THE STORM ON THE LAKE
by John MacDuff
"Night sinks on the wave,
Hollow gusts are sighing,
Sea birds to their cave
Through the gloom are flying.
Oh! should storms come sweeping,
You in heaven unsleeping,
O'er Your children vigil keeping,
Hear and save!
Stars look o'er the sea,
Few and sad and shrouded;
Faith our light must be
When all else is clouded.
You whose voice came thrilling,
Wind and billow stilling,
Speak once more our prayer falling—
Power dwells with Thee!"
"Then He got into the boat and His disciples followed
Him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves
swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke
Him, saying, 'Lord, save us! We're going to drown!'" Matt. 8:23-27; Mark
4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25
This is the first of the "Memories of GENNESARET" which
have their scenery and illustration not on the shores, but on the
Lake itself. Lessons from the lips of the Great Teacher are now read to
us amid winds and waters.
We have already, indeed, found our Blessed Redeemer
discoursing from the deck of a vessel to the listening multitudes, and, in
the miraculous Catch, claiming as the Lord of Nature, dominion over the
Fish of the sea. But He is now to manifest His dominion over the Sea
itself. As He has already asserted Lordship over its tenants, He is about to
claim sovereignty also over their unstable watery realm itself.
Who can estimate the priceless worth of that handful of
voyagers, who, in the dusky evening twilight, push off from the Western
Shore? That humble fishing-boat contains the Infant Church. It is
freighted with the world's Salvation! These winds and waves are charged with
sublime moral and spiritual lessons to the end of time. As we hear uttered
the mandate which chained the tempests of Galilee, and laid to sleep its
waters, we can take up the words of the Psalmist and say, with a nobler than
their primary meaning, "O Lord God Almighty, who like you? You rule over
the surging sea; when its waves mount up, You still them!"
Let us seek to gather from this interesting incident some
of those lofty lessons it is fitted and designed to teach us. It speaks
emphatically "concerning Christ and his Church," and let these two
points successively engage our thoughts.
The Storm on the Lake speaks CONCERNING CHRIST.
(1.) His HUMANITY is here strikingly brought before us.
That same afternoon Jesus had spoken the Parable of the Sower—a parable, as
we have remarked, probably suggested by seeing, near to where He stood, a
farmer, in early spring, casting his seed into the upturned furrow. Evening
had now come. That sower had retired to his home. Already may he have been
stretched on his bed of sleep, recruiting his weary frame after the toils of
the day. So also had the Heavenly Sower! None more needing repose
than He after a day of such unremitting labor!
But where is His home? where His bed? Out amid the
chill damps of the evening, a boat is seen gliding along the lake, manned by
a few fishermen. They speak with suppressed breath, for a weary, jaded
passenger, wrapped for warmth in a coarse fisherman's coat, lies snatching
what rest he can find in the back part of the vessel. Let no harsh voice
break His rest. He has, during that long day, been scattering the seed of a
nobler than any earthly harvest. How deep, how profound are His slumbers!
The splash of the oars—the scream of the birds overhead—disturb Him not. Yet
crude is His couch—hard His pillow. They took Him into the boat, (in the
quaint but expressive words of Mark,) "Even as He was."—all
unrefreshed and unprepared for a voyage. The evening meal probably untasted.
The garments needed for crossing the Lake unprovided. His head, as the word
in the original seems to imply, rests uneasily on the rough wooden rail at
the stern of the boat.
It is a touching incident in the life of the great
Apostle, when, "as Paul the Aged," he sent a message to Timothy to bring
with him "the cloak he left at Troas" to protect his shivering frame from
the cold of a Roman dungeon. But what was this in striking poignancy,
compared to the scene we have here? Paul's Master and Lord—the Being
of all Beings—GOD Manifest in the flesh—that Adorable human form within
which Deity dwelt—laid on the rough planks of a fishing-vessel—exhausted
nature demanding refreshment and rest!
