In Peril On The Deep
[In the fall of 1892, D. L. Moody had been on a long campaign overseas and was looking forward to returning home. He and his son secured passage on the steamer Spree from Southampton to New York. This journey, however, would leave a most solemn and lasting impression on Mr. Moody. The following is his account of the event.]
Trouble on the Sea
When about three days on our voyage, I was lying on my couch and feeling very thankful to God, for in all my travels by land and sea I had never been in any accident of a serious nature. While engaged with these grateful thoughts, I was startled by a terrible crash, as if the vessel had been driven on a rock. I did not at first feel much anxiety, but my son jumped from his berth and rushed on deck. He was back again in a few moments, exclaiming that the shaft was broken and the vessel sinking. I did not at first believe that it could be so bad, but concluded to dress and go on deck. The report was only too true. The ship’s passengers were naturally aroused, but in answer to frightened inquiries they were assured that it was only a broken shaft.
The serious nature of the accident soon became evident, however, as other passengers rushed on deck declaring that their cabins were rapidly filling with water. Later it was found that the two fractured ends of the shaft had broken the stern-tube, admitting water into the two aftermost compartments, which were immediately filled. The bulkheads between the compartments were closed at once and braced with beams to resist the pressure of the water. As the ship rolled, the tremendous force of the water in the flooded compartments beat with great force against the next compartment. But for the skill of Captain Willigerod and his efficient engineers, the ship would have soon foundered.
At noon, the captain told the passengers that he had the water under control, and was in hopes of drifting in the way of some passing vessel. The ship’s bow was now high in the air, while the stern seemed to settle more and more. The sea was very rough and the ship rolled from side to side, lurching fearfully. The captain tried to keep up hope by telling the anxious people that they would probably drift in the way of a ship by three o’clock that afternoon, but the night closed in upon them without the sign of a sail.
A Dark Night
That was an awful night, the darkest in all our lives – several hundred men, women, and children waiting for the doom that seemed to be settling upon us! No one dared to sleep. We were all together in the saloon of the first cabin – Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and sceptics – although I doubt if at that time there were many sceptics among us. The agony and suspense were too great for words. With blanched faces and trembling hearts, the passengers looked at one another as if trying to read in the faces of those about them what no one dared to speak. Rockets flamed into the sky, but there was no answer. We were drifting out of the track of the great steamers. Every hour seemed to increase the danger of the situation.
Sunday morning dawned without help or hope. But as that second night came on, I secured the captain’s permission for a service in the saloon. We gave notice of the meeting, and to our surprise nearly every passenger attended.
With one arm clasping a pillar to steady myself on the reeling vessel, I read Psalm 91. It was a new psalm to me from that hour. The eleventh verse touched me very deeply. It was like a voice of divine assurance, and it seemed a very real thing as I read, “He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” Surely He did it! I read also from Psalm 107:20-31, and we prayed that God would still the raging of the sea and bring us to our desired haven.
I had thought myself superior to the fear of death. I had often preached on the subject, and urged Christians to realize this victory of faith. During the Civil War I had been under fire without fear. I was in Chicago during the great cholera epidemic, and went around with the doctors visiting the sick and dying. In all this I had no fear of death.
But on the sinking ship it was different. There was no cloud between my soul and my Savior. I knew that if I died it would only be to wake up in heaven. But as my thoughts went out to my loved ones at home – my wife, my children, my friends on both sides of the sea, the schools and all the interests so dear to me – I confess it almost broke me down. It was the darkest hour of my life.
I could not endure it. I must have relief, and relief came in prayer. God heard my cry, and enabled me to say, from the depth of my soul, “Thy will be done!” Sweet peace came to my heart. Let it be Northfield or heaven, it made no difference now. I went to bed, fell asleep almost immediately, and never slept more soundly in all my life. Out of the depths I cried unto my Lord, and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears. I can no more doubt that God gave answer to my prayer for relief than I can doubt my own existence.
My son was a student at Yale College, and the learned professors there had instilled in him some doubts about God’s direct interference in answer to prayer. My boy could not rest that night. About 2:15, he came and woke me, telling me to come on deck. There he pointed out an occasional glimpse of a tiny light that showed over the waves as our ship rolled heavily from side to side. “It is our star of Bethlehem,” he cried, “and our prayers are answered!” It proved to be the light of the steamer Lake Huron, bound from Montreal to Liverpool, whose lookout had seen our signals of distress. Oh, the joy of that moment when the despairing passengers beheld the approaching ship!
But could this small steamer tow the helpless Spree a thousand miles to Queenstown? Every moment was passed in the intensest anxiety and prayer. It was a brave and perilous undertaking. Two great cables connected the two vessels. If a storm arose these would snap like a thread, and we must be left to our fate. But I had no fear. God would finish the work He had begun. The waves were calmed, the cables held, our steamer moved in the wake of the Huron. There were storms all about us, but they came not nigh our broken ship. Seven days after the accident, by the good hand of our God upon us, we were able to hold a joyous thanksgiving service in the harbor of Queenstown. The rescuing ship that God sent to us in our distress had just sufficient power to tow our steamer and just enough coal to take her into port. Her captain was a man of prayer; he besought God’s help to enable them to accomplish their dangerous and difficult task; and God answered the united prayers of the distressed voyagers, and brought us to our desired haven.
– Condensed and arranged from The Life of Dwight L. Moody by William R. Moody and Touching Incidents And Remarkable Answers To Prayer, 1893.