The Ship On Fire—A Voice Of Warning

“Escape for your life.

Genesis 19:17

HERE is the alarm of mercy declaring the sinner’s duty–“Escape for your life.” Here is the work of Grace and the gratitude of the sinner after he is saved–“You have magnified your mercy, which you have showed unto me in saving my life.”

The other day there sailed down the Thames as stout a vessel as had ever plowed the deep. The good ship “Amazon,” had sailed the broad Pacific many a time and what is there to hinder her from once more reaching America in safety? Who would refuse to underwrite her? Who among her crew or passengers has a fear for her safety? But in the book of Providence there was a black line against that ship and never more could she reach her desired haven. The wind was exceedingly high–the vessel tarried awhile at Gravesend. There was a little improvement in the weather–she sailed a little further, but cast anchor again and remained off Broadstairs.

Matters went as usual in such weather. Night came on. The watch was changed as usual. The captain turned in, feeling that all was right and safe. The passengers were snug in their berths–a little the worse, perhaps, for the roll of the ship, but as assured of security as men could be. In a moment, what a change had taken place! A passenger perceives a smell of fire. The warning cry is raised. Everyone rushes upon deck. Attempts are made to quench the fire. But when the hatches are lifted up, the wind rushes in and the fire is fanned to a dreadful, all-devouring conflagration. Further effort is of no avail.

Rockets are fired, as the signals of distress. The boats are let down, crowded with the passengers. A lugger puts off to her and a steam-tug hastens to the rescue and, thanks be unto the God of Providence, all the passengers–the captain and chief officers last–are on board the vessels and carried to Margate where they see the melancholy, and yet satisfactory spectacle of their vessel burning to the water’s edge and then disappearing from view.

Now, as the good Brother who was captain to that vessel constantly comes here when he is on shore and as he is sitting in the midst of you tonight, I thought I might use the burning of this vessel as a picture of spiritual things, out of which I might make an illustrated sermon These things happen not without design and should not escape without improvement. Two things, then, tonight–they are both in the text and in the story of the ship on fire. First, an alarm–“Escape for your life.” Secondly, grateful acknowledgment–“You have magnified your mercy, which you have showed unto me in saving my life.”

  1. First, AN ALARM. We come here tonight to raise an alarm. True ministers of God are great alarmists. It is their duty to be like Barnabas who was a son of consolation. But it is equally their duty to be like Boanerges–sons of thunder. Thunder does not rock men to sleep and plays no pleasant tune for fools to dance to. With its crash and roar it wakes a slumbering world, and its dread volleys, echoed peal on peal, afford no dulcet notes for dainty ears. God’s servants should learn to thunder–for when God speaks through them, the voice of the Lord is powerful and full of majesty. And in His temple does everyone speak of His Glory.

The alarm we have to give tonight is that of the angel to Lot, with an emphasis of meaning–“Escape for your life.” It is an alarm suggested by tremendous danger. When the cry of, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” ran along the decks, and the cabins and the saloons of the “Amazon,” everyone knew that there was no small danger to be encountered, for flame is a cruel tyrant and devours remorselessly. The very word, “Fire!” has a razor edge about it, cutting to the very quick. Terror has fire for her first-born.

But the alarm we have to raise is concerning a matter more terrific, still–add to the word “Fire,” that dreadful syllable, “Hell”–and then what shall more alarm than “Hell fire”? In that cry we comprehend such weighty matters as eternity alone can reveal. The wrath to come! The judgment of the eternal! The wrath of the Most High! Fire, when it is at its most furious pitch, is but a plaything compared with Hell fire! Yes, when it consumes a city, when it runs down the red lips of a volcano and buries thousands–when it sets the sky and earth upon a blaze as in Egypt’s plagues–it is but child’s play compared with the wrath of God and that Tophet which is prepared of old, the pile whereof is wood and much smoke!

Here is something at which the joints of a man’s loins may well be loosed for there is eternity in it, infinity in it, Deity in it! And where these three are set against a man, woe unto him! It is as when the fire is set in battle array against the stubble. Well may it be written by the Prophet, “The sinners in Zion are afraid. Fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burning?” Sinner, by the crushing terror of the woe which comes, I beseech you, “Escape for your life!”

