There Go the Ships
“There go the ships.” — Psalm civ. 26.
I WAS walking the other day by the side of the sea, looking out upon the English Channel. It so happened that there was a bad wind for the vessels going down the Channel, and they were lying in great numbers between the shore and the Goodwins. I should think I counted more than a hundred, all waiting for a change of wind. On a sudden the wind shifted to a more favourable quarter, and it was interesting to see with what rapidity all sails were spread, and the vessels began to disappear like birds on the wing. It was a sight such as one might not often see, but worth travelling a hundred miles to gaze upon, to see them all sail like a gallant squadron, and disappear southward on their voyages. “There go the ships,” was the exclamation that naturally rose to one’s lips. The psalmist thought it worth his while to pen the fact which he too had noticed, though it is very questionable whether David had ever seen anything like the number of vessels which pass our coasts, certainly he had seen none to be compared with them for tonnage.
The first lesson which may be learned from the ships and the sea is this — every part of the earth is made with some design. The land, of course, yields “grass for the cattle and herb for the service of man but what about the broad acres of the sea? We cannot sow them, nor turn them into pasturage. The reaper fills not his arm from the briny furrows, they give neither seed for the sower nor bread for the eater, neither do herds of cattle cover them as they do the thousand hills of earth. Remorselessly swallowing up all that is cast upon it, the thankless ocean makes no return of fruit or flower. Is not the larger part of the world given up to waste? “No,” says David, and so say we — “There go the ships.” The sea benefits man by occasioning navigation, and yielding besides an enormous harvest of fishes of many kinds. Besides which, as the blood is needful for the body, so is it necessary for this world that there should be upon its surface a vast mass of water in perpetual motion. That measureless gathering together of the waters is an amazing instance of divine wisdom in its existence, its perpetual ebb and flow, and even in its form and quantity. In the ocean there is not a drop of water too much nor a drop too little. There is not a single mile of sea more than there ought to be, nor less than there should be. An exact balance and proportion is maintained, and we little know how the blooming of the tiny flower or the flourishing of the majestic cedar would be affected were the balance disturbed. Between the tiny drop of dew upon each blade of grass and the boundless main there is a relation and proportion such as only an infinite mind could have arranged. Remember also that the ocean’s freshness tends to promote life and health among the sons of men. It is good that there is sea, or the land might devour its inhabitants by sickness. God has made nothing in vain. Ignorance gazes on the stormy deep and judges it to be a vast disorder, the mother of confusion and the nurse of storms; but better knowledge teaches us, what revelation had before proclaimed, namely, that in wisdom has the Lord made all things.
But does not the ocean grievously separate lovers and friends? Many a wife thinks of her husband on the far off Pacific; many a mother casts an anxious thought towards her sailor boy; and both are half inclined to think it a mistake to place so vast a portion of the globe as a cruel dividing gulf between loving hearts. Others evidently thought so in years gone by, for among the figurative excellencies of the new earth we are told that there shall be no more sea. But what a mistake it is to think that the sea is a divider: it is the great uniter of the races of men, for “there go the ships.” It is the highway of nations, by which they reach each other far more readily than they could have done had no sea existed, and arid deserts or towering mountains had intervened. This is one instance in which we do not understand God’s designs, for we judge them upon the surface. As the sea apparently divides, but really unites, nations, so often in providence things look one way, but go another. We say, “All these things are against me,” when all things are working together for our good. We judge that to be a curse which, in the deep intent of God, is a rich blessing; and we write that down among the ills of life which, in God’s esteem, is reckoned to be amongst its choicest mercies. Judge not according to the sight of the eyes, or the changeful feelings of the heart, but unstaggeringly believe in the infallible goodness of our great Father in heaven. As the child mistakes God’s design in the sea, so will you also mistake his designs in providence, if you set up yourself as the measurer of the infinite.
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace.”
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”
Our subject, however, shall not be the uses of the sea, but this one simple matter — “There go the ships.”
