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9. It is a common mistake among Christians, to suppose, that if we are to be saved by the power of God, we are to be saved without the use of natural means; but the contrary is plain, from the judgment the Apostle has given concerning the attempt of the shipmen to flee out of the ship, and leave her in a helpless condition; in which case, the lives of the greater part must have been lost. This case is very particular: Paul had been warned by an Angel of God, that there should be no loss of any man's life; and he had declared before them all, his own assurance, that it would be as it was told him. Yet now he admits it to be
possible, that all the rest of the company would belost, unless the seamen should abide in the ship, to give their help to the last extremity. How is this? Can the promise of God fail? Assuredly not: but this we are to learn, that all his promises are conditional; and that his providence works so insensibly for our deliverance, that it is left at last as a question for faith to resolve, whether it be providence, or chance, or human skill that has saved us. To suppose the end, is to suppose the means that lead to it: to hope to obtain the end, through a dependence on the divine promises, while we neglect the means which should lead to that end, is the sin of tempting God; we tempt him to transgress the rules of his own wisdom and justice by an undue exercise of his power. He promises to work with us, not without us : his help is an encouragement to labour, not an excuse for idleness. He
supports and feeds us every day by his
openeth his hand and filleth all things living with plenteousness; yet he hath pronounced by the mouth of his Apostle, that if any man will not work, neither shall he eat : it being intended, that every man sliail find his maintenance by the blessing of God upon liis own endeavours. So, in the improvement of the mind, his scriptures make us wiseunto salvation; but not unless we search and study them. His holy spirit is promised as a gift and an help to all Christians; but not unless they ask for it, and prepare themselves for its reception.
The case of these shipmen teaches us, that it is possible for those to be lost, whom God hath promised to save : which doctrine entirely overthrows that false notion of absolute predestination and unconditional decrees, by which many weak minds have been disturbed and led into grievous errors. We therefore conclude with St. Paul, that unless the seamen abide in the ship, and do their ordinary duty on board, and bring in their vessel so near to the shore, that the people may swim to the land, and seem to save themselves, they cannot be saved of God.
This doctrine will be of great service to us in the conduct of our lives, and contribute to our success in this world, and our salvation in the next, if we make a proper use of it. The promises of God are a security to those who so trust in them, as to work under them; but none at all to those, who shew by their presumption that they are unworthy to obtain them.
4. The comfort, encouragement, and safety derived to this whole company from the presence of St. Paul, is the next thing to be considered. which a good man finds for himself in time of distress, extends to those who are near him. After they have been tossed upon the sea for many days in dark tempestuous weather, and expected nothing but inevitable destruction, we see this blessed Apostle infusing confidence and even chearfulness into those, from whom hope itself was departed. The society of a godly man answers the purpose of a new light,
when the sun and stars disappear. It is the reason why many sink into despair, and are lost in a troubled sea of sorrow, because they have no friend to administer properly the comforts of religion; none to raise their thoughts from the storm that beats upon them to the mercy of that God who stilleth the raging of the sea. See how the Apostle performs this office to those, who had brought him into all this danger, by neglecting his advice. Instead of being offended with their past perverseness, he considers their present distress ; he talks to them as if they were his children, and tells them how they are all given to his prayers : he encourages them to eat with thankfulness for their necessary refreshment, and sets them the example in his own person. Here let me observe, for the benefit of those who may be in the like distress, that there is a source of comfort, to which all Christians may have recourse, though they are not blessed with the personal attendance of St. Paul. They have the word of God, which is a sure and faithful attendant upon us in the storms and troubles of life; we may travel with it by land or by water; there we may hear St. Paul speaking to us : there we may have the Psalms of David, accommodated to all the trials, dangers, and afflictions to which a Christian can be exposed. Thus we may sail with St. Paul in our company, and find salvation even in shipwreck.
5. Another circumstance in this voyage, from whence much instruction may be gathered, is this, that when they had taken of their provisions what was necessary to refresh them, after long abstinence, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the
What will not men do for the saving of their lives? Their bread itself is cast away, when it
endangers the life it ought to preserve. Thus ought men to act for the saving of their souls: they should lay aside every weight, that may render their escape from sin and sorrow more difficult and hazardous. Nothing should be retained that is inconsistent with their safety. A ship-load of corn is of no value, when men are sinking with the weight of it to the bottom of the sea; and what are all the possessions of this life, but superfluous and destructive, if their tendency is to sink the soul into perdition? When a vessel on a tempestuous sea is about to founder with the weight of the corn she has on board, then it becomes undeniable, that the life of the mariners does not consist in the abundance of the things which they possess ; so far from it, that from hence is their danger; and their abundance is their ruin. Every man who abounds with earthly possessions, in a world of sin and tempta
a tion, is in danger of being overset by them. If there were no storms in life, no blind appetites to agitate and disorder us, we might then possess much with little danger; a vessel deeply laden may float in a calin sea, and great wealth may consist with the safety of a virtuous person: but when the winds blow, and the waves arise, and there is a bottomless gulph underneath ready to swallow us up, the meanest understanding must be convinced, that abundance is not to be coveted. Suppose a ship to be laden with the treasures of the Indies; suppose her to be painted and gilded, and carved * with all possible elegance; of what use is all this, when she is going to be cast away with her own weight? Then the plain empty vessel, which goes light over the waves, and will convey her passengers safe into the port, is rather to be
* Nil pictis timidus navita puppibus
chosen. Look at the great and the wealthy of this world, and see how often they are tossed about with storm and passion, beyond the lot of other men; the slaves of pride, avarice, and ambition; to the torment of their lives and the hazard of their souls. They that will be rich, saith the Apostle, fail into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. This is too often the fatal effect of their abundance. Therefore, let not the rich, who are in such perils, despise the humble but safer condition of the poor; let not him, that is laden with the possessions of life, boast himself against those who possess little or nothing. We are embarked on a dangerous ocean; and the great question with us all is no other than this, What shall we do to be saved ? One method is, to lighten the vessel, so far as it is necessary; to throw aside every weight that may endanger our salvation; and to cast out even the wheat itself into the sea, if it shall please God to make that a condition of our deliverance; that so we may escape out of this troublesome world naked and unprovided to the heavenly shore.
6. There is another wonderful passage in this account of St. Paul's shipwreck, the last on which I shall at present offer my observations; this is the counsel of the soldiers to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out and escapé. As St. Paul himself, being a prisoner, must have fallen a sacrifice in this barbarous execution, we have here a striking instance of the insensibility and brutality of the human mind, when it is neither polished by learning, nor rectified and softened by a knowledge of God. How strange is it, that these soldiers have neither the gratitude nor the compassion to start at the con