SERMONS ON SELECTED LESSONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

SERMON XXV.

[LXXV. BEN.]

ON THE WORDS OF THE GOSPEL, MATT. XIV. 24, " BUT THE BOAT WAS NOW IN THE MIDST OF THE SEA, DISTRESSED BY THE WAVES."

1. THE lesson of the Gospel which we have just heard is a lesson of humility to us all, that we may see and know where we are, and whither we must tend and hasten. For that ship which carries the disciples, which was tossed in the waves by a contrary wind, is not without its meaning. Nor without a meaning(1) did the Lord after He had left the multitudes, go up into a mountain to pray alone; and then coming to His disciples found them in danger, walking on the sea, and getting up into the ship strengthened them, and appeased the waves. But what marvel if He can appease all things who created all? Nevertheless after He was come up into the ship, they who were being borne in her, came saying, "Of a truth Thou art the Son of God."(2) But before this plain discovery of Himself(3) they were troubled, saying, "It is a phantom.(4) But He coming up into the ship took away the fluctuation of mind from their hearts, when they were now more endangered in their souls by doubting, than before in their bodies by the waves.

2. Yet in all this that the Lord did, He instructs us as to the nature of our life here. In this world there is not a man who is not a stranger; though all do not desire to return to their own country. Now by this very journey we are exposed to waves and tempests; but we must needs be at least in the ship. For if there be perils in the ship, without the ship there is certain destruction. For whatever strength of arm he may have who swims in the open sea, yet in time he is carried away and sunk, mastered by the greatness of its waves. Need then there is that we be in the ship, that is, that we be carried in the wood, that we may be able to cross this sea. Now this Wood in which our weakness is carried is the Cross of the Lord, by which we are signed, and delivered from the dangerous tempests s of this world. We are exposed to the violence of the waves; but He who helpeth us is God.

3. For in that when the Lord had left the multitudes, "He went up alone into a mountain to pray;"(6) that mountain signifies the height of heaven. For having left the multitudes, the Lord after His Resurrection ascended Alone into heaven, and "there," as the Apostle says, "He maketh intercession for us."(7) There is some meaning then in His "leaving the multitudes, and going up into a mountain to pray Alone." For He Alone is as yet the First-begotten from the dead, after the resurrection of His Body, unto the right hand of the Father, the High Priest and Advocate of our prayers. The Head of the Church is above, that the rest of the members may follow at the end. If then "He maketh intercession for us," above the height of all creatures, as it were on the mountain top, "He prayeth Alone."

4. Meanwhile the ship which carries the disciples, that is, the Church, is tossed and shaken by the tempests of temptation; and the contrary wind, that is, the devil her adversary, rests not, and strives to hinder her from arriving at rest. But greater is "He who maketh intercession for us." For in this our tossing to and fro in which we toil, He giveth us confidence in coming to us, and strengthening us; only let us not in our trouble throw ourselves out of the ship, and cast ourselves into the sea. For though the ship be in trouble, still it is the ship. She alone carrieth the disciples, and receiveth Christ. There is danger, it is true, in the sea; but without her there is instant perishing. Keep thyself therefore in the ship, and pray to God. For when all counsels fail, when even the rudder is unserviceable, and the very spreading of the sails is rather dangerous than useful, when all human help and strength is gone, there remains only for the sailors the earnest cry of entreaty, and pouring out of prayer to God. He then who grants to sailors to reach the haven, shall He so forsake His own Church, as not to bring it on to rest?

5. Yet, Brethren, this exceeding trouble is not in this ship, save only in the absence of the Lord. What! can he who is in the Church, have his Lord absent from him? When has he his Lord absent from him? When he is overcome by any lust. For as we find it said in a certain place in a figure,(1) "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil:"(2) and this is understood not of this visible sun which holds as it were the zenith of glory among the rest of the visible creation, and which can be seen equally by us and by the beasts; but of that Light which none but the pure hearts of the faithful see; as it is written, "That was the true Light, which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world." (3) For this light of the visible sun "lighteneth" even the minutest and smallest animals. Righteousness then and wisdom is that true light, which the mind ceases to see, when it is overcome by the disordering of anger as by a cloud; and then, as it were, the sun goes down upon a man's wrath. So also in this ship, when Christ is absent, every one is shaken by his own storms, and iniquities, and evil desires. For, for example, the law tells thee, "Thou shall not bear false witness." If thou observe the truth of witness, thou hast light in the soul; but if overcome by the desire of filthy lucre, thou hast determined in thy mind to speak false witness, thou wilt at once begin through Christ's absence to be troubled by the tempest, thou wilt be tossed to and fro by the waves of thy covetousness, thou wilt be endangered by the violent storm of thy lusts, and as it were through Christ's absence be well nigh sunk.