We have read of hunted and outlawed monarchs seeking
refuge and repose in forest huts. Tales linger in our own land of royal
adventurers sleeping soundly and gratefully in the chill mountain cave, or
on the clay floor of Highland hovels. But what are these?—poor insignificant
nothings in comparison with the scene before us. The Lord of Glory—Immanuel,
God with us—out on the bleak sea—the dusk of approaching night for His
curtains, the sky for His canopy—stretched like a helpless babe in the arms
of sleep—lulled to rest by the music of oars and the ripple of waters!
The scene deepens in interest as the voyage proceeds.
When they left the shore, the sun had apparently set peacefully over the
Western mountains—the sky was unfretted with a cloud—the sea unruffled with
waves. But suddenly one of those squalls or gusts so often experienced in
inland lakes came sweeping down the opposite mountain gorge. The gathering
clouds answer to the wail of the hurricane. The waves beneath lift their
crested forms, and the rain rushes from the blackened heavens. So violent,
indeed, does the tempest soon become, that, from the wetting spray dashing
over the boat, and the torrents from above, she is fast filling with water—"The
waves beat into the ship so that it was now full." It could, indeed, be
no mimic storm, no ordinary danger, that would lead the
fishermen-disciples, who knew the sea so well from youth, to cower in terror
for their safety and abandon themselves to despair.
And what now of that majestic Sleeper? Weary Humanity
still asserts its need of repose. The wind is sighing and sweeping around.
The rain is pouring on that unprotected pillow. Yet still He slumbers! The
wild howling war of the elements awakes Him not! And unless His disciples
with rough hand had come and roused Him, these weary eyes would have slept
through the storm. Even that last lurch of the vessel which had led the
faithless mariners to cry, in an extremity of tremor and agitation,
"Master, Master!"—even this had not disturbed that Sleeping
Oh, wondrous, beautiful testimony to the perfect
Humanity of Jesus. I say perfect Humanity; for many there are, who,
while they speak of Him as Man, think of Him at the same time as
something far beyond their sympathies and feelings, their weaknesses and
infirmities—a sort of half-Man, half-Angel, incapable of any identity of
experience with them—His life a mysterious drama, which they may gaze upon
with wonder, but which to them is invested with no personal interest. Look
at this picture on the Lake of Tiberias. One only of all that little crew
was prostrated with bodily exhaustion, and that one was Jesus!
It is the same Pilgrim Savior who, after traversing the
dusty roads of Samaria, with its hot summer sun blazing overhead, flung
Himself, weak and way-worn, as best He could, on a well by the wayside, and
asked from a Samaritan woman a cup of cold water. It is the same lowly
Sufferer who, exhausted with weariness and watchings—stripes and
buffetings—fell powerless under the cross which cruelty compelled Him to
bear; or who, as He was transfixed on it, in anguish exclaimed, "I
thirst." It is the same Divine Sympathizer whose breaking heart gave
vent to its pangs, in audible sobs, at the Graveyard of Bethany. The
"Temple of His body" was mysterious indeed—a holy, sinless, unpolluted
shrine. But though separate from sinners, it was not separated
from human infirmities. Hunger, thirst, weakness, weariness, suffering,
pain, had their lodgment there. The motto and superscription on its portico
ever was, "Behold the Man!"
Most touchingly do we read this truth in the narrative
before us. Ah! when I wish to feel certified of the glorious, upholding,
gladdening assurance, that Jesus was indeed "bone of my bone, and flesh of
my flesh;" that He knows my frame; that He remembers I am dust; that He had
the blood of the human race in His veins, and the sinless infirmities of the
human race in His nature; that He knows the very lassitude and languor of
this frail body, which so often crushes and enfeebles its companion spirit—I
go not to hear Angels chanting His advent in the lowly Manger, nor to the
Magi hastening, under their guiding star, to present offerings at the feet
of that Infant of Bethlehem. I go not even to the home of earthly
friendship, to see Him ally Himself with human hearts. I rather go out amid
the bleak and howling winds of an earthly Lake. I see there the Savior who
died for me, sunk in slumber on the deck of a vessel—glad for rest,
as the humblest son of earthly toil—the prostration of an overwrought frame
refusing to be roused by nature's loudest accents, and requiring the hands
and voice of His own Disciples to unseal His weary eyelids!
Again—while a perfect Humanity, observe, further,
it was a pure, spotless HUMANITY, which belonged to Jesus.