I. And, first, WE SEE THAT THE SHIPS GO. “There go the ships.” The ships are made to go. The ship is not made to lie for ever upon the stocks, or to be shut up in the docks. It is generally looked upon as an old hulk of little service when it has to lie up in ordinary, and rot in the river. But a ship is made to go, and, as. you see that it goes, remember that you also were made to go. Activity in Christian work is the result and design of grace in the soul. How I wish we could launch some of you. You are, we trust, converted, but you as yet serve but slender uses, very quiet, sluggish, and motionless you lie on the stocks by the month together, and we have nearly as much trouble to launch you as Brunei had with the “Great Eastern.” I have tried hard to knock away your blocks, and remove your dogshores, and grease your ways, but you need hydraulic rams to stir you. When will you feel that you must go, and learn to “walk the water as a thing of life.” Oh for a grand launch. Hundreds are lying high and dry, and to them I would give the motto, “launch out into the deep.” The ships go, when will you go too?
The ships in going at last disappear from view. The vessel flies before the wind, and very speedily it is gone: and such is our destiny ere long. Our life is gone as the swift ships. We think ourselves stationary, but we are always moving on. As we sit in these pews so quietly the angel of time is bearing us between his wings at a speed more rapid than we guess. Every single tick of the clock is but a vibration of his mighty wings, and he bears us on, and on, and on, and never stays to rest either by day or night. Swift as the arrow from the bow we are always speeding towards the target. How short time is! How very short our life is! Let each one say, “How short my life is!” No man knows how near he is to his grave. Perhaps if he could see it, it is just before him: I almost wish he could see it, for a yawning grave might make some men start to reason and to thought. That yawning grave is there, though they perceive it not.
“A point of time, a moment’s space,
May land me in yon heavenly place,
Or shut me up in hell.”
“There go the ships,” and there go you also; you are never in one stay. You are always flying, swift as the eagle, or, to come back to the text, as the swift ship, yet “all men think all men mortal but themselves.” The oldest man here probably thinks he will outlive some of the younger ones. The man who is soonest to die may be the very man who has the least thought of death of us all; and he that is nearest to his departure is, perhaps, the man who least thinks of it. Just as in the ship all were awake, and every man praying to his God except Jonah, for whom the storm was raging, so does it often happen that in a congregation every man may be aroused and made to think of his latter end except the one man, the marked man, who will never see to-morrow’s sun. As you see the ships, think of your mortality!
The ships as they go are going upon business. Some few ships go hither and thither upon pleasure, but for the most part the ships have something serious to do. They have a charter, and they are bound for a certain port, and this teaches us how we should go on the voyage of life with a fixed, earnest, weighty purpose. May I ask each one of you, Have you something to do, and is it worth doing? You are sailing, but are you sailing like a mere pleasure yacht, whose port is everywhere, which scuds and flies before every fitful wind, and is a mere butterfly with no serious work before it? You may be as heavily laden and dingy as a collier, there may be nothing of beauty or swiftness about you, but after all, the main thing is the practical result of your voyage. Dear friend, what are you doing? What have you been doing? And what do you contemplate doing? I should like every young man here just to look at himself. Here you are, young man; you certainly were not sent into this world merely to wear a coat, and to stand so many feet in your stockings; you must have been sent here with some intention. A noble creature like man — and man is a noble creature as compared with the animal creation— is surely made for something. What were you made for? Not merely to enjoy yourself. That cannot be. You certainly are not “a butterfly born in a bower,” neither were you made to be creation’s blot and blank. Neither can you have been created to do mischief. It were an evil thing for you to be a mere serpent in the world, to creep in the grass and wound the traveller. No, you must be made for something. What is that something? Are you answering your end? For God’s glory we were made. Nothing short of this is worthy of immortal beings. Have we sought that glory? Are we seeking it now? If not, I commend to your consideration this thought, that as the ships go on their business so ought men to live with a fixed and worthy purpose. I would say this, not only to young men, but with greater earnestness still to men who may have wasted forty years. Oh, how could I dare to stand before this congregation to-night and have to say, “Friends, I have had no object; I have lived in this world for myself alone, I have had no grand purpose before me”? I should be utterly ashamed if that were the fact. And if any man is obliged to feel that his purpose was such that he dares not avow it, or that he has only existed to make so much money, or gain a position in life, or to enjoy himself, but he has never purposed to serve his God, I would say to him, Wake up, wake up, I pray you, to a noble purpose, worthy of a man. May God, the ever-blessed Spirit, set this before you in the light of eternity, and in the light of Jesus’ dying love, and may you be aroused to solemn, earnest purpose and pursuit. “There go the ships,” but not idly: they go upon business.
