Paths To Power - Power That Makes For Self-conquest
( Originally Published 1905 )
"And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired 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." Luke xxii. 31-32.
AS we look back over the years which lie between us and the days of Christ, we get at least a glimpse of that principle of development which made it possible, in spite of their weakness and misapprehension, for their Lord to utter sayings at the close of His earthly life which at the first would have broken down the faith of the disciples. This principle of development has quite as much to do with His actions and their ministry unto them as with His words. When this Last Supper comes with its revealing conversation, the thing itself suddenly acquires such a meaning as makes even a dark saying like this unto Simon Peter manifest forth all the truths which this new King has spoken of His kingdom. The old was vanishing. The scattered glories of the past were being reconsecrated and reconstructed into the splendor of the future. The Jewish Passover had given birth to a new institution whose nativity was ushered in just when the sin it was sure to turn back tossed itself into the fury of the hating priests on the outside and stretched like a waste in the soul of Judas within. That institution of the Lord's Supper marked a moment of God's freshly revealed faithfulness unto humanity. Shall Simon's ardent assertions of faith, as he thinks of the separation between Christ and them, keep him from the more searching and critical operations of this same divine faithfulness? Nay! No sooner has his Master heard him announce the fancied impossibility of his ever leaving Him, than this Christly faithfulness, which is never so tender as when it is most true, utters the searching words I have chosen as our text. (Rv.) "Simon, Simon, behold Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat; but I have made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, 'stablish thy brethren." Simon Peter! it is no time for boasting; it is time for sifting.
Here is discovered again that unchanging characteristic of the Spirit of Evil which you perceive in the prologue of that great drama the Book of Job. That characteristic presents itself every day as you encounter evil in the world's thought or work I mean its cynical distrust of goodness. Much has been said in criticism of the theology of Paradise Lost. Milton has been accused of Unitarianism and Calvinism in dogmatics, and of over-much familiarity with the great personages of Heaven and Hell. But however true or untrue Milton's Satan is, in other particulars, this poet, in his most masterly manner, has delineated the sneering diabolism of distrust in that "archangel ruined." Evil begins its infernal career in its utter lack of faith in goodness; and its Satanic spirit is most manifest when virtue appears to have a blackened heart, righteousness to have been insincere, and truth to be only a concealed falsehood. Here is the very profession of evil:
"But of this be sure
Its old insinuation is this: Job does not fear God without being remunerated. "He has no real goodness," says this Spirit of Evil. "Let his good fortune be touched, and his goodness will vanish." "Let him be sifted as wheat, to use this more modern phrase, and you will see that what is thought to be genuine and firm and sound will blow away." This was, and this is still, evil's valuation of the reality and power of goodness. In the Book of Job, this Spirit of Evil is spoken of as "adversary" or "accuser" ; his is the slimy finger touching all purity to leave it smeared; he is the skeptical detective and inquisitor asserting by his shadowing of souls their hidden guilt. The Satanic spirit did ever destroy and debase.
Between the time of ancient Job and the self-confident Peter, the Spirit of Evil had not changed in character or method. Now he has asked to have Simon that he may sift him, sure that his character is unsound, and that all his professions are chaff. His failure with a hundred Jobs meantime has not given him any confidence in goodness. Evil never can believe in good. Still is this Satan hurrying to and fro through-out the earth, peering into every keyhole of character to find baseness there, sneaking into every corner of the soul to catch it in its depravity. Years after this sifting of Simon, in which the Spirit of Evil repeated the work upon Job, to whom he came as he said, "from hurrying to and fro in the earth," the sifted Peter speaks of Satan, in his first letter (v. 8) as the "peripatetic, a wandering, roaring lion, intent on finding prey." That is the history of evil, and in nothing has it a surer manifestation than in its skepticism concerning goodness. That diabolism it repeats in human nature whenever it has the power. A man believes in the goodness of others only by and through his own goodness. A man has confidence in righteousness of any sort, anywhere, only as his own righteousness gives it to him.
