The Untold Story of Robinson Crusoe
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
1. Preview: For the near future, my Sunday evening messages will have a single purpose and single focus. I want to preach and teach so as to help us as a church and each of us as individuals become the most believing, praying people we can be. I am not suggesting that you don’t pray or that prayer isn’t or hasn’t been a central part of this church’s life. I just believe that most people I know have a long way to go in this regard. I will frequently refer to my part in our Sunday evening gatherings as our Sunday Night School of Prayer. We will go at it in a variety of ways; we will even spend some times in prolonged prayer on Sunday evenings. Everything will build on the following Ten Prayer Principles:
a. prayer is our first, not last, resort
b. anyone can pray; everyone should pray
c. all of us could prayer more and better
d. prayer changes us and our circumstances
e. Satan doesn’t want us to pray; he will do anything to stop us
f. prayer is hard work; it is not easy for most of us
g. the most important thing we can do in Vandalia this year is to become a (more) praying church;
h. God wants to answer our prayer more than we want to ask him;
i. most of us don’t have a clue about what could happen if we really prayed;
j. God often supplies our needs even when we don’t pray, but failing to pray deprives us of opportunities to give God the credit and the praise due him.
The big movie hit by Tom Hanks The Castaway and the popular “real TV” series The Survivor both tell the compelling drama of individuals in a suspense filled battle for survival against the elements and sometimes against other humans. According to Hanks who created the idea for the movie, the film presents a metaphor for “casting away” the trappings of everyday life in order to find out what is truly important. Unfortunately, Chuck Noland, the FedEx engineer played by Hanks, never discovers some of life’s most important treasures. Such was not the case for another castaway story first told almost three hundred years earlier.
Daniel Defoe first published The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe on April 25, 1719. It’s central character was a young English boy who loved the sea. His elderly father repeatedly warned Robinson of the dangers of the life of a seaman, but to no avail. The teenager ran away to sea. One disaster followed another. He faced storms and near shipwrecks one after another. Every time he would get into trouble, his father’s warnings would replay in his mind. Eventually Robinson was taken prisoner on a slave ship. After purchasing his freedom and being stranded in Brazil for a time, he secures a job working on a ship loaded with trinkets for the slave trade in Africa.
Once at sea, the ship encounters a fierce storm in the Carribean. The vessel goes aground off an uncharted island in September of 1659, according to the plot. Of the fourteen seamen on board, only Robinson Crusoe survivors. He finds himself tossed up on what he discovers to be a deserted island. He salvages what he can from the sinking ship: tools, guns, gun powder, ammunition, sails for cloth, rope, boards, food, paper, ink, and several books, including a Bible. In the months and years that follow, Crusoe experiences many misadventures as he learns to survive alone. Eventually he is rescued on December 19, 1686 and heads toward home 28 years, 2 months, and 19 days after first landing on the island.
The background and lesser known details of the story provide the greatest contrast with more the modern versions of this survival theme. Daniel Defoe was actually an English political and religious writer. He was born in 1659 and died in 1731. His religious convictions made him a dissenter and nonconformist. As such, he taught against the spiritual authority of the English king and religious establishment. In their place, Defoe championed the authority of scripture and the freedom of the individual to teach and preach the faith. His many writings included a number of political and religious papers and poems. When imprisoned at various times for his views, Defoe considered the experience a badge of honor. The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe was actually based on the true story of a seaman named Alexander Selkirk who spent four years on an island off of the coast of Chile from 1704-1709. From the sketchy newspaper accounts of Selkirk’s experience, Defoe’s imagination created Robinson Crusoe. He would later acknowledge that in many ways the children’s masterpiece was more than a metaphor about values and survival. It was a testimony to his faith and convictions. Two particular events on the island make this clear.
In the Tom Hanks’ story Chuck Noland manages to escape the island and return to his old life. We are not told what he learned from the experience. We can only imagine what might have happened if he too had found a Bible and through it discovered a relationship with God that can transform a man no matter where he lives. Many think Tom Hanks’ just might win another Academy Award for his portrayal of The Castaway. But one thing is certain—the movie will rival the spiritual power and inspiration of Daniel Defoe’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, the original castaway.