These ships, however, whatever their errand be, sail upon a changeful sea. To-day the sea is smooth like glass: the ship, however, makes very small headway. To-morrow there is a breeze, which fills out the sail, and the ship goes merrily before it. Perhaps, before night comes on, the breeze increases to a gale, and then rushes from a gale into a hurricane. Let the mariner see to it when the storm-winds are out, for the ship need be staunch to meet the tempest. Mark how in the tempestuous hour the sea mingles with the clouds, and the clouds with the sea. See how the ship mounts up to heaven on the crest of the wave, and then dives into the abyss in the furrow between the enormous billows, until the mariners reel to and fro and stagger like drunken men. Anon they have weathered the storm, and perhaps to-morrow it will be calm again. “There go the ships” on an element which is a proverb for fickleness, for we say, “false as the smooth, deceitful sea.” “They go,” say you, “upon the sea, but I dwell upon the solid earth.” Ah, good sir, there is not much to choose. There is nothing stable beneath yon waxing and waning moon. We say “terra flrma,” but where, where is terra firma? What man is he who has found out the rock immovable? Certainly not he who looks to this world for it. He has it not who thinks he has, for many plunge from riches into poverty, from honour to disgrace, from power to servitude. Who says “My mountain standeth firm, I shall never be moved”? He speaks as the foolish speak. It is a voyage, sir, and even with Christ on board it is a voyage in which storms will occur, a voyage in which you may have to say, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” Expect changes, then. Do not hold anything on earth too firmly. Trust in God and be on the watch, for who knoweth what may be on the morrow? “There go the ships.”
II. But now having spoken upon that, our second point is, HOW GO THE SHIPS? What makes them go? For there are lessons here for Christian men. We leave our steam ships out of the question, as they were not known in David’s day, and therefore not intended. But how go the ships? Well, they must go according to the tuind. They cannot make headway without favouring gales. And if our port be heaven, there is no getting there except by the blessed Spirit’s blowing upon us. He bloweth where he listeth, and we need that he should breathe upon us. We never steer out of the port of destruction npon our venturesome voyage till the heavenly wind drives us out to sea; and when we are out upon the ocean of spiritual life we make no progress unless we have his favouring breath. We are dependent upon the Spirit of God, even more than the mariners upon the breeze. Let us all know this, and therefore cry,
“Celestial breeze, no longer stay,
But fill my sails and speed my way.”
It is not possible to insist too much on the humbling truth, “Without me ye can do nothing”: it helps to check self-confidence, and it exalts the Holy Ghost, Unless we honour him he will not honour us, and therefore let us cheerfully acknowledge our absolute dependence upon him.
But still the mariner does not go by the wind without exertion on his own part, for the sails must be spread and managed so that the wind may be utilised. One man will go many knots, while another with the same breeze goes but few, for there is a good deal of tacking about wanted sometimes, to use the little wind, or the cross wind, which may prevail. Sometimes all the sails must be spread, and at other times only a part. Management is required. If some were spread they might take the wind out of others, and so the ship might lose instead of gaining. There is a deal of work on board a ship. I believe that some people have a notion that the ship goes of itself, and that the sailors have nothing to do but sit down, and enjoy themselves; but if you have ever been to sea as an able-bodied seaman, you have discovered that for an easy life you must not be one of a ship’s crew. And so, mark you, we are dependent upon the Spirit of God, but he puts us into motion and action; and if Christian men sit down and say, “Oh, the Spirit of God will do the work,” you will find the Spirit of God will do nothing of the sort. The only operation which he will be likely to perform will be to convince you that you are a sluggard, and that you will come to poverty. The Spirit of God makes men earnest, fervent, living, and intense. He “works in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure.” We have sails to manage to catch the favouring breeze, and we shall want all the strength we can obtain if we are to make good headway in the voyage of life. Some professors say “God will save his own people.” I am afraid he will never save them. They expect there will come good times when a great number of the elect will be gathered in, but they fold their arms and do nothing at all to promote the spread of the gospel. When they see others a little busy, they say, “Ah, mere excitement!” and so on, and they tell us God will have his own, to which I generally reply that I believe he will, but I do not believe he will have them, because if they were his own they would not talk in that fashion, for those who are God’s own people have a zeal for God and a love for souls. Do you not remember what God said to David? “When thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees then shalt thou bestir thyself.” Not “Then shalt thou sit still, and say God will do it.” When David heard the angels coming over the tops of the trees to fight the Philistines, and when he heard their soft tread amongst the leaves, like the rustling of the wind, then he was to bestir himself: and so, when God’s Spirit comes to work in the church, the Christian must bestir himself and not sit still. “There go the ships.” They go with, the wind, but they are the scene of great industry, or else the wind would whistle through the yards, and the ship would make no voyages. Thus, brethren, we see dependence and energy united; faith sweetly showing itself in good works.
