The Aged Sailor
D-- R--, the subject of the following narrative, was born at Glasgow, of respectable parents. They required him to attend public worship twice on the Sabbath, and in the evening to commit to memory a few verses of Scripture and a psalm or hymn. He was naturally very passionate and self-willed: would frequently, when sent to school, play truant; and when required to go to church, would, as often as possible, go a bird's-nesting, or duck-hunting, or roam the fields with his companions in sin and folly. At the age of sixteen he determined to throw off all parental restraint; and having succeeded in wickedly taking five pounds from his father's chest, he engaged himself as a cabin-boy in a vessel bound for India.
He soon became addicted to drunkenness, cursing, and swearing. He was very fond of books, had a good memory, and for about ten years read every thing that came in his way. He visited various parts of the world as a sailor. When about twenty-six he returned to his native city Glasgow, for the purpose of visiting his friends. During his stay of a few weeks, a former companion, who had become pious, induced him to attend church with him. Like Agrippa, he was almost persuaded to be a Christian. After his return to the vessel he was much steadier than before; and agreeably to his friend's request, read a chapter daily in the Bible which he had given him. In about a fortnight after, they were overtaken by a storm, and were in great danger of being lost. He then vowed, that if the Lord would spare his life, he would never swear or get drunk again, but that he would give himself to God: his vows, however, were made in his own strength, which quickly proved to be perfect weakness; for, a few days after, one of the sailors found him reading, and told his companions of it, when they began to ridicule him, and to call him Methodist, saint, etc., which so enraged him that he tore the Bible to pieces before their eyes, and swore that he would never read it again, or enter a church; at the same time calling upon God to strike him dead if he did. For more than fifty years he kept these awful resolutions. From this time he stood forth conspicuously, even in the estimation of his wicked companions, as an abandoned, profligate character.
When he was about forty years old, he engaged himself to a gentleman who wanted a man who was acquainted with foreign parts, to travel with him. When he was a little more than sixty the gentleman died; soon after which he came to England, and having enough to live upon, he had nothing to engage his time, a great part of which he spent at the public-house. He was seldom to be seen sober, generally spoke with an oath, and was the pest of the neighborhood.
When he was about seventy-eight, a young woman came to reside near his abode; she frequently saw him at the door of different public-houses, maddened with liquor and quarrelsome, and his oaths often made her tremble. Sometimes, as she passed, she would secretly let a few Tracts fall near the place where he stood, which were generally picked up by some of his companions, and sometimes read; but if D-- R-- got hold of them he would immediately burn them, or tear them to pieces. She lent Tracts at several houses, which she generally exchanged once a week.
It pleased God in his infinite mercy to bless her efforts to the conversion of a poor man and woman who lived near D-- R--. This so much vexed him that he determined to annoy them in every possible way. Nor was he satisfied with this. He determined to waylay the young woman who lent the Tracts, and for that purpose stayed at home all one Sabbath afternoon; but she did not pass that way, and he was disappointed.
The next Sabbath afternoon, as she went to change her Tracts, she saw him at the door of his house. Having the Tract entitled "The Swearer's Prayer," she wished to give it to him; but prudence seemed to forbid; yet the thought came across her mind with irresistible force, The man's soul is at stake, give it him. She went to him and asked him if he would like to have a Tract to read, when he began to swear most dreadfully, and vowed that if she dared to offer him another Tract he would tear it to pieces, and burn her and her Tracts too. In general she would have been so afraid of him that she would have hastened from him, but now she felt as if riveted to the spot till the first burst of his passion was over, and then, in a calm but firm tone, she said, "Man, take care that your curses do not fall on your own head." Having said this, she walked away.
And now mark the hand of God, as it was strikingly displayed in the conversion of this aged sinner, and see how the words and persevering efforts of this young woman were made the means, by the Spirit of God, of reaching and breaking his heart, seared and hardened though it was by a course of more than sixty years of iniquity and open rebellion against his Maker.
The following is his own account of his conversion, taken from a letter written by him about three months before his death.
