Delivered From the Pit; or, A Sailor’s Conversion. (20 – “Gospel Messenger” Series) (24pp)
"THERE'S a sick sailor man bides over yonder as wants to see you, and I'm to carry him back an answer, please.''
The words were spoken by a bright young boy at my side, and his message led to my knowing the sailor Andrew ——, and being a witness of the work of God in his soul, delivering him from the power of Satan, and leading him to find his soul's salvation and his heart's rest in the work and person of Jesus, the Saviour-God.
"Tell others," he often used to say ,"how He snatched me from the very jaws of hell, and spared my life to save my soul. There's many a lad as sails under the Union Jack that would listen to the story of how a mate got safe into port, for I am in port, you know, though I haven't got my discharge yet,'' he would add with a smile, quoting the lines of a well-known hymn—
"Amid the stormy, wintry sea,
We are in port if we have Thee."
It was a bright, almost a cloudless day, after a week of storms; the blue waves were dancing and sparkling in the sunlight, as if the whole face of the mighty deep were welcoming with a smile the unveiled presence of the sun again. The shore was a busy scene; the most adventurous fishermen had been compelled to a week's inactivity in the height of the fishing season, and now all seemed bent on making up for lost time; and as I watched boat after boat put out to sea, I longed with a special longing to be the bearer of God's glad tidings of eternal life through Christ to some of those whose natural lives were thus, by their calling, peculiarly exposed to danger. While the desire was forming itself into a distinct prayer in my heart, the boy's words sounded in my ears. ''Where does 'over yonder' mean?" I asked of the young messenger, for I had previously discovered that the phrase was ambiguous in this locality, and might mean the opposite corner of the street, or it might mean any number of miles away. "Well, ma'am, the bit cottage is away out beyond that point that you see; you can't miss it, for there's no other; when you get to that point, it's just ahead of you; it's not so far if you could go by the shore and up the cliff as I do, but it's a goodish way round by the road.''
I looked in the direction he indicated, and hesitated; many circumstances seemed to make it impossible to go, while still I shrank from refusing.
The little fellow evidently saw the look of doubt in my face, for he said, entreatingly, "I was to carry him back an answer, PLEASE, and he's very bad and lonesome like." As he spoke, a voice seemed to say in my ear, "Have not I commanded thee, be strong and of a good courage,'' so clearly and distinctly, that, without waiting to think of the obstacles, I answered rather this voice than the child's, with the words, "Tell him I'll come." " When, ma'am, please?" "Today."
The boy lingered still. ''Please, I was to tell you," he said, "that it's a bad road, and not fitting for you; unless you get back into the town before dark begins;'' and he looked at the sun and then back at me, as if to remind me that the day was wearing on.
"I will follow you now, as soon as possible," I said; and quite satisfied with the now, which meant something definite to him, the little fellow hurried off with his message.
An hour or two later I stood by the bedside of Andrew ——. The Lord had cleared the difficulties out of the way one by one and had done much more—given me the fullest confidence that He was going to work, and was going to let me stand by and see His salvation.
I had expected to find an aged tar, worn out by the storms of many a winter; to my great surprise the ''sick sailor-man'' was a fine, powerfully built young man of two or three and twenty, laid thus low and helpless through the effects of an accident. "As strong as Andy ——,” had been a proverb among his shipmates, and his appearance even now impressed you with the idea that he had been possessed of unusual physical strength. He had a very pleasing face, so open and honest, with clear, blue eyes, that had a truthful as well as a fearless look in them, and the almost sunny smile with which he bade me welcome seemed natural to him; the expression of bitter agony, which followed almost instantly, sat strangely on his face. The same young boy whom I had already seen was standing near the bed, busily engaged with a ball of twine.
Poor though the sick man's surroundings were, yet everything was so exquisitely neat and clean, and arranged with so much care, that there was an air almost of comfort about the room; it was evident he was ministered to by some one who loved him. One great lack, though, I remarked at once—there was no book of any kind near him; the reason of this I learned afterwards.