Still one other introductory thought, and it is this, as in the drama called the Book of Job we perceive that Satan the Spirit of Evil has only that power which God permits, so also here in the sifting of Simon, Satan's dominion is encircled and controlled by the larger and uninfracted dominion of God. No wretched Manicheism is here, because there is here no eternal dualism with good and evil in a desperate and dubious strife. Good is supreme; and evil is influential, only as good permits. But what an interest for unearthly intelligences seems to exist in our earthly life! Simon's little round of tasks and joys, Job's little circle of loves and griefs are the scenes wherein move and meet the forces celestial, and spiritual beings enter into the problem of these human lives, absorbed with interest in our decision of questions here answered for the first time, sympathetic with us or antagonistic to us, while we toil on and suffer on, reaching and solving problems which have stirred the curious thought of heaven and hell. A problem such as this is every Simon Peter's life? Yes; but one fact is constant, and that is goodness God. God reigns though Satan sifts. The powers of evil are in God's holy hands. Evil is not altogether its own master, and cannot therefore be the master of the world. "Over all" is now "God blest for-ever!" And the Lord said unto Satan, "Behold him in thine hand, only spare his life." So God permitted Job's trial and stood behind the demonic forces which racked the sufferer, directing them. Then look at this case. "Simon, Simon, behold Satan asked to have you that he might sift you as wheat; but I have made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, 'stablish thy brethren." So said his Master when the incarnate God permitted Simon's trial. So He has always intimated that He "stands within the shadow keeping watch above His own."
Behind the shadow in which the evil one works is the eternal goodness, not making evil any less evil, but leading Jobs on to a loftier faith and making Simon Peters the truest helpers of their brethren.
"There shall never be one lost good! What was shall live as before.
With such a faith, what may we learn from this sifting of Simon Peter? Let us look at the purpose, the method, and the results of this sifting.
I. The purpose of the sifting:
Back a short distance we go in the life of this man, Simon, and we hear his master make a very definite announcement to him. His brother Andrew has just brought him to Jesus, and eyes which saw into both his frailties and possibilities at the same instant, have beheld him as a discovered possibility. The great gem lies there all covered up with earth or fixed in rocky matrix. His present character is a mixture of the low and the lofty. Jesus, however, says, "Thou art Simon; thou shalt be Peter." There was disclosed the efficient purpose of this worker in character; this is the transformation He will work on the precious jewel which has come into His hand. Every movement of the Master, whose infinite resources of skill and affection were to be drawn upon for the disclosing and developing of that latent possibility, is henceforth interesting as related to that purpose. Even this late act, the most bewildering and incomprehensible of all this permitting Satan to sift him must be but one step in the process which was begun when Jesus first saw him the process of bringing Peter out of Simon the gem out from the tight and clinging environment which almost entirely concealed it.
Note, I beg you, the personalness of all this talk. It is a jewel worker in the midst of many gems, upon all of which he is working, but he is talking to one of them. Notice how the record preserves these features of Christ's ministry to all His disciples and to special disciples. He treats them as grains of wheat with the chaff which has clung around them and so entirely covers them that the chaff around them is really the only thing the eye sees at first. Other men see only that; but this master-workman with souls sees what is within the chaff. He has in His eye the Peter whom He saw through the Simon whom the world knew only as Simon, and only Simon. In every most valuable man who is sifted until he is serviceable to his brothers we see that the chaff which was once the living glume or husks, Simon having so completely covered the inclosed Peter. But Jesus looks at all the souls of His disciples as He speaks to this one, for He is doing the same with them, bringing the Peter out of the Simon as His Father brought the Israel out of Jacob. Jesus does not mislead them or Simon Peter by addressing him as Peter. He would not encourage him into thinking that the process which was long ago begun the process of getting Peter, the rock-man, out of Simon, the unstable man —has been completed. Simon Peter's old characteristics are still unfortunately the most evident feature of his personality. Jesus would emphasize that fact to his disciple. "Simon, Simon," He says, and He says it at once after the Simon character had shown itself most in evidence. "Simon, Satan desires to sift you" not "thee," but "you," all of you. "But I have prayed for thee" using the singular, emphasizing the special need of Simon above that of the others. "I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." Christ deals with classes; yet, while he deals with classes, his culture comes to the individual and accentuates every feature of that soul's personality in its all-inclusive ministry. "Satan desires to sift you, but I have prayed for thee" whom having what are called, "the defects of thy qualities" the sifting is especially apt to try and to bring out.
