Restoration John 21:1-19
A careful study of these verses will enable us to trace in them distinct kinds of restoration, namely restoration of conscience, restoration of heart and restoration of position.
The first of these, restoration of conscience, is all important. It would be utterly impossible to overestimate the value of a sound, clear, uncondemning conscience. A Christian cannot get on if there is a single blot on his conscience. He must walk before God with a pure conscience a conscience without stain or sting. Precious treasure! May my reader ever possess it.
It is obvious that Peter possessed it in the touching scene, ‘at the sea of Tiberias.’ Yet, he had fallen shamefully, grievously fallen. He had denied his Lord with an oath, but he was restored. One look from Jesus had broken up the deep fountains of his heart and drawn forth floods of bitter tears. Yet it was not his tears, but the love that drew them forth, which formed the grounding of his thorough restoration of conscience. It was the changeless and everlasting love of the heart of Jesus the divine effectiveness of the blood of Jesus and the all prevailing power of the advocacy of Jesus that imparted to Peter's conscience the boldness and liberty so strikingly and beautifully exhibited on the memorable occasion before us.
The risen Savior is seen in these closing chapters of John’s Gospel, watching over His poor, foolish, feeble, erring disciples, hovering about their path, presenting Himself in various ways before them taking occasion from their very necessities to make Himself known in perfect grace to their hearts. Was there a tear to be dried, a difficulty to be solved, a fear to be hushed, a bereaved heart to be soothed, an unbelieving mind to be corrected? Jesus was present in all the fullness and variety of His grace to meet all these things. So also when, under the guidance of the ever forward Peter, they had gone forth to spend a night in fruitless toil, Jesus had His eye on them. He knew all about the darkness and the toil and the empty net, and there He was on the shore to kindle a fire and prepare a dinner for them. Yes, the selfsame Jesus who had died on the cross to put away their sins, now stood on the shore to restore them from their wanderings, gather them ‘round Himself and minister to all their need. ‘Have ye any meat?’ developed the fruitlessness of their night's toil. ‘Come and dine’ was the touching expression of the tender, thoughtful, all providing love of the risen Saviour.
Let us note the evidences of a thoroughly restored conscience as exhibited by Simon Peter. ‘Therefore 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.’ He could not wait for the ships or for his fellow disciples, so eager was he to get to the feet of his risen Lord. He did not say to John or to the others, ‘You know how shamefully I have fallen, and although I have since then seen the Lord and heard Him speak peace to my soul, yet I think it more becoming in one who has so fallen to keep back. You therefore go first and meet the blessed One, and I shall follow after.’ Rather, he flings himself boldly into the sea as much as to say, ‘I must be the very first to get to my risen Saviour; none has such a claim on Him as poor, stumbling, failing Peter.’
Now, here was a perfectly restored conscience a conscience without a single spot a conscience basking in the sunlight of unchanging love. Peter’s confidence in Christ was unclouded, and this, we may boldly affirm, was pleasing to the heart of Jesus. Love likes to be trusted. Let us always remember this. No one need imagine that he is honoring Jesus by standing afar off on the plea of unworthiness; yet it is very hard for one who has fallen or backslidden to recover his confidence in the love of Christ. Such an one can see clearly that a sinner is welcome to Jesus, no matter how great or many his sins may have been, but then he thinks the case of a backsliding or stumbling Christian is entirely different.
