Life’s Stormy Sea
May 23rd, 1954 @ 10:50 AM
LIFE’S STORMY SEA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-23-54 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, Texas. And this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Life’s Stormy Sea. In our preaching through the Word, we have come to the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts. In all of ancient literature, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Oriental, there is no passage like this passage. It is the finest written account of a storm at sea, the voyage of a Mediterranean ship, to be found any where in the ancient literature of the world. And it is not only the inspired Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16], it is also magnificent writing. It is literature. Now, I will not read the entire chapter, though the message today is built on all of it—all of the chapter. But I shall read certain passages, and if you have it in your Bible, we shall designate them by verses.
The first verse, Acts 27: “And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy”—Paul had appealed unto Caesar, so to Caesar he was to go [Acts 25:11-12]. He was on trial for his life, and he appealed to the supreme court of the Roman Empire. Being a Roman citizen, he had the right to do it. So he is being sent to Rome as a prisoner to appear before Italy’s, the Roman Empire’s, highest court:
When it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ Band. And entering into a ship at Adramyttium—a town—
we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia.
And so they start out. They go this way in order to go that way because of the prevailing winds. Now, let’s go down to the eighth verse:
And, hardly passing it—
a little island there—
they came unto a place—in Crete—which is called The Fair Havens . . .
Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast—
that is, the Jewish Day of Atonement in the fall; wintertime was coming, and now when sailing was dangerous—
because the fast was already now past, Paul admonished them, saying:
Sirs, I perceive that this journey will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives. Nevertheless the centurion…
Being the highest Roman officer, was in command of the ship, even though he was not a seafaring man:
the centurion, the officer of the army, believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken of by Paul.
the thirteenth verse—
And when the south wind blew softly, supposing they had obtained their purpose. . .they left Crete and sailed out into the open sea. But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. And the ship was caught . . . Because they could not bear up into the wind, they let her drive before the wind, all they could do.
Now [verse] 18:
And we being exceeding tossed with the tempest . . .
the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.
And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
But after long abstinence, Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs . . .
I exhort you to be of good cheer: there shall be no loss of any man’s life, only of the ship.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God . . .
Saying, Fear not, Paul . . .
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God…
Now the thirty-eighth verse:
And when they had eaten, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea. . .
Then they took up the anchors, and committed themselves…
And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmovable, but the hind part was broken with the violence of the waves.
And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.
That was the thing always done:
But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim to cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land:
And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.
The next day [they] found it was a little isle of what we call Malta today, just south of Sicily [Acts 28:1].
All of us are familiar perhaps with the poet, and with the parable, and with the simile, and with the metaphor when we refer to life in seafaring terms. It is a sailing on the ocean of life. All of us who’ve never written a line of poetry, who don’t go out of our way to speak in parables, who are not given to simile or to metaphor, yet we talk like seafaring, seagoing people ourselves. There could possibly not be a more common nomenclature than that we use in ordinary vernacular when we refer to life as a “seagoing trip.” It is an ocean experience, launching our little boat on the sea of life, hoping someday to bring it to anchor in the desired port. I say, that is a common parlance and speech among us. On this sea of life, we are so oft times beguiled and mislead. And when the south wind blew softly, when the south wind blows softly—ah, how many times are we beguiled and mislead?
The centurion said, “The voyage is filled with light, and with fair skies, and with clear nights, and with soft breezes. And the journey will be easy, and happy, and full of light, and laughter, and lilt, and gladness. Come, come.” And the master of the ship, the captain of the boat, when the soft south wind blew so gently said, “It will be a pleasant journey. The whole way with a mirrored sea, with fair skies, no fog, no reef, no rocks, no shoals, no tempest, and no storm—for the south wind blows softly” [Acts 27:13]. And the owner of the ship, the man who had the biggest stake in it, when the wind blew softly from the south, he said, “The voyage will be one delightful, happy, glad. See the fair havens? See the beautiful journey? Come, let us launch out for the journey. We will be without mishap, or accident, and dreaded Euroclydon, and dreaded tempest and awful storm, they will not hit our little boat. Come and let us sail away into the beautiful mirror of the sea, for the wind from the south blows softly” [Acts 27:11-13].