Back to the island . . . Time passes and he manages to carve out a meager existence on the island. Several months later, things turn bad. In late June and early July of 1660 Crusoe gets sick with a fever. He has trouble sleeping and has frequent bad dreams. He was not a religious man when he was shipwrecked, but gradually things begin to change. Once on the deserted island, Robinson Crusoe begins to carve out a meager existence. He builds a shelter, plants a garden for food, and domesticates a few of the islands animals. A little less than a year after his arrival, Robinson encounters a serious problem. In late June of 1660 he develops a fever. As his temperature rises, he has trouble sleeping and experiences frequent night mares. Not being a religious man, Robinson is troubled by his worsening dreams of the judgment of God.
In his journal (chapter 8 of the book) Crusoe records what happened next. On June 28, his temperature grows higher. As he begins to fear for his life, Crusoe does something he has seldom done before. He prays. He had only done so once before that he could remember—in the midst of his struggle to survive the sinking ship.
Later that day, he does two other things he had never done before. First, he takes some tobacco that he had found in the ships supplies and brews a tonic. He remembered hearing that Indians often used tobacco as a medicine. After drinking it, he feels so poorly that he is not sure whether he will live or not, or if he even wants to.
Crusoe then does the other new thing, he finds a Bible that he had rescued from the ship and begins to read it. Not knowing where to start, he simply opens it at random. His eyes fall upon what Charles Haddon Spurgeon would call “Robinson Cruosoe’s text”—Psalm 50:15, "call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify me." The words strike a nerve. He is unable to stop thinking about the words. As he prepares for bed, he kneels and asks a God of which he knew little to fulfill the promise of the scripture by delivering him from his captivity.
Over the next few days, his fever subsides, but the words of Psalm 50:15 keep running through his mind. On July 3, it suddenly occurs to him that he in concentrating on his larger problem he had failed to realize what had happened. “I pored so much on my main affliction, “ he reminded himself, “that I disregarded the deliverance I had received.” His fever was gone! The Lord had delivered him from his bed of affliction!
He then recalled the rest of the verse. Deliverance was to be followed by worship. “God had delivered me; but I had not glorified him: that is to say, I had not owned and been thankful for that as a deliverance; and how could I expect greater deliverance?” He immediately fell to his knees gave thanks to God, aloud, for his recovery.
This “spiritual awakening” lead to an ever increasing hunger for the Bible. Robinson began to read the New Testament every morning and night. Soon his entire attitude toward life began to change. He found his heart more and more deeply affected by the awareness of his wickedness, something he had thought about. Psalm 50:15 began to take on a new meaning. He realized a need to be delivered in a way he had never before considered. Once again, as was now his custom, Crusoe went to his knees before the God of heaven. With tears flooding his eyes, he called upon the grace of Christ to take away the load of guilt and sin that so weighed upon him. Robinson Crusoe arose a changed man. Though he was still marooned on a deserted island, he had found a peace with God which brought a comfort he had never experienced.
What really saved Robinson Crusoe was not so much the ship that would eventually rescue him from the island, but the Word of God and the faith and new direction that it inspired when he finally took it up, read it, and called upon the Lord. If you have ever felt abandoned, alone, and fearful of what could possibly go wrong next. I recommend to you Robinson Crusoe’s text: Psalm 50:15 "and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me."
This text is all about the power and promise of prayer. Note the context of Psalm 50. The psalm is about the righteousness of the God who desires a relationship with us not sacrifices. He wants words with meaning, not empty ritual. He wants people who turn to him not idols. He wants sincerity and humility.
Verse 15 contains three parts—all three about prayer. The first is a command: call upon me in the day of trouble. Who is to call? You—no limitation is placed on it. What? Call, cry out. To whom? Me, the Lord. He is the object of our prayer and the source of our help. When? In the day of trouble. Certainly we ought not to wait until trouble comes to pray. But prayer is the good and right thing to do in times of trouble. God’s commands us to do just that.