6. What cause of fear is there, lest the ship be diverted from her course, and take a backward direction; which happens when, abandoning the hope of heavenly rewards, desire turneth the helm, and a man is turned to those things which are seen and pass away ! For whosoever is disturbed by the temptations of lusts, and nevertheless still looks into those things which are within, is not so utterly in a desperate state, if he beg pardon for his faults, and exert himself to overCome and surmount the fury of the raging sea. But he who is so turned aside from what he was, as to say in his heart, "God does not see me; for He does not think of me, nor care whether I sin;" he hath turned the helm, borne away by the storm, and driven back to the point he came from. For there are many thoughts in the hearts of men; and when Christ is absent, the ship is tossed by the waves of this world, and by tempests manifold.

7. Now the fourth watch of the night, is the end of the night; for each watch consists of three hours. It signifies then, that now in the end of the world the Lord is come to help, and is seen to walk upon the waters. For though this ship be tossed about by the storms of temptations, yet she sees her Glorified God walking above all the swellings of the sea; that is, above all the principalities of this world. For before it was said by an expression suited to the time of His Passion,(4) when according to the flesh He showed forth an example of humility, that the waves of the sea vainly raged s against Him, to which He yielded voluntarily for our sakes. that that prophecy, "I am come into the depths of the sea, and the floods overflow Me,"(6) might be fulfilled. For He did not repel the false witnesses, nor the savage shout of those that said, "Let Him be crucified." He did not by His power repress the savage hearts and words of those furious men, but in patience endured them all. They did unto Him whatsoever they listed; because He "became obedient to death, even the death of the Cross."(7) But after that He was risen from the dead, that He might pray alone for His disciples placed in the Church as in a ship, and borne on in the faith of His Cross, as in wood, and in peril through this world's temptations as through the waves of the sea; His Name began to be honoured even in this world in which He was despised, accused, and slain; that He who in the dispensation of His suffering in the flesh, "had come into the depths of the sea, and the floods had overwhelmed Him," might now through the glory of His Name tread upon the necks of the proud as on the foaming waters. Just as we now see the Lord walking as it were upon the sea, under whose feet we behold the whole madness of this world subjected.

8. But to the perils of tempests are added also the errors of heretics; and there are not wanting those who so try the minds of them that are in the ship, as to say that Christ(8) was not born of a Virgin, nor had a real body, but seemed to the eyes what He was not. And these opinions of heretics have sprung up now, when the Name of Christ is already glorified throughout all nations; when Christ, that is, is as it were now walking on the sea. The disciples in their trial said, "It is a phantom."(9) But He giveth us strength against these pestilent opinions by His own voice, "Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid."(10) For men in vain fear have conceived these opinions concerning Christ, looking at his Honour and Majesty; and they think that He could not be so born, who hath deserved to be so Glorified, fearing Him as it were "walking on the sea." For by this action the excellency of His honour is figured; and so they think that He was a phantom. But when he saith, "It is I;" what else doth He say but that there is nothing in Him which does not really exist ? Accordingly if He showeth His flesh, it is flesh; if bones, they are bones; if scars, they are scars. For "there was not in Him yea and nay, but in Him was yea,"(1) as the Apostle says. Hence that expression, "Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid." That is, do not so stand in awe of My Majesty, as to wish to take away the reality of My Being from Me. Though I walk upon the sea, though I have under My feet the elation and the pride of this world, as the raging waves, yet have I appeared as very Man, yet does My Gospel proclaim the very truth concerning Me, that I was born of a Virgin, that I am the Word made flesh; that I said truly, "Handle Me, and see, for a spirit hath not bones as ye see Me have,"(2) that they were true impresses of My wounds which the hands of the doubting Apostle handled. And therefore "It is I; be not afraid."

