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Herman Melville – Moby-Dick – Chapter 9 – Father Mapple’s Sermon

March 15, 2014

“Shipmates, God has laid but one hand upon you; both his hands press
upon me. I have read ye by what murky light may be mine the lesson that
Jonah teaches to all sinners; and therefore to ye, and still more to me,
for I am a greater sinner than ye. And now how gladly would I come down
from this mast-head and sit on the hatches there where you sit, and
listen as you listen, while some one of you reads ME that other and more
awful lesson which Jonah teaches to ME, as a pilot of the living God.
How being an anointed pilot-prophet, or speaker of true things, and
bidden by the Lord to sound those unwelcome truths in the ears of a
wicked Nineveh, Jonah, appalled at the hostility he should raise, fled
from his mission, and sought to escape his duty and his God by taking
ship at Joppa. But God is everywhere; Tarshish he never reached. As we
have seen, God came upon him in the whale, and swallowed him down to
living gulfs of doom, and with swift slantings tore him along ‘into the
midst of the seas,’ where the eddying depths sucked him ten thousand
fathoms down, and ‘the weeds were wrapped about his head,’ and all the
watery world of woe bowled over him. Yet even then beyond the reach of
any plummet–‘out of the belly of hell’–when the whale grounded upon
the ocean’s utmost bones, even then, God heard the engulphed, repenting
prophet when he cried. Then God spake unto the fish; and from the
shuddering cold and blackness of the sea, the whale came breeching
up towards the warm and pleasant sun, and all the delights of air and
earth; and ‘vomited out Jonah upon the dry land;’ when the word of the
Lord came a second time; and Jonah, bruised and beaten–his ears, like
two sea-shells, still multitudinously murmuring of the ocean–Jonah
did the Almighty’s bidding. And what was that, shipmates? To preach the
Truth to the face of Falsehood! That was it!

“This, shipmates, this is that other lesson; and woe to that pilot of
the living God who slights it. Woe to him whom this world charms from
Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God
has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than
to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonour! Woe to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation! Yea, woe to him who, as the great Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway!”

He dropped and fell away from himself for a moment; then lifting his
face to them again, showed a deep joy in his eyes, as he cried out with
a heavenly enthusiasm,–“But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of
every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight,
than the bottom of the woe is deep. Is not the main-truck higher than
the kelson is low? Delight is to him–a far, far upward, and inward
delight–who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever
stands forth his own inexorable self. Delight is to him whose strong
arms yet support him, when the ship of this base treacherous world has
gone down beneath him. Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the
truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin though he pluck it out
from under the robes of Senators and Judges. Delight,–top-gallant
delight is to him, who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his
God, and is only a patriot to heaven. Delight is to him, whom all the
waves of the billows of the seas of the boisterous mob can never shake
from this sure Keel of the Ages. And eternal delight and deliciousness
will be his, who coming to lay him down, can say with his final
breath–O Father!–chiefly known to me by Thy rod–mortal or immortal,
here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s, or
mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man
that he should live out the lifetime of his God?”

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