He went into a ship with His disciples. 1.
We do not need to be literally at sea, or to feel waves literally breaking over our heads, to find out what absolute helplessness is. The greater number of us, at some time in our lives, have known what it was to touch the last limit of our strength. One of the commonest forms of this exhaustion of human strength is in the struggle with disease or death, approaching yourself or some one you love like a part of yourself. The powers that overmatch us, tire us out, and run us down, are various — time, hereditary maladies, sudden sickness, the superior strength of other people serving their own interests against us, that formless enemy, never so seen as to be struck, but often "preventing" us — that we call "bad luck"; everything that edges about our inclinations, thwarts our plans, baffles the brain and the will, and brings us up where we wish not to be. Most plainly it is a part of God's scheme of mercy to lead us, in our self-confidence and self-will, every one of us, to just that point, so that when we are obliged to stop trusting or calculating for ourselves we shall come willingly to Him. The heart, with all its external, traditional, or formal knowledge of the Saviour, may hold Him as if He were asleep in its own dark chamber. He wakes, to us, whenever we go to Him and call upon Him. And they are the reckless mariners on a deeper sea who put the waking off, on one pretence or another, till the ship is covered with the waves.
2. Observe that when, at last, the voyager comes sincerely and anxiously to that, and utters the prayer, Christ does not refuse him because he did not call sooner, or because when he prayed his prayer was not the purest and loftiest of prayers. Hardly any heart's prayer is that, when it is first agitated under the flashing conviction that it is all wrong. While its deep disorder is first discovered it can think only of being delivered. The life of God in the soul of man is always a growing thing, and so by necessity must be imperfect at the beginning. Every one that asketh receiveth more than he asketh. None of us know what to pray for as we ought. To him that crieth only in fear, and because the weather of this troublesome world is too much for him, the sea is smoothed. And whosoever so cometh, provided only it is to the Lord that he directs his supplication, shall in no wise be cast out.
3. But we should miss the fall breadth of gospel teaching in this miracle of the quieted tempest if we saw nothing more in it than a mere figure or likeness of what goes on in an individual heart. The whole strain of the New Testament teaches us a profounder doctrine than this of the connection between the visible world of nature and the invisible world of God's spiritual kingdom. We needed to know what the Pagan, the Jew even, and many a student of science born and bred in Christendom has never really comprehended, that the Person of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, is the actual bone of a living unity between both these two great realms of God's creation; that He mediates between them and reconciles them. Scholars will never explore nature thoroughly, or right wisely, till they see this religious signification of every law, every force, and every particle of matter, and explore it by the light of faith. God is in everything or in nothing — in lumps of common clay, as Ruskin says, and in drops of water, as in the kindling of the day star, and in the lifting of the pillars of heaven.
4. Incomplete still would this enlarging view of the miracle be, if it did not further disclose to us the true practical use both of the gospel miracles themselves, and of every other gift and blessing of heaven, in leading us up in affectionate gratitude to Him who stands as the central figure among all these visible wonders, the impersonation of all spiritual beauty, the heart of all holy love, and the originator of all the peace-making powers which tranquilize and reconcile the turbulences of the world. "The men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this!" It was not the mercy to men's imperilled or sick bodies that Christ had first in view when He loosened the bodily ordinances and let the streams of Divine energy flow in on mortal sufferers. "That ye might believe in Me" this is the continual explanation — we might almost say the excuse, He offered for deeds that must necessarily be exceptional and temporary.
When we use the words "Lord, save us, we perish," we are really rehearsing two articles of our belief.
1. We are declaring that we believe there is a Lord — that in the visible world there is an invisible God with His over-ruling, and controlling, and appointing will.
2. We are also declaring that we believe this God is our Lord Jesus Christ. This it is which distinguishes Christian prayer from all other prayer. The story before us divides itself naturally into three parts: the voyage before the storm; the storm; the miraculous stilling of the storm. In each of these three parts we have one thing in common. We have man, in some way or other, encountering, or encountered by the outward and visible world.
