Luke 22This chapter gives a sad and sorrowful relation of the chief priests' conspiracy against the life of our blessed Saviour, in which we have three particulars observable: 1. The person making this conspiracy, the chief priests, scribes, and elders, that is, the whole Jewish Sanhedrin, or general council; they all lay their malicious heads together to contrive the destruction of the holy and innocent Jesus.
Thence learn, that general councils have erred, and may err fundamentally, both in matters of doctrine and practice; so did this general council at Jerusalem, consisting of chief priests, doctors, and elders, with the high priest their president. They did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah, after all the miracles wrought before their eyes, but ignominiously put him to death.
Observe, 2. The manner of this conspiracy against the life of our blessed Saviour, it was clandestine, secret, and subtle: They consulted how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.
Learn thence, that Satan makes use of the subtilty of crafty men, and abuses their parts as well as their power for his own purposes and designs: the devil never sends a fool on his errand.
Observe, 3. The circumstances of time, when this conspiracy was managed, At the feast of the passover. It was a custom among the Jews to execute malefactors at their solemn feasts, at which time all the Jews came up to Jerusalem to sacrifice, then put the malefactors to death, that all Israel might see and fear, and not do so wickedly. Accordingly the feast of the passover was waited for by the Jews as a fit opportunity to put our Saviour to death.
The only objection was, that it might occasion a tumult and uproar amongst the people, there being such a mighty concourse at that time in Jerusalem; but Judas making them a proffer, they readily comply with the motion, and resolve to take the first opportunity to put our Saviour to death.
Observe here, 1. The person betraying our blessed Saviour, Judas. Judas a professor, Judas a preacher, Judas an apostle, and one of the twelve, who Christ had chosen out of the world to be his dearest friend, one of his family and household: shall we wonder to find friends unfriendly or unfaithful to us, when our Saviour had a traitor in his own family?
Observe, 2. The heinous nature of Judas' sin: he betrayed Jesus; Jesus his Maker, Jesus his Master. It is no strange or uncommon thing for the vilest of sins, and the most horrid impieties, to be acted by such persons as make the most eminent profession of holiness and religion.
Observe, 3. What was the occasion that led Judas to the commission of this sin; it was his inordinate love of money. I do not find that Judas had any particular malice, spite, or ill-will against our Saviour; but a base and unworthy spirit of covetousness possessed him, and this made him sell his master.
Covetousness is the root of sin; an eager and insatiable thirst after the world is the parent of the most monstrous and unnatural sins, for which reason our Saviour doubles his caution, Take heed and beware of covetousness; Luke 12:15 It shows us both the great danger of the sin, and the great care that we ought to take to preserve ourselves from it.
The time for the celebration of the passover being now at hand, Christ sends two of his disciples, Peter and John, to Jerusalem, to prepare what was needful in order thereto.
And here we have we have observable, 1. An eminent proof and evidence of Christ's divinity, in foretelling his disciples all the particular occurences and circumstances which they should meet with in the city; as, a man bearing a pitcher of water, etc.
Observe, 2. How readily the heart of the householder was disposed to receive our Saviour and his disciples, and to accommodate them with all things needful upon this occasion. Our blessed Saviour had not a lamb of his own, and peradventure no money wherewith to purchase one; yet he finds a more agreeable accommodation in this poor man's house, than if he had dwelt in Ahab's ivory palace, and had the provisions of Solomon's table. When Christ has a passover to celebrate, he will dispose the hearts of his children and servants to a free reception of himself.
The room that Christ will enter into must be a large room, an upper room, a room furnished and prepared: a large room, is the emblem of an enlarged heart, enlarged with love, with joy and thankfulness; an upper room, is an heart exalted, not puffed up with pride, but lifted up by heavenly meditations; and a room furnished, is a soul adorned with all the graces of the Holy Spirit: into such an heart does Christ enter, and there delights to dwell: Here is my rest for ever, says Christ; here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein.
Observe here, 1. What ardency of desire, and vehemency of affection our holy Lord expresses, to celebrate the passover with his disciples, and to administer the sacramental supper to them before he left them: With desire have I desired to eat with you before I suffer.
Thence learn, that it is very necessary, when sufferings do appear, especially when death does approach, to have immediate recourse to the table of the Lord, which affords both an antidote against fear, and is a restorative to our faith. Christ, the night before he suffered, communicated with his disciples.
