I. THE ROOT OF FAILURE.
''And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: hut I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not ; and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
"And he said unto Him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both unto prison, and to death. "And He said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest Me" (Luke xxii. 31-34).
"And the Lord turned, and looked on Peter. 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 "(Luke xxii. 61-62).
'' But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee : there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you (Mark xvi. 7).
The Lord is risen, indeed, and hath appeared unto Simon. (Luke xxiv. 34).
''Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said 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 As soon, then, as they were come to land, they saw a fire of cools there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.
Jesns saith unto them, Come and dine So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon, Simon, son of Jonas. lovest thou Me more than these?'' (John xxi. 7-15).
I HAVE put together these passages from the Gospels, that we may have before us, at one view, all the steps in that "conversion,'' or restoration of Peter's soul, of which they speak to us. Conversion, in Scripture, is soul to God, but is the term used for any turning from sin also, into which even as converted (in the ordinary sense now) the soul may have got. Peter long before this had been converted (that is, in the sense of being born again,) as is plain by the Lord's words in Matt. xvi. He had had Christ revealed to him by the Father, and had believed that revelation - was a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus. The conversion the Lord speaks of is his restoration of soul after the denial of his Lord and Master.
The outward sin, which too commonly we judge to be all, is ever and only the out-cropping of a state of soul which was there before, and is the root of it. No force whatever of temptation would suffice to upset or draw away a soul which was finding its strength in God Himself. "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able," is ever true here. So that a man is actually "tempted "- that is, temptation succeeds with him - when he "is drawn away of his own lust and enticed." That which exposes him to the evil is in himself, and not in his surroundings. A soul that in the thorough consciousness of impotence rests in God for help is impregnable to assault. "When I am weak, then am I strong." Self-confidence, therefore, in some form, is the secret of all failure - the root of all actual commission of sin.
That this was so in Peter is evident. It ought to be evident also that his is a pattern case. His restoration is the divine application in the last supplementary chapter of John's Gospel, of the feet-washing of the 13th, where Peter, too, is the resister, and is told that by-and-by he shall understand the meaning of what he understood not then. In pain and shame, indeed, he learns it, as more or less we all do, but a lesson well worth learning at what-ever cost, and, indeed, absolutely necessary to be learnt; a lesson it will be well for us if we learn, and at less cost, through his example as the Word gives it us, than by our own.
A root is a little thing apparently, and below the surface. Who would judge to be so grave a thing the expression of honest affection to his Master which spoke out of him in the words, "Lord, I am ready to go with Thee to prison and to death." How easily such like things in us pass undetected in ourselves and others! At least, if detected, how little serious we deem them! Who would have thought that the fruit of this would be, "I know not the man." Yet it was, plainly. Not, of course, the fruit of the affection, which was really there - he was no hypocrite,- but of the wretched self-confidence, only able to carry him into the danger, but not through it; sure to break down, and needing to be broken down, at whatever cost; necessitating the perfect love of God itself to give him over into Satan's hands to break it down.
Look at Job. There is not one like him upon the earth, a perfect and upright man. That is God's testimony. Why put such an one through those sorrows which are the very type of suffering to this day? Alas! Job nourished and cherished this perfectness of his, as hundreds now their christian perfection, as they style it. Therefore, ' Behold, he is in thine hand." Satan had asked the same thing concerning Simon Peter, a lesson for perfectionists to the end of time, but a lesson for many more besides. "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired "- it is "demanded," rather -" to have you, that he may sift you as wheat." Mark that "demand." It is as wheat he demands them, for he is the sifter of God's wheat. This applies to all the disciples; but there is one in special need among them, and him the Lord singles out from among the rest: "I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." How tender that anticipation of the trial before Simon Peter, yet no prayer that he may escape it; it was necessary that he should be exposed to it, and that, too, with the certainty of breaking down. How solemn that warning! And how different yet the Lord's judgment of the matter to ours. In ours, that terrible denial in the high priest's palace would be the thing most thought of. In His it was the laying bare only of the state which necessitated it.
