Peter's Two Lessons

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There was a day in the Lord's life on earth when people seemed in earnest to hear Him. They pressed upon Him, not to hear from idle curiosity, as the Athenians, we may surely believe, for they pressed on Him to hear the word of God. Of the heads of that discourse, or even of a word He uttered, we have no record—not a syllable of all He said on that occasion has the Spirit thought fit to preserve. What impression it made on the multitude we shall never know till the light of eternity reveals it. We learn they were desirous to hear, and He as ready, nay more ready, to teach so He entered into Simon's ship, and taught the people from thence. Whether, like the sea on which he was, the hearts of the multitude were stirred for a time, and then regained their wonted composure, leaving no trace of any emotion, we cannot say; but we learn of one, and only one, who received something that day, yet he did not receive it from that discourse. He heard the words of the Lord, for he sat in his ship, but the discourse terminated without Peter having learned what He was, and who it was that taught the multitude. It was from his ship the Lord taught the people, it was in his ship Peter learned his lesson. But he has to be brought into other circumstances ere he apprehends it. He had seen Jesus before. Andrew had first introduced Him in Judea to the Jews as the Messiah. From Him he received a new name—Cephas. He had not however, on that occasion, discovered that He was God. This he now learns. To forsake all and follow Christ, and to labor for Him, was the future before Peter; and the Lord, to give him confidence, works the miracle, which shows how He could provide for His own, having all resources at His command, and how He could make them useful to Him. Having toiled all night and taken nothing, the Lord, the discourse ended, tells Peter to launch out into the deep, and to let down the nets for a draft. The nets, washed and mended, were again put into requisition, and they enclosed a great multitude of fishes too great for the strength of the nets and the capacity of the ships, for the " nets brake and the ship began to sink."
Whence this draft of fishes? Where had they been all night? How came they to be ready to hand at the overhaul, a draft beyond their expectation, for the nets fitted for their ordinary work were insufficient for this? He who directed the casting of the nets, must be more than a teacher. He who filled them, must be more than Messiah. Peter finds this out, and now a sense of His divinity dawns on him, and he has to make the expression of unfitness for His presence: " Depart from me for I am a sinful man, Ο Lord."
" A sinful man." That discourse so lately beard had not produced this expression. It let no such light into his heart, yet He, who could speak as never man spake, must have adapted His teaching to the capacity of all who heard Him. He, who could find the fish deep in the waters of the lake, could fathom each heart before Him, and discover the thought of all though concealed from the cognizance of their fellows. To reach Peter's heart and reveal to him what he was, it needed the sense of God's presence, and consciousness of who was the director in the fishing, Some of our readers will understand this. There is a wide difference between hearing, and hearing gladly the gospel of the grace of God which tells of a Savior just suited to the sinner, and the knowledge of oneself as learned in God's presence. How often may souls go away from the preaching of the gospel delighted, cheered, edified, nay rejoicing, and rightly so, because hearing and receiving the proclamation of forgiveness of sins through the precious blood of Christ, who have yet to learn that they are sinful creatures. It is a glorious thing to learn about God's grace, but it is a needful thing to learn about oneself, and to make the humiliating discoveries Peter did, of utter unfitness for the presence of God. Does he stand alone in this? Isaiah surely was in a similar school, when he cried out at the glory of the Lord, "Woe is me! for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts." Job also got some insight into this, when, after reading of God's estimate of him, as His servant, of whom there was "none like in all the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil," we find him saying, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, hut now mine eye seeth thee." He had heard of God, he served God, yet he would not let go his own righteousness. (Chap, xxvii. 6.) He saw God, he learned himself, and found he had no righteousness to retain. "I abhor myself," was his estimate now, " and repent in dust and ashes," was what he felt befitted him. So Peter, finding out before whom it was he stood, found he could not stand before Him. "Depart from me" is the ready utterance of Ids mouth, " for I am a sinful man, Ο Lord." Had Peter lived an outwardly immoral life? He does not say so. Had he in a spirit of rebellion refused compliance with the precepts of the law'? He does not charge himself with any such conduct. Had he never offered up a sin-offering? Probably he often had, and was able to leave the altar assured of God's forgiveness of his sin. But all that would not avail him now, nor reach him where he consciously was. It was his state that troubled him now, not his acts. It is his nature, and not merely the workings of his nature, that he hero confesses, " a sinful man." Had the remembrance of past sins only troubled Him he might have hoped by a more careful attention to the law, and a more strict surveillance over himself, to have kept from them in future; but nothing that he could do could change his nature. His state it was that he saw, so far as it depended on him, was a hopeless one. He could not free himself from it. Hope of amendment there could be none. By the light of revelation we can add there can be none, for " that which is born of the flesh is flesh;" all therefore that he can do is to say, " Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Ο Lord."
