In the fall of 1782, a 57-year-old man walked the docks of Deptford, a South London port on the Thames river. Thirty miles inland from the sea, the port was the home of the Royal Navy Dockyards, and the man looked out over the war ships and merchant vessels as he reflected on his own seafaring past. It’s not possible to know all the memories passing through his mind, but he was likely reminded of his time spent aboard a Navy ship, a few merchant ships, and even African slave trading ships. His mind certainly reflected on the brutal and uncertain life of seafaring.
The man was John Newton, and he was now a pastor, though a very unlikely one.
Newton’s life on the wine dark sea was long over. He last voyaged to Africa 28 years earlier, and the fateful night on the ship Greyhound that nearly claimed his life was now a 35-year-old memory. Here on the shores of Deptford all was peaceful, calm, and safe, a nice port for ships to be refurbished, remodeled, and repainted to their original luster.
In the Dock
On this particular walk, Newton watched the celebration at the dockyard as one majestically refurbished ship was launched back into the water of the Thames. “She slipped easily into the water; the people on board shouted; the ship looked clean and gay, she was fresh painted, and her colors flying,” he recounted in a letter to his 13-year-old adopted daughter Betsy (of a scene very similar to the banner image of this post painted at Deptford).
“The ship was beautiful,” he wrote, “but I looked at her with a sort of pity. ‘Poor ship,’ I thought, ‘you are now in port and in safety; but ere long you must go to sea. Who can tell what storms you may meet with hereafter, and to what hazards you may be exposed; how weather-beaten you may be before you return to port again, or whether you may return at all!”
His beloved daughter Betsy was now off at a boarding school. She was in the calm and safe docks of life, being prepared for the open-sea uncertainties of adulthood. As Newton thought about the ship, he thought about his daughter’s life, and about life in general. She was now in “a safe harbor; but by and by you must launch out into the world, which may well be compared to a tempestuous sea. I could even now almost weep at the resemblance; but I take courage; my hopes are greater than my fears.”
The Infallible Pilot
Many Christian parents have since expressed these same prayerful tears for their own children. The open seas of life claim lives and ships, no matter how large or beautiful or celebrated. Shipwrecks are a harsh reality in a fallen world.
[Read the rest of the article at Desiring God.]