THE SINKING DISCIPLE
"Lord, if it's You," Peter replied, "tell me to come to
You on the water." "Come," He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat,
walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was
afraid, and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately
Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. "You of little faith," He said,
"why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died
down. Matt. 14:28-32
In the preceding chapter, we considered that memorable
scene on the Lake of Galilee, when in the midst of the tempest, "toiling in
rowing," the disciples were gladdened by the joyous advent of their Lord. At
first, terror-stricken as they saw the mysterious form on the midnight sea,
but calmed and quieted on hearing the familiar voice and the reassuring
In following out the sequel to this scene, let us direct
I. To the DISCIPLE around whom the main interest of the present incident
II. To the SCENE itself; and
III. To some of its LESSONS.
I. The DISCIPLE who forms the central figure in
this gospel narrative, is one who has impressed on him a peculiar and
powerful individuality. There are in his character, certain strong and well
defined traits—marked lights and shadows familiar to the most unobservant
reader. Had no name indeed been mentioned in this passage, we would at once
have been led to figure on Peter as the apostle who went, in
impetuous haste, down from the vessel's side, braved the stormy sea—walked
upon it—sank in terror, and rose again in faith! Peter's is that composite
character which one often meets with in the world, formed by a union of
opposites. Bold, hasty, forward, ardent—a soul full of deep emotion and
sudden impulse, who in the fever of the moment would do a brave and
hazardous thing from which, in a calmer mood, he would be deterred. Thought
with him was action. To determine was to attain. In such a mind as his, to
doubt would have been a grave impropriety. He is the David of
the New Testament—soaring at one moment with buoyant pinion to the skies,
singing as he soars, "The Lord is my Light and my Salvation, whom shall I
fear?" The next, struggling as a wounded bird on the ground—with the
plaintive note, "My soul cleaves to the dust!"
Or, perhaps, we may more appropriately liken him to some
of David's mighty men, capable of a bold and dashing exploit—killing, at one
time, a lion in a winter snow-pit—at another, plunging through the
slumbering Philistines, and filling their helmets with "the water of the
well of Bethlehem"—bringing the longed-for drink to their hero leader. If
Peter had been, like these—a soldier by profession—he would have been
suited for the brilliant attack—the sudden raid—the impetuous assault (some
daring feat of arms)—not for the slow, wasting decimating siege and trench
work. His enthusiasm and ardor (honest and sincere at the time) were apt to
be damped in the moment of trial and danger. For emergencies to which he
fancied himself equal, the event proved he was not. A child of
Ephraim boldly "carrying his bow," he turned faint in the day of battle! An
Asahel, swift of foot, he becomes, in his trial-hour, a "Ready-to-halt."
Facing the sullen visages of frowning Pharisees and armored Romans, his
countenance falls—his knees tremble. Foolish—faint-hearted—he sinks into the
renegade and coward!
Thus, doubtless, was Peter a defective character.
He had great faults—but these, too, were softened and redeemed by
many noble compensating qualities. Better all that striking energy of
soul—that warm, outspoken, hearty enthusiasm—even although it proved often
mistimed, often rash, sometimes culpable—better this, than that cold,
repelling, apathetic, pulseless spirit, which never kindles into one earnest
or loving emotion.
There were other types of character in that very fishing
vessel, perhaps more beautiful and perfect. Take John, as the ideal
of the Christian man—meek, calm, adoring. His befitting place—the bosom
of Jesus in his life, and the cross of Jesus at his death. His the holiest
legacy ever bequeathed by filial love—"Son, behold your mother!" His
gentle heart is like some quiet river, unrippled by one wave, mirroring the
rich garniture of loveliness fringing its banks, and murmuring, as it glides
by, the tranquil music of love. Better this, than the maddening torrent,
tearing over rock and precipice, as it hurries to its ocean home.
But rather give me that boisterous river, with its foam
and thunder, its cataracts and wild music, than the fetid, stagnant pool,
which sleeps on in dull torpid inaction. Better the fervent, enthusiastic
Christian, than the men of Meroz—those who "do nothing"—the cold, timid
calculators—men of dull drowsy routine in the religious life, in whose sight
fervor and fanaticism are the same things; ever jealous of going too far,
never suspecting whether they may not be going far enough; who, knowing that
it is an apostolic caution, "it is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose
is good," adopt the prudent way of avoiding blunders by not being zealously
affected at all.