Isn’t it too bad? Right in the midst there stands the preacher of God. He is always standing there. And he is always speaking. And his message is always so grim. We don’t like him. We don’t like to listen to him. We don’t like his words, and we don’t like his message. “This man Micaiah,” said Ahab, “I hate him! My soul loathes him! He never speaks anything but things bad. He never prophesies good. I hate him” [1 Kings 22:8]. And when Micaiah stood up—in your Sunday school lesson— when Micaiah stood up and said, “And Ahab, you will not come back” [1 Kings 22:17]. Ahab said: “You take him and put him in prison and feed him with bread of affliction and water of affliction until I come again in triumph and in victory” [1 Kings 22:27]. When he came again, they took his dead corpse and buried it and washed the chariot of his blood [1 Kings 22:37-38]. Isn’t it funny? They did it exactly as old Elijah said. They washed the chariot in the place where Naboth fell under his hand and where the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, and there the dogs licked Ahab’s blood [1 Kings 21:19, 22:38]. Micaiah: “I don’t like him. I don’t like him. I don’t like him. Grim preacher of God, I don’t like him. He prophesies evil and bad” [1 Kings 22:8].
You see the preacher stands up, and he says, “Life is not a sailing on mirrored seas under fair skies to some fair haven of a port.” The grim preacher stands up, and he says, “Life is not an excursion among the beautiful many island sea of the Mediterranean, following its creeks and its coves and its bays.” The preacher stands up, grim and unwelcomed, and he says, “Life is not some romantic journey, up and down some beautiful Clyde or up and down some glorious Rhine.” The grim preacher stands up, and he says, “Sir, I perceive that this voyage will be with great hurt—the tempest, the storm, the roaring reefs, the sunken rocks, the terrible fogs, the awful driving, raging wind—Sir, I perceive that the voyage is greatly dangerous” [Acts 27:10]. And isn’t that true? Isn’t that true? Do you know the sailing of life’s sea, where the boats launched and the soft winds blow, and out in the open ocean; the little boat is sailing away? But do you know a life that doesn’t have its Euroclydon? [Acts 27:14]. Do you know a life where the terrible tempest doesn’t arise? Where the storms don’t beat? And where the sun goes out and the stars disappear? You hear the roar of the preachers and the great swelling tides as they cover the rocks and the reef. Do you know a life that doesn’t have in it its storms and its peril? Do you know one? Let’s take just a little segment, a little segment, a little segment.
Let’s start with last Wednesday and go through last Friday—just a little segment of the journey, of this trip. From Los Angeles to Chicago, for six and half hours, last Wednesday, I rode on the plane with General Omar Bradley. General [Bradley], as you well know, he was the commanding general of the armies that were thrown against Hitler in Europe. He was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that guided the course of the Korean War, a five-star general. Talking to him so long for six and a half hours, I learned a great deal about him, especially since I am a preacher, talking about lots of things. One of the great men of the world, one of the famous men of history, General Bradley; he will be in Dallas in about a week or so from now. Why, you think a man like that, so high, so elevated, five-star—they have a daughter, he and his wife. They have a daughter married to a test pilot, three little children. As we rode along on the plane, he said, “Not very long ago, my son-in-law was killed. The jet he was testing exploded, and he was killed. And now in my home,” he said, “my daughter lives, and three little fatherless children.” He paused a long time, looked way out into the distance through the window of the plane, he turned to me and added, “I am an old man to be rearing three little children, don’t you think? Don’t you think? Don’t you think?” Euroclydon—and the storm, that’s life, that’s life [Acts 27:14].