I. MAN SUBDUING NATURE. It was by the knowledge of the elements and the laws of nature that man learned thus to sail upon the deep; and in this fact you have represented for you the whole of the material progress of humanity — all the triumphs of science, all the glory and beauty of art, all that marvellous mastery that man obtains by his inventive and creative will over the secret powers of nature, as he unlocks them one by one, and compels her to tell him her deepest mysteries — all that man has done as he has advanced from horizon to horizon of discovery, finding still new worlds to conquer, until we stand amazed at our own progress and the infinity of it.
II. NATURE SUBDUING MAN. Here we have the storm, in which the elements are man's masters and not his servants; and he that one minute before was the boasting lord of nature is its toy and sport. The very foam upon the crest of those billows is not more helpless in the grasp of the elements than the lord and the king of them; they toss him to and fro, as the wind drives the stubble in the autumn. This is the terrible aspect of nature. This is nature in her might, and in her majesty, and in her pitilessness, and in her capriciousness — when nature seems everything, and man, in her awful presence, dwindles and dwarfs into very nothingness. This is nature as she masters man. Is it, then, any wonder that, in the early struggles of mankind with this terrible visible power of the creature, men came to worship the creature — that they ascribed to every one of these powers a divinity; that in the voice of the wind, and in the roar of the sea, and in the raging of the fire, they saw the signs of a Divine presence, and they said to these elements: "Spare us," or "Save us, or else we perish"? And so all creation became peopled with gods-cruel gods, capricious gods, vengeful gods, gods whom men bribed with blood, gods whom, even while they bribed them, they could not love, and did not believe that they loved them. This is the first and most terrible form of creature worship; this was the idolatry of the heathen. But then, brethren, mark this; that such a worship as this could not continue long, because it is the worship of ignorance; it is the belief in the supernatural, only because it confuses the unknown with the supernatural. Even as science advanced must this faith melt away. Ever must the domain of the known push itself forward into the domain of the unknown. Ever does the man of science take one by one the gods of the man of superstition and break them upon their pedestals, and tell him this: "What you worship is no god. What you worship is no lord. It is not your lord; it is a servant of yours; and I class it in this or that rank of your servants." It is that last and most terrible aspect of nature, when she appears, not as many gods, or many wills, but as a great soulless piece of mechanism, of which we are only part — a terrible machinery in which we are, somehow or other, involved, and in the presence of which the sense of our freewill leaves us.
III. THE MIRACULOUS AND THE SUPERNATURAL. We hear a prayer, and we see a miracle. In the face of the might of nature and the terror of her elements there rises up a Man in answer to man's cry — there is heard a Man's voice, which is yet the voice of God; and it rebukes the winds and the sea, and the elements of nature own their real Lord; and immediately there is a great calm. What is it, then, that we see? We see a miracle, and a miracle that answers to prayer; we see the living spirits of living men, in the hour of their agony and their distress, appealing from nature to the God of nature; and we have recorded the answer of God to man's prayer. The answer is, that God is Lord both of man and of nature; and we say, therefore, that the miracle, and the miracle alone, sufficiently justifies the prayer. We say that the reason why men may pray is, and can only be, that they know and believe, that there is a will which rules the visible. If you have not this belief, then all prayer is an unreality and a miserable mockery.
