Deliverance: If God be for Us

Rom.8: 31,32.---' If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?'

It is out of a life rich in memories of victory that the Apostle speaks his challenge. And we know the source where he derived that conquering courage and trust. It was Christ's creation---our Lord's gift to an age which was worldly wise and therefore world-weary and hastening towards its fall. So, if we would learn to share the Apostle's confidence and to pass on to others his heartening challenge, we should turn back to the pages of our Lord's own wonderful life.

Of its vivid pictures perhaps none is more impressive as a lesson in faith than the story of our Lord's astonishment on the lake of Gennesaret. That story is commonly called 'The Stilling of the Tempest,' but this is quite a misnomer. If the sole interest of the narrators had indeed been fixed on the cessation of the storm, we might well have hesitated to credit their account. It is not the marvellousness of the achievement that awakens suspicion, for our Lord did much that was even more marvelous. What might provoke doubt is the easiness with which a tale of mere prodigy might grow up in a miracle-loving age. But, while to invent the prodigy might have been easy, to invent our Lord's astonishment---to invent a way of treating the disciples' terror that has about it such a distinguished originality---this is an achievement beyond ordinary myth-making powers. Look at the moment, the sequence of event and action.

The elements raged; the disciples trembled; our Lord slept. They wakened Him with their weak but most humanly natural appeal: 'Master, carest thou not that we perish?' Now what, under these conditions, was the obvious course for our Lord to follow? What was the course which, in virtue of its obviousness, would naturally have been attributed to Him if the story had been legend? In the judgment of our own age the obvious action for a religious teacher under such circumstances would have been to preach a sermon on the duty of trusting God in time of danger. To a prodigy-loving age, on the other hand, the obvious action might have seemed to be the Master's stilling of the tempest. But no age would have that sequence of emotion and deed seem obvious which, we are told, marked our Lord's behavior. That which, to His own spiritual vision, shone so luminously---the Heavenly Father holding in the hollow of His mighty hand the little lake, the dangerous little tempest, the tiny boat with its specks of human creatures---this He flashed upon the disciples' natural vision by asking the Father's hand to close upon the little tempest and crush it into stillness. And then, with never a second thought for the deed that He had done, He turned to the disciples and asked in grieved surprise: 'Why are ye fearful? Have ye not yet faith?' It is as though He said: 'If God be for you, can a mere tempest be against you?' The logic is the same as that which St. Paul uses, but in the deed which went before the reasoning there shines out that utterness of belief in the Heavenly Father's willingness and liberty to be FOR us which was Christ's new, unique contribution to the religious life of the world.

What stirs our wonder is not so much any particular idea implied in our Lord's action here as His attitude to the deed He had done---His evident lack of any feeling that what had occurred was out of the common. It is in this feature above all that the narrative reveals its essential authenticity. It is dominated by the originality of thought and deed of One for whom it was indeed one of the commonplaces of everyday life that the Father controls the mightiest forces of Nature in the interests even of the humblest lessons which that faith needs to learn. It is simple fact that the Father is always controlling forces of Nature in the interests of faith, and so the stilling of the tempest was indeed something commonplace---a mere making visible of what He is doing all the time. And it is this feature of the story that enables it to teach so precious a lesson. Death is not commonplace, but life is. Things to come are not commonplace, but things present are. Yet equally a matter of everyday commonplace fact is God's control of the world for the ends of faith. And so neither death not life, neither things to come nor things present, can separate us from the love of God. If God be for us, no tottering of our life's structure need make us despair---not shadowed homes, nor the enfeebling of the Church's testimony, nor the threatened collapse of our civilization.

Does this one picture-lesson from the great life of our Lord suffice us? Or do we perhaps complain that in the face of merely external danger---in presence, say, of a physical tempest---trust is easy? Do we want an object-lesson from a case of spiritual extremity? If we do, let us turn another page in the life of our Lord.

There came a critical stage in His great enterprise of winning for the world the Kingdom of God, of winning it, if possible, for His own beloved nation too. The crowds had been stirred, but their attitude was undecided. It seemed that a little more might win them, but just as possible that this little more might repel them. And then Jesus was led to work the miracle of feeding the thousands, that miracle which they ought to have felt eloquent of the kind of Heavenly Father in whom Christ sought to awaken their real trust. Yet upon very few did it have this effect. In the majority it aroused instead a lust for worldly well-being and provoked a scheme to force Jesus to take the lead in a politico-social revolution. Such a revolution of human blindness of soul seems to have brought home to our Lord the certainty that His ideal could not be won in the way in which He had longed that it might come to pass. He quieted the crowd and caused it to disperse. He hurried the disciples away by themselves in a boat. he Himself retired to the hills that He might be alone, and might in the solitude of prayer wrestle with that which He now saw so plainly before Him.

