This is the title to Appendix B of the late Rev. Frank Murray's book The Sublimity of Faith.  Rev. Murray asked the question, "Why did he do it?", that is, why did Frank Sandford act in the manner he did and not choose other more rational courses of action during the Coronet's fateful northern voyage.  Murray attempts to explain 'why' with words that grasp at spiritual  linkages but claim no relationship to logic or rationality.  In the interest of equal time, we think it only fair that since Rev. Murray opened the door and indeed offers what some may see as an explanation to it all, that we also be allowed to respond to the query and offer an alternate perspective. 

We will proceed by reproducing the Rev. Murray's explanation, (quoted verbatim in italics on the left) and to the right of it present our viewpoints. (in blue)


Since this is not the usual disinterested type of biography, and since 1911 contained the severest controversial crisis in Mr. Sandford's long life, I feel that the inquiring reader deserves a further consideration of at least two questions: First, why did Mr. Sandford pursue his baffling course on the Coronet instead of doing the obvious and hurrying to the nearest port after the shipwreck?  Second, why do I and so many others who are aware of this story still cling to his ministry with such love and confidence?
Why did he do it?  That query he answered at his trial in Portland - simply because God told him so.  One may question his understanding of God or of God's voice, but one cannot hear his remarks in the Temple December 17 and doubt that he sincerely believed he had acted in obedience to his unseen Director.

If on the other hand we take the stand that he was deluded, how are we to explain the thousands of times the power of God manifestly was upon him?   If a person believes that anyone is capable of being led by the Spirit, as the Bible record and long history of the Christian church so clearly imply, then why should not this man have been?





The written record clearly and unambiguously indicates this man clearly was not under the influence of the Holy Spirit at all times.  Fathers who are under the influence of the Holy Spirit at all times do not starve and withhold water from their children, manhandle their wives and watch a half dozen of their followers die of scurvy while they wait for God's direction.

We need to recall those high points in his life when he forswore the privilege of being guided by natural reason and placed himself without reservation beyond that pale.  The first was his yielding to the Holy Spirit at Old Orchard, Maine on August 2, 1894, the second his binding himself to the altar as "an inert mass," incapable of further independent action, at Shelburne Hall in Liverpool, England, on September 25, 1899.  These two commitments, so foreign to the experience of most Christians, yet so authentic in the tradition of all the prophets, set him apart from most rational men and "let God at him" to a degree that few of us can readily comprehend.  

Nowhere does the gospel of our Lord demonstrate that releasing one's self to the Holy Spirit relinquishes one's self from their duties, responsibilities, or obligations to their families, loved ones, or dependents.  Quite the opposite, if one follows the teachings of St. Paul.  The Holy Spirit never gave him or anyone else carte blanche to follow what they perceived as their calling at the expense of others.


Was God "at him" when in September of 1911, with no food on board, vessel badly leaking, sails torn, four followers succumbing to the ravages of scurvy, he sailed on past New England and out into the North Atlantic bound for the Arctic? Or was he dodging the unsavory task of explaining to a court of law his bullying of a woman and her four children who were not allowed off his yacht after having been kept from home under his authority for over four years?

