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Good Words 1860
On the Atlantic



"The plank was lifted up, the coffin slid down, plunged in the sea, and—where was it? where was it?"—(Page 459.)

As the sun was setting upon a lovely summer's evening, we were steaming it bravely down Channel in one of the superb "Cunard liners." "We had, since the forenoon, bid farewell to our friends at Liverpool—glided slowly down the Mersey— passed the Bell buoy—that eerie and lonely warning farewell and welcome, midst waves and storms, to homeward and outward bound." We were now almost "fairly out at sea." The Welsh mountains rose like masses of clouds in the east. Westward, a mass of golden light spread over the sky and tinged the waters; while far and near were scattered sails of fishing craft and pilot-boats, with vessels of all rigs and size, on their voyage to or from every region of the globe.

I pass over, at present, any notice of the splendid vessel, and that to me sublime sight, the majestic engine, rolling her, with unhesitating and resistless power, upon her path of 3000 miles, against sea and storm. Nor shall I tell you all my guesses about the country, clime, professions, &c, of the seventy male and female passengers who mustered around the dinner-table; nor all my wonder at the marvellous order and punctuality with which the sumptuous meals were served. Nor shall I burden you with all my many crowding thoughts, hopes, fears, anxieties, expectations, as I paced the deck alone, and saw the sun—and with the sun, the land—depart, and the clear stars appear, and the first night upon the deep close around, and realized that the voyage had really commenced, which, if God prospered us, was to end in a new world, and amidst a new scene of important, difficult, and highly responsible labours.

When I first entered the cabin, before getting under weigh, the first object which caught my eye was an invalid passenger, who was in a berth next the one assigned to my friend and myself. A single glance told a sad tale. The sufferer was a man apparently about thirty years of age. The sunken yet hectic cheeks, the skeleton hands, the brilliant eye, the hollow and incessant cough, were symptoms of consumption far advanced, which could not be mistaken. I sat down beside him, and expressed my sympathy for him, telling him I was a clergyman, and would be very happy to be of any service to him. He expressed his thanks, and told me he had no friend, and hardly an acquaintance on board ; that his family lived in Boston; that he was in hopes the sea-voyage on his way home would be of service to him. His very hopes made his case to me more sad. I felt assured his voyage was near its end; and that whatever was to be done must be done quickly. I began as gently as possible to make him converse upon the things belonging to his peace; and before our steamer was out of the river, he had so far unburdened his mind as to tell me that he was not indifferent to such subjects, but that he was a Unitarian. This made me the more anxious to improve every hour. Before night set in, we had many short conversations. I read and prayed with him. He was removed at night to a berth near the deck, where there was more air. My friend also read with him.

The weather has continued beautiful. The sea is calm. We have passed Cape Clear. The Irish hills are fast departing in the distance, and mingling with the clouds. . . . Now are we out on the great deep—

"Nothing above and nothing below
But the sky and the ocean."

There is something very striking in this sight of the boundless sea: the horizon sweeping round and round without any interruption; the blue dome of heaven on all sides resting upon it, with the vessel and its people as the centre, and the only human-like object within the vast circumference. I do not remember having seen this before. In crossing the Channel to and from the Continent, though out of sight of land, it was always hazy, and I never could realize the grandeur and loveliness of this vast ocean view. But perhaps my mind was in a mood to receive the most sober and least-gladdening impressions of things.

My poor patient has passed a very restless night. I fear his time is not to be so long even as I anticipated. He grants the Divine authority of the New Testament, and the perfect truthfulness of Christ and the apostles. He is an un-believer rather than a disbeliever in Christ's Divinity. He is candid and upright; and in such truthful ground, surely truth must, if sown, sooner or later, bring forth fruit. I have, therefore, read the Scriptures to him. I tried to awaken in him, from a sense of his own wants, a sense of the need of such a Saviour as Jesus Christ. I also pointed out to him several of those passages in which the same names, titles, and attributes are ascribed to Christ as to God. I dwelt upon that marvellous combination of the Divine and human, which is

seen in all the acts of Christ's life, from His cradle to His ascension. I showed to him how the Scriptures demand the same supreme love, homage, trust, and obedience to Jesus, as they do to the only living and true God ; while He is held out as the only person in the universe who saves men from guilt, from ignorance, and from sin ; and I asked, Who is this Jesus Christ? Who is this I am to love and serve as God himself ? Who is this who invites a weary and heavy-laden world to come to Him for rest?—who promises, through faith in His blood, to pardon a world's guilt; who bids learned and unlearned to sit at His feet and receive His words as eternal life ; who commands kings and nations to be subject to Him, promising to defend all who trust Him from the power of Satan, and to deliver them from the power of sin; and, finally, to receive them from the dead, save them at the day of judgment, and give them eternal glory, and that, too, because they believed in and loved Him? Who is this into whose hands we are to commit our all, soul and body, in the hour of death, in the persuasion that He can keep what we commit to Him till that day? Was such a Saviour as this such a person as ourselves? a man only—a mere creature? or was He not "that eternal life which was with the Father, and which was manifested to us,"—that life which was the "Light of men,"—that "Word which was God, and which was made flesh,"—"Immanuel, God with us?"

