Luk_22:61-62. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shall deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.
THE fidelity of the sacred historians is a strong argument for the truth of what they wrote, and for the divine commission which they bore. Had they been impostors, they would never have recorded all their own failings in such an artless and faithful manner. A greater blemish could scarcely exist in the character of an Apostle, than that which is here exposed: and yet it is not only mentioned by all the four Evangelists, but St. Mark, who wrote his Gospel under the immediate inspection of St. Peter himself, is most diffuse in aggravating the crime, and most reserved in noticing the repentance: he tells us of Peter’s oaths and curses; but observes only, that he wept: whereas St. Luke, who omits the former, tells us, that he wept “bitterly.” The immediate occasion of Peter’s repentance is mentioned only by St. Luke. It should seem, that his heart was affected by the expressive look which our Lord gave him.
It will be useful therefore to inquire,
What that look expressed—
We may be certain that there was nothing vindictive in it—
[Never on any occasion did our Lord assume a menacing tone towards those who injured him: “when he suffered, he threatened not.” When Judas came to betray him, he saluted the traitor by the tender appellation of Friend; “Friend, wherefore art thou come [Note: Mat_26:50.]?” When the people came to apprehend him, he only asked whom they sought? and then told them, that he was the person. Yea, in the midst of all the torment and ignominy of crucifixion, he extenuated the guilt of his very murderers, and prayed to his heavenly Father to forgive them. Justly indeed might he have looked on Peter with anger, and have intimated, by an indignant aspect, that he, who now thus basely denied his Master, should speedily he denied by him at the bar of judgment. But, as no such words ever escaped his lips, so no such disposition ever manifested itself in his looks: he was altogether meek and silent, like a sheep before her shearers, or a lamb led to the slaughter [Note: Isa_53:7.].]
Nevertheless it, doubtless, conveyed a reproof to Peter—
[We may conceive, that our Lord intended to remind him of his folly in boasting, and of the presumption he had manifested, in declaring that, though all the Disciples should deny their Master, he never would; and, that he would rather die with him than deny him. Such a reproof was necessary: but still it was expressed only in a look: and how different was it from the rebuke given him on another occasion! When Peter, though in real kindness, desired to divert his Lord from the thoughts of suffering, Jesus, in righteous displeasure, said, “Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offence unto me [Note: Mat_16:23.].” But, when Peter wished to shrink from sufferings himself, even though, in order to avoid them, he denied his Lord with oaths and curses, the severest reproof that Jesus gave him, was, a look, a gentle intimation, that he had fallen by his own vain confidence and self-dependence.]
But the principal thing expressed in that look, we apprehend to have been pity and compassion—
[Having nothing revealed respecting this, we can only speak from conjecture. But, if we may be permitted thus to interpret a look, which perhaps no words could fully express, we may suppose it to have intimated somewhat to this effect: ‘Ah! Peter, see the sad consequence of trusting in yourself. See how you have not only dishonoured me, but wounded your own soul. But still, though your sin is so great, do not give way to despair. You will soon hear, into what a dreadful measure Judas has been precipitated, through a sense of guilt, and a despair of mercy: but be sure you do not imitate him. I told you before, that I had prayed for you [Note: Luk_22:32.]; now then go, and pray for yourself: only repent, and you shall even yet find mercy, yea, and be restored to the office which you have so disgraced: return, and I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely [Note: Hos_14:4.]: go instantly, and cry unto God for pardon; and all shall yet be well with you, both in time, and in eternity.’]
That something inexpressibly moving was intimated in that look, cannot be doubted, if we consider,
What effect it produced—
A voice from heaven could not have been attended with a more instantaneous or powerful effect on the mind of Peter:
It brought his sin to remembrance—
[It is astonishing to see how awfully the conscience even of a child of God may, on some occasions, be lulled asleep. David, after his fall, seemed wholly insensible of his wickedness, for no less than nine months. While he was disposed to punish, with most excessive severity, a crime of infinitely less enormity than that which he had committed, he appeared unconscious of having himself contracted any guilt at all [Note: 2Sa_12:1-7.]. Thus it was with Peter on this occasion. He had denied his Master; he had repeated that denial with yet greater vehemence; and no less than an hour had clapsed without his discovering any signs of penitence and contrition [Note: ver. 59.]. His heart even seemed to be more and more hardened: for, not contented with continuing to deny his Lord, he added oaths to his protestations, and perjury to lies.