If prayer were always followed by a miraculous answer, then prayer would be easy enough; or, on the other hand, if there were no thought of an answer, then it might be possible, though not easy, to submit ourselves to the inevitable. But to pray, and not to receive an answer, and yet to believe that the very not receiving is an answer; to cry, "Save, or we perish," and to seem about to perish; to believe that in what seems perishing is really salvation; to look for the living and watchful Christ, and to see what seems only the sleeping and regardless Christ, and yet to believe that the time will come when, at His word, there shall be a great calm — this is the patience, this is the faith of those who worship an incarnate Lord. And so we trace the history of Christ's Church, and so we strive to trace the history of our own lives. Comparatively easy it is to trace the Church's history along her voyage. The Church gives time for comparing events and testing faith; and so, believing still in the presence of her living Lord, the litanies of His Church ring oat, as they have ever rung, clearly and loudly, and high above the roar of the tempest and the rushing of the waters, still the prayer is heard, "Good Lord, deliver us"; and still again and again, as the storm sweeps by, and the Church passes out into calmer waters, still comes the voice of thanksgiving, "He hath
delivered us." Even in our shorter voyage are there none of us who can remember times when we have knelt in agony and wrestled in prayer with the Saviour, who seemed to have forgotten us, when the mighty storm of temptation and the billows of calamity seemed about to destroy us, and when we have cried to Him to save us, and He has seemed to sleep and to refuse to save? But at the last we can remember how He did reveal Himself, not stilling the raging storm when we would have had Him still the terrible tempest, not sparing, it may be, the precious bark that we had rigged, and manned, and launched ourselves with trembling hopes and loving prayers, and watched with eyes tearless with agony, as we saw it about to sink before us; and we have been led to see and believe that the living and loving Lord was answering even then our prayer, for the bark has at length entered that haven where we would be, and where the vexed waters of our voyage never awake a ripple on the calm depths of its eternal peace.
This miracle proved Jesus to be both God and man, and therefore able to save us from our sins.
2. This miracle proves that the Redeemer never forgets His people, though He sometimes appears to do so.
3. This miracle proves that the Redeemer will certainly deliver His people at last. What should hinder Him? — not want of power, for He is " the mighty God," as this history abundantly shows; not want o! knowledge, for He is infinitely wise to know how to save; not want of will, for He loves them and delights to help them.
4. This miracle proves that Jesus is a Being whom it is impiety and ruin to resist, but duty and happiness to obey.
"They took Him even as He was"! It was well. We need preparations. The Son of God needed none. Preparations are ours, not His! He is always ready, and for every emergency — for a storm as well as a calm. We are all of us always crossing over. We have some plan, some pleasure, some expectation, something we are looking forward to to-morrow, or next week, or next year, or at the close of our toils. Something we have, all of us, always before us, and towards which we are crossing — something on "the other side" of the present, whatever that may be, but which, before we reach, we may have to pass through a storm. But if it is necessary to our safety that we have Jesus with us in crossing over, it is equally necessary to our calmness, our peace, our joy, that Jesus be awake in us. It is in the storms of life that the all-sufficiency of Jesus comes out. We have never half known Him till now. We heard so before; we have proved it now.
Why did Christ "rebuke" the elements? The word appears to me the language of one who either sees moral guilt; or who, in His affection, is indignant at something which is hurting those He loves. The elements, in themselves, cannot, of course, do a moral thing. But is it possible that the prince of the power of the air had anything to do with that storm? Was there some latent fiendish malice in that sudden outbreak of nature upon Christ and His Church? But however this may be, there is another aspect in which we ought to see it. We know that to the second Adam there was given just what the first Adam forfeited — perfect dominion over all creation. Accordingly, Christ was careful, one after another, to assert and show His supremacy over the whole natural creation — over the fishes, as when He made them crowd at His word to a given spot; over the swine; over the fig tree; over the earth, opening at His will; over the seas, unlearning their usual law, and making a pavement for His feet. In this light the present hurricane was like a rebellion, or Christ treated it as such, that He might show His mastership. Hence that royal word, "He rebuked them," and hence the instant submission. But it might be, in His affection for His followers, as of one angry at what was disturbing their peace, He rebuked those troubled winds. For God is very jealous for His children's happiness; and whatever touches it, He is displeased at. You may be assured of this — if you are a child of God, and any person, or anything, ever comes near to injure or to distress you, God is grieved with that person or that thing — He will rebuke it.
And they launched forth.
I take these words simply as a motto, that I may speak to you of the duty of setting sail on the Christian voyage.
1. "The other side" — the heavenly shore — that is the true destination for every one of us.
2. Your whole nature, with its varied powers and capacities, is the vessel with its furniture, freight, and crew.
3. Christ the Captain. You have no right to sail in any direction you please.
4. It is to be feared that there are many, even in our religious assemblies, who have never yet taken Christ as their appointed Captain, and decisively set sail on the Christian voyage. Repentance and faith necessary.
