Abram to the Rescue!
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Abram to the Rescue!

When Abram’s nephew Lot was distracted and easily influenced by his surroundings, he fell captive in battle. As Alistair Begg explores Abram’s strategic pursuit and rescue, he reiterates Christ’s call to rescue the perishing of our own day. Because Christians are set apart for God’s purposes, we must not allow our hearts to be taken captive by popular ideas that are contrary to His Word.

Series Containing This Sermon

Venturing in Faith

A Study on the Life of Abraham Genesis 11:1–22:24 Series ID: 22101

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to take your Bibles as we turn together this morning to the book of Genesis and to chapter 14. Genesis 14, and we’re going to read together from verse 11 to verse 16. We pick the story up in verse 11, following some warfare which drew Lot and his family into the framework of things, and we read the events as they relate primarily to Lot and then to Abraham:

“The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

“One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.”


Now, before we look at these verses let’s bow for a moment in prayer together:

Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.[1]


During these Sunday mornings, for some weeks now, we’ve been looking at the subject of faith. And for the last four, this morning being our fifth, we’ve begun directly to look at the life of one man, Abraham, the father of a great nation, the father of all who have faith,[2] the “Friend of God.”[3] And one question underpins our study. It’s a simple one and vitally important: What does it mean, what will it mean, to truly venture in faith? And as we’ve been going through these early weeks, we’ve discovered that just as surely as there are biblical principles to apply, so, too, there are pitfalls to be avoided.

The value this morning and the impact, along with that, of these studies lies foundationally in the abiding relevance of God’s Word—that what we turn to here is not some dusty tome unable to articulate in our day, irrelevant for our lives, but rather, we turn to the living Word of God which, by the Spirit, quickened into our hearts, is able to transform and renew us, to make people brand-new from the inside out, to teach and train us how to live, to create within us a spirit of adventure, an adventure along the pathway of faith.

The relevance and impact of what we study is also heightened by the awareness which any sensible person will have by looking at the Scriptures and realizing that the basic issues of life which we confront are not new. Sometimes as we live life, we live with little sense of history—little sense of looking forward and an even less of a sense of looking back. But when we look back, and even through biblical history, we discover that the things that buffet our lives today buffeted the lives of people all through the generations. And even way back here in the Pentateuch, looking at the life of Abraham, we find that he’s confronting issues that are known to us. We saw this last time as we looked at a family feud and the potential hazard that was concerned there, and we see it again this morning as we view the circumstances of this fourteenth chapter.

We haven’t read it all here this morning. I hope that many of you will have read it in preparation for our study. And if you have done, then you will know why I didn’t read the first ten verses and all the unpronounceable names of the various kings. And if you haven’t, then I commend the study to you—that you would read the chapter.

The Warfare of the Heart

Some of us this morning may be able to speak from experience, but probably most of us can only imagine what it must be like to be caught up in the toils and in the tragedies of war. War has been a feature of man’s life ever since the fall, which we discover in the earlier chapters of Genesis. And war this morning is one of the great topics throughout the whole world: how it may be avoided, how we may deal with things, plan things, control things so that our children and our children’s children may not face war. And people would polarize in relation to all kinds of views of various political structures which I have no concern with from this pulpit this morning.

Rather, the concern of the Bible has to do with the fact that the ultimate problem of war is not one that confronts us globally, but it is one that confronts us individually; and that the reason for global warfare is because of the propensity of individuals for personal warfare; and that no matter what structure we may seek to impose, we will never deal, in a fallen world, with the transformation that needs to take place save by the power of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. So much of what we do and what we say is ultimately irrelevant unless we do and say what the Scriptures call us to in relation to these things. This morning, the world is confronted—no matter what leadership, no matter by what political structure—by the inability of man to cope successfully with the inherent problems of his day, the inability of man to cope with the rising warfare in his heart. And therefore, those who cannot deal with it in their hearts will never deal with it in their world. So we know about war today—by listening to the news, by living in family life, by living with neighbors and work colleagues, and by that which we see when we look into the potential ugliness of our own hearts.

