In the Darkest Hour
All hope that we should be saved was then taken away.—Acts 27:20
Paul was, in many respects, a law unto himself. On more than one occasion the political leaders were sent into a huddle to determine the best disposition of his case. Claiming dual citizenship or citing an ancient law, the Apostle would frustrate the authorities. King Agrippa had such an experience with him. He called Festus, the governor of Judea, into counsel. After weighing the evidence, they concluded that “this man might have been set at liberty if he had not appealed unto Caesar.” Now he must go to Rome.
The Violence of the Storm
The voyage was entirely uneventful as they sailed along the coasts of Asia. At Myra, a city of Lucia, Paul, with two hundred seventy-five other passengers, mostly prisoners of the State, was transferred to a ship of Alexandria which was sailing toward Italy.
THE STORM WAS UNEXPECTED. They put to sea again under balmy skies, with the south wind blowing but softly and the confident crew hopeful of reaching a winter haven at Phenice. Their progress was gratifying until—until the foe of all mariners began displaying the portents of disaster. The whole Mediterranean soon became convulsed with incredible turbulence. The fathomless deep writhed with increasing restlessness. The wind, with unabated violence, plowed gorge-like furrows in the watery expanse, heaping mountainous waves in an unstable pose, only to lash one against another in spasms of fury. Sun and stars alike were eclipsed in the raging storm as the fierce gale was spending its force.
THE STORM WAS UNPRECEDENTED. For a full two-week period it continued, each succeeding day lowering the morale of the sailors and depleting the resourcefulness of the official personnel. But, then, life would not be so adventuresome or faith so necessary if trials did not present some new problem. The undiminishing wind velocity, the twisting, swirling waves, the quicksands, the rocks—all these baffling factors were calling for the wisest nautical maneuvers, but human ingenuity was obviously insufficient. The dense darkness, settling for many successive nights and days, had a marked demoralizing effect upon those on board. Many irrational acts were provoked. All hope of survival had disappeared. It was, in truth, a definite time of man’s extremity.
The Visitation of the Angel
“There stood by me this night the angel of God,” the Apostle explained to the weary men aboard. The darkest hour is always the most likely time for a heavenly visitant. This was the dramatic manner in which divine reinforcements were rushed to a staunch, stalwart soldier of the Cross. Paul was waging a battle against great odds. Thus far, his word had carried little weight. He was a prisoner. They did not appreciate the fact that he was first of all a bondslave of Him who had power to command the angry waves to subside. “There stood by me the angel of God,” he convincingly appealed. It was the One whom he served, the One to whom he belonged. The Lord of the Harvest had not lost sight of His servant. The world is the field, and this rough spot on the Mediterranean was part of Paul’s province. The Lord was with him. Under no circumstances will He leave us in the lurch.
“…behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the Shadows,
Keeping watch above His own.”
Let the tempest tear at the stern, the arm of Jehovah was beneath the bow as long as His servant was part of the cargo. The ship could not disintegrate until this “chosen vessel” had disembarked. At last heaven speaks.
THE MESSAGE PROVIDED HIM COMFORT. “Fear not, Paul,” came the precious announcement. This was timely encouragement. We must not forget that Paul was a human being. His old nature had not been eradicated. Satan still had sufficient in him to gain a beachhead. Paul well knew this, for once he said, “He that thinketh he standeth, let him take heed lest he fall.” This long, drawn-out storm could well have worn down so rugged an individual as he, even as the constant lashing threatened to crush the vessel. But the supply lines are never too difficult for the Captain of the Lord’s hosts. He simply dispatched His angel, who with lightning speed was there with what His servant required most—divine assurance, heavenly comfort.
THE MESSAGE POINTED OUT HIS COMMISSION. “Thou must be brought before Caesar,” he was reminded. The word “must” carries with it the very essence of compulsion. Our Lord had the lash above His head. “He MUST needs go through Samaria.” “The Son of man MUST suffer many things.” Every human being who knows anything about responsibility is conscious of the “musts” in his daily life. This is particularly true of servants. Here it became evident that the Lord meant for the Apostle to go to Rome. It apparently was by permission and prompting of the Holy Spirit that Paul first appealed his case to Caesar. It was by divine protection that the journey was completed during such unprecedented conditions. It was by divine power, released through a commissioned ambassador, that the people of Rome were to receive the Gospel. So to Rome he went.
THE MESSAGE PROMISED HIM CONVERSIONS. “Lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee,” the Angel of God further revealed. In what sense were they given to Paul? They were given to him for a witness; they were given to him to win. It can hardly be doubted that there was a work of the Spirit on that ship, and Paul was the instrument used. Those men knew that all secular supports had gone, and that they must fall back either upon God or upon nothing. How fortunate for them that there was on board one who knew of a surety that God is a very present help in trouble. How wonderful that the divine commission put the right man in the right place at the right time—a man who had himself come face to face with the Redeemer and knew how to introduce others to Him. They would give up the ship but would gain the Saviour.
The Voice of the Stalwart
Paul was a veteran of many a trial. He could even look a storm in the face and declare, “None of these things move me.” His speech was said by the Corinthian critics to be “contemptible,” but this did not deter him when he had an opinion to express or an exhortation to deliver. Seldom was he found non-committal. Neither did he remain silent when an issue of importance was before him. Three times he called for an audience during the journey. Each time he prefaced his statement with the salutation, “Sirs.” This was not sheer courtesy. It was directness and definiteness more than politeness.
