An Address to Seamen!
Edward Payson, October 28, 1821
At the request of the Portland Marine Bible Society
We rejoice, my seafaring friends, to see so many of you assembled here, on this occasion. Most cordially do we bid you welcome. A thousand times welcome, weary, weather-beaten sailor — to the place where rest is offered to the weary in the name of Jesus Christ.
And why have we invited and welcomed you here this evening? Because you are our fellow creatures, our fellow-immortals. Because you are our shipmates in the great ship of this world; and are sailing with us to the shores of eternity! Because you have something within you which thinks and feels; and that something is an immortal soul — a soul worth infinitely more than all the merchandise which you ever assisted in conveying across the seas — a soul worth more than all the stars which twinkle above you, while keeping your evening watch on deck — a soul which will continue to live, and to be happy or miserable, when all those stars are quenched in everlasting night!
Yes, mark me, shipmates — you each have such an eternal soul within you — and for the loss of which, the whole world, could you gain it, would be no compensation. This precious freight, these immortal souls, are embarked in frail vessels, on the dangerous voyage of life — a voyage which you are even now pursuing, and which will terminate, either in the Port of Heaven, or in the Gulf of Perdition!
To one or the other of these places, you are all bound. In one or the other of them, you will all land at death. In which of them you shall land, will depend on the course you steer. These are the reasons why we feel concerned for you, and why we address you.
We wish you to steer a safe course. We know there is but one such course.
We wish you to make sure of a good harbor, in which you may rest quietly after the toilsome voyage of life is ended. We know there is but one such harbor. We know that this harbor is not easy to find. We know that the sea over which you sail is full of sunken rocks and quicksands, on which many a brother sailor has made shipwreck of his soul.
Your voyage is, therefore, exceedingly dangerous. We meet you pursuing this voyage, and wish to speak you. When you speak of a ship, one of the first questions you ask is, "Where are you bound?" Allow me to ask the same question.
Ho, there, creature of God, immortal spirit, voyager to Eternity! Where are you bound? Did I hear your answer aright? Was it, "I don't know!"
Not know where you are bound! Heard you ever such an answer to this question before? Should you hear such an answer concerning a ship — would you not conclude its crew to be either drunk or mad? And would you not soon expect to hear of its loss?
Not know where you are bound! And have you then, for so many years, been beating about in the fogs of ignorance and uncertainty — with no port in view; the sport of storms and sea-currents; driven hither and thither as the winds change, without any hope of ever making a harbor; and liable, every moment, to strike upon a lee shore?
Not know where you are bound! Alas, then, I fear that you are bound to the Gulf of Perdition! I fear that you will be driven on the rocks of Despair, which are now right ahead of you, and which, sooner or later, wreck all who know not where they are bound, and who care not what course they steer.
If I have taken my observation correctly, you are in the Lee Current, which sets directly into a Gulf where you will find no bottom with a thousand fathoms of line!
Not know where you are bound! You must then be in distress. You have either cast off your rudder, or you have no compass, chart, or quadrant on board — nor any pilot who can carry you into the port of Heaven.
And what pilot, you will perhaps ask in reply, can carry us there? Who can tell us, with certainty, that there is any such port? On what chart is it laid down? And how do we know — how do you know — how can any man know, that what you have now told us is true?
These are fair questions, shipmates — and you shall have an answer. But allow me, first to ask you a few questions.
Should you see a ship, well built, handsomely rigged, and completely equipped for a voyage — could any man make you believe that she built herself? Or that she was built by chance? Or that she sprang, like a bubble, out of the sea? Would you not feel as certain, that she was the work of some builder, as if you had stood by, and seen him shape every timber, and drive every bolt?
And can you, then, believe, that this great ship, the world, built itself? Or that it was built by chance? Or that it sprang out of nothing without any cause? Do you not feel as certain, that it was made by some great, and wise, and powerful builder — as if you had stood by and seen him make it?
Yes, you will say, every ship is built by some man. But he who built all things must be more than man — he must be God.
Another question. Should you see a vessel go every year, for many years successively to a distant port, and return at a set time; performing all her voyages with perfect regularity — and never going a cable's length out of her course, nor being a day out of her time — could you be made to believe that she had no commander, pilot, or helmsman on board; that she went and came of her own accord; or that she had nothing to steer her but the wind? Would you have any more doubt that she was under the command of some skillful navigator, than if you were on board, and saw him?
Look then, once more, at this great ship, the world. See how regularly she makes her annual voyage round the sun, without ever getting out of her course, or being a day out of her time. Should she gain or lose a single day in making this voyage, what would all your nautical Tables be good for? Now, could she go and come with such perfect regularity and exactness, with no one to regulate her course? Can you any more doubt that she is under the direction of some skillful commander, than if you saw him regulating all her motions?
