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Chapter 2

SERMON III.--PRAYER AND SCIENCE

(Preached at St. Olave's Church, Hart Street, before the Honourable
Corporation of the Trinity House, 1866.)

PSALM cvii. 23, 24, 28.

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great
waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them
out of their distresses.



These are days in which there is much dispute about religion and
science--how far they agree with each other; whether they contradict
or interfere with each other. Especially there is dispute about
Providence. Men say, and truly, that the more we look into the
world, the more we find everything governed by fixed and regular
laws; that man is bound to find out those laws, and save himself from
danger by science and experience. But they go on to say,--'And
therefore there is no use in prayer. You cannot expect God to alter
the laws of His universe because you ask Him: the world will go on,
and ought to go on, its own way; and the man who prays against
danger, by sea or land, is asking vainly for that which will not be
granted him.'

Now I cannot see why we should not allow,--what is certainly true,--
that the world moves by fixed and regular laws: and yet allow at the
same time,--what I believe is just as true,--that God's special
providence watches over all our actions, and that, to use our Lord's
example, not a sparrow falls to the ground without some special
reason why that particular sparrow should fall at that particular
moment and in that particular place. I cannot see why all things
should not move in a divine and wonderful order, and yet why they
should not all work together for good to those who love God. The
Psalmist of old finds no contradiction between the two thoughts.
Rather does the one of them seem to him to explain the other. 'All
things,' says he, 'continue this day as at the beginning. For all
things serve Thee.'

Still it is not to be denied, that this question has been a difficult
one to men in all ages, and that it is so to many now.

But be that as it may, this I say, that, of all men, seafaring men
are the most likely to solve this great puzzle about the limits of
science and of religion, of law and of providence; for, of all
callings, theirs needs at once most science and most religion; theirs
is most subject to laws, and yet most at the mercy of Providence.
And I say that many seafaring men have solved the puzzle for
themselves in a very rational and sound way, though they may not be
able to put thoughts into words; and that they do show, by their
daily conduct, that a man may be at once thoroughly scientific and
thoroughly religious. And I say that this Ancient and Honourable
Corporation of the Trinity House is a proof thereof unto this day; a
proof that sound science need not make us neglect sound religion, nor
sound religion make us neglect sound science.

No man ought to say that seamen have neglected science. It is the
fashion among some to talk of sailors as superstitious. They must
know very little about sailors, and must be very blind to broad
facts, who speak thus of them as a class. Many sailors, doubtless,
are superstitious. But I appeal to every master mariner here,
whether the superstitious men are generally the religious and godly
men; whether it is not generally the most reckless and profligate men
of the crew who are most afraid of sailing on a Friday, and who give
way to other silly fancies which I shall not mention in this sacred
place. And I appeal, too, to public experience, whether many, I may
say most, of those to whom seamanship and sea-science owes most, have
not been God-fearing Christian men?

Be sure of this, that if seamen, as a class, had been superstitious,
they would never have done for science what they have done. And what
they have done, all the world knows. To seamen, and to men connected
with the sea, what do we not owe, in geography, hydrography,
meteorology, astronomy, natural history? At the present moment, the
world owes them large improvements in dynamics, and in the new uses
of steam and iron. It may be fairly said that the mariner has done
more toward the knowledge of Nature than any other personage in the
world, save the physician.

For seamen have been forced, by the nature of their calling, to be
scientific men. From the very earliest ages in which the first canoe
put out to sea, the mariner has been educated by the most practical
of all schoolmasters, namely, danger. He has carried his life in his
hand day and night; he has had to battle with the most formidable and
the most seemingly capricious of the brute powers of nature; with
storms, with ice, with currents, with unknown rocks and shoals, with
the vicissitudes of climate, and the terrible and seemingly
miraculous diseases which change of climate engenders. He has had to
fight Nature; and to conquer her, if he could, by understanding her;
by observing facts, and by facing facts. He dared not, like a
scholar in his study, indulge in theories and fancies about how
things ought to be. He had to find out how they really were. He
dared not say, According to my theory of the universe this current
ought to run in such a direction; he had to find out which way it did
actually run, according to God's method of the universe, lest it
should run him ashore. Everywhere, I say, and all day long, the
seaman has to observe facts and to use facts, unless he intends to be
drowned; and therefore, so far from being a superstitious man, who
refuses to inquire into facts, but puts vain dreams in their stead,
the sailor is for the most part a very scientific-minded man:
observant, patient, accurate, truthful; conquering Nature, as the
great saying is, because he obeys her.

