The Church's Path
“And Peter answering him said, Lord, if it be thou, command me to come to thee upon the waters. And he said, Come. And Peter, having descended from the ship, walked upon the waters to go to Jesus.” (Matt. 14: 28, 29).
The individuality of the Christian path is what I would press upon our souls just now. How strikingly it is pictured in the Scripture just quoted! This solitary man, amid boisterous winds and waves, forsakes the protection of the boat and the company of the other disciples, having invited the word which bids him to such a difficult and resourceless path. We often speak of a walk of faith. It pays to look closely at a picture like this, and to ask ourselves whether we have ever realised it in our own experience. Does it present what corresponds in its features to the path as we know it?
The path is solitary, yes, but Peter had before him as the end of his path the glorious presence of Him who had called him, and for sustaining power the word which in its call was a promise for all the difficulties that might arise on the way. 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?
Again I would press the individuality of it. As we look back upon the examples of faith that God has given us in His own record, how they shine separately and independently out from the surrounding darkness! How seldom are they set even in clusters! Enoch, in that walk with God that death never shadowed; Noah, with his family, sole survivors of a judged world; Abraham, with whom even righteous Lot is a contrast. They stand out from the dark background as men not formed by their circumstances, but plants of the Lord’s planting, maintaining themselves where no power but His could keep them, flourishing under north wind, as well as south, and making the spices of His garden to flow forth (see Song of Songs 4: 16). In all these the individuality of the path is clear. Lot is a warning of the opposite course. When Abram departed out of Haran “Lot went with him” (Gen. 12: 4)––the younger man did not have the faith necessary for the individual walk with God with disastrous results. A walk with God cannot be combined with dependence on men––even saints––while if it is with God, it will be marked by genuine lowliness, and the 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 typical 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, which was a provision for nature, not faith. (“the law is not on the principle of faith”––Gal. 3: 12). To faith, God alone is necessary and sufficient, and other helps are helps to do without Him––hindrances in fact to faith. Practically, it was a Jewish remnant that the Lord left when He went on high, and to a Jewish remnant He will return again, we in the meantime being called to meet Him and return with Him. This latter company Peter, not only here, but elsewhere, represents.
At first sight this may seem to take from the individual aspect. Certainly the path is the Church’s path, and belongs to the whole, not merely to individuals. Yet, as a company it has not walked in it for centuries, and Scripture––all–knowing 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 brings out of the evil? 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 characterised faith in former generations. We were not meant to seek Lot–like companionship with one another, but Abraham–like companionship with God. He is “[the] father of all them that believe” (Rom. 4: 11). If Peter here, then, represents a company, it can only be a company of those who 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 only terminates in the presence of the Lord, and to which every step forward brings him nearer! Various as in some sense our paths must be, it is this fact alone that gives them their common Christian character and that makes us pilgrims: our goal outside the world; our object––that which rules us––heavenly. If that is not the case with us, we fall short of those of a dispensation far darker than ours, who nevertheless by their lives showed clearly (see Heb. 11: 14) that they sought a better country. It is for this reason that God was not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.
This path of faith is one in which we may show, like Peter, not the greatness of our faith but its smallness. It will never really make much of us. The glory of Christ is what lies before and beckons us; for our weakness, if there be rebuke, it is only a rebuke of perfect love. Peter was not told, Why didst thou presume? But, “Why didst thou doubt?” (see Matt. 14: 31), and along with that, came the outstretched hand of human sympathy and divine support. Is it enough, dear fellow–Christian? Is there not for all the difficulties of the way an over–abundant 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 (v29) is an answer to him who says, “Lord, if it be thou, command me to come to thee upon the waters” (v28). There must be a heart for the path before there can be a word for the path. Who can describe the joy in the heart of Christ on hearing such a desire expressed? Let my reader go forth, if he has not yet, exclaiming “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!”