The Dealings of God With Peter: 8. In the Gospels

John 20‑21  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Now, there is an immense comfort in this, because, supposing I know that my natural character fails in this way or that, there is a ground to take care; there is a ground where I have got peculiarly to watch it. On the other hand, there is the greatest comfort in knowing that, whatever may be one's failure, what Christ has formed is not merely a question of developing one's character, or patching up what is wrong. It is the forming what is entirely new. It is the new man that the Spirit of God is occupied in bringing out, and in exercising according to the will and word of God. And, hence, therefore, whatever might have been one's defects, whatever might be the horrible evil of one's nature —I am speaking now of that which one may painfully know in one's natural character—it has nothing at all to do with the Spirit of God. He is above it. He is sovereign. He forms what is utterly wanting, and makes a person remarkable for the very opposite of what he is naturally; so that, you see, one gets a double advantage in this way—all the comfort of what grace can do on the one hand, and all the profit of the humiliation of what we feel ourselves to be, and what exposes us to the enemy.
Well, then, there is another thing, and that is that, when a man is a Christian, one never can tell what Satan will try, where one is unwatchful — to drag one down in the last thing that could be expected. There you cannot predict, but this you may safely predict—that Satan will throw a person down in the very thing in which he thinks it impossible. There never was a man that had greater confidence that day than Peter—that it was impossible for him to deny his Master. His Master had told him that he was to do it, and solemnly warned him. He did not believe Him; therefore, he fell. And, not believing Him, he did not pray—there was another thing, and the outer failure is always the manifestation of the inward one. Everything that is blessed in the Christian is the fruit of prayer with God in secret. I am speaking now not, of course, of how souls are brought to God: I am speaking of the way in which God manifests the traits of grace in those that are His. Hence the all-importance of the word of God and prayer. In these very particulars Peter had broken down.
But mark, now, the beginning of his restoration. We have seen his fall. I have now a happier task—to trace the ways of grace in restoring the soul of Peter.
“The Lord turned and looked upon Peter; and Peter remembered the word of the Lord"; for it is always the point of failure that is taken up, and the first part of Peter's failure was that he slighted the word of the Lord. He really did not believe Him about himself and about his danger, although he did believe in Him as to His own glory, and had given various proofs of his faith in Him, but he did not believe in Him practically, that is, as to his own peril at that moment. Now he realized what a fool he had been. Now he realized, in a little measure—for it was not anything like complete how profound the sin and shame that he had put upon the Lord Jesus. “And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.” It was repentance, but it was only the beginning of repentance; for repentance, beloved brethren, does not merely mean sorrow, however genuine, for one's sin. Repentance, in a Christian particularly, goes a great deal more deeply into the matter, and we shall find that the Lord, in his very love to Peter, would have it deep. He meant it to be a work never to be forgotten. He meant the fruit of this to appear by His own grace. He meant other souls to be blest; for what cannot grace do? Out of the eater, as we know, comes forth meat, and out of the strong sweetness. That is, grace is always sovereign, always free. Hence the Lord delights at just the very last moment when we could expect it. But what you expect is not grace. Grace is always above any inference that can be drawn, except, indeed this—if I have learned what God is, I have learned, it may be, to infer that God must always act worthily of Himself.
Well, I do not call that, of course, mere reason. Reasoning is the other way. The reasoning of man is from himself—it may be to God—and hence it is always wrong. The true way of reasoning is from God to man, and not from man to God. Well, this is just exactly where we fail; but, grace being in God, one ought to start from this, as a believer—that God will always prove that He is never overcome with evil. Why, He calls us not to be. He says, “Be ye not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” That is what He does Himself. That is what He is always doing as the God of all grace. And so now the Lord looks out of this spirit of grace. I quite admit that there is nothing which judges sin so severely as grace. There is nothing which produces such deep shame before God. There is nothing which makes the vilest see all his failure —his denial (for really it was that)—his denial of the Lord Jesus. What a Lord to deny! What a Savior He was! What love was in that look, but, at the same time, what grief! And grief over whom? For Himself? Over Peter—Peter. The love of the Lord, as well as the sense, no doubt, of the sin, filled Peter's heart. There was more to be done still, but that will follow.
