GODLY SEA CAPTAIN’S ANSWERED PRAYER
It was a bright May morning when the “Yokohama,” with Harold Wilson aboard as an ordinary deck hand, put out through the Golden Gate for Melbourne. It was a day of gloom to Harold. Notwithstanding the apparent bravado of his hardened life, down deep in his heart there was a something akin to boyhood tenderness, which he could not throw aside.
As the great vessel, responding to her mighty propeller, gained in momentum and was quickly finding her way out into the great Pacific, and the shores of the homeland began to fade from view, there came to Harold, for the first time in many years, a partial consciousness of the value of a mother. He could not explain why; but now that she was no longer within reach, no longer where he could realize her presence, she began to assume a different appearance to his mind’s eye. After all, she was beautiful; and could he have made the wake of the vessel a path for returning, he would gladly have jumped overboard and hastened home.
Of course, this feeling was only temporary; yet it showed that the time was not altogether past when a mother’s love appealed to this son’s affections. And it was this tender spot which a great Providence was to touch, and through which it would work to cause Harold Wilson to forsake his sins.
The tear that stole its way to the young man’s cheek was quickly brushed away, and he resolutely strove to drown all thought of a mother’s prayers and the purpose for which they were offered. He said to himself, “Be game, old man, and don’t play the baby!” And surely he seemed to succeed in his determination to forget.
Finds the Bible
The crew of the “Yokohama” was the usual motley group of different nationalities, nearly all of whom were abandoned to drink, profanity, and irreligion. Among them, Harold was a “hail fellow well met.”
“Hello! What’s this?” Harold was in search of a needed garment; and as he pulled it from his sailor’s chest, a package fell to the floor.
“I never saw this before,” he exclaimed, and hastily removed the wrapper.
“A Bible! A Bible! And did mother think me such an idiot that I would stand for such nonsense? But, say, it’s a dandy book. I wonder what it cost. My! but this is funny! Harold Wilson, a common drunk, and a thief besides, having a Bible at sea! I guess I’ll ask for the job of preaching to the boys.”
He opened the Book, “just to see how a Bible looks inside;” and there, in the familiar writing of his good mother, were the words, “My Darling Boy.” A lump came into his throat. For an instant, he was transported back to his childhood, and he saw himself in his innocence, enjoying the endearing words which for so long a time now he had professed to spurn. Again a tear, an unwelcome tear, made its way down his cheek. Instinctively he turned his face, lest the eye of some fellow sailor should discover his weakness.
But he could not resist the reading of the mother’s message on the flyleaf. Nor did he lay the Book down — rather, throw it down — until he had gleaned through its pages, and discovered the markings of his tender mother’s hand. Not only were passages marked, but in connection, written in the margin, were words of truth and admonition which only his mother could ever have penned.
“I don’t want this thing,” he cried out. “Must I be haunted by this miserable stuff wherever I go?” and throwing the Book into the box, he slammed down the cover, and “turned in” for the night.
Fire At Sea
About a month had passed, and a hard month indeed it had been. The journey had been made through rough seas, and on more then one occasion there had been imminent danger of shipwreck and a grave in the deep. More than one man aboard had avowed that if he could once again reach land, he would lead a different life. (How often troubles lead men to think, at least, of better things!) And now a fire broke out in the hold.
The “Yokohama” had aboard a heavy consignment of kerosene oil, and a fire meant almost certain death to all on board. A strong force of fire fighters was therefore set to work in a frantic effort to smother the flames before they should reach the cargo of oil.
Captain Mann, in charge of the vessel, was a Christian, a person of few words, and a man whose personality commanded the respect and even the admiration of his men. He was courteous, brave, temperate, refined, a striking exception to the rank and file of the crew that manned the ship. For more than thirty years, he had been in command at sea; but this was his first experience with a burning vessel.
The cry of “Fire!” had called forth the strongest that was in him. Though his nature almost staggered at the peril of the situation, he calmly but quickly placed every man at his post; and every man fought with confidence because of a something that Captain Mann possessed in this period of danger. Harold Wilson in particular took note of the spirit of courage and confidence shown by him.
But suddenly the captain disappeared. And almost as suddenly, a new emergency compelled the first mate to call for his assistance. Harold Wilson was dispatched to find him.
Livid with fear, the young man hastened to the captain’s room. The door stood ajar. He was about to call out his message, when a voice from within checked him. What was it he heard? It was the voice of prayer!
To make certain, he pushed the door a bit farther open, and, lo, there was the captain on his knees, his Bible open before him, his face turned upward.
The throbbing of the engines and the general excitement aboard had caused Harold’s coming to be unnoticed; and thus the captain continued his prayer, while Harold seemed spellbound and unable to do aught but listen.
Mann’s Prayer Answered
The prayer touched a responsive chord. Why should it not? It was a prayer that the God of the Bible would fulfill His promise, and save the lives of the crew; and Harold Wilson was one whose life was in the balance. For the first time in his career, he was glad to see a praying man.