''Come in, ma'am, and welcome,'' he said, as he saw me; "I'm real glad to see you, for it's but few faces I see most days, and it's weary work lying brooding over our miseries. Tim, draw mother's big chair over nearer for the lady. Eh! but it's hard lines not to be able to jump up and get it for you myself, very hard; but I'm nought but a log now, no use to anybody, nor myself neither, and never shall be again, that's worse."
'But sick people are not expected to get up and wait on their visitors, and I came to see if I could help you in any way, so you must not let me begin by distressing you.''
He half smiled, and said simply, ''Thank you;'' then added, apologetically, "Harry ——, that's a mate of mine, told me you would tell me something that would be a comfort to me; that's more nor a week since. I didn't half believe, but yet his words have stuck by me till this morning, I couldn't help sending little Tim with the message.''
''Then you are in need of comfort?'' I said, hardly knowing what to say, for all the circumstances were so new and strange to me.
"You may well say that ma'am; the doctors say I'll never move about again; and oh! to spend one's life chained to one spot, it's enough to turn one's reason.'' And his brow contracted, while a low groan, of more than physical agony, escaped his lips.
There was a moment's pause, and then I asked, "Have you been long ill?"
"It's nigh on to four months now since my accident; I was over three months in the hospital.''
"Will you tell me how you met with your accident, or does it trouble you to talk of it?"
''No; it would be a bit of relief to speak of it to you, for you see, when mother comes home from work of nights, I mustn't give way; it's hard enough on her to have to work all day to keep me. I couldn't let her come home to hear my groanings, too, poor mother! I could bear it more like a man if it wasn't for her; but just as I thought she should be comfortable for the rest of her life, and never have to work hard again——," he stopped, a sob that was more like a groan, choking his voice; but, mastering his emotion presently, he went on to tell me how he had been a ship's carpenter. The sea was his delight, and he had made many a prosperous voyage, come through many a storm, till, from his great strength and his ''great luck,'' as he expressed it, he had grown reckless as to danger; but, returning from his last voyage, and when almost within hail of the harbour, he was up in the rigging repairing some slight damage. The day was very fine, and the sea like glass, but a breeze from the land suddenly caught the vessel, and she lurched to seaward. He, as usual, careless and thoughtless of danger, was taken unawares just as he was about to come down, missed his hold, and was thrown violently backwards from a great height. As soon as the ship got into port he was removed to the hospital; but, after all had been done for him that could be done, the surgeons pronounced that his spine was so injured he would never walk or even stand again.
''When they could do nothing more for me in the hospital, I was brought home,'' he said; ''and here I am, more helpless than a baby, and nought but a trouble and a care. It drives me well nigh crazy to see mother come in so pale and tired, and I, to lie here; though she never grumbles, but always says God has done it, and His ways are best. I'm glad she can think so, if it helps her; but it seems to me as if, instead of being the God of the widow and the fatherless, as she says, He has forgotten her, and kept me from helping her too.''
''Has your mother no other child?"
"None; she had five, but the others all died when they were little, and father was drowned at sea, when I was no more than three or four. He told mother when he started on that last voyage, 'Please God, when I come back, I'll settle down ashore; but the Caroline—that's the brig he sailed in— put to sea and was never heard of again. God Almighty has been hard on us, ma'am, very, very hard.''
I felt powerless to attempt a word of comfort and could only look to God to reveal Himself in His own true character to this poor, broken-hearted one, who had such dark thoughts of Him. It seemed as if I could go with all the more confidence to Him because the case was so far beyond human aid, just fitted for a Saviour-God. The sick man watched me strangely, then said, in a disappointed tone, "I told Harry no one could bring me comfort; but it was kind of you to come, ma'am, all the same.''
''Yours is a great trouble, Andrew, and human words are of little use, I know, though ever so full of sympathy; but there is One who can help, can comfort you, and I know Him, but you have let in bitter thoughts about Him. You may think it is easy for me to talk, not suffering as you are; but will you answer me one question? You have brought some heavy charges against God —He has broken His Word, forgotten the widow who has trusted Him, dealt hardly with the fatherless; have you nothing to say on the other side?—No mercy to remember?''