But if he judged himself, he judged himself before one, and the only one, who could act in grace. Had he made this discovery and confessed it to the High Priest? it could only have driven him to despair. But he made it to one who could set his heart at rest even in the presence of God. When Peter confessed what he was in himself, the Lord could tell what he should be for Him. A sinful man he was in his own eyes; a future fisher of men he was in the eyes of the Lord. Wonderful grace in all this. " Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men." The Lord could use the sinful man, and this comes out after Peter's judgment of himself. How suited was the time of this announcement on the part of the Lord. When the soul is thoroughly broken down, seeing itself to be thoroughly bad, beyond the reach of amendment of its evil nature, then to be told of service it can perform for God, this is grace indeed. And here we find the same one was in Simon's ship, who before was ever seated on the throne, and at a still earlier period answered Job out of the whirlwind. Job, brought down at the sense of his vileness, is the interceder for his friends whom God chose and would accept. Isaiah, overwhelmed at the sense of his uncleanness, receives a commission direct from the Lord Jehovah. If the heart is made thoroughly sensible of itself, if God's judgment of it has been wrought unto it by the Holy Ghost, it is the vessel He will use; for, emptied of self, it can be filled with His Spirit. " Fear not," says the Lord, " from henceforth thou shalt catch men."
This lesson learned, it may, nevertheless, be at times forgotten. This, too, Peter shows us, and then we see another lesson that he learns.
Three years afterward, on the same lake, the disciples are found in their boats in the early morning, having toiled all night as before, and as unsuccessfully as on the first occasion. But whilst the sea is the same, and their occupation the same, the attendant circumstances vary. Tins time the Lord is on the shore. In Luke 5 He was with Simon on the sea, for He had not died; now in John 21 He is seen, not with them, but on the shore, and they on the sea. John, too, who in Luke 5, was in the partnership, is now in the same ship with Peter. At the word of the Lord, on the shore, they cast on the right side of the ship, and were not able to draw for the multitude of the fishes. John now discerns who it is, and tells Peter, " It is the Lord." Peter, between these epochs, that of Luke 5 and this of John 21. had forgotten the lesson then learned. He went in his own strength, and though forewarned by the Lord, had grievously fallen, for he denied Him. When all the disciples had forsaken Jesus and fled, Peter and John entered the hall of the high priest. John did not deny Him, Peter did; and John is found afterward where none of the others ventured to show themselves, at the cross, and there received the distinguished proof of the Lord's confidence, by having consigned to him the guardianship of His mother. Of these two, which of them should we have expected to have gone to meet the Lord? Peter might have busied himself about the affairs of the fishing, done anything not to meet his Master—yet he it is who is in haste to get to Him. Hearing who it is, he girt his fisher's coat about him and jumped into the sea to go to Christ. Why this haste after he had openly denied Him? In Luke he asked Him to depart, in John he goes forward in haste to meet Him. The secret is this, he had learned the grace of the Lord. If he thought of himself, he was unfit for His presence; if he thought of Jesus, he could not reach Him soon enough. Grace attracts. Peter felt this, and that after he had denied Christ.
But when did he learn about that grace? We read of the occasion in Luke 24 The two disciples, who had met with the Lord on the road to Emmaus, returned to Jerusalem to find He had appeared to Simon before He showed Himself to any others except the women. This was grace to Peter, the Lord desires to show him he was forgiven, and that on the earliest opportunity that could present itself. What passed at the interview we are not told; the effect of it on Peter we plainly see. Conscious now, not only of his nature, but of the act of that nature, he rushes forward to meet Christ, and can be so at home before Him, so divested of all fear with reference to his sin, that he alone drew the net to shore. He could give his whole energies now to that service. He has to be restored openly to his position among his colleagues. Tins the Lord proceeds to do, to show He can still use him, and will make him shepherd His sheep and lambs. But before that, grace had reached him, and he conscious of it can meet his Master. So Luke 5 shows what he could be for the Lord, John 21 what the Lord was to Mm.
And what Peter learned, he would teach others, and now that the Holy Ghost has come to make all things clear, and to guide into all the truth, he can set forth the reason of all this. He learned that the Lord had forgiven him his sin, so he can meet Him. He tells us how this could be: " Christ has borne our sins in his own body on the tree." (1 Pet. 2:2323Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: (1 Peter 2:23).) He learned, too, that he, a sinner, could stand before God, and he tells us how this is accomplished: " Christ has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." (1 Peter hi. 18.) Two precious lessons for souls to learn: the judgment of self, and the grace of God.