by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” – Luke 8:22-25
I WANT to call attention particularly to this question which was addressed by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to the disciples. He said to them: `Where is your faith?’ Indeed I would call your attention to this entire incident as a part of our consideration of the subject of spiritual depression. We have already considered a number of causes of the condition and this particular incident in the life and ministry of our Lord brings us face to face with yet another cause.
The one that is dealt with here is the whole problem and question of the nature of faith. In other words, there are many Christians who get into difficulty and are unhappy from time to time because they clearly have not understood the nature of faith. `Well’, you may say, `if they have not understood the nature of faith, how can they be Christians?’ The answer is that what makes one a Christian is that one is given the gift of faith. We are given the gift of faith by God through the Holy Spirit and we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and that saves us; but that does not mean that we have fully understood the nature of faith. So it comes to pass that, while we may be truly Christian and genuinely saved through receiving this gift of faith, we may subsequently get into trouble with our spiritual experience because we have not understood what faith really is. It is given as a gift, but from there on we have to do certain things about it.
Now this very striking incident brings out the vital importance of distinguishing between the original gift of faith and the walk of faith, or the life of faith which comes subsequently. God starts us off in this Christian life and then we have to walk in it. `We walk by faith, not by sight’, is the theme that we are now considering.
Before I come actually to that particular theme, I must say a few words about this great incident in and of itself. Looked at from any standpoint it is a very interesting and important incident. It has a great deal to tell us, for instance, about the Person of our Lord Himself. It brings us face to face with what is described as a paradox, the seeming contradiction in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. There He was, weary and tired, so tired, in fact, that He fell asleep. Now this incident is recorded by the three so-called synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and it is really important from the standpoint of understanding the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at Him. There is no doubt about His humanity, He is fatigued, He is tired and weary, so much so that He just falls asleep, and, though the storm has arisen, He still goes on sleeping. He is subject to infirmity, He is a man in the body and flesh like all the rest of us. Ah, yes, but wait a minute. They came to Him and awoke Him saying:
`Master, carest Thou not that we perish?’ Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the sea, and they ceased and there was a calm-one of the others describes it as `a great calm’. Now it is not surprising that the disciples, seeing all this, wondered and said one to another: `What manner of Man is this! For He commandeth even the winds and water and they obey Him’.
Man, and yet obviously God. He could command the elements, He could silence the wind and stop the raging of the sea. He is the Lord of nature and of creation, He is the Lord of the universe. This is the mystery and the marvel of Jesus Christ-God and Man, two natures in One Person, two natures unmixed yet resident in the same Person.
We must start here, because if we are not clear about that there is no purpose in our going on. If you do not believe in the unique deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are not a Christian, whatever else you may be. We are not looking at a good Man only, we are not interested merely in the greatest Teacher the world has ever seen; we are face to face with the fact that God, the Eternal Son, has been in this world and that He took upon Him human nature and dwelt amongst us, a Man amongst men-God-Man. We are face to face with the mystery and the marvel of the Incarnation and of the Virgin Birth. It is all here, and it shines out in all the fullness of its amazing glory. `What manner of Man is this?’ He is more than Man. That is the answer-He is also God.
However, that is not, it seems to me, the special purpose of this particular incident. You get that revelation in other places also, it shines out right through all the Gospels; but the separate particular incidents in which it is seen, generally also have some special and peculiar message of their own to teach us. In this case there can be no doubt that that message is the lesson with regard to the disciples and their condition at this point-it is the great lesson concerning faith and the nature or the character of faith. I do not know what you feel, but I never cease to be grateful to these disciples. I am grateful for the record of every mistake they ever made, and for every blunder they ever committed, because I see myself in them. How grateful we should be to God that we have these Scriptures, how grateful to Him that He has not merely given us the gospel and left it at that. How wonderful it is that we can read accounts like this and see ourselves depicted in them, and how grateful we should be to God that it is a divinely inspired Word which speaks the truth, and shows and pictures every human frailty.
