“And Peter followed afar off.”—Luke 22:51-62

Preached in Manchester, 9 August 1842

1. Let us look at the weakness of man and the power of temptation.
2. The criminality of Peter.
3. The matchless display of God’s grace.
4. The effect produced.
5. The lesson taught us.

1. The weakness of man and the power of temptation.

The weakness of man is very great. Compared with the Almighty God, his Creator and Upholder, he is at his best estate altogether vanity; he is weakness itself. We are not sufficient of ourselves, go as to do anything of ourselves; we know not even what to pray to God for as we ought. May we in humility pray to him to direct us how to pray, and what to pray for; to hold us up in his righteous ways, to keep us weak in ourselves; for when we are thus weak, then are we strong in the Lord and in the power of his might; to keep our eyes from beholding vanity, and our feet from the very shadow of evil. For some most eminent men have been left to themselves, and, alas! have proved their weakness to be great indeed. Why should we so easily forget this and think ourselves strong? We think often that we can manage things better than they. This is our weakness, and if God were to let us try, we should feel it. Righteous Lot, though miraculously preserved from the wrath of God poured upon the city of Sodom and Gomorrah, awfully fell afterwards. Sarah also, being past child-bearing, could not believe God, but laughed at his promise, which was that though she was old, she should have a son. David, a man after God’s own heart, being in the way of temptation, awfully fell. And indeed the principle of freewill is the offspring of the bottomless pit, and has led many of God’s children into awful labyrinths.

What a company of poor incautious creatures we all are! The best of men are but helpless worms, whose life is not their own; and yet how they trifle with God, who supports them even in nature. And if he did not keep his people, where would they be? Into what awful sins would they not fall? Abraham was remarkable for his faith, and his faith was accounted unto him for righteousness, yet he twice denied the wife of his bosom. Samson, though the strongest man that ever lived, except Christ, had not strength enough to keep himself from sinning, but was overcome by the deceitfulness of his tempter, or seducer, at last. David, though “a man after God’s own heart,” could not keep his own heart, but was infatuated by the beauty of a woman, and awfully fell! Solomon, though the wisest of mankind, became indifferent, and departed from the path of rectitude and wisdom, and sank into the depths of folly and criminality. And the apostle Peter, though he loved his Master, denied him, and swore he never knew him. And if our minds were now to be arraigned at the bar of God, and our hearts opened before him, who could stand? For who is clean? “We have all sinned; we have turned every one to his own way.” (Is 53:6) There is no help in us; and if God has made it known unto us, and we have felt his life giving power in our hearts, we have sinned even against that. Talk of creature doings! If the creature has no better salvation to depend upon than his own doings he will be condemned; he will sink for ever in black despair, to rise no more! He will then find that all he can do is insufficient.

2. The criminality of Peter.

Peter’s crime, I consider, was far more outrageous than that of Judas; because we find that Peter held more converse with Christ his Lord, than did Judas. He went up into the mount of Transfiguration, and saw the glory of Christ; but Judas did not. Christ said unto Peter, when Peter confessed his belief in the Sonship of his Lord, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” But Judas never had such a revelation. And Peter was before cautioned that he would deny his Lord; but he said, “Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I.” And Christ said to him, “Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.” And notwithstanding all this previous caution, and even seeing Christ before him, and in his hearing, he dared to deny him with oaths and curses. And if Peter could thus fall, what could you and I do? We are as weak and helpless as Peter. O that we may not, then, be left to trust our own hearts, or put confidence in the flesh; but pray the Lord to keep as, and preserve us in Christ Jesus, who is our only strength, and in him alone are we safe.

3. The matchless grace of God, displayed in the salvation of a sinner.

What should you or I have done with Peter? If some one that we esteemed as a dear friend, or if a brother whom we loved, was to deny us before others, and in our presence, what should we do? We should doubtless, considering ourselves greatly insulted, order him to depart from us, or to be taken from our presence. But not so with Christ, our Friend, our Elder Brother. The wounds which Peter made in Christ’s heart brought forth grace; he looked upon him. He looked upon him with an eye of pity, and had mercy upon him, and softened his hard heart by his grace; as though he would have said, “Ah! Ah! Peter! Hast thou forgotten the very many admonitions I have given thee, the glory which I revealed to thee, and that my enemies would thus deal with me, and still canst thou deny me?” And have you, my hearers, never denied your Lord? Have you not sometimes been ashamed of owning him in company? And have you not denied him in your heart? And are you still here? Why has he not cut you off long ago? “Ah!” Many of you can say, ”By the grace of God I am what I am.” You once could only look at chance as the ruler of all your actions; but now you can attribute good to the grace of God, from first to last. It is greater than the depths of your depravity and awful backslidings. Some say to the backslider, “You can make an atonement by your future good conduct.” It is always with something you must do. Ah, confess and acknowledge your vileness before God, saying, ”Behold, I am vile! What shall I answer thee! I have nothing to bring before thee, and would trust in thy atoning sacrifice alone!”

