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Captain John Coutts was a fairly typical sea captain —rough and ready for whatever life might bring — but he was not ready for death. He was sick, at sea, and he knew he had little time left. He was afraid of death and of the eternity beyond it.
The captain sent for his first mate and said, “Williams, I need you to pray for me. You know I’ve been a godless and harsh man, and I know I’m not going to make it this time.”
“I’m not a praying man, Captain. I don’t know how to pray. I would if I could.”
“Well bring a Bible and find something to read to me. I’m not going to last much longer.”
“I don’t have one, Captain. I’m not religious.”
“Then send for Palmer. Maybe he knows how to pray.”
The second mate came, and the captain said, “Palmer, I’m not going to get better, and I’m not going to last until we reach port. I want you to pray for me. Ask God to have mercy on my sinful soul.”
“I would if I could, Captain, but I haven’t prayed since I was a boy.”
“Well then, do you have a Bible you could read to me?”
“No, sir, I don’t own a Bible.”
They searched the ship for a man who could pray or had a Bible. Finally one of the sailors told the captain he had seen a book that looked like a Bible in the hands of the cook’s helper, young Willie Platt.
“Go find the boy and see if he has a Bible,” ordered Captain Coutts.
The sailor hurried off to find Willie and asked him, “Willie, do you have a Bible?”
“Yes, sir, but I only read it on my own time.”
“Don’t worry. Just get the Bible and go to the captain’s cabin. He’s dying and wants a Bible.”
Willie got his Bible and reported to the captain.
The captain said, “Sit down and find something that will help me. I’m not going to live much longer. Find something about God having mercy on a sinner, and read it to me.”
Willie remembered that his mother had him read Isaiah 53 just before he left home for sea. He turned to that wonderful chapter which tells so fully the love and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ in dying for lost sinners. He began to read it to the captain, verse by verse. When Willie got to the fifth verse — “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” — the captain, who was listening intently, realized that that verse told him what he needed to know to be saved from his sins. “Stop, boy!” he ordered. “That sounds like it! Read it again.” Once more Willie read the joyous words of hope.
“Aye, that’s good — that’s it, I’m sure.”
Hearing the captain’s remark encouraged Willie, and he said, “Captain, when I was reading that verse at home, my mother made me put my name in it. May I read it to you that way?”
“Yes, boy. Put your name in right where your mother told you, and read it to me again.”
When Willie had finished reading, the captain reached toward Willie and said, “Now read it again, boy, and put my name, John, in there.”
Willie slowly read: “He was wounded for John’s transgressions, He was bruised for John’s iniquities: the chastisement of John’s peace was upon Him; and with His stripes John is healed.”
When Willie had finished, the captain dismissed him. He then leaned back on his bed and repeated over and over again those precious words of Isaiah 53:5, putting in his own name each time. And as he repeated them, the truth of those words entered his heart and filled his soul with joy. Finally, the captain had peace!
In the little time he had left before he passed away, Captain John Coutts told everyone on his ship that the Christ of God — the Man who had died on Calvary’s cross — was wounded for his transgressions, bruised for his iniquities, that the chastisement that he rightfully deserved had fallen on Jesus, his blessed Substitute, and with His stripes — the punishment that Jesus bore — he had been healed. His sins were gone forever!
And how about you? Have you thought seriously about your sins and about this salvation that God is offering to you right now? Have you taken your true place as a helpless sinner before Him and trusted in His Son Jesus for healing from your sins? The same peace that Captain Coutts found can be yours too.
“God commendeth [displays] His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
“Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).