Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Text by Frank W. Boreham

February 15, 1874 – January 5, 1922

Flame or frost; it makes no difference. A truth that, in one age, can hold its own in a burning fiery furnace can, in another, vindicate itself just as readily in fields of ice and snow.

“One, two, three – four!” counted the king, as he gazed in astonishment upon the Babylonian furnace.

“One, two, three – four!” exclaimed the explorer, in reverent delight, as he forced his hazardous way over the snowdrifts and glaciers of the terrible Antarctic.

“Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods’” (Dan. 3:24-25).

“We all felt that there were, not three, but four of us,” said Sir Ernest Shackleton. He was speaking at a banquet given in London in his honor, describing the thrilling adventures of the Rescue Expedition. After the sinking of the Endurance, they made their way in an open boat – a twenty-two foot whaler – over eight hundred miles of storm-swept sea, and then crawled and clambered over the steep peaks and slippery glaciers of South Georgia – the gate of the Antarctic – in order that they might rescue their twenty-two comrades marooned on Elephant Island. As Sir Ernest told his story, the listeners held their breath. That lonely voyage on a polar sea and that intrepid climb over uncharted ranges was the wildest adventure of the speaker’s life. Mr. Edward Marston, the well-known artist, accompanied Shackleton to the South and was one of the men who owed their lives to that astounding journey. Mr. Marston declares that his leader’s voyage in the open boat is one of the most magnificent feats of courage ever performed, while his climb across the frozen heights of South Georgia, never before accomplished by man, was one of splendid, almost incredible endurance. “His repeated attempts to reach and rescue us,” Mr. Marston adds, “and his ultimate success in the face of apparently insuperable difficulties, proved the indomitable perseverance of his mind.” At that London banquet Shackleton said nothing of these historic heroisms of his; but he said something no less notable. “You could have heard a pin drop,” says one who was present, “when Sir Ernest spoke of his consciousness of a Divine Companion in his journeyings.” Happily, the explorer afterwards wrote a book and, in the stirring pages of South, he has left the story on imperishable record. “When,” he says, “I look back upon those days, with all their anxiety and peril, I cannot doubt that our party was divinely guided, both over the snowfields and across the storm swept sea. I know that, during that long and tormenting march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it very often seemed to me that we were not three, but four! I said nothing to my companions about this but, afterwards, Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was Another Person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels the inadequacy of human words, the inability of mortal speech to tell of things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”

Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and – Another!
Shackleton, Worsley, Crean and – Another!
One, two, three – four, in the fiery furnace!
One, two, three – four, in the stormy seas and in the frozen snow!
And lo, the form of the fourth was like the Son of God!

Having given us, both with his lips and with his pen, this noble testimony, Sir Ernest set himself to prepare for his last – and fatal – voyage. It was not his custom to take with him anything with which he could dispense, but he insisted on including among his treasures a gramophone record of Dame Clara Butt’s rendering of Abide with Me. He wanted to be assured, in that melodious way, that the Invisible Companion of his former expedition would constantly attend him on this one. “Just think,” said a London writer at the time, “just think of those words and of that music – ‘I need Thy presence every passing hour’ – ringing out across the icebound wastes of the Antarctic!” It was Shackleton’s one thought, and it grew upon him towards the close. “As we made that journey over the icy ranges,” he says, “we saw God in His splendors and heard the text that Nature renders.” And what was the text? We are left in no uncertainty. Just before leaving England for the last time, he delivered an address, in the course of which he repeated his testimony concerning his Unseen Comrade. Miss Ada E. Warden, who was present, says that “after repeating the story of the appalling voyage in the open boat from Elephant Island to South Georgia, he quoted these words from Psalm 139: If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me (vss. 9-10). He repeated the words most impressively and said that they were a continual source of strength to him. I, for one, shall never read those beautiful words without recalling his testimony.”

“We were comrades with Death all the time,” he said to Mr. Harold Begbie in the course of a casual conversation, “but I can honestly say that it wasn’t bad. We always felt that there was Something Above. You know the words – If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. That Psalm applied exactly to our situation.”

“One, two, three – four!”
“In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!”
“If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”

There can, then, be no shadow of doubt about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s text. His body has been laid to rest among the eternal snows, close to the scene of his most daring exploit. “To another sea,” as Mr. Begbie says, “he has now sailed his ship, a sea of silence, darkness and mystery, but with a coastline glowing in the rays of a brighter sun. Across that sea many greater spirits have sailed, but few, I think, with steadier hearts and eyes more eager for new shores.” He has bequeathed to us an example and a testimony that will live on forever.

Yes, that text is Shackleton’s text; but it is not Shackleton’s alone. It is every traveler’s text. It comforted Enoch Arden on the day on which he sailed; and, in his blunt sailor-fashion, he tried to comfort poor Annie with it:

“Annie, my girl, cheer up, he comforted,
Look to the babes, and, till I come again,
Keep everything ship-shape, for I must go.
And fear no more for me; or, if you fear,
Cast all your cares on God; that anchor holds!
Is He not yonder in those uttermost
Parts of the morning? If I flee to these
Can I go from Him? And the sea is His,
The sea is His: He made it.”