It is a danger not to be overcome. The fire engine was brought out upon the deck of the burning ship. Attempts were made to extinguish the fire. But the mischief was far too much in power to be driven from its stronghold. The like may be boldly declared of the evil which comes upon the ungodly. Sinner, your danger is such that you cannot contend with it by any power of your own. There is a fire of sin within you which you cannot quench. There is a fire of Hell without you which no drops, even of your own blood, shall be able to extinguish.

You are in a danger which you are unable to cope with. There is no possibility that if you remain in it, your utmost exertions or most strenuous efforts can avert the certain ruin which your state must bring upon you. If you neglect the only way of salvation, how can you escape? What awaits you but a fearful looking for of judgment and of fiery indignation? The pillars of Heaven tremble and are astonished at the reproof of the Lord of Hosts–how, then, can you endure the tempest of His anger and the fury of His hot displeasure?–

“O Sinner, seek His face,
Whose wrath you can not bear;
Fly to the dying Savior’s wounds,
And find salvation there.”

It is a danger, too, a terrific danger which makes no exception to anyone. The captain is as much in danger as the poorest cabin boy if he cannot escape from the burning ship. The rich man, with ingots of gold in his cabin, will as certainly be burned alive as the poor traveler who could scarcely pay his passage. There is no distinction of persons in the judgments of God. Sinner, you may be great and mighty, but you shall go down to Hell unless Grace shall save you! Woman, you may be amiable in your temper and excellent in your deportment, but you shall perish as surely as a harlot, unless Christ has pity upon you. Man, you may be upright, and shine before your fellow merchants as one of excellent repute, but the wrath of God abides on you except you flee to Jesus–for there is none other name given under Heaven whereby you must be saved. And out of that name and apart from that name, whoever you may be, though you were monarch of seven empires, you are still in danger! Rich and poor, high and low, learned and ignorant–my cry is to you all, “O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the Lord!”

Do not forget that we are in danger of a consuming fire–a danger which kills without remedy. It is not a fire which merely singes and scorches, but a fire which burns to ashes. As yonder ship must be burned up and every passenger who cannot leave its burning deck must be consumed, so you, O unconverted Men and Women, are in danger of utter destruction from the Presence of the Lord. “For, behold, the day comes that shall burn as an oven. And all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.”

I wish I could speak upon this dreadful subject in a proper manner. Whitfield had tones and emotions which were fitting for such a subject. He would cry out, “Oh, the wrath to come! The wrath to come! The wrath to come!” He would cry, I say, until all his hearers responded with, “What must we do to be saved?” And good Baxter, trembling, lest he should be guilty of men’s blood, while he delivered the message as a dying man to dying men–knew the terrors of the half so much need of earnestness as when I see you in the midst of a mass of sin and corruption which must be consumed by God’s anger and you with it!

Sinner, why will you die? What can ail you? What besots you that you do not perceive anything dreadful in the wrath of Him who made you? He can dash whole worlds to pieces–what can He not do with you? Have you learned to be callous when you hear of eternity? Have your ears grown cold to that dreadful word, “Condemnation”? Can you read the story of those to whom He said, “Depart, you cursed,” and not tremble? Can you know that you are this day in danger of the Judgment and not be afraid? When the sword is sharp, and furbished and taken out of its sheath, can you laugh about its edge? Can you yet make mirth? Then is there, indeed, need for me to cry to you and for all God’s faithful ministers to cry with louder voices than mine–“Escape! Escape! Escape for your life!”

The alarm of fire was needed because of the security of the persons in danger. Many on board the “Amazon” were sound asleep. Oh, how dreadful to be awakened out of sleep with the cry of, “Fire! Fire! Fire! Some of them, when they awoke, seemed to have been so startled and so confused that they had fairly to be dragged out of their berths so that they might he rescued. There were none there, we have reason to believe, who would have been kept below through their own drunkenness or the carelessness of the crew.

