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The Stilling of the Tempest
by Richard Chenevix Trench
Chapter 17 from The Miracles of our Lord
Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25
The three Evangelists who relate this history consent it immediately before the healing of the possessed in the country of the Gaderenes.  But in respect of the events which it followed, all the best harmonists are agreed that we must desert the order and succession of these as given by the first, in favour; as it does not seem that by any skill they can be perfectly reconciled.  It was evening, the evening, probably, of that day on which the Lord had spoken all those parables recorded in Matt. 13 (cf. Mark 4:35), when, seeing great multitudes about Him still, 'He gave commandment to depart unto the other side’ of the lake, to the more retired region of Peraea.  ‘And when they had sent away the multitude,’ which, however, was not effected without three memorable sayings to three who formed part of it (Matt. 8:19-22; cf. Luke 9:57-62), ‘they took Him even as He was in the ship.’  But before the voyage was accomplished ‘behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea.’  A sudden and violent squall, such as these small inland seas, surrounded with mountain gorges, are notoriously exposed to, descended on the bosom of the lake: and the ship which bore the Saviour of the world appeared to be in imminent peril, as, humanly speaking, no doubt it was; for these men, exercised to the sea many of them from their youth, and familiar with all the changes of that lake, would not have been terrified by the mere shadow of a danger.  But though the danger was so real, and was ever growing more urgent, until ‘the waves beat into the ship, so that now it was full,’ their Master, weary, it may be, with the toils of the day, continued sleeping still: He was according to details which St. Mark alone has preserved, ‘in the hinder part of the ship, asleep upon a pillow;’ and was not roused by all the tumult and confusion incident on such a moment.  We behold in Him here exactly the reverse of Jonah (Jonah 1:5,6); the fugitive prophet asleep in the midst of a like danger out of a dead conscience, the Saviour out of a pure conscience; Jonah by his presence making the danger, Jesus yielding the pledge and the assurance of deliverance from the danger.

But the disciples understood not this.  It was long, we may believe, before they dared to arouse Him; yet at length the extremity of the peril overcame their hesitation, and they did so, not without exclamations of haste and terror, as is evidenced by the double ‘Master, Master’ of St. Luke.  This double compellation, as it scarcely needs to observe, always marks a special earnestness on the part of the speaker; and as God’s speakings to man are ever of this character, it will often be found in them (Gen. 22:11; Exod. 3:4; 1 Sam. 3:10; Luke 10:41; Acts 9:4); as in man’s also to God (Matt. 7:22; 27:46).  In St. Mark the disciples rouse their Lord with words almost of rebuke, as if He were unmindful of their safety, ‘Master, carest Thou not that we perish?’ though in this their ‘we’ they included their beloved Lord as well as themselves.  ‘And He saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?’—from St. Matthew it would appear, first blaming their want of faith, and then pacifying the storm; though the other Evangelists make the blame not to have preceded, but to have followed, the allaying of the winds and waves.  Probably it did both: He spoke first to them, quieting with a word the tempest in their bosoms; and then, having allayed the tumult of the outer elements, He again turned to them, and more deliberately rebuked their lack of faith in Him.  Still let it be observed that He does not, according to St. Matthew, call them ‘without faith,’ but ‘of little faith;’ and St. Mark’s ‘How is it ye have no faith?’ must be modified and explained by the milder rebuke recorded in the other Evangelists.  They were not wholly without faith; for, believing in the midst of their unbelief, they turned to Christ in their fear.  They had faith, but it was not quick and lively; it was not at hand, as the Lord’s question, ‘Where is your faith? (Luke 8:25) sufficiently implies.  They had it, as the weapon which a soldier has, but cannot lay hold of it at the moment when he needs it the most.  Their sin lay not in seeking help of Him; for this indeed became them well; but in the excess of their terror, ‘why are ye so fearful?’ in their counting it possible that the ship which bore their Lord could ever perish.