Only within this framework can we pursue further the question of why he acted as he did. It is at best difficult and at worst impossible to discuss or debate the 'Why' question in a rationale framework when at the outset one attempts to dismiss rationality.  If rational reasoning must heretofore be abandoned and the discussion is to be approached solely from a "spiritual" perspective, isn't  the de facto implication made that spiritual arguments are by definition irrational?  I would beg to differ.  If spirituality is irrational, then so is Christ's redemptive act of love. Though irrational in that I was not worthy of his love, his sacrifice is clearly logical by the very definition of the redemptive process.   Spirituality, it can be argued, need not be irrational.
It is plain enough that he stayed offshore again and again because he did not wish to submit himself to Mrs. Whittaker's civil suit until he had finished the work of prayer for the North which God had directed him to do.  We cannot assert truthfully that he was "afraid" of such a suit, for he had faced many others quite calmly since 1904.  After all, it was a civil suit and at worst could cost him only a fine.  And he was quite within his rights to avoid this persecution, as Jesus avoided arrest until the right time should come, and as David "avoided" the spear of Saul. Is the defense here he knew about the suit and, "So what - no big deal - I'll just stay offshore and avoid the law till I finish God's project (while my disciples are dying in their berths)",  or is the argument being presented that, "Because I'm being persecuted unfairly I therefor have the right to avoid the law (while my followers are dying in their berths?)"  Either way I fail to see any true spiritual roots to this defense.  Murray is also saying, unambiguously, that Sandford was aware of the lawsuit, and to one degree or another it influenced  his actions.  One cannot use David or the Lord as a parallel defense and at the same time deny he was running from the law.
Through the long voyage which commenced in the summer of 1910 Mr. Sandford had three matters of unfinished business: to develop the spiritual character of new Bible School students; to carry out a mission to Africa; and to sail the Arctic Ocean in prayer as he had the other seas.  Given a crew as united and responsive as the Coronet "Thirty" had been, he could have done it. Once more, following  good cult leader form, the blame begins to be shifted from the leader to the followers.  If he had only had a crew as responsive as the circumnavigation crew (the "Thirty") of two years earlier, the outcome would have been different.  Probably true.  It is probably the grace of God that they never made it to Greenland in October and November, and perished, frozen in the ice pack.
This produces the correlative question: Why had he such a mixed bag of souls to contend with, many of them spiritually out of tune with him?  That is the kind of question that defies an answer.  Ask all the prophets down through the centuries why they had such a stiff-necked group of Israelites to speak and minister to.   Ask Jesus why (in John 6) ",many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him."  Ask Paul why he had to write in 2 Timothy 4:16: "At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me; may it not be laid to their account." Granted, the group on board at the time of Coronet's coming about was comprised of both Coronet crew and Kingdom crew, the Kingdom having run aground off Africa.   It's no news that Mr. Sandford's assessment of the spiritual quality of soul of the Kingdom crew was one of not quite cutting the mustard. But the real reason why he had such a "mixed bag of souls" is simply because we are ALL a "mixed bag of souls", and no matter what Kingdom theology may teach, the "Thirty" were no better and no worse people than you or I.  The blame NEVER belonged at the feet of the crew.
It seems obvious that some leader or leaders at Shiloh selected a company for The Kingdom that included many carnal, self-seeking souls, not at all quality needed to fight spiritual battles in cramped conditions and "endure hardness . . . as good soldiers." If the first of the three directives of this mission was, from above, to "to develop the spiritual character of new Bible School students", why would you start out with a load of students who were already of such high spiritual caliber?  They certainly wouldn't need much further development. Based on the above definition, it sounds like they really had just the right crew for the mission.  Further, the cramped conditions were of Sandford's own making.  All they had to do to "un-cramp" the condition was to thin out their numbers  by letting a few of the more developed students off at the nearest port, so that the less developed could more fully experience Mr. Sandford's insights.
Why then didn't Mr. Sandford get rid of them as soon as he could?   I don't know, of course, and no one else does, but I can hazard two guesses.   First, being a good shepherd and really loving the flock, he had no desire to get rid of "problem children"  just because they were a nuisance to him.   Second believing that, "all things are of God,"  and that this company had been brought together by divine Providence, he would not attempt to maneuver things mechanically so as to make them easier for himself. Please, which argument is it, that divine Providence put these second rate Christians on board to be a nuisance, or that some bungling Shiloh leader chose the wrong students?

Is the reason FWS wouldn't "maneuver things mechanically" so that both food and water would go further, and so that there would be enough room on board so that two students don't have to "cruise" the Atlantic towed astern in the launch is because that would make things too easy? 
In addition we must remember that from the outset the whole company had wanted to stay with him.  Things were lively with Mr. Sandford around; usually there was no shortage of food or Divine favor where he happened to be.  Just as spiritual people loved his ministry, carnal people loved his provision.  None of them wanted to go back to Shiloh where the going was often heavy with her leader away.  So we must take at face value their individual decisions, when offered their choice, to stay on the Coronet under crowded conditions. Today, there are few things I take at face value.  Interesting, that line..."usually there was no shortage of food or Divine favor where he happened to be."  What about the statement made one paragraph back ... "he would not attempt to maneuver things mechanically so as to make them easier for himself."  Am I missing something here, or do those two statements seem at odds?

Is Rev Murray really trying to tell us that since Mr. Sandford was on board, God would provide for them all?  Sandford was reported to have made a similar statement during his trial, that were it not for he and his family's presence on board, the rest would have starved.

Some faultfinders have asserted that people were too afraid of Mr. Sandford to ask to be set ashore, and very likely such thinking did exist to some degree.   But what had they to be afraid of except the loss of God's favor?  After all, large numbers had left Shiloh whenever they chose to do so all through the preceding years.  No penalty followed them - except spiritual impoverishment, but people at Shiloh had learned that spiritual impoverishment was real and dreadful.  The company crowded together on the yacht really wanted to stay there; it was not true to say that they were cowed into it against their will. Is a "fault finder" one who criticizes someone for cruising 15 months in an overcrowded leaking boat while the crew dies off one by one of scurvy with the leader showing no intention of ever going home?  (Sandford testified at trial he planned to stay the winter in Greenland.)