As I thus spoke, trying by these and other methods to make him see, with the help of God's Spirit, the glory of Christ's work as inseparably connected with the glory of His person ; so that, if we could not be saved without such a Saviour, neither could we have such a Saviour without such a person ; and as I pressed upon him an immediate closing with Christ's offers, he looked up to me, and said, ''Oh! how often my mother told me those things!" Were the prayers of a pious mother (long dead), which seemed during her life to have been unheard, now about to be answered? Were the advices which had been cast upon the waters, though as if there to sink for ever, now, upon the great deep, to bring forth fruit to God ? The day will alone declare it. But I could not but indulge the hope that it was so, as he said to me, when parting for the night,—to him the night of death,—"I see how it is, that one must believe in Jesus the Son of God before he can be saved. I shall turn and pray to Him;—good-night!"

In the middle of the night I rose and went to see how he did. I found the steward sitting beside him. I never saw a more tender, considerate nurse than that man was ! He did everything so cheerfully and feelingly. He read the Scriptures to him, and tried to give him strength and comfort. "The poor gentleman sleeps soundly," he said; "but I think his last sleep is near." In an hour after the heavy breathing ceased, and all was silent.

One of my friends and I rose early this morning to commit the body of poor L------to the deep. The captain asked us to have the kindness to read the burial-service over him. We consented to do so. In the judgment of charity, I thought I could commit "the body of this brother" to the deep. My friend, who had also read and prayed with him, was of the same opinion. The morning was gusty. We were breasting a head-breeze, and the ocean was beginning to heave. The coffin, covered by a flag, was placed upon a plank close to the gang-way. Gathered around were the captain and some of the crew (dressed in their Sunday clothes), with a few passengers. As the words were uttered, "we commit this body to the deep," the end of the plank was lifted up, the coffin slid down, plunged into the sea, and—where was it? where was it? It was the impossibility of marking, for a single moment, where it was, amidst the foaming waters, which, more perhaps than anything else, impressed me with a sense of that solemnity of a burial at sea, which all who witness it never fail to experience. In the quiet and peaceful churchyard, we can visit the grave; our human feelings, which cling even to the poor material fabric, though we know that all we best loved has passed away from it, are soothed by the knowledge, that "here lies" the body, which is inseparable in our memories from the soul which gave it life. The green grave thus blends life and death, linking the seen with the unseen. It is indeed a family resting-place, where all wait together the gladdening beams of the Resurrection morning. But in that sea-burial there is such a sudden change, from the body being with us—a thing we can still call ours—to its being to us nowhere. A momentary splash, and the ship passes on, and leaves it in the boundless, unfathomable, mysterious sea! Yet in the ocean it is as safe as in the lonely churchyard. He who holds the mighty deep in the hollow of His hand, beholds and keeps all that is in it. Like Jonah, the body may be entombed beneath the waves ; but, like him, it is watched and guarded until the day of deliverance comes, when the "sea shall give up its dead;" and then the vile body shall be fashioned like His own glorious body, through that power by which He can subdue all things to himself."

The weather for the last day or two has become chilly. The captain says, we may hourly look out for ice. At this season of the year it passes our track, on its slow voyage to the warm south, where it melts away in the high temperature of the Gulf Stream. Navigation amidst ice is at all times more or less dangerous; whether the ice occurs in the form of icebergs, or in large flat masses, which are difficult to discover, even during the day, amidst the waves.