Peter's faults were the infirmities of a noble mind;
and before he received his crown, he became a living testimony as to what
the grace of God could do in modifying natural temperament. Peter,
"speaking in his Epistles," is another man from the impetuous Fisherman, on
the shores or on the bosom of his native lake. Tradition represents him as
having, at his own request, been crucified with his head downwards, in token
of humility. We may accept the legend, at all events, as has been remarked,
as a significant emblem of the "inversion of his character." At the close of
his existence, his old age is like the peaceful subdued sunset which often
terminates a troubled day; or like the mountain which, close at hand, is
torn and splintered—ploughed up with unsightly scars by spring floods and
winter storms. But as we recede, and the soft autumn evening tints fall upon
it—the jagged outline is lost; we see only a mass of mellowed glory!—Such
was the evening of Peter's life.
II. Let us consider the description here given of one of
these sudden impulses of this impulsive apostle, harmonizing as it does so
entirely with the rest of his history and character. Judging from this
peculiar temperament, perhaps when the mysterious phantom form was first
seen on the waters, Peter may have been the most faint-hearted of all. While
the calm John, or the cool, cautious Thomas, may have looked their danger
sternly in the face, he may have seen, in the shadowy figure, nothing but
the spirit of the Tempest, or the wings of the Angel of Death, and fled,
cowering in terror, to the hold of the vessel. But no sooner does he listen
to the comforting, "It Is I," than shame and sorrow overwhelm him
that he had been so "slow of heart," and in the very rebound from
faithlessness to newly awakened joy, he resolves by an heroic act to atone
for these moments of unworthy cowardice. "Lord!" says he, "if it is You,
tell me to come to You on the water."
Even yet, however, his voice trembles as he speaks.
Neither his faith nor his motives will bear rigid scrutiny. The very word
with which he begins his bold and presumptuous request implies a secret
doubt—"IF it is You."
Ah! how often does that guilty word mingle still in our
deep midnights of trial—questioning God's voice, God's way, God's will,
God's loving wisdom. How apt are we to indulge in unkind, unrighteous
surmises; saying, like Martha of Bethany (the "Peter of her sex"), when the
Master came to her in the midst of a still darker tempest, "Lord, if
You had been here, my brother would not have died?" Let us "be still
and know that He is God." There is no room for an "if" or a "why"
in all His providential dealings. Shall we own the voice of God, as we
stand in the natural world in the loaded air of summer noontide, when
from the heavy clouds there issues bolt after bolt of living thunder? and in
the moral world shall we refuse to acknowledge and adore the same?
No; when out, buffeting the wintry sea of trial, "neither sun nor star
appearing, and a very great tempest lying upon us;" while others may only
hear the rougher accents of the storm, be it ours to recognize the soft
undertones of covenant love, and to exclaim with one who had likewise
Nature, Providence, and Grace in his eye when he penned his
words—"The voice of the Lord is upon the waters. The God of glory thunders.
The Lord is upon many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice
of the Lord is full of majesty . . . The Lord sits upon the flood, yes, the
Lord sits king forever. The Lord will give strength to His people. The Lord
will bless His people with peace."
But to return to the narrative—While there was doubt and
misgiving on the part of Peter, in illustration of that strange union of
opposites to which I have referred, there was in conjunction with these,
boldness and presumption.
His own thought, doubtless, was to make an avowal of his
faith, but what he did display was not faith, but a base
counterfeit. It was a degenerate semblance and figure of the true. Rightly
named, it was forwardness, fool-hardihood—the haughty spirit, which is
inevitably succeeded by a fall.
Let us always be careful to give things their proper
designation. Let us be specially on our guard against looking at vice and
virtue through a distorted medium, giving the name of gold to what may,
after all, be base alloy; confounding great heavenly principles with hollow
semblances; calling evil good and good evil; putting darkness for light and
light for darkness. How often do we hear revenge misnamed honor; passion,
spirit; extravagance, generosity; free thinking, liberality; blasphemy, wit;
and presumption, faith.
