The Apostle Peter

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Great variety of natural character, and of moral temperament, we see in the apostles who were gathered round the Lord. There was the reasoning Thomas, and the uncalculating Peter, and the John who had his resources rather alone or in communion, and the same Peter again, who was active and social, letting himself out on every occasion.
And beside such variety as this, there were some of them who are never prominent, like Simon Zelotes; others partially noticed; others always in the foreground.
It is good and comforting to observe these things; they are the anticipations; so far, of things around ourselves at this, moment. What we read of then we see I now. And it is happy thus to find the Lord Himself in the scene, with all its elements and working, before us; so that we may know that the very materials and circumstances which now address us and draw us forth, in His day addressed themselves to Him.
Among the Apostles, Peter is a special person from the beginning, and so continues throughout. His quickening, as ye see it in Luke 5, was marked and emphatic. It is signalized among the stories of those who, one after another, joined themselves to the Lord. And so, from that hour, we see him a marked, emphatic character.
He is peculiar in making mistakes, and consequently in suffering rebukes. An ardent nature, that was ready to act, would expose itself to this. But such a nature would likewise be quick to express affection, and would meet answering affection. And in all this we find Peter. But with all, he was specially dear to his Master. Specially I mean in one sense-because, in the great evangelic, gracious sense, in the thought of sovereign mercy and of the salvation of God, all are in a common love. But Peter was signalized by his Master. He did not spare him a single stroke of the rod; neither did He deny him a single ray of the glory-. It is a rebuked Peter, for instance, that is taken to the holy hill; and again, it is a rebuked Peter that is taken as after the Lord to heaven (Matt. 16; 17; John 21). With John and James (erring Peter as he was), he is separated by the Lord to a very distinguished place again and again. And thus, the emphatic way in which lie had been apprehended at the very beginning, is pursued all through; and so at the very end. For, after the Last Supper, the Lord says to him, " Simon, Simon, Satan bath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."
This was a very distinguishing notice of Peter. It set him eminently in the midst of his brethren. The poor, erring, rebuked Peter, the one who was on all occasions letting himself out only to ex-4 pose himself, is the one thus dealt with by that love which has its own methods, excellent and wondrous and divine as they are. But there is something so peculiar in this last case, that I must dwell on it further.
The Lord does not pray for Peter that he might not fail in the process of sifting, nor be found to be but chaff; but He prays for him, that if found to be but chaff, his faith might not fail. This is much to be observed.
There were two stages in this part of Peter's journey. He went from Gethsemane to the ball of the High Priest's palace; and on that journey he denied his Master. He went out from thence, from the hall of the palace, alone and in tears; and afterward we find him going with John to the sepulcher. This second stage of his journey, however, shows us that his faith bad not failed, though the first stage of it, as we saw, had proved him to be but chaff. The Lord's intercession had kept him. His weeping at the first, just as he left the palace, and then his casting himself into the sea to reach the Lord, at the last, let us know, in the mouth of very persuasive witnesses, that his faith had eat failed, according to the prayer of his Lord for him. He is restored. He is converted, brought from a condition of weak, ignorant, self-confidence, (not, however, the self-confidence of a proud, imperious nature, but of an earnest, uncalculating affection), to a better understanding of himself, and a closer, more dependent walk with his Savior.
Being such an one as this in. the Evangelists, we see him in character in the Acts. He is chief in action again. He is the stirring, leading one still. He instructs the rest in the mystery of Judas' lost apostleship and the taking of his office by another. He preaches on the day of Pentecost; and again on the occasion of the healing of the lame beggar at the gate of the Temple. He answers the challenges of the rulers. He is put into prison. Again he stands the spokesman for the rest, in the presence of the powers. He maintains the purity of the house of God by the judgment of Ananias and Sapphire. He goes through all quarters; and in the distant parts of Lydda and Saron he comforts the saints by the raising of Tabitha. He is then at Joppa, with the brethren there; and from thence goes to Caesarea, to gather the first-fruits of the Gentiles. He establishes the hearts of his brethren, after this, at Jerusalem, by rehearsing the way of the band of God by his ministry. And at last, he is cast into prison a second time, but brought forth from thence through the sovereign interference of God, and made the signal expression of that great deliverance which awaits his nation in the last days of their history, when their captivity is. to end, and their great enemy is to fall; when Israel, the delivered, shall be like men that dream, as Peter's friends and brethren here were, when they heard of his being out of prison, and when his enemy withered under the rebuke of the Lord.
