“And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come.” — Matthew 14:28,29.
All the miracles of Christ are parables, and all His parables are miracles. When He does some great work of healing or life-giving, He seems careful to do it in such manner as that every line and feature of it may teach us vivid spiritual truths. And when He frames some parable to illustrate the way of grace, He fashions it with such power and grandeur as to make it seem a very miracle of words.
With this familiar story before us, of Christ coming to His disciples on the stormy sea, let us see what suggestions we may find in it for our spiritual instruction and comfort.
I. Consider the Master’s invitation
“And He said, Come.”
There are two ways in which Christ gives peace to the tempest-tossed soul,–by quieting the winds and waves without, or by calming the doubts and fears within. Once, when the disciples were affrighted in the storm, He rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. Here He rebukes the disciples’ fears by His words, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid;” and instantly in their hearts there is a great calm. This is evident from the readiness of Peter to step out upon the water. Instead of fear, such an extraordinary fearlessness has been inspired by the Master’s words, that he proposes so go to Him on the waves. “Come,” says the Lord.
It is what He is always saying to His people, who are in perils on the deep, and in the stress of temptation and suffering He calls them out into His Divine protection and fellowship, where is perfect peace. How striking His words: “My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you”! The world can only effect the outward conditions of peace. By law or by force, by treaty or by truce, it may quiet the tumult of the waters or the rage of wicked men. But this is all. It knows nothing of giving the inner peace of the soul. That secret is with the “God of peace,” and with His Son, whom He has sent to give it to men. Hence, Christ’s way for the present is to speak to the heart, rather than to the winds and waves. He says, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” rather than to the sea, “Peace, be still.” In other words, the Lord’s present purpose with His Church seems to be to give it His peace in the world, rather than to give it the peace of the world.
How perfectly did His prophetic eye, ranging through this present age, discern what we are now be holding, — “Distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear”! And, for the time that now is, this state of things must continue unchecked. But to us who are toiling in the waves, battling with sin, buffeted with men’s defiant godlessness and swelling pride, He says, “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.”
That is all we need, — for the heart of Christ is in eternal calm. It is the centre of the worlds, where all agitations cease, and the stillness of God reigns unbroken. And this calm He calls us to share. “Peace I leave with you.” That is enough. A peaceful heart can silence all the storms of the world without, and make them as though they were not. No matter what sins and tumults and terrors rage about us, “Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee.”
And this is the meaning and purpose of Christ’s call to us who are in this present evil world; — not, first, to the conquest of the world, or the subjection of its warring elements to our will. That is impossible for the present, at least. But He calls us unto Himself: into the blessed tranquillity which He has won for us by His own conquest. “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” He says. And what, then, are we to do ? Battle with our own weapons; fortify our own will; assail evil in our own strength, — in order that we, as imitators of Him, may overcome the world also ? Nay, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Surrender to Christ, not conquest of the world, is our first business. Hence, the great gospel-call that sounds through this age, to the tempted and storm-tossed, is not “conquer,” but “come.” Instead of fighting for peace, get Christ’s peace to fight from and with, first of all.
If, then, we designate this miracle as a calming of the sailor, instead of a calming of the sea, it will suggest to us the truest picture of that change which takes place in the heart when it comes to Christ. Conversion is not the harmonizing of the soul with its surroundings, or the adjustment of the surroundings to the soul. It is rather the harmonization of the soul with its Lord, so that it may have the peace of God amid the tumult of the elements, and the rest of Christ amid the rage and riot of surrounding evil.
Like the ship’s chronometer, which is so curiously adjusted by its compound bearings that it remains perfectly motionless amid the most tumultuous motion of the sea, maintains its perfect level when the vessel is plunging and careening in every direction, and keeps perfect time with the hidden sun when all the lights of heaven have been put out; so with the soul which Christ takes into communion with Himself, while yet abiding in the flesh and in the world. It has the peace of heaven amid the rage and tempests of earth. It has fellowship with the Divine righteousness amid all the evil and unrighteousness of this sinful world; and thus it learns the secret of the prophet’s words, that “the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.”
