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After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias
The Sea of Tiberias
twelve full miles in length by nearly seven in breadth, formed by the widening of the river, and lying almost seven hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean; is a beautiful expanse of clear, shining water, transparent to considerable depths.
Viewed from different points and at different times, it is now a deep blue mirror among the mountains, now lustrous and glittering in the sunbeams like molten silver, now a sea of glass, as it were mingled with fire, now varying under every changeful gleam like an opal set in emeralds. In shape it is rather harp like--hence called “Chinnereth”--from the Hebrew word for “lyre” or “harp”--than oval. The beach is in parts pebbly--flint, jasper, chalcedony, and agate; in parts sandy, and of pearly whiteness, owing to the presence of innumerable flue shells; elsewhere it is covered with big, rough stones. The silent shore behind, stretching out here and there into small, irregular plains, is belted with a jungle of oleanders and other shrubs and bushes, and contains some rich corn-lands. On the eastern side the treeless hills, scarred with ravines, have a desolate and mournful look. Those on the west swell up pleasantly from the shore; and if they are not bold and romantic, neither are they tame. The snowy top of the Hermon range rises majestically in the distance like a mighty guardian of the northern frontier. Orange, citron, myrtle, and date-trees, are still to be found; and the wandering foot crushes fragrance from many a lonely herb. Birds of bright plumage frequent the shores, and over the waters of the lake many sea-fowl dip the wing. Visitors tell how, as night gives place to morning, the sudden note of a lark will ring out, silvery and joyous, as if from the very midst of the stars, waking a concert all along the shore and back to the hills. The sunrise and sunset tints, opal and purple, are wonderful; and so are the contrasts of light and deep shadow. “God,” said the Babbins, “loved that sea beyond all other seas.” All around there now broods (to use Gibbon’s phrase) “a mournful and solitary silence.” But in New Testament days the stir of busy life was everywhere. Villages nestled in the green valleys, were perched upon the heights, lay scattered along the shores; everywhere “great multitudes of people” might readily be gathered together. (J. Culross, D.D.)
west of the lake, nearly facing Gerasa, and about four miles south of Magdala. Antipas Herod was building a new city to outshine Julias, built by his brother Philip: which city he proposed to call Tiberias, and make the usual residence of his court. His plan was laid at the base of a steep hill, around the waters of a hot spring, among the ruins of a nameless town and the graves of a forgotten race. A great builder, like all the princes of his line, Antipas could now indulge his taste for temples, palaces, and public baths, conceived in a Roman spirit and executed on a Roman scale, while flattering that capricious master who might any day send him to die as his brother was dying in a distant land. The new city grew apace. A castle crowned the hill. High walls ran down from the heights into the sea. Streets and temples covered the low ground which lay between these walls. A gorgeous palace rose high above the rest of these public works: a palace for the prince and court, having a roof of gold, from which circumstance it came to be known as the golden house. A port was formed: a pier thrown out: a water-gate built: and a fleet of warships and pleasure boats placed on the sparkling wave. Towers protected, and gates adorned a city which Antipas dedicated to his master, inscribed on his coins, and made the capital of his province, the residence of his court. This city was waxing great and famous. When the first stones were being laid near the sea, St. John was a little child playing on the beach at Capernaum with his father’s nets; yet so swift was its growth, so wide its fame, that before he composed his Gospel, Tiberias had given its name to the waters on which it stood, like Geneva to Lake Leman, and Lucerne to that of the four cantons. When St. Matthew wrote his Gospel, the city was still young, and a Jew of Galilee might speak of Gennesareth: forty or fifty years later, a man who was born on its shores and had fished in its waters, spoke of the lake most familiarly by its Roman name. (Dixon’s “Holy Land.”)
The second miraculous draught of fishes
The differences between the two miracles are mainly three.
I. THAT NOW IN THE DISPENSATION OF THE ASCENSION, THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST WITH HIS PEOPLE IS TO BE KNOWN NOT BY THE SIGHT OF HIS VISIBLE PERSONALITY, BUT BY INFERENCE FROM THE EFFECTS PRODUCED BY HIS WORKINGS AMONG THEM. As He stood on the shore, they knew not that it was He, but when John felt the weight of the net with the fishes, he said,
“It is the Lord.” So we find that in the book of the Acts the author represents the things wrought by the apostles as a continuance of those which before His death Jesus began both to do and to teach (Acts 1:1). The apostles recognized that their miracles were wrought not by their own power or holiness (Acts 3:13), but by Him whom the Jews had crucified, but whom God had raised up. “Tried by the ordinary process of reasoning, the conclusion was precarious. But there is a logic of the soul which deals with questions of the higher life, and John trusted that he recognized the insight, the power, the love which belonged to one only. And when the truth found utterance, the others acknowledged it.” In the same way we are now to recognize the presence of the Lord Jesus with us. When our hearts burn within us as we study the sacred Scriptures; when our spirits are soothed, refreshed, inspired, and strengthened as we turn in prayer to God; when the words which we speak in His name are followed by results as astonishing to ourselves as they are to those who behold them,--then we too may say with John, “It is the Lord,” and rejoice in the assurance that He is in the midst of us indeed.
II. THAT THE ASCENDED CHRIST SENDS US ON NO UNSUCCESSFULL ERRAND WHEN HE BIDS US GO AND PREACH HIS GOSPEL TO ALL NATIONS. Bear witness Judson among the Karens, Moffat among the Hottentots, Lindley among the Zulus, Scudder among the men of Arcot, and Morrison and Burns, and many more, among the Chinese. No faithful worker who is obedient unto Christ and faithful to his calling, will go without his netful at the last. This word, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find,” stands for all time, and will surely be made good. The success of the missionary enterprise is no mere peradventure. It is as sure as promise and prophecy can make it. The power of the Saviour is not now a thing to be put to the test of experiment; it is a matter of experience.
III. THE REWARD OF THOSE WHO ARE OBEDIENT TO CHRIST, IN LABOURING FOR THE SALVATION OF MEN. Not only are they successful in that labour, which itself is a great joy, but Christ prepares for them a feast when their work is done. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The second miraculous draught of fishes
As St. John alone records the “beginning of miracles” in Cana, it is fitting his Gospel should close with this idyllic scene of more than human beauty. The open-air picture, the morning freshness, the naturalness of the incidents and characters, the simplicity of the narrative, stamp it with an incomparable grace.
I. THE MANNER OF HIS COMING. How like themselves are both these disciples. John is the first to perceive Jesus. The eagle-glance of faith is quick to see the Divine. With instinct of the loving heart, the bosom-friend is first to detect his Divine Friend’s presence. He imparts the calm, quiet recognition to his brother apostle. How precious this faculty to note and point out the Divine in life, though it may be others that act. John is the seer, the lover, the teacher; but Peter is the doer. It is Peter that plunges into the waves and gets first to Jesus’ feet. So it always had been between these two. John was the first to reach the sepulchre, Peter the first to enter it; John the first to believe that Christ is risen, Peter the first to greet the risen Christ. Thus ever have we these two classes--the men of faith, the men of action; the men of thoughtful wisdom, and the men of loving zeal. The Church’s eyes and the Church’s hands,--all helpful to one another and needful for the body. John says to Peter, “It is the Lord,” which Peter would not have perceived. Peter casts himself into the sea, which John could not have done. Well! the others get to the beach too in time, in such slow way as men in general do get in this world to its true shore, much impeded by that wonderful dragging the net with fishes. “None durst ask Him, Who art Thou? knowing that it was the Lord.” But why wish to ask Him? Where was the need? Plainly because the mere bodily sense cannot identify Him. His comings and goings, His interviews with them all through the forty days, are not according to the ordinary laws of body. Consequently it is upon the evidence, not so much of the senses, as of the mind and heart, that they know Him to be their risen Saviour. His words, His actions, and the love that shines through all, tell them it is Jesus, and no one is so faithless and blind as to say, Who art Thou that appearest thus in the guise of a stranger? And this is all significant. He is preparing them to live by faith in a world where Jesus shall no more be with them in the flesh.
II. THE MEANING OF THE MIRACLE. It is easy to see that the purpose is different from that, for example, which appeared in the raising of Lazarus. After His own resurrection there was no need of any mere act of power to convince the disciples of His Godhead. That would have been taking the less to prove the greater.
1. It proved in a very striking way that their own Jesus it was who rose from the dead. He addressed their memory and their faith: You may be sure I am your own Lord, when I do again exactly as I did before, on this very lake, the works none other man could do. To repeat the miracle of the Draught of Fishes was to prove His identity in the most convincing way. Some great tone-poet comes to you, and performs one of his masterpieces, and goes his way. The composition, let us suppose, has never been written out; no one could repeat it but the composer himself. Vainly would any pretender appear and say, “I am he,” for he would not produce the proof you would be sure to seek. You wait years, perhaps. A stranger comes. He says, I am your former friend; do you not recognize me? Time and travel have changed his countenance, the senses refuse to identify him in the usual way. “I will prove it,” he says, seats himself at the instrument, calls out the marvellous and well-remembered strains. No other could so thrill you but himself. Yes, you say, it is beyond a doubt. I know him by his work. This must be Jesus; no phantom in His likeness, no delusive appearance, but the same Christ of God, at whose command are all the treasures of nature and providence, and under whose feet are also the fish of the sea, for He is head over all things, to His body the Church.
2. It was not only a seal of their Lord’s resurrection, it was also a symbol of their future work. Henceforth He would stand upon the heavenly shore. Many a night, dark and dreary, they would have to toil profitless; but as oft as He should command, the net would be filled. At last they would draw it to land, the success of His kingdom would be complete and glorious beyond all expression. His faithful servants would share His triumphs, and inherit the fruit of their labours, enter into their rest followed by their works, and on the resurrection morning they would sit down to meat with Him in His everlasting kingdom. One is tempted to dwell on this attractive allegory a little longer, there are so many things suggested by the details of the charming story.
(1) Here are seven fishermen, well equipped, well acquainted with the waters they fish in, toiling all night, and nothing caught. The servants of the kingdom may be well furnished, well placed, well acquainted with their work outwardly, yet not thereby is their real success secured. It is the Lord’s presence and the Lord’s command that makes it sure. An activity based upon mere human impulse and sympathy--“I go a fishing, We also go with thee”--was fruitless. That which drew its inspiration from the word of Christ had immediate success.
(2) A conversation about non-success opens the way for better things; so the Lord oft begins the blessing with His Church and servants when He makes them feel and be concerned about the want of blessing.
(3) The blessing and the success come by casting the old net in a new way, in a new direction. It is the unchanging gospel that we are to preach; but in each age and time it needs new castings, fresh forms, and it is the ever living Spirit that will keep us right with His progressive indications. The meal on the shore, too, is suggestive of many things besides the final feast of heaven. It is, indeed, more strictly suggestive of “times of refreshing” upon earth, for it is early in the day, fitting for more labour. Where Jesus got the fish and bread and fire of coals we are not told, but there it was ready; and how like the gracious surprises He prepares for His faithful servants! Surprising success followed by surprising satisfaction and soul comfort. (J. Laidlaw, D. D.)
The second miraculous draught of fishes
I. THE APPEARANCE AT THE LAKE. (John 21:1-3).
1. The scene of operation: the Galilean Sea.
(1) Endeared by early associations. Many a time had the disciples plied their craft upon its waters (Matthew 4:18-22).
(2) Hollowed by sacred memories. Across that lake they had often sailed with their Master (chap. 6:16; Matthew 7:18-23). Here they had thrice witnessed the display of Christ’s power (Luke 5:1-11; Mt
8:26: 14:22, 23), and had heard Him preach to crowds on the shoreLuke 5:3; Matthew 13:2). Around it they had travelled with Him in His wanderings.
(3) Recommended by past experience. A water famed for multitude, variety, and excellence of its fish.
2. The company of fishermen.
(1) Their number. Seven: the perfect number, the symbol of completeness, and thus representative of the infant Church.
(2) Their names. Simon Peter, the man of rock, the symbol of energy and zeal. Thomas, the man of doubt, typical of prudence, Caution, timidity, reason. Nathanael, the guileless, emblematic of transparent sincerity, and sweet simplicity. The two sons of Zebedee, once sons of thunder, now men of love and self-sacrifice. Two other representatives of the great army of unknown, undistinguished, to be found in every age and country in the train of Christ. Together they shadow forth varieties of character and endowment in the Church.
3. The proposed expedition.
(1) Its proposer--Peter. The Church, no less than the world, needs men of action to lead the way, pioneers to open up new paths, persons of imagination and enthusiasm to devise and impress others with the practicability of what they suggest.
(2) Its accepters. Started by Peter, the notion was taken up by his companions. The mass of mankind in religion, as in politics, not only require to be led but are ready to follow. The capable man never wants instruments. He who can rule will find subjects.
(3) Its commencement. It began well. Everything augured hopefully. The reputation of the lake was high; the time the best possible for fishing; the company ardent and experienced. They lost no time, spared no pains, and were not soon disheartened. Whatever Christ’s people do they should act so to deserve if they cannot command success.
(4) Its result.
(a) Nothing at least as to appearance. They caught no fish.
(b) Something, yea, everything in one.
They met with Christ, found what they expected not, returned with what they had not gone to seek. So Christ defeats His people’s schemes that He may the better carry out His own, disappoints their hopes that He may give them immediate fruition, and leave them to themselves that they the more readily welcome and enjoy Himself when He comes.
II. THE MIRACULOUS DRAUGHT (verses 4-8).
1. The Stranger on the beach.
(1) The time of His appearing--morning; cf. the Angel of Jehovah (Gen 33:26); Christ in the days of His flesh (Matthew 14:25), and after His resurrection. So Christ still appears to His people in the morning, because it is morning in every soul when He appears.
(2) The circumstance of His non-recognition. They “knew not,” as Mary and the Emmaus travellers, and perhaps for similar reasons. Christ may now be beside His people when they are not aware.
(3) The unexpected question, cheerily put and with friendly solicitude, “Lads, have ye aught to eat?” i.e., Has your cast been successful? Put also not for information, but to arrest attention and excite expectation.
(4) The disappointed reply. They had failed, as three of them had once done before (Luke 5:5); they had spent their strength for nought Isaiah 49:4); as gospel fishers often seem to do (Galatians 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:5).
(5) The proferred counsel. The right side always the side Christ appoints. He who does not what Christ bids fishes on the wrong side.
(6) The prompt obedience. It is never wise to be above taking advice; much less when advice comes from Christ (Colossians 2:3).
(7) The marvellous success. The royal road to success in religion is obedience to Christ’s commands (Ephesians 3:20).
2. The recognition from the boat.
(1) By whom made. By the disciple in whose heart glowed a pure flame of love for Jesus. The heart rather than the intellect the organ of spiritual apprehension. John had been the first to perceive that Christ was risen (chap. 20:8). Now he is the first to recognize His Person.
(2) How expressed--“It is the Lord!” Concentrating in the exclamation love, joy, adoration, desire, a world of thought, an ocean of holy feeling, a heaven of spiritual aspiration.
(3) With what followed. Instantaneous recognition by Peter, and startling activity (cf. Matthew 14:28)
3. The landing of the net.
(1) The labour of it.
(2) The success of it.
(3) The wonder of it. Neither will the gospel net fail till it has landed all Christ’s people.
III. THE MYSTERIOUS BANQUET (verse 12-14).
1. The heavenly provision (verse 9). Emblematic of the reward Christ’s servants will enjoy at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).
2. The earthly contribution (verse 10). A large part of the future reward of Christ’s servants will consist in beholding the fruit of their labours (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
3. The royal invitation (verse 12). So will they be welcomed when they reach the heavenly land (Matthew 25:34).
4. The solemn distribution (verse 13). A picture of the higher entertainment Matthew 26:29), of which Christ gives the foretaste in the Lord’s Supper. Lessons:
1. The fruitlessness of labour even in the Church, apart from the presence and power of the glorified Redeemer (John 15:5).
2. The certain and abundant success of those who work in the way and along the lines suggested by Christ.
3. The blessed recompense awaiting faithful labourers in Christ’s service. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The appearance of Christ at the Sea of Tiberias
I. THE POVERTY OF THE FIRST DISCIPLES.
1. We find them working to supply their temporal wants at one of the humblest of callings. Silver and gold they had none, and therefore they were not ashamed to return to business.
2. This poverty goes far to prove the Divine origin of Christianity. These very men who found it necessary to work hard in order that they might eat, were the first founders of the Church, which has now overspread one-third of the globe. These were the unlearned and ignorant men who boldly confronted the subtle systems of ancient philosophy, and silenced it by the preaching of the cross. These were the men who, at Ephesus, and Athens, and Rome, emptied the heathen temples of their worshippers and turned them to a better faith.
II. THE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS OF DIFFERENT DISCIPLES OF CHRIST.
1. Once more we see Peter and John side by side and behaving in different ways. John was the first to perceive Christ, but Peter was the first to struggle to get to Him. John’s love was quickest to discern, but Peter’s impulse was quickest to stir.
2. Let us, then, not condemn others because they do not see or feel exactly as we do (1 Corinthians 12:4). God’s gifts are not bestowed precisely in the same measure. Some have more of one, and some more of another. Some have gifts which shine more in public, and others those which shine in private. Martha and Mary (Luke 10:39-40; John 11:20-28), were both loved by our Lord. The Church of Christ needs servants of all kinds, and instruments of every sort; penknives as well as swords, axes as well as hammers, chisels as well as saws. Let our ruling maxim be Eph
III. THE ABUNDANT EVIDENCE WHICH SCRIPTURE SUPPLIES OF OUR LORD’S RESURRECTION. Here, as in other places, we find an unanswerable proof that our Lord rose again with a real material body. That Peter was convinced and satisfied we know (Acts 10:41). (Bp. Ryle.)