He turned his head on his hand, and looked fixedly at me, but did not speak.
''You believe there is a God and a devil, a Heaven and a hell?" I asked.
"Yes, I believe the Bible; it's mother's book, and it was father's."
"From what height did you tell me you fell?"
He seemed astonished at the sudden change in the question, but answered readily, "Nigh on to sixty feet."
''And was that high enough for the fall to have killed you?''
"Why, yes, ma'am. High enough! why, the miracle to every one is, that I was picked up alive. Two mates of mine, when we were out in South America, fell not over 30 feet, and they never spoke again.''
''And if you had never spoken again on earth, where would your voice have been next heard—where would you have been at this very moment, in Heaven or in hell?"
There was a silence. The unseen world seemed very near as I recognized how close he had been to it. After a moment or two, in a deep, hollow tone, he said—''I should have been in hell, for the devil had a fast grip of me then."
''Yes, and was seeking to hurry you straight down to the pit, saying to himself, ‘Now, while his heart is far off from God, without any warning of coming danger, or any time, through a wasting illness, to think of his soul's salvation—now, whilst I have him captive, I will compass his swift destruction, and he shall be my prey for ever.' But the Lord's eye was on you—the eye of Him whom you charge with forgetting the widow and dealing hardly with the fatherless, and the mighty word went forth from that heart of love, 'I want that soul; deliver him from going down into the pit—I have found a ransom.' You say it was a miracle that you were picked up alive, that no one can tell what broke the violence of your fall. It was the Lord's love and mercy going out after your soul. He spake the word, and those messengers of His that do His pleasure interposed unseen hands between you and the eternal destruction the devil had planned for you; and, though you are crippled, yet, oh! you are still outside hell. You have still the door of Heaven standing open to receive you; still Jesus is waiting to be gracious to you, offering you salvation through His precious blood, saying, 'Come unto me and I will give you rest.' He offers you eternal life—Himself as your companion through suffering here, and an eternity of glory with Him by-and-by, instead of the eternal hell from which His love alone rescued you four months ago. Did He forget the widow and her fatherless boy when He did this?''
I shall long remember the expression of his face, or rather the changing expressions of it, though he never stirred. I had spoken rapidly; the whole scene seemed like a vivid picture before me, of which I was only reading him the description, and little Tim had crept up closer, and was gazing wonderingly first into my face, then at his friend, as the words burst forth at last from the latter, ''I'm the biggest fool and the blackest wretch outside hell's gates to-day; I've let all my chances of Heaven go by, and blackened the God that offered them!''
"He offers them still. He says still, 'I will in no wise cast out him that cometh me.' "
"No; He can't offer them again to the wretch that has done nothing but abuse Him for His love. Why, my sins were nothing before my accident to what they've been since. I've done nothing but blacken Him. I wonder He hasn't killed me with the words on my lips.''
'' 'The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin,' '' I repeated.
"But mine can't be meant. Mine is worse than any. Oh, if I had only seen His love before!''
''When God said all sin, didn't He know what He was saying, and didn't He mean it? He did, and, oh! He knows too, He only knows, the full value of the blood of His Son."
The sick man covered his eyes with his hand, and I waited silently. After a long pause, he suddenly looked up and said: "It seems too great that He could forgive me outright; but, oh, do you think He'd listen to me if I told Him what a wretch I've been, and ask Him to let me love Him for all He has done for me, if it's even in hell?"
The broken-hearted earnestness of the man, and the strangeness of his question, on the one hand, and the unutterable joy of knowing the love that was yearning to give the Father's kiss to this returning prodigal, on the other, almost choked my voice as I said:
"That wouldn't be worthy of God; He does not forgive by halves. That is like the prodigal who thought in the far country that he would ask his father to make him a hired servant; but do you remember how his father received him?''