In the case before us, we may be apt, at first sight, to
confuse and confound two feelings and emotions, in themselves widely
different. Peter in appearance is very magnanimous nor do we deny
(his Lord Himself owns it) that there was in his bold deed a certain amount
of faith and confidence in Christ's ability and power. So far his conduct
was commendable; but there was more of the reverse—more of pride, ambition,
His faith in his Divine Master would have been tempered
with a wiser discretion, and a kindlier regard for the feelings of others,
had he simply joined with his fellow apostles in inviting Jesus into their
ship. But he lorded it over them. There was an implied assumption of
superiority in the personal request, "Tell ME." We could not even
have quarreled with his conditional "If," had he put it in the form, "If it
be Your will, Lord." But with a rashness similar to that which drew
down a later rebuke, when unbidden he cut off the ear of Malchus, he utters,
on his own authority, and more in the tone of a mandate than a proposal,
"TELL me to come." There is a struggle for pre-eminence, a
craving to win the highest praise from his Master. He would wish to make
himself out the boldest and bravest of the apostle-crew. It is the saying
and the failing of a future occasion put in another form and other
words—"Though all be offended, yet I shall not."
Doubtless, had an injunction to leave the vessel emanated
from the lips of Christ, it would have been alike his duty and his joy to
obey; there would then have been no sinking, no faltering. If the Lord had
"given the word" He would have made Peter's "feet like hinds' feet," and set
him upon these "high places." But this frail worm himself takes the
initiative. He makes his own will and wish antecedent to the will of his
Lord, and he must pay the penalty of his presumptuous daring.
Let us beware of such a spirit—this love of
pre-eminence—this exalting our own reputation or good name at the expense of
others. "Do not be high-minded, but fear." "Let him that thinks he stands
take heed lest he fall." Self-denial is one of the most beautiful offshoots
of humility; and Humility, remember, is the loveliest plant in the
heavenly garden. The Lord of the garden delights to tend it and nurture
it. The man on the white horse in Zechariah's vision, rode among the
myrtle trees, which were in the bottom of the valley, not amid the
oaks of Bashan or the cedars of Lebanon. The sweetest note of the
lark, though she loves to carol in the sky, is said to be when she alights
in her nest in the furrow. Let us seek the shade—not being wise in our own
conceits; but "in humility consider others better than yourselves."
How kindly and considerately does Jesus deal with this
bold and rash, yet ardent and devoted man. "Lord, tell me to come." He
forbids him not. Had he done so, there would have been lost to Peter the
most valuable lesson his Master ever taught him. Jesus uses the present
opportunity to discipline him by his failure to become, as he afterwards did
become, a spiritual giant and hero; out of his very weakness He made him
Our Lord, as Man, had His own likings and partialities
for individual character; and though that of John was probably cast in the
human mold most resembling His own, yet His personal attachment to Peter is
undoubted. He seemed to take a pleasure in training him, just as a faithful
teacher takes special pleasure and pains in the training of an eager,
ardent, impetuous child, or a faithful farmer in cleansing a fruitful,
grateful soil of redundant and noxious weeds.
Peter makes his request. A single word is all he gets in
reply. The same voice which, a few moments before, gently quieted by a
threefold assurance the fears of all the affrighted crew, says, in answer to
the bold outspoken one—"come!" He does not refuse, but neither does
He give any warrant or promise of upholding power. Peter had said "Tell me;"
Christ does not say "I tell." Peter had said "on the water." Jesus speaks of
no footway there. Peter had said "unto You;" Jesus gives no such invitation.
He utters only the one indefinite word, "come!" "Come," He seems to
say, "bold one, make trial of your strength; come if you can; but it is on
your own risk and responsibility; I give no pledge or warrant of success to
your carnal presumption."
He does come! He descends the side of the lurching
vessel—the next moment his feet are on the unstable waves. His faith is for
the moment strong, and fixing his countenance on his great Redeemer, he
travels in safety along that strangest of pathways. But a wandering eye is
the first symptom of a mournful reverse. He turns his face from Christ;
he transfers his glance to the rolling waves at his feet, and the storm
sighing overhead. "When he saw the wind boisterous he was afraid." It was no
new tempest that had sprung up; the sea was not opening its mouth wider than
before; the sky was no blacker; the hurricane no louder; the waves were
beating as high when he first sallied forth. But with his eye and his heart
on the Lord of the storm, he had no room then for a thought of danger. Now
it was different. Gazing on the tempestuous elements, he trembled at
his own courage. He took his eye off the secret of his support, and down he
sank like lead in that raging sea.