All this of Peter in the course of the first twelve chapters of the Acts was surely "the strengthening of his brethren," according to the commission which he had received. His was now an unbroken rest. "Feed my sheep, feed my lambs," was realized in his ministry now. He was the pastor, the self-sacrificing pastor of the flock of God in the land of Israel in this day. And we know that he sealed his testimony, and ended his service, by dying for the name of his Lord. But we lose him, I may say, after the twelfth chapter. Another apostleship is called forth, another thing besides a Jewish remnant becomes the husbandry of the Spirit of God, and Peter retires. He is not the prominent one at the end of the book of the Acts, as he had been at the first; nor is he the chief one in the epistles, as I may say, as he had been in the gospels. In his epistles, surely, he still "feeds the sheep," and still "strengthens his brethren;" but they are not of the heavenly elevation of those of the Apostle of the Gentiles. They still, characteristically, address themselves to a remnant gathered to Christ from the people of Israel.
Thus I have gone with Peter, very briefly and rapidly, as from first to last. There are some points, in the review of this, over which I would tarry for awhile somewhat longer.
The soul has its history as well as the body; and takes its journeys at times, as well as the body: a serious history, and important journeys full of the weightiest business. This we know and have experienced.
The soul of Peter took a wondrous journey in Luke 5 We see him there, at first, in the place of nature; an easy, friendly, kind-hearted man as ever lived; earnest to love and to serve. Being such an one, he readily lent his boat to the wondrous stranger who was at that time addressing the multitude on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. And when the words of this stranger were ended, at His bidding he as readily put out his boat further into the lake, and let down his net for a draft.
All this, however, was but nature. Peter had not yet left his native place, the place where he was born, as I may say, the place where his natural friendliness and easiness of temper had put him all his life hitherto. " Master," said he to Jesus, " we have toiled all the night, and have caught nothing; nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net." And now the journey of his soul begins: a wondrous, distant journey, but performed as in a whirlwind. The chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof, in their way, were waiting for him.
The draft of fishes which came at the word of the stranger, surprised the soul of Peter, and at once bore him to an unknown land, a place untrodden by him up to that moment. It carried him into the presence of God. The stranger was transfigured before him-as really under the eye of his soul then, as afterward the same stranger was, to the eye of his body on the holy hill. This stranger was the Lord of the fullness of the sea, who could command the depths; and Peter stood in the presence of God. The Lord was in that place, and Peter knew it not. The sight overwhelms him. He learns himself, and he is confounded. "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, 0 Lord." It is no more " Master," but " Lord." It is no longer the fisherman Peter, who had been toiling all the night at his nets, but the sinner Peter. He is in a new world, the brightness of which is intolerable: He is in the presence of God, and there (for there only is this done) he learns himself. We have all " sinned, and come short of the glory of God; " and that is discovered when first we really reach that glory.
Now this was a journey indeed, a journey which the soul of Peter had now taken. But he must go still further into this new world. He must still travel; and the word of the Lord shall show him the way, and lead him along it. "Fear not," says Jesus to Whim. The very presence which had overwhelmed him speaks comfortably to him. The glory itself addresses him, inviting him very near—and following, his path ends. He has now finally and forever left his native land for the presence of the glory, and his spirit has found a home there.
Many a journey, I am sure, the soul of Peter took in days after this. He had to pass through the rebukes of the Lord, and they ever give the soul a chapter in its history, or take it some stage of its living way. But I will notice particularly that other journey which this loved and earnest man performed under the hand. of the Lord, in John 21:1-141After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise showed he himself. 2There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. 3Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. 4But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. 5Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. 6And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. 7Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. 8And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. 9As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. 10Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. 11Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. 12Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord. 13Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. 14This is now the third time that Jesus showed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead. (John 21:1‑14).
There we find him again at his fishing. Sweet, natural scene it is indeed! He and some companions are again on the Lake of Galilee. He had said to them, " I go a-fishing; " and they had said to him, " We also go with thee"-and again a Stranger addresses him. In like natural friendliness and easiness as before, he does as the Stranger bids him; and he is, in like grace and power as before, rewarded by a heavy draft of fishes.
This was a token. This was symptomatic of who this Stranger was. The finger may not be duly sensitive to feel the pulse, or the eye keen enough to discern the mark. Peter fails in this faculty, and John has to feel and to see for him. "It is the Lord," says he to him. The eye had seen for the body, and then the foot begins its service. Peter is in the water at once to reach his Lord. He now knew Him as he did not in Luke 5. His presence does not overwhelm him: He can stand before the glory now-it had already given his conscience a home. And though that conscience had every reason at that moment to be a coward, it is bold as a lion. The fisherman Peter, when first brought into the presence of God, becomes, as we saw, the sinner Peter; but here this same fisherman knows himself a saved, accepted, loved man; and he courts that presence with all speed.
Right indeed it was, only needful, that at the first, in that presence or before that glory, he should be convicted, and discover his sin; but right it is now that he should be at ease in that place, for—the glory had already- spoken good words and comfortable words to him.
