PRINTED FOR J. G. F. & J. RIVINGTON,
ST. PAUL'S CHURCH YARD, AND WATERLOO PLACE, PALL MALL
SOLD BY J. HATCHARD & SON, PICCADILLY
& JOHN TAYLOR, JUN. COLCHESTER.
FISHERMEN and MARINERS' SOCIETY."]
THE Brig "Ewen," from Sunderland, laden with coals, struck on the Nore Sand, on the evening of the 3rd instant. She was pillaged of many of her coals, &c. by depredators from Leigh and elsewhere. I found that people considered they had a kind of right to property over which the tide had passed. With the hope of correcting this false impression, and of showing to my own parishioners the view I took of their conduct, I wrote the following Sermon, and having found it useful here, I have been induced to publish it, with an Appendix, and a few alterations and additions, hoping that it may be of service in other parishes on the sea-coast.
March 12, 1840.
THE revelation of the true religion, which God ha been pleased to make known to us, embraces every class of duties which we owe either to God or to each other. While it makes known to us the high and glorious attributes of the one, self-existent, eternal God, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of man, and teaches him to aspire after angels' joys, and rewards which shall never have an end, it at the same time lays down a principle by which the affairs of this world may be conducted in honesty and peace; and by means of which, when it is really in due operation, every man may dwell in safety under his vine, and under his fig-tree, the poor safe from the oppression of the wealthy, the rich secure from the depredations of the poor. But that which prevents [7/8] the peace, security, and comfort, which are thus mercifully designed for us, is the prevalence of an antagonist or opposite principle, which, instead of leading men to look kindly to the things of others, prompts every man to look to himself chiefly, to consult mainly his own profit and interest, and that of others, only so far as it may contribute to his own. Hence, then is it, that, with the view of counteracting this deeply-rooted principle of selfishness, we find the religion of Jesus Christ laying down this admirable rule, obedience to which is required at the hands of all those who hope to be saved, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do unto them." [Matt. vii. 12.] And whoever does refuse or neglect to act upon this principle may make what profession he pleases of religion while here; but there is One Who will say to him another day, "I know you not; de part from me, all ye workers of iniquity."
Now this rule or maxim is stated by our Lord to contain, in a few words, the end and object of the teaching of the law, and of the prophets; that this rule, taken in connection with, and springing from the love of God, is the summary or compendium of the many laws laid down by Moses, of the many revelations made through the Prophets. For while nothing (now that we are taught it) can be clearer, than that a man, acting upon the principle of loving God with all his heart, and with all his soul, will earnestly strive to keep the four first commandments inviolate, will carefully avoid the sin of idolatry [8/9] forbidden in the two first; will most scrupulously guard himself in his uttering "the glorious and fearful name of the Lord his God," [Deut. xxviii. 58.] lest he should break the third commandment; and will rejoice in obeying the fourth by hallowing and reverencing the Lord's Day--so is nothing more evident, than that a man who is guided and influenced by his Saviour's direction, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do unto them," would most scrupulously act up to the duties enjoined in the second table, those, viz. which respect our neighbour; that he would "honour" and succour his "father and mother," and if his mother should, through God's high will, be come a widow, would, by his gentleness and kindness, endeavour to be both a husband and a child; that he would shudder at the thought of "murder," and therefore abstains from entertaining any feelings of anger and malice, and carefully avoids those scenes, and those companions, which are calculated to mad den and inflame the passions; that, knowing the bitter pang which would wring his own heart as a husband, he turns away from every impure and un chaste thought or look, lest he should "commit adultery," aye, even in his heart; and as he is conscious of the pain it would cause him to be robbed of that which is his, he not only abstains from the mean and low vice of "stealing," but guards himself against it by not even "coveting" or desiring that which is another's; and, moreover, is as tender of the reputation of his neighbour as he would be of his own. [9/10] And thus is the whole moral law fulfilled by the love of God, and the love of our neighbour; or, as the blessed Jesus teaches, "on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets!"
