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thus thou thinkst fit to do still. We are by turns in our sea; the winds bluster, the billows swell, the night and thy absence heighten our discomfort; thy time and ours is set: as yet it is but midnight with us, can we but hold out patiently till the fourth watch, thou wilt surely come and rescue us.
0. let us not faint under our sorrows, but wear out our three watches of tribulation, with undaunted patience and holy resolution.
O Saviour, our extremities are the seasons of thine aid. Thou camest at last, but yet so as that there was more dread than joy in thy presence: thy coming was boih miraculous and frightful.
Thou, God of elements, passedst through the air, walkedst upon the waters. Whether thou meantest to terminate this miracle in thy body, or in the waves which thou trodst upon, whether so lightening the one, that it should inake no impression in the liquid waters, or whether so consolidating the other, that the pavemented waves yielded a firm causeway to thy sacred feet to walk on, I neither determine nor enquire; thy silence ruleth mine: thy power was in either miraculous, neither know I in whether to adore it more. But withal, give me leave to wonder more at thy passage than at thy coming Wherefore camest thou but to comfort them? and wherefore then wouldst thou pass by them, as if thou hadst intended nothing but their dismayThine absence could not be so grievous as thy preterition; that might seem justly occasioned, this could not but seem willingly neglective. Our last conflicts have wont ever to be the sorest; as when after some dropping rain it pours most vehemently, we think the weather is changing to serenity.
O Saviour, we may not always measure thy meaning by thy semblance; sometimes what thou most intendest, thou shewest least. In our afflictions thou turnest thy baek upon us, and hidest thy face from us, when thou most mindest our distresses. So Jonathan shot the arrows beyond David, when he meant them to him. So Joseph calls for Benjamin into bonds, when his heart was bound to him in the strongest affection. So the tender mother makes as if she would give away her crying child, whom she hugs so much closer in her bosom.
If thou pass by us while we are struggling with the tempest, we know it is not for want of mercy. Thou canst not neglect us: O let us not distrust thee! What object should have been so pleasing to the eyes
the disciples as their Master, and so much the more as he shewed his divine power in this miraculous walk? but lo, coutrarily, “they are troubled;” not with his presence, but with this form of presence.
The supernatural works of God, when we look upon them with our own eyes, are subject to a dangerous misprision. The very sunbeams, to whom we are beholden for our sight, if we eye them directly, blind us. Miserable inen! we are ready to suspect truths, to run away from our safety, to be afraid of our comforts, to misknow our best friends.
And why are they thus troubled ? They had thought they had seen a spirit.” That there have been such apparitions of spirits, both good and evil, hath ever been a truth undoubtedly received of Pagans, Jews, Christians; although in the blind times of superstition, there was much collusion mixed with some verities; crafty men, and lying spirits, agreed to abuse the credulous world ; but even where there was not truth, yet there was horror. The very good angels were not seen without much fear; their sight was construed to bode death, how much more the evil, which in their very nature are harmful and pernicious! we see not a snake or a toad, without some recoiling of blood, and some sensible reluctation, although those creatures run away from us : how much more must our hairs stand upright, and our senses boil, at the sight of a spirit, whose both nature and will is contrary to ours, and professedly bent to our hurt!
But say it had been what they mistook it for, a spirit, why should they fear? Had they well considered, they had soon found, that evil spirits are nevertheless present when they are not seen, and nevertheless harmful or malicious when they are present unseen. Visibility adds nothing to their spite or inischief: and could their eyes have been opened, they had, with Elisha's servant, seen “more with them than against them;" a sure, though invisible guard of more powerful spirits, and themselves under the protection of the God of spirits : so as they might have bidden a bold defiance to all the powers of darkness. But, partly their faith was yet but in the bud, and partly the presentation of this dreadful object was sudden, and without the respite of a recollection, and settlement of their thoughts.
O the weakness of our frail nature, who, in the want of faith, are affrighted with the visible appearance of those adversaries whom we profess daily to resist and vanquish, and with whom we know the decree of God hath matched us in an everlasting conflict! Are not these they that eject devils by their command ? are not these of them that could say, “Master, the evil spirits are subdued to us?" Yet now, when they see but an imagined spirit, they fear. What power there is in the eye to betray the heart !
While Goliah was mingled with the rest of the Philistine host, Israel camped boldly against them; but when that giant stalks out single between the two armies, and fills and amazes their eyes with his hideous stature, now they run away for fear. Behold, we are committed with legions of evil spirits, and complain not: let but one of them give us some visible token of his presence, we shriek and treinble, and are not ourselves.
Neither is our weakness more conspicuous than thy inercy, O God, in restraining these spiritual enemies from these dreadful and ghastly representations of themselves to our eyes. Might those infernal spirits have liberty to appear, how and when, and to whom they would, certainly not many would be left in their wits, or in their lives. It is thy power and goodness to frail mankind, that they are kept in their chains, and reserved in the darkness of their own spiritual being, that we may both oppugn and subdue them unseen.