Ah! Peter is here a living impersonation of UNBELIEF,
which is nothing else but a diversion of the Soul's Eye from God—a
looking to the creature—to the world—to sight—to self—to sense—and ignoring
the great Creator, the Blessed Redeemer, and the things Unseen! The
disciple, while he retained his faith, saw no waves and heard no winds. The
disciple, faithless, with his eye turned from his Lord, was awakened to the
reality of the maddening elements around him; and then the Lord left him to
taste the fruits of his rash over-boldness. Like Samson, he is shorn of his
strength. Like that champion of Israel, he says, "I will go out as at other
times and shake myself." But unbelief has caused his "strength to go from
him, so that he has become weak as another man."
But pass we now to a more favorable turn in Peter's case.
It has been said that he is the most gifted general—not who achieves most
victories, but who is able to retrieve his errors; and effect triumphs out
of untoward misfortunes and mistakes. Peter had presumed—faltered—was fast
sinking. Is he to let the opportunity go without seeking, by some strong
effort, to retrieve his honor, and convert that midnight sea into a moral
battlefield where a great fall and loss is to be converted into a great
victory? Is the bird taken in the net spread by itself not to make a bold
attempt to penetrate the meshes and soar to his native sky?
Yes! as unbelief sank him, so faith is to raise him
again. How is he raised? He honors Christ throughout in this memorable
crisis. He might have dreamed at that moment of other ways of extricating
himself from his peril. Was there no rope in the hold of the boat? Could he
not have asked one of the Apostle rowers to stretch him one of those oars
with which, a few minutes before, they had been toiling in vain to make head
against the storm? Or, where was his natural or acquired skill in swimming,
of which we read afterwards, when near the beach of that same lake on a
later occasion, he plunged headlong into the water and swam manfully ashore!
But he resorts to none of these expedients. Having dishonored Jesus by
distrusting Him, he will honor him once more by fresh confidence in His
power and love. "None but Christ" is His motto. His cry, "Lord, save me,
else I perish!" Not all the props you can employ can raise up the battered
downtrodden flower so well as the congenial sunshine. So this drooping
flower turns his leaves to the Great Sun of Righteousness. The Apostle is
sinking—but even as he sinks, he sinks "looking unto Jesus."
And as the Servant honored his Master—as the Disciple
honored his Lord—so does the Lord and Master honor him and deal tenderly
with him in return.
He might have righteously left him for a while in his
anguish and trepidation, to feel the consequences of his rashness. With the
horrors of death taking hold on him, He might have addressed him in words of
cutting rebuke and upbraiding. But He will first restore His confidence. "Immediately
Jesus stretched forth his hand and caught him." The Lord's hand was not
shortened that it could not save. Peter's experience was that of the
Psalmist—"When my foot slipped, Your mercy, O Lord, held me up!"
And now comes the gentle rebuke. It would not have been
well for Peter—it would not have been well for the Church of the future,
which was to read and ponder this scene—had the salutary needed reproof been
allowed to pass. Gentle, however, it was! He does not address him as the
presumptuous unbeliever—neither does He reprimand him for making the attempt
to come. This might have had the effect of damping his energies for bolder
deeds yet in reserve for him. Thus is he addressed by Him who "breaks not
the bruised reed, nor quenches the smoking flax"—"O you of little faith,
why did you doubt?"
That sensitive heart required no harsh or severe word to
enforce the appeal. A look, you will remember—a glance of impressive
silence, yet of deep significance—afterwards covered his face with bitter
tears. So now, that one brief question would bring before him the memory of
a hundred former acts of love and power, all of which would aggravate the
unkindness of distrusting that Gracious Savior. It was equivalent to saying,
"Peter! after all that I have done for you in the past, why have you now
dishonored Me?—why refuse reliance now on my all-powerful arm? I still
acknowledge that you have faith—but in this critical emergency it has shown
itself to be small. Why have you wounded Me so by this unworthy doubting?"
