Call Upon Me in the Day of Trouble
‘And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me’ (Psa. 50:15).
The following account is a true incident in ‘the Battle of the Java Sea’ (27th February to 1st March 1942) in the experiences of Victor Hannaford, of Plymouth, England.
‘Abandon Ship!’ – the Captain issued the last order that every sailor dreaded. The British heavy cruiser, HMS Exeter, notable for courageous actions, especially against the formidable German pocket battleship, the Graf Spee in 1939, was now mortally stricken. For three days, with the ABDA Force, she had fought against overwhelming odds. This force of ships had been hastily put together; Australian, British, Dutch and American, in a desperate attempt to stem the Japanese advance on the Dutch East Indies, New Guinea and Australia – but to little avail.
The action against the Exeter had been fierce; an 8″ shell had destroyed a boiler room, reducing her speed to 5 knots and setting her on fire, causing many casualties and deaths. Near misses rocked the ship, as shells rained down on her. The Exeter answered with every gun available.
Aboard the Exeter there was a young shipwright, ‘H’, 21 years old. He was responsible for damage repair and fire-fighting, and as he worked frantically amidst dead and dying, he thought, ‘This is dreadful!’ Death impressed him as never before; he knew that he could be killed at any moment.
Also aboard was a young Christian, who, amazingly, even in the heat of battle, found time to thrust gospel tracts into the hands of the desperate crew. One of these gospel tracts had been given to ‘H’; he only glanced at it, but these words caught his eye, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7). He did not know what the words meant, but somehow he could not forget them.
How faithful is our Saviour God. He desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). In Job, chapter 33:14-30, it speaks of God’s intervention in persons’ lives – verse 22 – ‘And his soul draweth near to the pit, and his life to the destroyers. If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his duty (i.e. to judge himself); then He will be gracious unto him, and say, Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom.’ Paul, the great apostle says, the Man Christ Jesus, who ‘gave Himself a ransom for all’ (1 Tim. 2:5-6).
The Exeter received another direct hit, destroying the remaining boiler and completely crippling her – fire engulfed the vessel.
Abandon Ship! ‘H’ donned his life jacket and went over the side with many others. The height from which he dropped in his heavy sea boots, took him a long way down into the sea, perhaps some 30 feet. A deep sense of helplessness filled his soul as he passed moment by moment void of any knowledge of Christ.
No one has ever been or could go to the depths that Jesus went at the cross to accomplish redemption. In the sign of Jonah; ‘For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas . . . all thy billows and thy waves passed over me . . . The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about . . . I went down to the bottoms of the mountains’ – as is recorded of Jonah in chapter 2 of his prophecy.
Yes, Jesus at the cross went lower in grace than our sins have taken us in guilt!
‘H’, his lungs and ears bursting, rose to the surface. Far above him stretched the great vault of sunny blue sky and around him the vast expanse of the ocean. God’s voice in creation spoke clearly to him at this moment; he thought, No mere man could create all this, it could only be God. In this desperate situation he cried out loudly, ‘O God, have mercy on me!’ – calling on the God he as yet did not know.
He removed his boots to make swimming easier (how he was to regret this later as these were his last boots for three and a half years). He was about 150 miles from land and all around were sailors floating and swimming in the shark-infested waters. He found a piece of wood, and with some others, swam some miles, until they reached a destroyer that had hove to. It was an enemy ship! Exhausted, they clambered up rope ladders and were immediately taken into captivity.
On being landed at Makassar at the southern end of the Celebes, they began their 3Â½ years of captivity, marked by all the characteristic features of brutality and bestiality of their captors. The prisoners were soon reduced to living skeletons, by starvation, overwork and tropical diseases. Every opportunity was taken by their captors to humiliate them; beatings with long clubs were frequent. Early on, three Dutch officers escaped but they were betrayed by natives and recaptured. They were first tortured and then beheaded with Samurai swords. The natural delight of their captors in cruelty and bloodshed came into full play, in the terrible experiences of these captives. This is man away from God. History shows that we are capable of anything, unless under the control of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some years passed and ‘H’ drew very close to death. Malaria, beri-beri, dysentery, oppression, were taking their toll. They were now losing six to seven men every day. Medicines and anything to alleviate their condition were withheld from them.
‘H’ now sought out the young Christian who had given him the gospel tract. He told him of his fear of dying, and meeting God in his sins, and of how much he felt the need of cleansing. The young Christian led him out by himself into the night. He told ‘H’ to look up into the beautiful starry sky. ‘What do you see there?’ he asked. ‘Many stars,’ replied ‘H’. ‘Yes, but there,’ the young Christian insisted. ‘H’ then saw the Southern Cross. ‘I see a cross,’ he said. The young Christian asked, ‘Have you heard of the cross of Jesus?’ ‘Yes,’ replied ‘H’, ‘but I don’t know what it means.’
He was then told the simple story of God’s love, the gospel of his glory and of how his beloved Son, the Lord Jesus, died upon the cross at Calvary, to cleanse us from all sin. Then the young Christian quoted the words ‘H’ had read in the gospel booklet while at action stations on the ship. ‘But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7).
As the young Christian spoke, something happened in ‘H’; faith became operative in him, and he felt totally different; a sense that his burden of sin had been rolled away. He knew now that he belonged to the Lord who had died for him, and whose precious blood had cleansed him from all (or every) sin.
There was now ‘a new creation in Christ’. ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new’ (2 Cor. 5:17). This ‘newness’ was now evident in ‘H’. ‘Go back to your bed’ (a vermin-infested plank of wood), suggested the young Christian, ‘and thank the Lord Jesus in your own simple way, and then go to sleep’. ‘H’ did just this; he settled his emaciated, bony frame on the plank, and slept. He awoke refreshed, with such a sense of peace and joy in his soul that he never could forget. In the consciousness of the Lord’s love for him, day by day, he grew steadily better and stronger in health. God held his protecting arm around him and prevented his captors from seriously harming him.
Through the obedience of faith, ‘H’ grew in his soul. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit he began to understand the truth that was to set him free in the Christian way. He loved meeting (in some out-of-the-way spot) with his Christian friend, to pray and read a New Testament they had been given by a Dutch Officer. ‘H’ delighted in the Old Testament stories that illustrated the New Testament to him. These had been memorised by his friend and ‘H’ wrote them down in a note book; this became his ‘Bible’. One day ‘H’ asked his friend, ‘How was it that the sharks didn’t get us when we floated in the Java Sea, all those hours?’. His friend answered, ‘Well, Daniel was put in the lions’ den. The Angel of Jehovah is able to shut the mouths of sharks as well as those of lions!’ (see Dan. 6:22).
Do you see how simple Christianity is? You can see how it is proved in the most appalling circumstances. The blessedness of it has been proved by millions, why not you? You may feel that you have not the faith for it – well ask God for faith! It is God’s gift. You must have the Holy Spirit. The Father delights to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask and to those who obey him (Luke 11:13 and Acts 5:29-32).
By courtesy of the Bible and Gospel Trust.
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