James Covey by Rev. John Griffin
MR. PRATT relates an affecting anecdote of a sailor on board the ship Venerable, in the action off Camperdown. He received the account from Dr. Duncan, who assisted in binding up the wounds and amputating the limbs of the unfortunate sufferers. A mariner, says the doctor, of the name of Covey, was brought down to the surgery, deprived of both his legs; and it was necessary, some hours after, to amputate still higher. "I suppose," said Covey, with an oath, "these scissors will finish the business of the ball, master mate." "Indeed, my brave fellow," cried the surgeon, "there is some fear of it." "Well, never mind," said Covey, "I have lost my legs, and mayhap lose my life; but we have beat the Dutch, so I'll e'en have another cheer for it: Huzza, Huzza!"
Covey was a good seaman, and noticed among his shipmates for his intrepidity; but he was preeminent in sin. About a fortnight before the action, he was alarmed by a dream which made him tremble. The thoughts of his sins, of God, and of death, harassed his mind, and filled him with gloomy forebodings of what awaited him in this world and the next, till the sight of the Dutch fleet, and the conversation of the men with each other concerning the heroic achievements they should perform, dispelled the gloomy subject.
As the two fleets were coming into action, the noble Admiral, to save the lives of his men, ordered them to lie flat on the deck, till, being nearer the enemy, their firing might do more execution. Covey, having lost all the impressions of his former reflections, heaped, in rapid succession, the most dreadful imprecations on the eyes, and limbs, and souls, of what he called his cowardly shipmates, for lying down. He refused to obey the order, till, fearing the authority of an officer not far from him, he in part complied, by leaning over a cask which stood near, till the word of command was given to fire. At the moment of rising, a bar-shot carried away one of his legs and the greater part of the other; but so instantaneous was the stroke, that, though he was sensible of a jar in his limbs, he knew not that he had lost a leg till his stump came to the deck, and he fell. His legs were amputated; and he was soon put into Haslar Hospital, from which he at length came out, capable of walking by the means of two wooden legs and two crutches; but his spirits were sorely dejected, from fearing that, as his sins had brought upon him the judgments of God in the loss of his limbs, they would bring it upon him in the loss of his reason and the loss of his soul.
Having heard of Orange-street Chapel, Portsea, he came on the first Sabbath evening after his leaving the hospital. The text that evening was, "And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind." Mark 5:15. The minister represented this demoniac as a fit emblem of sinners in general, especially of those who live without rule and order; drunkards, blasphemers, and injurious to themselves and others; and his sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind, as an engaging representation of the sinner converted to God by the Gospel, made sensible of the evil of sin, the value of his soul, and the necessity of salvation through a crucified Redeemer; enjoying peace of mind, having fellowship with Christ and his people, submitting to the authority of the Scriptures, and receiving instructions from Christ, the friend of sinners. Covey listened with attention and surprise; wondered how the minister should know him among so many hundred people; or who could have told him his character and state of mind. His astonishment was still more increased, when he found him describe, as he thought, the whole of his life, and even his secret sins. He could not account for it, why a minister should make a sermon all about him, a poor, wooden-legged sailor. His sins being brought afresh to his mind, filled him with horrors tenfold more gloomy than before. Despair for some minutes took a firm hold on his spirits; and he thought he was now going out of his mind, should die, and be lost; till the minister declared Jesus Christ was as willing to save the vilest of sinners, as he was to relieve this poor creature possessed of the devil; and that a man was restored to his right mind, when he believed in him. He now began to think he had been out of his mind all his life, and that to love and serve Jesus Christ would be a restoration to his right senses again. While hearing of the astonishing love of Jesus Christ to sinners, hope took the place of despair, and joy of grief and horror! Those eyes which had not shed a tear when he lost his legs, nor when the shattered parts of his limbs were amputated, now wept in copious streams of mingled joy and sorrow!
Some weeks after this, he called and related to me the whole of his history and experience; and, something more than twelve months after, he was received a member of our church, having given satisfactory evidence of being a genuine and consistent Christian.
A few weeks since, hearing he was ill, I went to visit him. When I entered his room, he said, "Come in, thou man of God! I have been longing to see you and tell you the happy state of my mind. I believe I shall soon die; but death has now no terrors in it. The sting of death is sin, but thanks be to God, he has given me victory through Jesus Christ. O, what has Jesus done for me, one of the vilest sinners of the human race!" A little before he died, when he thought himself within a few hours of dissolution, he said, "I have often thought it was a hard thing to die, but now I find it a very easy thing to die. The presence of Christ makes it easy. The joy I feel from a sense of the love of God to sinners, from the thought of being with the Savior, of being free from a sinful heart, and enjoying the presence of God for ever, is more than I can express! O, how different my thoughts of God, and of myself, and of another world, from what they were when I lost my limbs on board the Venerable! It was a precious loss to me! If I had not lost my legs, I should perhaps have lost my soul!"
With elevated and clasped hands, and with eyes glistening with earnestness through the tears which flowed down his face, he said, "O, my dear minister, I pray you, when I am dead, to preach a funeral sermon for a poor sailor; and tell others, especially sailors, who are as ignorant and wicked as I was, that since poor blaspheming Covey found mercy with God, through faith in the blood of Christ, none that seek it need to despair! You know better than I do what to say to them! But, O be in earnest with them; and may the Lord grant that my wicked neighbors and fellow-sailors may find mercy, as well as Covey!" He said much more; but his last words were, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" I wish Dr. Duncan and Mr. Pratt had witnessed the last dying hours of this once ignorant and blasphemous sinner; they would have seen what a pleasing change was effected by the meek and efficacious grace of our compassionate Redeemer.