While warning it is, there is yet comfort in the warning. If I have fallen into the ditch, it is that I might be turned back out of the path which led to it. It was needful I should fall, and love allowed it for my recovery. But that recovery is not effected simply by my getting out of the ditch, therefore I must be got back to where my path diverged from the true one; yes, and have got the sign - post up upon the by-path, too. It is for want of this that we fall again so often in the same way. To judge the open sin is easy, and no assurance at all that I shall avoid it for the future, no token in itself of recovered spirituality. "If we judge ourselves we should not be judged." To judge our sins and to judge ourselves are two different things. For the last we must have distinguished and judged the state of which the sins are only the issue-the root on which, if it be not removed, fresh fruit will surely grow.
This is restoration in full result. We must notice, however, that there is another kind of restoration needed first and in order to this. Many overlook it or displace it, and to their own serious hindrance. To this the Lord's prayer for Simon Peter plainly looks on, and His own announcement of it to him, along with the announcement of the sin itself, would do its part in due time towards it. The tendency of sin - all sin - is to weaken faith, and. put distance between the soul and God. And then this again is what makes (so long as it lasts) recovery impossible. Not merely if you are not washed, but "if I wash thee not thou hast no part with Me." And we - we must have put our feet with all their defilement into His gracious hands, that they may be cleansed. For that we must be with Him. Distance will not do. With Peter we may think it only becoming to hold off amd say - and say it with reverent consideration of His greatness and His holiness -"Thou shalt never wash my feet." We may try to cleanse them by confession and self-judgment, and so make ourselves fit to be with Him again. We shall accomplish nothing by all this. He alone washes. We must needs submit to the supremacy of love and grace in Him, and be with Him not as cleansed but as defiled, and let Him cleanse.
We will return to this, and look at it more in detail presently. What we begin with is, that in all cases actual sin is the out cropping of a state of soul which went before it, and necessitated that we should be given up to it. And moreover, this state is very generally, and at the best, some form of self-occupation and satisfaction. We never fall because of weakness merely. We fall because we do not realize our weakness. We have our hand out of our Father's hand. What could harm us if it were not so?
But there are many forms of this, and some so unsuspected, it will be well to pause and look at them a moment. Peter's might be plain; but his undoubtedly true affection to his Master, and upright honesty of purpose, disguised it for him. Such do you find with many a young soul fresh with a fervour most real but yet untried. What is the meaning of the miserable breaks-down and failure so soon experienced often after conversion? Not surely that God would have us fail! Not that there is a necessity of failure to which we are delivered! No, but that even at the expense of failure we must be allowed to see what we are who would so fain serve God, and be something now, if we never were till now. Did He leave us to that, what should we not lose? How would our very piety soon shut out God from us, the Strong One's strength that beareth us and all our burdens; the love of Himn who carrieth in His bosom! To know His worth, we learn our worthlessness, and that the lesson is cheaply learned will be proclaimed in eternal Hallelujahs.
'l'here are others apparently not at all on this ground, amid indeed at its very antipodes. They have learnt so fully,they would say) what failure is, that they can think of little else but this. Speak to them when you may, they have nothing but lamentation over their short-coming to respond with. Sunk under the load of a body of sin and death, they imagine that to be self-judgment which is mere self-occupation, and which gives no whit of power for the holiness they long after.