5. And here, in passing, I would say a word to any who may have set out years ago on this voyage, and yet are now back again at their old moorings. The sky was bright, and you set sail "with flying colours." But by-and-by came the storm. You were not prepared for such gusts of temptation. You had not anticipated such hurricanes of trial. And so yon allowed yourself to be driven back, by stress of weather, to the shore you had left. If you had only obeyed the commands of Christ, you might have weathered the storm, and been making progress even now towards the heavenly kingdom.
6. If you have not yet set sail, let me exhort you to do so at once.
7. If you have set sail under Christ, why should you not hoist His flag?
During a heavy storm in the Mediterranean Sea, which lasted two whole days and nights, I was unable to get any sleep, the rolling of the vessel was so terrific. Two men were washed from the wheel and the lifeboat broken. Whilst lying awake hour after hour I heard at intervals a voice calling out some words which I could not clearly distinguish amidst the roaring of the wind and waves, but which I took to be intended to cheer on the sailors in their perilous work. I afterwards found the voice was that of the night-watch, who on completing his round each half-hour shouted "All is well!" I thought of the voice of Jesus as it rises above the storm, encouraging the despondent, tempest-tossed mariner in his voyage to the better land.
Now, I want you to come and see Jesus lying there upon the deck of the ship. Ah, how tired He is! Look at that face, so white, with the lines so deeply graven, the hands stretched out in utter helplessness. He had spent the whole day in preaching; then He had gone away and spent the night in prayer; the next morning He ordained the twelve, and before there was any time for breakfast the multitude came back again. When His friends heard of this they said, "He is out of His mind." They always say that; whenever a man begins to be enthusiastic about the welfare of his neighbour they are sure to think he is mad. But all the great and noble deeds done in this world have been wrought by those who have been branded as madmen, and until we go mad too I do not think we are likely to do much good among our fellows. The very word "enthusiasm" means God in the man. When Livingstone was in Central Africa he tells us that he met some Englishmen who had gone there to shoot big game, and that these fellows talked about their self-sacrifice in exposing themselves to the same perils with himself. Self-sacrifice! Oh! in some cases the word becomes damnable. We never hear of self-sacrifice except for Jesus Christ. When a man goes to the ends of the earth to collect beetles, or catch fish, or shoot big beasts, who ever hears of self-sacrifice? But the moment he sets out on this long journey in order to help his neighbour, he is at once said to be demented. It is only for Jesus Christ that people invent these excuses. People are always needed elsewhere when Christ wants them. A man often takes one day a week from business to look after his garden or to enjoy himself with his children; but if when you knocked at his office door and were told he was absent on that occasion — as he always devoted one day a week to the care of the poorest of the poor — you would say, "Dear me, how very extraordinary! There must be some little softening of the brain." No, no, sir! softening of the heart; and would to God you would catch the complaint and die of it. They said, "He is beside Himself." And then His mother came. I never rightly understood before why she came, but I see it now. Poor mother! She saw the pale face, she knew how tired He must be; and He has had nothing to eat, and so she desired to speak with Him; but He was not to be hindered in His work, and so the day is passed in unremitting toil, until at last His condition became such as to suggest that strong arms support Him down to the ship, and the moment He is laid upon the deck, and His head touches the hard coil of ropes which is His pillow, He is fast asleep. Perhaps you have never thought of Christ being worn out with hard work. There is a kind of notion that He renewed His bodily strength from the springs of His Divinity. No, no; that is one of the temptations of the devil that Jesus Christ had always to withstand. If the devil could only have persuaded the Master to have met him as the Son of God there would have been no shame in his defeat; but to meet and conquer him as Man, as bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, that was the triumph of Christ. And so Jesus knew what it was to be utterly worn out. You sometimes have spent the day in work, so hard that you have hardly been able to drag one foot after another. Well, to-night you think to yourself, "Blessed Lord, I