II. Consider Peter’s venture
“And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”
He came down out of the ship. The true way of peace is “out of self and into Christ.” Self is the frail and unseaworthy bark on which we are trying to sail over the sea of life. Buffeted and beaten and tempest-tossed as men are, they yet have a great reluctance to leave the ship and go to Christ. They would rather take a new tack in the old life than abandon it for a new. They would rather tighten and repair the old vessel than have it condemned, and “sent out of commission,” as the phrase is. Peter might have said, “Oh, well, notwithstanding the peril to which we are exposed, we haven’t gone down yet; and the old boat that has carried us through many storms will weather this, I think. I believe I will stand by the ship.” But, no! He said, “Here is a man that can walk on the water, that can rule the raging of the sea, and still the waves thereof. I am likely to be shipwrecked if I stay in the vessel. I cannot be wrecked if I am in the arms of Christ.” And so he comes down out of the ship and goes to Jesus.
And here, friends, in type and figure you have the whole question between moralism and faith. Rouse your moral principle, stir up the good that is in you, bend your will in doing right,” shouts the hopeful moralist in the ear of the man who is struggling in the waves of temptation. “That is what I have been trying to do these many years,” answers the poor man; “and all the time I have been failing and failing. And now I am nigh unto shipwreck: my rudder is gone; I have lost my will-power; I have no anchor, and I am just drifting on a perilous and unknown sea. I am fast going to pieces; sin and misery seem to be pouring in through every crack and fissure of my shattered nature. Tell me, is there no escape for me?” Yes; “out of self into Christ.” Renounce self-help, flee from your own strength, and lay hold of Jesus Christ.
Now, I know how humiliating this doctrine is to many among us. The nobility and dignity of human nature are favourite terms. To depreciate or question man’s natural capacity for doing right is to many a greater offence than to speak slightingly of Jesus Christ. “This religion that sends all men into spiritual chancery,” they say; “that compels them to take the poor debtor’s oath, and to acknowledge that all their moral assets are only as so much filthy rags, we cannot away with it.”
But, in saying that man is naturally inclined to evil, and powerless to find full deliverance from sin except through Jesus Christ, I affirm what I am sure is not only according to Scripture, but according to the universal experience of human nature. An honest heart, that of Paul, uttered the confession, “In me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing”; and myriads of hearts have echoed it back. There is such an aptitude to sin in our [human] nature, such an affinity for evil, — and, alas! such an inability, if not disinclination, for good. We have to confess that the heart is by nature more inclined to evil than to good; more tenacious of wrong impressions than of right; more prone to habits of sin than of righteousness. Just as Scripture says: The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” And one could not frame language to express the doctrine of depravity in stronger terms than that.
Therefore, because human nature is not only weak and helpless, but incapable of saving itself, I exhort you to let go of confidence in it, and lay hold on Christ, and become “partaker of the Divine nature” which is in Him. It requires courage and fortitude, I confess, to take this step. From self righteousness to self-abandonment, from doing to trusting, is almost as great a change as from standing in the boat to stepping on the water. “Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus.” Faith is like walking on the waves. We do not see what is going to hold us up; how we are going to be saved. Christ calls us to come to Him; but in going we have to “walk by faith, and not by sight.” We have to step upon the promise which we cannot see, in order to reach the Lord whom we can see. We have to trust, in order to get the assurance of salvation, instead of trusting because we have the assurance of salvation. Between sinking self and the solid Christ lies the word of faith upon which we must venture, with nothing to hold us up but the “Verily, verily” of our Lord. If we step upon the promise, we shall certainly find the Promiser, but not without.
The law of grace is unchanging in this particular. As the waters of the Jordan stood between the Israelites and the land of Canaan, so the promise of God stands between us and salvation, — a barrier to keep us out, if we refuse to believe; a boundary to mark our entrance, if we believe. But, as that water divided and revealed the solid earth the very moment the feet of the priests touched its brim, so with the promise. The slightest act of faith, the trust of the heart expressed in the confession of the mouth, is enough, to bring us from trust to assurance, from submission to the experience of everlasting life.
“The steps of faith fall on the seeming void,
And find the rock beneath.”