This is not self-complacency, it is true; but it is a desire after it. If not able to utter the Pharisee's "God, I thank Thee," they are at least miserable because they cannot do it. They have not reached that point of self-judgment at which we turn away in hopelessness from what we have no further expectation from. On the contrary, it is because they have this expectation that they find such grievous and continual disappointment. This, therefore, almost equally with the former condition, exposes the soul unarmed to temptation. If "the joy of the Lord is your strength," it is but little joy they have. In both cases evil is the fruit, because did God suffer good, it would be but worse evil. We should dress up self with that of which we had robbed Christ, and all seeming good would be perverted and transformed to its mere opposite. "No flesh shall glory in His presence." Therefore the solemn and reiterated warnings of Scripture, not to bring us to content with fruitlessness, but to show us the way rather of bearing frtmit. God takes up Job, a perfect man as mione else omi earth, amid how painfully He has to teach him his vileness. The Lord takes up Peter with his honest love to His Master, amid has to let him learn in the high priest's palace that he could deny that beloved Master with oaths and curses. He has to be in Satan's sieve that lie may be "converted," not from the denial of his Lord,- that was but the bitter and painful means by which he was to find that where he was before;- but out of the self-complacency and self-sufficiency which was, in His sight who seeth not as man seeth, the deeper evil. Satan's desire in sifting was not this, of course, but this was God's use of it, and its end.
How slow are we to recognize this ! Yet it is utmost important to do so, for if we look at the fruits in the life as isolated from the condition they manifest, we may judge and judge the former, and, leaving out the latter, leave still the root out of which again and again the evil springs. So in the case of another, equally with our own, we may address ourselves to the mere things into which one may have got, forgetting the deeper question of what got one into it. And here we shall find that Peter's fall is no exceptional one. Self-trust is ever our ruin. Never trusting ourselves we shall never be disappointed. The answer to all that we are is the cross whereon, for what we were, Christ died. We have died,- we are dead,- with Him, that He might be indeed the object of our life. "To me to live is Christ." If it be that, God, with all that He is, is with me. Power cannot be lacking to accomplish what is His own purpose. Alas, that it should be so easy to mistake my desire to be something for Christ, for this, the only rightful object of the soul!
2.-THE ADVOCATE AND HIS INTERCESSION.
"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not," says the apostle (i John ii. i). It is important to ask of what he had been writing with this end in view. We may answer that essentially, communion with the Father and the Son had been his topic, and the full-ness of joy in it-for "the joy of the Lord is your strength "-would be their safeguard. The two passages are evidently in close relationship to one another: "these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full," and "these things write I unto you, that ye sin not."
Thus occupation with Him in whom Divine love has visited us, is our preservative from the snares of the enemy, from the solicitations of the world around us, and from the lusts of the flesh to which these alone appeal, and which give them all their success. Lust is spiritually the beggar's badge, the sign of emptiness and dissatisfaction. The soul filled is the soul guarded. The earnest and reiterated exhortation of the epistle of experience, is the needed one for holiness and fruitfulness alike: "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!"
"God is light" and "God is love." These are but two aspects of what is essential unity, and in reality inseparable from one another. In Christ, God manifest, they are "grace and truth." In contrast with law, when God was hidden in the holiest, "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Here the real unity of these two things is apparent: for "grace" there cannot be where sin is untruly dealt with; while "truth" that came by the Son of God incarnate could as little be divorced from the love that brought Him down. Yet there is an order in which these two are presented to us, and this order is not unimportant to us. How differently it would appear if we read "truth and grace," instead of "grace and truth! " for grace it. is which (in the presentation of these to our hearts) comes necessarily first, and thus is "truth in the inward parts" established; while yet, so little can truth be divorced from grace that, until truth be established there, the proper enjoyment of grace there cannot be.
The order is plain in the first chapter of the epistle. If" the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you," is "that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all," who is He that has brought rms the message, but He whose very presence among men is in itself a gospel? At His birth the angels had proclaimed not only "Glory to God in the highest," but also "on earth peace, good pleasure in men." In Him the Word of life (the apostle has before been telling us) was "heard," "seen," "looked upon," and "handled" by our hands. Thus Divine love had brought in Divine light; and now if we "walk in the light as God is in the light," what has rent the veil behind which in the thick darkness He had dwelt, and enabled our human eyes to take in the revelation? Surely, once more, Divine love, which in providing the precious blood to put upon the mercy-seat, has opened a way of access into the holiest of all.