So we find our Lord rebuking these men. He rebukes them because of their alarm, because of their terror, because of their lack of faith. Here they were in the boat with Him, and the storm arose, and soon they were in difficulties. They baled out the water, but the boat was filling up and they could see that in a few moments it was going to sink. They had done everything they could but it did not seem to be of any avail, and what amazed them was that the Master was still sleeping soundly in the stern of the vessel. So they awoke Him and said: `Master, Master, carest Thou not that we perish?’ -are You unconcerned about it all? And He arose, and having rebuked the wind and the sea, He rebuked them.
Now we must be careful to observe this rebuke and to understand what He was saying. In the first place, He was rebuking them for being in such a state at all. `Where is your faith?’ He says. Matthew puts it: `O ye of little faith!’ Here as elsewhere `He marvelled at their unbelief’. He rebuked them for being in that state of agitation and terror and alarm while He was with them in the boat.
That is the first great lesson we have to apply to ourselves and to one another. It is very wrong for a Christian ever to be in such a condition. I do not care what the circumstances may be, the Christian should never be agitated, the Christian should never be beside himself like this, the Christian should never be at his wit’s end, the Christian should never be in a condition in which he has lost control of himself. That is the first lesson, a lesson we have emphasized before because it is an essential part of the New Testament teaching. A Christian should never, like the worldly person, be depressed, agitated, alarmed, frantic, not knowing what to do. It is the typical reaction to trouble of those who are not Christian, that is why it is so wrong to be like that.
The Christian is different from other people, the Christian has something which the non-Christian does not possess, and the ideal for the Christian is that which is stated so perfectly by the Apostle Paul in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians : `I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content . . . I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’. That is the Christian position, that is what the Christian is meant to be like. The Christian is never meant to be carried away by his feelings, whatever they are-never. That is always wrong in a Christian. He is always to be controlled, as I hope to show you. The trouble with these men was that they were lacking in self-control. That is why they were miserable, that is why they were unhappy, that is why they were alarmed and agitated, though the Son of God was with them in the boat. I cannot emphasize this point too strongly. I lay it down as a simple proposition that a Christian should never lose self-control, should never be in a state of agitation or terror or alarm, whatever the circumstances. That is obviously our first lesson.
The position of these people was alarming. They were in jeopardy and it looked as if they were going to be drowned the next moment, but our Lord says in effect: `You should not be in that condition. As My followers you have no right to be in such a state even though you are in jeopardy’. That is the first great lesson, and the second is, that what is so wrong about being in this condition is that it implies a lack of trust and of confidence in Him. That is the trouble and that is why it is so reprehensible. That is why He reprimanded these men at that point. He said in effect: `Do you feel like this in spite of the fact that I am with you? Do you not trust Me?’ Mark reports them as saying: `Master, carest Thou not that we perish?’ Now I do not think that they were referring only to themselves or to their own safety. I do not think that they were so self-centred.
I do not think that they simply meant: Don’t You care that we are going to drown? without considering Him at all. I believe they were including Him as well, that they thought they were all going to be drowned. `Master, carest Thou not that we perish?’ But still, this agitation and alarm always carries with it a lack of implicit trust and confidence in Him. It is a lack of faith in His concern for us and in His care for us. It means that we take charge and are going to look after the situation ourselves, feeling either that He does not care, or perhaps that He cannot do.
It means that we take charge and are going to look after the situation ourselves, feeling either that He does not care, or perhaps that He cannot do anything. That is what makes this so terrible, but I wonder whether we always realize it. It seems obvious as we look at it objectively in the case of these disciples; but when you and I are agitated or disturbed and do not know what to do, and are giving the impression of great nervous tension, anybody looking at us is entitled to say : `That person has not much faith in his or her Lord. There does not seem to be much point in being a Christian after all, there is not much value in Christianity as I see it in that person’.