The seven who saw the risen Lord
I. THEY WERE TOGETHER. How did they come to hold together, instead of seeking safety by flight, which would have been the natural thing after the death of their Leader? And yet here we find them where everybody knew them to be disciples of Jesus, holding together as if they had still a living and uniting bond. There is only one explanation, viz., that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. You cannot build a church on a dead Christ; and of all the proofs of the Resurrection there is none harder for an unbeliever to account for than the simple fact that Christ’s disciples held together after He was dead.
II. THE COMPOSITION OF THIS GROUP.
1. Of the five men who made the Primitive Church (chap. 1.), there are three who reappear here, viz., Peter, John, and Nathanael, and two unnamed men, who, I think, are “Philip and Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother,” both of them connected with Bethsaida, the place where probably this appearance of the risen Lord took place. So then the fair inference is that we have here the original nucleus again--the first five--with a couple more, “Thomas, who is called Didymus,” and the brother of John, one of the first pair.
2. There, along the beach, is the place where four of them were called from their nets three short years ago. On the other side is the green grass where the thousands were fed. Behind it is the steep slope down which the devil-possessed herd rushed. There, over the shoulder of the hill, is the road that leads up to Cana from which little village one of the group came.
3. Look at the list, having regard to the individual members that make it up.
(1) Foremost stand the two greatest sinners of the whole--Peter and Thomas--singularly contrasted, and yet alike in the fact that the Crucifixion had been too much for their faith. The one was impetuous, the other slow. The one was always ready to say more than he meant, the other always ready to do more than he said. The one was naturally despondent, the other never looking an inch beyond his nose, and always yielding himself up to the impulse of the moment. And yet both of them were united in this, that the one, from a sudden wave of cowardice, and the other, from giving way to his constitutional tendency, had both of them failed in their faith, the one turning out a denier and the other turning out a doubter. And yet here they are, foremost upon the list of those who saw the risen Christ. There are two lessons there. Let us learn
(a) With what open hearts and hands we should welcome a penitent when he comes back.
(b) Who they are to whom Christ deigns to manifest Himself--not immaculate monsters, but men that, having fallen, have learned humility and caution, and by penitence have risen to a securer standing, and have turned even their transgressions into steps in the ladder that lifts them to Christ. And the little group welcomed them, as it becomes us to welcome brethren who have fallen and who repent.
(2) Nathanael, a guileless “Israelite indeed,” so swift to believe that the only thing that Christ is recorded as having said to him is, “Because I said … thou believest? Thou shalt see greater things than these.” A promise of growing clearness of vision and fulness of manifestation was made to this man, who never appears anywhere else but in these two scenes, and so may stand to us as the type of that quiet, continuous growth, which is marked by faithful use of the present illumination, and is rewarded by a continual increase of the same. If the keynote to the two former lives is that sin confessed helps a man to climb, the keynote to this man’s is that they are still more blessed who, with no interruptions or denials by patient continuousness in well-doing, widen the horizon of their Christian vision and purge their eyesight for daily larger knowledge. There is no necessity that any man’s career should be broken by denials or doubts; we may “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.”
(3) The two sons of Zebedee--sons of thunder--who were eager, energetic, somewhat bigoted, not unwilling to invoke destructive vengeance, all for the love of Him; touched with ambition which led them to desire a place at His fight hand and His left. But by dwelling with Him one of them, at least, had become of all the group the likest his Master. And the old painters taught a deep truth when they made John’s almost a copy of the Master’s face. To him there was granted a place amongst this blessed company, and it is surely a trace of his own hand that his place should be so humble. Any other but himself would certainly have put James and John in their natural place beside Peter.
(4) “Two other of His disciples” not worth naming. Probably the missing two out of the five of the first chapter; but possibly only disciples in the wider sense. What does it matter? The lesson is that there is a place for commonplace, undistinguished people, whose names are not worth repeating in Christ’s Church, and we, too have a share in the manifestation of His love. We do not need to be brilliant, clever, influential, energetic, anything but quiet, waiting souls in order to have Christ showing Himself to us as we toil wearily through the darkness of the night.
III. THE PURPOSE OF THIS GROUP IS SIGNIFICANT. What did they thus get together for? “Simon Peter saith, I go a fishing. They say, We also go with thee.” So they are back again at their old trade, which they had not left for ever, as they once thought they had.
1. What sent them back? Not doubt or despair; because they had seen Jesus Christ up in Jerusalem, and had come down to Galilee at His command on purpose to meet Him. It is very like Peter that he should have been the one to suggest filling an hour of the waiting time with manual labour. John could have “sat still in the house,” like Mary, the heart all the busier because the hands lay quietly. But that was not Peter’s way, and John was ready to keep him company. Peter thought that the best thing they could do till Jesus chose to come, was to get back to their work, and he was sensible and right. The best attitude to be found in by Christ is doing our daily work, however secular and small it may be. A dirty, wet fishing-boat, all slimy with scales, was a strange place, but it was the right place, righter than if they had been wandering about amongst the fancied sanctities of the synagogues.
2. They went out to do their work; and to them was fulfilled the old saying, “I being in the way, the Lord met me.” Jesus Christ will come to you and me in the street if we carry the waiting heart there, and in the shop, and the kitchen. For all things are sacred when done with a hallowed heart, and He chooses to make Himself known to us amidst the dusty commonplaces of daily life. He said to them just before the Crucifixion, “When I sent you forth without purse or scrip, lacked ye anything?” And they said,
“Nothing.” And then He said as changing the conditions, “But now he that hath a purse or scrip, let him take it.” As long as He was with them they were absolved from these common tasks. Now that He had left them the obligation recurred. Keep at your work, and if it last all night, stick to it; and if there are no fish in the net, never mind; out with it again. And be sure that sooner or later you will see Him standing on the beach and hear His voice, and be blessed by His smile. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A night and a morning by the lake of Galilee
I. “SIMON PETER SAITH UNTO THEM, I GO A-FISHING” (John 21:3).
1. We are inclined to wonder at the smallness of this memorandum. The very same thing might have been said yesterday by many a simple trawler at Teignmouth, or any other fishing station, yet this has been made an organic part of the Book of books. The writer leaves out the momentous events that were stirring millions at that moment, and puts into it this! Some critics have thought the thing too trivial, but we believe that so small a thing could not have been set down unless it held some great significance.
2. Notice a remarkable slowness of spiritual apprehension. “I go,” says Peter. Well, whither? to “the mountain in Galilee” whither Christ commanded His disciples? “No, to the sea, of course.” Call to mind that when Jesus instituted the Supper, when every word should have been taken to heart with double distinctness, He said, “After I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.” The angel at the sepulchre said, “Go quickly, and tell His disciples … that He goeth before you into Galilee, as He said.” Then He followed up the angelic message with one to the women on the road; still they were slow to move, but still He had compassion on their infirmity, and appeared to them in Jerusalem on the two first days; then his manifestations ceased for a while. At length they came to Galilee, but only to their old station, and, as it appears, with no thought of seeing Jesus, otherwise all would have been on the spot at the earliest possible moment. But we only see seven, and Peter says, “I go!” not to the mountain, but to the sea.
3. The announcement seems to have been made in a fit of despondency. Christ had told Peter and his companions to give up fishing when they became His disciples, and they instantly left all and followed Him. Peter made emphatic reference to this when he said, “Lord, we have left all and followed Thee!” And Christ’s reply taken with the words of the disciple, seem to speak of the forsaken fishing-boat as the sign of a final and consummated act. We never hear of them working at their old craft for a living again. We picture the apostles as waiting at Jerusalem for another Divine visit, but this had not been granted. Then, solemnly and sadly, they came back to the familiar place, and there they waited. Every night Peter’s heart would say, “He will come to-morrow;” but to-morrow, and tomorrow came, and no Jesus. Then that heart cried out, in a burst of passionate sadness, “I give up, for He will not come any more.”
II. “THEY SAY UNTO HIM, WE ALSO GO WITH THEE.” Certain men seem to be naturally and unaccountably influential. When your spirits touch theirs, you feel a fascination that holds or moves you like a hand. Peter had this kind of electricity. We can imagine the exchange of such words as: “I go to the mountain.” “We go with thee.” “I give up.” “We give up.” “I go a fishing.” “We also go with thee.” Great leaders have a “going” power peculiar to themselves; but more or less, for good or evil, every man must be influential, and what he does others will do. We can imagine such interchange of language between a parent and his children: “I am going into the ways of the world.” “We also go with thee.” “I believe, and am going to cast in my lot with those who believe.” “We also go with thee.”
III. “THEY WENT FORTH, AND ENTERED INTO A SHIP IMMEDIATELY; AND THAT NIGHT THEY CAUGHT NOTHING.”
1. Here is one instance, out of many, of Christ not allowing His disciples to prosper while in a wrong course. It is an evil omen when Christians prosper while in a course of practical unbelief. This omen is not seen in lives that are to reach a high standard. In such cases love blights prosperity and tangles schemes.
2. On the other hand, sensitive consciences will need to be reminded that want of success is not in every instance from something wrong. A ship may be manned by good Christians, yet founder; a concern in which none are embarked but disciples may toil all night, and catch nothing. And so, faithful heart, losses will be gain to you. In the darkest hour of outward affliction there may be the dawn of a morning of rich discovery. “The Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.”
IV. “BUT WHEN THE MORNING WAS NOW COME, JESUS STOOD ON THE SHORE,” &c. Weary and dispirited they saw a shape that was dim in the mist; they “knew not that it was Jesus.” His voice pealed out, but it woke within them no answering echo of memory. It was like Him to come after them when they would not go after Him, and to call them His children after all! “Have ye any food?” He asked. Where-ever disciples toil the Lord looks on; if they suffer failure, let them know that the watchful eye sees, that the great heart feels. He has taught His children the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and therefore is not likely to let them starve. In answer to this inquiry they only said “No;” the short word of cross, aching, disappointed men. Then said He, “Cast the net on the right side,” &c. It was the advice of One who was slow to take offence, and whose precept usually implies a promise; of One whose infinite grandeur does not keep Him from interest in our commonest callings.
V. “THEY CAST, THEREFORE, AND NOW THEY WERE NOT ABLE TO DRAW IT FOR THE MULTITUDE OF FISHES.”
1. This startling wonder was to remind them that they had been consecrated “fishers of men.” The Divine Symbolist delighted to clothe the spiritual work of His servants in language borrowed from their worldly employments. Obviously, it suggests
(1) Downright hard work. The word “minister,” like the word “fisherman,” is not simply the name of an office or dignity, but of a toiler.
(2) “Diversity of operations.” It is a mediaeval notion that the only way of taking the fish is by the net, which is understood to be the one true Church; but when Christ appointed His followers to be fishers of men, He specified for their use no particular mode. A fisherman has to go through great varieties of experience; he may be out on a stormy sea, or he may have to creep, or hide, or watch in the leafy covert or reedy river. Some kinds of fish are to be taken by spear, some by line, some by net--hand-net, or draw-net, or basket-net. He must never angle for a whale, or harpoon a trout. “You must,” says Izaak Walton, “be the scholar of the fish before you can be his master.”
(3) And the work of the spiritual fisher is rather one of skill than of violence--he must draw, not drive.
(4) That our spiritual work must be done by ourselves, and not by proxy. When, for instance, a man is called to be a preacher, let him preach his own sermons--“Fish with your own hooks.”
2. The act may also have been in tended to cheer them, and all desponding workers, by foreshowing the final success of all work done for Christ. Regarding the two miracles as signs, the scene of fulfilment in the one case is earth, in the other, heaven. In the first miracle the “nets broke”; the fishers did not therefore take all the fish, and there was no attempt to count the number taken. In the second case no nets were broken, and when the toilers reached the land they brought their richly-laden nets with them. Soon shall we strike upon the eternal shore; then all who have laboured in the great cause shall rejoice in the sea-harvest of souls; then, for the first time in all history, will the statistics of the Church be complete and trustworthy--“one hundred and fifty and three.”
VI. “THEREFORE THAT DISCIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED SAITH UNTO PETER, IT IS THE LORD. It was owing to a mysteriousness of look, perhaps, that Jesus was not at once identified. The Greek verb used in the account of His first miracle is used also in this. In the first, it is said that He “manifested forth His glory”; in the second, “Jesus manifested Himself,” &c. Two things are taught by the use of this word
1. That the discovery was the act of Jesus, not that of His disciples; they did not of their own will see Him, hut He, by a distinct act of His will, showed Himself to them.
2. It was a spiritual manifestation, and He was seen not so much by the eyes of the body as by the eyes of the soul. John was the first seer. Even in human friendship, and not less in the Divine, love has the quickest ear, the sharpest eye, and the surest faculty of interpretation. Then there was a plunge. “Steady, Peter,” we cry, if no name had been given, we should have known that it could be no other.
IV. “JESUS SAITH UNTO THEE, BRING OF THE FISH WHICH YE HAVE NOW CAUGHT.” Soon as they had touched land there was a new wonder. “The beach had been bare a moment before, but now they saw a fire burning with a little fish on it, and bread at hand. They seem to pause, unable to obey; and so “Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes.” When these were counted, Jesus said, “Come and break your fast.” All knew Him now; but not a word could they speak, Formerly they would have asked many questions. Taking first the bread, and then the fish, He divided them just as He had done while He was yet with them. He who marshals in their sweep the grand army of the stars, and who holds in His hand this globe, stood there in human form waiting on these tired boatmen. (O ,Stanford, D. D.)
The risen Christ and His disciples
I. THE SELF-MANIFESTATION OF JESUS AFTER HIS RESURRECTION. We now come to a new term in the narrative: “He showed Himself,” or “He manifested Himself,” or “He was manifested to His disciples.” This shows that He was not seen except by an act of His own will, overcoming His natural invisibility. He can only manifest Himself to our hearts when we are ready for Him, and just so He could only appear to those who were ready for the sight. We must always remember that there were moral reasons for the manifestation of Jesus after His resurrection beyond the necessity of proving the fact of His victory over death. He rescued the apostles from despair and unbelief and recalled them to their tasks and to a holier intimacy with Him than was possible before He was crucified.
II. THE DISCOVERY OF JESUS BY HIS DISCIPLES. There are disciples in all ages of the Church who see the presence of Jesus by the intuition of love. And such was John. He saw without beholding. He knew, not so much by faith, as by the love that believeth all things and never faileth. And yet this John was not of a sluggish, indolent nature. We have known souls who were,, the first to detect, the presence of Jesus in the Church and to say “It is the Lord!” They feel, while others are asking for evidence. There are others, like Peter, marked by their obedience to faith. John said: “It is the Lord!” When Peter heard that it was the Lord, he hastened to find Him. It does not appear that Peter saw Him any more than John did. He believed the word of John, and moved forward at once to verify it. John could wait; not so Peter. No doubt it will be found that both these temperaments are essential to the progress of the kingdom of heaven and to the bringing of the people of God to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, who united perfectly the active and the contemplative elements of character. (Edward N. Packard.)
The risen Christ and His disciples
The last chapter of the Gospel of John is an appendix, and not a supplement. The story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection closed somewhat hurriedly with the preceding chapter. But now what about the future? What about the disciples’ work for the world? This chapter answers. The relation between the Gospel of John and this appendix is the same as that between Luke’s Gospel and his book of the Acts. The latter is the sequel of the former. Hence this twenty-first chapter is concerned about work, and about the disciples’ future until Jesus comes again.
I. JESUS GUIDES THE DISCIPLES IN THEIR WORK. The work was commonplace--fishing; the story is simple, but the feelings of the actors must have been profound. The feast at Jerusalem is over. The disciples have made the journey of a long week’s travel back to Galilee. It is not the Galilee of a few former months. There is no assembling of crowds for instruction, no miracles of mercy, no loved leader to keep the disciples in one body. Four are lacking on this fishing excursion. He has been seen alive after His passion, but not here in Galilee; it was away in Jerusalem. Galilee doubtless thinks that Jesus is no more. The atmosphere surrounding the eleven is oppressive; they are lonesome, idle, restless. The active spirit of Peter must find something to do. He proposes to go a-fishing, and six more of them accompany him. There is a minute particularity about the story. We are told who and how many composed the company, and how they came to “go a fishing.” They noted that Jesus “stood” on the shore. The distance of the ship from the land is given, &c. These details, whatever other value they may have, certainly show how the hearts of the seven fishermen were wrought upon. Impressions, feelings, move men. Thought is born of them, and the whole course of life may be changed by them. Whence came that fire of coals, and the fish laid thereon, and the bread? This very wonder must have intensified the whole scene for them. Intensity was necessary. From the feelings of this hour they were to find not only the course of their own life, but also the wisdom to direct the world’s. In the Transfiguration they saw His divinity; in the foot-washing they perceived His humility; and now, in this hour of fishing, they had set before them the lesson of their coming leadership of the world. Left to themselves, their labours were abortive, but under His direction many fish were taken. In a word, His guidance was necessary to future success. The work in hand was a parable of the glorious work which they were to do. These who were winning fish were to win men--an office as much greater as a man is better than a fish.
II. JESUS IS REVEALED TO THE DISCIPLES IN THEIR WORK. That net full of fishes was such a revelation of the Christ to them as they had not reached in the more wonderful miracles of feeding the multitude, casting out demons, or raising the dead; for in these He did His own work, but in the draught of fishes He helped the disciples in theirs. Though the power was still all His own, He became a fellow-helper with them. Henceforth He will work mightily through them and with them. This revelation was to serve the disciples in two ways. It was necessary to convince the world of the fact
1. That the “Christ should suffer and rise from the dead.” The Resurrection is the key-stone of the Christian religion. But what a stupendous tax on men’s minds, to lay it upon them to believe that One who died was now alive again, and alive for evermore! Yet to establish this fact in the world there must be indisputable testimony. The witnesses must be so qualified that they could go forth with “many infallible proofs,” so that they could say, “We did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead.”