That peaceful Slumberer on lake Gennesaret is the
type of Innocence. If Jonah out-slept his storm, it was
because his conscience was lulled and deadened. He had defied his God; and
his God for the moment had so left the Atheist Prophet, that the tempest's
rage fell disregarded on his soul. But a Greater, a Holier than Jonah, is
here! No moral storm ever swept over that pure, calm, sinless spirit. No
unquiet, disturbing vision of guilt, now flits across the Sleeper's bosom.
On the other side of the lake where He was going, a
demon-crowd of Devils haunted the gorges of Gadara. According to some
writers (as having in their power the destructive agencies of nature by
reason of the sin of man), they may have been riding now on the wings of
this storm, doing their best to avert their own approaching adversary. Think
of their bosoms tortured by the memory of a guilty past, maddened to
despair by the prospect of a hopeless future; the sport of tempests,
of which Gennesaret's surface was then a feeble type. These wicked
were like that "troubled sea which cannot rest." But see the Spotless Lamb
of God!—in the absence of all human comforts, yet with the calm treasure of
a peaceful conscience, He sleeps tranquilly, as the cradled infant which a
mother's gentle lullaby has sung to rest!
But (2.) The scene we are now considering also speaks
concerning the Savior's DEITY.
It is remarkable, that in all the more memorable
incidents of our Lord's life, whenever His lowliness and humiliation are
signally manifested, there is generally, in conjunction with this, some
majestic exhibition of His Godhead. His Humanity was proclaimed in
the lowly stable of His birth; but in that same hour Angels over Bethlehem
sung of His glory. His Humiliation was touchingly proclaimed
in receiving baptism (a sinner's rite) at a sinner's hand; but the Heavens
were opened, and a sublime voice from "the Excellent Glory" attested His
Divinity. Bethany's teardrops spoke of the tenderness of His Human
heart. Bethany's word of omnipotence, which summoned the putrefying dead man
from the tomb, proclaimed the majesty of His Godhead. Calvary's Cross
shows us a dying man—the crown of thorns—the gash of the spear—the
criminal's torture—the malefactor associates—all speak of the depths of
Humiliation. But a blackened sun; riven rocks; the earth trembling to
support its Creator's cross—were nature's glorious testimonies that He who
hung in ignominy on that tree was "The Mighty God."
We have the same contrast of lowliness and
greatness in this scene on the Lake of Galilee. "As the Son of
Man," says a writer, "He slept; but as the Son of God in Man, He awakes and
speaks. For Himself, exhausted; for others, Almighty." He opens His eyes on
that scene of nature's wildest uproar, and sitting undisturbed in the midst
of it, counsels and comforts. First, as a great Master reproving His
disciples' fears, and then as the great God uttering His "Peace, be
still." As the Lord alike over the atmosphere above, and the waters beneath,
He addresses each separately. Looking upward, first to the storm raging on
high, He rebukes the wind, saying 'Peace!' Then turning to the waves
below, the angry surging of the sea, He adds, 'Be still.' A new
element in nature thus casts a trophy at His feet, and owns Him her Lord!
We have already witnessed, on the shores of the Lake, His
power over bodily diseases. We have seen the leper cleansed by His
touch. The centurion's servant healed by a distant message. Now would He
show that "dragons, and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy
wind," are equally ready to "fulfill His word." "He spoke, and it was
done!" There are no labored means required. The intervention of no rod, as
in the case of Moses, to stretch over the deep. From the fishing-vessel, as
His throne, He issued His behest. Every wave rocked itself to rest.
The winds returned to their chambers. The lights on the shore were
once more reflected in the waveless sea—"Immediately there was a great
calm." Well might the disciples, as they beheld the power of that
marvelous mandate, exclaim, in the words of their Psalmist King, as they
crouched adoring at their Master's feet, "The sea is His, and He made it;
and His hands formed the dry land. Oh, come let us worship and bow down, let
us kneel before the Lord our Maker!"