“There go the ships.” How do they go? Well, they have to he guided and steered by the helm. The helm is a little thing, but yet it rules the vessel. As the helm is turned so is the vessel guided. Look ye well to it, Christian men, that your motives and purposes are always right. Your love is the helm of the vessel; where your affection is your thoughts and actions tend. If you love the world you will drift with the world, but if the love of the Father be in you, then will your vessel go towards God and towards divine things. Oh, see to it that Christ has his hand on the tiller, and that he guides you towards the haven of perfect peace.
The ship being guided by the helm, he who manages the helm seeks direction from charts and lights. “There go the ships,” but they do not go of themselves, without management and wisdom. Thought is exercised, and knowledge and experience. There is an eye on deck which at night looks out for yonder revolving light, or the coloured ray of the light ship just ahead there, and the thoughtful brain says, “I must steer south-west of such a light,” or “to the north of such a light, or I shall be upon the sands.” Besides mere outlooks upon the sea, that anxious eye also busies itself with the chart, scans the stars, and takes observations of the moon. The captain’s mind is exercised to learn exactly where the vessel is, and where she is going, lest the good ship unawares should come to mischief. And so, dear brethren, if we are to get to heaven, we must study well the Scriptures, we must look well to every warning and guiding light of the Spirit’s kindling, and ask for direction from above; for as the ships go not at haphazard, so neither will any Christian find his way to heaven unless he watch and pray and look up daily, saying, “Guide me in a plain path, O God.”
The voyage of a ship on the main ocean seems to me to be an admirable picture of the life of faith. The sailor does not see a road before him, or any land mark or sea mark, yet is sure of his course. He relies upon fixed lights in heaven, for far out he can see no beacon or light on the sea. His calculations, based on the laws of the heavenly bodies, are sure guides on a wild wilderness where no keel ever leaves a furrow to mark the way. The late Captain Basil Hall, one of the most scientific officers in the navy, tells the following interesting incident. He once sailed from San Bias, on the west coast of Mexico; and after a voyage of eight thousand miles, occupying eighty-nine days, he arrived off Rio de Janeiro, having in this interval passed through the Pacific Ocean, rounded Cape Horn, and crossed the South Atlantic, without making land or seeing a single sail except an American whaler. When within a week’s sail of Rio, he set seriously about determining by lunar observations the position of his ship, and then steered his course by those common principles of navigation which may be safely employed for short distances between one known station and another. Having arrived within what he considered from his computations fifteen or twenty miles of the coast, he hove to, at four o’clock in the morning, to await the break of day, and then bore up, proceeding cautiously, on account of a thick fog. As this cleared away, the crew had the satisfaction of seeing the great Sugar Loaf Rock, which stands on one side of the harbour’s mouth, so nearly right ahead, that they had not to alter their course above a point, in order to hit the entrance of the port. This was the first land they had seen for nearly three months, after crossing so many seas, and being set backwards and forwards by innumerable currents and foul winds. The effect upon all on board was electric, and giving way to their admiration, the sailors greeted the commander with a hearty cheer. And what a cheer will we give when after many a year’s sailing by faith we at last see the pearly gates right straight ahead, and enter into the fair havens without needing to shift a point. Glory be to the Captain of our salvation, it will be all well with us when the fog of this life’s care shall lift, and we shall see in the light of heaven.
Once more, how go the ships? They not only go according to the wind, guided by the helm and the chart, but some ships will go better than others, according to their build. With the same amount of wind one vessel makes more way than another. Now it is a blessed thing when the grace of God gives a Christian a good build. There are some church members who are so queerly shaped that somehow they never seem to cut the water, and even the Holy Spirit does not make much of them. They will get into harbour at last, but they will need a world of tugging. The snail did get into the ark: I often wonder how he did it, he must have got up very early that morning However, the snail got in as well as the greyhound, and so there are many Christian people who will get to heaven, but heaven alone knows how, for they are such a queer sort of people that they seem to make no progress in the divine life. I would sooner live in heaven with them forever than be fifteen minutes with them here below. God seems to shape some Christian minds in a more perfect model than others, so that, having simplicity of character, warmth of heart, zealous temperaments, and generous spirits, when the wind of the Spirit comes they cut through the foam.