2. Of His activity in the affairs of men. For Jesus’ death and resurrection do not take Him from His friends, but give Him to them. They needed this revelation of Him in work; for men are most of all sceptical on the point of the Lord’s active participation in their efforts and needs. One says, “If thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean;” another cries, “If Thou canst do anything;” but the true heart alone says, Thou wilt, Thou canst, Thou dost--so that the apostles afterward reported not what they had done, butwhat “God had done with them;” and Mark sums up their history with similar words, “The Lord working with them.” Christian faith is more than to believe historic Biblical facts. It believes God in Christ to be the one present, working Agent in the world to-day.
III. JESUS EATS WITH THE DISCIPLES AFTER THEIR WORK. This breakfast is every way beautiful. It seems to be Jesus’ aim in this whole morning’s scene--its climax; for as soon as they were come to land, they saw a fire glowing on the beach, and food in preparation. With this the disciples had had nothing to do. Still they have a share in providing the meal, for He says, “Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.” He graciously ascribes the capture to them. When all is ready He asks them to “come and dine.” The end of the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection is to bring God and man into family relationship. It was one who sat at this breakfast this morning who afterward wrote, “And truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” The breakfast was also a prophecy of the time when the saint and the Saviour shall meet together to rejoice in the fellowship of a completed work. Paul wrote to those whom he had won to the Lord, “What is our hope or joy or crown, of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ?” (History, Prophecy, and Gospel.)
The relation of Christ to the secular rife of His disciples
This narrative is purely secular, but is none the less religious.
I. CHRIST DOES NOT RELIEVE HIS DISCIPLES FROM THE NECESSITY OF SECULAR LABOUR. He does not exempt His disciples from the law “He that doth not work shall not eat.” Were He to do so it would be an injury rather than a blessing to physical health. Intellectual vigour and moral development depend upon it. Inaction when there is power of action is a crime, and since the Infinite Lawgiver is infinitely benevolent, what is contrary to His will must be injurious.
1. The individual himself is injured. Muscular inactivity enfeebles the body; mental inactivity the intellect; moral inactivity the soul. Look at those who “stand all the day idle.” They are your feeble mothers, delicate sisters, nervous fathers, lackadasical sons, simpering women and moody men.
2. The idle man injures others: he is a social thief, and should be punished like every other kind of thief.
II. CHRIST ALLOWS THE POSSIBILITY OF FAILURE IN THEIR SECULAR ENDEAVOURS. They “caught nothing.” A different result might have been expected: but the settled laws of nature pay no particular deference to piety, and exemption from failure would not always be a blessing. It would tend to nourish worldliness, self-sufficiency, and religious neglectfulness. Liability to failure is a spur to industry, and a motive for prayerful dependence on heaven. Let not therefore any unfortunate Christian tradesman conclude that Christ has deserted him; and let not society conclude that he is ungodly because he has failed. The disciples toiled all night and caught nothing.
III. CHRIST IS DEEPLY INTERESTED IN THEIR SECULAR CONCERNS.
1. His eyes are ever on them in their work, though they may be unconscious of Him (John 21:4). He knoweth the way you take.
2. He sometimes so signally interposes for their help or demonstrates His presence among them (John 21:6).
IV. CHRIST OFTEN MAKES THEIR SECULAR TRIALS THE MEANS OF A CLOSER FELLOWSHIP WITH HIMSELF (John 21:12). Here we have a display of
1. His merciful condescension.
(1) He prepared the food.
(2) He ate with them, and thus identified Himself with their physical necessities.
2. His remedial wisdom. His eating enlisted their social sympathies and heart-confidences. He who would follow Him in His saving mission must go and do likewise. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The reward of faith
John’s Gospel, which seems to come to a close with the end of the preceding chapter, is here re-opened. You can see John laying down his pen and rolling up his scroll, when he has put in the last sentence of the preceding chapter. But that Holy Spirit brought these things to his remembrance, and he eagerly unrolled his scroll and added them. It is thus not inaptly described as “a postscript to the Gospel.” And it is not over curious in us to ask why John should have put in this chapter.
1. It might be sufficient to say that these things were added because of their interest. That is the reason underlying our own postscripts. Indeed, with certain correspondents, it has become a bye-word that the P.S. is really the letter.
2. It might be said that John added these things to tell a good story of Peter. John loved Peter, and Peter’s character has never been any the worse for this chapter. You know some one like Peter. He is under a dark shadow to-day, and he deserves it. But you know something to his credit, and when all people are running him down, shame to you that you are not telling it.
3. But I rather think that John added these things because of their bearing upon his purpose in writing a Gospel, viz., to show the Divinity of that Man from Nazareth. Now, this stands or falls by His resurrection, which this chapter proves in its very first line. “After these things Jesus showed Himself again,” and again, and again. Here is proof upon proof of what can never be over-proved, that Jesus rose from the dead. Let us look at
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE DISCIPLES.
1. Certainly they were strange circumstances. About two or three years ago they had been called into fellowship with Christ, and with each other, and that had meant for them a time of perpetual excitement. The fellowship of Christ to-day may be a humdrum affair, but it was not so then. And I would say if you want an exciting life, don’t kick over the traces and go off as did the prodigal son--that is the flattest kind of life ever tried; but if you want a racy, bracing life, come and be a whole-hearted disciple of Jesus. For the last two or three weeks this excitement has been of the intensest kind. They had seen their Master betrayed, crucified, buried. But He had risen from the dead, and had said: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost. As
My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” Yet here they were away up in Galilee, as idle as a harrow in the frost.
2. This waiting for Jesus to come to them was doing them good, and Peter’s speech is the proof of it. We see them grouped together, and talking with one another about what they knew of Jesus and what they expected from Him. “Ah! He will be sure to come, and come soon.” Thus at times would they utter the wish of their hearts; but at others, with minds burdened with a great fear, they would ask: “But what if He should not come?” Under these circumstances I can imagine Peter suddenly assuming a brave and determined look, and saying, “Well, come He soon or late, or not at all, our families are here, and there is plain, honest, homely work to do.” Now that, I think, is a token that Simon Peter was improving, and that this time of waiting was a training, intended to strengthen faith. He is not now the blustering coward of the judgment-hall, whipping out his sword, and striking the wrong man in the wrong place. Peter could have done far better with an oar than a sword. But now Peter is sobered; our Lord’s prayer and hopes for him are to be realized after all. “Satan hath desired to have thee. Thou wouldst make a splendid devil’s servant. Thou wast born to lead men either from God or to God. I need men like you.” His faith has not failed. He strengthens his brethren, and they say unto him, “The thing is good. We also go with thee.” May God send back to His Church to-day a good score of Peters.
3. Now our Lord makes no mistake when He calls a man like this to Himself and to His service. God deliver the Church from the paralysing power of men “Who never say a foolish thing, and never do a wise one.” The Church to-day has far too many men ready to put breaks on her progress--cautious men--but far too few men of steam power, men to tell us what to do, and who go and do it.
II. THE MIRACLE IN RELATION TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES. The miracle has a lesson, one face of which looks towards our work-a-day life, while the other looks towards one’s spiritual work for Christ.
1. Let us deal with the worldly aspect. These men were taught very sharply that success in catching either fish or men must come from Christ. Christ told them: “You cannot get fish without Me, and you cannot go back to your secular life--you are spoiled for that.” Ah, dear backslider, you need to hear this! A man who is a fisher or a fishmonger may become an apostle, but an apostle can never return to his old worldly calling. You will either be exceedingly miserable until Christ forgives and restores you, or the name and doom of castaway shall be thine. But the night’s failure and the morning’s miracle surely taught them that Christ is Master in all departments of life, and must be looked to with a single eye for all success that is worth having. Remember that these men were born and bred to fishing. Have you ever tried to advise a fisherman? You had better not, for if you do you will very likely get an answer a great deal plainer than polite. Somehow Peter had grace and sense enough to check the word that was rising to his lips, and to do as he was told. And it was well that he did so, for soon the pull upon the back rope made John draw his breath and dart the look and the word into Peter. “This is the Lord.” So still does the Lord visit His people at their work. But we draw a hard and fast line, on one side of which we are Christian workers, and we are all for faith and prayer; but then, on the other side, we are tradesmen or their wives, and the world, the flesh, and the devil take it out of us right round the week. The Lord wrought this miracle in order to obliterate that dividing line, and to teach that all success worth having will come from Him. Then what a grand religion ours must be for working people! In these days, when the word “unemployed” is continually in our ears, and the dismal thing perpetually in front of us, what a splendid religion is that of Christ! What a difference it makes between the unemployed man who believes in Christ, and the unemployed man who has no such belief! The feet of both are in the gutter, but the head of one is in heaven. Both alike must go round seeking for work; but he who loves the Lord, before he starts on his weary journey, goes down upon his knees before Him at whose girdle hang the keys of shops and yards and offices, and prays: “Lord, Thou hast done the great thing for me; wilt Thou see me lack a covering and a crust?” and such a man cannot be unemployed--he is glorifying God, and verily he shall be fed.
2. The other face of this miracle looks toward that spiritual work in which, from the very fact of our being disciples of Christ, we must engage. Do not raise the plea that now I am speaking of ministers and those who are actually under some kind of ordination. Nay, if your fishing is not capable of being spiritualized from mere bread-winning and fish-catching into soul-saving, then it is the worst for you. If you cannot take Christ into your business, anal so serve Him there, that you should spread abroad such an influence of Christ’s grace and presence as shall serve as a bait to entangle in the meshes of a net those who come in contact with you, then wash your hands of it, and have done with it for ever. Only remember that in this fishing for men we must look to Christ for our orders, and serve Him implicitly. How many boats are plying on the dark waters of London, and yet how few fish are caught, how few souls saved! What is the reason? It cannot be that there are no fish; the waters are seething with what we profess to be seeking. Then why should the net come empty to the boat so often? Is not this the reason--that we believe in Christ in a sort of dumb way, but we are not looking at Him and we are not getting His orders? If any of us lack wisdom, let us ask of God, and it shall be given us. He that winneth souls is wise, but it is with a wisdom that cometh straight from above. (J. McNeil.)
Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing
I go a fishing
A sudden inspiration.
2. A prompt resolution.
3. A hopeful expedition.
4. A laborious occupation.
5. A fruitless speculation.
6. A happy termination. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Leaders and followers
I. LEADERS. In Church and State these, like Peter, should be men of
1. Prompt resolution.
2. Self-reliant action.
3. Cheery expectation.
4. Contagious inspiration.
II. FOLLOWERS. Like Peter’s companions, these should be
1. Unbroken in their ranks--“We.”
2. Hearty in their co-operation “also.”
3. Simultaneous in their movement--“Go.”
4. Unenvious in their dispositions--“With thee.” (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Night and nothing-morning and Jesus
I. A PERSONAL DETERMINATION--“I go.” The Church and the world need such men. Men with will and energy, who dare to strike out a course of action for themselves and face opposition. Where would the Church be today but for such men as Luther, and Knox, and Wesley? And where the world? We especially need such men now. We have got into the lazy, slovenly habit of waiting for one another. We see things that need to be done, but we wait until some one should take the lead. And so our Church life has little vitality and force.
II. THE FORCE OF EXAMPLE. “We also go with thee.” These men were not prepared for anything, they had no plans, but were just waiting for some one to “break the ice.” You have no idea how much good you would do if you would speak decidedly for Jesus; many would be prepared to listen, and to follow. Men are always influenced by truth, spoken with calmness and determination.
III. IMMEDIATE ACTION. “They went forth,” &c. They did not talk about going, and stand still after all. This again is a want. We meet with men who have plenty of directions to give, but they never act. “Ah!” says one, “there ought to be more teachers in that school.” Quite right; but do you teach? “What a pity there are not more tract distributors.” So it is; but are you one? Let us learn to act as well as speak.
IV. THE FISHERMEN’S FAILURE. We determine; we sometimes act upon the determination; and the result is simply--failure. “Night and nothing.” I have said, “I will preach from such a text; I will give my soul to it,” and then, what a failure it has been, and I have gone home and vowed I would never preach again. Has it not been so with you, teacher? Christian worker?
V. THE FISHERMEN’S SUCCESS. Throughout the darkness do we toil until the morning comes--and we see Jesus. Then success attends all we do, and our souls are filled with joy.
1. Jesus is often near to us when we little think it. We have only to stretch out our hand through the darkness, and we shall find Him.
2. We often see Him, but yet we do not know Him. Love only can recognize and realize the Lord.
VI. WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES ALL THIS DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FAILURE AND SUCCESS?
1. The presence of Jesus.
2. Listening to the voice of Jesus (John 21:5).
3. Obeying the command of Jesus (John 21:6). (A. F. Barfield.)
I. A combos EXPERIENCE. Not the first time this had happened in the history of three out of the seven (Luke 5:5). Nor were these the first or the last who have spent their strength for nought (Isaiah 49:4).
II. A SORE DISAPPOINTMENT. Considering
1. The high expectations with which men usually start on their enterprises; and--
2. The great labour they often expend on them.
III. AN EXCELLENT DISCIPLINE
1. Teaching personal humility.
2. Suggesting the need of heavenly assistance.
3. Preparing for ultimate success. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
Fishing an She Sea of Galilee
Nowadays there is very little navigation on the lake of Galilee,--we might almost say, scarcely a boat; but in the days of the Gospel narrative, and for many years later, there were craft of all sorts there, and many of considerable size. The fishing-boat of to-day, as seen on the Mediterranean, is a long, broad, and deep affair, usually pointed at each end, and large enough to carry a crew of from four to a dozen men, with their nets, and the fish they may capture. Usually these larger boats fish in the night, in companies of two or three, but sometimes a larger boat goes alone with a small boat; and sometimes a small boat accompanies two or more larger ones. The smaller ones are like a skiff, while the larger ones might pass for freight boats. As here, it is nothing uncommon for the fleet (if the two or three boats can be called so) to toil all night and take nothing. In the Mediterranean, on the Syrian and Palestinian coasts, there are few places Where there is a “beach” upon which the net can be drawn. The net encloses the fish, and then they are drawn in as if in a bag, or picked out of the net without hauling the latter into the boat. Rarely one sees a gill-net, such as our fishermen use in deep water. Accordingly, the small boat is not so much of a necessity there as it would be where the seine was drawn to land. (S. S. Times.)
Fish in the lake
The Sea of Galilee now, as in the days of our Saviour, is well stocked with various species of fish, some of excellent flavour. One species often appears in dense masses which blacken the surface of the water, the individual fish being packed so closely together that on one occasion a single shot from a revolver killed three. These shoals were most frequently seen near the shores of Gennesareth: perhaps not far from the place where the disciples let down their net into the sea, and enclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. (Recovery of Jerusalem.)
The place soon asserted its right to the name Bethsaida by the exceeding abundance of the fish we saw tumbling into the water. The hot springs flowing in here over these rocks, and a little farther on in larger volume over a clean brown sand, warm all the ambient shallows for a hundred feet from shore, and, as much vegetable matter is brought down by the springs, and probably also insects which have fallen in, all these dainties are half cooked when they enter the lake. Evidently the fish agree to dine on these hot joints, and therefore in a large semicircle they crowd the water by myraids round the warm river mouth. Their backs are above the surface, as they bask or tumble and jostle crowded in the water. They gambol and splash, and the calm sea, fringed by a reeking crowd of vapour, has beyond this belt of living fish, a long row of cormorants feeding on the half-boiled fish as the fish have fed on insects underdone. White gulls poise in flocks behind the grebes or cormorants, and beyond these again ducks bustle on the water or whirl in the air. The whole is a most curious scene, and probably it has been thus from day to day for many thousand years. I paddled along the curved line of fishes’ backs and flashing tails. Some leaped into the air, others struck my boat or paddle. Dense shoals moved in brigades as if by concert or command. (MacGregor’s Jordan.)
But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore
The risen Saviour on the shore
THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE RISEN SAVIOUR TO HIS PEOPLE. And we see at once that
1. That is the same as before. Jesus miraculously supplying their food, calling them to eat with Him--that is what He had been doing ever since they had known Him. Death had not altered what was essentially Himself. Our friends on the other side of death are the same as before! What a revelation to those who now think they are uncared for! Let them read what He was to His servants before He died, and remember that “tie is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”
2. It is continued with greater power. Jesus was “on the shore;” not in the boat, as in the former miracle. For Him the tossings of life were over, “I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to Thee.”
Wonderful power was His before; by miraculous energy, and wisdom, He cared for and protected them, but whatever He had then, He had more when “all power was given unto Him in heaven and on earth.” It was indeed much to have Him with them in the dripping, heaving boat, but it is more, whilst we are in the boat, to have Jesus for us on the shore.
3. In fulfilling this relationship the risen Saviour may be recognized by His people. It is possible to go through life ever seeing Jesus on the shore or knowing that He is invisibly there. But the opposite is possible. “The disciples knew not that it was Jesus.” Even when the meshes strained with the fishes enclosed at His bidding, only one of them was quick to detect the stranger. The state is to be watched against; it is great impoverishment. No doubt He adopts disguises still, coming to help us through human speech and effort, but to a heart trained to sympathy with Christ, the living Saviour is seen within the disguise. We cannot estimate the joy and strength which would fill our life, if in our cares and toils we had the assurance that He is near.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF THE RISEN SAVIOUR ON THE WORK OF HIS PEOPLE. We mostly think of other aspects of our Lord’s resurrection life. Its bearing, for instance, on the Atonement as proof of the Father’s acceptance of it, and of the consequent acquittal of those whom He represents; or its bearing on His mediatorial work, admitting Him to that state in which “He ever liveth to make intercession for us,” securing the permanency of the salvation He bestows. But there is another aspect. Life is much like that Sea of Galilee, sometimes dark and turbulent, sometimes bright with the quiet reflection of heaven; now rewarding us with success, and now mocking us with disappointment; the seven disciples were but symbols of each of us, we are all toilers on the sea, but in our case, as in theirs, Jesus is watching, guiding, helping the toilers. It remains to recognize this to be blessed.
