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Kothen was not without some knowledge of religion, but he had no vital acquaintance with its truths, and had lived, indeed, without much concern as to its duties. He was, in fact, a man of the world, far off from God and a stranger to Christ, having neither the faith nor the hope of the Gospel in his heart. In this state of danger and alarm he remembered God, and was troubled; and, as he told M. Grellet, he began to pray with earnestness, perhaps for the first time in his life, that God would have mercy upon him, and save him from the hands of the wicked men in whose absolute power he seemed to be.
The proposal to murder him was not acted on, and the purpose of robbing him was delayed by a resolution to take him to a small rocky island where they held their headquarters.
For some reason which we cannot explain, the men got it into their heads that their passenger was a preacher, and when they landed they said to an old woman who seemed to be a sort of housekeeper, and to exercise a kind of motherly influence over them, “Here, mother, we have brought you a preacher.”
The old woman had received a religious education, and though she had yielded to temptation, and had become connected with these dissolute men, she retained some sense of religion and of the impressions of earlier days, and the strange and unexpected introduction of Kothen was responded to with the remark,
“ Thank you, my sons; to-morrow is the Sabbath, and we shall have a sermon. I have not heard one for years."
Poor Kothen was sorely perplexed by his unwonted position, and the strange reception he had met with. He did not know what to do. If he told the people he was not a preacher, but a merchant, his property and his life would be in danger; and if, on the other hand, he endeavoured to fulfil their expectations, how could he hope to succeed ? He spent the night in great anxiety, which was increased by another band of pirates arriving at the island. At length the morning came. It was evident the proposal for a sermon was no joke, for preparations were soon commenced, and the men appeared in their best clothes, and put on their best behaviour. As the time drew nigh, Kothen's distress increased. He could not command his thoughts, or think of anything to say to the people. The service was to be held in a cave, which was the general rendezvous of the men, and where they were assembled in expectation of the preacher.
When word was brought to him that all things were ready, Kothen went into the meeting, but it would be impossible to describe his feelings better than in his own words, that he “felt as though he was going to death, so every way unfit was he for what was expected of him.” In this distress he took the only course he could take with any hope of success, secretly calling on God in his trouble, who never refuses help to those who seek Him in sincerity. The hope that
God had heard his prayer, and diverted the men from their original purpose, was some encouragement to him, and, in addition, God vouchsafed a powerful sense of the allsufficiency of Christ to hear and help and save, while his heart was broken down with a remembrance of his past life of indifference and his great unworthiness, and of the love of God to him, a poor wandering and ungrateful sinner. He felt, too, he told M. Grellet, a strong persuasion that the same love and invitations of mercy which had touched his own heart were extended towards the poor degraded people by whom he was surrounded.
Thus melted down before God, he began to speak to them in the best way he could. “He set before them,” says M. Grellet, “their sinful condition, the depravity of the human heart, and the awful consequences of living and dying in that state; and then he directed them to Christ the Friend and Saviour of sinners.” With tears and earnest entreaty he exhorted them to forsake their sins and give up their wicked manner of life, and flee to Christ, whose blood is the only propitiation for sin, and who will cast out none who come to Him for pardon and cleansing.
As he went on in this way, setting forth the amazing grace of God and the wondrous love of Christ in dying, the just for the unjust, and presenting Himself a sacrifice for the sins of men, and exhorting them with purpose of heart to turn unto the Lord, he himself became more deeply affected. He felt what a vain, useless, sinful life he had led, serving the world and the flesh, and not the Lord that bought him, and he became the more anxious for himself and for them, that they might experience the power of Christ's blood, and redeeming grace to save and cleanse and sanctify them wholly.
The men listened with close attention, and many of them were melted into tears, for he spoke as one deeply in earnest, and as feeling the power of the truths he delivered, and the force of his own utterances. At the close of the service, the old woman embraced him with motherly affection, and ordered a boat to be made ready to convey him and all his baggage to Abo. Thus he escaped unharmed, and reached his destination without loss.
What may have been the effect, if any, of the address of Kothen on the pirates, perhaps no one knows. M. Grellet makes no mention of it, and Kothen, living as he did in Marseilles, was not likely to learn anything of men whose lonely resort was so far away in the neck of the Great Northern Gulf. If the truth of God produced conviction and resulted in sound conversion in the case of any of them, they would certainly forsake their wicked manner of life. It may be hoped that the great day will reveal that some good effects were produced on some of the hearers, as well as upon the preacher, by the remarkable display of Divine power and humbling grace.
As for Kothen himself, the change was as thorough as it was sudden. He was evidently a new man. All this was manifest in his altered life and character, and in the manner in which he devoted himself to the service of God. The grateful sense he had of God's merciful deliverance of him from an untimely and tragic death, and his lively apprehension of the redeeming love and power of Christ in freeing him from the dominion of worldliness and indifference, and opening his eyes and his heart to receive Him and His great salvation, were such that he felt constrained to give himself to the Lord. Years after, when M. Grellet had intercourse with him, he was holding on his way; and though living in Marseilles, in the midst of much darkness and superstition, and having few with whom he could hold fellowship, his light was steadily burning, and he himself standing out as a witness.
Thus was the truth that he had been taught probably in his earliest days, and that was well nigh forgotten, quickened in a most unexpected and remarkable manner. The importance of a knowledge of the truths of the Gospel, however communicated, and the freedom, sovereignty and power of the Holy Spirit in His saving operation, are most strikingly illustrated. The way in which God links outward events in the history of those who are brought to Himself with their inward experiences, and renders the movements of His providence subservient to the purposes of His grace, is exhibited in a most wonderful manner.
The experiences of Kothen are quite exceptional, but rightly viewed they may be very profitable to us. It would be. folly to attempt to reproduce them in any of their outward incidents, but we may be encouraged to pray for and expect a blessing in cases when circumstances appear to be altogether discouraging as far as man can judge. We may be encouraged to believe that God's resources are equal to any emergency, however extreme.
Never was there a more striking illustration of the truth of the well-known hymn which was written after its gifted author had been delivered in a remarkable manner from the deepest despondency.
“God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform :
And rides upon the storm.
Of never-failing skill,
And works His sovereign will.
The clouds ye so much dread
In blessings on your head.
But trust Him for His grace:
He hides a smiling face.
Unfolding every hour ;
But sweet will be the flower.
And scan His work in vain ;
And He will make it plain."