The accused is silent. He attempts no reply. Perhaps his
tears forbid it. Doubtless he returned to the vessel a humbled man. It was a
night which to his dying hour would be much remembered. Yet could it fail to
rivet his affections more strongly than ever around that Savior? If we put a
"Song of the Night" into his lips, may it not be appropriately that of the
Great Prophet—"Behold, God is my salvation. I will trust and not be afraid,
for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song. He also has become my
Let us now ponder one or two of the PRACTICAL LESSONS
suggested by this subject, though these indeed have already been so far
I. We learn that Faith and fear may be found existing
together in the minds of God's children, and that we must not make the
existence of doubts and misgivings an evidence that we have no faith.
That Peter had faith, notwithstanding his distrust and
fear, is obvious. It was faith, though mingled with other lower motives,
which led him to venture on the water. It was faith which, as he was
sinking, prompted the prayer, "Lord, save me." And in his rebuke Christ
recognizes the existence of faith, though he speaks of it as small, "O you
of little faith."
From this, the desponding child of God may draw a lesson
of consolation and encouragement. You whose souls are harassed with
fears—who are mourning over the coldness of your love, the weakness of
your graces, the languor of your spiritual frame, learn here not to
argue from the existence of doubt, that faith must be lacking or cannot be
real. True it is, the further you advance in the Divine life the greater
your faith will be, and the fewer will be your doubts. But Christ here does
not refuse to stretch out an arm of mercy to one of little faith. If you
have faith only as a grain of mustard seed, it tells what spirit you are of.
For this is no plant of earthly growth that will blossom spontaneously in
the soil of the unregenerate heart, it is "not of yourselves, it is the gift
of God." The Bible speaks of various degrees of Faith. And there are
different figures employed to denote the operation of this great principle.
Its first and simplest act is represented as a "Looking to Christ,"
then a "coming to Christ," a "receiving Christ," a "laying
hold of Christ," a "cleaving" to Christ, a "trusting" in Christ.
But the lowest in this scale, provided it be a real
faith, gives a sinner an interest in Jesus and his salvation, as well as the
highest. The faith of the "weak" as well as of the "strong" rests on the
same one Foundation. But mistake us not! We do not mean to say that because
the smallest degree or measure of faith is an index of spiritual life, that
therefore there is no need of further degrees of it. If, there is true
faith, it must, like every other Christian principle, be progressive.
This must be the prayer of every heart in which that grace is real, "Lord,
increase my faith." While with holy humble gratitude we can say, "Lord, we
believe," we must ever be adding, "Help our unbelief."
II. We are taught here the great cause of all the
doubts and misgivings of God's people. It is, as in the case of Peter,
a lack of dependence on Christ. We have seen when that ardent
Disciple first ventured on the watery element his footing was firm, because
his faith in his Lord's power was firm; but as soon as his eye was turned
from his heavenly Master on the boisterous elements around, then faith
failed, and he began to sink!
What was the secret of Paul's boldness amid his great
fight of afflictions? It was keeping the undeviating eye of Faith fixed
on that same glorious Redeemer. With a martyr's stake casting its shadow
on his path, or with the rage of Nero's lions in his ear, he could exclaim,
"None of these things move me."
Is it not even so with us? Why is it that we who once, it
may be, were confident in the Lord's faithfulness, and who stood firm, like
a rock in the waters, against the temptations that were assailing us, may
now be unable to resist their force? Is it not because we have turned
away the eye of faith from a reigning Savior, and fixed it on the
troubles and tumults and dangers around; reasoned about the strength of our
temptations and the severity of our trials, the greatness of our
difficulties, and the imminency of our dangers—forgetful of that blessed
truth that Christ is able to save to the uttermost? We have doubted His
ability and distrusted His faithfulness, and He has now left us to feel "how
frail we are."
III. We learn from this narrative—What is the source of
relief to the sinking soul, in its times of troubles and fear. It is Christ
Himself—a renewed application to Him as a Savior.
You remember the well-known incident in old Roman story,
when, in crossing a strait in the hour of maddening storm, coward hearts
were tortured with terror, as they listened to creaking planks in their tiny
vessel. The sea was lashing over them; their eyes were dimmed with the
blinding spray—Death seemed to sit on every crested wave. A voice from one
of noble bearing, sitting wrapped in a military cloak by the stern, blended
with the accents of the storm—"The Bark cannot sink which carries Caesar and
his fortunes!" It was enough. The revelation of the imperial presence and
the imperial word was like oil cast on the fretful sea. Their courage
rose—with undaunted souls they buffeted its waves, and were before long on
the wished-for shore.
