It had been a busy day in the life of our Lord. For many hours He had been teaching on the shore of the lake, and the multitude which gathered to hear Him was so great that He had at last stepped into a little boat, and making that His pulpit, had spoken from it to the crowds which lined the beach. Parable after parable of extra ordinary beauty and power had fallen from His lips. No doubt, in the course of the day He had wrought many miracles of healing. At last, toward evening, He said to His disciples, "Let us cross over to the other side."Accordingly they dis missed the multitude, took Him as He was in their small fishing-boat, and accompanied by many other boats of the same kind, set sail to cross the lake. It was only some six miles wide, and in an hour or so they should easily have reached its eastern shore. But a sudden squall came up, with the rapidity and violence with which such changes in the weather often occur on lakes that are embosomed in the hills. The skies grew dark, the waters be came boisterous, the boat became unmanageable; it was rapidly filling, and seemed to be on the point of going down. And Jesus was asleep.
It was the sleep of weariness. He was a man, and like many another man was tired out with His long day's work. The physical limitations and , infirmities with which we are all acquainted, were no less familiar to Him. He was exhausted by the mental tension and strain, involved in continuous teaching during so many hours. Not without a conscious drain upon His physical strength, as other circumstances indicate, did He perform His miraculous cures. And heavier still was the burden of sympathy resting upon His heart, as He observed the sad spiritual state of the men and women around Him, whom He compared to sheep without a shepherd, to lost children who had wandered far from their Father's house. It evi dently cost Him something, more, doubtless, than we always realize, to do His daily work; and greater far than the physical fatigue or the mental effort involved in it, must have been the stress of feeling under which He lived, through all His public ministry. He must indeed have been thoroughly worn out, to have been able to sleep in such a storm.
It was also the sleep of innocence. In such an hour of obvious peril, one who is troubled by a guilty conscience cannot sleep. Have you never gone to your rest, when the day's work was done and everything was quiet around you, and then been kept wide awake, hour after hour, by thoughts of the mistakes you had made, or the sins you had committed during the day? Have you not some times even been roused out of a restful slumber by the memory of some act of 'folly or of wickedness, which you perpetrated many days or weeks or years ago, and found yourself unable to expel it from your thoughts and go quietly to sleep again? Have you never lain awake through some wild night at sea, when the great, strong ship was roll ing heavily in the tumultuous waves, and wondered what would become of you, if anything should give way and the brave vessel should go down? Jesus never made a mistake. He never committed a sin. He never neglected or turned aside from a duty. There was nothing to cause Him self-re proach, His conscience was always perfectly clear. And therefore He could sleep even amidst the fury of the storm.
And then again, it was the sleep of confidence. Who of us has not seen a little child falling asleep in the arms of its mother, with a look of perfect content and perfect trust on its pure face, lifting its little hands in a silent caress as the eyelids closed, and then resting, no matter what turmoil or peril might surround it, without a motion or a sound, absolutely secure, absolutely peaceful? So Jesus slept, on that stormy night, in the open boat, amid the howling waters, under the pelting rain, no doubt, and through the wild raging of the wind, trustfully confiding in His Father's care.