The world as we know it today is not the world as God created it but is the world as man has spoiled it by sin. And so it is no surprise to us that very soon after those early beginnings, we are reading the tales of war. And as surely as Christ wept over Jerusalem, as he cried out from his heart, “If you had only known today what would bring you peace,”[4] so might those of us who know and love Christ weep over our Beiruts, and over our Lebanons, and over our El Salvadors, and over our world, and use Christ’s words: “If you would only know what makes for peace.” We must not find ourselves trapped by the ploys of man to create that which will only finally be done by Almighty God.

Now, that is all by way of general introduction to these verses, which we are not going to unravel, but they concern the rebellion of some vassal states against their overlord. And if you read verses 1–10 carefully, you’ll discover that what I’m telling you is true. And into this warfare Lot and his family were caught. They had no desire for involvement. He was caught up in the proceedings without any control himself, and it led to the captivity which we read of in verse 12.

I essentially have only two points this morning, although there are three on the outline, and the third one we’ll deal with another time. But this morning, there are just two things. I could say this message in two phrases, and perhaps some of you wish that I would, but I won’t—at least not until a conclusion. But I have in my heart such an overwhelming passion for what I have to say to you this morning that I can hardly contain it. And I want you to know that as I began to study Genesis 14, I never thought that it would come out in relation to what I’m now about to say. And some of it is hard to receive. It’s been like sitting on a sword for me this week. It has troubled my heart and stirred my spirit and shaken me up. And please God, it may shake all of us up. Will you listen as we look at these words?

Don’t Pitch Your Tent on the Plain

The captivity that he faced. How must it feel to be taken captive? I’ve never been taken captive, except in boyhood games. I don’t know what it’s like (some of you may do) to watch as someone comes in—an intruder, an oppressor—gathers up your possessions, gathers up your family, your friends, and, along with you, draws them all away. That must be a dreadful sensation. Bad enough just as that exists, but even worse if myself as the head of the family unit, or you as the head of your group, had made a decision somewhere in the past that had had the import of finding you within the context where you might now be caught up in these things. The sense of frustration and fear that we would encounter perhaps can only be imagined, and that which Lot faced as we read of what took place in verse 12 as they carried off Abraham’s nephew Lot and his possessions as he was living in Sodom.

The world as we know it today is not the world as God created it but is the world as man has spoiled it by sin.

Now, how was it that he was there? Would you notice first of all—and you need to go back to the thirteenth chapter for this—the choice that Lot had made? We read of that in 13:10. Now, Lot was not a totally unspiritual man. I don’t think we can draw a sharp line between Abraham and Lot. He wasn’t totally unspiritual, but Lot would fit the description of worldly—and I want to substantiate that as we go through this morning—in that he was influenced primarily by what his eyes saw. You’ll notice—verse 10—that he “looked up” and he “saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord.” And so he had selfishly coveted the well-watered Jordan Valley, and he made his choice accordingly.

Now, casual bystanders, as they observed Lot, would have said, “Lot has made a good choice. Lot has looked; he’s planned it carefully.” And they might have said, “Boy, has Lot got it made!” If we were thinking about it in American terms, as I listen to the news, what Lot had done was move to the Sun Belt. He had decided he had enough of this and the potential of that and the rigors of life, and so he looked around, and he made his choice. He said, “I’m going to the Sun Belt! I’m going to go where it looks good!”

Now, that make perfect sense to secular man. He looks with the eyes of sight. He says, “Make your plans, make them right, do what your eyes see, do whatever you feel, get where it fits you best, and you’ll have a great time!” “Boy, has Lot got it made!” And you hear people today say, “If only I could go with them, if only I could move there, if I had some of that, then I would have it made too.”

Well, he had it made, but he didn’t fully realize what he had made. Because along with his choice came new company. And in verse 13, still in chapter 13, you will notice that the choice that he made introduced him to company that was no help to him at all. He had a new environment which was bad and was harmful: “Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” What Lot was to discover was this: that the richness of the soil was more than marked by the greatness of the sin and that the choice that he made with his eyes introduced him to a choice which he probably never fully appreciated.

