The Sinking Disciple, the Rescuing Savior
And beginning to sink, he cried, saying, "Lord, save me!" And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand and caught him." -Matthew 14:30-31.
There are few instances recorded in the Bible more strikingly illustrative, of the deep soul exercises of the believer, and the interposition of Christ's compassion and power in those exercises, than that which the present chapter seeks to improve. It was at the bidding of Christ, Peter threw himself upon the water to come to Him. It was by the power of Christ, he was upheld many steps in his miraculous walk. It was by the permission of Christ that sight was allowed to triumph over faith. And it was by the divine and gracious interposition of Christ, that, at the moment the victory seemed complete, the faltering, trembling, sinking disciple rose above the proud waters that went over him, and found refuge and salvation in the arms of his Divine Lord.
The whole incident is replete, with, the deepest spiritual instruction to the man of God. First, consider the circumstances in which this disciple is placed. He was "beginning to sink." Let us illustrate by this some of the spiritual depths and entanglements into which gracious souls are often placed, and which, because they are so little understood, beget, trembling and distrust, wrong notions of the character of God and of Christ, and thereby rob the believer of immense blessings, and God of much glory.
That these soul-exercises are common to the most eminent saints is clear from David's experience: "Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O Lord." "Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise your name." To what may we trace some of these depths, these sinkings, these imprisonments of soul, to which, more or less, the most gracious are exposed?
There is, for instance, the suspended sense of God's love in the heart. The experience of God's love by the believer is twofold. There are extraordinary manifestations of the love of God to his soul, as almost to compel him in rapture to exclaim, with the holy Payson, "Lord, withhold now Your hand, for I cannot endure more." Such manifestations are rare. We look upon them as a kind of cordial tasted only at broken intervals; else, were they constant, the believer would, in a measure, necessarily be unfitted for the daily duties of life.
The second experience of God's love we may term the ordinary manifestation- continued and abiding, from having the eye fixed upon Jesus, whose love enables him to bear up against the difficulties in his path with composure, to rise beyond the daily cares and anxieties of life, and to separate himself, as a man of God, from the snares of the world and the attractions of the creature, which otherwise would absorb too much of his affection and his thoughts.
What sinkings of soul, too, are felt, when the sensible presence of God is suspended for a time when, in consequence, a whole host of corruptions struggle for the mastery: old and strong infirmities, over which he had thought he had long since gained the victory; and, like David, is ready to exclaim, "Remember not the sins of my youth!" These infirmities, weaknesses, and frailties, are permitted again to appear, accompanied, it may be, by a sense of God's wrath on the soul. And, added to this, a deep, overwhelming conviction of his uneven carriage before God.
When, upon self examination, in the calm, quiet hour of the closet, shut out from the world and from the flattery of friends, oh, how deep have been the convictions sometimes of the countless imperfections, the 'little fruit' that is seen after so much profession, the unkind requitals of all the Lord's goodness, the base returns which we have yielded back to God for mercies countless as the sands! What baseness, what vileness, what wretchedness! Oh, how the soul often sinks into these spiritual depths!
We will only add, the dark and distressing providences, the mysterious dispensations of God's government, almost bringing His own people to their wit's end; when their plan is thwarted, and their hope is disappointed, and our heavenly Father seems to be angry- oh, these are times when the man of God sinks, and cries, "Lord, I perish."
Here let us pause and propose the question to the unconverted reader- If judgment thus begins at the house of God, what must be your condition, whose lives are a constant sinking in the dark waves, having no rock to cling to, no bright hope to sustain you, whose whole life is downward, downward, until the final waves engulf you! Day after day, and month after month, you are satisfied to live without God, and without Christ, and without hope. Ponder, oh! ponder your condition; and before the last billow closes over your grave of eternal woe, send to heaven the cry, "Lord, save me, or I perish!"
We now turn to the prayer of the sinking disciple, "Lord, save me!" How illustrative is this of the Christian's experience. Where does the believer go when corruptions are strong, when sin is powerful, when providences are dark, and God hides His countenance from him for a season, but to Jesus? There is that in the renewed soul which cannot be destroyed, which not all the power of indwelling sin, nor the seductions of the world, nor the machinations of Satan, can stand against. As the magnetic needle, when disturbed, will yet tremulously retrace its steps; so the saint of God will turn to Jesus, notwithstanding the storms above and the billows beneath him- the false attractions of sense, or the deep discoveries of sin.
Let us for a moment analyze this petition of the disciple, and thus trace some of the characteristics of true prayer. Mark its earnestness. God often places His people in great emergencies, to rouse them from their lethargy, to test the sincerity, earnestness, and importunity of their supplications at a throne of grace. Why is it that there are so few answers to your prayers? Because you are so cold, so faulty in your desires for the "sure mercies of David." You think the faintest whisper will do. Your prayers are restrained before God; so God sends waves of tribulation upon you, and then prayer becomes urgent, and you seek, as it were, to take heaven by storm, and then you get the blessing.
