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Home > Fathers of the Church > Sermons on the New Testament (Augustine) > Sermon 26

Sermon 26 on the New Testament

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[LXXVI. Ben.]

Again on Matthew 14:25 : Of the Lord walking on the waves of the sea, and of Peter tottering.

1. The Gospel which has just been read touching the Lord Christ, who walked on the waters of the sea; and the Apostle Peter, who as he was walking, tottered through fear, and sinking in distrust, rose again by confession, gives us to understand that the sea is the present world, and the Apostle Peter the type of the One Church. For Peter in the order of Apostles first, and in the love of Christ most forward, answers oftentimes alone for all the rest. Again, when the Lord Jesus Christ asked, whom men said that He was, and when the disciples gave the various opinions of men, and the Lord asked again and said, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answered, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. One for many gave the answer, Unity in many. Then said the Lord to Him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjonas: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but My Father which is in heaven. Then He added, and I say unto you. As if He had said, Because you have said to Me, 'You are the Christ the Son of the living God;' I also say unto you, 'You are Peter.' For before he was called Simon. Now this name of Peter was given him by the Lord, and that in a figure, that he should signify the Church. For seeing that Christ is the rock (Petra), Peter is the Christian people. For the rock (Petra) is the original name. Therefore Peter is so called from the rock; not the rock from Peter; as Christ is not called Christ from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. Therefore, he says, You are Peter; and upon this Rock which you have confessed, upon this Rock which you have acknowledged, saying, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church; that is upon Myself, the Son of the living God, will I build My Church. I will build you upon Myself, not Myself upon you.

2. For men who wished to be built upon men, said, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas, who is Peter. But others who did not wish to be built upon Peter, but upon the Rock, said, But I am of Christ. And when the Apostle Paul ascertained that he was chosen, and Christ despised, he said, Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? And, as not in the name of Paul, so neither in the name of Peter; but in the name of Christ: that Peter might be built upon the Rock, not the Rock upon Peter.

3. This same Peter therefore who had been by the Rock pronounced blessed, bearing the figure of the Church, holding the chief place in the Apostleship, a very little while after that he had heard that he was blessed, a very little while after that he had heard that he was Peter, a very little while after that he had heard that he was to be built upon the Rock, displeased the Lord when He had heard of His future Passion, for He had foretold His disciples that it was soon to be. He feared lest he should by death, lose Him whom he had confessed as the fountain of life. He was troubled, and said, Be it far from You, Lord: this shall not be to You. Spare Yourself, O God, I am not willing that You should die. Peter said to Christ, I am not willing that You should die; but Christ far better said, I am willing to die for you. And then He immediately rebuked him, whom He had a little before commended; and calls him Satan, whom he had pronounced blessed. Get behind Me, Satan, he says, you are an offense unto Me: for you savour not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. What would He have us do in our present state, who thus finds fault because we are men? Would you know what He would have us do? Give ear to the Psalm; I have said, You are gods, and you are all the children of the Most High. But by savouring the things of men; you shall die like men. The very same Peter a little while before blessed, afterwards Satan, in one moment, within a few words! You wonder at the difference of the names, mark the difference of the reasons of them. Why do you wonder that he who was a little before blessed, is afterwards Satan? Mark the reason wherefore he is blessed. Because flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but My Father which is in heaven. Therefore blessed, because flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you. For if flesh and blood revealed this to you, it were of your own; but because flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but My Father which is in heaven, it is of Mine, not of your own. Why of Mine? Because all things that the Father has are Mine. So then you have heard the cause, why he is blessed, and why he is Peter. But why was he that which we shudder at, and are loth to repeat, why, but because it was of your own? For you savour not the things which be of God, but those that be of men.

4. Let us, looking at ourselves in this member of the Church, distinguish what is of God, and what of ourselves. For then we shall not totter, then shall we be founded on the Rock, shall be fixed and firm against the winds, and storms, and streams, the temptations, I mean, of this present world. Yet see this Peter, who was then our figure; now he trusts, and now he totters; now he confesses the Undying, and now he fears lest He should die. Wherefore? Because the Church of Christ has both strong and weak ones; and cannot be without either strong or weak; whence the Apostle Paul says, Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. In that Peter said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, he represents the strong: but in that he totters, and would not that Christ should suffer, in fearing death for Him, and not acknowledging the Life, he represents the weak ones of the Church. In that one Apostle then, that is, Peter, in the order of Apostles first and chiefest, in whom the Church was figured, both sorts were to be represented, that is, both the strong and weak; because the Church does not exist without them both.

5. And hence also is that which was just now read, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto You on the water. For I cannot do this in myself, but in You. He acknowledged what he had of himself, and what of Him, by whose will he believed that he could do that, which no human weakness could do. Therefore, if it be Thou, bid me; because when you bid, it will be done. What I cannot do by taking it upon myself, You can do by bidding me. And the Lord said Come. And without any doubting, at the word of Him who bade him, at the presence of Him who sustained, at the presence of Him who guided him, without any delay, Peter leaped down into the water, and began to walk. He was able to do what the Lord was doing, not in himself, but in the Lord. For you were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord. What no one can do in Paul, no one in Peter, no one in any other of the Apostles, this can he do in the Lord. Therefore well said Paul by a wholesome despising of himself, and commending of Him; Was Paul crucified for you, or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? So then, you are not in me, but together with me; not under me, but under Him.

