Four vessels sailed from port. The first had on board neither compass nor chart, but was possessed of a helm. The second had a helm and chart, but no compass. The third carried all three, but the chart unfortunately, being but carelessly preserved, dropped overboard and was lost—albeit she succeeded in reaching her destination. The fourth carried and guarded both helm, compass, and chart. It was a matter of great interest to watch each of these vessels. Leaving port was especially full of charm to the spectators—and, so far as the outward appearance of the ships was concerned, none could presage but that the one had as good a chance as the other of mastering the billow and reaching the haven. But this of course rested with the respective crews, and on them depended the success of the voyage.
The first sailed bravely out of port. Soon every stitch of canvas was set and filled out with the fair and welcome breeze. Presently, however, the breeze stiffened into a gale and the gale into a storm, and the vessel was tossed like a cork on the wave. Her peril was great. Billow after billow washed over her dock, and one sea stronger than the others struck her helm and broke it away, and there, at the mercy of the foaming ocean, now riding the crest of the wave and now lost to sight in its trough, she trembles as though in hopeless and helpless do air. Without chart or compass or helm she lies like a log on the face of the deep. She settles! She sinks! And all is over! A little vortex of snow-white brine tells the tale of her complete submersion. Sad overthrow! Fearful ending to a voyage so full of promise.
The second was somewhat more fully equipped. A good chart and a strong and well adjusted helm were carefully appended to her general furniture, and the master professed a thorough knowledge of his business and of the seas through which his vessel had to sail. One important item, however, had been omitted—nor indeed could this omission be remedied, even by the supposed skill of the master or seaworthiness of the ship. There was no compass on board! However, out sailed the vessel. Utmost confidence prevailed. Each heart looked forward with fullest expectation for the haven. The weather too was remarkably favourable. No gale—no storm broke upon the ship. Everything betokened prosperity, and if fear should arise in any bosom for a moment, or the propriety of crossing the ocean without a compass appear to be foolhardy, this was silenced by the fact of the general success of the voyage. Thus day after day passed quietly, and the vessel cut her way through the deep. Such undeviating prosperity, however, had the effect of producing an unwatchful and self-confident disposition in the sailors, and resulted, as might have been expected, in the total wreck of the ship. The catastrophe thus occurred. One night, when all was dark, and the stars overhead were mantled by heavy clouds, and when there was no external aid or beacon, the vessel was driven upon the shoals. The noise of the distant breakers could be heard distinctly, and forthwith the cry was raised
“Breakers ahead!” The master, perplexed and confused, fled to the chart. He looked! He read! He saw that this bank of rocks was clearly detailed. But having trusted his own wisdom rather than the unerring disclosures of the chart, nor having possessed a compass to guide according to the directions of the chart, he now found out, when too late, his sad mistake. The vessel struck and parted, and all on board perished. Such was the end of this vessel.
The third was fully furnished. Her chart, compass and helm, were all in first-rate condition. After leaving port she encountered some rough weather. Angry waves lashed her sides. High winds too blew upon her, and tried her sailing powers. However, this opposition of the elements only caused greater caution, and the consequence was a clear, steady course. Soon the storms abated. The waves came to their level. The clouds rolled away, and the rays of the warm and enervating sun appeared. This change had a bad effect. It was genial and pleasant after the cold, rough blasts. It produced amongst the crew a spirit, not of self-confidence, but of neglect and carelessness. The course of the vessel was cared for too little. The chart fell negligently overboard. Yet the vessel glided onward and the faithful needle kept her point to the north. Things went on thus for some time, until a sudden squall caught her at unawares. She was driven from her course, and but for the assistance of the compass, and the stability of the pole to which it pointed, the vessel would have foundered. As it was, such was the effect; of the surprise, that she suffered severely, and came to harbour little more than a hulk. No praise awaited the heedless crew! They reached the haven, but that was all!
The fourth like the third was fully equipped, but unlike her predecessors, her course was marked by untiring vigilance and unwearied care. She had to encounter storm and sunshine. Her course was strangely varied and chequered. Now she ploughed the deep apace; now she lay nearly becalmed; now she bravely breasted the billow; now she seemed to gather up her strength for a fresh essay. But throughout all there was constant reference both to the chart and compass, whilst the helm did her part in the true guidance of the ship. She gained port full sail, and loud acclamations awaited the crew.
Four men set forth on the voyage of life. The first possessed neither the compass of faith nor the chart of Divine truth in his soul. Still, in a world which does not possess truth for one of its elements, and which does not therefore call for the need, or exercise of faith, these qualities may be dispensed with easily. But the helm of conscience, natural conscience, is the heirloom of all Adam’s posterity, and this may, so far, guide the soul. It may “excuse or accuse,” and supply the knowledge of good and evil. It is, however, subject to will. Its voice may be disregarded and itself be seared. Its admonitions therefore may be trodden under foot. The will of man is vitiated by sin—it is opposed to God, and “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” The will of man is therefore one of sin, of opposition to God, and such being the case, the conscience is made subservient, and the man is ruled by a sinful will.
Hence without truth, without faith in God, and with a down-trodden conscience, the first is seen plunging into those excesses that are tasteful to him. Watch his career. Reckless, heedless, wilful, and worldly, he sweeps along—but his “end is destruction.” Infatuated by the “pleasures of sin,” and abetted by the world and the devil, he founders at last, excluded from God, and included in an eternal hell to endure the wrath of a sin-hating God.
Sinner! “Now is THE DAY OF SALVATION!” “Escape for thy life.” Accept salvation as the gift of God, and accept it now or else through eternity will you rue the fruits of your present heedless course.