Now by the terms of the covenant of grace, into which it has pleased God to admit us by Baptism, we are bound to keep every jot and every tittle of the moral law, or as the Saviour himself taught, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." [Matt. xix. 17.] And so decided and unequivocal is the evidence which the Gospel requires that we shall give of the singleness and devotedness of our hearts to God, that it declares, that if a man "keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." [James ii. 10.] For the true and faithful Christian, whose single aim is, with David, to keep all God's commandments, strives to make himself acquainted with all, lest by any means he should offend; and, indeed, if there be any one sin which he more strenuously opposes than another, it is the sin which he once loved the best, and practised the most--the sin which he finds most easily besets him. But then, again, there are sins which, in the eyes of some, appear to lose their character of sinfulness, either, we must suppose, because they are unreproved, or because they have become common, and, perhaps, are committed by great numbers; and so the very same sin, which I singly might commit, and which would entail upon me a certain and deserved punishment, is not forsooth deserving of punishment, because many join in committing it. But, my brethren, thus saith the Lord of heaven and earth, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil;" [Exod. xxiii. 2] you must be content to be singular if the greater number are resolved to walk in a wrong path. 'So completely disgraceful is the way of sin, that if there were not a multitude walking in that way, who help to keep each other in countenance, every solitary sinner would be obliged to hide his head.' As for instance, if the greater number of the inhabitants of this town were, which they ought to be, as Jesus Christ's disciples, sober, honest, chaste, and holy, the few ungodly amongst us would be compelled for very shame to hide their guilty heads, they would shrink from bringing their ungodly deeds of darkness before the children of light.
But, alas! the reverse is the case with us, my brethren. Nor can it be much wondered at, when the great and shameful sin, which, within these few days, has brought infamy and disgrace upon our town, is viewed, as many view it, in the light of an honour- able and justifiable transaction!
I am, indeed, willing to hope that by some strange infatuation of mind, and perverted views of right and wrong, some may have been led to the commission of this piracy and robbery, under an impression that the property on board of a wrecked vessel, if the tide has passed over it, becomes in a sense public property, and that so it is open to public plunder. For although some have stated that the object was to save property for the benefit of the owners and underwriters, of [11/12] what benefit will it be to them? You have taken their property, and consumed it, and make no payment in return. Is this for their benefit? But allow me to ask, if one of your own fishing-boats through some accident were to sink, and the tide to flow over it, should you think your brother fishermen justified, in cutting and taking away, at low water, your mast and rigging, your nets, and other property?
But whatever may be, or you may state to be your object, let this be clearly understood as the law of England, that any man who is guilty of plundering a wreck is liable to the severest punishment. [See Appendix at the end of this Address.] And moreover, that he is worthy of the execration of every good man, who can witness the distress and agony of mind of the ruined owner of the property, and yet can pillage the few remnants which, through the Providence of God, the waves have yet spared to him. I well remember, from very early days, hearing and reading of a class of men called "Wreckers," who dwelt upon the sea-coast, and whose fiendish habit was to rejoice in every wreck which occurred, to gloat in savage pleasure over the groans and agonies of the perishing sufferers, and to live by the plunder which they then heaped to themselves, a plunder which was too often stained with blood--a plunder which was always stamped with the curse of God. And I well remember thinking that it could not be possible, that Englishmen could so act; and nothing but appalling evidence of the truth, such evidence as could not be gainsayed, compelled me to believe it. And, I grieve to say, that late events [12/13] have increased my conviction of the truth of these horrors. For although, in the present case, things did not reach the very pitch of murder, yet in God's sight murder was committed--for murder was threatened, as the threatened man has told me--and who was he who was threatened to be murdered? Why, the owner himself of the property which was being stolen. As the blessing of God could never accompany a body of men engaged in such a lawless undertaking, so His grace was withdrawn at a time when temptation, to which they had exposed them selves, came in like a flood. Oaths and curses of the most fearful kind were banded upon the lips of the transgressors, and in one single transaction every law of the second table, save one, was either in act or spirit broken. And that men may be more upon their guard how they join hand in hand with sinners, let it be remembered that, if at that time murder had actually been committed, not only, in the eye of the law, would the unhappy man who struck the fatal blow, have been regarded as the murderer, but every one of his companions who was there present with him, in the performance of the illegal act which led to the murder. It was only under the threat of being murdered, that the owner of the vessel gave any thing which could be construed into a permission to the people of this place, and such an extorted permission, in the eye of the law, gives no authority, nor will it justify any person who acts upon it.