They were in a right state, with this exception, of course, that they were all alarmed–and men alarmed are not always ready to do the wisest thing. And as for the captain and his men they seemed to have been as sensible as they were brave. My Hearers, God’s ministers have to deal with passengers much more difficult to handle. Are not men asleep? Till the voice of God awakens us, we are all asleep. How you and I walked for years and years and years upon the brink of the grave, as utterly unconcerned as though we were to live forever! And when sometimes we were a little impressed by the passing bell, or an open grave, or an earnest sermon, how soon we went back again to our old frivolity and toyed with the flames of Hell as though they were fancy’s dream!

It is not so now. God has awakened us. But we had never been awakened if the voice which awakes the dead had not cried in our ear, “Escape for your life.” No, worse–men are not only asleep, but when they do perceive their danger, they love their sins too well to leave them–even though Hell stares them in the face. The best of them cry with Solomon’s sluggard, “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.” Sinner, how hard it is to bring you to serious consideration of your ways! We cannot touch your wits, or make you reason like a man of sound mind. You will sooner be damned by thoughtlessness than give an hour’s careful meditation to your soul’s affairs.

We would gladly drag you out of your sleeping berth and even kick you and strike you, treating you to rough usage, if we could by this means drag you from the devouring flames! You would thank us well enough afterwards for these rough cuffs if we could but wake you. We hear complaints that the minister speaks too harshly and talks too much of judgment. Saved sinners never make that complaint! They know that nothing but these terrors will awaken some slumbering minds. And if they are awakened themselves, they are but too glad, however rough the means may have been.

Are there not some in this house tonight who are hard, fearfully hard, to be brought to sober thinking because they are drunken and besotted with sin? Some of you, with your Sunday trading will rather gain your sixpences and your paltry pence on the Sunday, than find eternal felicity in faith in the Lord Jesus. Others of you with your tap-room companions, with your theatres, your balls and worse places, still–where lust wears no mask–are cutting the throats of your poor miserable souls. You cannot give up your vices–you will sooner be damned than be Christians.

Well, so it must be, Sirs, if you will have these things and will pawn your souls for them, so it must be. You have chosen your own delusions and you shall inherit them. But O, do listen once more while we warn you in God’s name, “Escape for your life!” Trifle no more with Hell and Heaven, with your own soul and judgment, with God and His dear bleeding Son! If every preacher in London should suddenly begin to preach nothing but alarms, it would all be needed, for what a secure and reckless city this is. If every corner in the street had a Jonah in it and that Jonah’s sermon were nothing but this–“Yet a few more days and you shall be destroyed,” it were not too much for a city so given to slumber.

We have waxen rich! We have grown careless till we have become like Nineveh of old, a people at ease and dwelling carelessly! Isaiah might well say concerning London–“You said I shall be a lady forever: so that you did not lay these things to your heart, neither did remember the latter end of it.” Let us take heed unto ourselves lest in the world to come this carnal security of ours should be like fuel to the fire and the remembrance of our sloth should pour oil upon the flames. O God, let the alarm be heard tonight by those who crowd this House, for You know that many of them are sound asleep.

Again, it is an alarm which requires instant attention. A man on board a vessel, when he hears the cry of, “Fire!” must not stop to arrange his clothes. He must not be concerned to see that his face is washed, that he has bound together that little bundle of papers, or packed up the suitcase, or counted over the little purse of gold, or even snatched his little property from the cabin. At once, at once, must he climb the stairs and reach the deck or he will never have stairs to climb, nor feet to climb with. Now or never! Quick is the word. Waste a moment and it is all over with you. The fire is upon you, for it tarries not in its march.

So is it with you tonight who fear not God. “Escape for your life,” is a cry for the present moment. Now is the accepted time. Behold, now is the day of salvation. “Now, now, NOW. This is the only period God has allotted to you! Take care that you use it, lest when your todays are past and you hope to see your tomorrows, you should have to spend your tomorrows in the pit of Hell. Procrastination is not only the thief of time, but the thief of souls. Now is the day of salvation! I have never heard of any other day. I do not know, but I think this is one of the most difficult things in the Gospel ministry, a matter worthy of the Holy Spirit’s power–to make men seriously think about their souls at the present.