But now with reference to our second vessel and to the illustration it supplies. The compass was wanting. The chart and helm were in good working order. Truth was on board, so far, at least, as the mere possession of it was concerned. There was “the knowledge of the truth” (see Heb. 10:26) and the helm of conscience; but, alas, the compass of faith—that which is a sine qua non—that without which, in every sense, “it is impossible to please God”—that which alone can justify in His sight or put the soul in possession of salvation was wanting. Without it destruction is inevitable. “He that believes not shall be damned;” and therefore conscience however upright, and head-knowledge however clear, either separately or together, fail to save. “To live up to one’s conscience” is a popular idea of the way of salvation! But if conscience should fail to apprehend the mind of God, is every sinner who, forsooth, makes a standard of his own individual conscience—his own idea of right and wrong—his own supposition of what becomes God, is every, such sinner, I say, to find a place in heaven? Truly many heavens would be needed to meet the many different standards of right and wrong. Suppose that a sinner in all good conscience should commit murder, should slay his fellow creatures in cold blood and plead conscience—for so did Saul of Tarsus—what a state of things we should run into!!
True, Saul was a Jew; and believing that the Church was wrongfully opposed to his religion, he sought to exterminate its members by every species of cruelty. He “stood by” at the death of Stephen. Very well, Saul had a conscience, and was moreover possessed of the Scriptures, and how came he to act as he did? Simply because there was no divine apprehension of the true meaning of those Scriptures—in a word no faith! A breakdown followed, but, through mercy, one that led him in time to acknowledge that he had sinned, that his righteousnesses were but filthy rags, and his hot zeal only injury, blasphemy, and persecution—so that he was led to count those very things which had been a “gain” to him, now to be loss for Christ.
From this we may easily learn that there may, in our own day, be a knowledge of the truth—a brain acquaintance with facts and doctrines and theology, and along therewith uprightness of conscience, fair dealing, honesty, and a measure of zeal toward God, but yet the absence of that which alone can save—the absence of faith. Such a case is not ideal. How many—oh! what a majority of the respectable of the community at large are merely formal—very formal, very exact, very scrupulous, very praiseworthy, but faithless, lifeless, Christless, and about to founder!
Professors, “YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN.” “YOU MUST!” For you lack the compass! Your course may have been prosperous, your waters calm and unruffled. Nothing may have arisen to cause you the least fear. Ah! no—Satan knows his game! Let me forewarn you, there are “breakers ahead.” “He that falls on this stone shall be broken,” said the Lord Jesus Christ; and you know that whatever outward respect you may have for Him, there does not exist the link of faith in Him as a personal Saviour. You know that you are not saved. You merely hope that you may be. Ah! souls, this will never do. Awake to your danger!
The third case comes before us now. Chart, compass, and helm are all on board. Truth, faith, and conscience are all in possession. Faith in the Lord Jesus as a personal Saviour, truth implanted by the Spirit of God, and the conscience enlightened by that truth. Out sails the vessel—forth sallies the new-born soul on the ocean of life. Converted to God and therefore detached from “the course of the world,” the storms of persecution assail it, old friends become enemies, and the devil does his utmost to regain his prey. All this, however, has the effect of begetting vigilance and determination to be faithful. The storms but drive it closer to the Shepherd’s breast. They cease, and are succeeded by sunshine. The things of the world, its cares, its riches, its interests, press themselves upon its attention. Vigilance is neglected. The word of truth becomes less studied and, therefore, less enjoyed. Prayer is set aside for other duties, and spiritual declension steals over the soul. The “first love” is left, and the first blessedness is gone. The soul becomes barren. The world has gained the victory. Satan rejoices. Christ is dishonoured and the Spirit grieved. Miserable spectacle! Awful sight! The vessel moves along, but the chart is despised and lost. True, the compass and helm do their work, but the crew is deeply guilty.
Ah! poor unhappy backslider. Fair was the day you sailed from port, and loudly you sang of the
“Happy day when Jesus washed my sins away.”
Then your sky was radiant. Your stand for Christ was firm and unflinching. Persecution but pressed you the nearer to His bosom and caused the Word and prayer to be the more precious; but, alas, when circumstances changed you changed with them, and what the cold northerly blast could not effect was accomplished by the world’s sunshine. The smile of the world achieved what its frown could not. You yielded. You fell. True, you have not rejected Christ as a Saviour. When trouble comes you apply to Him, and a faint hope in His mercy buoys you up all along. Faith points to her magnet. But no “abundant entrance” awaits you, no “well done,” no Master’s smile. You will be “ashamed before Him at His coming.” You will be “saved so as by fire.” Such will be your ending. Poor thoughtless soul! Be wise in time. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Act upon that.
How refreshing to notice the course of our fourth and last vessel. Fitted up with chart, compass, and helm, she leaves port, masters the storm, and enters the haven full sail. Such a course is rare indeed. Not many can say with Paul, “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” Yet few, if any, are called to cross such rough and turbulent waters as he. He “died daily.” He had “great things to suffer for the name of the Lord Jesus.” His labours were more abundant, and his stripes above measure. By the grace of God he was what he was. There was laid up for him a crown of righteousness, and the Master’s glad “well done” was to be pronounced over him.
“He wrestled on toward heaven
’Gainst wind and storm and tide.”
He ran with patience the race set before him, looking unto Jesus, and entered full sail.
Dear fellow soldier, what need for us to keep the faith, to be sober and vigilant, and to watch unto prayer. “The just shall live by faith.” May grace sustain and strengthen us till the port be gained.