Strength and Courage

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Let us look at the frank, open-hearted, upright Apostle Peter. Fervent in his love to Jesus, he was ignorant of the deceitfulness of the heart. The Lord’s eye could look ahead and see Peter in the midst of a scene in which he had not yet been placed. The daily companion of Jesus, witness of His miracles, partaking of His more secret instruction when He expounded to His disciples His parables, experimentally knowing the care of Jesus in providing for him and His companions when He had sent them forth without purse or scrip: Is he such a dog? Shall he deny Him? The thought is repelled with honest indignation. “Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee” (Matt. 26:3535Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples. (Matthew 26:35)). It was to Peter that the Father had made a special revelation of the glory of the person of the Lord, that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God. What, shall Peter deny his own confession and the honor put upon him in the revelation made to him of the Father? Impossible!
Trust in Our Intentions
Now the error of Peter and of all of us is to take for granted that we know our hearts as well as the Lord knows them. We trust to the integrity of our intentions, and we “enter into temptation,” unaware that we are brought into the place where the integrity of our intentions is to be tested. Let us change the scene, where Peter is sleeping in the garden when the Lord is in agony. The Lord could draw the line, which it would be dangerous for His disciples to attempt to cross in their own strength. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Weak in reality, although strong apparently, Peter, aroused from his slumber to fleshly confidence, “stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear” (Matt. 26:5151And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear. (Matthew 26:51)). Brave action to fight single-handed against a multitude, but to watch and pray and to have no confidence in the flesh is far harder. Jesus is deserted by His disciples, despised and rejected of men. Will Peter stand by his former confession? No; he equivocates, denies, curses, swears, “I know not the man.” The Lord had now shown that He knew Peter’s heart better than Peter knew it himself. He restores him with a look, but Peter went out and wept bitterly.
The history of Peter shows us the connection between the deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the heart. Little did he know that cursing and swearing were there ready to burst forth on the occasion being opened. Is there a Christian of any experience who does not know the shame of confessing Jesus before men to be more powerful than the most upright resolution? It is comparatively easy when we are among many who acknowledge Jesus also to acknowledge Him, but for Christ to be the only object necessitates the cross. If we do not take it for granted that our “hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” so that we are led to watch and pray, we shall enter into temptation.
Christ in Rejection
Many are the instances of undaunted human resolution, but human resolution is not the spirit of him who is the witness of Jesus. It needs to be broken and to know that it is but weakness. Had the Lord rushed to battle at the head of His followers, in all likelihood Peter would have followed Him, reckless of danger. But such boldness is weakness, for the path of faith, instead of following Jesus to battle, has to follow Him unto rejection. Such was the path of the Master: “Ought not Christ to suffer ... and to enter into His glory?” When Peter had learned the true secret of turning the Lord’s omniscience to a practical personal account and said, “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee” (John 21:1717He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)), then he was no longer prepared to glory in his “wisdom” or in “his might.” The Lord could “signify to him, by what death he should glorify God,” and say unto him, “Follow Me.” What Peter could not do in his own time and way and strength, the Lord enabled him to do in His time, His way and His strength.
God’s End and Object
“What, then, shall we say to these things?” First, a Christian should habitually come “to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God” (John 3:2121But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:21)). This will prevent not only his acting a character, but also prevent that subtle snare of using the character he has among others as a blind to conceal his own faults. Second, we must remember that God’s end and object is to glorify not us, but His own Son Jesus Christ. This is always the object of the Holy Spirit, and when He writes the history of His people, He does not hesitate to record their sins, failings and blemishes, sometimes even without comment, that we may learn the impossibility of any flesh glorying before the Lord. If this is but very imperfectly learned here, it will be very evident when we shall know even as we ourselves are known. But, last, we are taught, both historically and doctrinally (it may be experimentally), that such is the deceitfulness of the heart that no gifts of the highest order, no graces received out of the fullness of Jesus, no honest zeal for His name, no devotedness of past service and no activity of present service are a safeguard against it. We can only be “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Peter 1:55Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5)). And the unrescinded rule prescribed for our safety by Jesus is, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:2323And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)).
The Flesh
The flesh in the saint is shown in its fearful evil by its very proximity to the Spirit. But the heart deceitfully thinks that it does not need to be continually guarded against, and it readily gives new names to old lusts and passions, but the verdict remains unrepealed, “The flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:6363It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)). While watchfulness and prayer are ever needed, he only will be blameless and shameless and without offense who walks in the solemn conviction that he has to fear the outbreak of the foulest sins, unless his soul be occupied with Jesus. The sin from which his heart would recoil, if deliberately presented, may be the very one into which he is insensibly led from one step of temptation to another. “Unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-2524Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, 25To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24‑25)).
J. L. Harris (adapted)