Observe, 2. The unexampled boldness of the impudent traitor Judas; though he had sold his Master, he presumes to sit down at the table with him, and with the other disciples: had the presence of Judas polluted this ordinance to any but himself, doubtless our Saviour would not have suffered him to approach unto it.
It teaches us, that although nothing be more ordinary than for unholy persons to press into the holy ordinances of God which they have no right (while such) to approach unto, yet their presence pollutes the ordinances only to themselves. Holy persons are not polluted by their sins, therefore ought not to be discouraged from coming, by their presence.
Observe, 3. Christ did not name Judas, and say, Oh thou perfidious traitor; but, Behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table. Doubtless Christ did not name him, because he would not drive him to despair, but draw him to repentance.
But, Lord, thou knows in what thou names us not. Oh how sad is it for any of the family, who pretend friendship with thee, to conspire against thee; and after they have eat of thy bread, to lift up the heel against thee!
Observe, 4. That though Judas was not named, yet he saw himself pointed at by our Saviour: Behold the hand that betrayeth me is on the table; and Judas' heart told him whose hand that was; yea, though Judas heard that dreadful sentence denounced against him, Woe to the man by whom the Son of man is betrayed; yet he is no more blanked than innocency itself: this shameless man had the impudence to say to our blessed Saviour, Master, is it I? Though St. Luke says it not, the other Evangelists tell us, that Christ answered him, Thou sayest it. Did not Judas (think we) blush extremely, and hang down his guiltly head, at so galling an intimation? Nothing less; we read not of any thing like it.
Lord, how does obstinacy in sinning steel the brow, and render it incapable of all relenting impressions!
Immediately after the celebration of the passover, followed the institution of the Lord's supper.
Where we have observable, the author, the time, the elements, and the ministerial actions.
Observe, 1. The author of this new sacrament, Jesus took bread.
Learn thence, that to institute a sacrament is the sole prerogative of Jesus Christ; the church has no power to make new sacraments; it is only her duty to celebrate those which our Saviour has made.
2. The time of the institution, the night before the passion: The night in which he was betrayed, he took bread.
3. The sacramental elements, bread and wine; bread representing the body, and wine the blood of our Redeemer: bread being an absolutely necessary food, a common and obvious food, a strengthening and refreshing food; and wine being the most excellent drink; the most pleasant and delightful, the most cordial and restorative; for these reasons amongst others, did Christ consecrate and set these creatures apart for those holy purposes for which he designed them.
4. The ministerial actions, breaking of the bread and blessing of the cup: Jesus took bread; that is, separated it, and set it apart from common use, for holy purposes: He blessed it, that is, he prayed for a blessing upon it, and brake it, thereby shadowing forth his body broken upon the cross: and he gave it to his disciples, saying, this broken bread signifies my body, which is suddenly to be broken upon the cross, for the redemption and salvation of a lost world, Do you likewise this in remembrance of my death. As to the cup, Christ having set it apart by prayer and thanksgiving, he commands his disciples to drink all of it; For, says He, this cup is the new testament in my blood; that is, the wine in this cup does represent the shedding of my blood, by which the new covenant between God and man is ratified and confirmed. Drink ye all of this, says our Saviour: whence we gather, that every communicant has as undoubted a right to the cup, as he has to the bread in the Lord's supper; therefore for the church of Rome to deny the cup to the common people is sacrilege, and directly contrary to Christ's institution.
If these words be not placed out of order by St. Luke here, it may seem very strange, that the apostles immediately after receiving the sacrament, should entertain their minds with thoughts of precedency and superiority; and much stranger yet, that they should discourse openly of such a subject as this, especially considering what our Saviour had just before told them, that he was betrayed into the hands of sinners. But whether at this time or not, it is most certain, at some time or other a strife was found amongst them, which should be the greatest. Now that our Saviour might effectually quench those unhappy sparks of ambition which were kindled in his apostles' minds, he tells them that supremacy and dominion belong to secular princes, not to evangelical pastors, who ought to carry themselves with humility and condescension one towards another. Not that Christ directs to a parity and equality amongst his ministers, or forbids the pre-eminency of some over others; but the affecting of superiority, and true love of pre-eminency, is that which our Saviour disallowed.