John 20; 21
Now I turn, then, from this to the Gospel of John, where we have the further dealings of the Lord as to Peter, and the completeness of the work in the soul. We see Peter on the resurrection day—the resurrection morning. “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulcher, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulcher. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him.” What was the effect of this upon Peter? “Peter, therefore, went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulcher. So they ran both together; and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulcher.” But he did not first enter in. There was a need in Peter's heart which at that moment carried him farther than even the affection of John; for, although John came first to the sepulcher and stooped down, and, looking, saw the linen clothes lying, he did not go in. But “Simon Peter cometh, following him, and went into the sepulcher, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin that was about his head not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple which came first to the sepulcher, and he saw and believed.”
Again, our souls may well admire the grace that tells such a story—not to his own credit, “for as yet,” saith he, “they knew not the scripture that he must rise again from the dead.” They believed the fact, but they knew not the scripture. It was not a truth to them, bound up with God's character and God's word. It was a fact. They saw that the Lord was risen, but the connection of the resurrection with God's glory and with their own deliverance did not yet cross their minds. “Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.” Not so Mary. But I do not pursue her story. My subject is Peter.
Well, now, what I should draw from the story that is brought before us here, more particularly followed up by what is mentioned in the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark, is this. Peter was a true man. He knew that he had dishonored the Lord, but the first impulse of his heart was to see the Lord. But was that all? It was the grace of the Lord's heart to see Peter. The Spirit of God was truly at work in Peter in this desire to see the Lord, even if he were alone to see the Lord. He wished to have it all out with the Lord, but the Lord wished it too, and wished it for Peter's sake; for there is nothing that would more damage a soul than an unsettled question between it and the Lord. Hence, in the Gospel of Mark we are told that the Lord said, when He gave the word to the women—or rather the angel speaking for the Lord— “Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee.” Why Peter? Why is he the only one that is named? Because he was the one that most needed it. Love always goes out most where there is need most. “Tell his disciples and Peter.”
What a joy to Peter's heart that it should be so, in spite of his scandalous and his repeated lying—for indeed it was most shameful. It was not simply a failure to confess; it was a denial of his Master, and this repeatedly; and remember, this was only a very short time afterward. He experienced how infinitely the ways of the Lord are above ours. Could we have thought such a thing possible? Just conceive it now. Conceive a person guilty of a flagrant act, and a public one, too, and a repeated one. How slow any of us would be to think that such a person could possibly be a believer. And this is an apostle; and did not that make it a great deal worse? Even the law always laid it down as a principle that the sin of the ruler was a more serious thing, and could not be dealt with as the sin of one of the people generally. There was always that which required a deeper purgation before God; and so the very fact of Peter's being so specially honored would to us have been so much the greater shame and evil. But to the Lord it was an opportunity for judging it thoroughly out of fullness of His grace. He was to be a strengthener of others, and this, too, as he had not learned what it was in secret with the Lord. Now he must learn by his own public sin, but where sin abounded grace did much more abound; and, unless it be the apostle Paul, where was there such a preacher of grace as the apostle Peter?
Now turn again from this to the fifteenth of 1 Corinthians—for I must just refer to that for a moment. The proofs must be taken from different parts of scripture. We know that the Lord did appear to Peter. Indeed, we need not leave the Gospels. The 24th of Luke shows the very same thing; for when the two disciples came in from Emmaus, and reported to the assembled disciples in Jerusalem that the Lord had spoken to them by the way, what are they told? “They found the eleven gathered together and them that were with them, saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.” But He had appeared to Simon; and, you will mark, to Simon alone. Now I do see unspeakable grace in our Lord in that it was not only an angel that gives the comforting word, “Tell his disciples and Simon Peter,” but here is the fact that the Lord met Peter alone. I am not aware that He met anybody else alone. He met two disciples. I am not speaking of Mary Magdalene, of course, when He sent the message, but as far as the eleven were concerned I am not aware of His appearing to any one of them alone except Peter. Why so? Because He felt for the heart of the disciple. He felt that there would be a burden, that there would be a cloud, and He would remove it. He had given the certainty that there was nothing between Him and Peter, so that Peter might have nothing between his heart and the Lord. That was His object, and this, too, He accomplished in this very way—he appeared to Simon. [W. K.]
(To be continued)