Note the second part of the verse—the promise, “and I will deliver you.” Who will deliver us in response to heartfelt prayer?—not angels, not great men, certainly not our own efforts. What will happen: we will be delivered . . . from our troubling circumstances. Who will be delivered? Those who call. When will we be delivered? It is open ended. Whenever we call. There are no limits as to how often we can prayer or how long. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you . . . “
The third part is the response: and you will glorify me. This is often the forgotten part of the equation of prayer. This is probably the real reason for prayer in the grand plan of heaven. Prayer is not just a way to get our needs met or our rescue made possible, though that happens. Prayer is about praising God. God could and does supply our needs even when we don’t pray. But he prefers that we pray because then we are more likely to recognize his hand of provision. When he provides and we haven’t prayed, we are tempted to forget God and think we have taken care of ourselves. Really it is God all of the time.
What are we to do? Glorify him. Who is to do it? Those who call and are delivered. Would anyone here rob God of the glory and honor do him. Of course, we wouldn’t to it intentionally, I hope. The best protection against such behavior is frequent, heart-felt praying that remembers the one to whom we prayer, the one who delivers us, and is unafraid to tell the truth about how God answers us in response to our prayers of faith.
When you watch or hear talk of the Survivors on the TV or The Castaway in the theater, remember the classic survivor story—Robinson Crusoe—and what made the difference in his life.
There is one more piece to the Crusoe story. You remember Friday. DeFoe includes that in the story for one reason. Let’s read what happened. In Chapter 14, he discovers the footprint. In Chapters 15-16, he realizes his island is being used by cannibals for ritual sacrifices. In Chapter 17, he rescues Friday from a cannibal death squad. In a sense the whole purpose of the book comes in Chapter 18. Crusoe, now self taught from the Bible, begins the process of sharing his faith with his man Friday. Did you remember that part? Perhaps the most memorable part of Defoe’s story was yet to come. Crusoe manages to fashion himself a relatively “normal” existence. He had food, shelter, and a sense of security in the presence of God. All this was shattered, however, the day he accidentally discovered another human footprint in the sand (chapter 14). He didn’t know whether to regard it with hope or fear. To be safe, he begins to more carefully scout the more remote parts of the island. Eventually, his fears are realized. He discovers that cannibals from some distant island were using his home for ritual sacrifices. He is horrified as he secretly watches their dreadful ceremony (chapters 15-16).
While observing the preparations for one of the human sacrifices, a captive whom he would later name Friday attempts to escape his executioners (chapter 17). Crusoe helps his soon-to-be friend. Friday and Robinson develop a bond that only such difficult surroundings can create. Slowly, the two learn enough of the other’s language to talk and question one another. By now Crusoe’s faith in Christ had deepened. As he and Friday become closer, he does what is only natural for a follower of Jesus—he begins to speak with the native about spiritual things.
In chapter 18 of Defoe’s narrative, Robinson Crusoe seeks an opportunity to tell Friday about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He discovers that while Friday’s people had a religion, it was one of fear and dread. He knew nothing of a loving, forgiving Creator. With great interest, Friday listened to the story of Jesus Christ’s life and teachings. He learns with anticipation of the message of redemption through the cross. Robinson was a novice at this sort of thing, but he knew enough to realize that Friday was on the verge a very important decision.
Crusoe finds an excuse to send Friday on an errand. He really just wanted to be alone so he could pray. Robinson Crusoe calls upon God to help him “instruct this poor savage, assisting by his Spirit the heart of the poor ignorant creature to receive the light of the knowledge of God in Christ, reconciling him to himself.” He asks God to “guide me to speak to him from the word of God, as his conscience might be convinced, his eyes opened, and his soul saved.”
When Friday returns, Crusoe once again takes up the task of introducing him to Jesus Christ. He finds himself explaining things that he didn’t even realize he knew. His own faith grows as he watches the seed of the gospel take root in Friday’s heart. Eventually, Robinson would reflect, “The savage was now a good Christian, a much better one than I, though I have reason to hope, and bless God for it, that we were equally penitent and comforted restored penitents.” Together they continue to read and study God’s Word together.
On a deserted island, without benefit of clergy or theologian, one new believer with a Bible, empowered by prayer, and motivated by love for a lost man leads a sinner to faith. “We had here the word of God to read, and no farther off from his Spirit to instruct, than if we had been in England,” Crusoe reminds himself.
DeFoe might not present it exactly as you and I might, but his point was clear. He wanted readers to realize that you don’t have to be a Church of England clergyman or a religious official to pray and share the Gospel. You need a believer, a Bible, and a person in need!
Who is your Friday