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
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
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
|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
|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
||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?
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
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
||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
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."
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
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?