I know, young Man, you intend to think of these things when you are ill. You expect to have a long time upon a sickbed and then you suppose all will be right before you die. Who told you you would ever lie upon a sickbed at all? Yours may be a sudden death. And sudden death to such as you are would be sudden damnation. As men stand upon the bank and spring head-first into the water, so may you dash into Hell. Death enters men’s doors without knocking. The judgment may follow on the heels of your next sin. And what if you should lie upon a bed of sickness? You will have enough to do to bear the pain, to mourn over your weeping wife and worry yourself about those little children who will he left fatherless–I tell you, Sir, it is hard repenting upon a dying bed.

Do not sew pillows to your armholes and make for yourself this fond hope, that you shall one day be saved. It is now or never, it is now or never with you! I speak as a Prophet of God at this moment, I know I do. There are some of you to whom this now or never is a more applicable thing than you suppose. You will not see the New Year. No Christmas festivities will be yours. You will be at home on Christmas Day, but it will be your long, lost home. “Set your house in order. For you shall die and not live.”

As the Lord my God lives, before whom I stand, thus says the Lord unto some of you–“There is but a step between you and death.” Be warned, then, for as I will meet you on the other side of the stream, at my Master’s Judgment Seat, I have bid you give immediate, instantaneous attention to the Word of God. Consider your ways, O Sinners, born to die! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, O Trembler, and you shall be saved. Trust Him, trust Him! God help you to trust Jesus tonight, for it is now or never with your soul!

Again, this alarm demands of every one of us who are unsaved an undivided attention. You have fifty things to think about. You tell me you have a thousand cares. O Sirs, a man whose life is in danger has no other care than to save his life! Did those who were rescued from the “Amazon” have time to save their money and their gold? We are told that they were utterly destitute when they landed at Margate and what difference did it make? Would not a flush of joy be on their cheeks because their lives were preserved? If one said to his fellow, “Where is your purse?” “Oh,” says the other, “never mind my purse, I am in the lifeboat, my life is saved.”

What shall it profit you, if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul? And what is the loss after all, if you lose the world–if you gain your soul? No, those on board the ship had not time to save their clothes. The instincts of self-preservation made them run, just as they were, half-naked, to the vessel’s deck and so must you. I know you will tell me you are not living to make money. If you could just make ends meet, keep your family and supply the wants of your children–that is all–are you not to think of these things? It is well and good. Far be it from me to discourage prudent carefulness in all matters. It is your business to see to temporal matters, but still your paramount business must be your soul!

Even necessities must not come between your soul and your most serious thoughts. You must see to this, first and foremost, and remember there is a promise about it–“Seek you first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And all these things shall be added unto you.” Those persons who escaped from the blazing vessel had, some of them, even to suffer in body. We read of one who broke his arm in the medley of the escape, but what of that? (I hear since, from the friends of the second mate, that the man did not break his arm). Better to escape with a broken arm than fry in those horrible flames with every bone in its place. It would be very little comfort to the poor passenger to save his bones entire and to have his body consumed. “It is better for you to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.”

You are rightly considerate of your bodies, but still, if that poor body which is to become worm’s meat one day is worthy of so much thought, how much more ought you to give to your immortal spirit, which is to live forever with God in Heaven, or with fiends in torment? Think first, I pray you–think chiefly–think now tonight with undivided heart, with consecrated thought, upon your soul. Let comforts go, let wealth go, let raiment go, let life itself go–but do see to that which is better than life–your soul–your everlasting destiny.

Now the alarm which I have tried to give–“Escape for your life!” seems to me to suggest a very solemn question. “How can I escape?” says one. Do you sincerely ask that question–“What must I do to be saved?” Remember there is but one way of rescue–the lifeboat of faith must put you into the vessel of salvation–Christ Jesus. Stop in your own vessel and you are burned. Leap into those floods of wrath and you are drowned. Get into that boat of saving faith, let that boat bear you into the vessel of Christ Jesus and you are safe! Sinner, the road of salvation is out of self into Christ.

There are only two steps to Heaven–out of self, into Christ. That man who has left himself as a burning vessel behind, left sin and left self-righteousness as a thing to be destroyed–that man who has taken Christ to be his All in All and takes the Cross to be the only thing to which he clings, is safe. Escape, I pray you, for your life, awakened and seeking Sinner, for Jesus is the only foundation! He only is your rock and your salvation–come to Him for shelter and you are saved.

