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"IT IS I",


or

"The Voice of Jesus in the Storm"


by Newman Hall, circa 1867


(Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-50; John 6:15-21)



Is it stormy weather with you? Do cares, disappointments, bereavements, as a heavy cloud, deluge you with sorrow? Do spiritual troubles assail you as a hurricane, and drive here and there your harassed soul? Do the winds and the waves beat upon your frail bark, so that it seems about to sink? "O afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted," listen to the voice of Jesus, who comes to you in the storm, walking upon the waters, and says, "It is I; do not be afraid!"


The design of religion is to make us joyful. This world is indeed a valley of tears, but the Man of sorrows has visited it that we may rejoice. We are surrounded by causes of alarm, but the gospel bids us fear not. And that which alone can enable us to be joyful amid sorrows, and of good courage amid perils, is the presence of our God and Savior. To believe in Him as always near, always kind, always mighty to save, is the true and sole antidote to fear and grief. It is only in proportion as we recognize His voice, as that of a friend, saying, "It is I," that we can comply with his exhortation, "Be of good cheer; do not be afraid.


The disciples were once in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Their Master had been miraculously feeding five thousand people, with five loaves and two fishes. The people were so astonished at His power, that they resolved to make Him their King. But as He had come not to reign, but to suffer, He urged them to return quietly to their homes, and He Himself retired to a mountain to pray. Meanwhile, Jesus "constrained His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side" of the lake. It is most likely that they did not understand the reason of this request. It seemed strange to them. Why should He be left to disperse the multitude alone? Why should they be deprived of His company? If He wished retirement, why could they not wait on the shore until He came from the mountain? How could He follow them, if they went away with the ship? But they were commanded, and this was sufficient.


Even so, Christians still have to do and to suffer many things, the reason of which is hidden from them. But an obedient disciple will not say, "Why has this been appointed me to do? Why has that been given me to suffer? for until I comprehend the reason I will not obey the command." Oh, no! His language will rather be, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" If the head of a family, the commander of a ship, the general of an army, often gives orders which, though not explained, are promptly obeyed, shall we presume to sit questioning the will of Jesus, instead of making haste and delaying not to keep His commandments? May we not expect to hear Him reprovingly say to us, "What is that to you? Follow Me!"


But the Christian's duty not only sometimes baffles his reason, but also opposes his preferences. How much more willingly would the disciples have remained in the company of their beloved Master! How much they perhaps fancied they were losing, while, deprived of His company, they were in the ship alone! So, in obedience to duty, the Christian may still seem to be a loser, not only in temporal, but even in spiritual respects. His opportunities of religious advancement may appear to be curtailed by a course which, otherwise, he would not hesitate to pronounce his duty to his Savior. It is his duty still. Apparent consequences do not diminish the obligation of an obvious command. And he who most scrupulously adheres to the path of obedience will most successfully travel in the path of improvement too. Duty is identical with privilege. However delightful and profitable the company of Jesus must have been, the disciples gained far more by being obediently absent, than rebelliously near. Obedience is the best kind of nearness.


The evening on which the disciples embarked was calm and fair. The day had not been stormy else the five thousand could not so comfortably have sat upon the grass at that miraculous feast. It was after the disciples had left the shore that "the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew." They therefore must have anticipated a safe and pleasant voyage. Thus how often do storms visit believers, when only calm weather is expected! The brightest beginnings are not sure harbingers of continued prosperity! The morning sun may be undimmed, but black thunderclouds may conceal his rays at noon. The finest day may be followed by the stormiest night, and the ocean, now without a ripple, may before long writhe beneath the lashings of the tempest. Our dearest treasures may suddenly be taken from us, and our fairest hopes are withered in the bud. Sunshine and calm are treacherous they cannot always last. Do not sailors expect to encounter gales and tempests, and therefore provide themselves with anchors and all other things that may be of use in such emergencies? How foolish are they who voyage on the perilous ocean of life without the Christian's hope "as an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast!" We should be prepared for storms, that we may not be overwhelmed with surprise and terror when they come. But if Jesus is with us, the most terrific tempest cannot harm us. The profoundest calm is infinitely perilous without Him.


Behold the frightened disciples in their storm-driven boat! They have to struggle with difficulties. The favorable breeze with which they weighed anchor has changed to an opposing gale. They have taken down their sail as no longer of any use, and they are now tugging at the oars! "They toiled in rowing, for the wind was contrary unto them." Moreover, the night "was now dark!" They were in danger too, for their little vessel was "in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves." Worse than all, they were alone, for "Jesus had not come unto them."


This is a fit representation of the circumstances by which believers are still often tried. What contrary winds and tides have they to contend with! What darkness surrounds them! What perils threaten them! And sometimes, even Jesus seems withdrawn! The stormy gales of trouble blow from various quarters. Bitter disappointments, grievous losses, perplexing cares, anxious apprehensions, pinching poverty, the injuries of foes and, far worse, the slights of friends. Painful diseases, suspens