"Thou shalt not steal," [Exod. xx. 15.] is the commandment of [13/14] God Himself--and stealing is taking and appropriating to one's self that which belongs to another. And it matters not whether we do or do not know the owner of the thing--this we know, it is not ours; even if we find it on the highway, and whether that highway be upon the seas or upon dry land, finding it does not make it ours. And this is the principle which the law of God lays down with regard to things found. In the twenty-second chapter of Deuteronomy, God gives this command, "Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them; thou shalt in any case bring them again to thy brother. And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again. In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost things of thy brother's which he has lost, and THOU HAST FOUND, shalt thou do likewise; thou mayest not hide thyself." [Deut. xxii. 1, 2, 3.] Such is the principle of the law of God, that whatever we find we must take care of:, not for ourselves, but for the owner. And the principle of the law of the land is the same; even in case of derelict property at sea, where of course there will be no person present to give permission to enter or to take possession, so possession may be taken for the benefit of the owners when they shall be found, and a liberal salvage will be paid to the salvors. But [14/15] in other cases, unless permission be given by the commander or owner of the vessel, or officer of customs, no person or persons may enter a wrecked or stranded vessel to carry any thing away, (or to be instrumental in Carrying away, even though they do not enter), under those heavy penalties of the law which I have just read to you. [This refers to my having read the greater portion of the 12th of Anne, c. 18, just before the sermon, in obedience to that clause of the act, § 8, which requires that "it shall be read four times a year in all the parish churches and chapels, of every sea-port town." The circumstances which led to this sermon induced me to read it a Sunday or two earlier than the act requires, and I much regret that it was never read before. My attention was drawn to the clause by W. H. King, Esq., the Collector of Customs at this port.]
I confess that the occurrences which have so lately taken place, have not more pained than surprised me. According to the law of the land, and according to the law of God, the crime is nothing less than robbery and piracy; and yet there seems to be a notion prevailing that it is all just and right, and that no fault has been committed, except perhaps by me, for finding fault. Now, my brethren, in the word of God there are strong denunciations against those who shall pervert the judgment of the poor; against those who, being in authority, shall listen to the suggestions or accept the bribes of the wealthy, that a false and un just sentence may be pronounced against the poor man. But there is also this sentence, which is just what we should expect from the just God, who is no respecter of persons, "Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause," [Exod. xxiii. 3.] that is, 'thou shalt [15/16] not be influenced by the poverty or distress of the poor to give thy voice against the dictates of justice and truth:' and this is the position in which I now feel myself placed--I must not be influenced by the poverty or distress of my own poor people to give my voice against the dictates of justice and truth. It is but a very short time since that a case occurred, in which I thought that the cause of justice and truth was on the side of the poor fishermen of this place, and on their side accordingly I ranked myself; and was prepared to go to considerable expense, if expense had been required, in defending their cause: the same principles of truth and justice compel me now to take the contrary part; and after having heard the case stated by both parties, and after weighing it in the balance of the law of God on the one hand, and the law of the land on the other, I have no hesitation in declaring my conviction of the exceeding greatness of the sin in which you have been engaged, and, as a minister of the Most High, I do most solemnly warn you to repent of these your iniquities; and not only so, but, instructed by God's word, I yet further charge it upon you to make full and abundant restitution for the wrong done to your neighbour, as well as repenting of the robbery committed. Remember, my brethren, sin is not the less sin because those who commit it do not like it to be considered sin; but I am compelled to state that, for your own sakes, (and it will show you how deeply sinful I feel your conduct to have been), unless evidence be given me of your true repentance by full restitution to the parties injured, I cannot admit to [16/17] the Holy Communion any who have herein been guilty. I shall make diligent search, and shall act accordingly. [I cannot refrain from stating, that only two communicants were concerned in this sad transaction, (both of them being under that false impression with regard to wrecked property over which the tide has passed), and that within a few hours after this sermon was preached, they had restored to the Collector of Customs the property which they had taken, and came together to me to unburden their minds, by telling me how bitterly grieved they were at having, though unknowingly, been guilty of so great a sin, the heinousness of which they now saw. It is only just to add, that these persons were not concerned in any act of violence.]