Captain Mann’s Bible refuge was Psalms 107:23-31. This assurance was his comfort now. Whether storm or fire, it mattered not; God would bring them “out of their distresses,” “unto their desired haven.” This was the promise which Harold Wilson heard Captain Mann plead.
But strange to say, Psalms 107:23-31 was one of the passages Mrs. Wilson had marked in the Bible given her son.
Was the captain’s prayer to be answered?
Harold had only a moment to wait, for Captain Mann was soon on his feet and hastening back to his perilous duty. Harold made known his message, and also rushed again to his post.
The fire had been gaining headway rapidly, despite the most heroic resistance. The vessel seemed doomed. In a few minutes, the vast cargo of oil must ignite, and then all would be over.
But now a great explosion took place. The closed hatches were almost blown from the deck. The crew were terror-stricken, not knowing but the oil was already in the grip of the fire.
What had happened? — Ah, one of those providential things which only the Christian can understand. A large steam pipe had burst, and was now pouring an immense volume of super-heated water and steam into the hold, and at the very point of greatest danger. An unseen hand had assumed control; and very soon the volumes of black smoke gave place to clouds of white steam, and the fighters knew that the salvation of the ship was assured.
So wonderful did it all seem, that the crew were not slow to express their astonishment and gratitude.
“Do yez belave, captain, that the Big Mon had somethin’ to do with it?” inquired a rough Irishman, Pat Moran by name.
Captain Mann had perhaps erred in his views regarding religious life, in that he held it unnecessary to talk to his men about Christianity, but rather allowed them to discover what they could about his ideas from what he actually lived before them.
But now he was drawn out to confess his faith.
“Men,” said he, “that steam pipe was broken by the hand of the Almighty. It did not merely ‘happen.’ There is a God who hears and answers prayer. He has promised to help men who go to sea, and to-day He has kept His word.”
Harold’s marked Bible, like an unwelcome spirit, seemed to haunt him as he listened.
“But say, captain, do yez railly belave what yer sayin’?” again spoke Pat.
“Ah, my boy, I have believed for many long years.”
“But where did yez get the idee? Where has the Big Mon told yez that He would take care of us poor lunatics?”
“Pat, I had a good mother, who taught me to pray to God up in heaven. She taught me, also, to read the Bible, the Book that God helped good men write. In that Book, He tells us that we all belong to Him, that we are to obey Him, and that He will take care of us. He says He will save men who are in trouble while traveling the seas. Did you never see a Bible, Pat?”
“Shure, an’ I niver did,” he exclaimed; “but, belave me, I would like to put the eye of me on such a wurruk.”
Mother’s Influence Follows Him
Again Harold Wilson was ill at ease. A good mother, a God, a Bible, an answered prayer, — all these thoughts were as goads, which hurt, and which hurt deeply. Had he not a good mother? Had she not taught him to believe in God and to pray? Had she not often appealed to him to read the Bible and to obey its precepts? — Yes, all this and much more.
Pat Moran, and others at this time off duty, accepted Captain Mann’s invitation to go to his room and look at the promise which that day had saved the lives of all on board. Harold went with them. The Bible lay open on the table near the door.
“There, men, is the Book my mother taught me to love,” said the captain; “and right there is the promise which put out the fire and save your lives and mine,” reading to them, as he spoke, the scripture which for a long time had been his refuge.
Harold looked into the captain’s face. What a good face! How clean looking, and how free from coarseness! Honesty, sincerity, nobility, were to be traced in every furrow. And this was a man of the Bible, a practical, helpful, whole-hearted sea captain.
There could be no doubt that here was a demonstration of the truth of Christianity, and it most powerfully appealed to all those hardened men who that evening stood in the captain’s room. It appealed to Harold. Would he yield?
A Storm of conflicting emotions raged in his breast. Alternately he inclined to good and to evil.
Quickly filling his mouth with a chew of plug tobacco, he hastened from the room to his own part of the vessel, and nervously throwing open his box, he snatched up the Bible given him by his mother, and tried to find the verses that the captain had just read. He finally found them.
In the margin, he read these words from his mother’s pen: “I shall ever pray that this promise may be your refuge at sea, to save you from storm or accident.”
He closed the Book, and angrily threw it down — angry to think that he had not succeeded in getting beyond the reach of his mother’s influence. The entire experience was as a nightmare.
But again he was impelled to seize the Book, and make note of this and that passage which he had once read, and which were now underscored for his benefit. The last that attracted his attention was Exodus 20:8-11; and here was written in the margin: “Honor all God’s commandments, and especially the fourth. It means the presence of God in your soul, a power to keep you upright.”
Now to Harold Wilson, his mother’s rest day had always been most detestable. He despised the thought of sacred time. He actually hated the restrictions it placed upon him.
No sooner, therefore did he see this text and its accompanying statement, than he felt within him all the old-time antagonism and bitterness; and giving way to all his pent-up wrath, he sprang to his feet with a curse on his lips, and taking the Bible to the open door, he impetuously threw it far out into the sea.
“There, that ends this whole cursed business,” he muttered; and then, imagining that he had performed a praiseworthy act, he sauntered out on deck.