Just as surely as there is a possible Peter in an actual Simon, and that Peter is to be brought out, just so surely will he be sifted. Just as surely as God wishes a man to 'stablish other weak mortals, He makes His man of power out of one who was once unstable. My friend, if to-day finds you blown upon by winds which seem unkind, if you are not allowed to enjoy a dull peace mentally and spiritually, if, from your very soul there seems to be torn every shred of courage and every husk of confidence, if even your Master appears to have given you over to evil, be sure that you bear in that fact and carry in this very experience, the witness that an eye all-kind and all-true has looked into your frailties and possibilities, that Christ has seen within the Simon a Peter, that he believes in you and that this experience is only a step in that one searching and excluding process which is set toward your noblest destiny. A man like Simon is God's most fascinating as well as His boldest enterprise. The more certain there is a rich, large gem in the earthly humanity with which Christ begins to work, the more surely there must be great losses of the coarser naturalism in which it was nurtured and found, and in which yes, by which its highest destiny is made possible. If there is a kernel of wheat, and it is worth keeping for itself for the harvests which are inside of it, it will be sifted until its richness and promise are lying unencumbered and waiting for the sower's hand. The spirit of evil in its most searching effort is telling the soul the valuableness of fortresses which it is perpetually and desperately seeking to capture. There is little difficulty for us to keep nothing, but God's best possibilities are by Satan the most beset warriors, and that grain of wheat which is most loaded with yellow sheaves is the grain which the cynical, skeptical, hateful spirit of evil is most eager to sift away like chaff; it is also the one most certain in God's providence of being ultimately freed from husk and prepared for magnificent service. Do not think goodness will save you from temptation or that you are not good as you should be because you are bestormed with difficulty. Christ Jesus was beset with devilish power because the territory of His soul was so desirable. Simon Peter was sifted because wheat was there. The fact that you are in trouble to maintain your soul's dominion means that at least you have some-thing which a fallen archangel will fight for.
Look at this doubly significant combination Simon-Peter. Every great grain of wheat like that is sure to be closely surrounded with qualities which are so tightly pressed to him that they seem to be and have been a part of his personality. There have been earlier days when you could not detach it from the overlapping close environment. The grain was imbedded in the green glume or husk. The greater the value which nature puts into anything, a wheat-grain or a man, the more carefully and thoroughly does she protect it and identify its very life at the first with its environment. Roses come up through green thorny stems. You must wait for them. You cannot pull them out of the rose-bush in May. Nature is favor-able to the defects which go with good qualities. She puts around other blossoms of hers the rough exterior of a shaggy bud. God puts about His great souls a texture of protection which, next to the will of a man, almost partakes of the man' s personality. The sheath or glume in which he grows is at first very nearly of his own character. , Of course as the man reaches his true self and he ripens, the husk becomes drier and more distinguishable. Toward autumn the green grows yellow. Yet it clings and he must somehow be disenthralled from this outer self. As the flower blooms, the bud, torn, and yet clinging, must be left behind. As Peter gets out of Simon, Simon must be cast off.
This is the story of the liberation and development of the higher from the lower. A faith once necessary is cast aside. A quality once invaluable is sloughed off. A man appears in free power. Let us know well that, as I have suggested, this chaff has had its very considerable value. In it alone the particular grain of wheat could grow and become firm. All its tender vitality, through its milk-like, soft, pulpy stages, has been protected by this very intimate environment —an environment so characteristic and close to its own nature, that at first you could not safely separate it from the grain itself. This is the story of the growth of human personality. The very things from which we must ultimately free ourselves precisely are the things without which, at the first, we might not grow, or even exist. Take Simon Peter again. Of what has he to be sifted? The very qualities certainly which had kept and protected the noble character, which must ultimately free itself from them. He was over-confident as to himself. He was rash, impetuous, and daringly assertive in his self-trust. He alone said at once, when Christ suggested that the sheep should be scattered, "Though all the world forsake Thee, yet not I, not I. He was imperious in temper, conceited in honesty, prayerless in generous loyalty, independent in enthusiasm, incautious in fearless faith. Now, these qualities, which bespoke the life of that Peter within, were the Simon external to those, and encompassing those, in which Peter had his essential life. Behold Peter in after years, when the Simon has been dropped away, and you see that the very straightforwardness of his best hours was nurtured away back there and was growing inside of his obstinate honesty; the high courage of his noblest act to be was being developed inside his rashness; the ardor of his warm heart was being fed by the reckless enthusiasm of remaining youth; the confidence of his most glowing hour was protected, as it slowly grew inside of his presumptuousness only within a Simon may a Peter be contained, cultured, and at last disclosed.