Should these lines be scanned by one who has backslidden or fallen, we would earnestly press upon him the importance of immediately returning to Jesus. ‘Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.’ What is the response to this pathetic appeal? ‘Behold, we come unto Thee; for Thou art the Lord our God.’ ‘If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto Me.’ (Jer. 3:22; 4:1) The love of the heart of Jesus knows no change. We change, but He is ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever,’ and He delights to be trusted. The confidence of Peter's heart was a rich feast to the heart of Christ. No doubt it, is sad to fall, to err, to backslide, but it is sadder still, when we have done so, to distrust the Love of Jesus or His gracious readiness to take us to His bosom again. Beloved reader, have you fallen? Have you erred? Have you backslidden? Have you lost the sweet sense of divine favor, the happy consciousness of acceptance with God? If so, what are you to do? Simply this, Return! This is God's own special word to the backslider. Return in self judgment and in the fullest confidence in the boundless, changeless love of the heart of Christ. Do not, we beseech you, keep away in the distance of your own unbelief. Do not measure the heart of Jesus by your own thoughts. Let Him tell you what is in His heart toward you. You have sinned, you have failed, you have turned aside, and now, it may be, you are ashamed to turn your eyes toward the One whom you have grieved and dishonored. Satan also is suggesting the darkest thoughts, for he would seek to keep you at a chilling distance from that precious Savior who loves you with an everlasting love. But you have only to fix your gaze upon the blood, the advocacy, the heart of Jesus, to get an answer to the enemy's terrible suggestions and to all the infidel reasonings of your own heart. Do not, therefore, go on another hour without seeking to get a thorough settlement of the question between your soul and Christ. Remember, ‘His is an unchanging love, free and faithful, strong as death.’ Remember also His own words, ‘Return, ye backsliding children’ ‘Return to Me.’ Finally, remember that Jesus loves to be trusted. Secondly, the heart has to be restored as well as the conscience. Let this not be forgotten. It often happens in the history of souls that though the conscience may be perfectly clear as to certain acts which we have done, yet the roots from those acts sprung have not been reached. The acts appear on the surface of daily life, but the roots are hidden down deep in the heart, unknown to ourselves and to others, but thoroughly exposed to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Now, these roots must be reached, exposed and judged before the heart is in a right condition in the sight of God. Look at Abraham. He started on his course with a certain root in his heart, a root of unbelieving reserve in reference to Sarah. This thing led him astray when he went down into Egypt. Although his conscience was restored, and he got back to his altar at Bethel, yet the root was not reached for years afterwards in the affair of Abimelech, king of Gerar.
All this is deeply practical and most solemn. It finds its illustration in Peter as well as in Abraham. Mark the exquisitely delicate way in which our blessed Lord proceeds to reach the roots in the heart of his dear and honoured servant, Peter. ‘So when they had dined.’ Not till then. There was no allusion to the past, nothing that might cause a chill to the heart or bring a cloud over the spirit while a restored conscience was feasting in company with a love that knows no change. This is a fine moral trait. It characterizes the dealings of God with all His saints. The conscience is set at rest in the presence of infinite and everlasting love, before there is the most distant allusion to the roots of things in the heart. When Simon Peter, in the full confidence of a restored conscience, flung himself at the feet of his risen Lord, he was called to listen to that gracious invitation, ‘Come and dine.’ But ‘when they had dined,’ Jesus took Peter apart to let in upon his soul the light of truth, so that by it he might discern the root from where all his failure had sprung. That root was self confidence which had led him to place himself above his fellow disciples and say, ‘Though all should deny Thee, yet will not I.’
This root had to be exposed. Therefore, ‘When they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these?’ This was a strong and pointed question, and it went right to the very bottom of Peter's heart. Three times Peter had denied his Lord, and three times his Lord now challenges the heart of Peter, for the roots must be reached if any permanent good is to be done. It will not due merely to have the conscience purged from the effects which have been produced in practical life, there must also be the moral judgment of that which produced them. This is not sufficiently understood and attended to. Hence, again and again the roots spring up and bring forth fruit, and scatter their seed a thousand fold around us, thus cutting out for us the most bitter and sorrowful work which might be avoided if the roots of things were thoroughly judged and kept under.
Christian friend, our object in this article is entirely practical. Let us exhort one another to judge our roots whatever they may be. Do we know our roots? Doubtless, it is very hard to know them. They are deep and many; pride, personal vanity, covetousness, irritability, ambition these are some of the roots of character, the motive springs of action, over which a rigid censorship must ever be exercised. We must let nature know that the eye of self judgment is ever upon it. We have to carry on the struggle without stopping. We may have to lament over occasional failure, but we must maintain the struggle, forstruggle is the evidence of life. May God the Holy Spirit strengthen us for the ceaseless conflict.