1. That so far ought the ministers of Christ to be from affecting a domination and superiority of power over their fellow brethren, that, in imitation of Christ their Lord and Master, they ought to account themselves fellow-servants: I am among you as one that serveth.
2. That such ministers as do love and affect pre-eminency and superiority, are most unfit for it, and they deserve it best that seek it least.
3. That the dignity and honor which the ministers of Christ should chiefly and only affect, is in another world; and the way to be the greatest and highest there, is to be low and humble here; mean in our own eyes, and little in our own esteem: Whosoever is chief, says Christ, let him be your servant.
Observe here, what an honorable acknowledgment Christ makes of the constancy of his disciples' love and affection towards him: Ye are they that have continued with me in my temptations; that is, in my afflictions, trials, and sufferings. It is an easy matter to abide with Christ in days of peace, in times of consolation; but when we are under afflictions, temptations and troubles, then to abide and keep close to Christ, this is the proof of love and friendship. And as Christ makes an honorable mention of their constancy towards him, so he presently assures them of an honorable reward: I appoint unto you a kingdom.
Learn hence, that such as are sharers with Christ in his sufferings, shall certainly communicate with him in his glory: If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.
And whereas our Saviour promises his apostles to sit upon thrones with him judging the twelve tribes of Israel; we may gather, that such ministers as do most service for Christ, and forsake most to follow him, and continue in temptation and tribulation with him, shall in his kingdom partake of most honor and dignity with him and from him: You shall eat and drink in my kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Possibly the apostles, and all the zealous, faithful and laborious ministers of Jesus Christ, shall be nearer his throne in heaven, than either saints or angels; nearer than the angels, because by Christ's assuming the human nature, they are more nearly allied to him; he is their friend, but our brother; and nearer than other saints, as having done more eminent service for Christ, and brought more honor and glory to him by a laborious diligence in their place and station, They that turn many to righteousness, shall shine, etc. Dan 12:3
Here I shall give,
1. The general sense of the words.
2. The particular matters contained in them.
3. The special observation from them.
The sense of the words is this; as for you my disciples in general, and for thee Peter in particular, I must tell thee, that Satan has accused you all before God, and desires that he may have the sifting of you all by his winnowing winds of temptation and persecution, that he may shake your faith, and weaken your confidence; but I have prayed for you all, and particularly for thyself who art in greatest danger of falling, because so confident of thine own strength and standing, that thy faith, though severely shaken, may not utterly fail; and when by repentance thou art recovered from thy fall, be careful to confirm and strengthen others, that they may not fall in like manner.
The particular matter contained in these words, are these; a Christian's danger, a Christian's safety, and a Christian's duty.
1. A Christian's danger, Satan hath desired to sift you.
Where observe, 1. The person particularly warned of the danger, Simon, Simon: the doubling of the word, doubtless carries a special intimation with it: it denotes the greatness and nearness of Peter's danger, his own security and insensibleness of that danger, and the great affection of Christ his monitor, to give him warning of his danger.
Observe, 2. The warning itself, and that is, of a devilish conspiracy against himself and all the apostles, Satan hath desired to have you; to have you for his own, if it might be; to have you as believers, rather than other men; to have you as eminent believers, rather than other Christians; and to have you as apostles and ministers, rather than other eminent believers. And as Satan has desired to have you, so to sift you too, to winnow you as wheat; not to fetch out the chaff, but to make the chaff.
Here note, that Satan has his winnowing winds of temptation, and his tempestous winds of persecution, for the sifting of God's children.
Note farther, that it is the wheat, the good corn, that Satan winnows; not chaff, nor dross; sinners, that are all chaff, and nothing but dross, Satan will not be at the pains to sift and winnow them.
But what is the sifting? Answer, in sifting, two things are performed:
1. The agitation, shaking and tossing of the corn from side to side. The separation of the corn from the chaff and dust; Satan intends the former, God effects the latter: The corn is improved, not impaired, by winnowing. The saints of God shall be no losers in the end by Satan's temptations, how many and how strong soever they may be in the way.