Reader, in the midst of your earthly troubles, turn in
self-oblivion to the Heavenly Pilot. A nobler than Caesar is at your side!
He tells you that there is nothing to fear—that there shall be no loss of
any man's life—no, not even of the ship—but that you shall all get "safe to
land." If duty has called you out to the troubled waters, let Faith—that
divine principle—believing—trusting, honoring Jesus—bear you up amid every
difficulty and every danger. Say with this same Apostle on another memorable
occasion, "Lord, to whom can I go, but to You? You have the words of eternal
life;" or with another sinking castaway, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?
and why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise
Him, my Savior and my God."
IV. Let us here note the means by which this
application is made and final deliverance obtained. It is PRAYER—"Lord,
save me, I perish."
How delightful to think that amid all the troubles of the
world without, and all the tumults of the heart within, a Savior's ear is
ever open—the gates to a throne of grace are never shut! Yes, though we may
be conscious that much of our doubt, and darkness, and despondency can be
traced to nothing but our own faithlessness—though we may be conscious that
we have ourselves roused the storm which now and again may be desolating our
hearts—there is yet room for calling upon Him who can say to the storms
within as to the storms without, Peace—be still; and no tempest-tossed
spirit in its sinking moments ever applied to Him for help, and applied in
Are there any reading these pages thus tossed with
tempest and refusing to be comforted—whose faith is weak—whose hearts are
desponding—whose love is cold—who are mourning over the departure of seasons
of spiritual light, and liberty, and joy? Let your hour of doubt and
trembling be turned into an hour of prayer. You may have changed in your
love to your Redeemer—forgotten and forsaken Him—rejected His grace, and
distrusted His faithfulness—but He is unchanged in His love towards you!
The storm may have hidden His face, but He is as near you as He was to
Peter of old. For you there is still open, what there was to the sinking
disciple—a Throne of grace! Go with the cry, "Lord, save me, I perish"—and
you will find that the hour of supplication will be turned, as with him,
into an hour of deliverance. For "immediately Jesus stretched forth
His hand and caught him."
O wondrous power of Prayer! What miracles, what triumphs
does it accomplish! It has turned the volleyed lightning in its path. It has
scared away the brooding pestilence. It has unlocked the bronze gates of the
sky, and brought down floods on the thirsty soil. It has smoothed the pillow
of sickness. It has dried the widow's tears, and filled the mouths of her
orphans. It has brought back the wandering prodigal to his Father's hearth
and home. It has wrestled with an angel, and prevailed. It has arrested the
ear and moved the arm of Omnipotence.
The telescope has with giant bound scaled the stars and
traversed Immensity. The electric spark can now conduct its winged messages
from sea to sea, and from continent to continent. It can stay armies on
their march, and silence the thunders of battle, and give the momentous word
and will on which depends the fate of thrones and the destinies of nations.
But what is that to a power which transmits messages from the lips of the
finite creature to the presence-chamber of the Infinite God?—finding its way
where the eye has never roamed, the telescope never reached, science with
its lightning-pinions never soared—penetrating the gates, unlocking the
garners of Heaven!