What two drafts of fishes these were! What two journeys for the spirit of this dear man to take! Oh, the secrets of that land where Peter now dwelt!
But further.
These scenes in Luke 5 and in John 21 suggest John 13 to me in a way that I would now for a moment longer consider.
At his quickening, Peter's nature is detected. He discovers himself to be " a sinful man." For the first time, he is brought to the presence of God; and, as we have seen, after being convicted and confounded there, he is left in peace and in the service of the Lord. 'He hears the words, "Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men."
At his restoration this process is not repeated. His nature is not again exposed to him. He- has not to discover himself a second time, but to be made mindful of a particular transgression. The three challenges of Christ carry on this process. They suit Peter's three denials of his Lord; 'and under conviction of that sin he cries out, " Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee."
This has great moral beauty in it. The act of restoration distinguishes itself from the act of quickening. " He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet only." That word in John 13 is illustrated in these dealings with the soul of Peter. The Lord's actings set forth His teachings. Peter himself had been washed in Luke 5; his nature had been detected then, and as a sinner he had been in the presence of God, and there found peace and reconciliation. Afterward he had been defiled as a saint, and he must get his soiled feet washed. His particular offense is discovered to him, and he passes through that process which restores his soul, and fits him for service again-fits him to " feed the sheep," as before he had been commissioned to " catch men."
Restoration is not to deny the previous quickening. The washing of the feet assumes the washing of the body. And very happy it is, and very edifying, to see the Master thus illustrating His own lessons, causing the doings of His hand or Spirit to be in company with the holy wisdom of His lips.
Peter's is a very fruitful piece of inspired biography, as we get it in the course of the four evangelists. But I would now leave these scenes, and look at another and a different occasion in his history.
Having made confession to the person of the Lord, and the truth thus confessed being recognized by the Lord as the Rock of the Church, the Lord confers certain dignities on Peter. He gives him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and tells him that his binding and loosing shall be sealed and ratified (Matt. 16).
Accordingly, we see Peter using these keys in the Book of the Acts; for in the second chapter he opens the door of faith, or introduces the present dispensation, to the Jew; and then in the tenth chapter he does the same to the Gentile. And beside, his word to both Jew and Gentile gets the seal of heaven upon it at once. He tells the Jew to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and that he should then. receive remission of sins and the gift of the Spirit.—And so we find it; for there were then added to the Church three thousand of that nation. He tells the Gentile that through the name of Jesus every one that believes should receive remission of sins, like the believing Jew. And so we find it again; for the Spirit falls on all them that heard the word. (See Acts 2 and 10.). Thus was the promise and pledge of the Lord to this confessor of His' name and person made sure and redeemed. He used the keys which had been given him, and his word of loosing and binding was sealed and ratified in heaven. And this Peter himself in the council at Jerusalem afterward recognizes. For there he says, "Men and brethren, ye know how that a. good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe: and God, which.. knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as He did unto us " (Acts 15:7, 87And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; (Acts 15:7‑8)). Apart from the testimony of the gospel, Peter's word may be his own word; and in the stead of its being sealed in heaven, may have to be rebuked and set aside-as we know took place at Antioch (Gal. 2)
Others, too, I may say, in like boldness with Peter, testified and asserted the gospel; and, in like mailer, their testimony was sealed in heaven. Philip's. word to the eunuch, and Paul's word to the Philippian jailor, were thus sealed and ratified. And Surely we may still further say, that like boldness in the faith, and in declaring the gospel of the grace of God and the blood of Jesus, is to be exercised still. Are we not still to assure sinners that salvation waits upon faith in Christ Are we not still to declare it, that life waits on the acceptance of the Son? The spies at Jericho used this kind of boldness. They pledged deliverance and life to the woman and to all who were with her, under the shelter of the scarlet line. And are we not to tell of the virtue of the same Christ of God, the same eternal: life, and the full shelter of the cross? Peter; Philip, Paul, and others like them, who tell of the Rock, are only persons in the train of the great embassage, the witnesses and heralds of that divine Lord, Son of man as he was, who could say, and did say, that He had " power on earth to forgive sins." A present, a sure, a perfect salvation is the secret and the gift of the grace of God. This is published in the gospel, and this will be sealed and ratified and made good for eternity.
Other incidents mark the special place which this dear man held among the apostles. Each of them might well afford a distinct meditation for the profit of our souls-his walking for a little moment on the water; his word to the collector of the tribute-money; his cutting off the ear of Malchus, and others; but I will go no further. It was in our own very world all these things happened, and happened under the eyes of the Lord Jesus. Men like ourselves He conversed with, and had to expose again and again; and what He Himself was then, such is He now. Knowing Him in the narratives of the evangelists, we know Him forever to the full comfort and confirmation of our hearts.
J. G. B.