Handful of Stars


2. Robinson Crusoe's Text


During the years that Robinson Crusoe spent upon the island, his most distinguished visitor was a text. Three times it came knocking at the door of his hut, and at the door of his heart. It came to him as his doctor in the day of sore sickness; it came as his minister when his soul was in darkness and distress; and it came as his deliverer in the hour of his most extreme peril.

Nine months after the shipwreck Crusoe was overtaken by a violent fever. His situation filled him with alarm, for he had no one to advise him, no one to help him, no one to care whether he lived or died. The prospect of death filled him with ungovernable terror.

'Suddenly,' he says, 'it occurred to my thought that the Brazilians take no physic but tobacco for all their distempers, and I remembered that I had a roll of tobacco in one of the chests that I had saved from the wreck. I went, directed by heaven no doubt; for in this chest I found a cure both for soul and body. I opened the chest and found the tobacco that I was looking for; and I also found a Bible which, up to this time, I had found neither leisure nor inclination to look into. I took up the Bible and began to read. Having opened the book casually, the first words that occurred to me were these: "Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." The words were very apt to my case. They made a great impression upon me and I mused upon them very often. I left my lamp burning in the cave lest I should want anything in the night, and went to bed. But before I lay down I did what I never had done in all my life--I kneeled down and prayed. I asked God to fulfil the promise to me that if I called upon Him in the day of trouble He would deliver me.'

Those who have been similarly situated know what such prayers are worth. 'When the devil was sick the devil a saint would be.' Crusoe's prayer was the child of his terror. He was prepared to snatch at anything which might stand between him and a lonely death. When he called for deliverance, he meant deliverance from sickness and solitude; but it was not of that deliverance that the text had come to speak. When, therefore, the crisis had passed, the text repeated its visit. It came to him in time of health.

'Now,' says Crusoe, 'I began to construe the words that I had read--"Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me"--in a different sense from what I had done before. For then I had no notion of any deliverance but my deliverance from the captivity I was in. But now I learned to take it in another sense. Now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort. As for my lonely life, it was nothing. I did not so much as pray for deliverance from my solitude; it was of no consideration in comparison with deliverance from my sin.'

This second visit of the text brought him, Crusoe tells us, a great deal of comfort. So did the third. That third memorable visit was paid eleven years later. Everybody remembers the stirring story. 'It happened one day, about noon,' Crusoe says. 'I was exceedingly surprised, on going towards my boat, to see the print of a man's naked foot on the shore. I stood like one thunderstruck, or as if I had seen a ghost. I examined it again and again to make sure that it was not my fancy; and then, confused with terror, I fled, like one pursued, to my fortification, scarcely feeling the ground I trod on, looking behind me at every two or three steps, and fancying every stump to be a man.' It was on his arrival at his fortification that the text came to him the third time.

'Lying in my bed,' he says, 'filled with thoughts of my danger from the appearance of savages, my mind was greatly discomposed. Then, suddenly, these words of Scripture came into my thoughts: "Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me." Upon this, rising cheerfully out of my bed, I was guided and encouraged to pray earnestly to God for deliverance. It is impossible to express the comfort this gave me. In answer, I thankfully laid down the Book and was no more sad.'

These, then, were the three visits that the text paid to Crusoe on his desolate island. 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.'

When the text came to him the first time, he called for deliverance from sickness; and was in a few days well.

When the text came to him the second time, he called for deliverance from sin; and was led to a crucified and exalted Saviour.

When the text came to him the third time, he called for deliverance from savages; and the savages, so far from hurting a hair of his head, furnished him with his man Friday, the staunchest, truest friend he ever had.

'Call upon Me,' said the text, not once, nor twice, but thrice. And, three times over, Crusoe called, and each time was greatly and wonderfully delivered.