never thought before I had so much of Thy sympathy. I never knew before that Thou couldst say to me, 'I know all about it; I too have been worn out.'" There may be some mother here whose rest is often broken at night, whose day is filled with dreary toil until the brain throbs and the blood is as fire. Ah! Jesus can come to thee and say, " Dear heart, I know what it is. I, too, have been utterly spent." He is asleep on the deck of the ship. Come and gaze upon Him yet again. Are you troubled with sleeplessness, sir? I do not mean under a sermon, but at night when you go to rest? I am told it is an increasing complaint, and I know there are a great many remedies, some of them worse than the disease; but here is one which the Master Himself used. Why does He sleep so soundly? I pray you try His remedy — get thoroughly worn out in doing good. The next time, sir, that you cannot sleep, just you try the remedy. Call on that poor old man whom you know, who seemed ill when you saw him last, and whose rent you think is not paid; sit and talk and pray with him, and when you leave, give him five shillings, for advice gratis is not worth much, and if at night you do not sleep you shall have sweeter dreams, perchance, than those who do. The Master sleeps. We talk about the sleep of the just. There were only two men who ever slept the sleep of the just — Adam and Jesus Christ. We hear in poetry of infant slumbers, pure and light; but some of you mothers know that the little ones sometimes awake with shrieks and cries from fevered dreams. No, no; there were only two sleeps which were the sleep of the just, and what a contrast between them I See where God has cast the deep sleep upon Adam. Was there ever such a resting place? The mossy bank whereon he lies; trees that bend lovingly over him as if to screen him; winds that are hushed lest they disturb his rest; the birds trilling forth their sweetest songs, as if to mingle with his dreams; the flowers that pour their fragrance round about him — these were the surroundings of Adam; but look, I pray you, at the rude discomforts of my Lord. We have heard of the plank bed, and our heart has gone out in indignation as well as in pity on that matter, but here is the plank bed of our Master, How little Thou didst know of luxury and comfort! You poor folks, take this to your heart: you can say this, "Well, I know that Jesus Christ knows more about my lot than the rich folks." Oh, if I had had the ordering of that night, how different it would have been I Instead of the thin dress of the Galilean peasant, how I would have wrapped Him in robes so warm, how soft would have been His couch! I would have had the heavens hung with gold and crimson to curtain the couch of my Lord, and I would have charged the winds to sink down behind the purple hills lest they should ruffle with a breath the glassy surface of the lake that bore upon its bosom my sleeping Master. But it may not be. The wind is veering to the south-west, and there is going to be a dirty night. How the waves leap up and how the wind whistles and howls! Exactly. Think you that Christ is a fair-weather sailor? Think you that my Lord comes to see us only when we are in port, or to say "good-bye" when we weigh anchor and set out upon the voyage? Oh, no I that is not my Christ. My Christ never says "goodbye." He says, "Soul, I am going with thee." "But, Master, it is going to be a very dirty night." "Very well; if it is to be rough for thee, it will be rough for Me." I want a Christ to go to sea with me, to take life just as i find it. My Master! Thou art just the very Christ we want. Come, look once more. He is asleep in the hinder part of the ship. Then have I got more than His disciples. I have often said, "How glad would I have been to have looked into Thy face, to have drunk in the sweet music of Thy voice, to have felt the touch of Thine hand, to have had Thy shadow fall upon me, and to have told how I loved Thee." Yes, that would have been much, but I have done more than that. Do you not see how that bodily presence shut Him in and shut them out, made a great gulf between them as black and deep and dark as bell? He sleeps! Oh, how dreadful is the storm! how the waves toss and tumble and roll, and yet He sleeps! Oh, I should not like to have a sleeping Christ! Nay. "He that keepeth Israel doth neither slumber nor sleep." They watch that He may sleep, but my Master watches that I may rest. Now have I more than they. Look again. He is in the hinder part of the ship asleep. Why did He sleep? This was one reason — because He had nothing else to do. Well, I cannot but think that if you wanted to see John at his best it would be when he is running before a gale of wind, and Peter when taking in a reef, and Philip handling an oar. Jesus Christ was a carpenter. He was