At length, the time does come, in every life, when these more external qualities are in the way of a finer and maturer spirituality. Character needs to be liberated from them. God will use many a quality of your boy which to you is disagreeable, but it has been a protection to his young personality, and He has used it as husks for the corn which comes to ripeness slowly. He will allow it to enfold and guard the developing forces of that soul's more interior life; but at last comes the hour when a deeper, truer life must assert itself or perish forever. Then Simon Peter is sifted. O how vigorously and rigorously the process goes on! In Simon Peter's case, the time had come when the assertive self-trust which was sure to throw him off his guard, now and then, the rashness which was perpetually creating deep defiles of agony into which he must often fall, the pride and assertiveness which were in the way of his soberer and truest self, should be detached from his real life and from the more precious grain which had grown within them. It is at once an awfully critical and a most hopeful moment in a life when God invites a man forth when the Divine Worker challenges the real man that is within all that which has prepared him to be a man, to utter himself. Then comes skeptical evil, the devilish power which says, "There's no good in him at all"; saying also, "let me sift him and I'll prove it." Then God, who stands behind it all, puts us into the power of evil where alone character is to be brought out, and Simon Peter is sifted.
II. The method of this sifting of human character comes from the purpose behind it. Its purpose is the delivering of the wheat grain of one's true personality from the chaff which surrounds and clings to it. Somehow the soul must be delivered from all false strength. Of course, this which is now the chaff has in other days been a protection to the kernel. But if the wheat seed is to have all its possibilities brought out, if it is to realize the promise which it contains, it must realize in its life that strength and help are in these integuments no more; that its true life is inside its own character. Every false strength is an impediment. Now, to deliver Peter from the crude strength, from the Simon in which he has grown, this requires severe sifting according as Peter is a fine or strong soul. The calyx does not fall away from such a central bloom without an agony. The chaff is not detached from such a grain without distress. So his trial was searching and severe. He must be disillusioned even at mighty cost. If there was one thing he was sure of, it was his own invincible devotion. This amounted to spiritual self-conceit. It towered up audaciously, and, lifting him ever higher, it exalted his proud soul above his brethren. That, however, was a false strength, and his Master knew it. Real power lay in trusting Christ's invincible love for him, not in confiding in his love for Christ. Real independence of spirit had its source in utter dependence on his Lord. So the sifting began.
Notice this, before we look at the process of sifting, that there is nothing in the power of evil in this world, so far as under the permissive providence of God it sifts us, to destroy the essential Peter which lies in every sifted Simon. Times there are when the great waves of temptation lash the rocks on life's coast with wildest fury, when the strong ocean cur-rents seem intent on seizing the land itself and carrying it out to sea. But there is a line which never quivers with the sudden pressure. It is a line which, unseen of earth, is definite enough to God, and is ever shining like the glory of the throne in the eye of heaven. It marks the confine where Almighty God says to the Prince of Evil, "Thus far thou mayst go; but no farther." "Simon, Simon! Satan has asked for you." Evil, by its very genius, will not believe in good. Every castle of goodness which is being enriched or strengthened it begs to assault. Let the assault be made. God has so trusted goodness, He so sees how real goodness must be stormed and besieged before it will know its true strength, and God so knows that character is not character until it stands its ground before evil and is purified of all dross by fierce attack, that He permits man to be tried, even to be defeated, if by that means Peter may be sifted from Simon.