And is it not thus with too many professors of religion, who allow themselves in pride, envy, malice, wrath, covetousness, impurity, or some other secret evil, and go on from year to year without being sensible that they have done any thing amiss? Perhaps there may be instances, wherein even a follower of Christ has acquired unjust gains, defrauding his customers by false weights and measures, or by bad commodities: defrauding the revenue too by withholding customs, and taxes, that were clearly due. O that the consciences of all such persons might be awakened from their lethargy, and be excited to remonstrate against such unchristian practices!
But this look of Jesus brought to Peter’s mind the warnings he had slighted, the vows he had broken, and the complicated evil he had just committed, All his conduct now appeared in its true colours; and he saw himself, as in a mirror, a base, cowardly, perjured apostate.
And such is the effect, which the testimonies of Christ’s compassion will produce on all who duly receive them [Note: Eze_16:60-63.] — — —]
It filled him with compunction and contrition—
[Instantly his heart bled with a sense of sin, and was tortured with the bitterest anguish. Had Jesus reproached him with severity, it is probable he would have yielded to despondency, and sought refuge in suicide, from the horrors of a guilty conscience. But the look that pierced his soul poured also a healing balm into the wound. He could now no longer continue in the company of the ungodly, or indulge a vain curiosity respecting the issue of his Master’s trial: his heart was now full; and he sought retirement, that he might give vent to his feelings, and implore that mercy which he so greatly needed.
Thus will a view of God’s merey operate on us. Even a wicked Saul, when he saw the lenity and forbearance of David, was overcome with a sense of the kindness shewn him, and lifted up his voice and wept [Note: 1Sa_24:16.]. How much more should the tender mercy of our God abase us in the dust, and cause the tears of penitence to flow apace! Yes, doubtless, it will instantly lead us from the scenes of folly and dissipation to the more suitable employments of meditation and prayer [Note: Eze_7:16. may, in an accommodated sense, be applied to this.] — — —]
To improve this subject, let us consider,
To what a shameful state the most exalted Christian may be reduced, if he be left to himself one single moment!
[Who, that had been witness to Peter’s confession of Christ [Note: Mat_16:16.], or had seen him jump into the sea to embrace his Master [Note: Joh_21:7.], or had beheld him wielding a sword in his defence [Note: Joh_18:10.], and above all, had heard his promises of being faithful unto death [Note: Mar_14:31.], would have supposed that, in so short a time, this most favoured Apostle should so grievously transgress? Let this then be a lesson to us all. “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall [Note: 1Co_10:12.].” Let every one of us remember, that there is not any sin whatever, which we shall not commit, if we be left to ourselves; and let our daily prayer be, “Hold thou up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe [Note: Psa_17:5; Psa_119:117.]”]
How connected and precipitous are the ways of sin!
[Peter began by indulging a confidence in his own strength: then he followed Jesus “ afar off [Note: ver. 54.]:” then he mixed himself needlessly with ungodly company [Note: ver. 55.]: then he yielded to the fear of man: and then he denied his Lord with oaths and curses. And have not we also found that we have proceeded from one sin to another; and that, when once we have given advantage to the enemy, he has prevailed against us in a far greater degree than we ever could have imagined? Let us then inquire, whether there have not been some warnings given us of which we are unmindful; some resolutions, which, having been made in our own strength, we have violated in the hour of temptation? Let us inquire, whether we be not at this moment walking at too great a distance from our Lord? whether we be not influenced by the fear of man? whether we be not associating too much with the enemies of our Lord? or whether there be not some other sin, which we allowedly indulge? Let us remember, that to descend is easy; and that, when we enter on the downward road, none but God can tell where we shall stop [Note: Compare Ecclus. 9:1, with Pro_28:18.].]
How unbounded is the compassion of our blessed Lord!
[Well might our Lord have exposed Peter to those whom he feared: or rather, well might the insulted Jesus have looked him dead upon the spot, even as Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead with a lie in their mouths [Note: Act_5:1-10.]. But that compassionate Saviour cast only on his apostate servant a look of love and pity; yea, and that too, in the very midst of his sin.
And may we not suppose, that he is at this very moment looking in the same manner on some amongst us, who have dishonoured their profession, and grieved him by their unworthy conduct? Let us endeavour to realize this thought. Let us examine whether there be not a cause, which our blinded consciences have been too backward to condemn? And, if we can find any thing that has grieved his soul, let us instantly go home, and “weep bitterly,” till he forgive us. Let us then think on our ways, and turn unto God’s testimonies: let us make haste, and not delay, to keep his commandments [Note: Psa_119:59-60.].]