And I found it quite a revelation to notice the progression between 13:12 and 14:12. Would you notice them? Verse 12 of chapter 13, we read that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” Now notice 14:12: “They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living” where? “In Sodom.” I never met a young person—or I met relatively few young people—who ever told me, “I want to go and live in there. Please let me go in there, Dad.” Usually, they say, “I don’t want to go in there; I just want to go near there. Will you let me go near?” And you take your children. You say, “Don’t fall in the canal.” They say, “I don’t want to fall in the canal. I just want to see how close I can get without falling in the canal,” and then they fall in the canal, so that our responsibility is to say, “The trick is not to see how close you can get without falling in. It is to be smart enough to stay as far away as you possibly can.”

But not for Lot. Lot moved “near,” and then Lot moved “in.” We don’t have time this morning to develop that, but you will discover that there’s almost a biblical progression that could be traced throughout the Scriptures: bad choices, bad company, bad future. And that’s exactly what he faced: a bad choice, a bad company, and a bad captivity. Verse 12 of chapter 14 makes clear that he quickly lost all that Sodom had to offer. Everything that he thought would be his as he lifted up his eyes and clutched for it was gone in a moment. All that he thought would make life that which he desired for it to be was gone.

Now, the lesson is graphically portrayed and is vitally important. You’ve noticed his choice, his company, his captivity. Let me take these things and say this: This morning, as we sit in church, our job, our homes, our families, our possessions, and our forms of relaxation are to be regarded as good gifts from God. And we’re intended to enjoy them and to get the best out of them. Anyone who says otherwise is teaching from an empty head and a closed Bible. But whenever any or all of these things take the love due to God alone and place them at that altar, then we are living lives contrary to the purposes of God.

Now, people would look at twentieth-century America and say, “We’re not like the Greeks. We’re not like the Romans. There are no shrines.” Or, going further back, “We have no Baals,” B-a-a-l. Well, we do! We have foot-Baal. We have base-Baal, for two! You want to go to a worship service? You go in there sometime and watch fifty, sixty thousand people totally consumed, their joys and their sorrows—and I understand this, incidentally—rising and falling with the ebb and flow of the play.

The rise in twentieth-century culture of the quest for relaxation and for rest and for exercise, and for big muscles and no muscles, and fat bodies and thin bodies is an illustration of another shrine at which we worship. Modern man worships himself! So he takes the love that is due to God alone and, imbibing the secular culture of his day, which tells him what’s important—“It’s important you look like this, live like that, have two of them, go there for your vacation, spray that on your hair, and brush your teeth with this”—and imbibing all of that, we’re swept along on a lifestyle that is very different from that which is laid down in the New Testament.

So, we are never to take the things which are good gifts of God and to give to them the love that is due to God alone. To allow these gifts to take the place of God in our lives is worldliness. It is the invasion of our minds, that are to be transformed by the Spirit of God, by a cultural thinking of our day that is anti-God.

Listen to how the apostle John put it in 1 John 2:15–17. (If you need to know it’s there, turn it up. You’ll find 1 John very close to the end of your Bible. If you start at Revelation and work back, you’ve just a couple of books, and you’re there.) Listen to what he says: “Do not love the world or anything in the world.” Now, if we had a Bible study at this point, we could just stop and say, “What in the world does that mean? And how does that apply to our lives today?” And then we would continue and ask of these things: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

Now, lest we misunderstand this and decide that what we’re going to do is dress in one-piece black clothing and go and lock ourselves in a filing cabinet somewhere and wait for the end of the world—that is the extreme which certain sects and groups have taken this to. What John is saying is this: that the invasion of the world’s mentality must not penetrate the hearts and minds and constraints of those who are committed to Christ; that we march to a different drummer and that the world is that which is organized in every way against God; that we were once destined for wrath, but we have now been quickened and made new, we have been transformed, and consequently, we are dead in the dimension of this hold. So therefore, passion and possessions and power and prestige—the things mentioned in verse 16, and the things, incidentally, which keep the world going round and keeps Channel 3 News and Channel 5 News and Channel 8 News on the air… You try a news broadcast without power, passions, possessions, and prestige and see what you’ve got left! Nothing! For the whole drift of things is in relation to that.