But, О the deplorable condition of reprobate souls! if but the imagined sight of one of these spirits of darkness can so daunt the heart of those wbich are free from their power, what a terror shall it be to live perpetually in the sight, yea under the torture, of thousands, of legions, of millions of devils! O the madness of wilful sinners, that will needs run themselves headily into so dreadful a daination!
It was high time for our Saviour to speak : what with the tempest, what with the apparition, the disciples were almost lost with fear. How seasonable are his gracious addresses ! till they were thus affrighted he would not speak, when they were thus affrighted he would not bold his peace. If his presence were fearful, yet his word was comfortable; “Be of good cheer, it is I:” yea, it is his word only which must make bis presence both known and comfortable. He was present before: they mistook him and feared: there needs no other erection of their drooping hearts, but “ It is I.” It is cordial enough to us, in the worst of our afflictions, to be assured of
Christ's presence with us. Say but, “It is I,” O Saviour, and let devils do their worst; thou needst not say any more. Thy voice was evidence enough; so well were thy disciples acquainted with the tongue of thee their Master, that, “ It is I,” was as much as an hundred names. Thou art the good Shepherd'; we are not of thy flock, if we know thee not by, thy voice from a thousand. Even this one is a great word, yea, an ample style, “ It is I.” The same tongue that said to Moses, “I am hath sent thee,” saith now to the disciples, “ It is I;" I your Lord and Master, I the Commander of wind and waters, I the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, I the God of spirits. Let heaven be but as one scroll, and let it be written all over with titles, they cannot express more than, “ It is I.” O sweet and seasonable word of a gracious Saviour, able to calm all tempests, able to revive all hearts ! Say but so to my soul, and in spite of hell, I am safe.
No sooner hath Jesus said, I; than Peter answers, Master. He can instantly name him that did not name himself. Every little hint is enough to faith. The church sees her beloved as well through the lattice, as through the open window, Which of all the followers of Christ gave such pregnant testimonies, upon all occasions, of his faith, of his love to his Master, as Peter? the rest were silent, wbile he both owned bis Master, and craved access to him in that liquid way: Yet what a sensible mixture is here of faith and distrust! It is faith that said, Master; it was distrust, as some have construed it, said, “ If it be thou.” It was faith that said, “ Bid me come to thee,” (implying that his word could as well enable as command ;) it was faith that durst step down upon that watery pavement; it was distrust that, upon the sight of a mighty wind, feared: it was faith, that he walked ; it was distrust that he sunk; it was faith that said, “Lord, save me.” O the imperfect composition of the best şaint upon earth, as far from pure faith, as from mere infidelity! If there be pure earth in the centre, all upward is mixed with the other elements : contrarily, pure grace is above in the glorified spirits; all below is mixed with infirmity, with corruption. Our best is but as the air, which never was, never can be at once fully enlightened ; neither is there in the same region one constant state of light. It shall once be noon with us, when we shall have nothing but bright beams of glory: now it is but the dawning, wherein it is hard to say
whether there be more light than darkness. We are now fair as the moon, which hath some spots in her greatest beauty; we shall be pure as the sun whose face is all bright and glorious. Ever since the time that Adam set his tooth in the apple, till our inouth be full of mould, it never was, it never can be other with us. Far be it from us to settle willingly upon the dregs of our infidelity; far be it from us to be disheartened with the sense of our defects and imperfections: “We believe, Lord, help our unbelief.”
While I find some disputing the lawfulness of Peter's suit, others quarrelling his “If it be thou,” let me be taken up with wonder at the faith, the fervour, the heroical valour of this prime apostle, that durst say, “ Bid me come to thee upon the waters." He might have suspected, that the voice of his Master might have been as easily imitated by that imagined spirit as his person ; he might have feared the blustering tempest
, the threatening billows, the yielding nature of that devouring element: but, as despising all these thoughts of misdoubt, such is his desire to be near his Master, that he
says, “ Bid me come to thee upon the waters :" he says not, Come thou to me; this had been Christ's act, and not his. Neither doth he say, Let me come to thee: this had been his act, and not Christ's. Neither doth he say, Pray that I may come to thee, as if this act had been out of the power of either : but, “ Bid me come to thee." I know thou canst command both the waves and me; me to be so light, that I shall not bruise the moist surface of the waves; the waves to be so solid, that they shall not yield to my weight. "All things obey thee: Bid me come to thee upon the waters."
It was a bold spirit that could wish it, more bold that could act it. No sooner hath our Saviour said, Come,” than he sets his foot upon the unquiet sea, not fearing either the softness or the roughness of that uncouth passage. We are wont to wonder at the courage of that daring man who first committed himself to the sea is a frail bark, though he had the strength of an oaken plank to secure him; how valiant must we needs grant him to be, that durst set bis foot upon the bare sea, and shift his paces! Well did Peter know, that he, who bade him, could uphold him: and therefore he both sues to be bidden, and ventures to be opholden. True faith tasks itself with difficulties, neither can be dis