“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.
“For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
“They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
“They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.
“Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
“He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
“Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.” – Psalm 107:23-30
This text has a message to us in its letter which anyone can understand. Thousands of people have gone through this experience. The Divine providence is over us in the dangers and uncertainties of this life, and the Lord holds in His almighty hands control of the winds and waves. Even physical calamities are permitted only when He sees that they will promote some greater good.
But our text does not relate merely to the things of this world. It is a striking picture of the Christian pilgrimage through the regenerating life to the haven of heavenly rest.
In the Scriptures water corresponds to truth in the understanding. The sea is a man’s memory, which is made up of all that he knows. All the sources of information that he has are as springs or wells of water; and the knowledges that he is gaining from them, whether scientific, civil, or religious, are so many streams running into the sea of his memory.
In this sea of knowledge he lives and moves. Out of it he could not stir nor breathe; for he would know nothing, and have no life. Just so a community has its sea of knowledge, out of which it cannot move. This human knowledge is the sea in which the apostles were to fish when they were called to be fishers of men. For men can be caught only within the sea of their own knowledge.
We need formulated truth or doctrine to direct our lives. Ships which sail upon the sea denote the formulated principles by which we direct our lives. All vehicles and vessels denote in the Word the teachings by which the soul moves on its spiritual journeys. The ship is a beautiful symbol of doctrine. It rests upon the sea as a man’s doctrine rests upon his knowledge.
We have been speaking of the sea of human knowledge, which is a mixed sea of truths and falsities in the mind. But there is also an infinite and unfathomable sea, the sea of Divine wisdom, the sea of the Lord’s Holy Word. Our text says that they who go down to the sea in ships, that do business in these great waters shall see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep.
To go down to the sea in ships is to investigate the Word by doctrines. No one can understand the Word without doctrines or principles by which it may be interpreted. And these doctrines must be true. False teachings will never show men the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. False doctrines cover the Word with mystery, envelop the mind in clouds of doubt, and incline the heart to skepticism.
But simply going down to this sea in ships will not bring out to our view the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. We must, in accordance with our text, do business in these great waters. We must apply the teachings of the Word to our lives, and work them out in our daily occupations – in our dealings with mankind. And as we do this, we shall be enabled to see something of the works of the Lord and His wonders.
How often the little knowledge of the Word that we now have enables us to see the Lord’s works and wonders! What then should we be able to behold if we had a perfect knowledge of the Word and did all our business in these waters – if we should see the full glory of the Divine love and wisdom shining through the Law and the Prophets, the Psalms, the Gospels, and Revelation?
But we have many things to pass through before the Word will thus be transfigured before us. The Word itself is ever the same. Its new beauties are brought to view by changes in ourselves, through the operation of its light and heat in our hearts. And our text says we see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep because the Lord commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, and lifteth up the waves thereof. As the spirit of the Word, in its new light and power, enters the mind, it shows us not only wonders in the deeps of the soul but also evils and corruptions there. And thus it is to our minds as a stormy wind causing a tempest between the new light and the falsities and evils in the heart. “They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths.” Thus a true understanding of the Word shows us the heights of the Divine goodness and the depths of our own evils. We distinguish between the things that are of God and those that are of men, between things heavenly and things earthly; and seeing the great distance between them, “our soul is melted because of trouble.” For every elevation of the mind brings to our view by the spiritual truths of the Word some principle of the heart which the soul holds dear and which we see must, unless removed, shut us out of heaven – and yet we are not willing to give it up. Thus we are struggling between life and death. We want heaven and our selfish love too.
When we first step on board the ship of our doctrines, we seem to be sailing under bright colors, a clear sky, and favoring winds, and we think of no dangers ahead. But the winds of the Holy Spirit stir up our natural inclinations in opposition. Then the wind becomes stormy and the waves of thought and feeling run high. The spiritual truths of the Word seem less clear and too high for our attainment. We wonder whether we should continue on our voyage or abandon the ship. But we see too much truth to be willing to give up the ship, though we are brought to our wit’s end. So we come to see the limitations of our own power, our inability to guide or save ourselves. Then we cry unto the Lord in our trouble, and He delivers us out of all our distresses. As soon as we look to the Lord and act according to His love and wisdom, “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.” Then we are glad because we are quiet; so He brings us to our desired haven.
Now all this storm has been raised by ourselves. It is an appearance only that the Lord raised the mental storm. It is caused by the opposition of our own selfishness to the peaceful stream of life, to the mercy and truth of the Divine providence. The Lord is a “refuge from the storm, a covert from the tempest.”
And when we come into temptations and find the storms rising, as we sometimes may, we should remember that we have let the Lord go to sleep in the hinder part of the ship, that is, we have forgotten our dependence upon the Lord and have been directing our own way. Then if we will look to the Lord, He will at once “arise and rebuke the winds,” and make the storm a calm.
The Lord is ever near, ever ready to still our fears, to quiet the tumults of our souls, and give us peace. But we must call upon Him. We must desire His help. Then, as we yield to the truths of His Word and receive the influence of His Holy Spirit, He will bring us to our desired haven, to our eternal homes in heaven.
Truly “The Lord is good, his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth to all generations.”