Now, what John is saying is this—that which Lot, many years ago, confronted himself: “Lot, if all you do is operate on the basis of what your eyes can see, you’re going to make some dreadful choices.” And Christian, if you’re going to be caught up with the cravings of sinful man, the lust of your eyes, the boasting of what you have and do, then the love of the Father is not in you! Do you see what this is saying? It’s saying there is no place for the Christian snob. There is no place for the divisions within the body of Christ that mark society that looks on. There is no place for division and discord on the basis of accent or school tie or color. The things that society divides itself on is not the issue! The issue, ultimately, is not American society, or British society. The issue, ultimately, is the kingdom of God and his purposes, which reach throughout the whole earth. That’s the issue! That’s what God is achieving! And it affects Afghanistan and Nepal and Nicaragua this morning in ways that we never even understand. But you see, if we have become trapped by what our eyes can see, then we will find that the company that we keep will be a hindrance rather than our help. When I make my choices on the basis of things, I will find myself moving in circles where people just love things: talking about things, getting things, having things—old things, modern things, big things, wee things. Things.

We are never to take the things which are good gifts of God and to give to them the love that is due to God alone.

Now, how is a Christian supposed to work in relation to this? You see, what Lot did not only jeopardized himself but jeopardized his family, his friends, and those around him. And the decisions that I make today as father and head of my household affect my children. They don’t understand my sermons; they only see my life. They know, when they come with me, the things that I buy or don’t buy. They know the magazine racks that I look at or don’t look at. They know the TV shows that I watch or don’t watch. And bad choices mean bad company, mean captivity.

When Jesus told the parable of the sower, his disciples came and asked him afterwards—they said, “What does it mean?”[5] It’s a good question. Jesus explained it in this way in Matthew 13. I’m reading Matthew’s account. He said,

Listen … to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. [What was sown] on [the] rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution … because of the word [comes], he quickly falls away.

Now, listen:

[What was sown] among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of [his] life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.[6]

Now, what people have done from this is to say, “Therefore, wealth is wrong.” Wealth isn’t wrong. We’re looking here at the life of one of the wealthiest men you could in the Old Testament, Abraham. The issue is our approach to that with which God may bless us, so that we are either holding on to it tightly, as if it were the be-all and end-all of life, or we are grasping after it because we don’t have it, assuming that to have it, we would have it made. But we don’t.

Let me illustrate it in this way. The story’s told of a group who made an ascent on Mont Blanc in the French Alps. And on the evening before they made their journey, a group of them gathered with an old French guide who told them that if they were going to reach the summit, they would need to do it with only the basic essentials of the climbing apparatus. They’d have their boots, what they wore, their ropes, and an ice axe, but nothing more. One young Englishman said, “I don’t agree with that. I think I can make the top with a whole variety of things, and I am taking them.” “Well,” said the French guide, “you must go alone. You won’t be a part of our party.” So early the next morning, before the rest of the group had gone, the young man set out to begin his ascent. He carried with him a gaily colored blanket, large lumps of cheese, bars of chocolate that weighed him down in various pounds, photographic equipment and a pair of binoculars, and various parts and parcels. And off he went. “I’ll make the top,” he said, “with what I hold in my hands.”

As the group then set out later on in the morning, they began to come up the mountainside upon various bits and pieces that the man had left behind. First they found his blanket, and then they found his cheese, and then they found his wine, and then they found his chocolate and his cameras. And eventually, they found him at the top, just as the old guide had said, with nothing in his hands to hinder him on the climb. And S. D. Gordon, who tells this story, said so it is in the Christian life: many who find that they cannot reach the top with all that they hold in their hands let the top go and pitch their tent in the plain. And the plain is so very full of tents.[7]

Do you want to live your Christian life on the plain? Are you prepared to say, “My utmost for his highest”? Prepared to say, “I will seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and whatever he gives me I’ll be thankful for, but I won’t seek it as if it were the meaning of my life. I’ll say that Jesus is my greatest treasure, that my career is his, my wife and my family are his, my future.” You see, every time you read a biography of someone who has done anything for God, you will read the life of a man whose hands are lifted up to heaven empty so that heaven may fill them. Some of us never lift our hands empty to heaven, for they’re so full of earth. We’re just like Lot. So “Lot lived among the cities of the plain.” There’s my first point: don’t let’s pitch our tents in the plain.