2. The Christian's safety: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.
Where note, 1. The care that Christ had for Peter, and in him of all believers: I have prayed for thee; for thee, as a believing Christian, and for thee as a tempted Christian; and it is not said, I will pray for thee, but I have prayed for thee. Christ prayed for Peter, before Peter understood that he had need of Christ's prayer; Christ prayed for Peter as soon as ever Satan desired to sift Peter.
Our intercessor is full as nimble and speedy in his suit for us, as Satan is in his accusations against us: he has desired, but I have prayed; he is a potent assailant, but thou has a powerful assistant.
Observe, 2. The subject matter prayed for, that thy faith fail not; not that thy faith be not assaulted, not that thy faith be not shaken, but that thy faith may not fail by an absolute and total deficiency.
The third particular is the Christian's duty: When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. When converted, that is, when recovered form thy fall, when restored upon thy repentance to the divine favor. This conversion is not from a state of sin; Peter was converted before; but it was from an act of sin, into which he should lapse and relapse; Strengthen thy brethren; that is, establish others in the faith, from which tou art shamefully fallen thyself.
Now the lessons of instruction from the whole are these:
1. That temptations are like siftings: God sifts to purge away our dust and dross; Satan sifts, not to get out the chaff; but to bolt out the flour; his temptations are levelled against our faith.
2. That Satan has a continual desire to be sifting and winnowing God's flour; Satan's own children are all bran, all chaff, these he sifts not: God's children have flour mixed with bran, good wheat mixed with chaff; these he desires to sift, winnow, and fan; not to separate the bran and dross, but to destroy the flour.
3. That the intercession of Christ gives security, satisfaction, and encouragement to all believers, that though their faith may, by temptations, be shaken and assaulted, yet, that it shall never be finally vanquished and overcome: I have prayed that thy faith fail not.
4. That lapsed Christians, when recovered and restored, ought to endeavor to restore and to recover, to strengthen and establish others: When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
St. Peter's resolution to accompany Christ both to prison and to death, was holy and good; but his too confident opinion of his own strength and ability so to do, without a divine aid and assistance, was his failing and infirmity. Self-confidence is a sin, too, incident to the holiest and best of men. Little did St. Peter think what a feather he should be in the wind of temptation, if once God left him to himself, and to Satan's assaults.
Learn farther, how hard a matter it is for a Christian to excel in gifts, and not to be overconfident and conceited. To see a man eminent in gifts, and yet exemplary in humility, is a rare sight; if we stand in the evil day, it is an humble fear of falling that must enable us to stand.
As if our Lord had said, "Hitherto I have been with you, and you have had my special protection and careful provision, though you went without purse, script, or sword: but the time is now at hand when I must leave you; when your friends will be few, and your enemies many; therefore make such provision for yourselves, as prudence shall direct. Indeed, my sufferings will be first; I must be numbered with the transgressors, and all things that are written of me must be accomplished, and will suddenly be fulfilled; and after me you will next come upon the stage, therefore prepare and provide for it."
Learn, that Christ having forewarned his members, but especially his ministers, of the dangers, distresses, and difficulties that they are to conflict and encounter with; it is their duty, by faith and patience, with courage and Christian resolution, to be well armed and prepared against them.
Our blessed Saviour being now come to the Mount of Olives, and having entered with his disciples into the garden near it, whether he used to retire and pray; in this place he falls into a bitter and bloody agony, in which he prayed with wonderful fervor and importunity; his sufferings were now coming on a great pace, and he mets them upon his knees, and would be found in a praying posture.
Learn thence, that prayer is the best preparative for, as well as the most powerful support under, the heaviest sufferings that can befall us.
As to this prayer of our Saviour, in his agony, many particulars are very observable as, 1. The time when he prayed thus extraordinarily; it was the evening before he suffered, just before Judas with his black guard came to apprehend him; and when he did come, he found him in a praying posture; our Lord teaching us by his example, that when imminent dangers are before us, especially when death is apprehended by us, it is our duty to be very much in prayer to God, and very fervent in our wrestlings with him.
Observe, 2. The subject matter of our Lord's prayer, That, if possible, the cup might pass from him; that is, that he might escape the dreadful wrath, at which he was so sore amazed.
But what did Christ now begin to repent of his undertaking for sinners? Did he shrink and give back, when he came to the pinch?
No, nothing like this; but as he had two natures, being God and Man, so he had two distinct wills; as Man he feared and shunned death, as God-man he willingly submitted to it. The divine nature and the human spirit of Christ did now assault each other with disagreeing interests.