"About a year and a half ago, a young person commenced lending Tracts in the neighborhood in which I resided. In a short time many disorderly Sabbath-breakers became more orderly, and sometimes attended church, and a man and his wife became the subjects of divine grace. These I persecuted as much as I possibly could. I also gave vent to my rage against the young person who brought the Tracts, threatening what I would do to her if she continued bringing them. Finding that though she was aware of my threats she still went on as before, I became so enraged that I determined to carry them into effect. It was on the first Sabbath in August, 1841, that I saw her changing her Tracts, and I went to the door of my house; intending, if she dared to attempt to pass me, to knock her down; but how greatly was I surprised to see her walk up to me and ask if I would like to have a Tract to read. I began to curse and to swear at her, but she stood unmoved till my rage had in a measure subsided, and then she said, in a tone that thrilled through my inmost soul, ‘Man, take care that your curses do not fall on your own head.' I was for a few minutes unable to speak or move. When I had a little recovered I went in, and began to think what curses they were that were in danger of falling on my own head. I saw my sins to be of the deepest dye, all of which seemed to rise up against me to condemn me. In the evening I went to church; but the recollection of my impious request, in asking God to strike me dead if I ever went again, so alarmed me that I knew very little of what the minister said: The next morning I bought myself a Bible, but for several days was so dreadfully agitated lest God should take me at my word, and strike me dead, that I could read very little; and when my fears were in a measure subsided, I could read nothing but condemnation for myself. I thought I was of that number ‘who had trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.' I was on the borders of despair for ten weeks, when my dear friend, hearing of my state and the cause of it, came to see me. When I first saw her, I was greatly distressed at the remembrance of my abusive conduct. She tried to comfort me, and endeavored to lead me to the Savior, and repeated various texts of Scripture to prove that I was not beyond the reach of mercy; but I could take no comfort from any of them till she repeated the two following: ‘All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.' Matthew 12:31. ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.' 1 Timothy 1:15. She then said, ‘You say you are the chief of sinners-for such Christ died.' This awakened a gleam of hope. The following week she came almost every day to see me. Being much alone at that time, she frequently invited me to her house to read to her while she was at work; this, I think I may say, proved to be of great spiritual advantage to me. In a short time the Lord was pleased in his infinite mercy to show me that Christ was just such a Savior as I needed, and that though my sins were as scarlet, they should be white as snow; and though they were red like crimson, they should be as wool."
The aged sailor having his time at command, and being an early riser, and his faculties being good, spent several hours daily in reading the Bible, private prayer, and meditation. He was fond of religious poetry, and committed several hymns to memory. He now began to be as zealous in the service of God as he had formerly been in the service of sin and Satan. He was very anxious for the conversion of his former companions, and would frequently go to different public-houses with Tracts suitable for drunkards and swearers, which he would give to all who could be induced to receive them. In this way most of his Saturday evenings were spent for eight or nine months, and he never was known to take any strong drink from the time of his conversion to his death.
He was active in lending Tracts and visiting the sick, and suffered no opportunity to pass of pointing sinners to "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world;" and it is confidently believed that he has been the happy instrument, in the hands of God, of bringing more than one sinner to Christ. Frequently did he meet his young friend at five o'clock in the morning, for reading the Scriptures, and prayer for a blessing to rest upon their endeavors to bring sinners to Christ. Having obtained a comfortable hope, through grace, that he should sit down at the marriage-supper of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem, he desired also to participate in the privileges of receiving the Lord's supper below, which, after a public profession of faith in Christ, he was permitted to do on his eightieth birthday, September 4, 1842. In speaking of it, he said, "It was the happiest day he had ever spent; that he had possessed such a foretaste of heaven as he had not before been permitted to enjoy; that it was, indeed, a feast of fat things, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well-refined;" and then he exclaimed, with a countenance beaming with delight,
"If such the sweetness of the stream,
What must the fountain be,
Where saints and angels draw their bliss
Immediately from Thee?"