This afternoon we were all attracted to the starboard quarter of the ship by the announcement of "Icebergs." The day was beautiful,—the sky serene,—the sea ruffled only by a pleasant breeze, before which we were running at the rate of about twelve knots an hour with all sail set, and the steam blowing off at the funnel-head. On the distant horizon was seen a white silvery speck, gleaming and sparkling in the sun. By and by another appeared—a third—a fourth ; and the specks soon began to assume more definite forms; and as we rapidly neared them, we found ourselves passing close to towering icebergs. I cannot tell what a strange impression these made upon me ; there is something so mysterious in their whole

history. When was the keel laid of that huge one, like a hundred decker, which kept in sight so long to-day ? Perhaps at the period of the Covenanters, if not earlier! No eye but that of its Maker beheld it in some unknown region between Spitzbergen and the Pole, slowly building beneath stormy blasts and snowy drifts; then broken off from the glacier bed, and launched into the great deep, to commence its solitary voyage of many thousand miles, impelled by the irresistible ocean tide; at last to disappear and be absorbed into the element from which it was made, and, in its final destruction, to be as unnoticed by human eye as in its early formation. Yet these very icebergs, in cooling the temperature of the air and of the Southern Ocean, perform an essential and important service in God's world. He has made nothing in vain. All His works are still "very good."

The scene this evening was magnificent beyond description,—I shall never forget it. The sun descended to the horizon like a huge globe of burnished gold. A few fleecy clouds hung their gorgeous drapery above the departing orb, whose last rays were reflected from the glittering peaks of a majestic iceberg, and lighted up a glowing pathway across the dancing waves, along which we were rapidly gliding with every stitch of canvas spread. As the sun touched the sea-line, it seemed for a moment to pause, then slowly sunk, until there remained but a single brilliant speck of gold, which in a second disappeared, leaving us in twilight. To add to the striking character of the scene, a large whale near us ever and anon lifted his black back above the waves, and spouted his column of water into the air. You will be surprised to hear, that such sunsets are by no means common. One of the passengers remarked, that "he had crossed the Atlantic eight times, and had never seen a good sunset;" the horizon being generally hazy.

The brilliant sunset was followed by a day of gloom, and a night of danger. Yesterday a thick fog wrapped us in its cold grey mantle. Immediately before it came on, we hailed a small brig on her homeward voyage from America to Alloa. She was the first sail we had spoken on the passage. In answer to the question, ''Have you met much ice?" we received the unwelcome reply, "Yes, a great deal" and, on further inquiry, we found that we should probably reach, during the night, the latitude in which the brig had encountered the ice in such quantity. This news was followed by the fog; and no "Scotch mist" which you have ever witnessed, not even the densest "eastern haar" which ever visited Edinburgh from the northern ocean, can be compared with the fog upon the banks of Newfoundland. On it came like a great stream of dense palpable cloud, rushing over us. It was no thin vapour, which vanished before your immediate presence. It met your face, and blew into your eyes. Standing at the stern of the vessel it was impossible to see her bow. The ship became dim at the funnel, and was invisible at the bowsprit. It was anything but a pleasant prospect to go plunging on, at full speed, with the darkness of night, added to the darkness of day, through an ocean strewed with icebergs. It was like sailing at midnight through an archipelago of rocks without a chart. To come in contact with the one, would prove as certainly and as immediately fatal to us, as to come in contact with the other. I walked the deck alone, before descending to my berth for the night. Forward at the bow stood the watch on the look-out, peering through the darkness; and as the ship's bell tolled the passing hour, the ear caught their pleasant cry of "All's well!" In the engine-room, the swinging lamps, and huge furnace fires, as their burning throats were opened to receive their supply of fuel, shed a lurid glare upon the wonderful machinery which impelled our vessel onward. Day and night, since we left Liverpool, and along a path of nearly three thousand miles, had those valves opened, and polished rods moved, and great levers worked, with unfailing accuracy, driving us, with resistless energy, against wind and waves. Sometimes, when a heavy sea struck the ship, the giant iron arms, which turned the immense paddles, seemed to pause for a second, as if to gather all their strength into one effort of indomitable power; and then would they calmly and majestically revolve, and force the gallant vessel, amidst mist and darkness, through the roaring sea. When even puny man is wondrous in his works, what is man's Maker! The quarter-deck was occupied by the captain and chief officer only. Under deck the helmsman all alone grasped his wheel, keeping his eye fixed on the compass, which shone brightly beneath the binnacle light. The huge monster, in spite of her 500 horse power, was mastered by his magic wheel; and strange indeed it seems, that " the ships, which, though they be great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the steersman chooseth." That same steersman is the very symbol of a Christian. He had nothing to do with how the wind blowed, or how the sea rolled, or whether it was light or darkness without; but to steer in the direction commanded him, and according to the compass before him, on which alone he had to fix his eye ; just as the Christian is not to be guided by things as they appear,—by the roughness or smoothness—the darkness or clearness of his voyage. Enough for him if his Captain commands him; and God's Word, as his chart and compass, guides him in the way he should go. What has he to do but to trust both; and

"Argue not
Against Heaven's hand and will; or 'bate a jot
Of heart or hope; but still bear up, and steer Right onward!"