But if the world has a pilot, a commander — then who is he? Ay, shipmates — who is he? Is it any of her crew? You know, that if they should all unite their strength, they could neither move her, nor alter her course a hair's breadth. Who then can it be? But why need I ask? Who can regulate all the motions of the world, except He who made the world? And remember, shipmates, if God is here to regulate her course — he must be here to see how the crew behave.
Once more. Would a wise owner put a crew on board a vessel, and send her to sea, bound on a long voyage — without a compass, chart, quadrant, or pilot — to be driven just where the winds and waves might carry her, until she foundered, or went to pieces on some rocky shore?
No, you reply. No wise owner who cared anything either for the ship or the ship's company, would act in this manner.
And would the good, the all-wise God then, who made the world, and placed us in it — act in such manner? Certainly not. It would be insulting him to think so.
You may be certain, therefore, that he has taken care to provide a safe harbor, in which, when the voyage of life is ended, we may ride secure from every danger. You may be certain that he has furnished us with everything necessary to assist us in shaping our course for that harbor; and that he has provided a skillful pilot, who will carry us into it, if we put ourselves under his care. And shipmates, we can tell you, for God has told us — that he actually has done all this.
As a harbor, he has prepared Heaven for us — a place so glorious, that the sun is not fit to be a lamp in it. Could you grasp the world like an orange, and squeeze all the happiness it affords into a single cup — it would be nothing to one drop of the waters of life, which flow there like a river.
For a commander and pilot, he has given us his own Son, Jesus Christ — the Captain of salvation. Beyond all comparison, He the most skillful, kind, and careful commander, that seaman ever sailed under. He can carry you, and he alone can carry you safely into the Port of Heaven. No soul ever found its way into that port without him. No soul which put itself under his care, was ever lost.
Finally, for a compass, chart, and quadrant — God has given us the Bible. Most completely does it answer the purpose of all three.
By this book, as a compass, you may shape your course correctly — for it will always traverse freely, and it has no variation.
By this book, as a quadrant, you may at any time, by night or by day, take an observation, and find out exactly where you are.
And in this book, as on a chart, not only the Port of Heaven, but your whole course, with every rock, shoal, and breaker, on which you can possibly strike — is most accurately laid down.
If then, you make a proper use of this book, mind your helm, keep a good look out, and carefully observe your pilot's directions — then you will without fail make a prosperous voyage, and reach the Port of Heaven in safety.
It may not, however, be amiss, to give a few HINTS respecting the first part of your course. If you examine your chart you will find put down, not far from the latitude in which you now are, a most dangerous rock, called the Drunkard's Rock. This rock, on which there is a high beacon, is almost white with the bones of poor sailors who have been cast away upon it. You must be careful to give this rock a good berth, for there is a very strong current setting towards it. If you once get into that current — then you will find it very difficult getting out again; and will be almost sure to strike and go to pieces. You will often find a group of wreckers round this rock, who will try to persuade you that it is not dangerous, and that there is no current. But take care how you believe them. Their only object is plunder!
Not far from this terrible rock, you will find marked, a whirlpool, almost equally dangerous, called the whirlpool of Bad Company. Indeed this whirlpool often throws vessels upon Drunkard's Rock, as it hurries them around. It lies just outside the Gulf of Perdition — and everything which it swallows up, is thrown into that Gulf. It is surrounded by several little eddies, which often draw mariners into it before they know where they are. Keep a good look out then for these eddies, and steer wide of this whirlpool; for it has swallowed up more sailors than ever the sea did. In fact, it is a complete Hell Gate.
Besides this whirlpool and rock. there are several shoals laid down in your chart, which I cannot now stay to describe. Indeed these seas are full of them, which makes sailing here extremely dangerous. If you would be sure to shun them all and to keep clear of the terrible gulf already mentioned — then you must immediately go about, make a signal for a pilot, and steer for the Straits of Repentance, which you will see right ahead. These Straits, which are very narrow, form the only passage out of the dangerous seas you have been navigating, into the great Pacific Ocean, sometimes called the Safe Sea, or Sea of Salvation, on the further shore of which lies your port.
It is not very pleasant passing these Straits; and therefore many navigators have tried hard to find another passage. Indeed, some who pretend to be pilots, will tell you there is another; but they are wrong; for the great Master Pilot himself has declared that every one who does not pass the Straits of Repentance will certainly be lost.