4. And what is the effect produced?

Some say the grace of God leads to licentiousness. But did it lead Ephraim to licentiousness, when he cried out, “Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God?” And God said, “Since I have spoken against him I do earnestly remember him still; therefore my bowels are troubled for him. I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord.” And in Ezekiel 16 the Lord says he will not deal with the sinner “according to thy covenant; but I will deal with thee according to my covenant;” which humbles the backslider, who has committed whoredoms against the Lord; and it makes him to weep bitterly, and to sorrow with a godly sorrow, which worketh, repentance not to be repented of. Though you may want to hide your faults from the world, you cannot hide them from God.

Did the grace of God lead Peter to sin? No; but his own deceitful heart. And see how the grace of God reigned! Was it Peter’s own heart that made him weep? No; but the matchless grace of God, sent into his soul by his Savior’s look. In the Garden the floodgates of hell were opened upon Christ; and I believe a sight of this was sent into Peter’s soul; as though Christ, by his look said, “I bore all this for thee; and though thou hast denied me, I will net deny thee!” O this wonderful, matchless, sovereign, free grace of God!

Peter wanted to conceal himself; he went out of the palace, and wept. No doubt he would ask himself, “Where shall I go to cover my head and to vent my feelings?” But he felt that the Lord had laid his hand upon him, and he could not leave him; and, therefore, he, as it were, in deep humility, said within himself, “Hast thou, Lord, taken advantage of my guilt to make me know more of myself and thee?”

Some talk of “Piety! Piety! Piety! Piety!” Were it not that it does once occur in the Word of God I should hate the very word; people make so much of it, as though piety were to save them. Their parents were pious, they were brought up pious, and they have continued pious. But even where the word does occur in the New Testament (1 Tim 5:4), it simply means kindness, as the margin has it—let them show kindness at home. The word has nothing to do with salvation.[1] True religion humbles a sinner. Angels assemble together in the court of heaven and rejoice over brokenhearted sinners. O then, to rely upon Christ, to plead his love and blood, and to lean upon him and upon him alone and not upon your own repentance; this is the effect of grace. It is said of some kind of stones that they will not break until they have been steeped for a certain length of time in goat’s blood; this may be so, but whether or not, it is so with your adamantine hearts; nothing will break them but being steeped in blood, the blood of the Scape-goat of the wilderness.

5. What are the lessons taught us by these things?

When you are reading your Bibles, and you find there this admonition and the other caution, do you not sometimes say, “I don’t like this and that; I do not require such cautions?” Why do you say it? Because it touches your pride. But, instead of saying so, ought you not to fall down before God, and say, “Behold, Lord, I am vile! Make roe humble and wash me clean! I am estranged from then by lies and vanity; lead me into all truth. I am in many dangers; be thou my guide, even unto death. I am weak and helpless; O Lord, hold thou me up> that my footsteps slip not?” Thus the admonitions of God would be turned into a matter of prayer, and not trusting your own hearts. And if a brother sin, though you may have an utter hatred to that sin, yet you ought not to set your heart against him as a flint, but admonish him, and try to pray for him, remembering your own weakness; for if you should fall next, where then are you? O that you may pray to the Lord to search you, and try you, to make and keep you paupers, and purge you from dead works; for “he that trusteth his own heart is a fool;” and “cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his aim.” Do not even trust yourself alone; for, says the Scripture, “two are better than one.” Do not trust yourself in improper company; for though the people of God cannot sin themselves into black despair, they may awfully fall, and bring guilt upon their consciences which will make their very breast-bones ache. May you, therefore, like Moses, say to the Lord, “If thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence.” It is dangerous to walk alone. O then cry to God to be always with you in your daily walks through life; and may you be enabled to put your trust in him; for he that trusteth in the Lord shall never be confounded, shall never be put to shame.

Amen.

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[1] An eminent Greek commentator says, “Piety is a general term, comprising all our relative duties; but particularly those which arise from relationship.”



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