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—MATTHEW 26:31-35,69-75.—DECEMBER 4.—
"Let him that thinketh he standeth
take heed least he fall."—I Cor. 10:12 .
ST. PETER has proven to be one of the most helpful of Christ's twelve Apostles, and the secret of his assistance lies in the Scriptural revelation of his human nature, its strength and its weaknesses. He was the first of the twelve Apostles to acknowledge the Master as the Messiah, the Sent of God; he was the first of the twelve to deny him. He was the only one of the twelve who drew his sword in the Master's defense and the only one who, later, swore that he never knew him. By Divine arrangement, to him were given the keys with which to open the door to the High Calling—to the Kingdom. At Pentecost he used one of the keys of power and boldly proclaimed to the Jews the opening of the way to glory, honor and immortality. A little later, at the appointed time, he opened the door to the same High Calling for the Gentiles when, by his preaching, Cornelius, the first Gentile acceptable to God, was received and begotten of the holy Spirit, this fact giving evidence that the middle-wall of partition, previously separating Jew and Gentile, had been broken down. Yet, after all this knowledge and special opportunity, this great man subsequently dissembled to the extent of ignoring God's grace to the Gentiles as being sufficient, discriminating between Jews and Gentiles and their equality before the Lord.
But in all these experiences St. Peter displayed the fact that his heart, at its core, was loyal to God, to truth, to righteousness, and that the weaknesses, the faults, the blemishes of his character were of his flesh and not of his real heart intention. For his denial of the Master he wept bitterly. And for his failure to recognize the Gentiles he made full reparation most humbly. The same exhibition of human nature which makes St. Peter attractive is that which made David, the Prophet and king of Israel, attractive. He was not so saintly that he could not make a mistake. He was not so far above the remainder of humanity that they could not realize in him a fellow-creature. Yet withal he was not so debased as to make him abhorrent. His weaknesses were fully offset by the abundant evidence of his heart-loyalty to God and to righteousness. His very experiences in stumbling and recovery have so saturated his Psalms that they touch a responsive chord in nearly every heart which is loyal to God and which has had any degree of experience with sin and weakness—its own and those of others.
Peter remains even today the most fascinating of that band of men who surrounded our Lord in the days of his earthly pilgrimage. G. C. Morgan said of Peter: "Now I am convinced that in Peter we have the greatest human revealed in the New Testament. I do not say the greatest man in his achievement or in one particular capacity of his being, but the most wonderful revelation [R4712 : page 359] of human nature. This man of intelligence was perpetually making blunders. This man of emotions was guilty of such impulse that he worked harm in the very cause he desired to help."
Of St. Peter Southouse says: "Peter was an average man, and for this reason he comes nearer to us than some of his colleagues do. But average men have their splendid moments, such as when St. Peter tried to walk on the water, for in this action he tried to do a thing for which he seemed to have no abilities. He set out to do some thing of which he had no experience. A swift glance amongst the men and women whom we know will be enough to prove that it is never safe to prophesy the achievements of which they are capable, for extraordinary things have been done by the last man in the world."
Dr. Davis said about St. Peter: "Peter was intellectual. He asked Jesus more questions than any other of the Apostles. The capacity for asking questions is a revelation of the intellectual. It may also be a revelation of ignorance; but the man who never asks a question is certainly deficient in his intellectuality....Peter was a man of heart, sobbing and impetuous. His virtues and his faults had their common root in his enthusiastic disposition. It is to his praise that, along with the weed of rash haste, there grew more strongly into his life the [R4712 : page 360] fair plant of burning love and ready reception of Truth.
One of the great lessons which the Master taught his followers, and which all in the School of Christ must learn, is that, with burning love and zeal for God and for righteousness, we should also have moderation—exercising the spirit of a sound mind. Christ's followers are exhorted to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves." Their wisdom is not to be merely the selfish kind, which would look out for its own interests, but of the generous kind which looks out for the interests of all, and particularly for the interests of the Lord's cause and for any share therein which he may entrust to us.
In the course of his instructions, Jesus had said to his disciples, in advance of the trying hour of his betrayal—"All ye shall be offended because of me this night; for it is written (in the Prophets), I will smite the Shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again I will go before you into Galilee."—Matt. 26:31,32.
Then spoke the impulsive Peter, "Though all shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended." (V. 33) Alas! how little did this courageous man understand the nature of the trials and difficulties immediately before him, or realize the weak points of his own impulsive nature. Yet if we are grieved with his denial of the Master, we must rejoice to note his faith and love and zeal, as manifested in his acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah and his later declaration that nothing should ever shake his loyalty.
However, it is the specially loyal and ardent that the Adversary seeks most persistently to entrap. Thus Jesus, on this very occasion, explained to St. Peter, "Satan hath desired to have thee that he might sift thee" (Luke 22:31); that he might separate you from your loyalty to Christ and discourage you from discipleship, overwhelming you with fear and with your own weaknesses. The Master added, "But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." We may well understand that the same loving Master still assists all of his true, warmhearted followers, whatever their weaknesses of heredity. We may well understand, too, that he is able to develop all such into strong characters, if they abide in his love, continuing in their zeal. He is able to make all things work together for their good—even the weaknesses of heredity may work out for the faithful that "far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" which the Lord has promised.
The Master discerned the danger of his loving but impetuous follower, and uttered a warning word, that before cock-crowing he would deny his Master. How improbable this seemed to St. Peter! How he courageously declared, "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." And so said all of the eleven. Their hearts were good. And the Lord looketh upon the heart. Our study now passes to verse 69. The Master had been arrested. The scattered disciples had fled. St. John, because of an acquaintance with the high priest's family, penetrated further into the palace than St. Peter, who stood in the court-yard. A maid of the palace recognized St. Peter as one of Jesus' disciples and so declared publicly. Fearful that he might share the fate of the Master, St. Peter denied his identity, declaring that he knew nothing about the matter. A little later another declared the same. St. Peter emphasized his denial with an oath, declaring that he knew not Jesus. Later the word spread throughout the court-yard and many took it up, declaring that they believed what the maid said and that St. Peter had the Galilean dialect, anyway. To emphasize the denial St. Peter began to curse, and to swear that he knew not the man. Directly after, cock-crowing began. Then St. Peter remembered the words of his Master, "Before cock-crowing thou shalt deny me thrice."
Alas! he had been too sure of his own stability, too confident of his loyalty. He was entrapped by the Adversary along the very line of his boasting. Another account says that Jesus turned and looked at Peter! That look was sufficient. It spoke volumes to St. Peter's loyal heart. It was not a look of disdain, nor one of anger, we may be sure. It was a look of loving sympathy. It melted St. Peter's heart. He went out and wept bitterly. The followers of the Master today, beset by weaknesses and frailties and temptations of the Adversary, have the lesson of St. Peter's experience as a warning to be confident in the Lord and to look to him for assistance, rather than to be self-confident. And those who fail today have St. Peter's experience as a lesson of the Lord's sympathy and pity. They, too, should weep bitterly for transgressions and repent and profit by their experiences.