Now look at the disciples. They were not asleep. They had no business to be asleep. They were toiling with all their might. They were stoutly battling against wind and sea, striving to keep their little boat from being driven from its course or capsized or carried down. But they were terribly frightened; and the whole story shows that they had good reason to be They were not timid men. They were not unused to such an experience. They were stout and hardy fishermen. They had lived for years on these treacherous waters. They had been caught before in many a storm. But never, it would seem, had they felt themselves to be in greater peril. They had done all that strong men could do, but they evidently thought that their last hour had come. They were looking death directly in the face. And then it occurred to them to do what we cannot help wondering that they had not done before, - it occurred to them to wake the Master. But they awoke Him with a strange ques tion. They did not call upon Him to prepare to die, or if possible to try to save Himself. They asked Him, reproachfully, almost angrily, as it would seem, "Carest Thou not that we perish?" The answer of Jesus was still more surprising."Where is your faith?"He said, or, as another account of the incident reads, "How is it that ye have no faith?"That, then, was the trouble. They had skill enough, they had strength enough, they had courage enough, but they ought to have had more confidence, not in Him only, but in God. Even at that moment of excitement and danger, they ought to have remembered that they were in no real danger. They should have re membered that it could not be God's will that He and they should perish on that stormy night, in the dark waters of the Lake of Galilee. It was not for this that He had come into the world, leav ing His heavenly glory and entering into human life. It was not for this that He had undertaken the work which His Father had given Him to do. It was not for this that He had called them to be come His disciples, and had begun to train them also for their work. So long as that work was un finished, they were safe. They ought to have known that God would preserve them amidst all such dangers as those which now threatened them, until it was accomplished. If their address to Him was reproachful, His reply to it was much more so, and with far better reason. Their abject terror was due to their lack of faith, not in them selves, but in Him, and in God who had sent Him. It was due to the fact that they had not yet grasped, as they ought to have done, and as they did afterward, the nature of His mission, that they did not appreciate the importance of His work, that they did not remember that no accident can ever arrest the plans of God, or imperil the lives of those to whose care they are entrusted. It was early in their intercourse with Jesus that this inci dent occurred, and it is not perhaps surprising that they had not yet learned to trust Him with that entire confidence which they afterward acquired, or to trust in God with that entire self-surrender and composure of which He gave them so sublime an example. But it was of the utmost importance that they should learn this lesson, and that was, no doubt, the simple reason why this fierce storm was let loose upon them, and they were made to feel that there was nothing else for them to do but trust in God. Then the stars shone out once more, and all was safe and quiet. When the thrilling expe rience had done its work, the winds might be locked up again in the caverns of the hills by the word of His power, and a great calm be spread over land and sea.
And yet you will observe that the anxious and toil-worn disciples were not wholly without faith. They had faith enough to go to Christ and ask His help. And it is a striking evidence of the extent to which they had already learned to confide in His supernatural power. So far as the narrative shows, they had yet seen no miracle like that which they were soon to witness. They had seen Him change the water into wine, they had seen Him heal with a word or a touch many forms of disease; but they had as yet had no proof of His power over the mighty energies of nature, so that even the winds and the waves were obedient to Him. And yet when they found themselves in this des perate peril, they not only woke Him with their cry of distress, but their language, as it is re corded for us, shows their faith that He had the power to save them if He would. How He would manifest that power, of course they did not know, but they had already seen so much of Him that they had come apparently to feel that He could do anything that He might choose to do. And so they went to Him and awoke Him and appealed to Him for help. Faith enough for that they had! And it was not disappointed. He rose from the pillow on which He had been sleeping, and with a majesty which we can perhaps imagine but cannot describe, He rebuked the winds; the waves sub sided, and in a few moments the little boat had reached the land.
Now the lessons which we may learn from this most picturesque and striking incident are obvious enough, but it is good for us to set them frequently and distinctly before our minds. What then took place on the sea of Tiberias, has often been re peated in the history of Christ's people. Life is not all plain sailing, over smooth waters, under cloudless skies. Far from it. There are none of us over whom storms do not sometimes gather, none of us who do not sometimes find ourselves rudely tossed on troubled waves. We are battling, perhaps, against what we call adverse circumstances. The outward conditions of our life are such as to hinder us from doing what we would, as to con demn us to exhausting and apparently vain exer tions, as to imperil our success and perhaps our safety. We have to struggle against poverty, for example, against the disadvantages of early life, against repeated disappointment, against ill health, against bereavement and sorrow, against the op position or the indifference or the treachery of our fellow-men. Year by year, it may be, we have kept up the strenuous but ill-rewarded struggle, and whichever way we have turned we have found our selves baffled and beaten back, until heart and hope have almost gone out of us. The mighty and un governed forces of life seem to have us at their mercy; and it looks as if the waves would close over us before very long, and we should simply disappear and be forgotten. On the broad and stormy sea of life how many little boats, freighted with eager hopes and high ambitions and vast pos sibilities of activity and happiness, are driving or drifting helplessly along, out of their true course, under no firm control, at the mercy of the waves, and ready to perish Or again, the turmoil and the peril are not with out but within. They do not arise from the cir cumstances in which we are placed, or the condi tions in which we are living; but we are buffeted by doubts and fears; we are driven on by uncontrolla ble passions; our own consciences have made cow ards of us and robbed us of our moral strength. Truths which once shone like clear stars upon our minds, are now hidden by clouds of uncertainty or unbelief. We have lost our reckoning. We have been driven out of our course. Chart and compass have been lost, or have become useless. We are stagger ing on blindly and helplessly, and nothing short of a miracle can save us from making shipwreck of our faith, perhaps even of our characters and lives. You know what I mean. You have yourselves, very likely, passed through such experiences. Some of you may perhaps be in this sad case to day, or, if you are not, many other people are. It is not an unusual thing, even in these days of light and peace and prosperity and progress, for a human soul, even for a Christian soul, to be in as desperate a plight as the disciples in that little Galilean fish ing-boat in which Jesus lay asleep.