Friday, I was walking down the main boulevard in the city of Detroit. There was a woman walking down the street. She had a purse hanging on her arm and a few packages in her hand; beautifully dressed, walking down so happily. I suppose she had been shopping. I don’t know what for. Maybe she was going to get married, and she was shopping for her wedding day. Maybe she was a young mother and was shopping for her little baby. Maybe she was going on a long trip and was getting ready for a happy vacation. Going down the boulevard, there at the corner of the street where I was, she turned, walked through the boulevard on that one side to an island where the buses and the street car stopped. She walked onto the island and then beyond the island on the other side of the boulevard to cross the street. And down that boulevard a big brand new car was driving at a terrific rate. And I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened. All I know is I haven’t gotten over it yet. It made me sick and faint inside. That fast car hit that woman and knocked her through the air and way out beyond into the street, down the street. We didn’t dare touch her. You aren’t supposed to. But it just kills you to see her writhe there in agony in the street; try to get up and couldn’t. Ah, Euroclydon, the storm that strikes out of the blue of the sky when the wind from the south blows softly [Acts 27:13-14]. Whether she lived or died, I do not know. That’s life. That’s life.
I say we take just one little section of it. When my plane was met by a special representative in order to take me to the convention to speak, I was late, given up hope of being able to speak, but American Airlines was nice, and they radioed ahead, had a man right there and my baggage and every thing open and right to the convention. A wonderful man met me, an executive in Detroit of the public transportation system—a wonderful fellow, one of the finest Christians I ever knew. And he has two little children, wonderful children. And a wonderful wife, a glorious Christian wife, devoted—such a wonderful family. I’ve seen his children, they were with him. He didn’t have his wife with him, just told me about her. He is a younger man than I am, just getting along wonderfully in the city of Detroit. So he brought his wife to see me Friday night. And I shook hands with her and visited with her. She is a young woman, a beautiful woman, and a glorious Christian woman. She’s blind. I did have the temerity, I didn’t ask why, I did have the temerity to say “How long” to her husband, “How long has she been blind?” And he said, “Two years ago. Two years ago.“ When the soft wind blew on the day of their marriage and as they launched their little boat on the sea of life, and a grim preacher stood up and spoke of some of those things, I would dare say, been hard to realize, she’s blind—blind.
Just one other, just take this little piece out of a journey; the man that took me to the airport Saturday for me to come back to Dallas to preach, that man, a wonderful Christian man, when we got to the airport, visibly shaken and changed—you know how you go along, drive down the expressway and you laugh and talk and visit—he just drew suddenly still and heavy-hearted. Well, I had to say something, so, why, this was it: he had been to that airport about thirty miles from Willow Run, about thirty miles from the city, he had been to that airport just about a week before. And you know why he was out there? He had gone out there to the airport to meet the rest of his family. He and his wife had a nineteen-year-old boy that was in school—being educated to be a preacher, a preacher—and the boy took leukemia and suddenly died. He had been there just a week before to meet the rest of the family for the memorial service for his boy. That’s life. That’s life. And the preacher says, the preacher stands up and says, “It is not a fair sailing. There are rocks, and there are shoals, and there are reefs, and there are tempests, and there is Euroclydon that comes suddenly, unannounced, unlooked for, unexpected, and it drives the little ship before it” [Acts 27:14]. And when those things come to pass, how we reevaluate everything we have ever looked for and longed for and loved in this life.