Robinson Crusoe was written in 1719; exactly a century later The Monastery was published. And, significantly enough, the text which shines with such luster in Daniel Defoe's masterpiece forms also the pivot of Sir Walter Scott's weird story. Mary Avenel comes to the climax of her sorrows. She seems to have lost everything and everybody. Her life is desolate; her grief is inconsolable. Her faithful attendant, Tibbie, exhausts herself in futile attempts to compose and comfort the mind of her young mistress. Father Eustace does his best to console her; but she feels that it is all words, words, words. All at once, however, she comes upon her mother's Bible--the Bible that had passed through so many strange experiences and had been so wonderfully preserved. Remembering that this little Book was her mother's constant stay and solace--her counselor in time of perplexity and her comfort in the hour of grief--Mary seized it, Sir Walter says, with as much joy as her melancholy situation permitted her to feel. Ignorant as she was of its contents, she had nevertheless learned from infancy to hold the Volume in sacred veneration. On opening it, she found that, among the leaves, there were texts neatly inscribed in her mother's handwriting. In Mary's present state of mind, these passages, reaching her at a time so critical and in a manner so touching, strangely affected her. She read on one of these slips the consoling exhortation: 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.' 'There are those,' Sir Walter says, 'to whom a sense of religion has come in storm and tempest; there are those whom it has summoned amid scenes of revelry and idle vanity; there are those, too, who have heard its still small voice amid rural leisure and placid contentment. But perhaps the knowledge which causeth not to err is most frequently impressed upon the mind during seasons of affliction; and tears are the softened showers which cause the seed of heaven to spring and take root in the human breast. At least, it was thus with Mary Avenel. She read the words--"Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me"--and her heart acquiesced in the conclusion: Surely this is the Word of God!'

In the case of Mary Avenel, the resultant deliverance was as dramatic as in the case of Robinson Crusoe. I turn a few pages of The Monastery, and I come upon this:

'The joyful news that Halbert Glendinning--Mary's lover--still lived was quickly communicated through the sorrowing family. His mother wept and thanked heaven alternately. On Mary Avenel the impression was inconceivably deeper. She had newly learned to pray, and it seemed to her that her prayers had been instantly answered. She felt that the compassion of heaven, which she had learned to implore in the very words of Scripture--"Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me"--had descended upon her after a manner almost miraculous, and recalled the dead from the grave at the sound of her lamentations.'

I lay this, written by Sir Walter Scott, in 1819, beside that, written by Daniel Defoe in 1719. In the mouths of two such witnesses shall every word be established.


What was it that led both Daniel Defoe and Sir Walter Scott to give the text such prominence? What was it in the text that appealed so irresistibly to Robinson Crusoe and to Mary Avenel? The answer is fourfold.

1. It was the Charm of Companionship. Robinson Crusoe fancied that he was alone upon his island. Mary Avenel fancied that she was left friendless and forsaken. They were both mistaken; and it was the text that showed them their mistake. 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.' If such a Deliverer is at hand--so near as to be within sound of their voices--how can Robinson Crusoe be solitary or Mary Avenel forsaken?

Speak to Him, thou, for He hears; spirit with spirit can meet--
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet!

If there be a shadow of truth in Robinson Crusoe's text, there is no such thing as loneliness for any of us!

2. It was the Ring of Certainty. There is a strange and holy dogmatism about the great evangelical promises. 'Call and I will deliver.' Other physicians say: 'I will come and do my best.' The Great Physician says: 'I will come and heal him.' The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost. He did not embark upon a magnificent effort; He came to do it.

3. It was the Claim of Monopoly. 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.' It suggests the utter absence of alternatives, of selection, of picking and choosing. In the straits of the soul, the issues are wonderfully simple. There is none other Name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved. It is this Companion--or solitude; this Deliverer--or captivity; this Saviour--or none.

4. It was the Absence of Technicality. 'Call!'--that is all. 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me!' Call!--as a little child calls for his mother. Call!--as a drowning man calls for help. Call!--as a frenzied woman calls wildly for succor. There are great emergencies in which we do not fastidiously choose our words. It is not the mind but the heart that, at such moments, gives to the tongue its noblest eloquence. The prayer that moves Omnipotence to pity, and summons all the hosts of heaven to help, is not the prayer of nicely rounded periods--Faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null--but the prayer of passionate entreaty. It is a call--a call such as a doctor receives at dead of night; a call such as the fireman receives when all the alarms are clanging; a call such as the ships receive in mid-ocean, when, hurtling through the darkness and the void, there comes the wireless message, 'S.O.S.' 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.' Had the text demanded a tinge of technicality it would have been useless to Robinson Crusoe; it would have mocked the simple soul of poor Mary Avenel. But a call! Robinson Crusoe can call! Mary Avenel can call! Anybody can call! Wherefore, 'call,' says the text, 'just call, and He will deliver;'