A righteous way; and thus "grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life;" but surely love, not righteousness, has found the way, and righteousness exalts the love which has done so: grace reigns, though righteous-ness is the basis of its throne. Love has let out the light; love invites and enables us to "walk in the light." That is not setting it aside, but the contrary. "Light" implies "manifestation": "that which doth make manifest is light." In the presence of God, Himself in the light, we and all things else are manifested. Repentance and remission of sins are preached to us in the saving name of Jesus (Luke xxiv. and as we believe the grace which has visited us, we bow to its holy terms and drink it in. As confessed sinners we find God "faithful and just to forgive us our sin," and so to "cleanse us" inwardly "from all unrighteousness." The order of presentation of the truth is ever the same.
So far - and that is as far as the first chapter of John's first epistle carries us - we have to do with the first entrance of the soul into the presence of God. The latter verses (which are often taken as applying solely to the failures of Christians) are strikingly, and accomding to the apostle's manner elsewhere in the epistle, the testing of a profession which was already in his day beginning to be wider than the reality. In verses 6 and 7 he is defining how far amid such profession the efficacy of the blood extends. Love has let out the light. The light of the holiest carries with it the cleansing virtue of the blood with which the rending of the veil has furnished the mercy-seat. It is therefore "if we walk in the light," manifested to ourselves, "as He is in the light," manifested to us, . . . "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin." It is where we walk, not how, that is in question; and plainly to make it here a question of a believer's conduct morally, would be to say that the blood of Christ cleansed jtmst in proportion as there was nothing to cleanse from.
The three verses following are really the definition further of what it is to walk in darkness or in light, and are thus the necessary appendix to the former ones. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves," are in darkness, "and the truth," the product of the light, "is not in us." "If," on the other hand, "we confess our sins, showing the action of the light upon us, (we have sins and nothing else to confess) "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." This is the connection of repent ance and remission of sins indicated in the passage in Luke before quoted. It is so clearly parallel to the preceding verses, and so simply refers to the cleansing power of the blood of Christ, that to make it the introduction of a new subject,- and that the subject that we are introduced to, as for the first time, in but the second verse of the following chapter,- seems really impossible to concede; yet that we find here principles in God's way of dealing which may be carried further, and applied in this and in other ways, is true, for light and love are ever one in God, and what He is He will be; He canrot deny Himself. But these things the apostle puts before us, as he plainly says, that wi may not sin. "If," notwithstanding, "any one should sin," that case is comisidered next. But observe how differently the matter is put. This kind of sin is put hypothetically only, not as if it were sure to be, but if it be, then "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins." It must be confessed, but the eye of the person who has sinned is thus not in the first place turned upon himself, but upon Another, his Advocate. It is of course implied that he knows he has sinned, but that is not at all the same as restoration. In this, grace must act, Christ mnust restore; and it is of the greatest importance that our eyes should he thus directed to whence alone all help comes.
"An Advocate" (Paraclete): One who takes our cause in hand to see it through for us; "with the Father," not God as God, but in settled nearness of relationship to us as His own. Were it as His creatures simply we had to do with God about sin, it would imply that we had no true position in righteousness at all before Him, and then intercession could not avail for us. Intercession with God as God is that of Priesthood, not of the Advocate; and there "such an High-priest becomes us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." As long as the blood of Christ is on the mercy-seat, he who has come to God by Him is perfected by it, and the intercession of the Priest with God is on account of weakness, not of sin (Heb. vii., x.).
The intercession of the Advocate, on the other hand, is for sin, but with the Father for the children. It is needed, not to take away guilt, nor surely to turn the Father's heart towards us, but as regards the government of the Father's house. "Christ, as Son," is "over His house" (Heb. iii. 6), and all in it are under His hand. As charged with them it is necessarily His place to act in their behalf with the Father; and, as noted in the passage before us, being "Jesus Christ the righteous," Him the Father ever hears. If among mere men even, "the prayer of the righteous man availeth much," and this be a well-understood principle of holy government, how absolutely must avail, and how easily intelligible, the intercession of the One alone absolutely righteous! while in addition to this He is also "the propitiation for our sins." Such is our Advocate. Well may our eyes be directed towards Him, then, in the very first place, when the restoration of the soul is before us. We shall also comprehend that, as Son over the Father's house, He is more than simple Intercessor.