1. His interest in our work is its sanctification. What does Christ upon the throne mean but that what transpires in our lives is His appointment? It may be arduous, common, unrecognized, but it comes within the rule that the Master gives to every man his work. So Christ, then, takes the deepest interest in the home cares of the mother, the lessons of the child, the toll of the bread-winner, the duties of the servant, the burdens of the sufferer. Whether our net be full or empty is nothing to the world, but it is much to Him.
2. His guidance of our work is essential to success. What is Christ King for but to guide us, so that there is nothing we ought to do but we may say, “Lord, show us how to do it!” But we do not unreservedly follow His guidance, nor believe that He understands our business better than we do, and that only He knows the road to success. What knows He about the right side of the ship? He is no fisherman, is He aware that we were born by this lake, and have fished its waters for twenty years, what can He teach us? But they cast, and “now they were not able to draw,” &c. Only that work will prosper which is guided by the risen Saviour from the shore.
3. His blessing on our work makes it a constant means of grace. That blessing is most manifest where anxiety comes in. If those disciples had filled their boat that night, they would not have known the Divine power of the Stranger on the beach, and might have passed Him by. We have tried to succeed, we say, but can only look for failure; then sudden success has come, and we could only exclaim, “It is the Lord!” We have much to do and bear, we say that we shall sink beneath it; but a secret power has upheld us (“for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken”), we have borne and done it all; then we could only say in wonder, “This must be one of Christ’s miracles; it is the Lord!” It is a great blessing when thus the tasks of life are an opportunity of discovering the nearness, the faithfulness, the tenderness of Christ.
III. THE COMMUNION OF THE RISEN SAVIOUR IN THE WEARINESS OF HIS PEOPLE. For He was not there merely to watch and help, but also to give them rest. “Come and dine.” Our weariness may be removed by the supply which He provides. Busy people, after a day when things have gone wrong and their spirit is vexed, feel like those disciples. But on the beach yonder--the beach of the quiet seclusion of their closet--Jesus is standing then,and He has a hidden fire and fish laid thereon and bread. (C. New.)
Jesus said unto them, Have ye any meat?
The tender love of the risen Christ
The question pertained to the wants of the body. Christ’s resurrection body was still in sympathy with theirs. The higher He rose the deeper and more perfect were His sympathies. He could hunger no more, be weary no more: yet this made Him more keenly alive to the privations of His brethren. He did not need to put the question: yet He wishes to speak to them as a human friend interested in their welfare. He awakens their confidence as a stranger, but soon drops the stranger’s dress. Blessed surprise! Such as that of Mary and the Emmaus travellers; as if He delighted in the surprises of love.
I. THE WATCHFULNESS OF THE RISEN CHRIST. He marks each sheep and lamb of His flock with more than a shepherd’s eye. The glory with which He is surrounded does not make Him unwatchful. Amidst His plenty He remembers the penury of His own. You never lacked a meal but Jesus asked this question to supply it. You never lacked a spiritual meal but He puts the same question for the same purpose. He watches the hunger of every congregation, and asks, “Children, have ye any meat?”
II. THE PITY OF THE RISEN CHRIST. “I have compassion on the multitudes,” He once said. Such was His pity after His resurrection; and we are sure that the throne has not lessened that pity. He pities His Church’s and each saint’s hunger and leanness. Let us learn this and imitate it.
III. THE BOUNTY OF THE RISEN CHRIST. His is no empty pity. He does not say merely, “Be ye warmed and filled”: He opens His treasure-house and supplies us. His stores are boundless. He delights to dispense them; nay, to provide channels for them, as in the case of the disciples when He filled their nets, kindled the fire, and prepared the meal. He fills the cruse and barrel of His widowed Church, and feeds us with the finest of the wheat. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find
Old instrumentalities, but new method, an emblem of Christ’s redemptive method
Christ commanded the disciples to cast the old net in a new way.
Thus He ever does in redeeming souls.
I. HE EMPLOYS OLD INSTRUMENTALITIES. There are many of them, but they are all old.
1. The same old natural facts. He employs the phenomena of nature to quicken, educate and elevate souls. We have nothing more of nature than the men of remotest generations.
2. The same old gospel principles. Biblical truths are His redemptive forces, but the youngest of them is eighteen hundred years old.
3. The same old mental faculties. In regenerating men Christ does not create a new intellect, memory, imagination. He brings out the new moral creature with the old mental idiosyncrasies.
II. HE EMPLOYS OLD INSTRUMENTALITIES IN A NEW WAY. He directs men
1. To a new method of studying natural facts. Thoughtfully, inductively, devoutly--regarding them all as mirrors of the Divine.
2. To a new method of dealing with gospel truths. Not desultorily, speculatively, controversially, but inductively, systematically and practically.
3. To a new method of employing mental faculties. Turning the mental powers away from time to eternity, from the creature to the Creator. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
It was quite natural that this miracle should carry their thoughts back to that draught when their nets brake--the type of those poor tentative trial missions which alone these men had been capable of when they knew Christ only after the flesh. This erie was a type of the works greater than His own which Christ promised. Note
I. THE ASSURANCE THAT THERE IS A DIRECTING VOICE AND A GUIDING HAND. The disciples did not yet know the voice, and we do not always discern it; for Christ speaks in many tones--by circumstance, character, influence. What a relief and comfort this is!
II. It is no play on the words to say that there is A RIGHT AND A WRONG SIDE OF THE SHIP FOR THE CASTING OF THE NET. When Christ says the right side we must not choose the left. There is an awkward, clumsy, inappropriate way of offering truth and love to men as well as a way that is suitable, winning--to use the figure here, adroit, dexterous, and therefore Christ’s way.
III. WHAT IS CAST MUST BE THE NET, THE GOSPEL NET.
1. A prophet speaks of those who sacrifice to their own net. We may have a net of our own, and take great pains with it in making and mending, and think highly of it as an instrument for catching, and even fancy that it has caught, because there is a thronging and pressing to hear, and because men praise the thing heard--and lo! there is what God calls nothing in the net.
2. The great elements of gospel revelation must find place in all teaching--sin, the Divine Saviour, the Holy indwelling Spirit, sanctification, &c.
these things, not rawly or roughly flung out, but tenderly and sweetly impressed, must never be thrown behind in comparison with topics of the day.
IV. YE SHALL FIND. He does not say, “All at once,” nor “all you would,” nor “so as to see it now;” but He puts no limit to our hope and prayer. Not one earnest sermon falls to the ground. Some conscience is quickened, some sorrow comforted, or some life guided. (Dean Vaughan.)
Fishing for souls
Many men there are who make fishing rods who never use them. To make fishing rods is one thing, and to catch fish is another. Many men can make good lines who never think of going out to fish. There are plenty of mechanics that stand by the stithy and make all sorts of hooks who never catch fish. Many of the men who make reels and baskets do not catch fish. The man who, having these things at his command, knows where the trout lie, and how to throw his line, and how to draw back when the fish rises to the hook, he after all is the fisherman. Now there are hundreds of men who, when they go into the pulpit, make rods and lines (very long lines), and hooks, and reels, and baskets. They take this or that doctrine and pound it out into a hook, bending it and kinking it just so, and stick it up on a paper, and label it, and that is the end of it. And this is called preaching! To know how to make rods and lines, &c., is called sound, regular, and approved preaching; but Christ says that is preaching which catches men. And, so far from teaching you that you have no right to introduce into the pulpit anything but the substance of doctrines, I affirm that the man who does not do it will never catch men. God’s sovereignty may, out of the literal foolishness of his preaching, catch some men; but the commission of Christ to every man that undertakes to preach is, “Follow Me, and I will make you a fisher of men.” The business of a preacher is to catch men--proud, wicked, worldly men: and to catch them out of temptations, out of snares, out of wealth, out of poverty: for men are in more pools, ten thousand times than fishes are And that man who knows all kinds, and what sort of bait each loves, and how to coax him, and how to catch him, knows how to preach; but the man who does not know these things though he knows everything else--lacks a knowledge of the very thing he was sent to do. (H. W. Beecher.)
The two draughts of fishes
(Text, and Luke 5:4):--The whole life of Christ was a sermon. The miracles attest His mission; but a higher reason for them is to be found in the instruction which they convey. Some ministers have often preached from the same text, but never the same discourse. The like may be said of Christ. The two miracles seem to the casual observer to be alike; but though the text is the same in both, the discourse is full of variations. Note--I. THE POINTS OF UNIFORMITY. They are both intended to set forth the way in which Christ’s kingdom shall increase; viz., that
1. The means must be used. In the first case, the fish did not leap into Simon’s boat, nor in the second, did they lay themselves down upon the coals. No, the fishermen must go out in their boat, cast the net, and then either drag it ashore, or fill the boats with its contents. It is a miracle, but human agency is not ignored. In saving souls God works by means. So long as the economy of grace shall stand, God will by the foolishness of preaching save them that believe. God works by means of men whom He specially calls to His work, and not as a rule without them. The outcry against the “one man ministry” comes not of God, but of proud self-conceit. The new ways of catching fish without nets, and saving souls without ministers, will never answer. I know not a church that has despised instrumentality but it has come to an end within a few years either by schism or decay.
2. Means of themselves are utterly unavailing. In both cases there was failure--why? They were no raw hands; they had toiled, and toiled all night. There was no deficiency of fish, for as soon as the Master comes there they are by shoals. What, then, is the reason? Because there is no power in the means apart from the presence of Christ. Without Christ we can do nothing. “Not by might,” &c. Put no dependence upon societies, committees, ministries, &c. Let us work as if all depended upon us; but let us depend upon God, knowing that it rests with Him alone.
3. It is Christ’s presence that confers success. It was His will that drew the fish to the net as He sat in Peter’s boat. It was His presence on the dry land that drew the fish to the right side of the ship. Christ’s presence in the midst of the Church is the Church’s power.
4. The success developed human weakness. In the first instance the net breaks and the ship began to sink, and Peter says, “Depart,” &c. The very abundance of God’s mercy made him feel his own nothingness. In the last case, they were scarcely able to draw the net because of the multitude of fishes. If the Lord gives us success in winning souls we shall soon find out what nothings we are. Little increases such as have been common in our churches for years, are quite consistent with great self-congratulation, and so is utter barrenness; mark the pompous carriage of many a fruitless preacher. The man humbles himself in the dust when hundreds are ingathered, for this cannot be the minister; this is the finger of God.
II. THE DISSIMILARITY. The first picture represents the Church of God as we see it; the second as it really is. Luke tells us what the crowd see; John, what Christ showed to His disciples alone.
1. There is a difference in the orders given. In the first, it is, “Launch out into the deep,” &c. In the second, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship.” The first is Christ’s order to every minister; the second is the secret work of His spirit in the Word. The first shows us that the ministry is to fish everywhere. The preacher is not to single out any particular character. Those who preach only to the elect should remember this. What if we be in town, or city, or village? what if we be among the rich or poor, learned or illiterate? we have nothing to do with that--our duty is to “launch out into the deep, and let down the net.” Christ will find the fish. The secret truth is, that when we are doing this, the Lord knows how to guide us, so that we cast the net on the right side of the ship. That is the invisible work of the Spirit, whereby He so adapts our ministry that He makes it particular and special.
2. In the first instance there is a distinct plurality. The fishermen have nets and boats, and each man comes out distinctly. In the next, they are all in one boat, and unitedly drag one net. This is the visible and the invisible.
(1) To us the means are various. We are in one boat but there is another over yonder, and whenever our boat gets too full, we should beckon to our partners in the other ship to come and help us. We ought not to look upon those brethren who differ from us, as though they were emptying the sea and rivalling us. The plurality of agency involved in denominations is a great blessing. We stir one another up, and do far more good then if there were only one nominal church. There will always be a Paul and a Barnabas, who cannot get on together.
(2) But let us look to the inward. In John they are all on one boat fishing together, dragging one net. This is what is really the fact. We do not see it, but all God’s ministers are dragging one net, and all God’s Church is in one ship. It is no use striving after outward uniformity. Neither the texture of the human mind nor the will of God require it, It is the unity of the Spirit in Christ Jesus, in love that God would have us regard.
3. In the first case a great multitude of fish were caught. In the second “a hundred and fifty and three.” It were impossible to reckon how many have been taken in the outward net of the visible Church. But it is possible for it to be known of God how many shall be brought at last, and how many now are in the invisible Church. They shall be in heaven a number that no man can number, for God’s elect are not few; but “the Lord knoweth them that are His.”
4. The fish that were taken the first time appear to have been of all sorts. The net was broken, and therefore doubtless some of them got out again; there were some So little that they were not worth eating, and doubtless were thrown away: “They shall gather the good into vessels and throw the bad away.” In the second ease the net was full of great fishes; they were all great fishes, all good and worth the keeping. The first gives us the outward and visible effect of the ministry. We gather into Christ’s Church a great number, and there will always be some that are not good, and not really called of God. Sometimes we have Church-meetings in which we have to throw the bad away. Let no man be surprised if the tares grow up with the wheat--if there be wolves in sheep’s clothing--it always will be so. There was a Judas among the twelve. Not so in the invisible Church. In that there is none to throw away. No; the Lord who brought them into the net brought the right sort in.
5. In the first case, in the visible Church the net breaks. No doubt it is a bad thing for nets to break; but you need not wonder at it. It is the necessary consequence of our being what we are. Instead of having some one denomination, we have twenty or thirty? I do not grieve over it. For until you get a set of perfect men, you never will have anything but these divisions. But the net does not break in reality, for the invisible Church is one. Take care of the fish and leave the net alone, but still maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of perfectness.
6. In the first case, you see human weakness; there is the boat ready to sink, the net broken, the men all out of heart, begging the Master to go away. In the other ease, they are made strong, dragging the fish to shore. So in the visible Church you will often have to mourn over human weakness: but in the invisible Church God will make His servants just strong enough to drag their fish to shore.
7. In the first case, in the visible Church they launched out into the deep. In the second case, they were not far from the shore. So today our preaching seems to us to be going out into the great stormy deep after fish. We appear to have a long way to reach before we shall bring these precious souls to land. But in the sight of God we are not far from shore; and when a soul is saved, it is not far from heaven. To us there are years of temptation, and trial, and conflict; but to God, it is finished.
8. In the first case, the disciples had to forsake all and follow Christ. In the second, they sat down to feast with Him at the banquet which He had spread. So in the visible Church we have to bear trial and self-denial for Christ, but the eye of faith perceives that we shall soon sit down and feast in the kingdom of God.
III. THE LESSON WHICH THE TWO NARRATIVES IN COMMON SEEM TO TEACH. In the first case, Christ was in the ship. Christ is in His Church, though she launch out into the deep. In the second case, Christ was on the shore. Christ is in heaven. But whether He be in the Church, or in heaven, all our night’s toiling shall, by His presence, have a rich reward. This is the lesson. Mother, will you learn it? You have been toiling long for your children. It has been night with you as yet. Your night’s toiling shall have an end; you shall at last cast the net on the right side of the ship. Sunday-school teacher, minister, church, the night is far spent, and the Master shall soon appear; and His advent shall bring success. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said unto Peter, It is the Lord
Variety in unity
LOVE RECOGNIZING JESUS. John was distinguished for his clear and far-reaching vision. Peter was the embodiment of zeal, John of love.
1. Love can recognize where mere earnestness fails. You did not hear anything as you sat in your friend’s house, and you were rather surprised when she broke off her sentence with “Excuse me” and hurriedly left the room--the fact was the mother had heard the cry of her child. You would have been earnest enough in doing good to the little one; but only the mother’s ear could hear its voice. And so in the case before us: let Peter but get half an idea that Jesus is standing on the shore, and nothing will keep him in the boat; but Peter, with all his earnestness, would perhaps have never said, “It is the Lord.”
2. Love communicates good. John could not keep the good tidings to himself. Whether in temporal or spiritual blessings, love invites others to share.
II. IMPETUOSITY AND ZEAL ENDEAVOURING TO HOLD COMMUNION WITH JESUS.
1. Consistency of character. The same Peter who once before walked upon the sea--who said, “Though all men forsake Thee yet will not I”--who ran into the sepulchre, and compelled John to follow, casts himself into the sea to go to Jesus.
2. Naturalness. Had any one else but Peter attempted this, it would have appeared awkward and ungraceful; had he refrained from rushing off to Jesus we should have felt that it was not like Peter. We believe in individuality. It would be better for the Church and the world if men would be themselves.
III. THE WISDOM OF CAREFULNESS. The other disciples took care of the fishes and came to land by the boat, and they were right; for
1. They were preserving what Jesus had given them.
2. They were showing that they appreciated His blessings.
IV. VARIETY IN UNITY. That little ship contained the infant Church, yet in that Church you find various types of character. There is the loving John, the go-ahead Peter, and the quiet, careful people who take care of the necessaries of life. And so in the Church. We need men who can stand upon the watch tower and point to Christ; we need others full of fire; and the plodding men who never do anything out of the way, but nevertheless do a great deal of necessary work. Thus
1. God distributes His gifts in various ways and infinite variety.
2. We should beware of jealousy.
3. We ought not to judge each other. As Matthew Henry says, “Some are useful as the Church’s eyes, some as the Church’s hands, and others as the Church’s feet; but all are for the good of the body.” (A. F. Barfield.)
It is the Lord
It seems very strange that these disciples had not, at an earlier period, discovered Christ, inasmuch as it was so manifestly a repetition of that former event by which they had become “fishers of men.” We are apt to suppose that when once again they embarked on the lake it must have been with many a thought of Him. Yonder--perhaps we fancy them thinking--is where we saw Him coming out of the mountains, when He walked on the water; yonder is where He made them all sit down whilst we bore the bread to them: there is the very spot where we were mending our nets when He came up to us and called us to Himself--and now it is all over. “We trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel.” But there does not seem to have been any such sentimental remembrance. John takes pains to show them as plain, rough men, busy about their night’s work, and thinking a great deal more of their want of success, than about old associations. Then through the darkness He comes, and speaks as once before, and repeats the old miracle, and their eyes are all holden excepting the eyes of him who loved, and he first says, “It is the Lord.”