Launch the Lifeboats

Now, what happened to his uncle Abraham in relation to this? ’Cause he was his uncle Abraham. Funny to think of him like that, isn’t it? You come against a hero; you don’t think he has nephews or nieces or anything. You think he lives on some other planet. But not Abraham. Lot was his nephew. And in the time that remains, I want you to notice now not the captivity but the rescue.

And it’s clear that Abraham didn’t say, “Lot’s been a fool, so I’ll let him learn a fool’s lesson. He made his bed; let him lie in it. He had a chance to choose; he chose. He’s in a mess. Fine. Leave him.” Rather, he mobilized his men. Verse 14: “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household.” He mobilized his men.

Secondly, they went in pursuit. They went as quickly as they could, and they went as far as was required. There was no token gesture here. This was not the man who said he was looking for his wife in the mall but wasn’t looking for his wife in the mall. You know how you say, “Oh, ah, yes, I was looking for you.” Well, you weren’t looking for her. You knew that if you found her, you’d be stuck there forever and a day, so you just had a quick scout round, but you weren’t really looking.

But Abraham and his men were out to get to the issue. Like a fisherman when he goes to fish—I mean, no true fisherman, if you ask him, when he comes home, “Did you catch anything?” is content to reply, “No, but I influenced a few.” And Abraham in his rescue was not interested in being some kind of arm’s-length influence. He was going there in pursuit, to achieve. And you’ll notice in verse 15 that his strategy was a very good one: they attacked at night and at more than one point. They attacked simultaneously, causing panic among the enemy.

So, he mobilized his men, he went immediately in pursuit, and he had a good strategy. There’s a lesson here in leadership, in passing. Leadership needs to know these things: needs to know how to mobilize the men; needs to know how to pursue that which is important; needs to be able to divide and conquer to see results. And so we see the result: the recovery he accomplished. And we read that without difficulty—verse 16—he brought back all that had been taken captive, including his nephew, Lot. And verse 20 tells us that the reason for his success was because God the Most High had delivered his enemies into his hand.

Now, then, if Lot is an example of what it means to allow the world to invade our thinking, Abraham in turn is an example of a couple of portions of New Testament Scripture. He’s an example, I want to suggest to you, of Galatians 6:1, which reads like this: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” And along with that, James 5:19–20: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover … a multitude of sins.” Will you listen to that, people? “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way…” Doesn’t say “will add to the sum of the sinner’s total happiness.” It doesn’t say “will make him feel good.” It doesn’t say “will give him a purpose for living.” It says “will save him from death”! That’s why Paul, when he writes the Second Letter of Corinth, he says, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”[8] We’re not out there to say to them, “Hey, we’ve got a pretty good package, you know? You could try this or that or… Come and try ours.” We’re out to say to them, “You’re dying! And our message is life.”

Have you ever been in a hospital ward when the bleeper has gone for a cardiac arrest? I’m not asking that question just arbitrarily. I have had it happen to me on a number of occasions, and every time, it sends a chill up my spine—as I’ve been walking along the corridor, and suddenly, the noise goes, and a doctor with whom you’ve been strolling casually takes off immediately. And suddenly there are action stations, and there’s a whole strategy implemented. Why? Because the life of an individual is now at stake. My dear Christian friends, this morning, the signal has gone off. The bleeper is sounding. The lighthouse is flashing and saying, “Where are they who will go and win the wanderers? Where are they who will go with a ministry of restoration and renewal and of capture, all done in gentleness?”

Pause for a moment—and it’s just a moment—and ask yourself the question, not for the person on your right or left but just for yourself. Ask yourself this question: “Who do I know who needs to be rescued?” Some of you are thinking now of a brother or a sister. Some of you are thinking of one of your children, a neighbor, a work colleague with whom you’ve shared Christ. And out on the sea of life, buffeted by the waves, they face the imminent possibility of shipwreck.

And then let us ask a second question as a fellowship: How many trained men do we have? Where are the 318? Thankful as we are for all we have, and beginning from where we are, we could do no better, perhaps, than to pray that God will give us those 318—that whatever the future would bring us as a fellowship, it would bring to us the training and the nurture of people who may be able to go out on the rescue mission for those who are wandering, for those who are wayward, for those who are overtaken with faults, who are buffeted by life’s tragedies, and bring them back.