Now during the war we were all subject to these trials in an exceptional way, but even now in days of peace anything that comes across our path and puts us in difficulty, at once shows whether we believe in Him and trust in Him, by our response and reaction to it. There seems to me, therefore, on the very surface to be these two great lessons.
We must never allow ourselves to be agitated and disturbed whatever the circumstances because to do so implies a lack of faith, a lack of trust, a lack of confidence in our blessed Lord and God. However, let us look at the passage in detail, let us now draw some general principles out of the incident and its great teaching.
First of all, in looking at this whole question of faith, let me say a word about what I might call `the trial of faith’. Scripture is full of this idea of the trial of one’s faith. Take the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. That is, in a sense, nothing but a great exposition of this theme of the trial of faith. Every one of those men was tried. They had been given great promises and they had accepted them, and then everything seemed to go wrong. It is true of all of them. Think of the trial of a man like Noah, the trial of a man like Abraham, the trials that men like Jacob and especially Moses had to endure. God gives the gift of faith and then the faith is tried.
Peter, in his First Epistle in the first chapter, says exactly the same thing. He says : `Though ye are in heaviness for a season’ because of certain circumstances, the object of that is `that the trial of your faith which is more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ’. That is the theme of all the Scriptures. You find it in the history of the Patriarchs and of all the Old Testament saints, you find it running through the New Testament. Indeed, it is peculiarly the theme of the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation.
Let us then be clear about this. We must start by understanding that we may well find ourselves in a position in which our faith is going to be tried. Storms and trials are allowed by God. If we are living the Christian life, or trying to live the Christian life, at the moment, on the assumption that it means just come to Christ and you will never have any more worry in the whole of your life, we are harboring a terrible fallacy. In fact it is a delusion and it is not true. Our faith will be tried, and James goes so far as to say: `Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (trials)’ (James 1:2). God permits storms, He permits difficulties, He permits the wind to blow and the billows to roll, and everything may seem to be going wrong and we ourselves to be in jeopardy. We must learn and realize that God does not take His people and lead them into some kind of Elysium in which they are protected from all `the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Not at all, we are living in the same world as everybody else. Indeed, the Apostle Paul seems to go further than that.
He tells the Philippians: `Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake’ (Philippians 1. 29). `In the world’, says our Lord, `ye shall have tribulation but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33) `Be of good cheer’-yes, but remember that you will have the tribulation. Paul and Barnabas going on their missionary journey visited the churches and warned them, `that we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22).
We must start by realizing that `to be forewarned is to be forearmed’ in this matter. If we have a magical conception of the Christian life, we are certain to find ourselves in trouble, because, when difficulties come, we shall be tempted to ask: `Why is this allowed?’ And we should never ask such a question. If we but realized this fundamental truth, we never would ask it. Our Lord goes to sleep and allows the storm to come. The position may indeed become quite desperate and we may appear to be in danger of our lives. Everything may seem to be against us, yet-well here it is, a Christian poet has said it for us:
`When all things seem against us To drive us to despair’ .. .
But it does not drive him to despair because he goes on to say:
`We know one gate is open One ear will hear our prayer’.
But things may be desperate: `All things seem against us, to drive us to despair’. Let us then be prepared for that. Yes, but we must go further. While all this is happening to us, our Lord appears to be utterly unconcerned about us. That is where the real trial of faith comes in. The wind and the billows were bad enough and the water coming into the ship. That was terrible, but the thing that to them was most terrible of all was His apparent unconcern. Still sleeping and not apparently caring. `Master, carest Thou not that we perish?’ He appears to be unconcerned, unconcerned about us, unconcerned about Himself, unconcerned about His cause, unconcerned about His Kingdom.
