Peter is walking over the waves, obeying the command of the Master. He is involved in this miracle only because the Lord willed it to be so. But because Jesus always wants us to have faith, He always invites us to come, to walk on water to Him, as it were.
At the beginning of this experience, impulsive Peter's faith in Christ was as confident as a child's. He had seen Jesus perform many miracles. The Lord could do this also.
But then something happened to Peter. He was visited by a temptation that comes to all who have had any success in the Lord's work, or in spiritual growth.
"Say, Peter. You are doing something remarkable, aren't you? Imagine! Walking on water. That's something nobody else has ever done."
Peter was impressed with himself. And many a successful worker and lay person in the church has followed his lead. Unfortunately, a talented one is sometimes tempted by the church itself to fall under that temptation.
"You, the Layman of the Year for your conference! Isn't that something!"
"We are indeed fortunate to have Elder Blank here with us today." The introducer then goes on to praise the visiting minister as if he were the greatest and most talented preacher since Paul.
"Say, you got the highest amount of Ingathering in your church. Not bad!"
And self, of course, has its contribution to make:
"Did you notice how the people crowd the church to hear you preach? They don't do that for Elder Z."
"The X Conference is a pretty important one. I did OK, getting called to be president of that one."
"I think I did quite well with that solo today."
Peter permitted a feeling of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction to crowd into his heart. This led naturally to his wondering how impressed his companions were at the extraordinary thing he was doing and caused him to cast his eyes over his shoulder to observe their reaction. And that made him take his eyes off Jesus. The result was inevitable.
"Because of their self-sufficiency, ... [many] fall an easy prey to Satan's devices .... Those who trust in self are easily defeated." -Review and Herald, Dee. 16, 1902.
"Let ... [the believer] cast away all [self-] confidence. God has no place for it in His work." -Ibid., July 7, 1910.
"One word which exalts self causes the light of God's countenance to be withdrawn." -Ibid., Aug. 24, 1897.
We talk about doubt coming because we take our eyes off Jesus. This is true. But the reason that we look away from Jesus is that we have looked toward self.
The spiritual eye can look in only one of two directions, and see only one of two objects. It either looks outward at Christ, or inward at self. It cannot look in both directions at once.
We may not realize we are no longer looking at our Master. We find ourselves floundering in the waves of sin and defeat, and do not understand why. We may even think we are still looking toward Christ, so subtly has our attention been drawn from Him.
When Peter turned his eyes away from Jesus the way was opened for a second temptation-a temptation to doubt. We cannot know the thought that flashed through Peter's mind then. Did it come as a stab of fear such as that which hits the novice swimmer, out of his depth, who is suddenly gripped with the panicky thought that he can't make it?
Satan is constantly working to undermine our faith with doubts, which is, of course, to doubt God. His approach may be to suggest that we are presumptuous, mistaken, misled, deluded.
There may be a beneficial result, even from these temptations. They should motivate us to reexamine our beliefs, our commitment, our lives, on the basis of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. The result, then, should be a strengthening and reaffirming of our faith, rather than a weakening of it.
But with Peter, doubt flooded into his mind, sweeping away faith.
Apparently there was some distance between Jesus and Peter when the disciple began to sink. Nevertheless, Jesus was beside him the moment he cried out; He "immediately reached out his hand and caught him" (Matt. 14:31). And as He lifted Peter up He said, "'0 man of little faith, why did you doubt?' "
Jesus chided Peter for giving way to doubt, not for his little faith.
Christ never finds fault with faith, however small it may be. He pointed to this paucity merely to show the reason for the doubt. Christ's concern is for those things that stunt faith, that hinder its growth or its exercise.
Doubt and faith are mutually destructive. Doubt is more destructive of faith than faith is of doubt, because they meet in sinful vessels. "Because the natural heart is at enmity with God, a greater effort is required to believe than doubt the word of the Most High. And Satan himself opposes everything that would strengthen faith." -Signs of the Times, June 8, 1882.
The potential destructiveness of doubt upon faith is pointed out by the apostle James. Writing about the Christian asking God for wisdom, he says, "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (James 1 :6).
Obviously, as James suggests, whether doubt destroys faith or faith dissolves doubt has something to do with the person. There is something you and I must drop into the test tube that will decide which way the reaction will go.
Faith, in the ultimate, is a result of choice. God offers faith (Rom. 12:3); we choose to accept it or reject it. Not all people have faith (2 Thess. 3:2), because they reject it and so lose it.
Presumably, nearly everybody would like to have faith. The problem with many is that, as with all God's gifts, there are conditions attached.
"Faith," wrote Paul, "comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ" (Rom. 10: 17).
We may understand that Paul does not mean that a person needs but to hear the good news about Christ in order for faith to spring up. Faith depends upon our response to the gospel.
"Hear, that your soul may live" (Isa. 55:3) clearly means, "Respond appropriately to My Word, and you shall enjoy certain desirable and beneficial results."
Right here is a reason why many do not have faith. God's demands come to them, but they are unwilling to obey, because these demands require more than they are willing to give.
What, then, must we "drop into the test tube" that will decide whether we have doubt or faith? The will is the necessary catalyst. We choose to obey God, and faith grows. We refuse, and the seed of faith shrivels and dies. If we will, if we choose, to have faith in God by meeting the conditions we will have faith. "It is by obedience that faith ... is made perfect." -Selected Messages, book 1, p. 366.
"You have to talk faith, you have to live faith, you have to act faith, that you may have an increase of faith; and thus exercising that living faith you will grow to strong men and women in Christ Jesus." -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Luke 17:5, pp. 1121, 1122.