But if seamen have been forced to be scientific, they have been
equally forced to be religious. They that go down to the sea in
ships see both the works of the Lord, and also His wonders in the
deep. They see God's works, regular, orderly, the same year by year,
voyage by voyage, and tide by tide; and they learn the laws of them,
and are so far safe. But they also see God's wonders--strange,
sudden, astonishing dangers, which have, no doubt, their laws, but
none which man has found out as yet. Over them they cannot reason
and foretell; they can only pray and trust. With all their
knowledge, they have still plenty of ignorance; and therefore, with
all their science, they have still room for religion. Is there an
old man in this church who has sailed the seas for many a year, who
does not know that I speak truth? Are there not men here who have
had things happen to them, for good and for evil, beyond all
calculation? who have had good fortune of which they could only say,
The glory be to God, for I had no share therein? or who have been
saved, as by miracle, from dangers of which they could only say, It
was of the Lord's mercies that we were not swallowed up? who must, if
they be honest men, as they are, say with the Psalmist, We cried unto
the Lord in our trouble, and he delivered us out of our distress?

And this it is that I said at first, that no men were so fit as
seamen to solve the question, where science ends and where religion
begins; because no men's calling depends so much on science and
reason, and so much, at the same time, on Providence and God's
merciful will.

Therefore, when men say, as they will,--If this world is governed by
fixed laws, and if we have no right to ask God to alter his laws for
our sakes, then what use in prayer? I will answer,--Go to the
seaman, and ask him what he thinks. The puzzle may seem very great
to a comfortable landsman, sitting safe in his study at home; but it
ought to be no puzzle at all to the master mariner in his cabin, with
his chart and his Bible open before him, side by side. He ought to
know well enough where reason stops and religion begins. He ought to
know when to work, and when to pray. He ought to know the laws of
the sea and of the sky. But he ought to know too how to pray,
without asking God to alter those laws, as presumptuous and
superstitious men are wont to do.

Take as an instance the commonest of all--a storm. We know that
storms are not caused (as folk believed in old time) by evil spirits;
that they are natural phenomena, obeying certain fixed laws; that
they are necessary from time to time; that they are probably, on the
whole, useful.

And we know two ways of facing a storm, one of which you may see too
often among the boatmen of the Mediterranean--How a man shall say, I
know nothing as to how, or why, or when, a storm should come; and I
care not to know. If one falls on me, I will cry for help to the
Panagia, or St. Nicholas, or some other saint, and perhaps they will
still the storm by miracle. That is superstition, the child of
ignorance and fear.

And you may have seen what comes of that temper of mind. How, when
the storm comes, instead of order, you have confusion; instead of
courage, cowardice; instead of a calm and manly faith, a miserable
crying of every man to his own saint, while the vessel is left to
herself to sink or swim.

But what is the temper of true religion, and of true science
likewise? The seaman will say, I dare not pray that there may be no
storm. I cannot presume to interfere with God's government. If
there ought to be a storm, there will be one: if not, there will be
none. But I can forecast the signs of the weather; I can consult my
barometer; I can judge, by the new lights of science, what course the
storm will probably take; and I can do my best to avoid it.

But does that make religion needless? Does that make prayer useless?
How so? The seaman may say, I dare not pray that the storm may not
come. But there is no necessity that I should be found in its path.
And I may pray, and I will pray, that God may so guide and govern my
voyage, and all its little accidents, that I may pass it by. I know
that I can forecast the storm somewhat; and if I do not try to do
that, I am tempting God: but I may pray, I will pray, that my
forecast may be correct. I will pray the Spirit of God, who gives
man understanding, to give me a right judgment, a sound mind, and a
calm heart, that I may make no mistake and neglect no precaution; and
if I fail, and sink--God's will be done. It is a good will to me and
all my crew; and into the hands of the good God who has redeemed me,
I commend my spirit, and their spirits likewise.

This much, therefore, we may say of prayer. We may always pray to be
made better men. We may always pray to be made wiser men. These
prayers will always be answered; for they are prayers for the very
Spirit of God himself, from whom comes all goodness and all wisdom,
and it can never be wrong to ask to be made right.

There are surely, too, evils so terrible, that when they threaten us--if God being our Father means anything,--if Christ being our example
means anything--then we have a right to cry, like our Lord himself,
'Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me:' if we only
add, like our Lord, 'Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.'

And of dangers in general this we may say--that if we pray against
known dangers which we can avoid, we do nothing but tempt God: but
that against unknown and unseen dangers we may always pray. For
instance, if a sailor needlessly lodges over a foul, tideless
harbour, or sleeps in a tropical mangrove swamp, he has no right to
pray against cholera and fever; for he has done his best to give
himself cholera and fever, and has thereby tempted God. But if he
goes into a new land, of whose climate, diseases, dangers, he is
utterly ignorant, then he has surely a right to pray God to deliver
him from those dangers; and if not,--if he is doomed to suffer from
them,--to pray God that he may discover and understand the new
dangers of that new land, in order to warn future travellers against
them, and so make his private suffering a benefit to mankind.