9. But this, that the disciples thought He was a phantom, does not represent these only, does not designate them only who deny that the Lord had human flesh, and who sometimes by their blind perverseness disturb even those who are in the ship; but those also who think that the Lord has in anything spoken falsely, and who do not believe that the things which He has threatened the ungodly will come to pass. As though He were partly true, and partly false, appearing like a phantom in His words, as though He were something which is "yea and nay." But they who understand His voice aright, who saith, "It is I; be not afraid;" believe at once all the words of the Lord, so that as they hope for the rewards He promises, so do they fear the punishments He threatens. For as that is true which He will say to those who are set on the right hand, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;"(3) so is that true, which they on the left hand will hear, "Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his Angels."(4) For this very opinion, by which men think that Christ's threatenings against the unrighteous and the abandoned are not true, has arisen from this, that they see many nations and multitudes innumerable subject to His Name; so that hence Christ appears to them to be a phantom, because He walked upon the sea; that is, He seems to speak falsely in His threats of punishment, because, as it were, He cannot destroy such numberless people who are subject to His Name and honour. But let them hear Him, saying, "It is I;" let them not therefore "be afraid," who believing Christ to be true in all things, not only seek after what He hath promised, but avoid also what He hath threatened; because though He walk upon the sea, that is, though all the nations of men in this world are subject unto Him; yet is He no phantom, and therefore He doth not speak falsely, when He saith, "Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven."(5)

10. What then does Peter's daring to come to Him on the waters also signify? For Peter generally stands for a figure of the Church. What else then do we think is meant by, "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water;"(6) but, Lord, if Thou art true, and in nothing speakest falsely, let Thy Church also be glorified in this world, because prophecy hath proclaimed this concerning Thee. Let her walk then on the waters, and so let her come to Thee, to whom it is said, "The rich among the people shall entreat Thy favour."(7) But since to the Lord the praise of men is no temptation, but men are ofttimes in the Church disordered by human praises and honours, and well nigh sunk by them; therefore did Peter tremble in the sea, terrified at the great violence of the storm. For who does not fear those words, "They who call thee blessed cause thee to err, and disturb the ways of thy feet?"(8) And because the soul hath much wrestling against the eager desire of human praise, good is it in such peril to betake one's self to prayer and earnest entreaty: lest haply he who is charmed with praise, be overwhelmed and sunk by blame. Let Peter cry out as he totters in the water, and say, "Lord, save me." For the Lord will reach forth His hand, and though He chide, saying, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" wherefore didst thou not look straight forward upon Him to whom thou wast making thy way, and glory only in the Lord? Nevertheless He will snatch him from the waves, and will not suffer Him to perish, who confesses his own infirmity, and begs His help. But when they had received the Lord into the ship, and their faith was strengthened and all doubt removed, and the tempests of the sea assuaged, so that they were come to a firm and secure landing, they all worship Him, saying, "Of a truth Thou art the Son of God." For this is that everlasting joy, where Truth made manifest, and the Word of God, and the Wisdom by which all things were made, and the exceeding height of His Mercy, are both known and loved.

SERMON XXVI.

[LXXVI. BEN.]

AGAIN ON MATT. XIV. 25: OF THE LORD WALKING ON THE WAVES OF THE SEA, AND OF PETER TOTTERING.

1. THE Gospel which has just been read touching the Lord Christ, who walked on the waters of the sea;(1) and the Apostle Peter, who as he was walking, tottered through fear, and sinking in distrust, rose again by confession, gives us to understand that the sea is the present world, and the Apostle Peter the type of the One Church. For Peter in the order of Apostles first, and in the love of Christ most forward, answers oftentimes alone for all the rest. Again, when the Lord Jesus Christ asked, whom men said that He was, and when the disciples gave the various opinions of men, and the Lord asked again and said, "But whom say ye that I am?" Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." One for many gave the answer, Unity in many. Then said the Lord to Him, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjonas: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven."(2) Then He added, "and I say unto thee." As if He had said, "Because thou hast said unto Me, 'Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God;' I also say unto thee, 'Thou art Peter.' " For before he was called Simon. Now this name of Peter was given him by the Lord, and that in a figure, that he should signify the Church. For seeing that Christ is the rock (Petra), Peter is the Christian people. For the rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called(3) from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. "Therefore," he saith, "Thou art Peter; and upon this Rock" which thou hast confessed, upon this Rock which thou hast acknowledged, saying, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church;" that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, "will I build My Church." I will build thee upon Myself, not Myself upon thee.

2. For men who wished to be built upon men, said "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas,"(4) who is Peter. But others who did not wish to be built upon Peter, but upon the Rock, said, "But I am of Christ." And when the Apostle Paul ascertained that he was chosen, and Christ despised, he said, "Is Christ divided ? was Paul crucified for you ? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"(5) And, as not in the name of Paul, so neither in the name of Peter; but in the name of Christ: that Peter might be built upon the Rock, not the Rock upon Peter.