While we exult in the Humanity, let us evermore
exult in the Deity of Christ. Had Deity not inhabited the bosom of
that sleeping Man, the disciples must have had a yawning sepulcher in these
depths. We would have had to tell this day of nothing except ruined souls
and a sinking world. It was His Deity which impressed an untold
value on all His doings and dying. Take away the great keystone of
Christianity—that Godhead dwelt in the bosom of Messiah—and our hopes
for eternity lie buried with His unrisen body in the grave at Jerusalem! But
"His name is Immanuel, GOD with us." While we look up to heaven and see a
MAN upon the throne, we can at the same time exclaim, "Your Throne, O GOD,
is forever and ever!" The combination of the two in the one person of the
Ever-living Redeemer, makes Him to be all we need, and all that we can
It is, indeed, in His glorified Humanity He now
lives and reigns. He needs no longer, as at this eventide scene on
Gennesaret, earthly rest. His period of weakness, His struggle with human
infirmity, is over. We need not, like the disciples, now go to awake Him;
for in yonder glorious Heaven "He faints not, neither is weary." "He
that keeps Israel" now "neither slumbers nor sleeps." But His heart of
love knows no change. He is "that same Jesus," our God yet our
Brother, our Brother yet our God!
There may be comfort to some here in the thought (more
especially brought before us in this passage in connection with Christ's
deity) that He rules over winds and waves. "What kind of man,"
exclaimed the disciples, "is this, for even the winds and the sea obey Him."
No storm that sweeps the ocean can defy His power, or resist His control.
These boisterous elements are His ministers and messengers. Not one
storm-cloud can gather—not one crested wave rise—not one board can
loosen—without His permission, who "holds the winds in His fists." All power
is committed to Him in Heaven and on Earth.
The Satanic Prince of the power of the air, if some
mysterious dominion is assigned to him, has a mightier One to control His
demon rage; and whether it be the atmosphere that comes loaded with plague
and fever, pestilence and cholera—or the hurricane that uproots a forest and
overturns a house, burying a beloved child in the ruins—or the tornado that
strews the bosom of the ocean with the pride of navies, or sends wailing and
widowhood into the fisherman's lonely Dwelling—"The Lord sits upon
the floods; yes! the Lord sits as King forever." "The floods, O Lord, have
lifted up, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their
waves. But the Lord on High is mightier than the noise of many waters;
yes, than the mighty waves of the sea!"
But, II. The text speaks, not only "concerning Christ,"
but "concerning HIS CHURCH." This both in its collective
and in its individual capacity.
In previously considering the miraculous catch, we found
the fish enclosed in the net were designed to form an instructive pledge and
symbol to the "Fishers of Men" of the success of their labors. If the
Fish were thus typical of immortal souls; the element in which they
lived, the heaving, changing, restless water, with its fitful alternations
of calm and tempest, was surely an appropriate picture of human life,
swept with storms and strewed with wrecks. And if, as we believe, each
portion of this sacred incident is filled with symbolic instruction, we may
warrantably look also for some figurative truth in that tossed vessel
with its frightened crew. Nor is there much difficulty in finding its true
place in the Sacred Allegory. If the Ark of Noah, in the old patriarchal
deluge, was not only a befitting type of the Church, but was really the
Church of God, tossed on that raging flood; have we not in
this Gennesaret vessel the Gospel type and symbol of the
same—the Church in the world, and yet not of the world—subject
to the storms of persecution, often hurried into guilty fears and faithless
distrust and misgiving—yet her Lord, not (as in the extremity of her
unbelief she sometimes supposes), like Baal, slumbering and sleeping, but
seated invisible at her helm, guiding her through the roaring surge, and
enabling her to ride out the tempest!
At no period has the Church been exempt from such
hurricanes. Even in these our days (though, thank God, the outer storm
is hushed, and she is holding on her way in these favored lands through calm
and tranquil seas), there are discerning spirits who can catch up distant
indistinct mutterings—presages of a coming tempest, more fearful than any
she has yet buffeted—"the sea and the waves roaring, and men's hearts
failing them for fear." If, before the Millennial morning breaks, there is
thus a deeper and darker night of trial in reserve for the Church of
Christ—Satan and his demon-throng, riding on the wings of persecution,
putting forth their last giant effort for her destruction—be it ours to
exult in the thought that there is a Sleepless PILOT at her
helm, who can say, like His great Apostle in the Adrian storm, "I exhort you
to take courage!" "GOD is in the midst of her: she shall not be moved:
THE LORD shall help her, and that right early."