This, then, is our duty as to known dangers,--to guard ourselves
against them by science, and the reason which God has given us; and
as to unknown dangers, to pray to God to deliver us from them, if it
seem good to him: but above all, to pray to him to deliver us from
them in the best way, the surest way, the most lasting way, the way
in which we may not only preserve ourselves, but our fellow-men and
generations yet unborn; namely, by giving us wisdom and understanding
to discover the dangers, to comprehend them, and to conquer them, by
reason and by science.

This is the spirit of sound science and of sound religion. And it
was in this spirit, and for this very end, that this Ancient and
Honourable Corporation of the Trinity House was founded more than
three hundred years ago. Not merely to pray to God and to the
saints, after the ancient fashion, to deliver all poor mariners from
dangers of the seas. That was a natural prayer, and a pious one, as
far as it went: but it did not go far enough. For, as a fact, God
did not always answer it: he did not always see fit to deliver those
who called upon him. Gallant ships went down with all their crews.
It was plain that God would not always deliver poor mariners, even
though they cried to him in their distress.

Then, in the sixteenth century, when men's minds were freed from many
old superstitions, by a better understanding both of Holy Scripture
and of the laws of nature, the master mariners of England took a
wiser course.

They said, God will not always help poor mariners: but he will
always teach them to deliver themselves. And so they built this
House, not in the name of the Virgin Mary or any saints in heaven,
but, with a deep understanding of what was needed, in the most awful
name of God himself. Thereby they went to the root and ground of
this matter, and of all matters. They went to the source of all law
and order; to the source of all force and life; and to the source,
likewise, of all love and mercy; when they founded their House in the
name of the Father of Lights, in whom men live and move and have
their being; from whom comes every good and perfect gift, and without
whom not a sparrow falls to the ground; in the name of the Son, who
was born on earth a man, and tasted sorrow, and trial, and death for
every man; in the name of the Holy Ghost, who inspires man with the
spirit of wisdom and understanding, and gives him a right judgment in
all things, putting into his heart good desires, and enabling him to
bring them to good effect. And so, believing that the ever-blessed
Trinity would teach them to help themselves and their fellow-
mariners, they set to work, like truly God-fearing men, not to hire
monks to sing and say masses for them, but to set up for themselves
lights and sea-marks, and to take order for the safe navigation of
these seas, like men who believed indeed that they were the children
of God, and that God would prosper his children in as far as they
used that reason which he himself had bestowed upon them.

It is for these men's sakes, as well as for our own, that we are met
together here this day. We are met to commemorate the noble dead;
not in any Popish or superstitious fashion, as if they needed our
prayers, or we needed their miraculous assistance: but in the good
old Protestant scriptural sense--to thank God for all his servants
departed this life in his faith and fear, and to pray that God may
give us grace to follow their good examples; and especially to thank
him for the founders of this ancient Trinity House, which stands here
as a token to all generations of Britons, that science and religion
are not contrary to each other, but twin sisters, meant to aid each
other and mankind in the battle with the brute forces of this
universe.

We are met together here to thank God for all gallant mariners, and
for all who have helped mariners toward safety and success; for all
who have made discoveries in hydrography or meteorology, in
navigation, or in commerce, adding to the safety of seamen, and to
the health and wealth of the human race; for all who have set noble
examples to their crews, facing danger manfully and dying at their
posts, as many a man has died, a martyr to his duty; for all who,
living active, and useful, and virtuous lives in their sea calling,
have ended as they lived, God-fearing Christian men.

To thank God for all these we are met together here; and to pray to
God likewise that he would send his Spirit into the hearts of seamen,
and of those who deal with seamen; and specially into the hearts of
the Royal the Master and the Worshipful the Elder Brethren of this
Ancient and Honourable House; that they may be true, and loyal, and
obedient to that divine name in which they are met together here this
day--the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the ever-blessed
Trinity, the giver of all good gifts, in whom we live, and move, and
have our being; always keeping God's commandments and looking for
God's guidance, and setting to those beneath them an example of sound
reason, virtue, and religion; that so there may never be wanting to
this land a race of seamen who shall trust in God to teach them all
they need to know, and to dispose of their bodies and souls as
seemeth best to his most holy will; who, fearing God, shall fear
nought else, but shall defy the dangers of the seas, and all the
brute forces of climates and of storms; who shall set in foreign
lands an example of justice and mercy, of true civilization and true
religion; and so shall still maintain the marine of Great Britain, as
it has been for now three hundred years, a safeguard and a glory to
these islands, and a blessing to the coasts of all the world.



Charles Kingsley

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