Let me then urge upon you the exhortation of the apostle to his Ephesian converts contained in my text, "Let him that stole, steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." [Eph. iv. 28.] By honest industry, and by persevering labour, let the poor man seek the blessing of God upon his wearisome toil. The Christian rule laid down in Scripture is, "if a man will not work, neither shall he eat," [2 Thess. iii. 10.] and hence the idle man closes against himself the avenues of even Christian charity; But then the hard-working and industrious man is at times brought into distress, and distress is wickedly thought by some to justify dishonesty; but where this same man is Christianly honest as well as industrious, there are two strong reasons against his being found at any time in any very great distress. For in this way the blessing of God follows him. In the first place, his honesty is overruled to his temporal [17/18] advantage; for he who in the summer months, those harvest months of the fisherman, first pays his debts, before he thinks of his own comforts, is sure to find credit in the days of his distress, and hence his trouble is lightened, and his wife and children feel the blessing of having an honest as well as an industrious husband and father. Then, in the second place, to the honest and industrious man the hand of Christian charity is ever open, and, somehow or other, his wants get supplied, contrary to and far beyond his expectation--for all hearts are in God's hand, and he turneth them whithersoever He will--and he overrules things in such a manner that they who trust in Him do lack nothing--"The lions do lack and suffer hunger"--and those who live by violence or injustice may want, but "they who seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good." [Ps. xxxiv. 10.] I do not mean that there are no exceptions to this rule, but so sure do I feel that to those who "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," [Matt. vi. 33.] the promise will be made good, that they shall have "food and raiment," that, where it appears to fail, I am tempted to think that men have inversed the order of the terms of the promise, and that they have sought first food and raiment, and that religion has been a secondary thing. If so, it is they, not God, who have proved faithless.
But, on the other hand, when the hard-working man is dishonest, in the days of his prosperity he forgetteth his creditor, and spends first upon himself [18/19] the earnings of the sweat of his brow, he forgets that he is bringing him into distress, who by giving him credit helped him in his distress; and, so God blow eth upon his earnings, and in the days of adversity when distress and anguish come upon him, he finds of necessity the hand of the tradesman, and from a painful sense of duty, the hand of charity also, closed against him, and he eateth of the fruit of his own ways.
These observations, my brethren, have naturally flowed from the subject before me; for the prevalence of extreme distress during the last two months influenced, I have no doubt, some among you to the law less acts which your minister laments. All have, more or less, felt the pressure of the winter season; those have felt it least who, instead of spending their summer earnings in the beer-shop or ale-house, remembered that every year has its winter, and that every winter must bring distress to the fisherman, unless he will be provident, and sober, and honest. I earnestly wish that I could awaken you to the importance of a little foresight, a little providing for the day of adversity. I wish I could, even for your perishing bodies' sake. I think too it would go far, very far, towards preventing you from being tempted to such deeds of robbery and wrong. But I wish it yet more, from a hope and belief that when you have experienced in this world the beneficial effect of denying yourself something to-day for the sake of advantage and profit to-morrow, you may be led by Divine grace to see with how much more force this principle will apply to the case of your souls--your winter [19/20] indeed comes now, and with it comes distress, but then you are full of hope, because the spring and the summer are coming, when your distress is relieved, and your wants and necessities are supplied. But if you will not have a little forecast now, if you will not provide now for eternity, if you will not now "lay up treasure in heaven," "treasure in heaven which faileth not:"--a winter is coming, I mean a season of everlasting dreariness and distress, a season uncheered by a ray of hope, when having "sown the wind, you shall reap the whirlwind;" and shall eat of the fruit of your own ways--unavailing remorse, agony, and despair. O be warned in time, while the day of salvation lasteth, while your Saviour is yet a Mediator, and ere your Redeemer be your Judge! Deny your selves to-day sinful pleasure and indulgences; deny yourself during this short to-day, it will profit you for an eternal morrow. Repent sincerely, repent bitterly--fall down before Him who hath loved you, "and He will freely forgive you all" your "debt;" but if you will not, He will cast you into prison, from whence you shall not come out "until you have paid the uttermost farthing."
I SUBJOIN some clauses of a few Acts of Parliament, with a view of showing poor people who live upon the sea-coast, what the law does really say upon the subject of wrecks, and of property in wrecked or stranded vessels
12th ANNE, C. 18.
This Act, after requiring all sheriffs, mayors, justices, custom house officers, &c. to assist, if called upon by the commander of any ship stranded, or in danger of being stranded or wrecked, by procuring aid both on shore and at sea, by collecting constables and others, or portions of crews of ships riding at anchor near, and after enjoining that reasonable salvage and reward shall be given to the parties so aiding and assisting, goes on in the third section to say, "That if any person or persons whatsoever, besides those empowered by the said officer of the customs, or his deputy, and the constables, as aforesaid, shall enter or endeavour to enter on board any such ship or vessel so in distress, as aforesaid, without the leave or consent of the commander or other superior officer of the said ship, or of the said officer of the customs, or of his deputy, or of the said constable, or some one or other of them employed for the service and preservation of the said ship or vessel, as aforesaid; or in case any person shall molest him, them, or any of them, in the [21/22] saving of the said ship, vessel, or goods, or shall endeavour to impede or hinder the saving of any such ship, vessel, or goods, or when any such goods are saved, shall take out or deface the marks of any such goods, before the same shall be taken down in a book or books for that purpose provided by the commander or ruling officer, and the first officer of the customs, as afore said, such person or persons shall, within the space of twenty days, make double satisfaction to the party grieved, at the discretion of the two next justices of the peace, or in default thereof shall by such justices of the peace be sent to the next house of correction, where he shall continue and be employed in hard labour by the space of twelve months then next ensuing; and that it shall be lawful for any commander or superior officer of the said ship or vessel so in distress, as aforesaid, or for the said officer of the customs, or constables on board the same ship or vessel, to repel by force any such person or persons as shall without such leave or consent from the said commander, or superior officer, or the said officer of the customs, or his deputy, or such constables, as aforesaid, press on board the same ship or vessel so in distress, as aforesaid, and thereby molest them in the preservation of the said ship or vessel in distress, as aforesaid.