A man is never asked to endure this sifting without hope. And just here is disclosed the attitude which the disciples of Christ are to assume with reference to all the sifting processes of life. It is graciously granted to every Simon to hear the voice of the Master, Christ, saying: "Simon! Satan asked to sift you but I have prayed for thee. Before my eye your special weakness came pleadingly, and underneath the whole fearful experience, working up through it, is my prayer that your faith fail not." That is one of the great announcements which we must accredit, as I believe, to the true and perpetual mediatorship of Christ. "Simon, I have prayed for thee." It means much to any soul in distress, to any man in the throes of temptation, that anybody in, what is to him, this lonely universe, has prayed for him. It means that another life has put faith in God's good intentions; that another soul has put its shoulders under the burden which that soul reverently appreciates and feels that it is too much for one soul's weakness to bear. It means that another human reason exists on earth for God to work within His on-going movements. But when the Christ of God, who is one with the Father and one with man, who knows the mind of heaven which works and the weakness of the humanity with which it works, pours into a man's problem His supplication unto God, His prayer for Simon, it means much more it lets the whole sweet and infinite secret out. For all this means that there is a Divine purpose shining like a guiding star behind the entire affair. It means that God who is perfectly revealed in Christ that Jesus is in active partnership with the Peter who is struggling to free himself from Simon. It means that the humanity in Christ and the Divinity in Him, earth and heaven are hopeful. Here we see that God's faith in the grain is expressed in Christ's prayer, that as the sifting goes on, the sifted soul's faith in the ultimate blessedness of the experience shall fail not.
Behold the sifting! The die is cast. Jesus is to be crucified. It is nearly Friday morning. The larger body of the disciples, who have been sleeping yonder, are concealing themselves under the olive boughs, or in their little homes; or, it may be, each one of them is alone with God in prayer. Simon Peter and John, however, who rallied soon after the terrible blow fell upon their hearts, are now ready to go with Jesus into the palace of Caiaphas. They can do little. John may crowd close enough to have his Master get the comfort of knowing that he has recovered his man-hood; but Peter has come only to deny Him. The enemies of Jesus are counting upon Caiaphas; and they remember that his hostility once demonstrated itself so far that this crafty and potent Sadducee prophesied that Jesus should die on the ground of expediency; and they reflect that doubtless he, no less than others, has influenced Annas to be bitterly opposed to Jesus. Simon Peter is following, but he is following "afar off." It is too bad. He needs to be closest to his Master. He has begun to deny his Lord. He has denied Him to himself; he will soon be denying Him to others. But he is already so heavily weighted with disappointment and doubt, that he cannot keep up to events. Fear of the opposition of men's opinions ever besets him; for Peter is a lover, and he likes companionship. He who loves delightful association better than unpleasant truth cannot keep close to his Redeemer. The other disciple, probably John, is favorably known by Caiaphas, and he enters into the palace court. But Simon Peter, who is already beginning to totter under the storm, remains at the door without. By and by, a female slave, who keeps the door, bids him enter the courtyard, for John has told her that Peter is his companion. But John goes nearer to Jesus. The cold spring night is still hanging heavily over the world, and yonder is the glow of a charcoal fire, in whose light we can see the faces of those who are talking about what has occurred. Especially, in and out of the circle of that radiance, do we follow Peter. In his denial of the Lord to others we see an evolution of an earlier denial of his Lord to his own soul. It also furnishes a new element to the atmosphere in which the trial of Jesus goes on, in which the trial which they make of Him comes to be a trial for them; and it proceeds to their condemnation.
There are sounds of footsteps on the white pavement, and the curious slave-maid comes near to Simon Peter. Her words will make the skies black as thunder-clouds over the head of the "Rock-man." The holy Passover night is nearly gone. Simon Peter is in a mood for acquiescence or compromise with men, for he is standing with the servants and officers who have made the fire of coals. And he cannot get on with his own convictions, as yet. The opinions of others will overawe him. In this awful crisis Peter is sensitive to cold, and he is losing the imperial opportunity by which alone he may be saved from falling. He could be entering into alliance with the Martyr-Saviour of men; but he is only warming him-self. At this moment the words of the damsel shat-ter the very citadel of his soul. He would escape her glance, by looking up at one of the windows of the palace which is lit up and glares with lights under which are gathered the prisoner and the officers as well as the high priest. The fact that a damsel, rather than a male slave, opens the inner door in the court for Peter, shows that probably the men servants have been attracted also, and they push as closely as possible to the center of the critical scene. What has the girl said? She has already defeated Peter, in the presence of the cluster of men around the fire. Because he must warm himself he must expose himself to that flaring flame which now reveals his features. She sees and says, "Thou wast also with Jesus of Nazareth." Could a damsel dare be so contemptuously intrusive? Instantly Peter makes strong denial that he has any knowledge of Jesus; and he avers that he understands not the meaning of any-thing she says. He is being sifted.
