"And Peter answered Him and said, 'Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee upon the waters.' And He said, 'Come.' And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the waters to go to Jesus." (Matt. 14:28, 29.)
The individuality of the path is what I would press upon our souls just now. How strikingly it is presented! This solitary man, amid boisterous winds and waves, forsaking the protection of the boat and the company of the other disciples, and inviting the word which bids him to a path at once so difficult and so resourceless. We often speak of a walk of faith. It is well to look steadily at such a picture as this, and to ask ourselves, have we ever realized it in our own experience? does it present really what corresponds in its features (even though more deeply drawn,) to the path as we know it?
Solitary; — but he had before him as the end of his path the gracious and glorious presence of Him who had called him, and for sustaining power the word which in its call was a promise for all difficulties that could be. If in the meanwhile he had lost the company of others, every step on this road would make the Presence before him more bright and lustrous; and, at the end at least, even those now separated from would be restored. Was there not abundant compensation in the meantime? Would there not be an overpayment of joy at the end?
I would press, I again say, the individuality of it. As we look back upon the examples of faith which God has given us in His own record, how they shine separately and independently out from surrounding darkness! How seldom are they set even in clusters! Enoch, in that walk with God which death never shadowed; Noah, with his family, sole survivors of a judgment-wrecked world; Abraham, with whom even Lot is a mere contrast. They stand out from the dark background as men not formed by their circumstances, no mere natural outgrowth from that in the midst of which we find them, but plants of the Lord's planting, maintaining themselves where no power but His could avail to keep them, north wind, as well as south, making the spices of His garden to flow out. In all these the individuality of the path is manifest. Lot is a warning as to the opposite course, of unmistakable significance. A walk with God means necessarily independence of men, — even of the saints; while if it is with God, it will be marked by unfeigned lowliness, and absence of mere eccentricity and self-will.
In the scene to which I am now referring, this solitary man, in that individual path in which nothing but divine power could for a moment sustain him, is the representative, as is evident, of the Church at large. The saints of the present time are as a body called to go forth to meet the Bridegroom, leaving the "boat" of Judaism, a provision for nature, not for faith. "The law is not of faith." To faith, God alone is necessary and sufficient, and other helps would be helps to do (so far) without Him: hindrances to faith therefore, really. Practically, it was a Jewish remnant that the Lord left when He went on high, and to a Jewish remnant we know He will return again, we in the meantime being called to meet Him and return with Him. This company Peter, not only here, but elsewhere, represents.
At first sight this may seem to take from the individual aspect. The path is the Church's path, and belongs to the whole, not merely to individuals: and that is so far true. In fact, as a company it has perhaps never walked in it; most certainly not for centuries: and Scripture — prescient as the Word of God must be — announced beforehand what history has since recorded. If then the Church has failed, is the Christian to accept for himself this failure? or is not individuality forced the more upon him, — a good which divine sovereignty thus brings out of the evil? But in truth it never was intended that the walk of a Christian should be different in principle or on a lower level than that which characterized faith in former generations. We were not meant to seek Lot-like companionship with one another, but Abraham-like with God. He is "the father of all them that believe." If Peter here, then, represent a company, it can only be a company of such as walk, each for himself, with God a course which would indeed secure the most blessed companionship. Communion with one another can only be the result of communion with the Father and with the Son.
In this way how striking is the path of this lone man! — a path that terminates only in the presence of the Lord, and on which every step in advance brings nearer to Him! Various as in some true sense our paths must be, it is this that alone gives them their common Christian character; it is this that makes us pilgrims; nay, as the inspired Word presents it, racers: our goal outside the world our object — that which rules us — heavenly. If it be not thus with us, we are immeasurably below those of a dispensation darkness itself compared with ours, who nevertheless by their lives "declared plainly" that they sought a better country. And for this reason God was not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them a city.
This path of faith is one in which we may show, with Peter, not the greatness of our faith, but the littleness of it. It will never really make much of us. Do we seek it? The glory of Christ is what lies before and beckons us for our weakness, if there be rebuke, it is only that of a perfect love. Not, Wherefore didst thou presume? but, "Wherefore didst thou doubt?" And with that, the outstretched hand of human sympathy and of divine support. Is it enough, dear fellow-Christian? Is there not for all the difficulties of the way an overabundant recompense? And the end — who shall declare its blessedness?
Yet let us remember that it is to one who invites his Lord's invitation to such a path that it really opens. The "Come" of Christ is an answer to him who says, "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee upon the waters!" The word for the path is the answer alone to the heart for the path. And what to Him is the joy of such desire so expressed? Let ours go forth, if any have not yet, with such a cry: "Lord, if it be upon the waters I must come, and that path it is which alone leads to Thee, then bid me come to Thee, blest, gracious Master, even upon the water!"