SEC. 4. And it is hereby likewise enacted, that in case any goods shall be found upon any person or persons, that were stolen or carried off from any such ship or vessel so in distress, as aforesaid, he, she, or they on whom such goods shall be found, shall immediately upon demand deliver the same to the owner thereof, or to such person by such owner authorized to receive the same, or in default thereof shall be liable to pay treble the value of such goods, to be recovered by such owner in an action at law to be brought for the same.
SEC. 5. And it is hereby moreover enacted, that if any person or persons shall make, or shall be assisting in the making any hole in the bottom, side, or any other part of any ship or vessel so in distress, as aforesaid, or shall steal any pump belonging to any ship or vessel so in distress, as aforesaid, or shall be aiding or abetting in the stealing such pump, as aforesaid, or shall wilfully do anything tending to the immediate loss or destruction [22/23] of such ship or vessel, such person or persons shall be and are hereby made guilty of felony, without any benefit of his, her, or their clergy.
The 8th Section enacts that this Act shall be read four times in the year in all parish churches and chapels of every sea-port town, and upon the sea-coast in this kingdom: viz. on the Sun day next before Michaelmas-day, Christmas-day, Lady-day, and Midsummer-day.
26th GEO. II. c. 19.
The 1st clause enacts, That if any person or persons shall plunder, steal, take away, or destroy any goods, or merchandize, or other effects, from or belonging to any ship or vessel of his Majesty's subjects, or others, which shall be in distress, or which shall be wrecked, lost, stranded, or cast on shore on any part of his Majesty's dominions (whether any living creature be on board such vessel or not), or any of the furniture, tackle, or apparel, provisions, or part of such ship or vessel; or shall beat or wound with intent to kill or destroy, or shall otherwise wilfully obstruct the escape of any person endeavouring to save his or her life from such ship or vessel, or the wreck thereof; or if any person or persons shall put out any false light or lights with intention to bring any such ship or vessel into danger, then such person or persons so offending shall be deemed guilty of felony; and being lawfully convicted thereof, shall suffer death as in cases of felony, without benefit of clergy.
1st and 2nd GEO. IV. C. 75.
SEC. 11. And be it further enacted, that if any person or persons shall wilfully cut away, cast adrift, remove, alter, deface, sink, or destroy, or shall do or commit any act with intent and design to cut away, cast adrift, remove, alter, deface, sink, or destroy, or in any other way injure or conceal, any buoy, buoy-rope, or mark, belonging to any ship or vessel, or which may be attached to any anchor or cable belonging to any ship or vessel whatever, whether in distress or otherwise, such person or [23/24] persons so offending shall, on being convicted of such offence, be deemed and adjudged to be guilty of felony, and shall be liable to be transported for any term not exceeding seven years, or in mitigation of such punishment to be imprisoned for any number of years, at the discretion of the Court in which the conviction shall be made.
SEC. 12. And be it further enacted, that if any person shall knowingly and wilfully, and with intent to defraud and injure the true owner or owners thereof, or any person intrusted therein, as aforesaid, purchase or receive any anchors, cables, or goods, or merchandize, which may have been taken up, weighed, swept for, or taken possession of, whether the same shall have; belonged to any ship or vessel in distress or otherwise; or whether the same shall have been preserved from any wreck; if the directions hereinbefore contained with regard to such articles shall not have been previously complied with, such person or persons shall, on conviction thereof, be deemed guilty of receiving stolen goods, knowing the same to be stolen, as if the same had been stolen on shore, and suffer the like punishment as for a misdemeanour at the common law, or be liable to be transported for seven years, at the discretion of the court before which he, she, or they shall be tried.