Again, this prayer was not absolute, but conditional: "Father, if it may be, if thou wilt, if it please thee, let the cup pass; if not, I will drink it." The cup of sufferings we see is a very bitter and distasteful cup, a cup which human nature abhors; yet does God oftentimes put this bitter cup of affliction into the hands of whom he does sincerely love; and when he does so, it is their duty to drink it with silence and submission, as here their Lord did before them.
Observe, 3. The manner of our Lord's prayer in this his agony: and here we may remark,
1. It was a solitary prayer; he went by himself alone, out of the hearing of his disciples. The company of our best and dearest friends is not always seasonable; there are times and seasons when a Christian would not be willing that the most intimate friend he has in the world should be with him, to hear what passes in secret between him and his God.
2. It was an humble prayer; that appears by the postures in which he cast himself, sometimes lying prostrate upon his face, he lies in the very dust, and lower he could not lie, and his heart was as low as his body.
3. It was a vehement, fervent, and importunate prayer; such was the fervor of his spirit, that he prayed himself into an agony. Oh let us blush to think how unlike our praying frame of spirit is to Christ's.
Lord, what coldness, deadness, drowsiness, formality, and laziness, are found in our prayers! How often do our lips move, when our hearts stand still!
Observe, 4. The posture which the disciples were found in; when our Lord was praying in his agony, they were fast asleep. Good God! Could they possibly sleep at such a time as this? When Christ's soul was exceedingly sorrowful, could their eyes be heavy?
Learn thence, that the very best of Christ's disciples may be, and oftentimes are, overtaken with great infirmities, when the most important duties are performing; Then cometh he to his disciples, and findeth them sleeping.
Observe, 5. The mild, meek, and gentle rebuke which he gives to his disciples for their sleeping; he said unto them, Why sleep ye? Could ye not watch with me one hour? "What, not watch when your Master was in such danger! Could ye not watch with me, when I was going to lay down my life for you: What, not an hour, and that the parting hour, too?
Learn hence, that the holiest and best resolved Christians, who have willing spirits for Christ and his service, yet in regard to the meekness of the flesh, and the frailty of human nature, it is their duty to watch and pray, and thereby guard themselves against temptation: Rise and pray, let ye enter into, etc.
It was the lot and portion of our blessed Saviour here, we find, to be betrayed into the hands of his mortal enemies, by the treachery of a false and dissembling friend.
And in this sad relation before us we have observable, the traitor, the treason, the manner how, and the time when, this treasonable design was executed.
Observe, 1. The traitor, Judas: all the evangelists carefully describe him by his name, Judas, Judas Iscariot, lest he should be mistaken for Jude, the brother of James; and by his office, one of the twelve. Lord, now ought the greatest professors to look well to themselves, and to the grounds and principles of their profession: for a profession begun in hupocrisy will certainly end in apostasy.
Observe, 2. The occasion of the treason, covetousness, or the inordinate love of worldly wealth; and accordingly the devil lays a temptation before him exactly suited to his temper and inclination, and it instantly overcame him.
Learn hence, that persons are never in such imminent danger of falling into sin, as when they meet with temptations exactly suited to their master lust. Oh pray we, that God would keep us from temptations suited to our predominant lust and corruption.
Observe, 3. The treason of Judas, he led on an armed multitude to the place where Christ was, gave them a signal to discover him by, and bids them lay hands upon him and hold him fast; which treason of Judas was attended with these black and hellish aggravations: he had been a witness of our Saviour's miracles, and hearer of our Lord's doctrine; what he did was not by solicitation; the chief priests did not send to him, but he went to them.
Lord, how dangerous it is to allow ourselves in any secret sin! None can say how far one sin may in time lead us. Should any one have told Judas that his covetousness would at last make him deny his Lord, and sell his Saviour, he would have said with Hazael, Is thy servant a dog, that I should do this thing?
Observe, 4. The endeavor made by his disciples for their Master's rescue. One of them (St. Matthew says it was Peter) drew a sword, and cut off the ear of Malchus. But why not the ear of Judas rather? Because, though Judas was most faulty, yet Malchus might be most forward to arrest and carry off our Saviour. Oh how does a pious breast boil iwth indignation at the sight of an open affront offered to its Saviour!