And so too it often has been with the Church. The Christian Church, which has since grown to such vast proportions, which has accomplished such a marvelous work, with which the hopes of humanity for the future are so closely identified - it was all in that boat, on that critical night, with Jesus and His friends. We sometimes say, and say truly, that the destinies of half the human race were in the little caravel which brought Columbus to the shores of the new world. We say that the germs of the great republic, which seems, whether we will or not, likely to expand into a great empire, not merely controlling this continent, but making its in fluence felt all over the world, were in the little cabin of the Mayflower, as it lay, after its rough wintry voyage, in the ice-bound harbor Plymouth. If so, what vastly greater interests were at stake when the little bark that carried the Christ and His chosen disciples was caught in the sudden storm, half-way across the lake of Galilee! And if the Church of God, freighted with such incal culable blessings for the human race, escaped that peril, it was only to meet many another not less critical, from which only the power of God Him self has seemed able to save it. It has been threatened by the ever-repeated assaults of unbe lief in a thousand different forms. It has seemed more than once on the point of being crushed by a hostile secular power. It has been the prey of in ternal corruption; it has been disturbed and rent asunder by the dissensions of its own members, who instead of joining hands in the endeavor to advance its influence in the world, have turned upon each other in the spirit of jealousy and hatred.
And more than all, it has in every age, and never more than at the present moment, been in danger of becoming engulfed in the swelling floods of worldliness, by which it is surrounded. And it is no new thing for those who love the Church of Christ, who believe that the truth is committed to its keeping, that the most precious interests, not of individual souls only but of human civilization, depend upon its purity and permanence and prog ress, that God has designed it and intends to use it for the final and complete redemption of man kind - I say it is not an unusual thing for us to be from time to time discouraged and dismayed in view of the perils by which the Church is threat ened. It does not seem possible for it to stand up against its external and its internal enemies. It seems as if it must be, if not shattered by the as saults of unbelief, at least weakened and disin tegrated by the insidious power of error and of worldliness, until at last it goes to pieces like some stout ship which the sea has finally conquered and carried down into its dark and silent depths.
Now if ever we find ourselves in such a case, or if we are troubled by anxieties like these in regard to the future of the Church, it is well for us to re member two or three things which the incident be fore us distinctly and forcibly suggests. One of them is that every life is safe which has Jesus in it. And it is your privilege and mine so to associate ourselves with Him that His life and ours are really one life, and that each of us may say, as St. Paul said, live, yet not I, but Christ is living in me."We cannot invite Him as a visible presence into our homes, we cannot take Him as a compan ion with us on our journeys, but we may make a home for Him in our hearts, so that wherever we may be, He shall truly and always be with us.
