The disciples of John had come to Jesus with the tidings that Herod the tetrarch had beheaded the Baptist. Jesus, feeling the need of solitude, had departed by ship into a desert place apart. The people, however, hearing of it and being thoroughly absorbed with their own needs and desires, followed Him afoot.
It was a huge multitude who sought the Lord. Many of them had come a long way, bringing with them their sick, the maimed, the deaf and the blind, and Jesus, moved with compassion, had healed them. Then, when evening had come—and there was no bread—Jesus had miraculously fed them; five thousand men, so we read, beside the women and children. How wonderful!
What a glorious achievement! How elated must have been the people, but especially that little inner circle—His chosen twelve. They too still looked for an earthly Messiah, who would banish forever this hated Roman yoke. In this mighty leader they saw the fulfillment of all their fondest hopes and dreams. Could anything be more simple than the ascension of Jesus to the throne of Israel—the earthly throne of David? The people were ready and eager to proclaim Him King; and with Christ on the throne there would never again be famine, sickness, or want of any kind, for could He not call into being the things that were not as if they existed? Were not all things subject to His will? All these things He had so plainly manifested. What power, glory and influence would be theirs in that new Kingdom! How lofty must have been those air castles and what bitter disappointment to have them all crumple in utter disillusionment, when contrary to all their plans, Christ puts a mighty damper on their enthusiasm and snuffs out every vestige of their high elation! From this time on they are to battle against a series of “Contrary Winds.”
With a spirit of authority Christ sends the multitudes away, commands them to depart by ship, while He Himself sadly leaves them to go up into the mountain to pray. There must have been a storm within the hearts and minds and souls of the disciples, for oh, they were still so very much of this earth earthy and had no conception of the spiritual, neither did they understand that the Saviour’s hour was rapidly approaching. There were still to be a great many “contrary winds” before they would finally understand their significance and worth. Until that time, they badly needed their Master’s cheering and assuring words: “Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” Yes, indeed, they needed that when all things seemed to go so hopelessly contrary to the Saviour’s success.
Confused and somewhat bewildered, we can almost imagine the trend of their conversation as listlessly they embarked for the opposite shore, perhaps wholly oblivious to the ominous signs of an approaching storm. But soon stark fear wipes out all other emotions, for we read that when they were in the midst of the sea they were tossed with the waves, for the wind was contrary. And when faced with contrary winds the struggle really begins. Their little ship is now tossed about on those mighty billows as easily as if it had been a tiny nutshell and every wave threatens to obliterate them.
Isn’t it a beautiful and comforting picture that when the storm is at its wildest and there seems no way out—no hope, no future but to be hopelessly engulfed—that the Lord comes with His “Peace be still”? How beautifully typical of a Christian’s life! O how those storms can rage—and how at times they do rage!
“But, when the storm beats
loudest and I cry
Aloud for help, the Master
And whispers to my soul,
“Lo it is I”
Above the tempest wild I hear
Beyond the darkness lies the
In every path of thine, I lead
And when we hear that whisper in our souls, it is quiet, very quiet, and we begin to understand what the apostle Paul means when he speaks of the peace that passeth all understanding. Still, how true, too, that one of the greatest disappointments in a Christian’s life is the fact that he so frequently disappoints himself and that he must over and over again hear those words of rebuke: “Oh ye of little faith.” For like Peter, when we see the mighty billows and hear the roaring of the winds, we are afraid, and our trust and faith all too often falters and fails, and from the anguish of our souls we cry: “Lord help me!” Sweet comfort, that when we really turn to Him He never puts us to shame for He knows and understands how weak and frail we are.
Many have been the storms during the history and development of the Church. Sometimes it seemed as if the little ship must surely perish. The odds seemed too great. But God miraculously preserved His people and His truth. There has ever been a remnant to raise the standard high; a little flicker of light in a great darkness. Always under great difficulties and tempestuous storms, storms which from a human point of view seemed to hinder God’s work and cause; and yet we know differently. It pleased God that through struggles and storms His truth should ever be kept pure and thus develop deeper, firmer roots, while much of the chaff in the same process should be swept away.
Just previous to the Reformation, it surely seemed as if the blessed Gospel would be engulfed by ritual, superstition and utter wickedness. God used a Luther whose inward struggles and outward storms were so hellish in violence, so fierce indeed that often it seemed to him that both body and soul must succumb. Yet out of this man’s bitter experiences and agonizing struggles, the Reformation was born. “God works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.”
And we could easily go on, beginning with that little group in Jerusalem right down through the ages and up to this present day. It is true, there are times when the storms somewhat abate and there is comparative quiet and calm, but these periods are never conducive to real growth. Outwardly the Church may thrive but there is no depth, and when the fierce winds and raging storms again begin to blow, only that which is founded on that solid rock will remain.
Of course we know that a Church need not be wholly corrupt to warrant a Reformation or to justify a separation. Such was the case in 1924 and in many previous separations. How contrary seemed the winds to the always small minority group. The winds were never in their sails, but they ever had to face them and the going was hard and long, and their progress so very, very slow. Then, as is usually the case, questionings arose; for isn’t it true “that conquer we must if our cause it is just”? Or much better still, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Listen: “Fear not little flock!” It is the Lord’s work, but also the Lord’s way. In that we must rest while fighting the good fight of faith. May it ever be a source of comfort to us when encountering disheartening winds, which seem to retard our progress, that “contrary winds” are characteristic, especially in the measure in which we will be called upon to stand for our precious Reformed truth.
Often, in retrospection, we think of the “contrary winds” which crossed our individual paths. Not many of us have escaped facing them. There are all kinds of storms and all kinds of winds and one was called upon to face this and another that; but they all meant struggles and oftentimes tears.
God, in a very specific way has again sent storms and judgment upon His earth. Have we, looking on, and suffering too, calmly rested in the knowledge and assurance that our Father was at the helm and would safely see us and our loved ones through? Perhaps He didn’t always follow the course we would have chosen, but it was the best and only way; of this we may be sure. He can make the greatest trials a blessing—teaching us the lesson He means us to learn, working in us His Grace.
Were we to face the future in our own strength, we would surely tremble with nameless fear, for the clouds overhead are threatening and the way ahead looks dark! Shall we grope around along with the world, vainly seeking light? No! By grace we will put our hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to us better than a light and safer than a known way.