Because there are no wrestlings in prayer, and so much indolence, the inordinate encroachments of the world and the creature absorbing your feelings and thoughts, God sends upon you, it may be, some heavy stroke- some fearful wave surges over you, for God loves you too well to allow you to walk at a distance from Him. He may permit you, for a time, to have your own way, until you fancy you can walk the waters of trial and sorrow in your own strength. But eventually He will cause you to exclaim, "Lord, I sink; without You I can do nothing." Oh, whatever way God takes to stir you up to earnestness of prayer, receive it meekly, thankfully, joyfully.
There was also faith in Peter's prayer. Perhaps your circumstances may be such that no human being can fully sympathize with you. What do you do? You turn to Jesus as He who alone can meet your case. You exclaim- "Every step I take, I get deeper into trouble; my fears are heightened, my courage fails me." Well, be it so. In all your strugglings, faith still clings to Jesus. "Save me, Lord," is the cry of simple faith and what does this involve? The desire for salvation: The world has its attractions, joys, and delights, but one thing only the spiritually-awakened sinner thinks of, and that is, "How may I be saved?" Is it then for salvation you long and pray, my reader? Ah, every other blessing sinks into insignificance in comparison with this momentous question- "What must I do to be saved?"
Has this earnest cry been awakened in your heart? Do you feel yourself sinking beneath the dark waves of sin, and guilt, and woe? Then lose not a moment in uttering this cry of faith to Him who is ready to save. "You shall weep no more: He will be very gracious unto you at the voice of your cry; when He shall hear it, He will answer you."
Another striking feature of this prayer was its directness to Jesus. Do not say that Christ is to be ignored as an object of prayer; that prayer is only to be addressed to the Father. Here is a direct refutation of a notion so unscriptural, of an error so God-dishonoring. Peter prayed to Christ, addressed his appeal to the Savior; and so may, and so must you! You need to be saved from sin, from guilt, from hell, from the waves of adversity and sorrow, from the snares, the evils and the power of the world; from your corruptions and infirmities. To whom can you more appropriately address your petitions than to Jesus, the Savior. Look and cry to Christ as the sinking disciple did, for He is able to save to the uttermost all who appeal to His compassion, His grace, and His power.
Let us now mark THE SAVIOR'S RESPONSE: "And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him." It was immediate. The cry had scarcely been uttered when the hand of the Savior was outstretched. Oh, what a Savior is Jesus! How ready is He to respond, how prepared is He to sympathize, how mighty is He to deliver! The interposition was timed to the moment of danger and alarm. Thus the Lord reserves the resources of His grace, compassion, and help to our time of need. When the billows swell, when the trouble comes, when the need presses, when the sorrow overwhelms; then, when the timid, fearful disciple begins to sink, the Lord interposes, blending His tender chiding with His gracious deliverance: "Jesus caught him, and said unto him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
Such, my reader, is the savior now! He is just as near to you, just as loving, just as powerful, just as ready as when He snatched Peter from the waves, quelled his fears, and brought him through the billows in safety to the shore. Did God ever permit a child of His love to sink? Oh no! The waters of tribulation may roar and be troubled, the mountains of human support may shake with the swelling thereof; nevertheless, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble therefore will we not fear."
Tribulation, conflict, and trial, go to make up much of the life of the Christian. But then it is he must look to the promises for his comfort, and take the precepts as his guide. Sinking times should be praying, trusting times; and when the heart is overwhelmed and bowed down with sorrow, yet pray on, and trust on, and so praying and so trusting, not a wave of sorrow can engulf you. But you will be led through the surges unto the Rock that is higher than you. See how near Jesus is. He is a very present help- near, when you cannot trace Him and at your side when you cannot perceive Him.
And finally, at the hour of death, when the billows of Jordan swell around you, when heart and flesh fail, trust the faithful Promiser- a present Christ will bear you through, and bring you out into a wealthy place. "In Your presence is fulness of joy; at Your right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
"Why those fears? behold, it is Jesus
Holds the helm and guides the ship;
Spread the sails, and catch the breezes
Sent to waft us through the deep,
To the regions
Where the mourners cease to weep."
"Though the shore we hope to land on
Only by report is known,
Yet we freely all abandon,
Led by that report alone;
And with Jesus
Through the trackless deep move on."
"Led by that, we brave the ocean;
Led by that, the storms defy;
Calm amid tumultuous motion,
Knowing that the Lord is nigh,
Waves obey Him,
And the storms before Him fly."
"Rendered safe by His protection,
We shall pass the watery waste;
Trusting to His wise protection,
We shall gain the port at last;
And with wonder,
Think on toils and dangers past."
"Oh! what pleasures there await us!
There the tempests cease to roar:
There it is that those who hate us
Can molest our peace no more
On that tranquil, happy shore." -Kelly