Yet, though St. Peter's heart was sincere, his hand was too rash; good intentions are no warrant for irregular actions; and accordingly, Christ, who accepted the affection, reproved the action. To resist authority, even in Christ's own defence, is rash zeal, and discountenanced by the gospel. Peter did well to ak his master, If he should smite with the sword? but he ought to have stayed his hand till Christ had given him his answer. However, Peter's sin occasioned a miracle from our Saviour; Christ heals that ear miraculously, which Peter cut off unwarrantably; yet the sight of this miracle converted none.
Oh how insufficient are all outward means of conversion, without the Spirit's inward operation!
This paragraph of the chapter gives us an account of the fall and rising of Peter: of his sin in denying his Master, and of his recovery by repentance; both must be considered distinctly.
First, touching his sin and fall; there are four particulars observable relating thereunto; namely, the sin itself, the occasion of that sin, the reiteration and repetition of it, and the aggravating circumstances attending it.
Observe, 1. The sin itself, the denial of Christ Jesus his Lord and Master, I know not the man; and this backed with an oath, he sware that he knew him not. Lord, how may the slavish fear of suffering drive the holiest and best of men to commit the foulest and worst of sins!
Observe, 2. The occasions leading to this sin, and they were these:
1. His following Christ afar off. To follow Christ was the effect of Peter's faith; but to follow him afar off at this time, was the fruit of fear, and the effect of frailty. Woe unto us when temptation comes, if we be far from Christ's gracious presence and assistance.
2. His being in bad company, amongst Christ's enemies: would we escape temptations to sin, we must then decline such company as would allure and draw us into sin. Peter had better have been acold by himself alone, than warming himself at a fire which was encompassed in with the blasphemies of the multitude; where his conscience, though not seared, was yet made hard.
Another grand occasion of Peter's falling was, a presumptous confidence of his own strength and standing: Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I. Oh Lord, to presume upon ourselves, is the ready way to provoke thee to leave us to ourselves; if ever we stand in the day of trial, it is the fear of falling must enable us to stand. We soon fall, if we believe it impossible to fall.
Observe, 3. The reiteration and repetition of this sin, he denied Christ again and again; he denies him first with a lie, then with an oath, and next with a curse. Lord, how dangerous is it not to resist the first beginnings of sin! If we yield to one temptation, Satan will assault us with more and stronger. Peter proceeded from a denial to a lie; from a lie to an oath; from an oath to an imprecation or curse. It is our wisdom vigorously to resist sin at the beginning; for then we have most power, and sin has least.
Observe, 4. The heinous and aggravating circumstances of St. Peter's sin; and they are these:
1. The character of his person; a disciple, an apostle, a chief apostle, a special favorite, who with James and John had the special honor to be with Christ at his transfiguration: yet he denies Christ.
2. The person whom he denies; his Master, his Saviour, and Redeemer. He, that in great humility had washed Peter's feet, had eaten the passover with Peter, had given but just before the holy sacrament to Peter; yet is this kind and condescending Saviour denied by Peter.
3. Consider the persons before whom he denied Christ; the chief priest's servants. Oh how surprising, and yet very pleasing was it to them, to see one disciple betray and sell his Master, and another disown and deny him!
4. Consider the time when he denied him; it was but a few hours after he had received the holy sacrament from Christ's own hands. How unreasonable then is their objection against coming to the Lord's table, that some who go to it dishonor Christ as soon as they come from it: such examples ought not to discourage us from coming to the ordinance, but should excite and increase our watchfulness, after we have been there, that our after deportment may be suitable to the solemnmity of a sacramental table.
Observe, 5. What a small temptation he lay under thus shamefully to deny his Lord and Master: a damsel only at first spake to him. Had a band of armed soldiers appeared to him, and apprehended him: had he been bound and led away to the judgment hall, and there threatened with the sentence of an ignominious death, some excuse might have been made better for him: but to disown his relation to Christ upon a word spoken by a sorry maid that kept the door; the smallness of the temptation was an high aggravation of the crime. Ah Peter: how little did thou answer thy name at this time! Thou art not now a rock, but a reed, a pillar blown down by a woman's breath. Oh frail humanity, whose strength is weakness and infirmity.