III. Consider Peter’s momentary despair and his final safety.
“And when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and began to sink.”
The perilous time for the soul comes at the moment between letting go of self and laying hold of Christ. It is the trough of the sea, between self-surrender and faith, where many a soul has been submerged. For the man that gives up self, without at once laying hold of Christ, is almost certain to sink into despair. Repentance is the repudiation of self, and faith is the acceptance of Christ, and between the two is a gulf where many a man has been drowned in perdition. Let a person become utterly discouraged in battling with the winds and waves of temptation, and, if he goes no further, the chances are that he will surrender to despair and go to the bottom. To be half converted, therefore, which is to be penitent and sorry and humble, is a dangerous thing, unless you are wholly converted by believing and trusting and hoping in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And yet I have no doubt that the Lord lets men fall into this condition of temporary despair some times, for the sake of testing them and disciplining them. Peter was full of self-confidence, and so, no doubt, the Lord let him sink just enough to take the pride out of him. He would not have drowned him on any condition, after He had bid him come to Him.
But He wished to dampen his self-confidence and deepen his humility. And the experience was effective. Instantly he cries, “Lord, save me.” He might have put his fingers in his ears and gone down, hearing only the wild gurgling and the dismal moan of the waters as he sank. That would have been self despair, ending in death; but instead of that, his faith laid hold of Christ, and self-despair ended in salvation. For immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him, and said unto him, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” He had a little faith, but more doubt; and hence would have quickly gone down, like a ship whose ballast is greater than its buoyancy, had not the Master interposed.
But, mark you, the Lord saved him, even with his little faith. For He only asks for faith like a grain of mustard seed in order to insure His interposition. He does not set us to throwing over the ballast of our doubts or unloading the rubbish of unbelief, before He will do anything for us. A little faith, because it can cry “Lord, save,” is enough to bring deliverance to us. And so, “the same Lord over all, who is rich unto all that call upon Him ” says to the woman of Canaan, “O woman, great is thy faith;” and to the man of Galilee, “O thou of little faith” — and then crowns the great faith and the little faith with the same blessing. For it is written that “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
So, friends, who have fallen into temporary self despair, take courage. Like Peter, you may have been vain confident, and from your elevation of assurance you may have fallen into the hollow of the sea. Behind you is the crest of the wave on which you stood a moment ago, so reliant and self-assured; but now you are in the deep, crying, “All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me.” But be of good cheer — the Son of God is standing on the crest of the next wave. And in the volume of the book it is written of Him, “The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up the waves. The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.” There is no surge of anger or temptation which He cannot instantly still. There is no depth of despair from which He cannot instantly lift you. The little faith, that cries, ” Lord, save,” will instantly insure the help of Him who “stilleth the noise of the seas and the tumult of the people.”
“… And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him.” We can hold on to Christ when we are strong; He holds on to us when we are weak. And we may thank God for any adversity or overthrow which changes our position from that of holding to that of being held. An old saint, who had very vivid experiences of temptation, says, “Satan came to me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Holding on to Christ,’ I replied. ‘I will cut off your hands then, so that you cannot hold on,’ he replied. ‘If you cut off my hands, so that I cannot hold on to Christ,’ I replied, ‘then He will reach out His hands and hold onto me, and you cannot cut off His hands.’
Oh, blessedly true are these words! God sometimes sends us sharp adversities to sunder our hands, and bitter defeats to paralyze our arms; but it is only that in our helplessness of self we may fall into His hands, and learn trust instead of self-confidence, and exchange holding on, for resting in, the everlasting arms. The sense of being laid hold of by Christ’s mighty grasp is what the strongest and the weakest of us alike need. The faith that holds to Christ may be numbed by doubt or temptation. But there is a promise that doubt can not touch: “I, the Lord thy God, will hold thy right hand saying unto thee, Fear not, I will keep thee.” Doubt may pluck Christ out of our hands, and we may for a while seem to lose Him; but doubt cannot pluck us out of His hands. For He says, “Neither shall any pluck them out of My hands.” May God help us amid all trials and tempests, to the end that we may be brought into a more constant resting in the hands of the Lord our Keeper.
This page Copyright © 2000 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.
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