I. THEY ONLY SEE ARIGHT WHO SEE CHRIST IN EVERYTHING.
1. No man will understand the world aright, who cannot say about all creation, “It is the Lord.”
(1) If we would pierce to the deepest foundations of all Being, we cannot stop until we get down to the living power of Christ, by whom all things were made, and whose will is the sustaining principle which keeps it from decay.
(2) What did Christ work His miracles for? Not solely as proof of His Messiahship, but that for once He would unveil to us the true Author of all things, and the true Foundation of all being. Christ’s miracles interrupted the order of the world in so far as they struck out the intervening means by which the creative and sustaining word of God acts in nature. We are then to take all these signs and wonders as a revelation of the real state of things, and to see in them tokens that into every corner of the universe His loving hand reaches, and His sustaining power goes forth. Into what province of nature did He not go? He claimed to be the Lord of life by the side of the boy’s bier at the gate of Nain, &c. He asserted for Himself authority over all the powers and functions of our bodily life, when He gave eyes to the blind, &c. He showed that He was Lord over the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea, &c. And He asserted His dominion over inanimate nature when the fig-tree withered, and the winds and waves sunk into silence. He let us get a glimpse into the dark regions of His rule over the unseen, when “with authority He commanded the unclean spirits, and they came out.”
(3) All these things He did, in order that we, walking in this fair world, should be delivered from the temptation of thinking that it is separated from or independent of Him. Let “It is the Lord” be on our lips, and nature will then be indeed to us the open secret which “The Lord will show to them that fear Him.”
2. The same conviction is the only one to explain or make tolerable the circumstances of our earthly condition. Either our life is the subject of a mere chaotic chance; or else it is put into the mill of an iron destiny, which goes grinding on, regardless of what it grinds up; or else, there is the will which is love, and the love which is Christ! I understand not how a man can front the future knowing all his vulnerable points and all the ways by which disaster may come down upon him, and retain his sanity, except he believes that all is ruled, not merely by a God who may be as unsympathizing as He is omnipotent, but by His elder Brother, the Son of God. But the riddle of Providence is solved, and the discipline of Providence is being accomplished, when we have grasped this conviction--All events do serve me, for all circumstances come from His will andpleasure, which is love; and everywhere where I go--be it in the darkness of disaster or in the sunshine of prosperity--I shall see standing before me that familiar and beloved shape, and shall be able to say, “It is the Lord.” That is the faith to live by, and to die by; and without it life is a mockery and a misery.
3. This same conviction should guide us in all our thoughts about the history and destinies of mankind and of Christ’s Church. The Incarnation and the Crucifixion are the pivot round which all the events of the ages revolve. “They that went before and they that came after,” when He entered into the holy city were a symbol of history. All the generations that went before Him, though they knew it not, were preparing His way; and all the generations that come after, though they know it not, are swelling His triumph. The tangled web of human history is only then intelligible when that is taken as its clue, “From Him are all things, and to Him are all things,” and when all is finished, it will be found that all things have tended to His glory who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
4. Such a conviction living and working in our hearts would change for us the whole aspect of life. See Christ in everything, and be blessed; or miss Him, and be miserable. It is a waste, weary world, unless it be filled with signs of His presence. If you want your days to be true, happy, manly, and Godlike, it will only be when they all have flowing through them this conviction, “It is the Lord.”
II. ONLY THEY WHO LOVE SEE CHRIST. John, the apostle of love knew Him first.
1. In religious matters, love is the foundation of knowledge. There is no way of knowing a person except love. A man cannot argue his way into knowing Christ. Man’s natural capacity within its own limits is strong and good; but in the region of acquaintance with God and Christ, the wisdom of this world is foolishness. “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.”
2. Love will trace Him everywhere, as dear friends detect each other in little marks which are meaningless to others. Love’s quick eye pierces through disguises impenetrable to a colder scrutiny. Love has in it a longing for His presence which makes us eager and quick to mark the slightest sign that He is near, as the footstep of some dear one is heard by the sharp ear of affection long before any sound breaks the silence to those around. Love leads to likeness to the Lord, and that likeness makes the clearer vision of the Lord possible. “It is the Lord” is written large and plain on all things, but like the great letters on a map, they are so obvious and fill so wide a space, that they are not seen. They who love Him know Him, and they who know Him love Him.
3. And is it not a blessed thing that this glorious prerogative does not depend on what belongs to few men only, but on what may belong to all?
4. But we cannot love by commandment. The only way is to see the lovely. The disciple who loved Jesus was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Generalize that, and it teaches us that
III. THEY LOVE WHO KNOW THAT CHRIST LOVES THEM. Our love can never be anything else than the echo to His voice of tenderness, than the reflected light upon our hearts of the full glory of His affection. “We love Him, because He first loved us.” The fountain that rises in my heart can only spring up heavenward, because the water of it flowed down into my heart from the higher level. Oh, then, look to Christ, that you may love Him! Think of that Saviour who has died for us, and lives for us! Do not ask yourselves, to begin with, the question, Do I love Him or do I not? If a man is cold, let him go to the fire and warm himself. If he is dark let him stand in the sunshine, and he will be light. If his heart is all clogged with sin and selfishness, let him get under the influence of the love of Christ, and look away from himself and his own feelings, towards that Saviour whose love shed abroad is the sole means of kindling ours. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Now when Simon Peter heard that … he girt his fisher’s coat unto him
for the Lord is indicated by the careful observation, even in such a moment of excited feeling, of the petty proprieties of clothing. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)
And did cast himself into the sea
I. REGARDLESS OF PERSONAL COMFORT.
II. ABANDONING HUMAN COMPANIONSHIPS.
III. DESPISING TEMPORAL GAIN.
IV. EAGERLY SEEKING JESUS. (S. S. Times.)
As soon as they were come to land they saw a fire of coals there.
The two fires--a contrast
(Text, and John 18:18)
I. THE FIRE IN THE PALACE COURT.
1. A scene of sorrow--the Saviour’s trial.
2. A place of temptation--in the company of Christ’s enemies.
3. A witness of sin--the denials of Peter.
II. THE FIRE UPON THE SEA-SHORE.
1. A scene of glory--the presence of the risen Lord.
2. A place of safety--the society of Jesus and His friends.
3. A witness of grace--Peter’s restoration. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The fire on the shore
1. You cannot fail to be impressed with the sense as of something strange and unearthly. You feel that, like Moses in Horeb, you must put off the shoes from your feet, ere you approach this mysterious fire.
(1) One explanation of the fire and repast, of course, is that they were provided to supply the bodily wants of the disciples.
(2) Another makes the whole transaction refer especially to St. Peter. The thrice-repeated question reminded him of his three-fold denial; the miraculous draught called to mind his office from which he fell; and the fire of coals would recall that other fire by which he denied his Master.
2. But these explanations do not meet the whole of the facts. We have, then, to seek one which shall satisfy all parts of the narrative: and this is to be found in the progress of the Gospel, and the connection between the Old and New Dispensations.
I. THE FISH. In one parable the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a net, which “gathered of every kind;” so that we have Christ’s authority for considering that the miraculous draught represented the bringing of multitudes into the Church through the instrumentality of the preachers of the gospel. It is observable also that Simon Peter is said to have drawn the net to land: there may have been a reference here to the fact that Peter was entrusted with the opening the Church to the Gentiles. For there can be no doubt that there was a special reference to the combining of all nations in the visible Church. The number of fishes is to be carefully noted. It appears that one hundred and fifty and three was exactly the number of varieties of fish then known, so that we may most justly conclude that the number was an indication that persons of all nations and conditions should enter into the Church. And then the remark as to the net not being broken must be considered as prophetic of the capacity of the Christian Church; unlike the Jewish, which was not constructed for enlargement and extension.
II. THE FIRE OF COALS AND THE PREPARED REPAST.
1. You are to observe that the Jewish and the Christian Dispensations are not so truly distinct economies, as component parts of one great plan. There have never been two ways in which sinners might be saved. In the New Testament, indeed, we have the clearer exposition of the great scheme of mercy; but there is no difference whatsoever in the doctrine propounded. This great truth is figuratively taught here. There was already a fire kindled, and on the fire there were fish already laid; and when the newly-caught fish were placed on the same fire, was it not shown that the Church, before and after the coming of Christ, was virtually but one and the same? that its members had to be brought to the same altar, and to be purified by the same flame? I know not why we should not think that that strange fire, mysteriously kindled on the lonely shore, was typical of the propitiatory work of the Redeemer, through whom alone the men of any age can be presented as a sacrifice acceptable unto God. There is no altar but the one Mediator, and no fire but that of His oblation, which will answer for those who seek to consecrate themselves, a whole burnt offering to God. And what could be a more lively parable of this fact than that, when standing on the margin of the sea, the separating line between time and eternity, Christ caused an altar to rise, mysterious as Himself, and crowned it with burning coals, which had not been kindled by any earthly flame; and then placed on it representatives of the one visible Church as it had subsisted before His incarnation, and as it was to subsist till He should come to judgment? It seems to have been a lesson peculiarly needed by the apostles, that they were not to consider themselves as going forth on a new mission, of which no notices had been previously issued. Accordingly Christ had forcibly reminded them that “One soweth, and another reapeth.” And now He repeats something of the same lesson.
2. But, further, the Evangelist is careful in noting that our Lord took bread as well as fish and gave to His disciples. Now, Christ had fed a great multitude with a few loaves and fishes, typifying how the truth of His religion should suffice for the spiritual sustenance of the world. The disciples would naturally be reminded of this miracle here, and that the food which Christ delivered to them as spiritual pastors would be an abundant provision for all men. In conclusion, we would show you into how beautiful an allegory some of the facts may be wrought, when a broader view is taken, one which shall more distinctly comprehend ourselves.
1. It is an appropriate simile which likens life to a voyage which has variety of terminations--sometimes in calm, sometimes in storm; the vessel, in one case, casting anchor in placid waters, so that the Spirit has but to step gently ashore; in another, suffering shipwreck, so that there is fearful strife and peril in escaping from the waves, Of all it will have to be said, as of those with St. Paul, some by swimming, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship--“it came to pass that they escaped all safe to land.”
2. Let it satisfy us that whatever the mode in which the soul of the righteous is dismissed--whether that mode be imagined in Peter’s casting himself into the sea and struggling to the land, or whether it be represented in the quieter approachings of the boat with the other disciples--the soul will find preparation for its reception: Christ stands upon the shore, expecting His faithful servants; and of all of them it will have to be said, “As soon as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.” This may well shadow out that, to the faithful in Christ, the moment of being detached from the body is the moment of being admitted into happiness. “As soon as they were come to land”--no delay, no interval--all that was needed was found ready; the fire kindled, and the banquet spread.
3. Yet who doubts that the righteous will not only find the material of happiness prepared, but that they will carry with them additions to that material, and make heaven all the richer? It is “the communion of saints;” and whilst each saint shall draw cause of rapture from those who have gone before, they also shall draw cause of rapture from Him. Ah, then, how beautifully apposite the direction, “Bring of the fish which ye have now caught!” The marriage-supper of the Lamb shall be furnished from the contributions of every generation. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord,”’ &c. They “rest from their labours,” in that, as soon as they come to land, they see a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread: “their works do follow them,” in that they are then bidden to bring of the fish which they have caught. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Materials for the banquet
Mineral coal is still a thing of uncommon use or knowledge in the East, except on the steamers. But charcoal is the “coal”; it is made and used everywhere, and is sold by weight. Upon the coals the “bread” or “loaf” is baked, either on a pan or piece of metal; or directly on (or under) the coals themselves, protected by a layer of ashes. The variety of modes of baking, and of bread, which one sees at an Oriental camp-fire, are many. The picture here is doubtless that of both bread and fish cooking at the fire; not of baked bread waiting for the fish to be done. The “loaf” was, or is, a flat cake. (S. S. Times.)
Bring of the fish which ye have now caught
Christ requires human co-operation
Jesus had no need of the disciples’ help in providing fish for His breakfast or for theirs; but He asked their help just as if He did need it. If they had refused to bring the fish, He would have been no loser; but the loss would have been theirs. So it is always in every sphere of Christian activity. Jesus never needs help; but Jesus constantly calls for help. The gain through responding to that call, or the loss through refusing, is to the disciple, not to the Master. Jesus can get on without your money or your services in the Sunday-school, in the church, in the community about you, or in the missionary field; but you cannot get on as you might if you refuse your help in any one of these fields. Jesus asks for a share of all the fish you catch, of all the crops you gather, of all the money you get, of all the time and strength you have. If you refuse to render it to Him, the loss is yours. How great that loss may be only eternity can disclose. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land
Pulling in the net
If you are always mending and setting the net, you won’t catch many fish. Whoever heard of a man going out to fish, and setting his net, and then letting it stop there, and never pulling it in. Why, everybody would laugh at the man’s folly. There was a minister in Manchester who came to me one day and said, “I wish you would tell me why we ministers don t succeed better than we do. So I took up the idea of pulling in the net, and I said, “You ought to pull in your nets. There are a great many in Manchester who can preach much better than I can, but then I pull in the net. A great many people have objections to inquiry-meetings;” and when I had pointed out the importance of them, the minister said, “I never did pull in the net, but I will try next Sunday morning.” He did so, and eight persons, anxious inquirers, went into his study. The next Sunday he came down to see me, and said he had never had such a Sunday in his life. The next time he drew the net there were forty, and when he came to see me at the Opera House, the other day, he said, “Moody, I have had eight hundred conversions this last year. It is a great mistake I did not begin earlier to pull in the net.” So, my friends, if you want to catch men, just pull in the net. If you only catch one it will be something. It may be a little child, but I have known a little child convert a whole family. Why, you don’t know what’s in that little dull-headed boy in the inquiry-room, he may become a Martin Luther--a reformer that shall make the world tremble. (D. L. Moody.)
Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine
John 1:39):--Here is
I. NEARNESS familiar and domestic. While we are sinners faith brings us into a justified state by simply looking to Christ; but after believing faith then assists us to enjoy Christ. Some expect to enjoy Christ first and believe Him afterwards; but you must take God’s mercies in their order. You will not find “Come and dine” in the first chapter of John--there it is, “Come and see.” Believe Jesus first, and you shall feed on Him afterwards. “Come and see” gives peace, but “Come and dine” gives heaven, for it gives Christ.
II. UNION WITH JESUS, because the only meat that we can eat when we dine with Christ is Himself. We do not provide the supper. Christ found the fish, the fire, and the bread, and then said, “Come and dine.” The fire that warms our heart when we have fellowship with Him comes from Himself, and the fish that we eat is His own, and the wine that we drink flows from His own heart. Oh, what union is this!
III. FELLOWSHIP WITH THE SAINTS. You are not to eat your morsel alone, but in company. We sit down in heaven with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and no small part of the hereafter bliss is connected with the fellowship of the saints. So here we enjoy the company as well as the feast. The Supper of the Lord is the table of communion, not only with the Master, but also with all who love Him. Hungry men are sure to be quarrelsome, but if you would have sweetest fellowship with each other, live on Christ. We do not expect to see all Christians agreeing, but we are sure that one of the most likely plans for cultivating a brotherly spirit is to listen to Christ’s words, “Come and dine.”
IV. THE SOURCE OF STRENGTH FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN. To look at Christ is to live, but for strength to serve Him you must come and dine. We need as much food for the soul as for the body, and unless we eat we shall be fainting by the way. If you want to be as Mr. Feeblemind, take only a small modicum of spiritual food in your closets; neglect family prayer; never attend a prayer-meeting; on no account speak about religious matters during the week; go late to the house of God, and fall asleep when you get there; as soon as you leave the place of worship talk about the weather. All your strength depends upon union with Christ. Away from Him you must wither as a branch severed from the vine. Feeding on Him you will be like the branch which is drinking up the sap from the parent stem; you will be strong enough to bring forth fruit.
V. GROWTH AND PROGRESS IN SPIRITUAL THINGS. To see Christ is to begin the Christian’s life, but to grow in grace we must “come and dine.” The early history of the first disciples is by no means satisfactory. They were evidently only babes in spiritual things. They had seen Jesus, and loved Him, and followed Him, but they were far from possessing the Spirit of Christ. Now after they had reached this stage of living on Christ they became new men. It is no longer mere sight, but an inward appropriation, and the consequences are manifest. Many Christians remain stunted and dwarfed. They exist but do not grow. The reason is evident, they are not taking of Christ, and they neglect to appropriate to themselves the blessing which He is waiting to bestow.
VI. PREPARATION FOR SERVICE. Before the feast is concluded, Christ says to Peter, “Feed My lambs;” “Feed My sheep;” “Follow Me.” All the strength supplied by Christ is for service. Some Christians are for living on Christ, but are not so anxious to live for Christ. Heaven is the place where saints feast most and work most. Now, earth should be a preparation for heaven; come and dine, and then go and labour. Freely ye receive, freely give; gather up all the fragments of your feast, and carry the loaves and fishes to others, as did the disciples. We are not to hold the precious grains of truth like a mummy does the wheat, for ages, without giving it a chance of growing. No, feed yourself, and then go forth and bid others come and eat and drink. Why does the Lord send down the rain upon the thirsty earth, and give the sunshine and the genial refreshing breeze? (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The dinner on the Galilean shore an emblem of redemption
I. THE TIME WAS OPPORTUNE. The disciples had tried all their resources for means of a livelihood that night and had failed. They were no doubt tired, hungry, and dejected. The dinner came just at the right time. It is just so with the redemptive system. After the world had tried everything for its salvation--poetry, philosophy, religion, civilization--and grew worse, Christ came “in the fulness of time.”