Note here, that in most of the saints' falls recorded in scripture, the first enticers to sin, or the accidental occasions of it, were women; witness (besides the first fall, that of Adam's, where the woman was first in the transgression) the fall of Lot, Samson, David, Solomon, and Peter; these are sad instances of the truth of what I speak.
A weak creature may be a strong tempter; nothing is to impotent or useless for the devil's service; it was a great aggravation of Peter's sin, that the voice of a poor maid that kept the door should be of more force to overcome him, than his faith in Jesus to sustain him. But what shall we say? Small things are sufficient to cast us down, if God does not help us up: we sink under any burden, if God sustain us not; and yield to the least temptation, if he leaves us to ourselves; a damsel shall then make a disciple shrink, and a door-keeper shall be able to drive an apostle before her. This is the account, in short, of St. Peter's fall, considered in itself, and with the circumstances relating to it.
Now follows his recovery and rising again by repentance; and here we have observable, the suddenness of St. Peter's repentance, the means of his repentance, and the manner of his repentance.
Observe, 1. The suddenness of St. Peter's repentance: as his sin was sad, so was his repentance speedy; sin committed by surprise, and through the prevalency of a temptation that suddenly assaults us, is much sooner repented of, than where the sin is presumptuous and deliberate. David's murder and adultery lay almost twelve months, without any solemn repentance for them. St. Peter's denial was hasty and sudden, under a violent pang and passion of fear, and he takes the warning of the cock's crowing, to go forth speedily and weep for his transgressions.
Observe, 2. The means of his repentance, which was two-fold: the less principal means was the crowing of the cock: the more principal means were Christ's looking upon Peter, and Peter remembering the words of Christ.
1. The less principal means of St. Peter's rising and recovery by repentance, was the crowing of the cock: as the voice of the maid occasioned him to sin, so the voice of the cock occasioned him to reflect. That God who always can work without means, can ever, when he pleases, work by weak and contemptible means, and open the mouth of a bird or a beast for the conversion of a man. But why does our Lord make use of the crowing of a cock, as a means of bringing St. Peter to repentance? There is ever some mystery in Christ's institutions and instruments; the cock was a preacher, to call St. Peter to his duty, there being something of emblem between a cock and a preacher; the preacher ought to have the wings of the cock, to rouse himself from drowsiness and security, and to awaken others to a sense of their duty; he must have the watchfulness of the cock, to be ever ready to discover and forewarn danger; he must have the voice of the cock, terrify the roaring lion of hell, and make him tremble, as they say the natural lion does; in a word, he must observe the hours of the cock, to crow at at all seasons; to preach the word in season and out of season.
Again, 2. The more principal means of St. Peter's recovery were Christ's looking upon Peter, and Peter's remembering the words of Christ.
1. Christ's looking upon Peter; our Saviour looked upon Peter, before either Peter looked upon our Saviour or upon himself. Oh wonderful act of love and grace towards this fallen disciple. Christ was now upon his trial for his life, (a time when our thoughts would have been wholly taken up about ourselves,) but even then did Christ find leisure to think upon Peter, to remember his disconsolate disciples, to turn himself about and give him a pitiful but piercing look, even a look that melted and dissolved him into tears. We never begin to lament our sins till we are first lamented by our Saviour; Jesus looked upon Peter, that was the first more principal means of his repentance.
But, 2. The other means was Peter's remembering the words of the Lord, Before the cock crow thou shalt deny me. Now this remembrance was an applicative and feeling remembrance; he remembered the prediction of Christ, and applied it sensibly to himslf; teaching us, that the efficacy of Christ's words, in order to sound repentance, depends not upon the historical remembrance of it, but upon the close application of it to everyman's conscience.
Observe, 3. The manner of St. Peter's repentance; it was secret, it was sincere, it was lasting, and abiding.
1. It was secret; he went out and wept; he sought a place of retirement, where he might mourn in secret; solitariness is most agreeable to an afflicted spirit; yet I must add, that as St. Peter's sorrow, so probably his shame, might cause him to go forth and weep. Christ looked upon him, and how ashamed must he be to look upon Christ, seeing he had so lately denied that he had ever seen him!