Now, I suspect that some good people have by degrees become like the “Great Eastern” a short time since, namely, foul under water. They cannot go, because they are covered with barnacles. A ship is greatly impeded in its voyage if it carries a quantity of barnacles on her bottom. I know lots of Christian people — I could point them out to-night, but I will not — who are covered with barnacles. They cannot go, because of some secret inconsistency, or love of the things of this world rather than the love of God. They want laying up and cleaning a bit, so as to get some of the barnacles off. It is a rough process, but it is one to which some of God’s vessels have to be exposed. What headway they would make towards heaven if that which hindereth were removed. Sometimes when a man is on a bed of sickness, he is losing his barnacles; and sometimes, when a man has been rich and wealthy, and he has lost all he had, it takes off the barnacles. When we have lost friends we love, and whom we have made idols of, we have been sorry to lose them, but it has cleaned off our barnacles; and when we have got out to sea there has been an ease about the going, and we have scarcely known how it was, but God knew that he had made us more fit for his service by the trials of life to which he exposed us.
That is how the ships go. There are many mysteries about them, and there are many in us. God makes us go by the gales of his Spirit. Oh, that we may be trim for going, buoyant, and swift to be moved, and so may we make a grand voyage to heaven with Christ Jesus at the helm.
III. Thirdly and briefly. When I saw these ships go I happened to be near a station of Lloyd’s, and I noticed that they ran up flags the vessels went by, to which the vessels replied. I suppose they were asking questions — to know their names and what their cargo was. and where they were going, and so on. Now I am going to act as Lloyd’s to-night, and put up the flags and ask you something about yourselves. The third point will then be — the ships go, LET US SIGNAL THEM.
And, first, who is your owner? “There go the ships,” but who is your owner? You do not reply, but I think I can make a guess. There are some hypocrites about, who make fine pretensions, but they are not holy living people, they even dare to come to the Lord’s table, and yet they drink of the cup of devils. They will sing pious hymns with us, and then sing lascivious ditties with their familiars. I would say to such a man, — you are a rotten vessel, you do not belong to King Jesus. Every timber is staunch in his vessels. They are not all what we should like them to be, and as I have said already they too often are covered with barnacles, but still they are all sincere. The Lord builds his vessels with sound timber, and unless we are sincere, true, and right, Christ is not our owner, but Satan is. The painted hypocrite is known through the disguise he wears.
There is another vessel over there, a fine vessel too. Look, she is newly painted, and looks spick and span. You can see nothing amiss with her. What white sails, and do you notice the many flags? Take the glass and read the vessel’s name, and you will see in bold letters, “Self-righteousness.” Ah, I know that the owner is not the Lord Jesus Christ, for all the ships that belong to him carry the red cross flag, and cannot endure the flaunting rag of self-righteousness. All God’s people own that they must be saved by sovereign grace, and anything like righteousness of their own they pump overboard as so much leakage and bilge-water. I see another vessel over yonder, with her sails all spread, and every bit of her colours flying. There, there, what a blaze she makes! How proud she seems as she scuds over the water. That vessel is “The Pride,” from the port of Self-Conceit, Captain Ignorance. I do not know where she is oftenest to be seen, but sometimes she crosses this bit of water. I should not wonder if she is in sight here now, and you may be sure she does not belong to our Lord Jesus. Whether it is pride of money, or person, or rank, or talent, it cometh of evil, and Jesus Christ does not own it. You must get rid of all pride if you belong to him. God grant us to be humble in heart. I could mention some more vessels that I see here to-night, but I will not. I will rather beg each man to ask himself, “Can I put my hand on my heart and say, ‘I am not my own, I am bought with a price?’ Did Jesus buy me with his precious blood, and do I own that there is not a timber, spar, rope, or bolt in me but what belongs to him?” Blessed be his name, some of us can say there is not a hair of our head or a drop of our blood but what belongs to him. Thine are we, thou Son of David, and all that we have.