(2.) This passage speaks concerning the Church in her
It speaks of Disciple life and Disciple
experience. It is easy for us to speak and theorize about Faith, but God
often casts us into the crucible to test and purify our gold, and separate
it from the dross and alloy. He brings us into the vortex of the storm to
see whether we shall wring our hands in faithless despair, or rush to our
Master. The disciples in Gennesaret had acted unfaithfully;
untrustingly. They might have known that, though the wail and death-shriek
of perishing crews had been heard all around, one boat at least would
have defied the rush of waters and roar of winds. With Jesus in their
midst, they need have feared no evil.
The simple fact of His presence ought to have been
pledge and guarantee enough that their safety was secured. If some more
cowardly spirit than the rest had urged His being awakened—some impetuous
Peter, in his eager impulsive haste, had hurried to the stern to utter his
unbelieving fears—we would have expected some one of the others of calmer
mold and stronger faith, some John or James, to have arrested the intruder,
saying, "Do not disturb Him!" Sooner shall these mountains that gird the
lake be removed, than He allow "one of His little ones to perish." Let us
gaze in calm serenity on the face of the Almighty Sleeper. Let us
"be still and know that He is GOD!"
But, alas! for the moment they seem all to have been
involved in the same unworthy anxiety, "Master, Master! Don't You care
that we are going to drown?"
We cannot, we dare not, to a certain extent, wonder at
their fear. So far it was natural. There was much to awaken
apprehension. Their ship reeling on the waves, and their Lord appearing
unconscious of their danger "asleep on a pillow." It was the excess
of their terror which drew forth the rebuke. Each Evangelist in recording it
gives a slight variation. One says, "You have little faith;" another,
"Where is your faith?" a third, "You have no faith." But in
all the three cases it is the lack of FAITH which is blamed; the lack
of that principle which "casts out fear." We may wonder, perhaps, at
the severity of the condemnation. Was Faith on their part really so
utterly lacking? Did not rather their very rushing to their sleeping Lord
seem to indicate the intensity of their trust in that perilous crisis-hour?
They felt that if they are to be rescued at all from a dreadful grave, it
can be by Him alone. Yet, observe, He rebukes them, as if their Faith
were poor, trifling, unworthy of the name!
How is this?—It is plain that His condemnation of it is
relative. It is judged by a standard of its own. Had some of the
multitude (not the disciples) manned this vessel, and rushed thus
imploringly in the tempest to awake Him, probably, as in the case of the
Gentile Centurion, Jesus would have commended their faith as great.
But these anxious disciples were those who should have known better than to
distrust for one moment His ability and willingness to save. Had they
witnessed to so little purpose His recent miracles? Had they heard
with so little profit His recent Discourse of heavenly wisdom? Unkind and
cruel, in the case of trusted friends, was the cry with which they
roused Him, "Don't You CARE that we are going to drown?"
Anything to that beneficent Being would have been less cutting and wounding
than this—"Don't You CARE!" It was doubting not His power but
His Love, that love to which every hour since they knew Him had borne
How kindly, gently, considerately, yet faithfully, He
deals with them! He utters no reproach for that crude awaking, robbing Him
of the slumber He so greatly needed, and which His untiring energy elsewhere
denied Him. But, gazing with earnestness upon them, He puts the penetrating
question, which must have gone like an arrow to their hearts, "Why are
you so fearful?" He speaks as a faithful Master to His faithless
disciples before He turns to speak to the elements. The winds and waves He
allows to revel at will before He has delivered in the hearing of the
Voyagers the word of needed reproof. He has no ear for the warring elements,
until, in mingled severity and kindness, He has poured oil on the
troubled sea of these vexed hearts.
Are any of us thus fearful? Jesus turns to us and says
"Won't you trust Me? Look at Calvary's Cross! Is that not a pledge and
guarantee that I will never leave you nor forsake you? For, a small moment I
may appear to have forsaken you, but with great mercies will I gather
you—with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon you!"