Do we know this Power of Prayer? Feeling that we are
perishing, have we sent up a cry for help to that God who is a refuge to
His people in every time of trouble? If so, He will send help out of His
holy hill of Zion. Why is it that our prayers seem so frequently to go
unanswered—that, despite of them all, we feel that we are sinking still? Is
it not because they are not the cries of those who feel their great and
impacting need of Christ, and are really desirous that His hand be stretched
out for their rescue? Let us go with the publican's lowly spirit, and with
the sinking disciple's importunate entreaty, "Lord, save me, I perish! Lord,
I look to You for safety. There is no safety in myself. I feel that I am a
lost undone sinner, and unless plucked from the billows of sin, I shall
perish everlastingly. But, Lord, from the depths I cry to You; help me, O
helper of the helpless! Show me that man's extremity is God's opportunity,"
and then, as surely as in the case of Peter, Jesus will stretch forth His
hand. It may not be, as with him, "immediately." But "the Lord is good to
those who wait for Him, unto the soul that seeks Him." "Wait on the Lord, be
of good courage, and he WILL strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the
V. We learn, from the narrative before us, that
distrust in Christ's faithfulness is displeasing to Him—Jesus REBUKED
him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" That question, we
have seen, carried an arrow of deep conviction to Peter's heart. He dared
not answer it. His silence told how deeply it was felt! And does not that
same question ring reproachfully in many of our ears; if we are now
surrounded with trial or temptation—disposed to question or distrust the
Redeemer's faithfulness. "Why," He seems to say, "Oh, why, unbelieving one,
do you doubt? Look back on your past history; don't you remember the hours
when you tasted My faithfulness and mercy; when My candle shined upon your
head, and my peace lit up your soul with a joy infinite as heaven? Look
back, and is not your pilgrimage journey crowded with Ebenezers, telling
that the Lord has helped you? Don't you remember the hour of trouble when I
wiped your tears; the hour of temptation when I dispelled your foes; the
night of affliction when I soothed your sorrows, and whispered peace when
all around was death; the hour of prayer and the season of communion, when I
made the House of God as the very gate of heaven? And if darkness and
tempest have now succeeded—if the calm has been changed into a storm, and I
seem to have hid My face, Oh, why do you doubt? Shouldn't My faithfulness in
the past be an encouragement for the future—a pledge and assurance that I
will never fail you nor forsake you?"
VI. We learn again, from the deliverance given to the
sinking disciple, that there is no situation in which Christ is not
willing and able to help us.
When did He come to Peter and to his fellow voyagers? It
was "about the fourth watch of the night," while morning had scarcely begun
to dawn, and all nature was sunk in slumber! And who, after the toils of the
preceding day, would have felt these slumbers more sweet, or nature's rest
more refreshing, than the weary Man of Sorrows? But He who had gone to the
lonely mountaintop, to seek a bed of rest, when elsewhere He had none,
willingly forsook even this, to come to the help of His beloved disciples!
What does this tell us, but that we can never go out of season to Christ;
that there is not the hour in which He is inaccessible to our needs, or
will refuse to give us help; that there is no danger from which He cannot
extricate us; nor the trial which He will not overrule for the
strengthening of our faith. He is able to save—He is willing to save. None
are beyond the reach of His abounding grace and mercy.
As the ocean supports a navy as easily as the
bubble on the breaker, or the sea bird sitting on its crested foam; as the
earth supports the everlasting hills as easily as the tiny grass
which clothes its sides, or the cattle which browse on them; so Jesus can
save great and small; He is the spiritual Atlas carrying a ruined
world. In the season of our deepest extremity, even when, like the apostle,
we may seem on the brink of perishing—the waves of destruction about to
close over us—with such a Savior there is no room to despair.
VII. Finally, we have here a lesson of rebuke and
warning: Christ calls Peter's "a little faith." And yet, weak and
faithless as he was, when we read this narrative, how are we overwhelmed and
abased when we think of the poverty and meagerness of our faith, when
compared even with that of the sinking disciple? We behold him in that hour
of tempest, stepping down from the vessel and committing himself to the
raging waters. He hears his Lord's voice, and, fearless of danger, travels
along the unstable element to throw himself at His feet. We see, in the same
moment, courage, ardor, prayer, love, devotedness; and yet the Savior
reproves him, and his silence tells that he felt the rebuke was no more than
was due. Surely if this could only be called a "little faith," what must He
who so denominated it, think of ours?—when many of us can tell of lives that
present one sad history of doubt, and distrust, and
faithlessness—prayerless, careless, godless seasons, when the least
vanities are cleaved to in preference to Christ, and we rush to every
'savior' but the one who died for us.
Do not let us harshly and censoriously deal with Peter
until we have "considered ourselves." Let us look at his frailties side by
side with our own. Our judgment on the apostle may well be tempered with
mercy—our judgment on ourselves may well be mingled with shame. Let us be
equally noble, as he was, in our avowal of attachment to our Great Lord. Let
us be equally ready, when we stumble and fall, for his baptism of bitter
tears. Let us be equally resolute in spirit for his martyr-death. If God
sends us midnights of trial, let these be hallowed and consecrated to us, as
they were to him, by a more loving trust in that loving Savior—leading us
the more fondly to welcome the Lord's voice upon the waters, and to take as
our motto and watchword for all the contingencies of an unknown future,
"When I am afraid, I will trust in You!"