On the morning of this day he held a meeting for prayer at his house, which was continued every Sabbath morning till his death; the number increasing till the last morning, when twenty persons were present.
The Saturday evening before his death he spent with his young friend. In speaking of it she says, "His conversation was so heavenly that I could not help thinking he was fast ripening for glory." On Sabbath morning he went to see a person who was dangerously ill. Not being able to come back in time to hear his own minister, he went to a chapel which was in his way home. The minister took for his text Revelation 5:11-12, "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts, and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand, times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing."
On his way home he said, "I have been thinking, when I get amongst the ransomed I shall sing more sweet, more loud than they all." On being asked what made him think so, he replied, "Because I have had more forgiven me; and to whomsoever much is forgiven, the same loveth much." At another time he said; "I feel more and more convinced of the love of God; and I think I may say, I feel daily an increase of love to God." In the evening his own minister preached from the words, "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me." Revelation 22:12. After his return he said, "My Savior will come quickly, and receive me, unworthy though I am, into his heavenly kingdom."
On the last three mornings of his life he met his young friend, for reading and prayer, at five o'clock. On Wednesday evening he went to hear an esteemed minister preach; his text was, "But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come." Revelation 2:25. Going home, he said, "What a privilege it is to feel that we are not of those that draw back unto perdition, but of those that believe to the saving of the soul." Speaking of a lady whom he very much wished to see, who had been expected that afternoon, he said, "If I do not see Miss-- in this world I shall see her in heaven, and O what a happy meeting will that be." His friend reminded him that most probably he would see her on Saturday; he made no reply to that, but soon resumed his favorite theme-the happy meeting of the glorified.
Indeed, it was quite evident that his heart and his treasure were in heaven. His friend left him about nine o'clock on Wednesday evening, and at one on Thursday morning he was taken ill. About two she went to see him; he was then in great pain. She said, "How grieved I am to see you suffer so much." He replied, "I feel nothing, compared with what Christ bore for me. I deserve the hottest place in hell. But O, the boundless grace of Jehovah, he will take me to his kingdom in glory!" He sent for four persons who had been his companions in sin, and with great earnestness entreated them not to put off repentance till a dying hour; and added, "If I had died fifteen months ago, where would my poor soul have been found? Doubtless I had now been in that place where hope never comes. Since I have obtained mercy no sinner need despair." He then asked a person present to read the twelfth chapter of Isaiah, and pray with him. On being asked what he should pray for, he said, "That all my former companions who have not given themselves to God, may be induced to do so; and that my death may be for his glory." He then said, Let us sing,
"Salvation, O the joyful sound,
'Tis pleasure to our ears," etc.
In the last hour of his life he had little pain, mortification having taken place. At about half-past three he took an affectionate farewell of those of his neighbors that were present. He lay for a few minutes apparently in deep thought, and then said; "Tell Miss --, though we have not seen one another on earth, we shall meet in heaven;" and his countenance beaming with joy, he added, "What a happy meeting will that be; there we shall meet to part no more for ever." He then said to his friend, "I am going to glory, and in due time you shall come too; but you must bring more souls to Christ first." He then took his farewell of her, and said, "I shall soon be with Jesus;" and raising his eyes, said, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly, and receive thy unworthy servant to thyself;" and in two or three minutes he fell asleep in Jesus, about four o'clock in the morning, October 20, 1842, after three hours' illness; and went to sit down in the presence of his Lord, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven for ever.
Let the history of the aged sailor encourage parents to be faithful in imparting early religious instruction; but let it not be abused to encourage any to neglect God's call to immediate repentance. Very few, indeed, are the cases in which aged persons are converted; they mostly die as they have lived, hardened and insensible, or lose the use of their faculties. To young and old the call is made now to repent and believe the Gospel.
Reader, have you put off the salvation of your soul till now? Then delay no longer. "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation." 2 Corinthians 6:2. There is mercy for you, even if it be your eleventh hour. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near." Isaiah 55:6. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." Acts 16:31.
Are you a Christian? Then let the grand aim of your life be, to glorify God by bringing sinners to Christ.