But he has gone too far. He has been too vehement. He has kindled her curiosity and zeal, and she will vindicate herself before the rough soldiery. Worried as he is, fearful of the taunts of men who will re-mind him of the failure of Jesus, Simon Peter goes out into the porch, to avoid further questioning and ridicule. This porch is the gateway that leads out of the court-yard. The dawn is coming and a cock is crowing. And to add to his confusion, here is another maid, and she also invades the soul of Simon Peter. Standing on the marble pavement, she gazes long into his face, and says, "This man was also with Jesus o/ Nazareth." He is being sifted! Now Simon Peter's despair is mingled with wrath; and he hesitates not to be profane. "He denied with an oath, I do not know the man." Sifted again! It is a terrible hour which passes. It ends with the approach of the kinsman and fellow-servant who had not forgotten Simon Peter's behavior toward the servant of the high priest, Caiaphas. He asks Simon Peter, "Did I not see thee in the garden with Him?" Listen now! "Of course not," was his reply. But it is meaningless. One and all address him, and they say, "You are one of them. You are a Galilean; your speech betrays it." Again sifted! Simon Peter now walks boldly into the very pit of disgrace, cursing and swearing as he seeks to escape detection, his Galilean provincialism exhibiting itself in the thickness of his utterance, and at last his self-confidence breaking down, as the cock crows for the second time.
Simon Peter fell into darkness not hopeless, but nevertheless cold and deep, just as the gray of the east was flushed with colors like blood. Jesus was near by, when this most loving, brave, and true-hearted man utterly failed. Jesus, the Saviour, is on His way from Annas to Caiaphas, where He succors His Simon Peter in this way. Whatever may be said of Simon Peter, by men who never knew the peremptory commands of generous impulses or perilous self-confidence, Jesus attested His opinion of him at the hour when he "looked upon" His denying disciple and broke his heart with the sadness and pity which that look conveyed. The length, breadth, height, and depth of God's courage with the human soul, in its embassy of love in Jesus Christ, were then and there made clear. Jesus was probably on His way to the trial before the Sanhedrin. He had been insulted and bound, but nothing had hurt His heart so much as the sorrow of being forsaken. When His glance fell upon Simon Peter, at the instant which the disciple had polluted with his curses, there entered the soul of the disciple not only the memory of what Jesus had said unto him, "Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice," but the grace and love which buried his curses in silence, and filled his eyes with tears of penitence. He was still to be established as "Peter," the "man of rock," and though he had denied his Master thrice, Jesus knew him. The fact that his nature and spiritual attainment were even yet worthy to be allied with the plans of the kingdom of Christ was demonstrated when "he went out and wept bitterly." Noble tears! That kind of humanity is the only material which the Gospel counts on for its finest productions; that Gospel is the only scheme of morals which would not discard this kind of humanity. This is somewhat of Jesus mediatorial work. He lived a life and died a perpetual prayer for our humanity. In it He made unto God an offering of our humanity. In that long, pathetic, sacrificial prayer, whose deepest petition came with the offering at the cross, Christ put under human life a mediatorial influence; something divine beneath our trials; something promising in all our temptations; some promise of Peter in every sifting of Simon. This is God's will, made known in a life and death whose every moment seems to be saying, "Simon, I have prayed for thee." By and by we shall know, if we trust while we are sifted, the fact that Christ's prayer means hope, that His prayer and His look upon Peter were both divine the sifting was then doing its work silently. At last the look came from Christ, as He saw His disciple being sifted of the chaff of self-confidence; but Simon would go; Christ looked upon Peter being sifted. The grain of wheat for which He prayed had not been lost.
O what hours intervene! And now Christ has been crucified and Christ has risen. Let us not for-get Simon Peter. Paul, writing many years after the first Easter Day, tells us of an appearance of Jesus to Peter, which must have occurred very soon after the appearance to Mary Magdalene. There is a pathos glad with victory, and a touch of personal tenderness also, in the saying of the Presence whom the women saw in the tomb, "Go your way, tell His disciples and Peter." Heaven had a quenchless interest in the great hearted apostle who had suffered so much from himself, whose denial of his Master and Lord was so painful a fact in his memory, and whose fight for faith and holiness had attached his Master to him with the love which, once inaugurated, would at length consummate the enterprise of bringing the Peter out of Simon. The infinite patience of love, and the method by which God honors and redeems separate personalities for special service, are shown in the desire of Christ that Peter, especially, might at once hear the new evidence of his Master's Lordship furnished by the Resurrection.
