"THAT settles it, I accept the threat as a challenge from the Devil, and so with your permission, sir, which I'm sure you won't refuse me now, I really must carry on!" There was no mistaking the speaker's earnestness as he stood on the deck of the American liner. He was a slightly built man with a keen alert face and manner and eyes, which bespoke the latent energy behind them. But for the moment they were fixed with intense expectancy upon the officer in charge who had just made known to him his reasons for not acceding to his request to hold a service on board. "Well," came back the reply, given rather grudgingly, as though the speaker were going against his better judgment as indeed he was, "I'll allow you to go ahead on one condition, and that is that you take full responsibility for anything that happens, and do not blame me afterwards."
The promise was gladly given, and an amicable agreement having thus been arrived at, the two men separated. The one hurrying to the gangway below to call his two or three waiting friends on board from the quayside, the other sauntering along to a position overlooking the fore-deck whence he could 'see the fun'.
And truly things pointed to there being an unusual happening on board on this bright morning. For the American crew, a very mixed, rough lot of down-easters, who had been disturbed in their Sunday gambling by a previous visit of this same little band of workers, had vowed that if ever their leader attempted to hold another, they would put him head first into the refuse-tub outside their foc'sle door. Small wonder, therefore, if there had been some reluctance on the part of the one in charge to give his assent to what might so easily lead to a disturbance. Yet perhaps curiosity to see what would actually happen, combined with the undoubted appeal which such assured confidence and utter fearlessness, made to his own manhood, had caused him to reverse his first decision. And now he found a strange fascination in watching the development of events in the scene below him.
The foredeck was absolutely deserted as the small group took their stand just beside the closed doors of the foc'sle. Not at all disconcerted, however, they bowed their heads in prayer for the power they needed from on high, and started their opening hymn. The sound of the singing had the desired effect, faces were seen peering out, doors were opened and a motley hard-looking throng of men streamed forth some gathering round the singers, but another group evidently intending mischief, made their way across the deck to where the refuse-tub was standing. The Devil's challenge was a very real one, so thought the leader as with practiced eye he took in all the signs of the gathering storm, especially marking its center. The cluster of men across the way gathered round the refuse-tub; his own circle was a steadily increasing one as members of the crew, ever ready for a sing-song, began to crowd around joining in the hymns.
Then suddenly the climax was reached, and the storm burst, but the burst came from exactly the opposite quarter to that anticipated by the now anxiously expectant observer on the deck above. For the leader, guided by that instinct which God does give to those who look to Him, had quietly held up his hand and stopped the singing the crucial moment for action had arrived, the Devil's challenge was being accepted to the full!
Stepping quickly across the deck, a bundle of hymnbooks under his arm, our friend was in the midst of the group around the tub before they had time to recover from their surprise at his daring maneuver. "Men," he cried, "you've planned to put me head-first in that tub, haven't you? But I challenge you to do it. There's a power with me that won't let you and you know it!"
"Come over," continued the insistent challenging voice. "Come over and join in this chorus with us, it tells of the One who died to give you freedom and victory over sin, and that life which is eternal!"
The effect was instantaneous, in some inscrutable manner the opposition began to melt away; what kind of power was this, they asked themselves, which enabled a single unarmed man to defy and overcome the sort of characters they knew themselves to be? It was in a changed mood that they accepted the proffered hymnbooks and with softened hearts that they moved over and joined their shipmates in the service. Is it therefore surprising that before its close several of the crew had accepted another challenge and stepped out before their fellows in token of their surrender to a newly found Lord and Master?
As the joyous band of workers walked away, their morning's task ended, with hearty invitations to come again soon, following them, the officer called their leader up to him.
"How do you do it?" was his mystified query. "Do what, sir?" "Why, get those men to do just everything you want, when it takes us all our time to get anything at all out of them?"
The whole incident evidently appealed to him; and was indeed a challenge to his own soul, as any display of Divine power must be to those who witness it. He proved a ready listener as the mystery of the source of this power, which flows from the death of our Lord Jesus Christ for us men, was expounded to him. One thing you must allow, that the chief actor in the little drama was no coward. In fact only a truly courageous soul was who willing to risk all, disgrace, contempt, yea, perhaps life itself, could have forced such a situation and overcome the forces arrayed against him with the invincible faith which claimed the victory before the battle was formed. He was, you agree, a brave man. He was also a Christian, and it needs little probing beneath the surface to see that it was because he was a Christian that he was also a brave man.
By Capt. E. G. Carre