Excerpts of God’s Ownership of the Sea – Leonard Swain


LEONARD SWAIN  D.D. Reprinted from the Bibliotheca Sacra. Andover: Published by Warren F. Draper, 1864.

Sermon preached at the Central CC Providence, RI  October 7, 1860.

THE traveller who would speak of his experience in foreign lands must begin with the sea. Especially is this the case if he would speak of his journey in its religious aspects and connections. For it is through the religion of the sea that he approaches those lands, and through it that he returns from them. God has spread this vast pavement of his temple between the hemispheres, so that he who sails to foreign shores must pay a double tribute to the Most High; for through this temple he has to carry his anticipations as he goes, and his memories when he returns. Nor can the mind of the traveller be so frivolous, or the objects of his journey so trivial, but that the shadows of this temple will make themselves felt upon him during the long days that he is passing beneath them on his outward, and then again on his home¬ward way. The sea speaks for God; and however eager the tourist may be to reach the strand that lies before him and enter upon the career of business or pleasure that awaits him, he must check his impatience during this long interval of approach, and listen to the voice with which Jehovah speaks to him as, horizon after horizon, he moves to his purpose along the aisles of God’s mighty tabernacle of the deep.

God’s way is in the sea as it is in the sanctuary; and having so recently come from beholding it, that the roll of the ship and the roar of the waves are scarcely yet vanished from my brain, let me speak to you of it in his house today; that so his works may combine with Ms word to teach us the lessons of his greatness, and that some strains of that vast anthem of the deep that praises God round the whole world this morning may mingle with the worship which rises to him from this sanctuary.

In speaking of God’s ownership of the sea, I wish to consider, first, some of the more important material uses which he has made it to subserve in the economy of nature and for the welfare of the world, and then to refer to some of those more distinctly religious elements of impression by which it becomes the symbol of his presence and the earthly temple of his glory.

(Skipping pages 7,8,& 9 and part of p. 10 and continuing with …)

…And now if the sea is the real birthplace of the clouds and the rivers, if out of it come all the rains and dews of heaven, Jhen instead of being a waste and an incumbrance, it is a vast fountain of fruitful-ness, and the nurse and mother of all the living. Out of its mighty breasts come the resources that feed and support all the population of the’world. All cities, nations, and continents of men, all cattle and creeping things and flying fowl, all the insect races that people the air with their million tribes innumerable, all grasses and grains that yield food for man and for beast, all flowers that brighten the earth with beauty, all trees of the field and forest that shade the plains with their lowly drooping, or that lift their banners of glory against the sky as they march over a thousand hills — all these wait upon the sea, that they may receive their meat in due season. That which it gives them, they gather. It opens its hand, and they are filled with food. If it hides its face, they are troubled, their hreath is taken away, they die and return to their dust.

Omnipresent and everywhere alike is this need and blessing of the sea. It is felt as truly in the centre of the continent, where, it may be, the rude inhabitant never heard of the ocean, as it is on the circumference of the wave-beaten shore. He is surrounded, every moment, by the presence and bounty of the sea. It is the sea that looks out upon him from every violet in his garden-bed; from every spire of grass that drops upon his passing feet the beaded dew of the morn¬ing; from the rustling ranks of the growing corn; from the bending grain that-fills the arms of the reaper; from the juic}7 globes of gold and crimson that burn amongst the green orchard foliage; from his bursting presses and his barns that are filled with plenty; from the broad forehead of his cattle, and the rosy faces of Ms children; from the cool-dropping well at his door; from the brook that murmurs by its side, and from the elm and spreading maple that weave their pro¬tecting branches beneath the sun, and swing their breezy shadows over his habitation. It is the sea that feeds him. It is the sea that clothes him. It is the sea that cools him with the summer cloud, and that warms him with the blazing fires of winter. He eats the sea, he drinks the sea, he .wears the sea, he ploughs and sows and reaps the sea, he buys and sells the sea, and makes wealth for himself and his children out of its rolling waters, though he lives a thousand leagues away from the shore, and has never looked on its crested beauty or listened to its eternal anthem.

Thus the sea is not a waste and an incumbrance. Though it bears no harvests on its bosom, it yet sustains all the harvests of the world. Though a desert itself, it makes all the other wildernesses of the earth to bud and blossom as the rose. Though its own waters are salt and wormwood, so that it cannot be tasted, it makes all the clouds of heaven to drop with sweetness, opens springs in the valleys, and rivers among the hills, and fountains in all dry places, and gives drink to all the inhabitants of the earth.

Posted in Poet Laureate.