"Those who talk faith and cultivate faith will have faith, but those who cherish and express doubts will have doubts." -Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 302.
Two men went into the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The tax collector, standing afar off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat on his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner."
The Pharisee also stood afar off. He also would not even lift his eyes to heaven and, as did the tax collector, so did he. He beat his breast saying, '''God, be merciful to me a sinner."
And the Pharisee went down to his house justified rather than the other.
I have given a twist to this parable because I want to make a point: It is possible for two people to be equally convicted of sin, equally repentant, and pray the same prayer, yet one be justified and not the other. For some people repent and repent and repent but allow doubt continually to choke their faith so that they never accept forgiveness and grasp justification.
Peter's doubt was of the simple kind. There is another, darker reason for doubt, unrelated to Peter's problem. This is one that few who harbor it would admit, even to themselves. But it is a very real, very perilous, one. It has to do with the fact that, while doubts are argued from the intellectual side, they are actually moral. The situation here is that it is more convenient, easier, to nurture doubts than to have to admit, face up to, and battle sins in the life.
So people rationalize their sins; they daub them over with the mud of doubt. Pretexts are brought out and offered as reasons for doubt. But the real reasons, the cherished sins, are hidden in the dark chambers of the soul.
Thus, many question the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy and so bolster their unbeliefs when they are weakened by evidence or a "Thus saith the Lord." By reinforcing their doubts they have some sort of excuse for sin.
The frightening thing is that unbelief, which may be small and fragile at the start, somehow grows and becomes granitic during dark nights of brooding, hardening into massive fortresses that imprison those who nurture it in black dungeons they themselves have conceived. In time, they discover there is no escape; the prisoners cannot break out if they would-and they would not break out if they could.
And right here is another fearful danger of doubting.
Doubts may become a kind of insanity, depending on how much they are challenged and how important are the concepts that hang on them. They may develop into a mania, separated from the normal, rational flow of mentality. In such cases, they make one deaf to reason, blind to facts, and they steel the mind against all evidence.
A classical example of this is the Pharisees in their response to Jesus. Most of these religious leaders were, at some time, convicted that Christ was the Messiah. "By his conscience every honest Jew was convinced that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but the heart, in its pride and ambition, would not surrender." -Review and Herald, March 29, 1906. They began to search for doubts to give evidence for their rejection of Christ. Then they became slaves and prisoners of their doubts.
There is a terrible warning against doubt and its results in these words: "Unbelief, having once been cherished, continued to control the men of Nazareth. So it controlled the Sanhedrin and the nation. With priests and people, the first rejection of the demonstration of the Holy Spirit's power was the beginning of the end. In order to prove that their first resistance was right, they continued ever after to cavil at the words of Christ. Their rejection of the Spirit culminated in the cross of Calvary, in the destruction of their city, in the scattering of the nation to the winds of heaven." -The Desire of Ages, 241.
Caiaphas, the high priest, and thus the type of the whole nation, illustrates the point. When, for example, Jesus stood before him on trial the conviction was thrust home to him that this Man was the Messiah. "As Caiaphas ... looked upon the prisoner, he was struck with admiration for His noble and dignified bearing. A conviction came over him that this Man was akin to God." -Ibid., p. 704.
But the haughty priest put the conviction from him and took refuge in his established doubts and bigotry. And, blinded by these, he sent the Son of God to death.
Like Caiaphas and the Jews, many who would rather follow doubts than convictions feverishly work to keep up the walls of unbelief in spite of the pricks of a concerned conscience. These walls are so vital to the stand they have taken, they have put so much into their pride, their reputation, their life style, their religious philosophy, that they cannot let go. And so, although one were to rise from the dead to prove their doubts wrong, these people would not believe.
We are reminded of the skeptic who, having debated with another the pros and cons of the resurrection, finally stated flatly: "I agree that no hypothesis except the resurrection explains the facts; but 1 refuse to accept, and 1 always will."
There is in the church today a growing resistance against the Spirit of Prophecy, an increasing chipping at its foundations. Ellen White anticipated this when she wrote, "It is Satan's plan to weaken the faith of God's people in the Testimonies. Next follows skepticism in regard to vital points of our faith, the pillars of our position, then doubt as to the Holy Scriptures, and then the downward march to perdition. When the Testimonies, which were once believed, are doubted and given up, Satan knows the deceived ones will not stop at this; and he redoubles his efforts till he launches them into open rebellion, which becomes incurable and ends in destruction." -Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 211.
Some, even shepherds of flocks, seem to virtually repudiate the Spirit of Prophecy as confusing, contradictory, controversial, and outdated. The same arguments may be used against the Bible if one does not study it in full context. In my investigations I have found that Ellen White does not contradict herself in a particular matter if it is studied in its total context. And this does not always mean merely the immediate setting. It may be necessary to bring together what she says on the subject from other parts of her writings.
True, there are statements in the Spirit of Prophecy books that may be difficult to understand. But, again, this is just as true of the Bible. Such statements and texts are best laid aside and judgment suspended until understanding comes.
I have frequently thought of a forthright remark that D. E. Rebok made in his book Believe His Prophets: "I find myself in perfect agreement with the great mass of counsel given, but like many others I am tempted to despise and reject ONLY the testimonies which reprove my darling sins, conflict with my own preconceived ideas of theology, and disturb my self-complacency. " -Page 316.
My observation is that any Seventh-day Adventist who has done any extensive reading in the Spirit of Prophecy would be constrained to make no less a statement.