II. THE PROVISIONS WERE DESIRABLE. The fish they caught they had been toiling all night to obtain. They were craving for such food. The provisions of the gospel are both suited to man’s needs and urgently required. They are
5. Perfecting. Isaiah 25:6 we have a description of the great Spiritual banquet.How rich, varied, abundant the viands!
III. THE HOST WAS CONDESCENDING. What a sight!--the Son of God preparing a feast for poor fishermen, and dining with them. Thus He has done in redemption. He descended into the “lowest parts of the earth,” unto the lowest grades; “made Himself of no reputation.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
A feast with Jesus
1. Our Lord is careful of bodily wants. Twice in the days of His flesh He fed the people with bread and fish, and now He has risen He still thinks of the hungering bodies of the disciples. This may be a warrant to the churches to feed, not to try and proselytize.
2. If any of you are needy catch at this. He who said to the seven, “Come and break your fast,” will not forget you. I cannot tell how the fire was lighted, &c., but some way or other you will be fed.
3. If Jesus is thus careful of bodily wants, much more will He be careful of your souls. After He had supplied the one He proceeds to Supply the other.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF A FEAST WITH JESUS. It was important to these men
1. For they were wet and cold; so a fire was provided where they could dry their jerseys and warm their hands. They were hungry too, and here is the old food, light and easy of digestion. Christ does not like to see us wet, and cold, and hungry, because it is not good for us. If, therefore, you feel uncomfortable and unhappy Jesus does not want you to be so. Many a battle has been lost because the soldiers were not in good condition.
2. They were weary with the night’s fruitless toil; and when Christ’s modern workers feel discouraged He invites them to come and break their fast with Him.
3. They were likely to forget their bodily wants in their sudden success. It is hungry work now to live on catching and counting. Successful workers are prone to forget their own spiritual wants.
4. Christ was about to overhaul them. It is needful that Christ should feed us before He searches us.
5. They were about to receive a commission. Christ does not send people to feed His sheep and lambs without feeding them first.
6. They were about to enter on a perilous path. Wonder not that you are called to endure fiery trials, but see that you are first fed on heavenly bread.
II. JESUS ACTING AS HOST. IS not this wonderful? Jesus communing with Thomas, who doubted Him, and Peter, who denied Him. Notice Jesus our Host
1. Preparing the feast. It was an act of creative power. Your soul can ever feed on what Christ creates, but on nothing else.
2. Waiting on the feasters. Sometimes a host will say, “Help yourselves,” but we cannot help ourselves; so “Jesus cometh and taketh bread and giveth them.” There is good spiritual food in the Word, but sometimes we cannot get at it; so Jesus puts it into our hearts.
3. Showing Himself. Giving them food was the most effective manner of doing this. When the Word nourishes most, then is the time of the clearest vision of Christ; and that vision is the most satisfying thing on earth or in heaven.
III. THE PROVISIONS.
1. What He had mysteriously prepared. Feed now on the mysteries of
(1) Everlasting love.
(2) The covenant of grace.
(3) The brotherhood of Christ.
(4) Atoning efficacy.
2. What He had graciously given. God’s mercies are like the hundred and fifty and three--an odd number, but very exact. Has not your net, too, been full of answers to prayer?
IV. HOW THE GUESTS BEHAVED THEMSELVES.
1. They only spoke one word--“No;” which betrayed the emptiness and hunger of their souls. You may say to your Lord, “I am a negative, nobody and nowhere without Thee.” The devotion which shows itself by bawling may be genuine, but it is very superficial. Deep waters are still. It takes a wise man to hold his tongue.
2. They asked Christ no questions. People who have no religion are fond of religious questions. But when you get near Christ there is no questioning. We believe in the Bible because we know the Author, and are therefore not troubled with sceptical doubts. They were lost in wonder at His amazing condescension, and His majestic presence. What could they do but hold their tongues? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Communion with Christ
This chapter has a sacramental character, and the words, “Come and dine,” are a summons to communion. Note
I. THE ENTERTAINMENT.
1. There is already fish prepared when Jesus says, “Bring of the fish now caught.” Host and guest must each contribute. “If any man will hear My voice and open the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with Me,” i.e., I with him as his Guest, and he with Me as Mine. It is so here. Communion implies reciprocity. When Christ meets His people at the holy feast He is there as the Host who furnishes the fire and the fish, the bread and the wine, the supplies of grace and of the Spirit. But He is also the Guest. We partake of Him, but He looks to partake of us, though we know that He can find nothing that can give Him pleasure till He puts it there. This fish which we must bring He guided into the net. Christ having first given the grace comes to receive of it. He is spiritually present to receive as well as communicate that highest joy which is the interchange of conscious feeling and trusted love, to partake of us as we of Him.
2. If this be the case can we come thoughtlessly, with defiled hands, or with self-righteousness to offer ourselves for Christ’s participation? Nay, but let us come with what He craves, the love on receiving which here or anywhere He sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied.
II. THE FEELING. “None durst ask Him.” Why should they if they knew? The saying expresses that almost new converse with which the disciples after the Resurrection regarded their Lord. One there had previously presumed to question, “Be it far from Thee, Lord.” It was not so now. Think with what instinctive awe we should regard a similar manifestation of Christ now. Questioning would have been impertinent. They must wait for Him to speak now. It would also have been mistrusting. Well enough did they know it was the Lord, notwithstanding the changes which the three days had wrought. There is a familiarity in words, hymns, meditations, in these times which befits not our intercourse with the Risen. Let the feeling which reigns around the Lord’s table be one of reverence. This is not dread, distance, bondage, but adoring love.
III. THE CONVERSATION. Some have found it difficult to maintain a spirit of prolonged communion at the Lord’s table; but let them learn from this to commune about
1. Their sins. Who can doubt that Peter’s three denials were uppermost in his heart? Yet you will note that there was no remorse for an irrevocable past, and no excuses for inexcusable guilt. Be guided by this in your communion, and this one topic will provide enough for an hour’s profitable discourse.
2. Their work. This communion brought reinstatement for Peter in his apostolate, and a particular designation to his future employment. Converse, then, about thy work, its past deficiencies, and thy need of present and future strength to do it.
3. Their future. Peter’s was here revealed, and if thine is not in such particularity, yet the words, “Follow Me,” will hearten thee to meet it, whatever it may be.
4. Their friends, “What shall this man do?” (Dean Vaughan.)
So when they had dined, Jesus saith … Simon son of Judas, lovest thou Me more than these?
I. THE LORD’S QUESTION.
1. The question itself.
(1) The feeling inquired about. Other feelings there are which often move the soul; but love surpasses them all. Every one knows what is meant by love.
(2) The object of the love to which the question relates. The question is not, dost thou love at all? Perhaps there never was a heart so hard as to be entirely a stranger to it. The question is, among the various objects thy love embraces, is that object to be found whose claim is paramount? We say not that unrenewed persons do not love at all; but they love other objects in place of Christ. But the new birth carries up the dear emotion to the object that best deserves it.
(3) The degree of this love to Christ. The question may mean, either, “Lovest thou Me more than these men? or more than these things,” and calls upon us to say, not that we love the Lord, but how much we love Him. Does it prevail over the love we feel for inferior objects?
2. The circumstance that Christ puts the question. It is often put by Christ’s friends and ministers; but it comes with deeper meaning and greater power from Christ. It implies
(1) That Christ considers He has a claim to the love of His people. What are the grounds of this claim? We ought to love Him
(a) For what He is. What saith the law? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart,” &c., “and thy neighbour as thyself.” God and man, as Christ is, in one Person, both tables of the law command Him to be loved
(b) For what He has done: long ago as God the Son in the council of peace, and in human history as the Man Christ Jesus.
(2) That He sets a value on His people s love. When another asks you, “Lovest thou Christ?” you cannot gather from it that Christ Himself cares whether you love Him or not. But Christ’s own inquiry shows that the matter is not indifferent to Him. Despise His people’s level He reckons it a portion of His reward. And, when He sees its fruits, He sees of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied.
(3) That He is concerned for the prosperity of His people’s souls. The love of Christ is inseparably connected with the love of God.
(4) Let us advert to some of the occasions when Christ puts the question.
(a) The occasion of showing His own love. Such was the present. He was fresh from Calvary. “Lovest thou Me? See how I have loved thee!” Such is the occasion when a sinner is converted. Then, for the first time, a sense of Christ’s love breaks in.
(b) When He gives His people special work to do.
(c) In the day of temptation, and suffering for His sake. Trials bring our love to the proof.
3. The circumstance that Christ repeats it. The gospel ministry puts it from week to week. Why? Because
(1) Love to Christ is of vital importance.
(2) There is a spurious love to Christ, a feeling of sentimentalism, which is called, by some, love to Christ. There are some, too, who love a Christ of their own, who, they fancy, takes away the sting from sin. As if that were possible, or that God’s holy Son would do it if He could!
II. THE DISCIPLE’S ANSWER. We cannot say that believers are always able to reply as Peter did. There are times when they think that they do not love the Lord. And there are times when the utmost length they can go is, “Lord, I can scarcely tell if I love Thee or not.” Yet there are times when they can use Peter’s language. Secret seasons of enlargement, when the Lord unveils His face to them, and they see the King in His beauty. Words are good, but not essential; and there is an answer in the heart which the Lord can interpret right well.
1. Who does not know that true love can proclaim its existence through the eyes when the tongue says nothing? The soul has eyes as well as the body. And, when God’s people are meditating on Christ, what are they doing but feasting the eyes of their souls, and involuntarily declaring their love to Him?
2. There are acts of memory also, which are the consequences of love. In the long absence of loved ones how fondly do we call to mind what they said to us, and cherish the particulars of the interviews we had together! And how natural is it to prize the messages they send us! Thus works the love of believers towards Christ. They take pleasure in remembering past fellowship.
3. The way, too, in which Christ’s approaches are received is a declaration of love. It makes their heart leap when tidings that He is near is brought to them, and when the sound of His footsteps is heard.
III. THE LORD’S COMMAND.
1. Its nature. Christ has a flock, of which He is the owner; for it was given to Him of the Father, and He bought it with His blood. He is its Shepherd; for it was committed to His care, and He accepted the charge of it. This flock He commends to the good offices of all that love Him. Private disciple though you be, you may help to feed Christ’s flock. Though you cannot dispense the bread of life by public ministrations, you may dispense it by private intercourse, prayers, and contributions.
2. Some important principles which it involves.
(1) That love needs an exercise as well as am object. The first thing is to fix it on Christ. That being done, “Now,” says the Lord, “thy love must not be idle. If thou lovest Me, go work for Me. Only thus can thy love continue and increase.”
(2) That love prepares us for the service of Christ. It is a motive inciting to that which is well-pleasing to Him, the doing of His will.
(3) That love must extend to His people. “Feed My lambs--feed My sheep.”
(4) That love ought to show itself to the world. The feeding of Christ’s lambs and sheep implies publicity. It is, therefore, a confession of Christ before men. Thereby we tell the world that we love Him, and prove that we are not ashamed of His cause. (A. Gray.)
The grand inquiry
The question is
I. REASONABLE. Because we ought to love Him, and the affection is just. Contemplate
1. His Person. He is altogether lovely: comprising in Himself all the graces of time and of eternity; all the attractions of humanity and of Deity. Bring forward all the excellences the world ever saw; add as many more as the imagination can supply: all this aggregate is no more to Him than a ray of light to the sun, or a drop of water to the ocean.
2. His doings.
(1) Look backward, and consider what He has done.
(2) Look upward, and consider what He is doing.
(3) Look forward, and consider what He will do.
3. His sufferings. To enable Him to be our best friend, He submitted to a scene of humiliation and anguish, such as no tongue can express, or imagination conceive. Never was there sorrow--and, therefore, never was there love--like thine! But we must observe, not only what He suffers for us, but what He suffers from us, and suffers in us. “For we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” He that toucheth us toucheth the apple of His eye. “O, for this love, let rocks and hills,” &c
II. IMPORTANT, because we must love Him: and the affection is not only just but necessary
1. To our sanctification. Love is a transforming principle. By constant residence in the mind, the image stamps and leaves its own resemblance.
2. To give us delight in all our religious services. It is the nature of love to render difficult things easy, and bitter ones sweet. What was it that turned the seven years of hard bondage that Jacob served for Rachel into so many pleasant days? What is it that more than reconciles that mother to numberless nameless anxieties and privations in rearing her baby charge? But there is no love like that which a redeemed sinner bears to his Redeemer; and, therefore, no pleasure can equal that which he enjoys in pleasing Him.
3. To render our duties acceptable. The Lord looketh to the heart; and when this is given up to Him, He values the motive, though we err in the circumstances.
4. To ascertain our interest in the Saviour’s regards. His followers are not described by their knowledge, their gifts, their creed, their profession; but by their cordial adherence to Him., His love produces ours; but our love evinces His--“I love them that love Me.”
III. SUPPOSES DOUBT. Is there nothing in you to render this love suspicious
1. To the world? You are not only to be Christians, but to appear such. Have you risen up for Him against the evildoers, and never denied His name, nor concealed His truth?
2. To the Church? There are many of whom, as the apostle says, “We stand in doubt.” But your ministers and fellow-members are entitled to satisfaction concerning, if not the degree, the reality of your religion.
3. To yourselves. “Tis a point I long to know,” &c. If I loved Him--could I ever read without pleasure the Book that unveils His glories--could I ever fear to die--could I feel so impatient under those afflictions that make me a partaker of the fellowship of His sufferings?
4. To the Saviour. There is a sense in which this is impossible. We are all transparency before Him. But we are to distinguish the question of right from the question of fact. With regard to right, He may, and He often does, complain in His Word, as if He was disappointed and surprised at the conduct of His professing people. Estimating our proficiency by our advantages, ought He not to have found in us what He has yet sought for in vain.
IV. ADMITS OF SOLUTION It is not only possible, but comparatively easy, to know whether we love another. And here it will be in vain for you to allege that the ease before us is a peculiar one, because the object is invisible. For many of us never saw Howard, but who does not feel veneration at the mention of his name? How, then, will this love show itself?
1. By our thoughts. These naturally follow the object of our regard, and it is with difficulty we can draw them off. David could say, “I love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” And what was the consequence? “How precious are Thy thoughts unto me, O God!”
2. By our speech. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
3. By desire after intimacy. Separation is a grief. Distance is a torture. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks,” &c.
4. By devotedness to the service and glory of its Master. Nothing can authenticate the existence of this principle in our hearts, detached from this regard to His will. “He that hath My commandments,” &c. (W. Jay.)
The supreme question
A lad named Hoopoo, a South Sea Islander, was sent to America to be trained, that he might be useful in the Mission. One day he was in a large company, and was asked many questions about his birthplace. The lad spoke wisely, but some of his sayings made a gentleman laugh. “I am a poor heathen boy,” said Hoopoo; “it is not strange that my blunders in English should amuse you, but soon there will be a larger meeting than this, and if we should then be asked, ‘Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ?’ I think I shall be able to say, ‘Yes.’ What will you say, sir?” The gentleman felt the force of the words, and found no rest till he also could say, “Yes” (J. L. Nye.)
Lovest thou Me?
St. Peter’s first answer was easy and light-hearted; it came only from the surface of his mind; it was little better than “Of course I love Thee.” But Christ’s close and penetrating way of putting the question a second time overawed the disciple, and brought an answer from much deeper down. The third time, Jesus sent the question like a sword down to the bottom of the soul, where it drew blood, and the answer was a groan of pain out of the depths. He puts the question to us thrice, because there are three storeys in our nature; the uppermost is feeling, the middle one is intellect, and the basement is will; Jesus opens the door of each, and asks, “Lowest thou Me?”
I. FEELING. This is the most superficial of the three; and here He first puts the question. Our feelings have had many objects. We cannot remember when we began to love some of those whom we hold dear. Other passions we remember distinctly the genesis of. Now, among the objects we have loved is Christ one? the principal one? Has our love to Him formed one of the colours which can be distinctly traced in the pattern of the past? Has it a history, and is it a distinct part of our history?
II. INTELLECT. A man who has been wise and fortunate in marriage will say, “I loved you at first, because my fancy was taken with you, and there was a blaze of feeling. But now, besides that, my calm judgment approves my choice; the experience of many years has made me only the more satisfied with it.” Happy the man who can say this and the woman who hears it! Do we love Christ with such love? Perhaps our religious life began with excitement and ecstasy. This is past: but every day we are more and more convinced that in choosing Christ we choose wisely; we have a hundred times more reason for loving Him than we had then.
III. WILL. The will is the part of our nature out of which resolutions and actions come, and on this specially wishes to have a hold. Love’s real trial comes when it is called upon to endure and to sacrifice. No man knows how strong his own love to any one is till it has gone past the stage at which it is a delightful feeling, and the stage at which it is sensible of deriving advantages from its object, and has arrived at the stage when it has to give everything, bearing burdens, practising self-denials for the sake of the person it loves. Cowper’s lines to Mary Unwin are a perfect example of such love. Have we a love to Christ which makes us slay besetting sins because He wills it, devise liberal things for His cause, confess Him fearlessly before men, and rejoice to suffer for His sake? (J. Stalker, M. A.)
Lovest thou Me?
1. The inquiry is not concerning his love to the kingdom or the people of God, but to the Son of God. It deals with a personal attachment to a personal Christ.
2. Our Saviour questioned Peter in plain set terms. There was no beating about the bush. As the physician feels his patient’s pulse to judge his heart, so Jesus tested at once the pulse of Peter’s soul.
3. This question was asked three times, as if to show that it is of the first, of the second, and of the third importance; as if it comprised all else. This nail was meant to be well fastened, for it is smitten on the head with blow after blow.
4. Jesus Himself asked the question, and He asked it until He grieved Peter. Had he not made his Master’s heart bleed, and was it not fit that he should feel heart-wounds himself?
I. LOVE TO THE PERSON OF CHRIST MAY BE ABSENT FROM OUR BOSOMS. This inquiry is not rendered needless by
1. Outward religiousness. Do we enter very heartily into all the public exercises of God’s house? Yes, but there are hundreds of thousands who do that, and yet they do not love Christ! It will be vain to reverence the Sabbath if you forget the Lord of the Sabbath, vain to love the sanctuary and not the Great High Priest, vain to love the wedding-feast but not the Bridegroom.