Let this be with us, as with the disciples, the result of
all these storms of Trial—to drive us nearer our Heavenly Master, and
endear Him to our souls. They wondered at the moment, doubtless, what
could be the cause of such a storm. Why not have arrested it or kept it
chained in its mountain hold, until that boat with its valued crew got safe
Thus they may have reasoned while the tempest was
overhead, and their hearts failed them for fear. But what was their verdict
when they were planting their anchor in the white sands on the Gadara shore?
They said one to another, "What kind of man is this, that even the winds
and the sea obey Him?" Their Lord rose higher than ever in their
estimation. In the future manifold sacred memories of that wondrous
ministry, how the combined remembrance of the weary MAN and the
Almighty GOD would brace them for their great fight of
afflictions! That "peace, be still," has been a motto and watchword
which these howling winds of Gennesaret have wafted from age to age and from
climate to climate, sustaining faith in sinking hearts, and producing in
many a storm-swept bosom a "great calm!"
Oh, happy for us if all the hurricanes that ruffle
life's unquiet sea have the effect of making Jesus more precious. If God
has to employ stormy trials, severe afflictions, for this end, let us not
quarrel with His wise ordination. Better the storm with Christ than
the smooth water without Him.
"Far more the treach'rous calm I dread
Than tempests bursting overhead."
It is the experience, not of the luxurious hotel, but of
the harsh battle-field, the trench and night-watch, which makes the better
and hardier soldier. It is not the exotic plant nursed in the glass hothouse
and artificial heat which is the type of strength; but the plant struggling
for existence on bleak cliffs, or the pine battling with Alpine gusts, or
shivering amid Alpine snows. If there be a sight in the spiritual world more
glorious than another, it is when one sees (as may often be seen,) a
Believer growing in strength and trust in God, by reason of his very
trials—battered down by storm and hail, a great fight of
afflictions—enduring loss of substance—loss of health—loss of friends—yet,
standing by emptied coffers and full graves, and with an
aching but resigned heart, enabled to say "My flesh and my heart may
fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!"
Never let us take our trials as an indication that God is
angry with us; saying, like Martha, in our blind unbelief, "Lord, if You
had been here, this never would have happened. The Savior cannot have
been at my side, or else this desolating storm would never have swept over
me." No, He was with the disciples—sleeping in their very boat—when
the Gennesaret hurricane descended. "Behold," says the Evangelist (as
if arresting our attention to the fact), "Behold" (when He is
voyaging with His own apostles) "there arose a great tempest." And
often is it so still. He selects the blackest cloud, and causes His
people to pass through it, that He may span it with His Rainbow of mercy,
and show in blended colors, His power, and faithfulness and, love!
And what remains, but to urge you to flee to that same
adorable almighty Savior, and to cast all your cares on Him who has shown
you, at such a cost, how He cares for you. You who are in perplexity,
temptation, trial—environed with storms of unbelief and doubt
and inward corruption—go to your Lord as the disciples did. They
give you a new testimony to the power of Prayer. It was Prayer
that roused their Divine Master. He continued asleep until His disciples
awoke Him. And the great principle in the gospel dispensation still is,
"Ask, and you shall receive." How beautifully is here brought out His
willingness to hear the cries of His perishing people! All the roar of
the hurricane—the voice of wind, and rain, and mountain waves—awakes Him
not; but the cries and entreaties of His people, at once reach His ear!
Let us, then, arise and call upon our God. The great
lesson taught both to the Disciples and to us in this storm, is that, in
nearness to Jesus lies all our safety. Weak faith, and Little
faith, as well as Great faith, are encouraged to rush to this
Great Deliverer! The world is at best a treacherous sea. Its
Painted Boats may hold on for a while their uncertain course, spreading
their white wings before summer gales and favoring breezes. But a sudden
hurricane comes; the waters are strewed with their wrecks, and "the place
which once knew them knows them no more!" But, safe in the Ark of God,
steered by the Heavenly Pilot, we are as secure as combined omnipotence
and love can make us. And when earthly storms are all over, every
crested wave of a chequered past will only endear to us more the Haven of
rest, where the tempest's voice will be never more either felt or feared!