‘Then He arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.’  Caesar’s confidence that the bark which contained the heavenly calmness and confidence of the Lord.  We must not miss the force of that word ‘rebuked,’ preserved by all three Evangelists; and as little the direct address to the furious elements, ‘Peace, be still,’ which St. Mark only records.  To regard this as a mere oratorical personification would be absurd; rather is there here, as Maldonatus truly remarks, a distinct tracing up of all the discords and disharmonies in the outward world to their source in a person, a referring them back to him, as to their ultimate ground; even as this person can be no other than Satan, the author of all disorders alike in the natural and in the spiritual world.  The Lord elsewhere ‘rebukes’ a fever (Luke 4:39), where the same remarks will hold good.  Nor is this rebuke unheard or unheeded; for ‘not willingly’ was the creature thus made ‘subject to vanity’ (Rom 8:20).  Constituted to be man’s handmaid at the first, it is only reluctantly, and submitting to an alien force, that nature rises up against him, and becomes the instrument of his hurt and harm.  In the hour of her wildest uproar she knew the voice of Him who was her rightful Lord, gladly returned to her allegiance to Him, and in this to her place of proper service to that race of which He had become the Head, and whose lost prerogatives He was reclaiming and reasserting once more.  And to effect all this, His word alone was sufficient; He needed not, as Moses, to stretch a rod over the deep; He needed not, as his servant had needed, an instrument of power, apart from Himself, with which to do His mighty work (Ex. 14:16, 21, 27); but at His word only ‘the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.’

The Evangelists proceed to describe the moral effect which this great wonder exercised on the minds of those that were in the ship;--it may be also on those that were in the ‘other little ships,’ which St. Mark has noted as sailing in their company: ‘The men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?' an exclamation which can only find its answer in another exclamation of the Psalmist, ‘O Lord God of Hosts, who is like unto thee?  Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, Thou stillest them’ (Psalm 89:8,0).  We see here, no doubt, the chief ethical purpose to which, in the providence of God, who ordered all things for the glory of his Son, this miracle was intended to serve.  It was to lead his disciples into thoughts ever higher and more awful of that Lord whom they served, more and more to teach them that in nearness to Him was safety and deliverance from every danger.  The danger which exercised, should likewise strengthen, their faith, -- who indeed had need of a mighty faith, since God, in St. Chrysostom’s words, had chosen them to be the athletes of the universe.

An old expositor has somewhat boldly said, ‘This power of the Lord’s word, this admiration of them that were with Him in the ship, holy David had predicted in the psalm, saying, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep”’ (Ps. 107:22-30).  And as in the spiritual world the inward is ever shadowed forth by the outward, we may regard this outward fact but as the clothing of an inward truth which in the language of this miracle the Lord declares unto men.  He sets Himself forth as the true Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6-9), the speaker of peace to the troubled and storm-stirred heart of man, whether the storms that stir it be its own inner passions, or life’s outward calamities and temptations.  Thus Augustine, making application of all parts of the miracle: ‘We are sailing in this life as through the sea, and the wind rises, and storms of temptations are not wanting.  Whence is this, save because Jesus is sleeping in thee?  But what means this, that Jesus is sleeping in thee, save that thy faith, which is from Jesus, is slumbering in thine heart?  What shalt thou do to be delivered?  Arouse Him, and say, Master, we abide with thee always.  When Christ is awakened, though the tempest beat into, yet it will not fill, thy ship; thy faith will now command the winds and the waves, and the danger will be over.’

We shall do no wrong to the literal truth of this and other of Christ’s miracles by recognizing the character at once symbolic and prophetic, which many of them also bear, and this among the number.  It need hardly be observed that the sea is evermore in Scripture the symbol of the restless and sinful world (Daniel 7:2, 3; Rev. 13:1; Isaiah 57:20).  As the kernel of the old humanity, Noah and his family, was once contained in the Ark which was tossed upon the waves of the deluge, so the kernel of the new humanity, of the new creation, Christ and His Apostles, in this little ship.  And the Church of Christ has evermore resembled this tempested bark, in that the waves of the world rage horribly around it, in that it has evermore been delivered out of the perils which seemed ready to overwhelm it, -- and this because Christ is in it (Ps. 46:1-3; 93:3,4); who being roused by the cry of His servants, rebukes these winds and these waters before they utterly overwhelmed this ship.  In the Old Testament, Ezekiel gives us a magnificent picture of a worldly kingdom under the image of a stately and gorgeous galley, which he describes with every circumstance that could heighten its glory and its beauty (27:4-9); but that ship with all its outward bravery and magnificence utterly perishes: ‘thy rowers have brought thee into great waters; the east wind hath broken thee in the midst of the seas,’ and they that hoped in it, and embarked in it their treasures, wail over its wreck with a bitter wailing (vers. 26-36); this kingdom of God, this Church of Christ, meanwhile, seeming by comparison but as the slight and unhonoured fishing boat which any wave might engulf, rides triumphantly over it all, and comes safely into haven at the last.