed in the behavior of the battery; its working efficiency was far below what ought to be developed by twelve such units under normal conditions. A casual inspection showed that the cells were not working alike; some of them exhibited intense activity, and in all such the contained liquid was bubbling like boiling water, owing to the escape of liberated gases. The jar was a scene of fuss and fury; yet from such a cell there flowed a current so feeble as to be detectable only with difficulty. The energy developed within those foaming and fuming cells was practically used up in overcoming their own internal resistance, with no surplus power for outside service. I found some cells to be almost inert-with no observable action within, and from such, of course, no current was given out; these cells were practically dead. Certain others were working quietly, with little visible evidence of action aside from the gentle and regular escape of gas bubbles; nevertheless, from the quiet intensity of these, there issued a current potent to transmit messages from continent to continent beneath thousands of miles of ocean turmoil. By diluting the liquid in some jars and intensifying it in others, by replacing a few poorly amalgamated zincs with better ones, and by other modifying adjustments, I succeeded in restraining the wasteful energy of the abnormally active cells, and in arousing to action the dormant ones. The battery was brought into more harmonious operation-just as the restive members of a twelve-horse team might be quieted to steady action, the unwilling ones stimulated, and both brought into unison with their normal and really serviceable fellows.
However, after all such adjustments had been made, the battery was still unsatisfactory. Its operation was weak, irregular, uncertain, and wholly unsuited to the electrolysis required by the work in progress. At length, having become convinced that the fault was a radical one, that some defect was present which no ordinary patching-up process would remedy, I took the battery apart and subjected each cell to an individual examination. One after another passed the test and proved itself to be in measurably perfect condition, until eight had been thus disposed of; the ninth was seriously at fault. This cell was set aside, and the remaining three were tested; all of these were good. Plainly then, the inefficiency of the battery was chargeable to that one unit, number nine; and this, as I remembered, had been among the worst of the abnormally active cells. The eleven good units were connected up; and from the battery thus assembled there issued a current fairly adequate for my needs, and ample to operate an electric receiver or to fire a blast on the opposite side of the globe.
At the first opportunity of convenience I gave closer attention to the rejected unit. There was little difficulty in determining the true cause of the trouble. The cell was in a state of short-circuit; it had short-circuited itself. Through its unnatural intensity of action, as a result of its foaming and fuming, the acid had destroyed the insulation of some parts; and the current that should have been sent forth for service was wholly used up in destructive corrosion within the jar. The cell had violated the law of right action-it had corrupted itself. In its defective state it was not only worthless as a working unit, an unproductive member in the community of cells, but was worse than worthless in that it interposed an effective resistance in the operation of the other clean and serviceable units.
Do you wish to know what I did with the unclean cell? I did not destroy it, nor throw it aside as beyond all repair; there was a possibility of its restoration to some measure of usefulness. I searched its innermost parts, and with knife and file and rasp removed the corroded incrustment. I baptized it in a cleansing bath, then set it up again and tried it out in practical employ. Gradually it developed energy until it came to work well-almost as well as the other cells. Yet to this day I watch that unit with special care; I do not trust it as fully as I trusted before it had befouled itself.
I have called this little anecdote of the defective battery a parable; the story, however, is one of actual occurrence. To me there is profound suggestiveness in the incidents related. Even as I wrought in the laboratory, while hands and mind were busy in the work that engaged my close attention, the under-current of thoughtâ€”the inner consciousness-was making comparison and application.
How like unto those voltaic cells are we! There are men who are loud and demonstrative, even offensive in their abnormal activity; like unto madmen in their uncontrol. Yet what do they accomplish in effective labor? Their energy is wholly consumed in overcoming the internal resistance of their defective selves. There are others who do but sleep and dream; they are slothful, dormant, and, as judged by the standard of utility, dead.
And again, there are men who labor so quietly as scarcely to reveal the fact that they are hard at work; in their utmost intensity there is no evidence of fussy demonstration or wasteful activity; yet such is their devoted earnestness that they influence the thoughts and efforts of the race.
How like a sinner was the unclean cell! Its unfitness was the direct effect of internal disorder, self-corruption, such defection as in man we call sin, which is essentially the violation of law. In association with others who are clean, able, and willing, the sinner is as an obstruction to the current; the efficiency of the whole is lessened if not entirely neutralized, by a single defective unit.
If you would have your personal prayers reach the Divine destination to which they are addressed, see to it that they are transmitted by a current of pure sincerity, free from the resistance of unrepented sin. Let those who assemble in the sacred circle of united prayer have a care that each is individually clean, lest the supplication be nullified through the obstruction of an offending member.
For him who will seek with earnest intent, there is yet other and deeper significance in the parable.