wonderfully clever at teaching people how to get to heaven, but what could He do on board ship? He could not help them at all, so He went to sleep. Oh, how the wind whistled I how the sea was tossed and tumbled! I seem to hear the hurly-burly of the storm. Here comes a wave leaping higher and higher, as if impatient for its prey, and His disciples would fain call upon Him to awake. Ah, how instinctively the heart turns to Jesus when trouble comes I I think nothing grieves Jesus Christ more than that we should keep Him out of the management of things. As soon as ever they get ashore I think I know what Peter said to his fellows. He would take them aside and say: "I have been thinking about last night, and I will tell you what I should like to do." "What is that?" says John. "Let us make Him Captain. You see we can take in a reef, He can quiet the waves; we can put the helm up, He can hush the winds. Master, come, be Captain; just tell us how to put the craft about; take the helm." Oh, blessed be His name! He does so love us when He can take the management. Dear friends, it hurts Jesus Christ when we shut Him out. Mother, there are those boys of thine. You have often asked the Lord to bless and save their souls, but thou art worrying thyself about what they are going to do in life. The Lord Jesus Christ knows how to help them a great deal better than thou dost. Ask Him to come in and guide thee and them. Sir, thy Master understands your business better than thou dost. Make Him the head of the firm, and say "Come in." I remember I had, some years ago, to preach a sermon, and two or three venerable doctors of Divinity were going to be present. Through thinking about them, perhaps, more than the sermon I began to get rather nervous. While I was sitting in my study working at the text, "Cast all thy care upon Him," and getting down very deep — I used to be lather an eloquent preacher, but, thank God! that has gone — all of a sudden, in the midst of my profound philosophical discourse, the door was burst open, and, looking up, I was about to say, "Now run away," but the father was a great deal stronger than the philosopher, and the words died away on my lips, for there stood a little three-year-old, with chubby cheeks, holding in her hand a broken toy, the face a picture of great sorrow, the lip quivering, the tears running down her cheeks, and the hands holding out the broken doll. And what think you I did? Why, thrust aside my philosophical discourse, and said, "Come here, little one; what is the matter?" The child's grief was too deep for words; she could only hold up the broken toy and give a great sob, which told its own story. I said, "I think we can manage this," and the philosophical discourse was forgotten, and I got. the gum bottle, and when I had restored the plaything, and put it in her arms again, I felt that I had my reward. The tears were dried up, and the sunshine came back to the little face, and, lifting herself on tiptoe, she paid me with a kiss, and then another, and then she trotted away, and at the door she turned to look back and nod her head and let me see her thanks again. I tore up my philosophical discourse, and I said I will go down and tell the people that we are just poor little children, and that our griefs are broken toys, and that our Lord hath joy in stooping down and taking into His hand our poor little sorrows, and healing them and wiping our tears away, and watching the sunshine come back again. Oh, how sorry Jesus is when you shut Him out, when you do not open the door to Him! Oh, I beseech you take Him as your Captain, let Him take the helm, and say to Him, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" He sleeps. I can fancy John saying, "I wonder He can sleep on such a night as this." "Yes," says Peter; "we can hardly hear each other speak for the noise." Oh, how the wind howls, how the poor craft staggers and strains — now climbing the crest of a wave, now deep down in the trough of the seal "I wonder the Master can sleep — how tired He must be! Master, awake!" Ah! He was wide awake then. His was a mother's love, not a father's love. Your Father can sleep in a thunderstorm, you can sleep whether south-west wind moans and howls about the house, and when the waggons go rumbling along on their way to the market, but let the little one at mother's side just make the feeblest beginning of a cry, and she is awakened in an instant. You, sir, sleep for ten minutes afterwards by the clock, you know you do. My Lord's love — oh, it is the daintiest and most delicate thing upon the face of the earth! The love that Jesus Christ hath for us is a mother's love; we have never to speak twice before He hears. The first time He is awake and listening, and there is a great calm.
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