Do you remember the words of Philip Bliss in the hymn which goes, “Let the lower lights be burning”? Do you remember that hymn? Some of you do. You ought to be thankful if you ever sung hymns like this, ’cause it’s pretty hard to find them—somewhere to sing them—now. But listen to this verse:

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother!
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.

Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save.[9]

I don’t work in your office, and you don’t work in mine. And I don’t live on your street, and you don’t live in mine. And I don’t know the people you know, and you don’t know the people I know. Who’ll go and win the wanderers?

And Jesus gathers a crowd around him, and he says, “Which of you, having a hundred sheep, and you’ve gotten ninety-nine safely in for the night, will not leave the ninety and nine and go out into the darkness and into the waywardness and into the wilderness, and you’ll bring back that one sheep?”[10] And Ira D. Sankey, taking those words and singing them as many a time as Moody preached, wrote these words:

But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed,
Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed through
Ere he found [the] sheep that was lost.

And someone asked,

“Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for the one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They’re pierced tonight by many a thorn ….”

But all through the mountains, thunder-riven,
And up from the rocky steep
There arose a cry to the gates of heaven,
“Rejoice! I have found my sheep!”
And the angels [echo] around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back his own!
Rejoice, for the Lord brings back his own!”[11]

You know my second point? Launch the lifeboats. Launch the lifeboats. Don’t pitch in the plain; launch the lifeboats. We sit here on the edge of a great area of people who do not know Christ. Some of us sit with a heritage of eleven years, looking at people who have dropped through our fingers, and, yes, with a heritage of twelve months of people who have walked in and out of this building with broken hearts and deep needs. Who’ll go? Who’ll go?

One story and I’m finished. As a small boy, maybe six or seven, on the northeast of Scotland, in a little fishing village called Pittenweem—sounds a dreadful place, but it’s really very pretty—we were having an open air one night. I say “we”; I was dragged along to it, as was usually the case as a youngster. I usually stood hiding behind my mother, dreadfully embarrassed at being out there making a fool of ourselves in front of nobody. And then, as other people came along… I’ve lived to see, incidentally, young people, that when you sit next to your mom, and you say it’s dreadful, and your mom wonders whether she’ll bring you back next week ’cause you’re going to say it’s dreadful again—keep bringing him back, mom. Keep bringing him back. I thank God that my parents never listened to all my moaning and complaining.

Anyway, at the open air in Pittenweem, we’re standing in the harbor. And as we stood in the harbor, there were some sailors on a dredger out in the bay. And as we began to sing hymns and people gave their testimony, they started to shout and joke. Off the boat, they laughed. And then one man stood up to sing. He sang these words:

I was drifting away on life’s perilous sea
And the angry waves threatened my ruin to be.
Then away at my side, an old ship did I spy—
The old ship of Zion—and loudly I cried,
“Ship Ahoy! Ship Ahoy!”
And loudly I cried, “Ship Ahoy!”[12]

And suddenly, a silence descended over the bay. And now the men no longer laughed; they listened. For they knew what it was to be out on the sea and to mount the cry for rescue.

Tomorrow morning, back out on the sea, we’ll meet the ships that cry out to us, “Help!” So don’t let’s pitch our tents in the plain. Let’s launch our lifeboats. And let us return, as Peter says, to the Shepherd and the Guardian of our souls.[13]

And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all God’s people everywhere, today and forevermore.

[1] R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.

[2] See Romans 4:16.

[3] James 2:23 (KJV). See also 2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8

[4] Luke 19:42 (paraphrased).

[5] Luke 8:9 (paraphrased).

[6] Matthew 13:18–22 (NIV 1984).

[7] S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks with World Winners (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1908), 55.

[8] 2 Corinthians 5:11 (paraphrased).

[9] Philip P. Bliss, “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” (1871).

[10] Luke 15:4–6 (paraphrased).

[11] Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane, “There Were Ninety and Nine” (1868).

[12] Mary J. Cartwright, “The Old Ship of Zion” (ca. 1889). Lyrics lightly altered.

[13] See 1 Peter 2:25.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.