2. St. Peter's repentance was sincere; he wept bitterly: his grief was extraordinary, and his tears abundant; there is always a weeping that must follow sin; sin must cost the soul sorrow, either here or in hell; we must now either mourn awhile, or lament forever. Doubtless St. Peter's tears were joined with hearty confessions of sin to God, and smart reflections on himself, after this manner: "Lord! What have I done? I a disciple, I an apostle, I that did so lately acknowledge my Master to be Christ the Lord, I that spoke with so much assurance, Though all men deny thee, yet will not I; I that promised to lay down my life for his sake; yet have I denied him, yet have I, with oaths and imprecations, disowned him, and this at the voice of a damsel, not at the sight of a drawn sword presented at my breast. Lord! What weakness, what wickedness, what unfaithfulness, have I been guilty of! Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep all my days for the fault of this one night!" Thus may we suppose our lapsed apostle to have bemoaned himself; and happy was it for them, that he did so; for blessed are the tears of a converted revolter, and happy is the misery of a mourning offender.
Observe, 3. St. Peter's repentance was not only secret and sincere, but lasting and abiding; he retained a very quick sense, and lively remembrance, of this sin, upon his mind all his life after.
Ecclesiastical history reports, that ever after, when St. Peter heard the crowing of the cock, he fell upon his knees and wept.
Others say, that he was wont to rise at midnight, and spent his time in prayer and humiliation, between cock-crowing and daylight: and the papists, who delight to turn every thing into folly and superstition, first began that practice of setting up, what we call weather-cocks upon towers and steeples, to put people in mind of St. Peter's fall and repentance by that signal.
Lastly, St. Peter's repentance was an extraordinary zeal and forwardness for the service of Christ to the end of his days. He had a burning love towards the holy Jesus ever after, which is now improved into a seraphic flame; Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee, says he himself, Jn 21:17. And as an evidence of it, he fed Christ's sheep; for, in the Acts of the apostles, we read of his extraordinary diligence to spread the gospel, and his travels in order thereunto, are computed by some to be nine hundred and fifty miles.
To end all, have any of us fallen with Peter, though not with a formal abjuration, yet by a practical denying of him? Let us go forth and weep with him; let us be more vigilant and watchful over ourselves for the time to come; let us express more fervent love and zeal for Christ, more diligence in his service, more concernedness for his honor and glory: this would be an happy improvement of his example: God grant it may have that blessed effect!
Observe here, the vile affronts, the horrid abuses, the injuries and indignities which were put upon the holy and innocent Jesus in the day of his sufferings; the rude officers and servants spit in his face, blindfolded his eyes, smote him with their hands, and in contempt and scorn bid him prophecy who it was that smote him. Verily there is no degree of contempt, no mark of shame, no kind of suffering which we ought to decline for Christ's sake, who hid not his face from shame and spitting, upon our account.
Observe here, 1. Christ was judged and tried before a court that had no authority to judge or try him, verse 66. They let him into their council. This was their great Sanhedrin, or ecclesiastical court, which, according to its first constitution, was to consist of seventy grave, honorable, and learned men, who were to judge impartially for God, according to Num 11:16 But this, alas, consisted of a malicious pack of Scribes and Pharisees, men full of malice and revenge, and over these Caiaphas now presided; an head fit for such a body: but though there was, at our Saviour's trial, a face of a court amongst them, yet their power was much abridged by the Romans, so that they could not hear nor determine, neither judge nor condemn, in capital matters.
Observe next, the indictment of blasphemy is brought in against him; What need we any further witness? We have heard his blasphemy. Abominable wickedness! It is not in the power of the greeatest and unspotted innocency to protect from slander and false accusation.
Observe farther, the great meekness of our Saviour under all these ill suggestions, and false accusations: as a lamb before the shearer, so is he dumb, and opened not his mouth.
Learn thence, that to bear the revilings, contradictions, and false accusations of men, with a silent and submissive spirit, is an excellent and Christ-like temper. Though a trial for his innocent life, was now managed most maliciously and illegally against him, yet, when he was reviled, he reviled not again: when he suffered, he threatened not. Oh may the same meek and humble mind be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, instead of reviling his accusers, prayed for his murderers, and offered up his blood to God on the behalf of them that shed it! Lord Jesus, help us to set up thy instructive example continually before us, and to be daily correcting and reforming of our lives, by that blessed pattern. Amen.
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