Beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me–Mat 14:30
By George H. Morrison
The Pathos of a Wasted Life
There are two sights in human life which fill the heart with profound sorrow. The first is that of a person who has sunk. When we see a face made loathsome by iniquity and think that once it was innocent and childlike; when we hear of somebody who bore an honored name, but is now in the depths of degradation, that is one of life’s most piteous spectacles. It arrests even the worldly-minded who cherish no ideals for humanity; how much more must it sadden one who has anything of the vision of Christ Jesus. Men who are sunken–women who are sunken–are the heartbreak of the home and of the city. There is such infinite pathetic waste in a wasted, miserable life. But to the seeing eye and the perceiving heart, there is another spectacle which is not less tragic–it is that of the man who is beginning to sink. Beginnings are always mighty and momentous for every eye that has the power to see. Much of our knowledge and our power today springs from our modern study of beginnings. And in this text we have an instance, not of a man who has sunk into the depths, but of a man who is beginning to sink. Shall we look at him in that light for a little?
Our Best Qualities May Be Our Ruin
The first thought to force itself upon me is that it was Peter’s temperament which put him in this danger. He began to sink because he was Simon Peter. The other disciples were all safe. It never occurred to them to leave the vessel. They were men of sagacity and common sense and knew the difference between land and water. But Peter was reckless, headstrong and impetuous, acting on impulse. Peter followed the dictates of his heart, and never waited for his laggard reason. In a sense that was the glory of his character. It made him do what no one else would do. It gave him the charm of daring and enthusiasm of that unexpectedness which always fascinates. But those very qualities that in the hand of Christ were to go to the upbuilding of the Church, sometimes brought him to the verge of ruin. It was only Peter who would begin to walk, and it was only Peter who would begin to sink. He was led into peril on these stormy waters because of what was self-forgetful in him. And it may be there is someone who has not sunk yet, but is beginning to sink, because he has a temperament like that. Our perils do not always reach us through our worst. Our perils sometimes reach us through our best: through what is charming in us, delightful, and enthusiastic. And so like Peter we begin to do what the cold and calculating would never do, and then like Peter we begin to sink. That is why every man needs to be saved not only from his sin but from himself. That is why God, in His holy love to save us, gave us not a message but a Man. For our brightest social qualities may wreck us. A touch of genius may be our ruin. For all that is implied in that word temperament, we need the keeping of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sinking amid Familiar Surroundings
The next thing to arrest me here is that Peter began to sink in very familiar waters. I suppose if you had asked him if he knew them, he would have replied that he knew them, every inch. Some of us, who spend our summers by an ocean or a lake think we are very familiar with them. And if love be at the source of all true knowledge, then indeed it may be that we know them. But if you want a true and perfect knowledge, it is not to the summer visitor you look, but to the fisherman who was cradled by its shores. Now Simon Peter was a fisherman, and all his life had been spent beside that lake. He had played on its shores as a little child; he had known it in summer and in winter. And it was there, in these familiar scenes, amid what was habitual and customary, that he began to sink. There was another occasion when he began to sink, and that was in the High Priest’s palace at Jerusalem. He was a stranger there–in unfamiliar scenes–among men and women who knew nothing of him. Here it was different. Here he was at home. He was among those who knew him and who loved him, and here he began to sink. It is a very sad and pitiable thing when a man begins to sink away from home, when he goes away into a distant land and forgets the God of his father and his mother. But the peril for each one of us is the peril of Peter on the lake of Galilee–that we begin to sink amid familiar waters. Beginning to sink in India is sad; beginning to sink at home is almost worse; forgetting the sanctuary and the bended knee, the purity and temperance and tenderness. And if there is anyone who is beginning to sink at home, amid those who love and pray, now is the time to cry as Peter cried, “Lord, save me, or I perish.”
Sinking after Loyal Discipleship
Another feature which I note is that Peter began to sink after loyal discipleship. He had known Christ and had loved and followed Him before this hour of peril on the lake. We all remember that great hour in history when Peter had been called to the discipleship. Then he had left all and followed Jesus; he had made the full surrender to the Lord. And from that hour he had companied with Jesus and seen His miracles and heard His words and enjoyed the infinite blessings of His friendship. No one would doubt the reality of that. That self-surrender was intensely real. And Peter loved his Lord and knew His power and was never happy except in His companionship. And it was after all that rich experience–that self-surrender and devoted service–that Peter on the lake began to sink. He was no raw and inexperienced youth. He was one who had heard the calling of the Master. He was no beginner in the higher life. He was a man who had done yeoman service. And the sad thing is that in every community there are men and women who begin to sink, not in their raw and inexperienced youth, but after years of discipleship and service. Sometimes it is the deceitfulness of riches which causes it. Sometimes it is growing absorption in business. Sometimes it is the constant subtle influence of one who is unspiritual in the home. Sometimes it is weariness in well doing and the dropping of the life to lower levels from secret clingings that no one knows but God. No one would say such lives were sunken lives. I am not speaking of moral wrecks and tragedies. I am speaking of men who are still of good repute, still kind at home, still diligent in business. And yet one feels they have begun to sink; they are not the men we remember in the morning; there is a different accent in their speech and a different atmosphere around their character. Men need to be awakened out of their security, as Peter was wakened on the sea of Galilee, to recall their past discipleship and to compare it with what they are now, and then to cry, as Simon Peter cried, “Lord, save me, or I perish.”
