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James Reinarz
April 14, 2021
This entry is part [part not set] of 5 in the series Hymns by M. E. Barber
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“Wrecked Outright” by M. E. Barber
#314 in Songs and Hymns of Life

Margaret Emma Barber (1866-1930), perhaps best known for her mentorship of Watchman Nee, wrote many hymns that are on a higher plane than the average song. Her hymns express absolute consecration, longsuffering in trials, fighting spiritual battles with faith, and of union with Christ. They are precious, arresting and, unfortunately, not well known among Christians today.

“Wrecked Outright” is one of several of her poems that are very biographical. This hymn begins each verse with the slogan, “Wrecked outright.” In some verses, she laments that her life is “wrecked.” Elsewhere, we may wonder if her drastic way of life caused others to consider her a “wreck.” In the end, her “wreck” is in God’s faithful hands.

“Wrecked Outright” follows the analogy of a ship sailing the ocean throughout all four verses. From where Barber lived, on a mountain side overlooking the city’s shipping harbor, she often saw large ocean liners coming and going. Upon seeing a ship hobble its way to port after being damaged by many nights on the stormy seas, she felt herself “wrecked” like this boat.

The train of thought in this hymn can be hard to follow the first time through. I recommend reading it before singing. After singing it through, you can follow my comments interspersed throughout the verses. You can sing with a recording here.

Verse 1
“Wrecked outright on Jesus’ breast”:
Only “wrecked” souls thus can sing;
Little boats that hug the shore,
Fearing what the storm may bring,
Never find on Jesus’ breast,
All that “wrecked” souls mean by rest.

This summarizes the song. She had become a wrecked soul. But her ship ran aground not on the rocks of selfish ambition or unrighteous living, but upon the heart of Jesus. His love captured her, wrecked her future, and brought her into the divine providence of resting in His service. Others didn’t understand her decisions, her way of life, or why she would not let herself do things that were so common among other missionaries. But she describes these other ways as a little boat, hugging the shore, afraid to go out into the wider waters of the Father’s purpose.

Verse 2
“Wrecked outright!” So we lament;
But when storms have done their worst,
Then the soul, surviving all,
In Eternal arms is nursed;
There to find that nought can move
One, embosomed in such love.

M. E. Barber served the Lord in China twice. First in 1896, she was sent out by the Church of England to their mission in Fuzhou, China. There she enjoyed preaching the gospel, village by village, and teaching many young women in the Anglican schools amidst a large, well-funded work with sufficient western-style houses and facilities. After her abrupt departure in 1907, apparently due to crumbling relations and political jockeying among the leading women missionaries, she felt called by the Lord to return in 1909 as an independent servant of the Lord. She returned as an older, single missionary, with no backing mission, no guarantee of funding, and little concern or support from others. 

The first two years back were especially hard. There was misunderstanding on all sides. Other foreign missionaries heard rumors that she was poor and barely had food. The villagers to whom she shared the gospel were suspicious of such a strange type of foreigner—unaffiliated, unmarried, etc. Here is perhaps where her heart may have broke down to lament the “wreck” she had made of herself. Was she wrong? Had she misunderstood the Lord? Why was her life so hard? In these questions, she wrote other hymns we will study together, and her deep realization of being nursed and embosomed in such Eternal love amidst such hardships may have been a seed of her deep impact and fruitfulness in later years. 

Verse 3
“Wrecked outright!” No more to own
E’en a craft to sail the sea;
Still a voyager, yet now
Anchored to Infinity;
Nothing left to do but fling
Care aside, and simply cling.

Oh, the joyful irony of the Servant of the Lord, abandoned unto God alone! Rich in all things, possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:10), never without food and shelter yet never secure in the eyes of the world. She was often down to her last dollar, receiving money from prayerful hearts just as all hope might have been lost. Yet, she continued to live in rural China, able to support a work with many natives quitting school and jobs to serve the Lord under her care and training, all by her prayer of faith. This surely is the irony of a wrecked soul—no longer able even to own a ship, yet somehow still living the life of a voyager.

Verse 4
“Wrecked outright!” ’Twas purest gain,
Henceforth other craft can see
That the storm may be a boon,
That, however rough the sea,
God Himself doth watchful stand,
For the “wreck” is in His hand.

God Himself doth watchful stand, for the “wreck” is in His hand.

Finally we see the victory of such a life, wrecked outright on Jesus’ breast. It surely is best to abandon ourselves to the Lord’s will. Others may misunderstand and mourn how we have wrecked our promising career or a secure future, but while those others remained by the shores of faith, the wrecked soul, caught up in the rough sea of the storm, ends up in a boon! 

“Boon” is my favorite word in this hymn. It means, “a timely benefit.” (1) To most others, this storm seemed ominous and caused the little boats in verse 1 to hug the shore. It’s as if Barber, a boat bound to be “wrecked” by the storm, is actually helped along to her destination faster than the rest! Thus was M. E. Barber’s life. Few dared to trust the Lord the way she did. But her life’s fruit, seen in her pupils Watchman Nee, Faithful Luke, and many others shows that God’s will, done God’s way, is a true boon. We can trust ourselves to Him. If we are wrecked as to our own future and way of life, we can rest knowing that our “wreck” is in God’s wise, able, caring and purposeful hand. 

This is the sea of faith God desires each of us to venture out into. Where has God asked you to step out in faith? What comfortable area of your life is He asking you to step away from for greater service to the Body? If God has spoken to us, let us not be those who miss out on all God’s blessing because we were not willing to leave the shore and trust His ways. Who knows what the Lord will be able to accomplish with just a few souls who will trust Him. Life will always have it’s storms. But only our great Captain knows which will be a boon.

(1) Boon | Definition of Boon by Merriam-Webster (

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