Lastly, we shall close with a brief reference to restoration as bearing upon the soul's position or path. The conscience being thoroughly purged and the heart with its varied roots judged, there is moral preparedness for our proper path. The perfect love of Jesus had expelled all fear from Peter's conscience; His threefold question had opened up the roots in Peter's heart, and now says to him, ‘Verily, verily I say unto thee, when thou wast young, thou girdest thyself and walkedst: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hand and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spoke of He, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, follow Me.’
Here we have in two words the path of the servant of Christ. ‘Follow Me.’ The Lord had just given Peter the sweetest pledges of His love and confidence. He had, not withstanding all past failure, entrusted him with the care of all that was dear to His loving heart in this world, even the lambs and sheep of His flock. He had said to him, ‘If you have affection for Me, feed My lambs, shepherd My sheep’ and now, in one brief but comprehensive utterance, He opens before Him his proper path. ‘Follow Me.’ This is enough. It includes all beside.
If we want to follow Jesus, we must keep the eye continually upon Him; we must mark His footprints and tread therein. Yes, mark them and walk in them; and when tempted like Peter to ‘turn about’ to see what this one or that one has to do or how he does it, we may hear the correcting words, ‘What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.’ This is to be our one grand and all absorbing business, come what may. A thousand things may arise to distract and hinder. The devil will tempt us to look here and there or there and here, to be occupied with and imitate the work of some fellowservant. All this is met by those pointed words, ‘Follow Me.’
There is immense danger in the present day of following in the wake of others, of doing certain things because others do them, or doing things as others do them. All this has to be carefully guarded. It will be sure to come to nothing. What we really want is a broken will the true spirit of a servant who waits on the Master to know His mind. Service does not consist in doing this or that, or running here and there; it is simply doing the Master's will, whatever that may be. ‘They serve who stand and wait.’ It is easier to be busy than to be quiet. When Peter was ‘young,’ he went where he would, but when he got ‘old,’ he went where he would not. What a contrast between the young, restless, ardent , energetic Peter, going where he would, and the old, matured, subdued, experienced Peter going where he would not. What a mercy to have the will broken! To be able to say from the heart, ‘WhatThou wilt, asThou wilt, whereThou wilt, when Thou wilt.’ ‘Not my will, but Thine, O Lord, be done.’
’Follow Me.’ Precious words! May they be engraved on our hearts, beloved reader. Then shall we be steady in our course and effective in our service. We shall not be distracted or unsettled by the thoughts and opinions of men. It may be we will get very few to understand us or sympathize with us few to approve or appreciate our work. It matters not. The Master knows all about it. Let us only be sure of what He has told us to do, and do it. If a master tells one of his servants to go and do a certain thing or occupy a certain post, it is his business to go and do that thing, or occupy that post, no matter what his fellow servants may think. They may tell him he ought to be somewhere else or to do something else. A proper servant will not listen to them, for he knows his master’s mind and has to his master's work.
Would it were more thus with all the Lord's servants! Would that we knew more distinctly and carried our more decidedly the Master’s will respecting us. Peter had his path, and John had his. James had his work, and Paul had his. So it was of old, the Gershonite had his work, and the Merarite had his; and if one had interfered with the other, the work could not have been done. The Tabernacle was carried forward or set up by each man doing his proper work. Thus it is in our day. God has varied men in His house and in His vineyard. He has quarrymen, stonesquarers, masons and decorators. Are all quarrymen? Surely not, but each has his work to do, and the building progresses by each one doing his own appointed work. Should a quarryman despise a decorator or a decorator look down with contempt upon a quarryman? Assuredly not. The Master wants them both, and whenever the one interferes with the other, as we often do, the faithful correcting word falls on the ear, ‘What is that to thee? Follow thou Me'
Home | Links | Writings | Biography