Just imagine the feelings of these men. They had followed Him and listened to His teaching about the coming of the Kingdom, they had seen His miracles and were expecting marvelous things to happen; and now it looked as if everything was going to come to an end in shipwreck and drowning. What an anti-climax and all because of His unconcern! We must be very young indeed in the Christian life if we do not know something about this. Do we not all know something of this position of trial and difficulty, yes, and of a feeling that God somehow does not seem to care? He does not do anything about it. `Why does He allow me, a Christian, to suffer at the hands of a non-Christian?’ says many a person. `Why does He allow things to go wrong with me and not with the other person?’ `Why is that man successful while I am unsuccessful? Why does not God do something about it?’ How often do Christian people ask such questions. They have asked it about the whole state of the Church today. `Why does He not send revival? Why does He allow these rationalists and atheists to take the ascendancy? Why does He not break in and do something, and revive His work?’ How often we are tempted to say such things, exactly as these disciples in the boat were!
The fact that God permits these things and that He often appears to be quite unconcerned about it all really constitutes what I am describing as the trial of faith. Those are the conditions in which our faith is tried and tested, and God allows it all, God permits it all. James even tells us to `count it all joy’ when these things happen to us. This is a great subject-the trial of faith. We do not talk much about it these days, do we? But if we went back to the seventeenth or eighteenth century we would find that it was then a very familiar theme. I suppose that in many ways it was the central theme of the Puritans. It was certainly prominent later on in the evangelical awakening of the eighteenth century. The trial of man’s faith and how to overcome these things, the walk of faith, and the life of faith, was their constant theme.
Let us now go on to the second question–What is the nature of faith, the character of faith? This is above everything the particular message of this incident and I feel that it is brought out especially clearly in this record of it in the Gospel according to St. Luke. That is why I am taking the incident from that particular Gospel and emphasizing the way in which our Lord puts the question: `Where is your faith?’ There is the key to the whole problem. You observe our Lord’s question. It seems to imply that He knows perfectly well that they have faith. The question He asks them is: `Where is it? You have got faith, but where is it at this moment? It ought to be here, where is it?’ Now that gives us the key to the understanding of the nature of faith.
Let me first of all put it negatively. Faith, obviously, is not a mere matter of feeling. It cannot be, because one’s feelings in this kind of condition can be very changeable. A Christian is not meant to be dejected when everything goes wrong. He is told to `rejoice’. Feelings belong to happiness alone, rejoicing takes in something much bigger than feelings; and if faith were a matter of feelings only, then when things go wrong and feelings change, faith will go. But faith is not a matter of feelings only, faith takes up the whole man including his mind, his intellect and his understanding. It is a response to truth, as we shall see.
The second thing is still more important. Faith is not something that acts automatically, faith is not something that acts magically. This, I think, is the blunder of which we have all, at some time or another, been guilty. We seem to think that faith is something that acts automatically. Many people, it seems to me, conceive of faith as if it were something similar to those thermostats which you have in connection with a heating apparatus, you set your thermostat at a given level, you want to maintain the temperature at a certain point and it acts automatically. If the temperature is tending to rise above that, the thermostat comes into operation and brings it down; if you use your hot water and the temperature is lowered, the thermostat comes into operation and sends it up, etc. You do not have to do anything about it, the thermostat acts automatically and it brings the temperature back to the desired level automatically. Now there are many people who seem to think that faith acts like that. They assume that it does not matter what happens to them, that faith will operate and all will be well. Faith, however, is not something that acts magically or automatically. If it did, these men would never have been in trouble, faith would have come into operation and they would have been calm and quiet and all would have been well. But faith is not like that and those are utter fallacies with respect to it.
What is faith? Let us look at it positively. The principle taught here is that faith is an activity, it is something that has to be exercised. It does not come into operation itself, you and I have to put it into operation. It is a form of activity.