I hope there are vessels here which are owned by the Lord Jesus Christ. Let them never be ashamed to confess their Owner A vessel on proper business is never ashamed to answer signals. If there should be a smuggler or pirate in the offing the crews would not be likely to answer signals, but those who are on honest business are ready to reply. And so, brethren, be ye ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear; never show in your actions that you are ashamed of Jesus, but ever let the broad flag be flying in whatever waters you are — “Christ is mine, and I am his. For him I live, his reproach would I bear, and his honour would I maintain.”
Our next inquiry is, what is your cargo? “There go the ships,” but what do they carry? You cannot tell from looking at them far out at sea, except that you can be pretty sure that some of them do not carry much. Look at that showy brig! You can tell by the look of her that she has not much on board; from the fact of her floating so high it is clear that her cargo is light. Big men, very important individuals, very high-floating people are common, but there is nothing in them. If they had more on board they would sink deeper in the water. As we said this morning, the more grace a man has the lower he lies before God. Well, brethren, what cargo have you got? I am afraid some of you who lie down in the water are not kept down by any very precious cargo, but I fear you are in ballast. I have gone aboard some Christians; I thought there was a good deal in them, but I have not been able to find it. They have a deal of trouble, and they always tell you about it. There is a good old soul I call in to see sometimes: I begin to converse with her, and her conversation is always about rheumatism: nothing else: you cannot get beyond rheumatism : that good sister is in ballast. There is another friend of mine, a farmer, if you talk with him, it is always about the badness of the times: that brother is in ballast too. There are many tradesmen who, though they are Christians, cannot be made to talk of anything but the present dulness of business. I wish they could get that ballast out, and fill up with something better, for it is not worth carrying. You must have it sometimes, I suppose; but it is infinitely better to carry a load of praises, prayers, good wishes, holy doctrines, charitable actions, and generous encouragements.
Some ships, I think, carry a cargo of powder. You cannot go very near them without feeling you are in danger, they are so very apt to misjudge and take offence. I wish that such persons were made to carry a red flag, that we might give them a wide berth.
It is well to be loaded with good things. Young people, study the word of God, ask to be taught by experience, and, wherever you go, seek to carry the precious commodities which God has made dear to your own soul, that others may be enriched thereby. It is an interesting sight to see those immense ships loaded with passengers for the colonies. I cannot help praying as I look at them, “God grant that no harm may come to them, but may they safely reach their desired haven.” When I look at some of our brethren whom God is blessing, so that they have a cargo of blessed souls on board, consisting of hundreds who have been brought to Jesus by them, I would to God we had many more. Thank God, I have sometimes had my decks crowded with passengers who have from my ministry received the gospel. The Lord has brought them on board, and oh, I trust before I die he will give me thousands more who will have to thank God that they heard the gospel from these lips. – May we be emigrant vessels bearing souls away into the glory-land where the days of their mourning shall be ended. Of course we can only be humble instruments, but still, what honour God puts upon his instruments when he makes use of them for this object. “There go the ships.” Not ships of war are we, with guns to carry death, but missionary vessels carrying tidings of peace and glad news to the utmost ends of the earth.
Our last signal asks the question— where go the ships? Where go the ships? Oh, yes, they went merrily down the Channel the other day, but where are they now? In a year’s time who will report all the good vessels which just now passed by our coast? I am looking out upon all of you, anxious to know what port you are making for. Some of you are bound for the port of peace. Swiftly may the winds convey you over the waters, and safely may you voyage under the convoy of the Lord Jesus. I will try and keep pace with you. I hope that you will sail in company with others of my Master’s vessels, but if you have to sail alone over a sea in which you cannot see another sail, may God, the blessed One, protect and guard you. Bound for the port of peace, with Christ on board, insured for glory, bound for life eternal, let us bless the name of the Lord.
But alas, alas, many ships which bid fair for the desired haven are lost on the rocks. Some soul-destroying sin causes their swift destruction. Others equally fair to look upon are lost on the sands. They seemed bound for heaven, but they were not the Lord’s. The sands are very dangerous, but they are only a mass' of little atoms, soft and yielding, yet as many ships are lost on the sands as on the rocks. Even so there are ways and habits of evil which are deceptive — there is nothing very bad about them apparently; nothing heartbreaking, like rocks, but oh, the multitudes of souls that have been sucked in by sandy temptations. Dear brother, I hope you are not going that way. God grant you grace to avoid little sins, and I am sure you will keep off the rocks of great sin. In any case may we turn out to be the Lord’s own, and so be kept to the end. Woe unto us if we should prove to be mere adventurers, and perish in our presumption.