"Nay, I don't mind it. I never read the Bible for myself, and, all those years at sea, I forgot what mother used to read; but I do mind there's something there about it."
The daylight was waning fast, and by the flickering firelight, I could not see to read; but I repeated from memory the well-known parable to ears that listened eagerly; he sobbed aloud as I finished.
"That was love, sure, but, oh, even that man was never so bad as I; the father hadn't sent out after him as God has after me."
''But, Andrew, it is not a question of how bad you are, but whether the blood of God's Son is enough to cleanse you. God cannot look upon sin at all, and only the blood of Jesus could bring one of us into His presence; but God says that His blood cleanseth from all sin. Will you say that there are some sins it cannot wash away; or will you say that there are some returning prodigals the Father has not love enough to receive? I am going away now, and I want to leave you two short verses to think over: 'God is love;' 'The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.' ''
He repeated them two or three times after me slowly. Then, as I rose to leave, suddenly he seemed to notice the fast-growing darkness, and, distressed at my going alone, would have had "little Tim" come with me; but I assured him there would One go with me to whom darkness and the light were both alike; and, promising to return if possible on the morrow, I left.
It was not possible to return the next day, much as I longed to. When next I entered his room, he almost shouted out, "I've got it! I've got it!'' His face was beaming.
"Got what, Andrew?"
''Why, everything 'most, ma'am, except the glory, and that's the port I'm bound for, and I've got my Pilot aboard, and given up the helm to Him, and He knows the way in, sure enough.''
"Tell me all about it.”
"Well, ma'am, after you went away, I was just miserable again. I could only see my sins, and my black ingratitude as the very worst of them all. What a night of it I had, and all yesterday, when you didn't come, I thought God had given me right up now; and I couldn't tell mother, though I saw her look at me and sigh; but in the middle of last night, when I was 'most in despair, I don't know how it was, but I left off thinking about myself and my sins, and began trying to call up all that about the father going out to meet that poor man in his misery, and forgiving him out-and-out like; and then, when my sins came back again, something seemed to say to me, 'Andrew, man, if you're a bigger sinner than that man, that only makes Him a bigger Saviour to be able to save you;' and I just said out loud, 'That's it, Lord; I've got it now; Thou art a big enough Saviour to save even such a wretch as me, for the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.' And with that, it almost seemed as if I were in Heaven. I don't know how the night went. I never felt any pain or anything, and I just kept on talking to Him."
"Does your mother know your joy?" I asked.
''Ay, ay, that she does. I couldn't keep it in. As soon as I heard her stirring in the morning, I just sang out to her, and, when she heard, she went straight down on her knees and told the Lord He had made the widow's heart to sing for joy, and answered all her prayers; but I couldn't tell you half she said, for we were both just crying for joy together. You see it's His great love that knocks one over."
It was touching to hear him tell his tale so simply, like a child. His every thought of God was changed; instead of feeling himself hardly dealt with, and blackening God, he now blackened himself and justified God, while his heart seemed brimming over with a sense of His unutterable love.
"Will you tell me that again about being delivered from the pit?" he said presently. I read him Job xxxiii., and then, at his request, read it a second time. "I have found a ransom,'' he kept repeating, as if the words verily entranced him. "Deliver him. I have found a ransom. Oh, how good He is! And I had been a rebel all my life, and hard to mother too, for she never wanted me to go afloat, and apprenticed me to a carpenter, but I couldn't rest. All our people had been sailors, and when I saw the blue waves come curling round that bit of rock yonder, the land seemed unbearable, and, when the wind rose angry-like and dashed the big waves, all white with foam, against the cliffs, I wanted still more to be out fighting with them, till at last I couldn't stand it no longer, and came to mother and said, 'Mother, give me your blessing and let me go.' It was cruel of me, for she had only me, but she just said, 'The Lord has been beforehand with you, my son, and given me strength even for this.' Often when I kept watch at nights, I wondered and wondered whatever mother meant. The words always made me feel like a coward, but I know all about it now."