Now let me divide that up a little. Faith is something you and I have to bring into operation. That is exactly what our Lord said to these men. He said: `Where is your faith?’ which means, `Why are you not taking your faith and applying it to this position?’ You see, it was because they did not do so, because they did not put their faith into operation, that the disciples had become unhappy and were in this state of consternation. How then does one put faith into operation? What do I mean by saying that faith is something we have to apply? I can divide my answer in this way. The first thing I must do when I find myself in a difficult position is to refuse to allow myself to be controlled by the situation. A negative, you see. These men were in the boat, the Master was asleep and the billows were rolling, the water was coming in, and they could not bale it out fast enough. It looked as if they were going to sink, and their trouble was that they were controlled by that situation. They should have applied their faith and taken charge of it, and said: `No, we are not going to panic’. They should have started in that way, but they did not do so. They allowed the position to control them.
Faith is a refusal to panic. Do you like that sort of definition of faith? Does that seem to be too earthly and not sufficiently spiritual? It is of the very essence of faith. Faith is a refusal to panic, come what may. Browning, I think had that idea when he defined faith like this: `With me, faith means perpetual unbelief kept quiet, like the snake ‘neath Michael’s foot’. Here is Michael and there is the snake beneath his foot, and he just keeps it quiet under the pressure of his foot. Faith is unbelief kept quiet, kept down. That is what these men did not do, they allowed this situation to grip them, they became panicky. Faith, however, is a refusal to allow that. It says: `I am not going to be controlled by these circumstances-I am in control’. So you take charge of yourself, and pull yourself up, you control yourself. You do not let yourself go, you assert yourself.
That is the first thing, but it does not stop at that. That is not enough, because that may be nothing but resignation. That is not the whole of faith. Having taken that first step, having pulled yourself up, you then remind yourself of what you believe and what you know. That again is something these foolish disciples did not do. If only they had stopped a moment and said:
`Now then what about it? Is it possible that we are going to drown with Him in the boat? Is there anything He cannot do? We have seen His miracles, He turned the water into wine, He can heal the blind and the lame, He can even raise the dead, is it likely that He is going to allow us and Himself to be drowned in this way? Impossible! In any case He loves us, He cares for us, He has told us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered!’ That is the way in which faith reasons. It says: `All right, I see the waves and the billows but’-it always puts up this `but’. That is faith, it holds on to truth and reasons from what it knows to be fact. That is the way to apply faith.
These men did not do that and that is why they became agitated and panic stricken. And you and I will become panic stricken and agitated if we fail to do the same. Whatever the circumstances, therefore, stand, wait for a moment. Say: `I admit it all, but–’ But what? But God! but the Lord Jesus Christ! But what? The whole of my salvation! That is what faith does. All things may seem to be against me `to drive me to despair’, I do not understand what is happening; but I know this, I know that God has so loved me that He sent His only begotten Son into this world for me, I know that while I was an enemy, God sent His only Son to die on the Cross on Calvary’s Hill for me. He has done that for me while I was an enemy, a rebellious alien. I know that the Son of God `loved me and gave Himself for me’. I know that at the cost of His life’s blood I have salvation and that I am a child of God and an heir to everlasting bliss. I know that. Very well, then, I know this, that `if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life’ (Romans 5:10). It is inevitable logic, and faith argues like that. Faith reminds itself of what the Scripture calls ‘the exceeding great and precious promises’.
Faith says: ‘I cannot believe that He who has brought me so far is going to let me down at this point. It is impossible, it would be inconsistent with the character of God’. So faith, having refused to be controlled by circumstances, reminds itself of what it believes and what it knows.
And then the next step is that faith applies all that to the particular situation. Again, that was something these men did not do, and that is why our Lord puts it to them in this way: `Where is your faith?’ –`You have got it, why don’t you apply it, why don’t you bring all you know to bear on this situation, why don’t you focus it on this particular problem?’ That is the next step in the application of faith. Whatever your circumstances at this moment, bring all you know to be true of your relationship to God to bear upon it. Then you will know full well that He will never allow anything to happen to you that is harmful. `All things work together for good to them that love God.‘ Not a hair of your head shall be harmed, He loves you with an everlasting love.