2. Highest office. Peter was an apostle, and in some respects a foundation stone of the Church, and yet it was needful to say to him, “Lovest thou Me?” The name of Judas should sound the death knell of all presumptuous confidence in our official standing.
3. Enjoyment of the greatest Christian privileges. Peter was one of the most favoured apostles, who beheld Christ on the mount of transfiguration and in the garden of Gethsemane.
4. The greatest warmth of zeal. Peter was a redhot disciple. You are earnest in the Sunday school, or preach in the streets, or visit the poor, and are full of warmth in all things which concern the Redeemer’s cause; but for all that the question must be put. For there is a zeal which is fed by regard to the opinions of others, and sustained by a wish to be thought earnest and useful; which is rather the warmth of nature than the holy fire of grace, and which makes a man a mere tinkling cymbal, because he does not love Jesus Christ.
5. The greatest self-denial. Peter could say, “Lord, we have left all and followed Thee.”
6. The highest mental attainments. Peter went to college three years, with Christ for a tutor, and he learned a great deal; but after he had been through his course, his Master, before He sent him to his life-work, felt it needful to inquire, “Lovest thou Me?” It is, therefore, a healthy thing for the Lord to come into the study and close the book, and say to the student, “Sit still a while, and let Me ask thee, ‘Lovest thou Me?’”
II. WE MUST LOVE THE PERSON OF CHRIST, OR ALL OUR PAST PROFESSIONS HAVE BEEN A LIE. It is not possible for that man to be a Christian who does not love Christ. Take the heart away, and life is impossible.
1. Your first true hope of heaven came to you, if it ever did come at all, by Jesus Christ. You heard the Gospel, but the Gospel apart from Christ was never good news to you; you read the Bible, but the Bible apart from a personal Christ was never anything more than a dead letter to you. The first gleam of comfort that ever entered my heart flashed from the wounds of the Redeemer.
2. Nor do we merely begin with Him, for every covenant blessing we have received has been connected with His Person--pardon, righteousness, adoption, &c.
3. Every ordinance of the Christian Church has either been a mockery, or else we have loved Christ in it. Baptism--what is it but the mere washing away of the filth of the flesh unless we were buried with Christ in baptism unto death? The Lord’s Supper, what is it but a common meal unless Christ be there? And so it has been with every approach we have made towards God. Did you pray? You could not have done it except through Jesus the Mediator.
4. If you have made a profession of religion, how can it be a true and honest one unless your heart bums with attachment to the great Author of salvation.
5. You have great hopes, but what are you hoping for? Is not all your hope wrapped up in Him?
6. Since, then, everything that you have obtained comes to you direct from His pierced hand, it cannot be that you have received it unless you love Him. Now, when I put the question, recollect that upon your answer to it hangs this alternative--a hypocrite or a true man--“Lovest thou Me?”
III. WE MUST HAVE LOVE TO THE PERSON OF CHRIST, OR NOTHING IS RIGHT FOR THE FUTURE.
1. For a true pastor the first qualification is love to Christ. Jesus does not inquire about Peter’s knowledge or gifts of utterance, but about his love. And what is true of a pastor is true of every useful worker for Christ.
2. If your heart is not true to Christ, you will not be able patiently to endure for His Name’s sake. Before long, the time came for Peter to glorify God by death. Love makes the hero. When the Spirit of God inflames love He inspires courage.
3. If we have no love for Christ’s Person our piety lacks the adhesive element, it fails in that which will help us to stick to the good old way to the end. Men often leave what they like, but never what they love.
4. Love is the great inspiriting force. In serving Christ you come across a difficulty far too great for judgment, for prudence, and unbelief weighs and calculates, but love laughs at the impossibility and accomplishes it for Jesus Christ.
5. Without love you are without the transforming force. Love to Christ is that which makes us like Him.
6. Without love to Christ we lack the perfecting element. We are to be with Him soon; but if we have not love to Jesus we shall not be where He is.
IV. IF WE DO LOVE HIM, WHAT THEN? Let us do something for Him directly, for He said, “Feed My sheep.” He knew from His own heart that wherever there is love there is a desire for activity. What are you doing? Attending the means of grace and getting a good feed. Well, that is doing something for yourself. Many people in the world are very busy at feeding, but I do not know that eating a man’s bread is any proof of love to him. A great many professing Christians give no proof of love to Christ, except that they enjoy sermons. But now, if you love Him as you say you do, prove it by doing good to others. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Lovest thou Me?
I. THE PECULIAR FELLING OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN TOWARDS CHRIST--he loves Him.
1. A true Christian is not a mere baptized man or woman, a person who only goes, as a matter of form, to a church on Sundays; he is one whose religion is in his heart and life, and its great peculiarity is love. Hear what St. Paul says (1 Corinthians 16:22; Ephesians 6:24). Hear what
Christ says (John 8:42). Would you know the secret of this peculiar feeling (1 John 4:19)?
2. A true Christian loves Christ
(1) For all He has done for him.
(2) For all that He is still doing.
3. This love to Christ is
(1) The inseparable companion of saving faith. A faith of devils, a mere intellectual faith, a man may have without love, but not that faith which saves.
(2) The mainspring of work for Christ. There is little done for His cause from sense of duty. The heart must be interested before the hands will move. The nurse in a hospital may do her duty, but there is a vast difference between that nurse and a wife.
(3) The point which we ought specially to dwell upon in teaching religion to children. Election, imputed righteousness, &c., are matters which only puzzle; but love to Jesus is within reach of their understanding Matthew 21:16).
(4) The common meeting point of believers of every branch of Christ’s Church (Ephesians 6:24).
(5) The distinguishing mark of all saved souls in heaven. Old differences will be merged in one common feeling (Revelation 1:5-6).
II. THE PECULIAR MARKS BY WHICH LOVE TO CHRIST MAKES ITSELF KNOWN. If we love a person, we like
1. To think about him. We do not need to be reminded of him. It is just so between the true Christian and Christ! Christ “dwells in his heart,” and is thought of more or less every day (Ephesians 3:17).
2. To hear about him. We find a pleasure in listening to those who speak of him. So the true Christian likes those sermons best which are full of Christ.
3. To read about him. What intense pleasure a letter from an absent husband gives to a wife, or a letter from an absent son to his mother. So the true Christian delights to read the Scriptures, because they tell him about his beloved Saviour.
4. To please him. We are glad to consult his tastes and opinions. In like manner the true Christian studies to please Christ by being holy both in body and spirit.
5. His friends. We are favourably inclined to them, even before we know them. And the true Christian regards all Christ’s friends as his. He is more at home with them in a few minutes, than he is with many worldly people after an acquaintance of several years.
6. To maintain his interests and his reputation. We regard the person who treats him ill as if he had ill-treated us. And the true Christian regards with a godly jealousy all efforts to disparage his Master’s Word, or name, or Church, or day.
7. To talk to him. We find no difficulty in discovering subjects of conversation, nor does the true Christian find any difficulty in speaking to his Saviour. Every day he has something to tell Him, and he is not happy unless he tells it.
8. To be always with him; and the heart of a true Christian longs for that blessed day when he will see his Master face to face and go out no more.
1. Look the question in the face and try to answer it for yourself. It is no answer to say
(1) That you believe the truth of Christianity. The devils believe and tremble (James 2:19).
(2) That you disapprove of a religion of feelings. There can be no true religion without some feeling towards Christ. If you do not love Christ, your soul is in great danger.
2. If you do not love Christ, let me tell you what is the reason. You have no sense of debt to Him. There is but one remedy for this state of things--self knowledge and the teaching of the Holy Ghost.
(1) Perhaps you have never read your Bible at all, or only carelessly. Begin to read it, then, in earnest.
(2) Perhaps you have never known anything of real, hearty, business-like prayer. Begin the habit, then, at once. (Bp. Ryle.)
Lovest thou Me?
I A SOLEMN QUESTION, not for His own information, but for Peter’s examination, it is well, especially after a foul sin, that the Christian should well probe the wound. Note what this question was.
1. It was concerning Peter’s love. He did not say, “Fearest thou Me?” “Dost thou admire or adore Me?” Nor was it even a question concerning his faith. That is because love is the best evidence of piety. He that lacks love must lack every other grace in proportion. If love be little, fear and courage will be little.
2. He did not ask Peter anything about his doings. He did not say, “How much hast thou wept? How often hast thou on thy knees sought mercy?” Though works follow love, yet love excelleth the works, and works without love are not evidences worth having.
3. We have very much cause for asking ourselves this question. If our Saviour were no more than a man like ourselves, He might often doubt whether we love Him at all. Let me lust remind you of sundry things which give us very great cause to ask this question.
(1) Hast thou not sinned? “Is this thy kindness to thy Friend?”
(2) Does not thy worldliness make thee doubt? Thou hast been occupied with the shop, the exchange, the farmyard; and thou hast had little time to commune with Him!
(3) How cold thou hast been at the mercy-seat!
II. A DISCREET ANSWER. Jesus asked him, in the first place, whether he loved Him better than others. Simon would not say that: he had once been proud and thought he was better than the other disciples. There is no loving heart that will think it loves better than the least of God’s children. But Peter answered not as to the quantity but as to the quality of his love. Some of us would have answered foolishly. We should have said, “Lord, I have preached for Thee so many times; I have distributed to the poor; Thou hast given me grace to walk humbly, faithfully, and honestly, and therefore, Lord, I think I can say, I love Thee.” We should have brought forward our good works as being the evidences of our love. That would have been a very good answer if we had been questioned by our fellowman, but it would be foolish for us to tell the Master that. The Master might have said to Peter, had he appealed to his works, “I did not ask thee what are the evidences of thy love, I asked the fact of it.” Very likely some would have said, “Love Thee, Lord? Why, my heart is all on fire towards Thee; I feel as if I could go to prison and to death for Thee!” But that would have been very foolish, because although we may often rejoice in our own feelings, it would not do to plead them with our Lord. In such manner Peter had spoken before; but a sorry mess he made of it. But no, Peter was wise; he did not bring forward his feelings nor his evidences. But, as though he shall say, “Lord, I appeal to Thine Omniscience: Thou knowest that I love Thee.” Now, could we give such an answer? There is a test. If thou art a hypocrite, thou mightest say, “Lord, my minister, the deacons, the members, my friends think I love Thee, for they often hear me talk about Thee.” But thou couldst not say, “Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee”; thine own heart is witness that thy secret works belie thy confession, for thou art without prayer in secret; thou art niggardly in giving to the cause of Christ; thou art an angry, petulant creature, &c. But thou, O sincere Christian, thou canst answer with holy fear and gracious confidence. Such a question was never lint to Judas. The response is recorded for thee, “Lord, Thou knowest,” &c.
III. A DEMONSTRATION REQUIRED. “Lovest thou Me?” Then one of the best evidences is
1. To feed My lambs. Have I two or three little children that love and fear My name? If thou wantest to do a deed, which shalt show that thou art a true lover, and not a proud pretender; go and feed them. In the ancient Churches there was what was called the catechism class--I believe there ought to be such a class now. The Sabbath school, I believe, is in the Scripture; and I think there ought to be on a Sabbath afternoon a class of the young people of this Church, who are members already, to be taught by some of the elder members.
2. But we cannot all do that; the lambs cannot feed the lambs; the sheep cannot feed the sheep exactly. Therefore allow me to say to some of you, that there are different kinds of proof you must give. “Lovest thou Me?” Then preserve that prayer-meeting; see to thy servants that they go to the house of God. Do something to prove thy love. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The risen Jesus questioning Peter’s love
I. We gather from OUR LORD’S INQUIRY
1. That He takes pleasure in the love of His people towards Him and in their avowal of it. And herein He discovers His human nature. We are all conscious that whenever we have real affection towards any object, we desire the same affection towards ourselves, and are gratified by any manifestation of it. Jonathan shared in this feeling. Now our Lord’s heart is, in all sinless things, like ours. He found gratification there, not only in Peter’s love, but in these reiterated assurances.
2. That Christ has now a special claim on our love. Previously to His final sufferings and death, He does not appear to have ever put this question. But when for their sakes He had gone to Calvary He felt and acted like one who had now earned a claim on a sinner’s affection, and such a claim as even a sinner’s heart could not resist. Place the cross in whatever light we may, there is no exaggerating its importance or its power. As the basis of love nothing even in heaven is like it.
3. That real love for Christ is of the very utmost importance to us. Love is nothing more than a feeling. Its importance arises from the place it holds in the mind, and the influence it exercises over every other feeling, thought, and movement. No wonder, therefore, that when Christ brings a sinner to His feet, the first thing He asks him for is his heart; one of the first things He takes is his love. Love for Him is not an ornament; it is religion itself, its foundation, its spring, its strength, its perfection, its glory.
4. That our love for Christ is sometimes questionable and ought to be questioned.
II. THE ANSWER WHICH PETER GAVE TO THE INQUIRY. From this we infer at once that it is a question which maybe answered. Thrice said Christ to Peter, “Lovest thou Me?” and thrice Peter answered with promptitude and firmness that he did love Him. How then, under similar circumstances, may we come to a similar answer? We love Christ
1. When we mourn bitterly for our sins against Him. Nothing pains a feeling heart more than to offend causelessly a heart it loves. Forgiveness cannot wear our pain away, kindness cannot dissipate it; they sometimes rather aggravate than remove it.
2. When we are especially on our guard against a repetition of those sins wherewith we have dishonoured Him.
3. When no sin, no sorrow on account of sin, no state of mind whatsoever can keep us from His feet. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Jesus questioning Peter’s love
Christ never unnecessarily injured the feelings of any one; yet when necessary He did not hesitate to inflict pain. Jesus did not flatter and call Peter a rock now--“Simon, son of Jonas.”
I. THE INFERENCES FROM CHRIST’S QUESTION.
1. That Jesus, after the Resurrection, was desirous to be loved by man. Do not make the mistake that you must win His love; see that you love Him.
2. That Jesus wants an avowal of love. How the lover, although he has the love of his loved one, rejoices in the avowals of that love. Jonathan made David sware twice that he loved him. Christ did not ask this before the Crucifixion. But now He had given His life He had a right to expect the heart’s deepest love.
3. That love is the important thing. Christ did not catechise Peter as to his faith.
II. THE INFERENCES FROM PETER’S ANSWER. Peter was conscious of his love. What are the proofs that we love Christ?
1. We have a deep feeling of bitterness when we have come short of love.
2. True love will not allow us to commit the same sin twice over.
3. True love brings the sinner back to Christ.
III. PRACTICAL OBSERVATIONS.
1. There is no religion without the love of Christ, and no heaven. Intellect, wealth, positions, friends cannot make up for the lack of it. Paul holds a man accursed without it.
2. By loving Christ we place ourselves where He can do us the most good. (C. J. Deems, D. D.)
Peter’s confession of love to Christ
There are times which reveal to us the mysterious identity of our ever-changing lives; when we read old letters, visit well-remembered scenes, grasp the hand of old friends, or indulge in the silent luxury of their presence. You know the subtle influence of such seasons; with what reality they recall the past. The coincidences of life are designed by God to reveal us to ourselves and to show what is God’s guidance of our life. These verses record such a period in the life of Peter. The past was with him; what were its memories for Peter? Of eager haste and painful failure; of love for Christ so true and yet so powerless; of self-confidence and of unfaithfulness. With chastened, bumble spirit he must have sat and pondered; feeling that not in his devotedness to Christ, but in Christ’s love to him, lay his hope that he might be faithful to his apostleship, if he should be reinstated in it. And to these, his thoughts, Christ at length gives expression: “Simon, son of Jonas,” the name by which Christ had first called him, and which He had so often used in tender solemnity, “lovest thou Me more than these?”
I. PETER’S LOVE TO CHRIST.
1. There is a beautiful order in Christ’s questions. There is a difference between the two Greek verbs translated “lovest.” It is not a difference in the warmth, but in the character of affection. The one signifies the love based upon appreciation of another; the other simple personal attachment. The one might be represented if we said, “I am thy friend;” the other if we said, “Thou art my friend.”
(1) It is the former of these words which Christ here uses: “Simon, son of Jonas, esteemest thou Me more, art thou more My friend than thy fellow disciples?” This was just what Peter had professed, “Though all should be offended,” &c. “I am ready to go with Thee, both in prison and to death; Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee.”
(2) You can now understand Peter’s reply. Once he would have said, “I know that I am Thy friend;” he was sure he was to be trusted. But he has lost his self-confidence. He will not profess esteem for Jesus. He chooses the humbler, trustful word: “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.”
(3) Again Christ asks him, “If not more than these, yet art Thou My friend at all?” And still the same humble, clinging answer comes from Peter.
(4) Now Christ takes Peter’s own word; let it be as Peter would have it, the trusting affection of the disciple. “Peter was grieved because He said unto him the third time, Lovest thou Me?” Surely Jesus cannot doubt that. Christ must know that He is all in all to Peter. “Thou knowest that under all my boasting, all my mistakes, there was love for Thee, and that it remains.” And this confession Christ accepts, and ever will accept.
2. Distinguish between the profession of love to Christ and the confession of it. In profession the person most prominent in our thoughts is “I who make it;” in confession, “He whose name I am confessing.” It is not in what we are to Christ, but in what Christ is to us, that our rest and security lie.
3. Observe, too, the period of Peter’s life when this confession is made. It is not his earliest confession; he has been brought to it through painful self-knowledge; it is the utterance of a tried maturity. To set young converts on an estimate of their feeling towards the Saviour, instead of encouraging them to trust in Him, is full of peril. Christian discipleship sometimes begins with love to Christ; and singularly blessed are they with whom it does. But in other ways souls are drawn to Christ; the weary go to Him for rest, the guilty for pardon, the helpless for succour. Such will say, “I trust in Christ,” “I have found Christ,” “I am following Christ;” but the words, perhaps, halt on their lips, “I love Christ.” It is not for us to insist on their utterance. They are not for our ears, but for His. And He knows how, from the trusting, the obedient, and the earnest, to draw at length the full confession, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.”
