“Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar; and lo ! God hath given thee all them that sail with thee,” ACTS xxvii, 24.
… The fears of Paul were all useless, except that tender, filial fear, which is inseparable from Christian faith. This the event will show. On the fourteenth night, while they were driven up and down in Adria, the seamen deemed they were nearing land. This they judged from many signs the appearance of the water, the peculiar motion of the vessel, and the disposition of the atmosphere; for sailors, after being long at sea, are very sensitive of such matters. They sounded, and found twenty fathoms. In a little while they heaved the lead again, and got fifteen fathoms. This was making the land fast. They became alarmed, and dropped four anchors astern. The vessel was, perhaps, built like a Dutch galiot, and carried anchors both fore and aft; and, as they supposed that they had no ground to spare, they dropped their anchors astern; and they wished for the day expressive words! Those who have been exposed to the danger of shipwreck, through a long and gloomy night, can alone realize with what agony men look for the day under such circumstances. About this time the sailors and their officers formed a conspiracy to seize the boat, and make their escape. In order to do this, they pretended that it was necessary to carry anchors out from the bows. If this had been necessary, truly they would have needed the boat. But it would have been great folly to have moored the vessel, head and stern, in such a tumultuous sea, and in a gale which was shifting so often and so suddenly from point to point. However, they thought the soldiers knew no better. It is probable that the sailing-master and his officers judged that they were blown upon the coast of Africa, and that landing would be very difficult, and they concluded to lay off and on, in the boat, till daylight, and, if they found they could not safely land where they were, to run down the coast till they could.
Paul, however, understood their design, and said to the centurion, “Except these remain on board ye can not be saved.” This shows us the necessity of attending to means and observing conditions. Salvation is conditional; and, even where conditions are not expressed, the very character and economy of God imply them. It is true that the Lord had unequivocally promised Paul that none should be lost; but the sailors were necessary to work the vessel, lash spars, make rafts, loose the rudder-band, and reef and hoist the sail. When no immediate danger was nigh, Julius believed the captain rather than Paul; but, after a more intimate acquaintance, and especially when death hove in view, and life was at stake, he believed more in the minister of Christ, and commanded his soldiers to cut the boat’s painter, and send her adrift. Paul then exhorted them to take some refreshment, to strengthen and prepare them for the shock. Having taken his advice, they gathered courage, and began to throw their wheat overboard, so that they might, if necessary, run the ship as high as possible on the beach. This wheat was, doubtless, government property. When the day broke, they discovered an island; but knew not the land. But they discovered the mouth of a creek, into which they determined to drive the vessel. The storm had, perhaps, abated a little. Having unlashed the rudder and hoisted their mainsail, they made for the land. They did not hoist the main sail in the modern, technical sense of the term. This would have been both improper and impracticable. They hoisted the sail which was now their main dependence perhaps their close-reefed fore sail, or their jib. Every heart now beat with anxiety, and every man braced himself for the shock; but, striking on a bank that had been formed by two contrary currents, the vessel struck, and the seas broke with great violence over the stern, and she began to break in pieces. Those who could, swam for their lives. Others, on rafts, or broken pieces of timber, made good their escape, and all got safely to land.
The island on which they were cast is now called Malta. They were treated with that extraordinary hospitality which has ever since distinguished the island. They were not called barbarians, in the modern sense of the word. They were highly civilized. The historian calls them barbarians because they spoke in a language which was not generally understood by the ship’s company. What a pity it was that the ship fell into a place where two seas met! Brother sailor, look out! there is danger in thy spiritual voyage! Waters and seas, in the Scriptures, often represent people multitudes. There are two seas, or two kinds of people, in the world the righteous and the wicked, the Church and the world. There are different degrees in grace, and different degrees in sin. There is a polar region, where these two seas meet the Church and the world; there holiness is wrecked, and faith frozen out. Beware of that bank, by keeping in the warm latitude of Divine love. In the days of Constantine, a gallant ship of Rome, whose faith had been spoken of throughout the world, struck on that bank, and has been going to pieces ever since. We hope, how ever, that many of her crew, by hard swimming, and availing themselves of broken fragments of truth, have happily reached the shore.
Alfred Lorrain, “SERMON V. THE LEVANTER” The square-rigged cruiser, or, Lorrain’s sea-sermons
Alfred Lorrain was a Methodist clergyman with many adventures in war and sea. He offers a very technically informed retelling of Paul’s dealing with the storm and shipwreck of Acts 27. I learned a lot. My own limited seafaring knowledge had me thinking that these were mere rowboats. Appended below is a Dutch galiot.
Lorrain makes the whole story to be a metaphor for salvation. I think I would tend to agree, but take a stronger Reformation view of the events. Paul literally says that none will be lost, and unless you remain on board you will not be saved. I would therefore say that the amount of bailing and sail-rigging you do has no effect on whether you are alive the next day. You may completely reject the salvation by going overboard. But the promise is not conditional: “if you try really hard, the hardest working of you may be saved.” Indeed, all are going to make it. So now what do we do? Hey, let’s get something to eat, rest up, and then bail! This is the perfect model for the Christian walk.
PRAYER: We thank you for so great a salvation, for your promises which are not conditional. That our salvation is complete. Give us comfort that you know where you are taking us through the gales of life, but the outcome is not uncertain. Let us refresh ourselves and rest in you. Then as we are able, show us how to help the ship for as long as it lasts, to help the comfort and peace of our fellow ship-mates. AMEN.
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