3. This same Peter therefore who had been by the Rock pronounced "blessed," bearing the figure of the Church, holding the chief place in the Apostleship,(6) a very little while after that he had heard that he was "blessed," a very little while after that he had heard that he was "Peter," a very little while after that he had heard that he was to be "built upon the Rock," displeased the Lord when He had heard of His future Passion, for He had foretold His disciples that it was soon to be. He feared test he should by death, lose Him whom he had confessed as the fountain of life. He was troubled, and said, "Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be to Thee."(7) Spare Thyself, O God, I am not willing that Thou shouldest die. Peter said to Christ, I am not willing that Thou shouldest die; but Christ far better said, I am willing to die for thee. And then He forthwith rebuked him, whom He had a little before commended; and calleth him Satan, whom he had pronounced "blessed." "Get thee behind Me, Satan," he saith, "thou art an offence unto Me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."(8) What would He have us do in our present state, who thus findeth fault because we are men ? Would you know what He would have us do? Give ear to the Psalm; "I have said, Ye are gods, and ye are all the children of the Most High." But by savouring the things of men; "ye shall die like men."(9) The very same Peter a little while before blessed, afterwards Satan, in one moment, within a few words! Thou wonderest at the difference of the names, mark the difference of the reasons of them. Why wonderest thou that he who was a little before blessed, is afterwards Satan? Mark the reason wherefore he is blessed. "Because flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven."(10) Therefore blessed, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee. For if flesh and blood revealed this to thee, it were of thine own; but because flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven, it is of Mine, not of thine own. Why of Mine? "Because all things that the Father hath are Mine."(11) So then thou hast heard the cause, why he is "blessed," and why he is "Peter." But why was he that which we shudder at, and are loth to repeat, why, but because it was of thine own ? "For thou savourest not the things which be of God, but those that be of men."

4. Let us, looking at ourselves in this member of the Church, distinguish what is of God, and what of ourselves. For then we shall not totter, then shall we be founded on the Rock, shall be fixed and firm against the winds, and storms, and streams, the temptations, I mean, of this present world. Yet see this Peter, who was then our figure; now he trusts, and now he totters; now he confesses the Undying, and now he fears test He should die. Wherefore? because the Church of Christ hath both strong and weak ones; and cannot be without either strong or weak; whence the Apostle Paul says, "Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak."(1) In that Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," he represents the strong: but in that he totters, and would not that Christ should suffer, in fearing death for Him, and not acknowledging the Life, he represents the weak ones of the Church. In that one Apostle then, that is, Peter, in the order of Apostles first and chiefest, in whom the Church was figured, both sorts were to be represented, that is, both the strong and weak; because the Church doth not exist without them both.

5. And hence also is that which was just now read, "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water."(2) For I cannot do this in myself, but in Thee. He acknowledged what he had of himself, and what of Him, by whose will he believed that he could do that, which no human weakness could do. Therefore, "if it be Thou, bid me;" because when thou biddest, it will be done. What I cannot do by taking it upon myself,(3) Thou canst do by bidding me. And the Lord said "Come."(4) And without any doubting, at the word of Him who bade him, at the presence of Him who sustained, at the presence of Him who guided him, without any delay, Peter leaped down into the water, and began to walk. He was able to do what the Lord was doing, not in himself, but in the Lord. "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord."(5) What no one can do in Paul, no one in Peter, no one in any other of the Apostles, this can he do in the Lord. Therefore well said Paul by a wholesome despising of himself, and commending of Him; "Was Paul crucified for you, or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"(6) So then, ye are not in me, but together with me; not under me, but under Him.

6. Therefore Peter walked on the water by the bidding of the Lord, knowing that he could not have this power of himself. By faith he had strength to do what human weakness could not do. These are the strong ones of the Church. Mark this, hear, understand, and act accordingly. For we must not deal with the strong on any other principle(7) than this, that so they should become weak; but thus we must deal with the weak, that they may become strong. But the presuming on their own strength keeps many back from strength. No one will have strength from God, but he who feels himself weak of himself. "God setteth apart a spontaneous rain for His inheritance."(8) Why do you, who know what I was about to say, anticipate me? Let your quickness be moderated, that the slowness of the rest may follow. This I said, and I say it again; hear it, receive it, and act on this principle. No one is made strong by God, but he who feels himself weak of his own self. And therefore a "spontaneous rain," as the Psalm says, "spontaneous;" not of our deserts, but "spontaneous." "A spontaneous rain" therefore "God setteth apart for his inheritance;" for "it was weak; but Thou hast perfected it." Because Thou "hast set apart for it a spontaneous rain," not looking to men's deserts, but to Thine own grace and mercy. This inheritance then was weakened, and acknowledged its own weakness in itself, that it might be strong in Thee. It would not be strengthened, if it were not weak, that by Thee it might be "perfected" in Thee.