And thus, in the end, he will be safely and surely brought to his desired haven!

In passing the windows of the saloon, a striking contrast was presented between the scene without and within. Some of the passengers were playing cards. The few ladies present were knitting fancy work. All were listening to a foreigner who was singing various airs from the popular operas, which he accompanied with his guitar. One could not help feeling how soon and how suddenly all this might be changed for a scene of midnight desolation! Before retiring to rest, I naturally selected for my evening reading those portions of Scripture associated with "perils on the deep," the history of Jonah, the voyage of St. Paul, the 107th Psalm, and the like. How rich is Scripture in affording instruction and comfort suited to every occasion and circumstance of life! Verses and passages, which perhaps at one time we almost passed over without any interest in them, become, at another period of our history, so full of meaning, so precious to us, that we wonder why we never saw their rich beauty before. God indeed gives us "our meat in due season," and "liberally" supplies our wants. I lay down to rest, repeating the 23d Psalm; but while preserved from all slavish fear, I confess that never was my mind more solemnized. Nor did I wish to banish the idea of danger; but rather to receive the good which the realizing of it might bring. I have been more than once in similar circumstances; and who has been so without noticing how vividly one's whole life comes before them,—how faithfully memory and conscience do their work,—how, then, if at any time, we weigh things in just balances,—how false, how empty every action and state of being are felt to be, which have not been according to God's will, and have not fulfilled His purpose ; and how blessed a thing it is, and, above all other blessings, to know God as our Father, and as the rest and peace and satisfaction of our soul, when we feel ourselves so entirely in His hands, and may in a moment be called into His presence! The wished-for morning at length broke. Most welcome were the sun's rays streaming into our cabin, which announced another and a brighter day. The first object which caught my eye on reaching the deck, was what proved to be the last of the icebergs. We were sailing towards it, and soon passed within a few hundred yards of it. It seemed to have about an acre of surface. In the windward side it rose about thirty feet, and sloped down gradually to leeward. The beating sea had scooped out a series of hollow caves in its precipices,—and nothing could exceed the exquisite beauty of the waves as they rushed into these icy caverns, catching from their transparent walls an intense emerald green, which mingled with the pure snowy whiteness of their own crested heads.

We sighted land upon Sabbath morning, but passed it at a considerable distance. It was Cape Pine in Newfoundland. We had divine service on board, as on the former Sabbath. Those services are attended by the passengers, and also by the officers and crew. In the absence of a clergyman, the captain reads the service of the Church of England. After preaching, we found, as on the preceding Sabbath, a great disposition on the part of several of the passengers, to enter into frank and kindly conversation upon the truths expounded. As the subject of one of the discourses was the divinity of Christ, and the inseparable connexion between this fact, and our love and obedience to Christ as our Saviour, one or two who had hitherto been Unitarians, discussed with much earnestness the views advanced, and with apparent sincere desire of knowing the truth. I hope those Sabbaths were not without their fruit.

The captain tells us, that he hopes to enter Halifax before morning. We had bid farewell to our American friends, who will have continued their voyage southward, before we can again meet. The passengers drank our healths with many kind words after dinner to-day. We have received cordial invitations from several to visit them if we go to the States. There was on board a tall Kentuckian. He wore large boots, great-coat, and broad-brimmed hat. He seldom if ever spoke, but walked the deck in silence, chewing tobacco all day long. He was never absent from meals, and the only change which ever marked his countenance, was the smile which lasted during the hour after dinner, when the Yankees crowded into the covered place on deck, near the funnel, to sing Old Dan Tucker, and other ''Nigger songs" in hearty chorus. I was not a little surprised, when this specimen of the West came up to me, asking, "'Spect to visit Kentuck, Sir? Cause if you do, I shall give you three days as fine coon shooting as ever mortal enjoyed!" Though I had no hope of joining him in his sport, I was touched by his kindness.

Amidst heavy rain, we ran up this morning, about five o'clock, to the wooden wharf at Halifax. The ship was discharging her cargo when we came up on deck. At that early hour we were met by friends who then began an acquaintance, which I hope will never end in this world or the next. In a short time we had bade farewell to that splendid steamer,—thankful for our short but pleasant voyage,—and landed on the shores of a new world, with new duties, new cares, new hopes and fears before us; but also new friends, and new labours of love, and an ever-present God as our hope and stay!


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