Before I settled at my present church, I had the honor of holding two pastorates: one in New Zealand and one in Tasmania. In New Zealand, no name is more honored than that of Bishop Selsyn; in Tasmania none is more cherished than that of Sir John Franklin. Now here is a striking and impressive coincidence! When young Selwyn landed in New Zealand, that country was the land of the most ferocious cannibals. The youthful Bishop looked around upon a land of volcanic wonders and of the most unusual vegetation. When Sunday came, he conducted his very first service in the new land. Turning for a moment from the natives to his companions, he exclaimed: “A great change has taken place in the circumstances of our natural life; but no change which need affect our spiritual being. We have come to a land where not so much as a tree resembles those of our native country. All visible things are new and strange, but the things that are unseen remain the same.” And he took, as the text of that first sermon in New Zealand, the text from which, nearly a century later, Sir Ernest Shackleton drew such wealthy stores of inspiration: If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.

So much for Bishop Selwyn. Now for Sir John Franklin, whose statue I passed every day at Hobart. Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, away in Arctic seas, found a boat-load of bones, representing all that remained of the Franklin expedition. And with the bones were some Bibles. For some time these Bibles were to be seen at the United Service Museum, and visitors were deeply impressed at the sight of one in which these words had been marked and underlined: If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.

“Even there!” “Even there!
Out in the unknown – with Enoch Arden!
At the Antipodes – with Selwyn!
In the frozen North – with Franklin!
At the Antarctic – with Shackleton!
“Even there!” “Even there!”
Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.

In the development of church history, there have been scores of heresy hunts; but there have only been two heresies. Adam started the first, and Cain inaugurated the second. The first was the heresy of Thereness; the second was the heresy of Hereness. Adam believed that God was there, but not here; so he hid. Cain believed that God was here, but not there; so he went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod. All of the heretics of the Old Testament were enslaved by one or other of these twin fallacies. Jacob, for example, thought of God as a poor little tribal deity who could lend Himself to trickery and cunning, and who dwelt in the narrow slice of land in which his father happened to reside. It came upon him as a bewildering surprise that, in his fugitive flight, he had not evaded the vigilant care of the Most High. From his stony pillow in the wilderness, there was a ladder that led to heaven and, wherever he fled, God’s angels were there! Naaman’s pitiful conception of God led him to carry home with him two mules’ burden of the soil of Canaan that he might enjoy the superstitious satisfaction of praying to Jehovah on the very soil that His Spirit pervaded. Jonah cherished the thought of a God who could readily be evaded by the simple act of crossing the sea. From the deck of a gallant vessel of Tarshish he waved a confident goodbye to the God whom he was leaving behind. The heresies of Hereness and Thereness have blighted ten thousand lives, and they may easily blight ours.

They almost wrecked the faith of Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom had been sold away from the old Kentucky home and, herded with a throng of other slaves, was being carried on a steamboat up the Red River. All that he loved was left behind. That night he sat on the deck in the moonlight; and, for the first time, his faith staggered. It really seemed to him that, in leaving Aunt Chloe and the children and his old companions, he was leaving God! He could believe that God dwelt in old Kentucky; but how could God dwell among the horrors of the Red River? “Is God here?” He asked himself, again and again. At last, disconsolate, he threw himself upon the floor and fell asleep. And, in his sleep, he dreamed. He dreamed that he was back again, and that little Eva was reading to him from the Bible as of old. He could hear her voice: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you….For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Is. 43:2-3). A little later, poor Tom was writhing under the cruel lash of his new owner. “But,” says Mrs. [Harriet Beecher] Stowe, “the blows fell only upon the outer man, and not, as before, on the heart. Tom stood submissive. Yet Legree could not hide from himself the fact that his power over his victim had gone. As Tom disappeared into his cabin, and Legree wheeled his horse suddenly round, there passed through the tyrant’s mind one of those vivid flashes that often send the lightning of conscience across the dark and wicked soul. He understood full well that it was God who was standing between him and Tom, and he blasphemed Him!”

“Is God here?” Tom asked, that dreadful night.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” said the gentle little voice in the dream.
“Legree knew that it was God who stood between his victim and himself.”
For – “even there, even there, Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.”
Even there! Even there!

In his Scapegoat, Sir Hall Caine has very tenderly portrayed the hunger of the heart for the father’s presence. Little Naomi is deaf and dumb and blind. Her mother is dead. She lives with her father, and he is an alien in a strange land. And often, in the night, Israel would wake and find the silent little figure, robed in white, standing beside his bed. Darkness and light were alike to her. She could not tell him why she came. She just wanted to feel that he was near. “So, with a sigh, he would arise and light his lamp and lead her back to bed. More scalding than the tears that would be standing in Naomi’s eyes would be the hot drops that would gush into his own.”

The Unseen Comrade! The Invisible Companion! The Hunger of the Heart for the Father’s Presence! Livingstone felt it in the burning heat of Africa; Shackleton felt it amidst the blinding whiteness of the frozen South. “Abide with me!” he prayed. It was the child feeling, like little Naomi, for the father’s hand. Did the words of the hymn find their way into Shackleton’s soul at the end of his life?

Be Thou Thyself before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
Heaven’s morning breaks and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life – in death – O Lord, abide with me!

I do not know whether, as he set out on his last long journey, these favorite words of his came back to him. I only know – and he knew – that the Invisible Comrade was there. He never fails nor forsakes. “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.” He has taken the wings of a new morning, but the old promise holds good. The Father will clasp the hand of His child on any sea and on any shore.

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