The Weak and the Strong in the Church (Augustine)

The story of Jesus walking on the water is one of those stories about Jesus that stick with us (see Mt. 14:22-33). It sticks with us for various reasons – one being that Peter got out there and walked on the water as well until fear got the best of him. Speaking of Peter, don’t forget how Jesus called him the ”rock” and how Jesus addressed him as ”Satan” in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 16:18 & 16:23). In these stories it’s clear that Peter’s faith was sometimes strong, sometimes weak. Augustine pointed this out very well in his sermon on Matthew 14:22-33. Note how Augustine sees Peter as a representative of the church. (I’ve edited the quote slightly for readability.)

The very same Peter a little while before called blessed, afterwards called Satan, in one moment, within a few words! Thou wonderest at the difference of the names; note the difference of the reasons of them. Why wonderest thou that he who was a little before called blessed, is afterwards called Satan? Mark the reason wherefore he is blessed. [Jesus said to him:] “Because flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father Which is in heaven.” Therefore you are called blessed, because flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee. For if flesh and blood revealed this to thee; it were of thine own; but because flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father Which is in heaven; it is of Mine, not of thine own. Why of Mine? Because all things that the Father hath are Mine. So then thou hast heard the cause, why Peter is blessed, and why he is Peter. But why was he called that which we shudder at [namely, Satan], and are loathe to repeat, why, but because it was of thine own? For thou, Peter, savourest not the things which be of God, but those things of men.

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 then he totters; now he confesses the Undying, and then Peter fears lest Christ should die. Why? Because the Church of Christ hath 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, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, he represents the strong,” but in that he totters, and refuses 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 doth not exist without them both.

Augustine, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament, volumes 1 & 2, sermon 26.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015