I do not suggest that you will be able to understand everything that is happening. You may not have a full explanation of it; but you will know for certain that God is not unconcerned. That is impossible. The One who has done the greatest thing of all for you, must be concerned about you in everything, and though the clouds are thick and you cannot see His face, you know He is there. `Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.’ Now hold on to that. You say that you do not see His smile. I agree that these earthborn clouds prevent my seeing Him, but He is there and He will never allow anything finally harmful to take place. Nothing can happen to you but what He allows, I do not care what it may be, some great disappointment, perhaps, or it may be an illness, it may be a tragedy of some sort, I do not know what it is, but you can be certain of this, that God permits that thing to happen to you because it is ultimately for your good. `Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness’ (Hebrews 12:11).
That is the way faith works. But you and I have to exercise it. It does not come into operation automatically. You have to focus your faith on to events and say: `All right, but I know this about God, and because that is true I am going to apply it to this situation. This, therefore, cannot be what I think it is, it must have some other explanation’. And you end by seeing that it is God’s gracious purpose for you, and having applied your faith, you then hold on. You just refuse to be moved. The enemy will come and attack you, the water will seem to be pouring into the boat, but you say: `It is all right, let the worst come to the worst’. You stand on your faith. You say to yourself: `I believe this, I am resting on this, I am certain of this and though I do not understand what is happening to me I am holding on to this!’
That brings me to my final word, which is my third principle –the value of even the weakest or smallest faith. We have looked at the trial of faith, we have looked at the nature of faith, let me say a closing word on the value of even the weakest and smallest faith. However poor and small and however incomplete the faith of these disciples was on this occasion, they at any rate had a sufficient amount of faith to make them do the right thing in the end. They went to Him. Having been agitated and distressed and alarmed and exhausted, they went to Him. They still had some kind of feeling that He could do something about it, and so they woke Him and said: `Master, are you not going to do something about it?’ That is very poor faith you may say, very weak faith, but it is faith, thank God. And even faith `like a grain of mustard seed’ is valuable because it takes us to Him. And when you do go to Him this is what you will find. He will be disappointed with you and He will not conceal that. He will rebuke you, He will say: `Why did you not reason it out, why did you not apply your faith, why do you appear agitated before that worldly person, why do you behave as if you were not a Christian at all, why didn’t you apply your faith as you should have done? I would have been so pleased if I could have watched you standing like a man in the midst of the hurricane or stormy why didn’t you?’ He will let us know that He is disappointed in us and He will rebuke us; but, blessed be His Name, He will nevertheless still receive us. He does not drive us away. He did not drive these disciples away, He received them and He will receive us. Yes, and He will not only receive us, He will bless us and He will give us peace. `He rebuked the wind and the sea and there was a great calm.’ He produced the condition they were so anxious to enjoy, in spite of their lack of faith. Such is the gracious Lord that you and I believe in and follow. Though He is disappointed in us often and though He rebukes us, He will never neglect us; He will receive us, He will bless us, He will give us peace, indeed He will do for us what He did for these men.
With this peace He gave them a still greater conception of Himself than they had had before. They marveled, and were full of amazement at His wonderful power. He, as it were, threw that into the bargain on top of all the blessings. If you find yourself in this position of trial and trouble and testing, take it as a wonderful opportunity of proving your faith, of showing your faith, of manifesting your faith and bringing glory to His great and Holy Name. But if you should fail to do that, if you should apparently be too weak to apply your faith, if you are being so besieged and attacked by the devil and by hell and by the world, well, then, I say, just fly to Him at once and He will receive you and will bless you, He will give you deliverance, He will give you peace. But remember always that faith is an activity, it is something that has to be applied. `Where is your faith?’ Let us make certain that it is always at the place and at the point of need and of testing.
Excerpt from Chapter 10 in the Classic book of Sermons by Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.