6. Therefore Peter walked on the water by the bidding of the Lord, knowing that he could not have this power of himself. By faith he had strength to do what human weakness could not do. These are the strong ones of the Church. Mark this, hear, understand, and act accordingly. For we must not deal with the strong on any other principle than this, that so they should become weak; but thus we must deal with the weak, that they may become strong. But the presuming on their own strength keeps many back from strength. No one will have strength from God, but he who feels himself weak of himself. God sets apart a spontaneous rain for His inheritance. Why do you, who know what I was about to say, anticipate me? Let your quickness be moderated, that the slowness of the rest may follow. This I said, and I say it again; hear it, receive it, and act on this principle. No one is made strong by God, but he who feels himself weak of his own self. And therefore a spontaneous rain, as the Psalm says, spontaneous; not of our deserts, but spontaneous. A spontaneous rain therefore God sets apart for his inheritance; for it was weak; but You have perfected it. Because Thou hast set apart for it a spontaneous rain, not looking to men's deserts, but to Your own grace and mercy. This inheritance then was weakened, and acknowledged its own weakness in itself, that it might be strong in You. It would not be strengthened, if it were not weak, that by You it might be perfected in You.

7. See Paul a small portion of this inheritance, see him in weakness, who said, I am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. Why then are you an Apostle? By the grace of God I am what I am. I am not meet, but by the grace of God I am what I am. Paul was weak, but You have perfected him. But now because by the grace of God he is what he is, look what follows; And His grace in me was not in vain, but I laboured more abundantly than they all. Take heed lest you lose by presumption what you have attained through weakness. This is well, very well; that I am not meet to be called an Apostle. By His grace I am what I am, and His grace in me was not in vain: all most excellent. But, I laboured more abundantly than they all; you have begun, it would seem, to ascribe to yourself what a little before you had given to God. Attend and follow on; Yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Well! You weak one; you shall be exalted in exceeding strength, seeing you are not unthankful. You are the very same Paul, little in yourself; and great in the Lord. You are he who thrice beseeched the Lord, that the thorn of the flesh, the messenger of Satan, by whom you were buffeted, might be taken away from you. And what was said to you? What did you hear when you made this petition? My grace is sufficient for you: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. For he was weak, but Thou perfected him.

8. So Peter also said, Bid me come unto You on the water. I who dare this am but a man, but it is no man whom I beseech. Let the God-man bid, that man may be able to do what man cannot do. Come, said He. And He went down, and began to walk on the water; and Peter was able, because the Rock had bidden him. Lo, what Peter was in the Lord; what was he in himself? When he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, Lord, I perish, save me. When he looked for strength from the Lord, he had strength from the Lord; as a man he tottered, but he returned to the Lord. If I said, my foot has slipped (they are the words of a Psalm, the notes of a holy song; and if we acknowledge them they are our words too; yea, if we will, they are ours also). If I said my foot has slipped. How slipped, except because it was my own. And what follows? Your mercy, Lord, helped me. Not my own strength, but Your mercy. For will God forsake him as he totters, whom He heard when calling upon Him? Where then is that, Who has called upon God, and has been forsaken by Him? where again is that, Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord, shall be delivered. Immediately reaching forth the help of His right hand, He lifted him up as he was sinking, and rebuked his distrust; O you of little faith, wherefore did you doubt? Once you trusted in Me, have you now doubted of Me?

9. Well, brethren, my sermon must be ended. Consider the world to be the sea; the wind is boisterous, and there is a mighty tempest. Each man's peculiar lust is his tempest. Thou dost love God; you walk upon the sea, and under your feet is the swelling of the world. Thou dost love the world, it will swallow you up. It skills only how to devour its lovers, not to carry them. But when your heart is tossed about by lust, in order that you may get the better of your lust, call upon the Divinity of Christ. Think ye that the wind is then contrary, when there is this life's adversity? For so when there are wars, when there is tumult, when there is famine, when there is pestilence, when even to every individual man his private calamity arrives, then the wind is thought to be contrary, then it is thought that God must be called upon. But when the world wears her smile of temporal happiness, it is as if there were no contrary wind. But do not ask upon this matter the tranquil state of the times: ask only your own lust. See if there be tranquillity within you: see if there be no inner wind which overturns you; see to this. There needs great virtue to struggle with happiness, lest this very happiness allure, corrupt, and overthrow you. There needs, I say, great virtue to struggle with happiness, and great happiness not to be overcome by happiness. Learn then to tread upon the world; remember to trust in Christ. And if your foot have slipped; if you totter, if some things there are which you can not overcome, if you begin to sink, say, Lord, I perish, save me. Say, I perish, that you perish not. For He only can deliver you from the death of the body, who died in the body for you. Let us turn to the Lord, etc.

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Source. Translated by R.G. MacMullen. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>.

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