Thoughts on Simon Peter: 5. His Life and Testimony

Luke 22:32  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
THE poverty of Simon Peter's thoughts of Jesus, whom he sincerely confessed as Lord, and had forsaken all to follow, came out again and again at first, for he was not a silent man. He was slow to distrust his own thoughts, and instead of learning even ventured to teach, as if the Christ, the Son of the living God, must be beholden to him for guidance. In nothing is human folly more painfully conspicuous than in the effort to bring mere mental power to bear on the things of God, and on the person, work, and word of Christ; while, in the case of a true disciple, in nothing is the supremacy of Christ in patient goodness and grace more displayed than in His way of dealing with this presumption. If the disciple will not be at His feet, like Mary, hearing His word, He will meet, as He did with Peter, his presumption and insubjection by bending down in unspeakable grace to his feet, to cleanse them by a renewed application of His word, “by the washing of water by the word.” No action since the cross is more wonderful than that which is presented symbolically in John 13, though it would appear that Peter did not then understand it, for he was more presumptuous than ever after it (John 13:3737Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. (John 13:37)). He must learn to what the cross applied (Gal. 2:15-2115We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. 17But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. 18For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. 20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. 21I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:15‑21)), before his knowledge of Christ could enable him to strengthen his brethren.
The sophistry by which Satan seeks to corrupt the thoughts of Christians (see 2 Cor. 11:33But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)), by mingling his own with those which God has given in His word, is, by the self-confident, little suspected. It is too subtle for them to unravel. It doubtless seemed to Peter compassionate to say, “Be it far from thee, Lord; this (the cross) shall not be unto thee “; but it was the thought of the serpent concealed under a guise of would—be pious sentiment. Its true source was from beneath, and so the Lord in faithfulness dealt with it. It is not the unrighteous man only that has to “forsake his thoughts.” A Christian's thoughts, if not brought to the text of the word, however masked under a show of piety, will prove a fulcrum for Satan's lever. The best have had a fall through this.
In a most important sense Peter's “conversion,” according to the divine fullness of the word, was not accomplished quickly. The words, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” appear to point to a deeper subjective work in him than was accomplished at the time when they were spoken. He was a changed man; but the flesh in him was not changed, and he had not learned as yet to put no confidence in it, or, as he afterward expressed it, how its desires “war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:1111Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; (1 Peter 2:11)). In this sense his “conversion” was slow, though in a very blessed sense he was converted in the ship on the lake of Gennesaret. The light which then reached his conscience was the light of God, and the love which attracted his heart was the love of God, both manifested in Jesus Christ his Lord. There was thus no presence he loved so well as the presence of Him Who had spoken peace to his troubled soul. Still, if he could “catch men” (that is, do evangelistic work), he was not at once competent to strengthen his brethren. Nay, even at Antioch he wavered in this as has been noticed (Gal. 2:11-1311But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 12For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. 13And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. (Galatians 2:11‑13)). All believers are converted, and God can use them in blessing to the unsaved because of His sovereign grace. He will at all times meet the felt need of Himself in any soul, and that by all manner of instruments; but to strengthen them, when saved, to a true practical confession, is another thing. This, Peter was not all at once fitted to do.
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus was, in this respect, very different. The glory of the light from heaven made him blind to everything which he had hitherto seen and valued. The physical fact was a significant illustration of the true state of his soul (Acts 9; 22; 26). He had been, before this, confident that he was a guide to the blind, a light of them which were in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of babes. Now, for three days without food, everything in which he had moved and had his being was before his soul and found to be worthless, absolute darkness, without one ray of comfort for him. Satan's wiles, in masking the deadly character of all he so highly valued and trusted in, deceived him no longer. The wise man became a fool, the religious man was no better than a blasphemer, the Hebrew of the Hebrews and the Pharisee—the son of a Pharisee, the chief of sinners. Then it pleased God, to whom he turned in this darkness ("Behold, he prayeth” Acts 9), to reveal His Son in him; and the strongholds were pulled down, the reasonings, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God were cast down, and every thought was brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. His life, his light, his all, henceforth was Christ. Once he appeared to waver, and from the kindness of human motives permitted himself to be led by men, sincere, God-fearing men, but men who had not the mind of Christ as to the thing concerning which they gave him counsel (Acts 21).
This worked, as it was sure to do, disastrously. Paul did not strengthen them. He was taken, confined in the castle and lost to them. In touching grace the Lord stood by him in his innermost solitude and comforted him (chap. 23:11); and, though for years a prisoner, he greatly strengthened his brethren. His richest Epistles were written with a chain upon him, a memento perhaps of the past, but not one that brought a shade of sorrow: all had worked for good. The Lord was the same, and still was by him, unfolding all His treasures of wisdom and knowledge, delivering him from every evil work, and preserving him to His heavenly kingdom.
Here then we have a precious instance of a “converted” man, able to strengthen his brethren, not a quickened man only. In this sense of the word, we venture to say, that Peter's “conversion” was slow, for there were for a time such palpable inconsistencies in his course that must have tended to weaken rather than establish his fellow-disciples. The beauty of his confession in John 6 (“Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life”) is remarkably striking; for the words in that chapter conveyed the clearest reference to the cross; they established fully the necessity and efficacy of His death, and that Peter must receive Him thus; yet after this he said openly to the Lord, “That be far from thee.” The truth is, although the doctrine was clearly presented, it was not apprehended until the resurrection and the coming of the promised Comforter, the Holy Ghost. Then he could strengthen his brethren. Before the cross he might, as following afar off, screw up courage enough to go into the palace of the high priest; but the “I” of those beautiful words, “I will lay down my life for thy sake,” saved its life by denying his Lord. That “I” —the “old man” —never does “know the man,” and only confesses Him when it costs nothing.
Still the strong affection of Peter for the Lord—work of omnipotent grace—is beautifully evidenced in Matt. 14. He there anticipated a walk that could only be accomplished by a strength outside and apart from himself, a path that would prove his destruction if Christ did not sustain him every moment (vers. 28-31). He longed to be near Him, and to walk as He walked. Jesus was walking upon the sea, and Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” Jesus said, “Come,” and Peter left the help of the ship to walk upon the waters to come to Him. Was there a trace of the old self-confident “I” in this? or was it not a shining out from all previous clouds and mists of that new and incorruptible I, born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”? When had such an opportunity of strengthening his brethren been given, or such a path attempted before? Who, of all the disciples, had ever manifested such a singleness of eye, looking beyond everything seen and every one loved, absorbed with desire to be with the Lord? That Peter, ofttimes so unready to receive the riches of His grace and truth under the most favorable circumstances, should walk on the waves to reach Him, is a real and precious encouragement to weak believers to set aside everything of nature to be in His blessed presence. But Peter was going before his faith. The difficulties, and not the Lord, came before him, the strength of the wind and the peril of the waters; and he began to sink. Alas this would not strengthen his brethren. His cry of distress— “Lord, save me” —was a proof that all dependence on himself was a hopeless ground of confidence, but at the same time discovered where strength could be found.
The grace of the Lord was sufficient. His strength was made perfect in weakness. He immediately stretched forth His hand and took hold of him, and Peter walked on the waters with his Lord, a happier when a more humble man. It is to be remarked, that this is not the only instance in which Peter got his wish, though not his way.