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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, suspension of beloved activities, prostrated strength, debilitated faculties, weary wakefulness, gnawing pain. Heartbreaking bereavements, tearing from us those with whom our very life was bound together, leaving a blank which nothing earthly can fill. A wounded spirit, bending beneath the burden of anguish, or severe conflicts with the great adversary of souls, harassing temptations, distorted views of truth, awful terrors of mind, gloomy doubts, dark despondency. Oh!, what black clouds do such stormy winds as these often cause to gather round the believer, so that scarcely a ray of light can struggle through to cheer him as he is tossed up and down amid the billows!


Was this to be expected? Am I not a disciple, under the special protection of Jesus? Has He not promised to defend me from all harm? Has He not told me that His angels have charge over me, and that no evil thing shall happen unto me? If He were my Protector, my Savior, my Friend, could such troubles as these assail me? These thoughts may have assailed the disciples. Though Jesus was then bodily on the earth, yet they did not escape the storm. But Jesus was not unfaithful or forgetful. Do not be then, O reader, surprised if sometimes you also are "in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves." Who expects the ocean to be always calm? Discipleship is distinguished rather by exposure to troubles than exemption from them. "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom." Christ has promised to deliver us out of the storm, but not to secure us from encountering it. "There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to men; but God is faithful, who" (not will preserve you from trial, but) "will not allow you to be tempted above that you able, but will with the temptation also make a way of escape that you may be able" (not to avoid it, but) "to bear it." "The same afflictions have been accomplished in the brotherhood" of faith in all ages. The saints in glory all toiled in rowing amid similar billows. Though never shipwrecked, they were all tempest-tossed. The elder Brother himself did not escape! He was made like to His brethren in all points tempted as we are! "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you" (I Cor. 10:13; 1 Peter 4:12, 5:9).


These storms may often rise against us, even when acting in direct obedience to the will of Christ. The disciples had not set sail without His express command. Yet the tempest assailed them. Jesus knew that the wind would arise. He Himself permitted it to blow. Nevertheless, He told the disciples to go over to the other side! We should learn never to interpret duty by success. The opposition, which assails us in the course of obedience, is no evidence that we are mistaken. He who gives laws to His servants is the controller of all events. It may be His will that in the very act of obedience we should encounter storms. He foreknew every trial we should meet with when He laid down the route we should pursue. We must not dare to turn back. The disciples, when the wind became contrary, might have wished to return to shore, especially as Jesus was there. But they had been commanded to go to the other side; and so they continued rowing, even though they made little or no progress. They were not responsible for the contrary wind that stopped them, but they were responsible for striving to obey the will of their Master. Even so, no difficulty must daunt us in the way of obedience. Let the prow of our vessel be ever turned toward the point of duty, however terrible the gale, however mighty the waves which beat against it. Though they may seem to force us back, yet, if we persevere in obediently struggling against them, we are really making rapid progress. Christ secures deliverance and success to every faithful disciple. Better, infinitely better, to suffer the loss of all things in obeying Jesus, than to purchase the universe by retreating from the storm. Better to perish in the tempest than to seek safety in a disobedient flight. "For whoever will save his life shall lose it; but whoever will lose his life, for My sake, shall find it."


But while the disciples are battling with the winds and the waves, where is Jesus? In the mountain, alone with His Father, spending the night in prayer. Are His afflicted followers forgotten? When were they ever absent from His considerate thoughts, His loving heart? Doubtless He is interceding for them. He intercedes for you, afflicted, tempest-tossed reader! Most consoling truth. "He ever lives to make intercession for us!" By night and by day, in the tempest and the calm, His all-prevalent prayer arises, "Father, keep them from the evil!" You are never forgotten by Him. The hands of Moses grew weary as he was praying for the Israelites, and when they drooped, Amalek prevailed. But a mightier than Moses is here, who never is weary, and whom the Father hears always. He bears your name upon His heart; you are engraved on the palms of His hands; in every storm He is on the mount, and His intercession renders your deliverance certain. Do not think that because the wind is boisterous, and the storm continues long, He intercedes in vain. Your not sinking proves that His advocacy prevails. Expect a calm, and you may be disappointed. But charge not His mediation with inefficacy. Expect supporting grace, and final deliverance, and your hope shall never make you ashamed. He prays not that our day may never be stormy; but, in answer to His intercession, we may always be confident that "as our day so shall our strength be."


Jesus not only prayed for His disciples, but also watched them in the tempest. They could not see Him. They might think themselves beyond His sight; for they had rowed a distance of some three miles. And as we are told, the night was dark, their small vessel could not be seen from the shore. Yet the eye of Jesus was on it! He saw every wave that broke over it. He beheld the poor disciples in dismay, laboring unavailingly at the oars. He understood all that was in their hearts. "He saw them toiling in rowing." And does He not see you also, storm-driven reader? Do not think your case is unknown to Him. Every secret anxiety, every heart-buried grief, is watched from His throne on high! He knows all your difficulties, sorrows, and temptations. You shall not perish by any oversight of His. When He sees that the fitting season has arrived, He will appear for your deliverance!


This manifest deliverance may be delayed. It was not until the fourth watch in the night that the disciples beheld their Savior. How long those hours appeared! Until three o'clock in the morning they toiled in rowing against the furious winds and waves. Perhaps they unbelievingly thought they were quite forgotten by their Master, and abandoned to the raging storm. And still it often happens to afflicted believers, that Jesus seems to delay His promised help. It is delay in appearance only. Was He not assisting His disciples most effectually while watching them from the shore, and interceding on their behalf? Were they not preserved from destruction, though as yet they had not seen their deliverer? Were they not saved in the storm, though not from it?