Look at these men. And as the ship was driven, “The third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship” [Acts 27:19]. Now again, and when they sought to lighten the boat with their own hands, “they cast out the wheat into the sea” [Acts 27:38]. That was good wheat, good wheat, good wheat. The ship was made to carry that wheat. The purpose of the journey was to deliver that wheat. Rome could not support itself, they didn’t raise enough food around Rome to support the imperial city. And the granary of the imperial city was in Egypt. And this was a ship from Alexandria, carrying wheat from Alexandria to Rome for Caesar and his imperial golden city. The ship was made to carry wheat, good wheat. That was the purpose of the voyage. That was the purpose of the trip. And yet, this Book says that with their own hands they took that wheat and cast it into the sea [Acts 27:38]. It was only incidental that Paul was there, that the Roman centurion was there, that the prisoners were there. The purpose of the ship was to deliver that wheat! And yet, the Bible says, with their own hands, they took it and threw it out into the sea! They forgot they were traders, they forgot they were shipmasters, they forgot that they were buyers and sellers; just one thing in the terrible storm: that they might be saved [Acts 27:38].
Aren’t we like that? When I was a boy, a long time ago, I read a cartoon, “Mutt and Jeff.” Mutt and Jeff had been told that way over the sea, there was a country where diamonds were like rocks on the ground. You just went out and gathered them, just picked them up. So they outfitted a boat and went across the sea, and there in a beautiful valley, the diamonds were like rocks strewn on the ground. Such a day, such a time, you never thought for, never dreamed of! It’s only in a cartoonist’s head that such a thing as that could ever have lived or exist. So he drew that valley there with diamonds outcropping, just rocks everywhere, and they were all solid diamonds. Well, Mutt and Jeff, Mutt and Jeff gathered all of the diamonds that their ship could hold, filled their ship full of diamonds and were headed back towards us and civilization. Storm hit the boat; storm hit the boat, always does. Storm arose and hit the ship, and they were stranded out in the middle of the sea on a little wooden raft. At the end of that picture, those diamonds were on that raft. They were rolling off into the sea, forgot, neglected, unwanted, uncared for. And in the middle of the raft was Mutt and Jeff dying and thirsty for a glass of water, a glass of water.
Isn’t that life? All of these things we reach out for, that we seek to grasp, all of these ambitions and aims, all of those great goals, these things we dream about, trade our life and days for, by and by they turn to ashes and dust in our hands. Who wants them? Who cares for them? And it is then, when life is breaking up and the ship is going down, it is then we call for that same grim preacher of God. Where is the mariner? Where is the centurion? Where is the master of the ship? Where is the owner of it? Oh, owner of the ship, come, tell us now, what shall we do, and how shall it be? You were the one that said, “The sea will be as glass, and the wind from the south blows softly” [Acts 27:11-13]. What say you now? Centurion, owner of the ship, scientist, professor, learned scholar, infidel, unbeliever, agnostic, you are the ones that have told us all of this voyage shall be beautiful, and fine, and wonderful, and full of happiness and gladness and joy, and the wind blows softly. What say you now? The tempest is upon us. And we stand in the peril of our lives. What say you now? What say you now? There is not anybody that has anything to say but that grim preacher of God, who when the journey was started said, “Down the way are the roaring reefs and the sunken rocks. Down the way is Euroclydon ready. Down the way is the wind and the tempest.”
You know, right here could I define what a preacher is? What is a preacher of the gospel? This is a preacher of the gospel. A preacher of the gospel is a man who stands on a storm-tossed deck, and the masts are falling, and the winds are raging, and the sails are blown from their ropes, and nothing, but the specter of the dread form of death and the grave lies ahead. The preacher of the gospel is a man who stands in the midst of the huddled refuge on that sinking boat, and he lifts up his voice and says, “Sir, be of good cheer, for there stood by me this night the angel of God, saying, ‘Fear not, fear not. You do not need to be afraid. Fear not. Fear not’” [Acts 27:22-24]. That is a preacher of the gospel. He stands by the open grave, and he opens that blessed Book. And he reads therein, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe in Christ. In His Father’s house are many mansions” [John 14:1-2]. Who can say that but a preacher, but a preacher? That’s what a preacher is. When all have forsaken and fled, when their little knowledge, when their little infidelity, when their little agnosticism has faded like a candle before the sun, the preacher stands on the storm-tossed deck and says, “I have heard the voice of God saying, ‘Do not be afraid. Be of good cheer, let not your heart be troubled’” [Acts 27:22-25; John 14:1]. That’s a preacher. He has a message when the wind blows and the storms assail.