No one can read, I think, this story, without understanding what He meant when He said to His disciples, "It is expedient for you that I should go away;" - without realizing the gain to them, and to us also, which comes from the fact that He is with His people now as a spiritual presence in their thoughts and hearts and lives. Such a dreadful possibility as that which then presented itself to their minds - that they and He might perish to gether - is no longer even conceivable. Our com panionship with Him is not affected by the acci dents of life. It is no more a question, whether or not He will go before us or with us, or whether we shall go with Him or without Him, along our earthly journey. He has come to be, if I may so express it, a part of us, and we can no more be separated from Him than we can be separated from ourselves. He it is whose thought is moulding and inspiring ours, whose spirit is animating and governing ours, who, as a divine energy within us, is directing our conduct, and forming our charac ters, and controlling our lives. And out of the great and blessed fact that because we have given ourselves to Him He has taken such possession of us, comes our assurance of safety amidst all the emergencies and perils of life. No real evil can befall us if we abide in this relation to Him. For He has the power, as He has certainly the will, to turn all apparent evil into good. We may have to toil and suffer, we may be almost overwhelmed by disappointment, our plans may be shattered, our hopes may be quenched, we may feel that we are accomplishing nothing, it may seem as if the battle of life were going against us, and as if neither our own best aspirations nor the promises of God were to be fulfilled. But it is not so. If Christ is in our hearts and in our lives, ruling them, moulding them, and working in and through them His own will, then we are perfectly safe. Let the storm rage, let the sea toss us in its mighty arms, let the cloud wrack blot the sun and stars out of the sky, we will not complain, we will not fear! We are Christ's and He is ours. He is with us, and noth ing can harm us. What are winds and waves to Him who made them, who holds them as in the hollow of His hand, who rouses them as He listeth, and who says to them, "Peace, be still!" Here too is the safety of the Church. Not in its numbers or its wealth or its social prestige; not in the antiquity or the accuracy of its symbols; not in the friendship or the honor of the world; it is in the fact that the Spirit of Jesus Christ is in it. It is bearing Him, so to speak, across the floods of time. Not as a lovely memory, not as a rare ideal, not as a form once living but now dead, embalmed in the fragrance of a loving but vain devotion; not thus, but as a vital, vivifying, energizing power, is Christ present in His Church. He has been in it from the beginning. He is in it still. And that is what has saved it in all the stormy scenes through which it has passed. That is what will save it in all the time to come. Where is your faith, 0 you who think that the Church is decaying, that the gospel is losing its power, that the time is coming when Christianity will be thrown up with other wrecked religions on the shore, while men go sail ing proudly forth into new and vaster seas of thought? Where is your faith in Him who said, "Lo! I am with you always, therefore go and teach the nations"? Not until that promise fails, not until the power which subdued the angry sea is itself conquered by some greater power, can the gospel lose its vitality, or the Church be arrested in its mighty career.
And Jesus is not now asleep. It sometimes seems as if He were. No doubt it has often seemed so to us, when the waves and billows of some ter rible experience were rolling over us, when our prayers seemed to be unheard, when the help we needed did not come, when all was dark within as well as round about us, and our faith in God and man was on the point of giving way. It has seemed to us, possibly, as if Jesus must be asleep, when His Church has been rent by warring fac tions, or dishonored by the scandalous conduct of its members, or transformed into a haughty and ambitious hierarchy, or invaded and benumbed by the spirit of the world. We have remembered the bitter taunt flung by Elijah at the priests of Baal, and have felt as if the enemies of our divine Lord might almost address it to us:"Cry aloud! for he is a god. Either he is talking, or he is pur suing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awakened"It is hard to believe that He is calmly looking on while some things that we observe from day to day are taking place on earth; that He knows what His people are suffering; that He knows to what His Church is exposed. And there are those who honestly think that He is asleep. There are those who do not hesitate to say that He has never wakened out of that deep slumber into which He fell, when the noonday darkness gathered over Him and He ceased to speak and move. In musical but mourn ful verse they sing: Now He is dead! Far hence He lies In the lorn Syrian town; And on His grave, with shining eyes, The Syrian stars look down.
No, He is neither dead nor sleeping! In spite of everything which may cast a momentary doubt upon His power to do anything now for the Church or for the world, Christendom still bears witness to the fact that He is living; the Church itself bears witness to the fact of His continuing union with it. The inmost consciousness of millions of believing and adoring hearts bears witness to His indwelling presence. He is living, not in heaven only, but here in the midst of us on earth. And He is ever ready to work, He is ever actually working, for the defence, the deliverance, and the consolation of those who trust and serve Him, and for the ad vancement of His kingdom toward its final tri umph.