But in the loneliness of that night there was no stillness. The winds rose and howled about His place of retreat. With the whirlwind of men's vain excitement, resting on no solid basis of insight, from which He had just escaped and to which He must presently return, there linked themselves in His mind the eddying gusts of the storm, as they sprang up seemingly from nowhere and whirled so madly around. The scurrying clouds that raced across the face of heaven appeared one with the follies which, chasing each other across the field of man's vision, continually obscure from him the true countenance of God. Out yonder on the lake Jesus could see the disciples' frail craft tossed and threatened by the hungry waves. Was not the fair vessel of is own life-work also at sea in this very tempest, where the spiritual and the material, joined in one unholy alliance, made simultaneous war against all that to Him was dear? Perched high up amid the chaos of the elements, the soul of our Lord wrestled on in solitude. And then upon His straining faith there fell an inward peace. He saw the tempest, both spiritual and physical, held in the hollow of His Father's hand, its noisiest fury impotent to work more than His Fathers will. And Jesus arose and walked down the hillside---walked right out into the waves.

There is nothing in the narratives to suggest that our Lord thought of working a miracle, or that He meant to teach a lesson. Jesus had the poet's cast of mind, which is quick to find the invisible clothing itself in the visible, and for which the dividing line between material and spiritual is ever very thin. And just as, a little later, the barren fig-tree blended in the poet-mind of Jesus with the barrenness of Israel, so here at this high-strung moment the physical storm had become for Him indistinguishably one with the spiritual conflict that threatened to shipwreck His God-given mission. Thus it came to pass that the act of gazing calmly into the heart of that HUMAN tempest whose fierce threatenings absorbed His thought worked itself out naturally, unself-consciously, possibly at first without His own express notice, into the act of breasting the PHYSICAL storm, walking out into the very sea, and treading down its waves which He saw tossing themselves so impotently in the grasp of His Father's hand.

Is this too venturesome a reading of this strange story in the life of our Lord? It may be so. But at any rate a spiritual crisis did drive our Lord that evening to seek solitude on the mountain-side, and to stay there through hours of the storm. At any rate He did conquer. And beyond all question the secret of His victorious serenity, as He walked upon the waters with apparently no desire to reach the boat, was not different from this: 'If the Heavenly Father be for us, what can be against us?'

What more can our faith need to stir it to new life than St. Paul's challenging logic, and these object-lessons in proof of its validity. And yet, strange though it may seem, we do want more. We want more because there is one disheartening obvious answer to St. Paul's logic. 'It is true,' we sadly murmur, 'that if God be for us, no one can be against us---no one but ourselves. Yet we ourselves are our own worst enemies, and God will not force our human wills.'

But we have not done with St. Paul's logic so quickly. We must follow his argument to its close. 'He that spared not his own son'---that is how the reasoning proceeds, and it reaches to the uttermost of our need. The Apostle's challenge passes on to us our Lord's message, but besides His message there was His mission.

Our Lord's message---the central thought which was the inspiration of all His deeds of human faith and words of wondrous power---was this: that God is so absolutely For us as to leave no reason in the world why we should not obtain from Him what will satisfy our every need---no reason but this, that we will not, or do not, go to Him in a spirit that permits Him to do as He would wish and grant our every desire. Now, besides this message of the Lord, our Brother, there is the mission of the Lord, our Redeemer. The Father knows our impotence to approach Him as we should, and therefore it was that He 'spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all,' so that, this our impotence having been abolished through the work of His Son, He might be able with Him freely to give us all things.

Why do we sometimes find it so difficult to believe that even all the resources of the Godhead can conquer sin in our own personal case? We feel so just because, and we feel so only when, this impossibility HAS begun to be accomplished. Our self-despair is the first part of Christ's transforming work in us. We do not know that we are so stubborn until He has begun to soften us. Let us thank Him, then, for the hopelessness with which He sometimes oppresses us; and when those times are at their worst, let us repeat to ourselves that our salvation is God's responsibility---His age-long purpose through Christ.

Do we hope?---then let us thank God, and do better, and love more. Do we despair?---let us thank God, and do better then too. For despair is the witness to His presence with us in our black prison-house of sin.

The pardon of sin is the crown of His glory, And the joy of our Lord to be true to His name.

Your brother, Tim.