Listen to the echo of the command to tell Peter. Christ has surely risen. When the disciples arrived in Jerusalem, they met the other apostles and others of the disciples, and these received the intelligence in the words, "The Lord is risen indeed." But they added, "And hath appeared unto Simon." Again we see that the pre-eminence of Simon Peter consists in his being a true representative of the humanity which Jesus came to inspire and "sift" and save. All the disciples appear to have been more truly convinced than ever, for there is a logic implied in these words, "He hath appeared unto Simon." They indicate the feeling on the part of the disciples that there could be little or no question about the Resurrection of Jesus, if Simon's eyes, from which bitter tears of repentance had flowed, had seen in Him a risen Lord.
We must not leave the man here, for Christ did not. Calvary and Good Friday and Easter had come and gone. But not yet had Peter been restored. The awful hour of the thrice repeated denial was unforgotten by either Master or disciple. Jesus now proposed the only three steps by which restoration, from the distance covered by the three-fold denial, was possible. Again it was a fire of coals that flickered before the two unsteady disciples, as once before, in the courtyard, at the trial. The dinner was over, and Jesus, re-illuminating the dark paths which Simon Peter had trodden, on account of over-confidence in self, said to him, "Simon, son of Jonas" His Master would not let His disciple forget the earthly environment out of which He had sought to bring the rock man "lovest thou Me more than these?" Simon Peter's heart was touched. He comprehended his Lord's meaning at once. Jesus had used a word which we translate "lowest, " but which really means "honorest," or "esteem est." These differing words reveal the problem with which Jesus, the Master, had to deal, and His method of solving it. Simon Peter never lacked the love that feels, but he did lack the love that honors. The question of Jesus did not ask for the tender and ardent emotion of affection. It asked for the love which "loves with all the mind" as well as the heart. Jesus' phrase, "more than these," brought back the memory of the apostle's self-assertion and his willingness to compare his fidelity with that of others, before the denial of his Master. If he had possessed the kind of love which Jesus must rely upon, Simon would not have indulged in comparisons. Jesus does not ask for relative, but for absolute, love. Simon's old self sufficiency and its root were now clearly exposed by the true and tender Lord.
He bravely and honestly said, appealing now to his Lord's knowledge, rather than his own, "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee." All comparisons he had learned to forego. But the word which Peter used, which is translated "love" in our version, was not the word which Jesus used. "Simon Peter uses one that speaks of a more familiar and friendly affection, implying less depth of serious thought." (Milligan and Moulton.) Jesus heard the warm-hearted, sincere answer, and said to the disciple, "Provide My lambkins with food." His Lord had set Simon Peter to a task which He knew would turn his foolish pride into noble humility. He who had been weak ought to know how to succor and guide the weakest of the flock.
Jesus now repeated His question, putting emphasis again upon the fact that the heavenly sonship of Peter was still unsifted from the earthly sonship of Simon. The chaff, "son of Jonas," still clung to the fine grain, "Son of God" and Jesus used the words as at the first, "Simon, son of Jonas, honorest thou Me with thy love?" Jesus did not repeat the phrase of His first question, "more than these," for Simon Peter had not made any self-confident comparison between his own affection toward Jesus and that of others, in his reply to his Master. Humility had at length been victorious in the once self-sufficient apostle. The kindly omission of the words "more than these" was Jesus' acknowledgment of this fact. Simon Peter's reply to the second question of his Master was this, "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee."
Simon Peter had used the old word to which he had accustomed his lips in obedience to a great heart, when he said, "I love Thee." The answer of Jesus was, "Shepherd My sheep."