Sinking While Obeying Christ
Also to be noted is this fact, that Peter began to sink on a permitted path. When he began to sink he was no trespasser; he was going where Christ permitted him to go. Had our Lord cried to him across the water, Thou art a madman if thou triest to come; had He cried to him, Thou shalt not come–on the peril of thy life I bid thee halt; why then we should have understood it better–we should have said it served him right to sink for then he would have been disobeying Christ, and the wages of disobedience is death. The point which I want you to notice is that Simon Peter was not disobeying. Our Lord had not forbidden him to come. And so do I learn that on permitted paths–on ways that are sanctioned by the voice of heaven–it is possible now, as on the lake of Galilee, for men and women to begin to sink. There are ways that are forbidden to every child of man. God writes His flaming “No Thoroughfare” upon them. And just for the reason that this is a righteous universe, the man who sets foot on them begins to sink immediately. But the strange thing is that even when God says “Come,” and opens up the way that we may walk in it, even there it is always possible to sink. That is true of the blessedness of home. It is true of all social and Christian service. And man may preach the everlasting Gospel, yet run the risk of being cast away. And therefore amid all our privileges and all the gifts which God has blessed us with, “Lord, save us, or we perish.”
Peter Began to Sink When He Began to Fear
Equally notable is this, too, that Peter began to sink when he began to fear. And the Scripture tells when he began to fear: it was when he took his eyes off his Lord. There is not a trace that the wind had grown more fierce while the disciple was walking on the water. It had been just as fierce and the waves had been just as boisterous when he had sprung from the gunwale of the boat. But then he had thought of nothing but the Master, had had eyes for nobody except the Master, and so long as that continued he was safe. Looking to Christ, he could go anywhere. The very sea was as a pavement to him. Looking away from Christ he was as other men, and the perils that surrounded him were terrible. And then he regretted the rashness of his venture and saw nothing around him but the seething waters, and so Peter began to be afraid and beginning to be afraid, began to sink. That is true of every kind of life. It is true especially of spiritual life. In the perilous calling of the spiritual life, to lose heart is to lose everything. And that is why the Lord is always saying to us, “My son, give me thine heart,” for only in His keeping is it safe. It is a simple message–looking unto Jesus, and yet it is the message of salvation. To trust in Him and to keep the eye on Him is the one secret of all Christian victory. And when we have failed to do so in the stress of life, as all of us, like Simon Peter, fail, then there is nothing left but to cry with Peter, “Lord, save me, or I perish.”
I think, too, we may reasonably infer that the other disciples knew nothing of all this. When Peter began to sink, they never noticed it. To begin with, all this happened about the time of daybreak. Then the waves were boisterous and in wild confusion, so that the feet of Peter often would be hidden. And if they failed to recognize their Lord when He walked in majesty upon the waters, they were not likely to see Peter clearly. When we see someone on the point of drowning, our first instinct is to give a cry. But we have no hint of anyone crying here, save the disciple himself in his distress. And so I gather from these converging hints that when Peter began to sink into the deeps, no one saw it except himself and Christ. There are some people just like Simon Peter. They have not sunk yet, they are not degraded; they are just beginning to sink. Yet no one at home knows anything about it; no one suspects it or has ever dreamed of it; no one would believe it for a moment. When a man has sunk, then there is no disguising. The story is written that he who runs may read. There is nothing hidden but it shall be revealed, whether of things in heaven or things in hell. But when a man is just beginning to sink it may be utterly different from that; it may be a secret between himself and God. His nearest and dearest may not dream of it; his mother and father may be in total ignorance. And he may come to church and engage in Christian service and take his place at the communion table. And we say of him, How well he is getting on–what a fine young fellow he is turning out to be. And all the time, unheard and unobserved, the man is crying, “Lord, save me, or I perish.” It ought to make us very tenderhearted. It ought to make us always very prayerful. There are things happening among us which we never suspect, of which we never dream. For the heart knoweth its own bitterness and a stranger intermeddleth not therewith; but there is One who is not a stranger and He knows.
Christ Is Never Far A way
And so I close by saying that when Peter began to sink, his Saviour was not far away. Immediately He put out His hand and grasped him. How far Peter had walked upon the water the narrative of Scripture does not tell us. Shall we say fifty yards, or shall we say a hundred yards?–it matters not whether fifty or a hundred. If the nearest human hand was fifty yards away, the hand of Christ was not fifty yards away; immediately He put forth His hand and helped him. My brother, just beginning to sink, will you remember that Christ is at your side? All human help may seem very far away; remember that He is not very far away. He is near you now; near you where you sit. You need Him sorely and He is there for you. Cry out now, “Lord, save me, or I perish,” and He will do it to the uttermost for you.