7. See Paul a small portion of this inheritance, see him in weakness, who said, "I am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God." Why then art thou an Apostle? "By the grace of God I am what I am. I am not meet, but by the grace of God I am what I am." Paul was "weak," but Thou hast "perfected" him. But now because by "the grace of God he is what he is," look what follows; "And His grace in me was not in vain, but I laboured more abundantly than they all."(9) Take heed lest thou lose by presumption what thou hast attained(10) through weakness. This is well, very well; that "I am not meet to be called an Apostle. By His grace I am what I am, and His grace in me was not in vain:" all most excellent. But, "I laboured more abundantly than they all;" thou hast begun, it would seem, to ascribe to thyself what a little before thou hadst given to God. Attend and follow on; "Yet not I, but the grace of God with me." Well! thou weak one; thou shalt be exalted in exceeding strength, seeing thou art not unthankful. Thou art the very same Paul, little in thyself; and great in the Lord. Thou art he who didst thrice beseech the Lord, that "the thorn of the flesh, the messenger of Satan, by whom thou wast buffeted, might be taken away from thee."(11) And what was said to thee? what didst thou hear when thou madest this petition? "My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness."(1) For he was "weak," but Thou didst "perfect" him.

8. So Peter also said, "Bid me come unto Thee on the water." I who dare this am but a man, but it is no man whom I beseech. Let the God-man bid, that man may be able to do what man cannot do. "Come," said He. And He went down, and began to walk on the water; and Peter was able, because the Rock had bidden him. Lo, what Peter was in the Lord; what was he in himself? "When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord, I perish, save me." When he(2) looked for strength from the Lord, he had strength from the Lord; as a man he tottered, but he returned to the Lord. "If I said, my foot hath slipped"(3) (they are the words of a Psalm, the notes of a holy song; and if we acknowledge them they are our words too; yea, if we will, they are ours also). "If I said my foot hath slipped." How slipped, except because it was mine own. And what follows? "Thy mercy, Lord, helped me." Not mine own strength, but Thy mercy. For will God forsake him as he totters, whom He heard when calling upon Him? Where then is that, "Who hath called upon God, and hath been forsaken by Him?"(4) where again is that, "Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord, shall be delivered."(5) Immediately reaching forth the help of His right hand, He lifted him up as he was sinking, and rebuked his distrust; "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" Once thou didst trust in Me, hast thou now doubted of Me?

9. Well, brethren, my sermon must be ended. Consider the world to be the sea; the wind is boisterous, and there is a mighty tempest. Each man's peculiar lust is his tempest. Thou dost love God; thou walkest upon the sea, and under thy feet is the swelling of the world. Thou dost love the world, it will swallow thee up. It skilleth only how to devour its lovers, not to carry them. But when thy heart is tossed about by lust, in order that thou mayest get the better of thy lust, call upon the Divinity of Christ. Think ye that the wind is then contrary, when there is this life's adversity? For so when there are wars, when there is tumult, when there is famine, when there is pestilence, when even to every individual man his private calamity arriveth, then the wind is thought to be contrary, then it is thought that God must be called upon. But when the world wears her smile of temporal happiness, it is as if there were no contrary wind. But do not ask upon this matter the tranquil state of the times: ask only your own lust. See if there be tranquillity within thee: see if there be no inner wind which overturns thee; see to this. There needs great virtue to struggle with happiness, lest this very happiness allure, corrupt, and overthrow thee. There needs, I say, great virtue to struggle with happiness, and great happiness not to be overcome by happiness. Learn then to tread upon the world; remember to trust in Christ. And "if thy foot have slipped;" if thou totter, if some things there are which thou canst not overcome, if thou begin to sink, say, "Lord, I perish, save me." Say, "I perish," that thou perish not. For He only can deliver thee from the death of the body, who died in the body for thee. Let us turn to the Lord, etc.

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