My Bible teaches that God will never abandon us:
Matthew 28:20  "... and be sure of this - that I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." (The Living Bible)

"There are a number of students who would leave Shiloh today if they were not threatened with hell and the wrath of God.  Sandford keeps people from thinking for themselves.  His policy is 'open your mouth and shut your eyes,' then you can swallow whatever he gives you.  A person who uses his own reason has no right on the hilltop."
                       former student & printer Moses Leger,
                              from Lisbon Falls Enterprise 12/10/1903


Each one was asked individually what he or she wanted to do - remain as part of the northern mission or be put ashore.  All unequivocally wished to stay: whatever their inner motives, this at any rate is what they said.  The very fact that when a few eventually changed their minds Mr. Sandford promptly consented to return home shows that no duress was applied beyond that one matter of conscience: "Will God be pleased with me?"  Every Christian has this question to answer each time he makes a decision. No duress was applied? What about when Sandford ..."directed Captain Knight to turn around . . . (and) he added a solemn warning, telling them that God had spoken to him the word 'Distress,' and bidding them reflect well on what they were doing."
                          from Sublimity of Faith Chap. 31 p.481

      "Captain Whittom told Dr. Bamks that during the trip of the Coronet a number of those on board had complained about the conditions on board and asked Sandford to have the yacht put into some port where food could be secured.
    "Sandford knelt in prayer in the main cabin of the yacht and prayed that the yacht would become a veritable slaughter house and that the traitors on the deck of the yacht would be killed.  The other members of the society in the cabin became so frightened that they did not dare speak, and when Sandford had completed his prayer he retired to his stateroom.

                            from Portland Press Herald  Oct. 1911

In August as they proceeded north through the Grand Banks, Coronet came upon some French fishing vessels, where they were able to secure some biscuit.  They had not eaten any bread for days.   George McKay sent a note to Sandford expressing a wish to transfer to one of the fishing vessels.  Sandford responded by calling him a "shipwrecked sailor" and as such had "no rights".

                        from Fair Clear & Terrible Chap 23 p332

One further honest query in this vein may be phrased this way: Assuming (as I do and as most of this company did) that Mr. Sandford truly was directed from Above throughout this cruise, why did God let it conclude so disastrously?

This is a Job-like question, comparable to many others, such as: "Why do children suffer?"  Why do the innocent suffer with the guilty?"  "Why suffering at all, if God is good and kind?

Who is so bold as to attempt to answer questions of this nature?  Elihu told Job that God, "doth not give account of any of His matters" (Job 33:13). And while Mr. Sandford himself did say he felt part of the reason for the tragedies was the disunity, even disobedience, of some of the ship's company, he also came to believe that God wished him to go to prison and to carry on behind bars a work for Him that could not have been done in any other way.

I guess, in the end, one can 'assume' anything they like.  But here's a fresh thought.  Maybe, just maybe, he wasn't hearing God at all.  Maybe, just maybe he was an undiagnosed bipolar paranoid schizophrenic who had been able to convince enough people through charismatic leadership patterns that he was a prophet who they better pay attention to no matter what he said or did.

So, when it's all said and done, we get to conclude that the reason(s) "Why" Mr. Sandford did what he did and went to prison can be answered with two "rational" explanations, namely:

1) because of the disloyal Kingdom crew diluting the holiness of the Coronet crew and

2) because God wanted him to go to prison.

Conceivably, it's a shame he hadn't come to that conclusion seven years earlier, and spared all of this.  Had he pled guilty to abusing his son or had he tended to Leander Bartlett in an appropriate manner, perhaps this sordid episode never would have taken place.

Or perhaps if he hadn't insisted on taking the only chart of the Longo River on board Coronet leaving Kingdom with a sketch to navigate by, the Kingdom never would have run aground, the disloyal Kingdom crew never would have had to sleep two to a berth and the whole fantastic story too far fetched for even Hollywood to have dreamed up would have been avoided.

Perhaps if he'd only put people ashore instead of puttering around miles to sea off Virginia waiting for a 20' launch to return with provisions by holding their position along a certain line of latitude they could then have proceeded on to Greenland and fully "restored" the Arctic.

Ironically, Mr. Sandford died with the final words, "Everything's all right from the south pole to the north".  When he realized the Coronet was coming about he testified at his trial that he "prayed for Greenland and . . . knew that prayer was heard and every resident of the northland who was susceptible to the influence of Jesus Christ was benefited."   All this, and he never came any closer than 800 miles to Greenland.  Perhaps that demonstrates you DON'T have to sail by a country to pray for it  The question that I'm left with after all of this is not "Why?"; that's the easy one.  The question I have is:  How can any rational person believe that this spiritual charismatic had the light of God on his ministry when he cared so little for his flock that he would jeopardize their health and lives to maintain his distance from the long arm of the law?