In Peter's case, which in this as in other places seems quite a typical one, we are permitted to see the Advocate in His place and hear the purport of His intercession. We find that before even the sin had taken place He had been with the Father about it. We find, too, that Satan also had been before God about Simon Peter among others. "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired (demanded, it should be rather) 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." The prayer of the Advocate had not been the effect of Peter's repentance plainly, but of His knowledge of the need and danger of His unsuspecting disciple. Satan had demanded them all for his sieve, as the permitted sifter of all that purports to be God's wheat; and, as in Job's case, he had obtained his request. The Lord had not for a moment asked that the sifting should not be, but the special need of Peter He had provided for by the special request for him - He does not say for them - that his faith might not fail. His failure otherwise He foretold. It is very noteworthy and solemn that He could not apparently ask that he should not fail. Simon must be permitted to break down, as Jacob his father before had to be broken down, that just as Israel sprang out of crippled Jacob, so Peter, the man of stone, might come out of sifted Simon. Jacob had to give up his cunning, Job his goodness, Simon his strength, for a like end in all. Our human virtues lie but too near our vices: our wisdom is our folly, our folly wisdom; our strength is our weakness, our weakness strength. This is the first lesson of our primer, and hard to learn: but when we have learnt it, our progress is wonderful. Jacob crippled is at once a prince with God, and Simon, just now shrinking before a maid, strengthens his brethren.
For us it is serious that if we are "wheat," or assume it, Satan has undoubtedly demanded us for trial, and that the Lord our Advocate does not refuse his claim to that. But He has prayed for us also, who can doubt? We may well trust ourselves, not in carelessness, but not in carefulness, to His hand and care.
We have already in some measure considered the purport of the Lord's intercession, that Peter's faith may not fail. That sin has a natural tendency to weaken the practical confidence of the soul in God, I suppose by experience we are well aware. Upon this Satan works to produce a practical separation from Him, which he well knows to be fraught with disastrous consequences. At a distance from God self-judgment is impossible, and power of recovery wholly lost; further departure follows, and here may be the secret of a long period of declension, a night and winter of the soul, dark, cold, and unfruitful. The sins which niay follow upon this are but its necessary result and sign. To deal with these as if they were the whole matter, or half the matter, is a most serious mistake; nay, they may be of such a character as to be little noted by the unexercised conscience of the man "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." He owns, perhaps, he is not spiritual, thinks of it rather as his misfortune than his fault; is a fatalist, when he thinks he is only owning creature nothingness; is "blind and cannot see afar off, and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins."
From this state we must carefully discriminate that which is indeed very different in itself, though under certain conditions it may verge into it. I mean the state of one who may have known peace, but not deliverance; who is trying to make something of himself-that self which the cross of Christ has set aside for him - and finds as the necessary effect neither power in himself nor help from God. This is not an unexercised state evidently, though through bad nurturing it may lapse into it, and "the good that I would I do not" may become at last but acquiescence in the evil from which there seems no escape. Who can but groan when he considers how large a part of Christians really come under one of these two conditions? From hence schism, heresies, a worldliness great enough for the reproach of the world itself, and innumerable other evils! Oh, for the power of the Word, quick, and sharper than any two-edged sword, to pierce even to the dividing asunder of joints and marrow, of soul and spirit, and to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart! God grant us, reader, honesty with Himself and in His presence, with whomn we have one and all to do. Peter's case was one of self-confidence, that is, of self-ignorance, the haughty spirit, sure precedent of a fall. The fall he needed, nothing but the humbling of it would do for him. The danger was lest he should, as one hopeless and reckless, drift away from Christ still further, and fall effectually under Satan's power. Confidence in Him whose grace he had begun to know alone could hold him fast, so that the break up of self should only the more make that grace to be exalted, and become the strength henceforth which in himself he lacked. Having learnt that, he could "strengthen his brethren."
Home | Links | Literature