by G.J. Stewart
The good ship H—, Captain B—, sailed on 20th May 1889 from the South West India Dock, London, on a voyage to Melbourne, Australia.
When three days from London, and off Portland, in the English Channel, two lads were discovered who had stowed themselves away in the fore-peak, amongst the coal, where for this time they had subsisted as best they could.
As they pleaded not to be put ashore, but to be given a passage to Australia, they were put one in each watch.
It was a rule of the captain’s that no boy who had not been to sea before should be sent aloft, but if any voluntarily went, the officers were not to stop them. Usually, an order being given, the first man in the rigging went aloft to carry it out; and at times two would compete for the honour, and one had to be called down. The two stowaways were, however, constantly seen aloft, evidently wishing to win favour and to do something to pay for their passage; and one of them, who had given the name of Brown, was noticed to be particularly smart and active, as well as thorough is his work.
All went well for a time, nothing worthy the name of a gale having been met with, and the captain and his friends often thanked God that they numbered every soul that had left the shores of the old country.
But on Wednesday night, 24th July, the first blow approaching a gale was encountered from the S.W., which increased the sea, and necessitated shortening sail, but it was not very severe, and soon blew itself out. About 7.30 A.M. of the 25th, all were alarmed by that dreadful cry at sea: “A man overboard!” The tramp of feet overhead, as the men rushed aft to see if assistance could be rendered, assured all who heard the cry, and who would fain have persuaded themselves that it was a mistake, that there was horrid reality in it; and the captain’s voice, heard as he descended the companion stair—“It’s too late, boys, it’s too late; you can do no good,”—told the solemn tale that a soul had passed away in a moment from this life. WHERE?
“Who was it? Who was it?” was now eagerly asked, and at last came the answer, “It was Brown!” the active, willing young stowaway.
“How did it happen? What about his soul?” are questions that now crowd into the mind and arise to the lips. “Who knew anything about him? Who had spoken to him?”
The gale having abated, the order had been given, “Loose the fore-royal!” and Brown was soon in the rigging and on the yard-arm, and the men stood ready, awaiting the further orders to “Sheet home” and “Man the fore-royal halyards,” to hoist the yard into position, when a dark object was seen in mid-air between the yard and the deck; then a “thud” on the weather-rail, and poor Brown was thrown dead and “all of a heap” into the sea.
He had commenced to loosen the gaskets, and, it would seem, had found that the outer weather gasket which he supposed was loose had still one turn at the yard-arm, and had returned to the yardarm to clear it, when the ship rolled to windward, and by some means he slipped.
A slip! A fall! A thud! A plunge!
He had fallen on the weather-rail, the ship having rolled to windward, had struck probably about or below the shoulders, and had broken his back, having fallen a distance of about two hundred feet.
The black quartermaster, who stood, as usual, on the weather side, saw the poor fellow in the water soon after he fell, and knew by his position in the water that he was dead. “But,” he said, with quivering lip and tears in his eyes, “I couldn’t help giving him a life-buoy, which I threw just before him as he passed, but there was no movement; his head hung downward, and under water.
A life-buoy to a dead man! What use? But who blames the quartermaster?
The captain was ready to heave the ship to, and there were willing hands and stout hearts to lower and man a boat to get the poor fellow aboard again; but what was the use to a dead man?
He had come on board with all he possessed on his back; and he went overboard with several things that his messmates—a kind-hearted set of fellows—had supplied him with. Did he leave anything behind?
Yes, a New Testament and a pocket-book. The latter showed his name was Pearce, and not Brown; and the Testament had several scriptures marked. His companion stowaway said he had a widowed mother living in Barnsley, Yorkshire.
Leaving the inquiries—“Why was he in London? Why did he try to get a passage to Australia in such a way?”—we would rather ask here, Had he believed the scriptures marked in his Testament?’ Here are some of them:—
“These things are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
“By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39).
“If thou shalt confess with thy month the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
“If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:23-24).
“I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37).
“If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).
“He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
Who marked these scriptures? And did he believe them? Was the order in which they are placed in anywise his experience? Did he believe that Jesus was the Son of God? or, Did he die in his sins? These questions must be left to Him who alone “knoweth them that are his.”
But, my reader, what about yourself? Do not solemn reflections arise in the heart from the foregoing? Have you received that which is preached unto you through this MAN? Have you believed what is “written in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?” Have you come to God believing that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek His grace? Have you sought Him thus? Have you found Him? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, or are you still in your sins? Remember that forgiveness of sins is preached through this Man, not promised; and this through Him alone. You are either in your sins, or you are not. Which? Your sins are either upon you, or they were laid upon the sin-bearer as your substitute, near two thousand years ago. Which is it? If death come suddenly upon you, if a slip and a fall should end thus with you, how would you die?
DIE! Think, my reader, you are even now living or DEAD! Which is it? Answer, we beseech you, before God. Settle the question now; lest that come upon you which is spoken of in the prophets, “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and PERISH: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in nowise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:41).
But if dead, with the black quartermaster, we say, we can’t help giving you a life-buoy. Only there is this difference, the life-buoy we bring to you imparts life. This is the hour in the which all that hear the voice of the Son of God shall live. Have you, oh! have YOU heard his voice? We beseech you, dear reader, leave it not to a dying moment, or until a sudden and unexpected summons call you hence. Now His voice is speaking dead souls into life. Now and here His Word is proclaimed, that Word by which he now speaks. Now you have opportunity of putting yourself in the way of learning that Word!
Dead, spiritually dead, by nature you are, and drifting on past your opportunities and into eternity, but we throw you the life-giving, not merely life-saving, life-buoy. Oh, clutch it with the firm grip of faith, and put yourself safe in the bosom of that Lord who, you will thus learn, loved you and gave Himself for you.
The Gospel Messenger 1898, p. 309