Among the ships that go to sea there are some that founder. One does not know how, but they are never heard of more. They were sighted on such a day, but never more shall we hear any tidings of them. How is that? I have known some of the members of this church go down in mid-ocean. I never thought it could have happened, but they have gone. I can only imagine how it was. They seemed seaworthy vessels, but they were doubtless rotten through and through. Oh, brethren, may God keep you from foundering, as some do by some mysterious sin, which seems as if it clasped the soul and dragged it down to the deeps of hell.
Some vessels have I known, too, that have become derelict — waifs and strays upon the sea — men that were the hope of churches, but who have abandoned themselves to reckless living. They used to worship with the people of God, and seemed to be very earnest and zealous; and now, perhaps, at this very moment they are passing through the gin palace door, or spending this evening in vices which we dare not mention. Oh, it is dreadful. Many start on their voyage, and look as if they were Christ’s own vessels, and yet for some strange, unreasonable reason they give all up, and they will be met with, in years to come, drifting about, rudderless, captainless, crewless, dangerous to others, and miserable to themselves. God save you from this, young man! And you, my friend, though you have been a member of this church for twenty years, God save you from despairing, and sinning furiously; for there sometimes come over men strange moments of insanity in which they reverse the whole of their lives, lay violent hands upon an excellent character, and become castaways. The grace of God will save the truly regenerate from this: but, alas, how many high professors never were regenerate at all!
Where will some of the vessels I see before me go? It is a fine fleet I am looking upon. Brothers and sisters, I hope all of us will be found in that great harbour in heaven which can accommodate all his Majesty’s fleet. Oh, it will be a great day when we all arrive. Will you give me a hail when you get into port? Will you know me? I shall look out for some of you. I cannot help believing that we shall know each other. We have been in rough waters together these twenty years, and we have had some glorious weather too, have we not? We have seen the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep: I hope we shall keep together till we reach that blessed haven, where our fellowship will be eternal. How we will glorify him who gets us there, even Jesus, the Lord High Admiral of the seas. Christ shall never hear the last of it if I get to heaven. I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto his name. I remember preaching once, when half of my congregation quarrelled with me when I had done preaching, for I had said —
“Then loudest of the crowd I’ll sing
While heaven’s resounding mansions ring
With shouts of sovereign grace.”
As I came downstairs I met one who said, “You will not sing loudest, for I owe more to grace than you do;” and I found that all the Lord’s people said the same. Well, we will have it out when we get to heaven: we will try this contention among the birds of Paradise, and see which of us can sing the most loudly to the praise of redeeming grace. Till then let us trust the Lord Jesus and obey his orders, for he is our Captain, and it is our duty to do his bidding.
But it would be a dreadful supposition — and yet, mayhap, it may be worse than a supposition — that some of you will have to cast anchor for ever in the Dead Sea, whose waves are fire, where every vessel is a prison, where every passenger feels a hell. What must it be to be in hell an hour! I wish some of you could think it over. What must, it be to be shut up in despair for one single day! If you have the toothache a few minutes how wretched you are, and how anxious to get rid of it; but what must it be to be in hell even if were for a time, — even it were but for a time. Oh, if it came to an end, still would I say, by all the humanities that are in my soul, I charge you, brother, do not risk the wrath of God; go not down to the pit. Pull down that black flag, man: pull it down and cast off your old owner. Ask Christ to be your owner. Run up the red flag of the cross and give yourself to Jesus, for if you do not your voyage must lead to the gulf of black despair, where you will suffer for ever the result of your sin. God have mercy upon us, and may we never have to pass through the straits of judgment into the gulf of damnation. May it never be said, “There goes one of the ships that the Tabernacle pilot signalled; it is gone to destruction.” May it rather be said, of all of us, all in full sail together, as we go towards heaven," There go the ships:” not one of them is drifting to the gulf of destruction. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and all is well with you. Reject him, and all is ill with you. May he by his word enable you to make a right choice to-night, for his love’s sake. Amen.