Thus Jesus is ever present to protect us, even though we may not see Him. Troubles may appear overwhelmingly great, and spiritual darkness benight our souls, without one ray of comfort to dart across the gloom. And this may continue days, months, years! Jesus may delay to reveal Himself, but not to support and help His disciples. And for that very delay, He has the kindest, wisest reasons. Oh, to say from the heart, "My times are in Your hand!" To believe them to be in the best hand! To wish them in no other! And therefore not to murmur or be dismayed, even though until the fourth watch in the night, we are allowed to continue "toiling in rowing, the wind being contrary." His time is the best time. The hour of deliverance will certainly arrive. "For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry."


When at length Jesus did appear to His storm-tossed disciples, the manner of His coming was so unexpected and strange that, instead of joy, their first emotion was terror. He approached them walking on the waves! Who would have expected Him thus? It was a phenomenon never witnessed before. Notwithstanding former displays of His power, the disciples doubtless regarded the intervening sea an impassable barrier between them and their divine Master. This was the last manner in which they would expect to behold Him. And when He did come, making the very waters, which they thought must keep Him absent, the path by which He approached, their terror was such that they did not recognize their Deliverer, but fancied that they saw a ghost.


Ah! how often do we limit the Holy One of Israel! We too often think of Him as like ourselves in His resources! We regard as an impossibility that which presents to Him no difficulty. We despair of help from the very quarters where, perhaps, He is that moment advancing to our deliverance! We presume to prescribe to the Almighty. Instead of praying for His aid, and leaving to His loving wisdom the manner of it, we too often determine in our own minds the method by which the hoped-for assistance will be given. Disappointed in our expectation, we perhaps murmur that our prayers have been disregarded, though at the very time we are receiving in some other way the aid we sought. Is not strength to bear a burden as much an answer to prayer as its removal? Is not grace to persevere in supplication, amid surrounding gloom, as much a proof of our Savior's faithfulness as if the sunshine dispersed the darkness? May not a still deeper sense of our vileness and helplessness be an answer to prayer for spiritual growth, still more valuable at some seasons than even the joy and peace we coveted? Though the enemy may not have left us, yet is it no mercy to be enabled to maintain the conflict, and "having done all, to stand"? And though the storm may continue to rage, and the calm is long delayed, yet is it not a proof that Jesus is with us, so long as the waves are not allowed to overwhelm us?


Like the disciples, who "cried out for fear, saying, It is a spirit," we often mistake the form and presence of our Lord! We look with apprehension on what should disperse our fear. Our best blessings, and the answers to our most earnest prayers, cause us alarm and grief. What shortsighted, blind and ignorant creatures we are! How we mistake the intentions of our dearest Friend! How often we tremble, when we should be of good courage! How often we mourn and complain, when we should abound in thanksgiving! Oh, help us, gracious Savior, to leave with You the manner of Your appearing! However strange, however terrible the outward shape, may we recognize the presence of our ever-faithful Friend! Nothing is impossible with You! Still You often walk upon the waters. What we most dread as distressing and ruinous, You may select as the best method of effecting our deliverance! Though the tempest is high, and though the night is dark, yet let us adoringly recognize and hail You, walking to us on the boisterous waves!


The terror of the disciples was speedily allayed by the encouraging voice of Jesus, "It is I; do not be afraid! It is no ghost, no avenging angel, none of the powers of darkness; it is I your Master, your Protector, your Friend: fear not!" What consolation this must have afforded to that affrighted crew! There is nothing that can so allay the grief of afflicted believers as hearing Jesus say, "It is I." In every calamity, in every grief, He is present. We are never alone. Our best Friend is always near. And He is not only with us in the storm, but He sends and controls it! We are too apt to attribute our troubles to secondary causes alone, losing sight of Him without whom not even a sparrow falls to the ground. Men say, "This was an accident," or "That was owing to the operation of general laws," or "An enemy has done this." Jesus says, "It is I!" Whatever may be the truth, respecting human agency and natural laws, there is a Supreme Controller, without whose permission and direction no event transpires. Though man's free agency is not invaded, nor the ordinary course of nature impeded, most absolutely true is the Savior's own declaration, "My Father works hitherto, and I work." In every event, important or trivial in the estimation of man, he speaks and says "It is I!" In poverty, "It is I!" In sickness, "It is I!" In anxiety, "It is I!" In bereavement, "It is I!" Whatever be the nature of the storm, from whatever quarter the hurricane may blow, still Jesus says, "It is I!" Not merely when the waters are smooth, reflecting every shadow on their mirrored surface, while an unclouded sun diffuses light and gladness all around, but when the dark clouds gather, and the night is black, and the tempest howls, and the thunder rattles, and the waters rage, and hideous gulfs yawn as if to swallow up the despairing disciple "When tempests shriek through all the cleaving sky, And the mad billows writhe in their huge agony" even then amid the gloom, may Jesus be seen by the eye of faith, walking in majesty upon the waves and, amid the elemental din, His "still small voice" of mingled dignity and love may be heard saying, "It is I; do not be afraid."


Oh, to recognize Christ more vividly in all our troubles! to lose sight of human agency in the absorbing contemplation of Jesus! Regrets and murmurs will never end, if we look only or chiefly at secondary causes. "If I had not done this if I had been more prudent in that if such a one had not been so unfaithful and unkind" oh, how endless may such false reasoning become! What discontent they will occasion! How difficult will it be to feel resigned, when we blame others or ourselves as the sole causes of our troubles!


Let me look away from inferior agencies. Jesus sends the storm! Did He ordain this affliction, and shall I not be submissive to H