Notes on John 21:18-19

John 21:18‑19  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 8
But this is not all. It is not enough for the Lord to restore fully the soul of Peter and to more than reinstate in his relation to the sheep which might have seemed otherwise compromised. Grace would give him in God's due time what he had not only lost but turned to his own shame and his Master's dishonor, the confession of His name even to prison and death.
“Verily, verily, I say to thee, when thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. And this he said, signifying by what death he should glorify God.
And having said this, he saith to him, Follow me.” (Vers. 18, 19.)
In this, as in what precedes and in what follows, actions and words are veiled yet significant. There was the intention to convey important and interesting truth, but only to such as weighed all and went not beyond the just bearing of the Lord's sayings or doings. Peter was then in his prime of natural vigor. In his youth (and he was still far from being an old man) he was ready for energetic action, and disposed to use his liberty with too little distrust of himself. He had just ventured to go whither he would, into the high priest's house; and as far as doughty words promised, one might have thought he had girded up his loins like a man to do great feats of valor, or to endure a great fight of afflictions for his betrayed and insulted Master. The issue we all know too well; and Peter had been led more and more to see and feel it, till he had now got down to the root and judged it thoroughly before God. And now also the Lord lets him know that grace would give him back what had seemed forever lost to him, the fellowship of Christ's sufferings and conformity to His death, far more in fact than Peter in his own too confident love and strength had proffered before he miserably broke down.
See how grace shuts out all ground for boasting, while it secures honor beyond what we in our most sanguine desires ever anticipated. Is not this worthy of God and suited to His saints? When Peter went forward according to his own words, he came to worse than nothing, he a most favored servant denying the Holy and Righteous One, his own most gracious Master. It was the deepest humiliation, yet was he a true saint and a loving disciple; but so it was because he entered into temptation at his own charges, instead of enduring it when tried by it according to God. Thus his fall was inevitable; for none can endure save in faith and self-judgment. To be a believer and fervently to love the Lord will not preserve in the least under such circumstances, however strange this may sound to many, who little think how often and deeply they deny the Lord practically, in great matters and small to which He attaches His name. We must be put to shame in whatever thing we are proud; and how much better is even this gain, than to be let go on in unrebuked self-complacency?
But the Lord promises Peter that, when he should be old, he should stretch forth his hands, and another gird and carry him whither he would not. Thus, when it was no longer possible to boast of his own strength or courage, as a helpless old man, Peter would enjoy from God the singular privilege, not only of death for Christ's sake which in younger days he had essayed to face and most ignominiously failed in, but of that very death which the Lord had suffered with its prolonged agony and shame. For the Lord, as we are expressly told, said as He did, signifying not death so much as “by what” sort of death Peter was to glorify God; and after saying this, He saith to him, Follow Me.
The allusion was scarcely mistakable. In those days when such a punishment was common enough for the lowest slaves and guiltiest criminals, every one understood the meaning of being lifted up, or outstretching the arms by the force of another. Again the illustrative act of calling Peter to follow Him as He walked some paces on the shore made plain its grave intent. Yet even then and thus, another carrying him whither he would not proves how little of self was to be in Peter's death on the cross, in contrast with those who, at a later day and a way lower incomparably, sought a martyr's death to win this crown. No! Peter's close on earth was to be suffering and death for Christ, who would give him to endure at the fit moment.
The lesson of its surpassing grace abides for us who love the same Savior, and have a nature no better than the disciple's. Have we been taught it? Can one learn it safely and surely, save as following Christ? “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor.” Peter when called should follow the Master; and so he did. May the same grace strengthen and guide us in the same path for life or death.