So they took the little ship, and they let her drive before the storm into a little place where two seas met [Acts 27:41]. And there in the meeting of those two seas, the boat ran aground: and the forepart stuck fast and hard in the bank, in the bar, in the sand, and the violence of the waves beat the hinder part and tore the ship to pieces. That happened in a place where two seas met. And the ship was destroyed [Acts 27:41]. And that is a parable lastly of our lives. Finally, the boat in which we make our journey across life’s sea, finally it always runs aground where two seas meet. The fierce pounding tides of time on this side, and the fierce pounding tides of eternity on that side, and those two seas meet on our deathbed. And they pound our little boat to pieces. Timber by timber, plank by plank, faculty by faculty, sense by sense, strength by strength, part by part, piece by piece, the little boat of our life is pounded to death [Acts 27:41]. My eyes, and I can’t see like once I did, the vision grows dim; and my hearing, and I can’t hear like once I did, my hearing grows difficult and hard; and my strength, I can’t stand up and walk like once I did; the pounding seas are destroying the little boat in which I launched out into the deep. It is then—it is then that our hearts turn in faith and in trust and in hope to the great God who made us, and to Jesus our Savior. When my little boat is pounded to pieces, O Lord, remember me.
O Maker of the mighty deep
Whereon our vessels fare,
Above our life’s remembrance keep
Thy blessed love and care.
We trust in Thee, whate’er befall;
Thy sea so great, our boats so small.
We know not where the secret tides
Will help us or delay,
Or where the lurking tempest hides,
Nor where the fogs are gray.
In Thee we trust, whate’er befall;
Thy sea so great, our boats so small.
Beyond the circle of the sea
Remember us, O Lord.
Beyond the circle of the sea,
When voyaging is done,
We seek our final port in Thee;
O bring us at last, to home.
We trust in Thee, whate’er befall;
Thy sea so great, our boats so small.
[adapted from “O Maker of the Mighty Deep,” Henry Van Dyke]
May we pray? Dear Lord, Holy Savior, even our little children, peering into the reflection of this sea of life, wonder, and all of us who have grown older, all of us have experienced the truth of this message this day; there is not any life launched on that open sea but that shall meet its storm, shall be driven by the fierce Euroclydon, shall know what it is to be battered and hammered. And someday to us all, where two seas meet, there to find our little boat battered and torn, timber by timber, faculty by faculty, Lord, thank God for the grim, stern preacher. When he tells us of these roaring reefs and these sunken rocks and these violent winds, he is not a welcome guest. He prophesies of an evil day. He prophesies of age and of death and of winds that break. But when the time comes and the light is gone out and the sun is dark, oh, that same preacher so grim and stern, standing among the people saying, “But I heard a voice from God; be of good cheer.”
There stands by us this day, O Lord, stand by us. In all of the ocean journey, the vicissitudes and fortunes and exigencies, stand by us, Lord. Be Thou the Captain and the Pilot of our little craft and bring it someday home with Thee. Thank Thee, Lord, for the hope, for the assurance, for the precious presence. And now Master, as we sing our song, somebody today give his heart and life and trust to Thee [Romans 10:9-13]. Somebody put his life in the church. Send them to us. We shall thank Thee, in Jesus name, amen.
While we sing our song somebody you; somebody you into that aisle, down here to the front, “Preacher, today I give my heart to Christ” [Ephesians 2:8]. Would you come, take me by the hand? “Preacher, I give my hand to you. I give my heart to God.” Somebody you, come into the fellowship of this church by letter, by baptism, by confession of faith. However the Lord shall say the word, would you, a family of you, a one of you, come, say, “Preacher, today my life with the life of this glorious people into this church.” However God should open the door and lead the way, while we sing, would you come? While we stand and sing.