But I need not have resorted to fiction for a testimony to the value and efficacy of the text--striking and significant as that testimony is. I need have summoned neither Daniel Defoe nor Sir Walter Scott. I could have dispensed with both Robinson Crusoe and Mary Avenel. I could have called a King and Queen to bear all the witness that I wanted.

King Edward the Seventh!

And Queen Alexandra!

For Robinson Crusoe's text is King Edward's text; and Mary Avenel's text is Queen Alexandra's text. There are men and women still living who remember those dark and dreadful days of December, 1871, when it seemed as if the life of King Edward--then Prince of Wales--hung by a single thread. Nobody thought of anything else; the whole world seemed to surround that royal sickbed; the Empire was in a state of breathless suspense. Sunday, the tenth of December, was set aside as a Day of Solemn Intercession, and the strained intensity of the public anxiety reflected itself in crowded but hushed congregations.

And what was going on at the inner heart of things? Early that Sunday morning, the Princess--afterwards Queen Alexandra--opened her Bible and was greeted with these words: 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.' A little later, just as the Vicar of Sandringham, the Rev. W. L. Onslow, was preparing to enter his pulpit, he received a note from the Princess. 'My husband being, thank God, somewhat better,' she wrote, 'I am coming to church. I must leave, I fear, before the service is concluded, that I may watch by his bedside. Can you not say a few words in prayer in the early part of the service, that I may join with you in prayer for my husband before I return to him?' The congregation was deeply affected when the Princess appeared, and the rector, with trembling voice, said: 'The prayers of the congregation are earnestly sought for His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, who is now most seriously ill.' This was on December the tenth. For the next few days the Prince hovered between life and death. The crisis came on the fourteenth, which, ominously enough, was the anniversary of the death of the Prince Consort. But, whilst the superstitious shook their heads, the Princess clung desperately and believingly to the hope that the text had brought her. And that day, in a way that was almost dramatic, the change came. Sir William Gull, the royal physician, had done all that the highest human skill could suggest; he felt that the issue was now in other hands than his. He was taking a short walk up and down the terrace, when one of the nurses came running to him with pallid face and startled eyes. 'Oh, come, Sir William,' she said, 'there is a change; the Prince is worse!' And, as doctor and nurse hurried together to the sick room, she added bitterly, 'I do not believe God answers prayer! Here is all England praying that he may recover, and he's going to die!' But Sir William Gull's first glance at the Royal patient showed him that the change was for the better. From that moment there was a sure hope of the Prince's recovery, and, by Christmas Day, he was out of danger. Later on, when her husband's restoration was complete, the Princess raised a monument to the deliverance that she had experienced. She presented to the Sandringham Church a brass lectern bearing this inscription: 'To the glory of God; a thank offering for His mercy; 14th December, 1871.--Alexandra. When I was in trouble I called upon the Lord, and He heard me.'

Nor is that quite the end of the story. Thirty years later, the Prince ascended the throne. He was to have been crowned on June 26, 1902; but again he was stricken down by serious illness. He recovered, however, and the Coronation took place on the ninth of August. Those familiar with the Coronation Service noticed a striking innovation. The words: 'When I was in trouble, I called upon the Lord, and He heard me,' were introduced into one of the prayers. 'The words,' Archdeacon Wilberforce afterwards explained, 'were written by the King's own hand, and were used by the Archbishop at His Majesty's express command.'

'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me,' says the text.

'When I was in trouble, I called upon the Lord, and He heard me,' said King Edward and Queen Alexandra.

'I was in trouble through my sickness, and in trouble through my sin,' said Robinson Crusoe, 'and when I called upon the Lord, He heard and delivered me.'

So true is it that whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord, the same shall be saved.