As you pass these Straits, the spacious Bay of Faith will begin to open, on the right hand side of which you will see a high hill, called Mount Calvary. On the top of this hill stands a Light-House, in the form of a cross — which, by night, is completely illumined from top to bottom, and by day, sends up a pillar of smoke, like a white cloud. It stands so high, that, unless you deviate from the course laid down in your chart, you will never lose sight of it in any succeeding part of your voyage.
At the foot of this Light-House, you will find the Pilot I have so often mentioned, waiting for you. You must by all means receive him on board — for without Him, neither your own exertions, nor all the charts and pilots in the world can preserve you from fatal shipwreck.
As you enter the Bay of Faith, you will see, far ahead, like a white cloud in the horizon, the high lands of Hope, which lie nearby your port. These lands are so high, that when the air is clear, you will have them constantly in sight during the remainder of your voyage; and while they are in sight, you may be sure of always finding good anchoring ground, and of safely riding out every storm.
I might proceed to describe the remainder of your course, but it is needless — for you will find it all in your chart, the Bible. With this chart, the society which invited you here this evening, are ready to furnish every destitute seaman. They do it on purpose that your voyage may be prosperous, and its termination happy.
And now, shipmates, let me ask you one question more. Should a ship's crew, bound on a long and dangerous voyage — refuse to provide themselves with either quadrant, chart, or compass? Or, being furnished by their owner with these articles — should they stow them away in the hold, and never use them, never mind their helm, keep no look out, pay no regard to their pilot's directions — but spend their time in drinking and carousing? Have you any doubt that they would be lost, before their voyage was half over? And when you heard that they were lost, would you not say, "It is just as I expected — and they have no one to blame except themselves!"
Just so, my dear shipmates, will it be with you — if you refuse to receive the Bible, the book which your Maker and owner has given, to assist in shaping your course. Or if you lay this book aside in your chests, and never study it — or if you study it, and do not shape your course by it, nor pay any regard to the directions of Jesus Christ, your commander and pilot; but make your only object to live an careless, merry life; be assured that you will make shipwreck of your souls, and founder in that gulf which has no bottom! And when you are lost — lost forever, you will also feel that you have no one to blame for it but yourselves.
You cannot blame God, your Creator and Owner; for he has kindly given you his only Son to be your pilot, and his Book to be your chart. You cannot blame your fellow-creatures; for, by the hands of this Society, they now offer yon this book, "without money and without price." You cannot blame the speaker; for he has now told you what will be the consequence of neglecting this book.
O, then, be persuaded to receive it, to study it, and to shape your course by it! Become yourselves members of this Bible Society, and persuade your comrades to do the same. Wherever you see the Bethel Flag hoisted — rally round it. As often as you have an opportunity, visit the house of God on Sundays, to hear what Jesus Christ has done for poor Seamen. If you see a brother sailor steering another course — lend him a hand, and take him with you. Whenever you are keeping your evening watch on deck, look up, and see the God of whom you have now heard — the God whose name, I fear, some of you "take in vain" — enthroned in solemn silence, and darkness, and majesty — crowned with a diadem of ten thousand stars, holding the winds and thunderbolts in his hand, and setting one foot on the sea, and the other on the land, while both land and sea obey his word, and tremble at his nod.
This, shipmates, is the God under whom we wish you to enlist, and to whom we wish you to pray. This is the God who now offers to be the poor sailor's friend; and who, in all your voyages, can carry you out in safety, and bring you home in peace.
This too, is the God whom we shall all one day see coming in the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory, to judge the world. Then, at his command, the earth and the sea shall give up all who had been buried in the former or sunk in the latter — and they shall stand together before God to be rewarded according to their works.
O then, seamen, landsmen, whoever you are that hear — prepare, prepare for this great day. Yes, you are an accountable creature. Prepare to meet your God! For he has said, Behold I come, I come near to judgment! He has said it — and He shall he do it!
Yes, when His appointed hour shall arrive, a mighty angel will lift his hand to Heaven, and swear by Him who lives forever and ever, that there shall be no more time. Then our world, impetuously driven by the last tempest, will strike, and be dashed in pieces on the shores of eternity.
Hark! What a crash! One groan of unutterable anguish, one loud shriek of consternation and despair is heard — and all is still. Not a fragment of the wreck remains to which the struggling wretches might cling for support — but down, down, down they sink, whelmed deep beneath the billows of almighty wrath!
But see! something appears at a distance mounting above the waves, and nearing the shore. It is the Ark of salvation! It is the Life Boat of Heaven! It has weathered the last storm — it enters the harbor triumphantly — Heaven resounds with the acclamations of its grateful, happy crew!
Among them, may you all, shipmates, be found! May every perishing immortal in this assembly, now, while the Ark is open, while the Life Boat waits, while the rope of mercy is thrown within his grasp — seize it, and make eternal life his own!