It is never possible, in any given emergency, either in our personal experience or in the life of the Church, to know when or how He will manifest His power. But we may always be sure of this, that the more critical the emergency, the more im minent the peril, so much the more certain is He to make it an occasion for some signal revelation of His glory. So it has been a thousand times since He rose from His sleep at the cry of His dis ciples and hushed the tempest with a word. What they expected Him to do when they awoke Him, we cannot imagine. They could not probably themselves have said. Doubtless the very last thing which they looked for, was the thing that happened. Never since the world began had the waters and the winds listened to a human voice and ceased their raging because it commanded them to be still. But so it was that He who showed His need of sleep after a day of toil, showed also His possession of a power to which nothing, absolutely, was impossible. And we have a perfect right to believe that when we are in the very direst straits and the very deadliest peril, we have then most reason to expect the pity and the help of Christ. We ought long ago to have learned that what is not only improbable but impossible for us, is perfectly easy for Him. There is no danger from which He cannot rescue us, there is no sor row in which He cannot comfort us, there is no burden which He cannot enable us to bear, there is no duty which we cannot do with His aid. It does not make the slightest difference how great our need is, He can supply it; it does not make the slightest difference how great our prayer is, He can answer it."All power, "He said, "in heaven and on earth, is given unto Me, "and therefore we may trust Him absolutely and always.
And so it follows that no Christian should ever be afraid of anything. I do not mean, of course, that there are any of us to whom trial and suffering will not come. I do not mean that we shall not meet with many a loss, with many a disaster, or that we shall not by and by be called to part with life itself. Christ does not always rebuke the storm. He sometimes lets it rage in all its fury. But He enables us to ride it out in safety. Or if, as sometimes happens, He lets us go down under it, He transforms even that mysterious experience into a blessing. He leads us, not merely under the cloud, but through it, not merely over the sea, but through it, very often; but He brings us, or will bring us by and by, in safety to the heavenly land. Dropping all figures of speech: nothing can harm any one who is a true follower of Christ. No evil, however great, however real, can befall him, which will not prove a source of good. That is His promise, and those who have believed it, have al ways found it fulfilled. Not here on earth, neces sarily, but somewhere in the vast realms of life ap pointed for us, His discipline of our characters will bear its golden fruit. Defeat will be turned into triumph, sorrow into joy, disappointment and dis aster into an eternal weight of glory.
So, then, if any of us are in trouble, we may well do as the disciples did - go to Jesus for help. Stand up bravely to your work, as they did, how ever laborious and perilous it may be, as long as you can. Do not give up the ship, though it may seem as if you must soon be washed out of it, or as if you and it must ere long go down together. Work and pray at the same time, but never give up your faith in God, in Christ, in the divine wis dom, power, and love. It is not very much to be wondered at that our faith sometimes fails us in the crises of life, yet these are the times when we need it most, and these are the times that it is meant for. I am almost tempted to say that we can get along without it when everything goes well with us; but when everything is going against us, and when nothing else is left to us, then it is that faith, blind, unreasoning, if you will have it so, but un wavering and unconquerable, is an unspeakable solace and support.
And lastly, if you have faith enough at such a time to lead you to go to Christ, you have faith enough; not all that you desire, perhaps, nor all that you have prayed for, nor all that you have ex pected God to give you. But you have enough to save you from your troubles, from your fears, from your perils, from your sins even, because it is not your faith, it is always Christ that saves; and if you will only go to Him and ask His pity, pardon, and help, you will have a clearer, stronger and more jubilant faith in Him as time goes on. For He will surely strengthen as well as reward it. All that we need is simply to trust Him, and then to let Him do with us and for us what He will.
Carest Thou not that we perish?"cried the alarmed disciples. 0 who in all the universe cares so much that we should not perish, as He who so loved us that He died for us, who watches over us unceasingly, who is always seeking to bind us more closely to Himself, and who, when the voyage of this life is over, will surely land us on the celestial shore?