To conclude this matter of alarm, our meditation arouses a very solemn enquiry–Will all be safe? Will all in the vessel escape? What joy must there have been in the captain’s heart when he heard that not one had been left to burn in the vessel! Will all escape? Will every hearer in this huge House of Prayer tonight be a singer in Heaven? Dare we, in the judgment of charity, hope so? Well, well, let us try to hope, if so your charity wishes it, but I fear, I fear it will be hope without any grounds. There are some here who love the drunkard’s cup, others who vomit the swearer’s oaths, and some who have the proud, self-righteous look which God hates. O that we could hope that these would be transformed by Grace through Jesus Christ, that so they might be saved!

I am, I admit it, very much afraid that all of you will not be saved, but that some of you will perish in your iniquities. It is not, however, our duty to pry into futurity. Let us, therefore, turn to that which far more concerns us–our own personal salvation. The enquiry changes–“Shall I be saved? If there is an alarm given, "Escape for your life!” Shall I be saved? And what if it should be the preacher’s lot to be lost forever? What, if after talking to you this morning of being sick of love to Christ, he should have to hear those doleful words, “I never knew you, depart, you cursed!” And what if this were to be the lot of the Church officers who sit around me, or of anyone among you? Brother, you have passed the sacramental cup to others–what if the cup of devils is your portion forever and ever? My Brothers and Sisters in Church fellowship, you may well put the question as did the Apostles of old, “Lord is it I?”–

“Shall I be banished for my life,
And yet forbid to die?
Shall I endure eternal death,
Yet death forever fly?”

Shall it be so? My dear Hearer, you who make no profession of religion, will you ask the question, “Shall I, shall I perish in devouring flames, or shall I escape?” The answer to that question, so far as you are concerned at this moment, must depend upon whether there is now a work of Grace in your heart. If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, you can never perish. If you do not and will not believe, your destruction is most sure. O God Almighty, You who alone can impress the heart, lead every one of us now to take such sure hold of Christ that we may never perish, neither may any pluck us out of His hand.!

II. My time is fled! Woe is me–I had meant to have spoken with my whole heart upon another topic–GRATITUDE. Well, we will just run over the points, although most briefly. I will hope that you and I are saved. I will trust that we have been put into God’s Grace vessel. I will believe that we have laid hold on Christ–may my belief be

O my God, I bless You that I was not permitted to sleep the sleep of death! I thank You for that fever which made me fear, that loss which made me think, that dear dead babe which brought the parent to a Savior’s feet. I bless You, Lord, for the minister’s earnest voice which shook me in my slumbers, for a mother’s tears which fell like cold drops on my sleeping brow and made me wake. I thank You, O God, that though others slumber, yet, You have awakened me and made me look to my soul’s concerns. It is no slight mercy to be able to hear the trumpet of warning! It is a foundation mercy, but it is not the least of mercies to have an awakened conscience.

Secondly, I would thank God and let every Believer join with me that when you and I were awakened, the ship was not out to sea. If the “Amazon” had been far out to sea when the cry of “Fire” was given, what must have been the result? How few could have escaped! But there she was, close to land. You and I, when we were awakened, were not in Hell–not like the rich man, lifting up our eyes where hope could never come! We were still on praying ground, still on pleading terms with God, still where mercy could come to us and Grace could meet us. Sinner, if you have been awakened tonight, thank God for this! Thank Him that the trumpet which wakes you is not the trumpet of the archangel summoning you to judgment, but the silver trumpet of God’s messenger of mercy, inviting you to the mercy banquet.

Let us thank God it did not blow harder, for there might have been much trouble in reaching the boat. When you and I were awakened to a sense of sin, it might have been just when death was coming, or when the terrors of conscience would have been too much for us and when the fears of death might have kept us from a Savior. But, blessed be God, when we were aroused there was wind enough! We were conscience-stricken and smitten, but still not too much, or else the fire had been too vehement and we had not escaped. Thank God, then, that He awakened us while there was really time to avail ourselves of the Covenant lifeboat.