THE APOSTLE’S CLEAR PERCEPTION. “Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage,” Paul advised the commanding officer as they were anchored at a port near the city of Lasea. It was late in the sailing season, about the middle of October, beyond the time of the Feast of Trumpets, and much concern was evidenced about the advisability of continuing the voyage. The Apostle knew it was unwise to proceed, and enunciated his warning, but those in charge ignored his word and ordered the journey resumed. Many times had this beloved servant of Christ issued similar warnings to those on the voyage of life. His was clear perception, and his was the finest advice, always.
THE APOSTLE’S CHEERFUL PROCLAMATION. “Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not loosed from Crete…and now I exhort you to be of good cheer; for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.”
This exhortation came at a time when the sun had been eclipsed for many days and the stars obscured for as many nights. It came when hopelessness had been conceded by all. Even then, it was only after lengthy fasting, which is suggested by the words, “After long abstinence.” Whether his own decease was by submerging or by impalement was of little consequence. One way or the other, he would be with his blessed Lord. His chief concern was for the lost. Such concern often reached the proportions of heart-travail and soul-agony. He had a message of cheer for despairing hearts and perplexed minds. “If the foundations be destroyed,” Israel’s sweet singer asked, “what can the righteous do?” Paul knew. Here is the proof. He rested on an immovable foundation which no man can lay, and all hell cannot destroy. The passengers were sanctified by his presence. In the midst of the tempest, tossed and torn, was their craft in dire distress. But they were urged to be of good cheer, by one whose faith left little or no room for fear.
THE APOSTLE’S CHRISTIAN PROFESSION. Scripturally stated, “The ship was caught.” It was caught by furious forces. Its control was wrested utterly from the hands of naval experience and driven off its course and under the lee of a little island called Claudia. Desperately, the terrified sailors were struggling to cast anchor and to lighten the cargo lest they plunge onto the Syrtis quicksands. Their lives were in constant jeopardy as the storm relentlessly harassed them. When the last ray of hope was vanishing, Paul signaled for attention. His calm attitude contrasted with the fearful, fainting hearts of the other passengers. Above the roar of the raging waters his voice must have rung out with triumphant clarity to sober the minds of the unstable and unhappy voyagers. “Sirs…I believe God!”
The View Point of the Scriptures
However fierce may prove the storms of life, however much our little crafts may be tossed about, every believer has a carefully charted course. It is the way of the revealed Truth of God.
THE SCRIPTURES PROVIDE A PROSPECT. Paul’s personal profession of faith was magnified by an inspiring prospect. “It shall be!” he insisted. It was the promise of God. Therefore it was sure. He knew that all would reach land in safety. The passengers could see only the terrors of the deep, the horrors of death, and the fearfulness of eternity. There is no prospect whatever for those whose eyes are unenlightened by the Word, whose hearts are unled by the Holy Spirit. With Paul it was different. His unshatterable assurance was based upon promise—the promise of the Angel of God. “It shall be!” he confidently affirmed. And let us never think otherwise.
THE SCRIPTURES PRESENT A POSITIVENESS. What God has promised will not only never fail of fulfillment, but it shall be “even as it was told.” To rest upon this assurance, while pondering the precepts of Scripture, cannot but bolster and bulwark our faith. He who trusts the Word of God will never have cause for disappointment. The inquiring sinner may believe the simple scriptural instruction for his salvation. The weary Christian pilgrim who now meets with grief and pain may contemplate the day of glad release. The servant in his proneness to be careless must be assured that his worlds will be subjected inevitably to the judgment of fire.
All those who reject the Saviour for the passing things of this life must know that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Why are these facts true? Because God hath spoken, and His unchangeable promises must be fulfilled. When Paul addressed his fearful fellow-passengers, he was emphasizing his thorough dependence upon the divine revelation. “It shall be even as it was told me!” was his heart-thrilling assurance.
Life is like a sea for all of us. The skies are no longer balmy; the clouds are thickly gathering. The sailing is difficult for the hour is dark, and the wind of confusion and perplexity is increasing in velocity. The voices of the storm are loud, and distress calls fill the atmosphere, already surcharged wth apprehension, fear and anxiety. Many little crafts are thrust upon the shoals, while untold numbers are carried by contrary winds, with sails torn, rudders gone, and disaster looms terrifyingly. All the while, the lighthouse signals are more and more misleading through Christendom, with the lower lights faint and flickering. This is the nautical view of life. If in Paul’s storm, his fellow sailors needed courage, not human but divine, of what stupendous proportions is the need in this present hour with the world-wide threatenings? Shall we hesitate to stand amid the turmoil of atheism and spiritual cowardice to affirm with undiminishing emphasis, “Sirs, we believe God?”
Every sailor has a desired haven. He has glad hopes and happy expectations, but his anticipation may suffer through the treachery of the storm. Dangers lurk along his course. “Today we’re happy and in the sunlight’s glow: tomorrow we may be limpin’ and trudging; through the snow.” But, we believe God! “He maketh the storm a calm so that the waves thereof are still. Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men.”
Yes, Paul sailed head-on into a Euroclydon (a storm), and every one of us, sometime, somewhere, may be tossed about in a fearful disturbance. Hope will seem to fade; joy will vanish; the soul will melt; indecision will tower insurmountably; but, away with fear—be stilled thou failing heart! Believe thou in God, and triumph amid the tempest! Any end that brings one to the Lord is a good end and a cry of despair is usually a forerunner of dependence. Blessed is the man, even amid the convulsions of the deep, who knows there is a Light that never flickers, a Life-line that never weakens, a distress Receiver who never slumbers or sleeps. Sirs, we believe God!