I greatly desired to see this widow, whose faith seemed so bright, and of whom her son spoke so touchingly, but weeks passed on before my desire was gratified, for she could not return from her work earlier, nor could I be later. At last, we met; one look at her face told of the peace within. Her son was very like her; she had the same clear blue eyes and frank expression, and the same sunny smile I had noticed at first in him, only with her there was a look of indescribable sweetness and calm that was more than mere patience and resignation, the look of one who had long walked "softly" with the Lord. I took knowledge of her that she had been with Jesus, so much with Him, that I seemed to know Him better from knowing her. There were no glib expressions nor set phrases, though, when she spoke of Him, it was as of One whom she knew well, and on whose love for her she had long been used to reckon; yet her tone was as reverent as her answering love was deep. She was far too humble to dream what a time of refreshment, and strengthening, and encouragement, that visit was to me, what a sweet savour of Christ it left; but, as she thanked the Lord for His tenderness in answering her prayer that we might meet, I could only feel the gain had been all mine.
Meantime, I had seen her son very often, nearly every day for some weeks; for I soon found out he was unable to read, knew little more than the letters of the alphabet, and this accounted for there being no books of any kind near him, which I had noticed at first; but his eagerness to be able to read the Word of God for himself was so great that he hailed with delight my offer to help him, and his progress was wonderfully rapid. Some days he was too suffering, and then I only read to him. There were days when he seemed hardly fit for this even; but his disappointment was so great when once I went away quietly, because he was lying with closed eyes, looking, as I thought, too ill to be disturbed, that I never did that again.
''It never wearies me, but always does me good,'' he said; ''it's like going aloft to catch the first sight of land when you're homeward bound to hear all the beautiful things you read, and I understand them better as you read them to me.''
He delighted in the Word and in hymns—his naturally bright, joyous spirit found new expression in songs of love and praise to the One who had redeemed him. I wondered sometimes if, after the first joy, there would come back any of the old feeling of trouble at his helplessness, but there never did, though many a time I marvelled as I thought, "what has God wrought" for the strong, fearless sailor. The one who had been foremost in helping and doing for others, who had so gloried in his independence, to be content to be wholly dependent, even for the smallest thing, seemed a stranger sight than the suffering so cheerfully borne. Once I asked him if the days were ever long? "Why, no, ma'am," he said, so simply; "you see, I'm never alone now, for Jesus is here, and, though I’m helpless, yet He's strong; it isn't hard to be dependent on Him. And, as to mother, why I just tell Him He loves her better even than I do, and I know I can trust Him to look after her. After all His love, how can I ever doubt Him? And, oh! you wouldn't believe the lots of little bits of things He gives even to me to do for Him; I ask Him to, and He does.''
Once only I saw a cloud cross his face, when some shipmates were saying to him what a sore thing it was and that God Almighty had dealt hardly with him; he shrank then, as from a blow. "Don't say it, mates, don't; it ‘minds me of my own black ingratitude to Him; why, He snatched me out of the very mouth of the pit of hell and, oh! if you only knew Him! I wouldn't change places with either one of you, for He has done so much for me. I would not be again your old mate Andy, for I didn't know Him then." And then he spoke to them so simply, so touchingly, of Jesus, till a coat sleeve was brushed rapidly across more than one rough face to remove the unbidden tears that would trickle slowly down from eyes little used to weeping. To several of his old companions, the Lord used him for blessing, and "little Tim'' learnt the blessed story of the love of Jesus from his lips.
It was his own "black ingratitude" that convicted him; it was the ''wonderful love of God" that converted him; the devil had been at work with him, repeating to him his old lie, with which he has deceived thousands of others besides Eve, that God was a hard God who had withheld good from him, but he had learnt now the true character of the God who so loved us as to give His Son—learnt the heart of God in the person of Jesus, of whom he could then say thankfully, ay, exultingly, "He loved me, He gave Himself for me." Reader, can you say the same? X.
“Light At Eventide, and other Gospel Narratives”