And now for a third time, Jesus asked the question, but here the Lord uses the identical word with which Simon had just expressed his affection. The first question was, "Honorest thou Me with thy love, more than these honor Me?" The second question was only, "Honorest thou Me with thy love?" The third question was, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?" Jesus saw that into his old love, with its hearty, impulsive, and clinging quality, another quality even thoughtfulness, seriousness, and principle had come. All of Simon was devoted now to Him. But Simon Peter was hurt and sad, and his heart was near to breaking, when he said out of the very depths of his affection, "Lord, Thou knowest everything; Thou seest that I love Thee." It was so. Just as he had denied Jesus Christ three times, so now he confessed Him three times. But more than the number of times was the process of confessing by which Simon Peter had risen from a Simon-like affection into a Peter-like affection. If we are to be restored, we must return over all the distance which we traveled in denying our Master. "Shepherd My sheep," said Jesus to the apostle whose lofty love was now fixed forever. It was not only emotion: it was honor. It was not only honor or esteem: it was affection. It had principle in it; it had warmth and glow also.
Other problems would come to Peter, growing out of ignorance or narrowness, but there could never be a question henceforward of his thorough-going love. With the private appearance which the risen Lord had made unto Simon Peter, this experience conspired to restore him and to burn into his soul the significance of his apostolic commission. He had been sifted. The chaff was gone. Jesus, however, would assure him of the severe trial which lay before him in the future, even his tragic death. He said, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands" a cross also waited for him "and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not." John distinctly tells us that "this He spake, signifying by what manner of death Peter should glorify God. And when He had spoken this, Jesus said unto him, Follow Me."
Jesus had reconstituted the apostle, in the old words spoken by the sea long ago, "Follow Me." The man, the son of Jonas, Simon, was now a son of God, Peter. The perfect Son of God, Jesus, had consummated His spiritual enterprise by brothering this great hearted and many sided man into the privileges and duties granted unto him by the Fatherhood of God. But Peter was even yet the man whose difficulty it was to go alone. When Jesus said to him, "Follow Me," Peter looked for John, who was following. But who could tell how far they would be companions? "Peter therefore seeing him, said to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou Me." Peter was sifted from Simon. We must anticipate, to see how completely it was done.
After Jesus is ascended, and at Pentecost, Peter's is the eloquence of a courage sifted of arrogance, the eloquence of an enthusiasm filled with the Holy Ghost. Hear his unquivering voice as he speaks out of the consciousness of power to the lame man at Solomon's porch, "Such as I have give I unto thee." Power is going forth out of him, and, turning to the multitude, he pours out that stream of truth, gleaming with a heavenly glory. There also is the sifted Simon before the Council, calm with strength, sufficiently controlled for irony; and he is steady with a determination to admit no other mastery than that of God. Before the deceit of Ananias and Sapphira, before mobs, before the purchasing ambition of Simon Magus, in prison and out of it, stands Peter pre-eminent, looking back upon his past self. O how often in some act he suggests all too plainly the chaff of which Christ had freed him. But soon he comes right again, and we find him still teaching us the lessons of this event:
"Nor deem the irrevocable past,
O blessed ministry of evil unto good! But no one save the Master can be trusted to manage it and guide it. Then alone is a man's weakness turned into power made an eternally helpful thing to his brethren in all ages. His fall and rising again makes the doctrine of divine forgiveness a vital energy in his words and works. Shall we not say that he is a more efficient helper? No; he is only a more approachable and sympathetic helper, because he has once failed and now made to succeed. He has known by experience the unforgetting, rescuing love of the Christ the grace of God. O what a reality it comes to be when a man has lost the chaff of himself and feels that he himself is freer to be and to grow. Pentecost rings yet with the eloquence of that once broken heart of Peter. Hope in Christ? What a certainty did it have to him! His first letter is called "the epistle of hope"; God has always been making hopefulness in this way. Jacob the supplanter had been made Israel —Prince of God; and now Peter was sifted out of Simon sifted out with an experience which made him a ceaseless strengthener of men.
Are you being sifted? Tried by your wealth; tried by your poverty; tried by joys, or tried by sorrows; are you believing that Satan alone is directing it? You are being sifted. I implore you accept it and stand up to God's purpose. There is a Peter in you, and God is over-ruling everything that he may be brought out. Devils and evil itself can only serve Christ's plan for you. They get only the chaff of you. Do not faithlessly resist the divine purposes. Do not throw aside the supreme possibility of attaining your nobler self by declining the sifting processes of life. Pray rather
"O for the man to arise in me
By God's help let us say, "Permit anything, Lord God, any trial, any sifting; only rescue me from my weakness, only bring forth the Peter out of the Simon, and then by my sorrows and my sifted power let me strengthen my brethren."