Let us be thankful, again, that we could use the signals. I told you that the vessel sent up its rockets–signals of distress. Ah, what a thousand mercies it was that we could pray. I remember well when this was the only comfort my bursting spirit had, I could pray. Oh, to be on pleading terms with God! Thank God for this, awakened Sinner! Bless God for this! If you have not got so far as being completely saved, yet do praise Him that you are allowed to fire off the rockets of desires, sighs, groans, sobs, tears, longing and panting–and that you can send them up where God can see them. Your cries and groans and tears will yet bring comfort and peace from Heaven through the Lamb’s redeeming blood. Rejoice, my beloved Brethren, that the Lord has not abolished a Mercy Seat, nor forgotten to be gracious. He says not, “to the seed of Jacob, Seek you Me in vain.” He waits to be gracious. He delights in mercy. Before you call He will answer and while you are yet speaking He will hear.

Thank God that there were good officers on board to direct the passengers. Without firm authority men become a mob, and then, with every appliance which might save, few are rescued. Awakened Sinner, be grateful that you have Gospel ministers. Oh, what a mercy to have a Gospel ministry! What an awful thing to sit under a half-and-half milk-and water, yes-and-no ministry, as was my lot when under conviction. I attended different places of worship, but what I heard was not the Gospel. And I venture to say it, that a few years ago, in nine places out of ten in London, and in the suburbs and throughout England, such a thing as the Gospel was not preached except by accident.

It IS preached NOW. It is not preached now as it should be, but it is preached now. What I mean by the Gospel is the doctrine that Jesus Christ came to save sinners and that the simple trusting upon Him is saving faith. This is a doctrine which the revival has brought up more clearly and which the revival keeps before the public mind. But before that great movement came, it was a doctrine ignored and cast behind. Too much of the preaching was a dry morality, or else philosophy which might tickle the ears of men who claimed intellect, but could never move the heart. Oh, thank God, poor Sinner, that you hear it rung in your ears–Come as you are! Come as you are! You hear the Gospel sung to you–

“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Your blood was shed for me,
And that You bid me come to You,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Just as I am–Your love I own,
Has broken every barrier down–
Now, to be Yours, yes, Yours alone,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!”

We hold up to you no ceremonies, no feelings, no works, no orthodoxies! We only hold up Christ, Christ Crucified, a Substitute for sinners, a Substitute for you if you trust Him. And we tell you again and again, till we half fear of tiring you, that trusting Jesus you are saved! Now we have reason, if saved, to be grateful to God for Gospel officers. Then how grateful ought you and I to be that the ship is come to the rescue. Jesus came all the way from Heaven to earth to save us–“Who though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich.” How shall we be grateful enough for this unspeakable gift?–

“O, for this love let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break,
And all harmonious human tongues
The Savior’s praises speak.”

Better still–how grateful we ought to be that we have got on board that ship. Oh, joy! Joy! Joy! That blessed step which set me upon Christ! That blessed act which made me one with Him! My soul would repeat now that Grace-worked deed of faith–

“A wounded, weak and helpless worm,
On Christ’s kind arms I fall;
Be You my strength and confidence,
My Jesus and my All.”

Be grateful for this. And, Sinner, if you can now step into Christ and trust Him with yourself, make earth ring with your joy and make Heaven resound with your praise!

Our gratitude, I think, will be greatest of all when we get safe on shore and look on this old hulk, the burning world, without a fear. We will see her blaze and cast her dreadful splendors over the infinite leagues of space, until beings in faroff worlds shall ask, “What is this? A world on fire, whose elements dissolve with fervent heat.” But we, caught up together with the Lord, to dwell forever with Him, shall look on with complacency, having lost nothing because saved in Him! Having found in Him our Savior, better than all we had before, and being, once and for all on Heaven’s terra firma, never to put to sea again, never to fear tempest, rock, wreck, or fire. But saved! Saved! Saved eternally!

Escape, Sinner, escape for your life! Remember, though thus I talk to you, if you shall escape, Free Grace must have all the praise. And in the language of good Lot, you will have to say–“You have magnified Your mercy in saving my life.” May God send you away with a blessing, for Jesus' sake. Amen.