II. THE PROOF AND MANIFESTATION OF LOVE TO CHRIST.
1. In giving Peter the charge, “Feed My lambs; feed My sheep,” Christ was guarding him against a danger to which he was at this moment liable; the danger of sinking down into an indulgence of sentiment. We feel in a self-assertive world, from the strife for mastery, the restlessness of ambition, how blessed to retire to self-abasement before the Lord; how sweetly then from lowly lips falls the confession, “Thou knowest that I love Thee.” To cherish this life alone is very dangerous. Hence comes the pride that apes humility. Christ sends Peter from confessing, as He sent Mary from adoring Him, to do His work. It was in separating himself from the other disciples, in supposing himself better than they, that Peter displayed the self-confidence which he now so bitterly repented. He was not free from the temptation even in his penitence. It is possible to separate ourselves from others in our very consciousness of self-distrust. One of the saddest sights is that of men whose humblest words are a vaunting of themselves, whose very lowliness is sentimental and insincere.
2. A higher work is now committed to Peter than when Christ said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The pastoral office is higher than that of preaching the gospel of the kingdom; to watch over the flock is higher than to add to its numbers.
3. Here, too, would Peter have an opportunity for the constant exercise of lowliness. He would grow meek and gentle as he fed the lambs and shepherded the sheep; he would be humbled by every lesson he learnt of men’s impatience and folly and self-deception. Sympathy is the way to self-knowledge; our own penitence deepens as we know a brother’s sins.
4. They would serve, too, to deepen his love of Jesus; every brother’s fall would remind him of his own restoration. There is nothing which so deepens our lore to Christ as the larger knowledge of His grace which we gain as we see souls saved by Him.
5. In this work which Christ assigns to Peter, Peter may see the meaning of the struggle of contrition through which he is made to pass. He will be better able to bear with the flock because he knows himself. The heart broken with penitence will scarcely harden itself against a sinful brother.
III. THE CROWN AND PERFECTING OF LOVE TO CHRIST IS THAT FULL SELFSURRENDER BY WHICH WE SHALL GLORIFY GOD (John 21:18).
1. When he was young he girded himself and walked whither he would. How often he wandered, how far astray his hasty will led him! But when he could no longer go whither he would, when another girded him and carried him whither he would not, he accepted the appointment and the surrender of himself was complete. In one way or other, this privilege that we glorify God is given to every one who loves Jesus. Not all need the struggle and the martyrdom. There are meek souls whose whole life is sacrifice, whose will is ever submissive. Others require a sharp discipline. Whatever is needed will be given. And death seems appointed as the completion of all; the chequered, troubled life is vindicated as a Christian life by the death that glorifies God.
2. “And when He had spoken this He saith unto him, Follow Me.” It was the first call again repeated. When Peter had first heard it he thought that to obey it would lead him near a throne; now he knows it will conduct him to a cross. Yet he draws not back; for meanwhile he has been with Jesus, and love of Him now fills his soul. What dreams possess us of the honour, and triumphs of the Christian life when first we rank ourselves as disciples of Christ! Rarely indeed are these hopes fulfilled; we grow wiser with sad self-sacrifice as we become holier men. The boundless prospect narrows before us; we are well content “to fill a little sphere, so He be glorified.” (A. Mackennal, D D.)
Christ loved from gratitude
You remember the tale of Androcles and the lion. The man was condemned to be torn to pieces by beasts; but a lion, to which he was cast, instead of devouring him, licked his feet, because at some former time Androcles had extracted a thorn from the grateful creature’s foot. We have heard of an eagle that so loved a boy with whom he had played that, when the child was sick, the eagle sickened to; and when the child slept, this wild, strange bird of the air would sleep, but only then; and when the child awoke, the eagle awoke. When the child died, the bird died too. You remember that there is a picture in which Napoleon is represented as riding over the battle-field, and he stops his horse, as he sees a slain man with his favourite dog lying upon his bosom doing what he can to defend his poor dead master. Even the great man-slayer paused at such a sight. There is gratitude among the beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air. And, surely, if we receive favours from God, and do not feel love to Him in return, we are worse than brute beasts. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Love a good augury
When the heathen killed their sacrifices in order to prophesy future events from the entrails, the worst augury they ever got was when the priest, after searching into the victim, could not find a heart; or if that heart was small and shrivelled. The soothsayers always declared that this omen was the sure sign of calamity. All the signs were evil if the heart of the offering was absent or deficient. It is so in very deed with religion and with each religious person. He that searches us searches principally our hearts. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Love before its judge
I. THE HISTORY OF THE QUESTION.
1. The writer, in continuing his account of what was said and done, goes on to say: “Now, when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith,” &c. Here we have a most interesting note of time. It was delicately characteristic of Jesus to see that all were strengthened and quieted before the questioning. No one who had not been present would have shown the sense of mingled homeliness and solemnity which this verse shows. When we read, “When Jesus sat thus on the well,” we say these two lines are by the same writer.
2. This question is a question to a believer. Faith goes before love. It is impossible to love one whom you do not even trust. Perhaps Christians have put you wrong by their unscientific way of telling you that all you have to do is “to give your hearts to Christ”; but you have no heart to give to Him, until by faith you receive the heart He gives to you. Believing is receiving; and when the love of Christ is received, the recipient loves Him back again.
3. This question reminds us that the great test of faith is love. “Faith worketh by love.” Sometimes faith and love are practically so much alike that we can hardly distinguish them. Talk to that true teacher of theology, a Christian child, and, while perhaps she will not say a word about faith, she will be sure to tell you that she “loves Jesus.” “Wrong!” says a hard old doctrinist, “we are justified by faith.” “Right!” say we; “for in the consciousness of that little heart love and faith are one.” A man may be true to Christ, yet if Christ were to say, “Understandest thou Me?” or “Followest thou Me?” or, “Confessest thou Me?” he could not always establish the fact of his discipleship. There is, however, no Christian heart but quivers to the question, “Lovest thou Me?” We set our seal to Wesley’s words, “We may die content without the knowledge of many truths, but if we die without love, would the knowledge of many truths avail us? Just as much as it would the devil. I will not quarrel with you about your opinions … only see that you love the Lord Jesus Christ.”
4. This question was asked in the spirit of reproof. There was reproof
(1) In the very appellative, “Simon, son of Jonas,” and the sound of it must have struck upon him like a bolt of ice, making his burning soul suddenly freeze. On the day of his introduction to Christ, it was predicted that he should be called “Peter”--that is, a stone. This prophecy was fulfilled on the day of his memorable confession. It is written of a certain caliph, that he used to give each of his principal officers an honourable surname suited to his qualities; and that, when he wished to show dissatisfaction, he used to drop it, calling him by his original name, which caused great alarm. This helps us to enter into the meaning of the Simon, son of Jonas, here. The startled disciple might have thought that this was as much as to say, “Thou hast nothing in thee answering to the name ‘Rock’; a rock does not run away, and does not ebb and flow; thou art not worthy of thy new name; until thou art cleared in this court, give it up.”
(2) In the reference to the other disciples--“More than these.” But how did they prove their love? By language? No; for they were dumb. By obedience? No; for when the Master said, “Bring of the fish that ye have caught,” they stood stock still, gazing. By work? No; they could not even haul the net up the strand; Simon did it. While a thought of satisfaction in the comparison of himself with them might have shot across his mind, the question sternly broke in upon it, “Lovest thou Me more than these?”
(3) In the plain allusion to his boastful speech, “If all shall be offended,” &c. “Now, Simon, what do you say?”
5. In reference to his most recent action. On the night before the Crucifixion, Jesus had said, “Simon, Satan asked to have you … when once thou hast turned again, stablish thy brethren.” Had he done so? Not if we have correctly interpreted the words, “I go a fishing; we also go with thee.” He did wrong, and by his super-abundant vitality and eager life drew the others along with him; and this was not to establish his brethren. It was “a threefold hammer-stroke,” and had reference to his threefold sin of denial.
6. Think of the question in connection with the greatness of the questioner. Love to God is set forth in the “first and greatest commandment.” Christ claims the very same, “He that loveth father and mother more than Me,” &c. What John thought of Christ’s greatness appears from the words at the opening of his Gospel, which pulse all through the succeeding narrative; the writer does not once forget this, nor must the reader, any more than the singer must forget his key-note, or the builder that which he builds upon.
7. Think of the question in connection with Christ’s love to the disciple to whom He puts it. His love is great, because He Himself is great. As the ocean holds more water than the tiny lakelet, has more force, carries more weight, and can be wrought up into a grander storm, so does the heart of God hold more than the heart of man.
8. Notice the personality of the question. He deals with us one by one lovingly, each soul with a distinct love; asking each soul for a distinct response; to each speaks personally as when He said, “Adam, where art thou?” “Abraham, Abraham!” “Samuel, Samuel!” “Martha, Martha!” “Saul, Saul!” “Simon, son of Jonas.” English names are on His lips as well as Jewish names; answer to your name--it is spoken now--silently to the ear, audibly to the soul--“Lovest thou Me?”
II. THE HISTORY OF THE ANSWER.
1. It was an answer given after deep searchings of heart.
(1) The Searcher of hearts had so ordered the process of questioning as to compel this. The first sentence of it slashed right through the conscience just where it had been last wounded, and where it was still on fire. “Lovest thou Me more than these?” What does he answer? does he simply say, “Yes I do”? No! for the word for love which Christ employs is beyond him. Does he say no? No! Does he take up the challenge of comparison? No! never again. He is now done for ever with heroics, comparisons, consequential airs. Does he say out from black despondency, “I have been a self-deceiver, and what I thought was love was not love”? No! Was he silent? No! speak he must. He therefore looks up, and, with tumultuous throbs, whispers, “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest Thou art dear to me.”
(2) The searching eye is still upon him; still using the same word for love which Simon had humbly put aside for a weaker word, and giving this word greater emphasis, the Judge repeats the question. Six months before, Simon would have been ready to say, “Lord, dost Thou doubt me? Love Thee? Only try me! See if I will not gladly die for Thee!” But now, not daring to own such a lofty love as Christ’s word indicates, he still says, “Thou art dear to me.”
(3) Then the King of Grace comes down to him, accepts the humble word that Simon had chosen, and asks, “Am I dear to thee?” In the lightning of that instant, he looked round for something to which he should make his appeal in proof of the sincerity with which he could say this; and to what could he make it? Poor man! he thought just then, that if he looked to himself for a proof of his love, he could find little better than lies, and oaths, and treachery. With tears in his heart, in his tones, if not in his eyes, he burst out, “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that Thou art dear to me!” Could any of us settle this question by an appeal to ourselves? Have we been satisfactory disciples? For all that, many a man, who is forced to answer “No,” may add, “Jesus, I am sure that I love Thee. Oh, see Thyself if I do not!” How does your child prove his love to you? Does he not sometimes give you trouble? Does his face never redden with sullen temper or with passionate flash? And are not these signals contradictory of love? They may seem so, yet when the proud little heart seems to be full of rebellion, the young rebel wishes you could but see into it. He is quite unable to prove it from facts, but he knows that he loves you, and you know it. Sometimes we have no proofs to give in verification of our love to God. The love is in our heart, but it is possible to be known, not by its doings, but by itself; and the love itself only God can see.
2. The question had to be answered, not verbally alone, but practically. Where there is love, there will be the ministry of love. This ministry is work for souls before conversion and after it. The first is described under a metaphor taken from the vocation of a fisherman, the other from that of a shepherd. When souls are drawn out from the sea of spiritual death, and “captured for their life,” the metaphor of “fishing” breaks down: and the metaphor of “shepherding” is substituted.
3. Such an answer as that of Peter may include in its consequences much that will go against natural inclination (verse 18). This oracle darkly told of coming events that would strike at all his natural loves and likings. He liked the free, impetuous joy of living. He was to be “bound.” He liked to take the lead. He was to “be carried,” he liked to have his own will; he was to be carried “whither he would not.” He liked the glory of heroism: he was to die on a cross. He liked rapidity of movement: he was to plod on to old age without the promise of a brilliant career. Before a man’s life can fully answer the question, “Lovest thou Me?” he must be ready to give up his own choice as to the way of showing it, and passively accept or actively obey the will of God alone.
4. A disciple is to make the answer to this question the one great business of his life (verses 20, 21). A Christian may prosecute endless questions into the mysteries around him; and while he does so in season, with due regard to proportion and perspective, taking care to subordinate each to its own place in relation to the one great question. Christ will not say of any such thing, “What is that to thee?” There was, however, a reason why His rejoinder to this question should have in it something of the nature of a reprimand. Some sin, or dangerous infirmity, must have been waking up. Jesus, therefore, instead of answering him, said, “What is that to thee?” and repeated His charge, “Follow thou Me.” placing emphasis on the word thou. “Mind your own business; put all your soul into it; this is as much as you can do.” As it was with Peter then, so it may be with you now. You may be at a crisis and in a condition making it perilous to have your attention divided by, the most fascinating subject that lies outside the soul’s great business; and Christ may be saying, with reference to what is most exciting your speculative interest, “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” (C. Stanford, D. D.)
Love to Christ
At first sight this appears a singular question to Peter. You would expect expostulation and reproof. But Jesus had no need to ask Peter whether he had repented. He had “turned and looked upon Peter;” and Peter’s heart broke. He had seen the former affection of Peter to his Master return with a full tide. He who knew all things knew that Peter loved Him; and gave Peter an opportunity of thrice declaring it in the presence of his fellow-disciples. When our Lord asks a disciple three times whether he loves Him, he teaches us that to love Christ is essential to our discipleship. It is “the first and great commandment,” without it we are but as “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
I. THE REASONS ON WHICH OUR OBLIGATION TO LOVE CHRIST RESTS.
1. The supreme excellency of the object. We are under a kind of natural obligation to love that which is excellent. We are certainly under a moral one. In Christ all good meets; it exists in absolute perfection, and can have no addition.
(1) Do the condescensions of superior wisdom attract us? In him we see the wisdom of God, speaking to man, in words clear as the light of the intelligence from which they proceeded.
(2) Are we affected by disinterested benevolence? Behold His life of labour, given freely without an exacted return.
(3) Does humility, connected with great virtues and great actions, command the homage of the heart? It was said of Him, “He shall not strive nor cry,” &c. He often said, “See thou tell no man.”
(4) Is there a charm in the noble passion of patriotism? For His country our Lord lived. His heart clings to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
(5) Does friendship move us? Think of the family of Bethany; the disciple whom Jesus loved; and his kind regards for the whole body of his disciples.
(6) All moral virtues were in Him. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled.” And all the stronger virtues of religion; such as meekness, patience, resignation, devotion.
2. The generous interposition of our Lord in the great work of our redemption (Romans 5:7-8; 1 John 4:10).
3. The benefits which we are constantly receiving from His hands. Do we think of life? We owe it to His intercession. Of ordinary mercies? They are the fruits of His redemption; for we deserve nothing. Of the ordinances? They are visitations of His grace. Do we regard the future as well as the present? We expect His kingdom. Do we anticipate death? We have the victory by Him. Judgment? We have justification through His blood. Do we think of heaven? We view Him as the grand source of light, love, and joy. Should constant benefits excite love? Then surely our love ought to be constant. Should benefits of the highest kind excite the highest love? Then our love ought to be supreme. And are they never to cease? Then ought our love to be eternal.
II. THE GREAT OFFICE OF THIS GRACE IN EXPERIMENTAL AND PRACTICAL RELIGION.
1. It is this which gives the true character to evangelical obedience. None hut this is acceptable and rewardable. Man is in three states--unawakened, penitent, believing. In the first he can have no love to Christ, because he loves the world. In the second he has no love, because he has the “fear which hath torment.” In the third, only, he loves, because this “love is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him.” From this principle obedience derives its character. In unawakened man some acts of obedience may be apparent; but these may spring from natural temperament, from a respect to man’s opinion, or even from Pharisaism. In the penitent there is the obedience of the slave: in the believer obedience is filial; his love is the “fulfilling of the law; and God graciously accepts what is done for His name’s sake.
2. It is the great instrument of high and holy attainments. It produces trust, as that reciprocally produces love; it produces prayer, and so receives blessings from God; it produces the love of every thing that is like Christ. Holiness is the element of love; and it bears the soul into it.
3. It is the grand antagonist-principle of the love of the world (1 John 2:15). They cannot co-exist.
4. It is the root and nutriment of charity to man (1 Corinthians 13:1-13.).
5. It removes terrors from futurity. Futurity discloses the world where Jesus is. That is the heaven of heavens to a Christian. (R. Watson.)
Love to Christ
Love to Christ is the commanding and crowning grace of a Christian. As all life, movement, force in man depend on the action of the central organ, the heart, so all graces, each one having its own function and power, have their spring and strength from the grace of love. Express it another way: All life, and growth, and power, and bloom in nature depend on the vital air. A plant grows indeed from its root; it lives by the air; it breathes and blossoms into beauty by the air. The plant of faith grows, the flower of faith blooms, the fruit of faith ripens in the genial atmosphere of love. Yes, love is the heavenly air in which all the graces of the Christian character “live and move and have their being.” Why love Christ? For what He is, and for what He has done, including under this last point the continuation of His work of love, its triumph in His atoning death being carried forward into the present, and to be consummated in the future. How should we love Christ? “Lovest thou Me?”
1. Evidently our love to Christ is personal.
2. Love to Christ should be positive. Simon Peter answered, “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.”
3. For it will be practical. The Christian life springs at the heart, but it works, it must work, outwards. This, a necessity of its nature. If the blood be not pulsing even to the fingertips, I am dead or dying. We see the practical effect of such loves, as the love of gold, of fame, of pleasure. The Christian’s love to Christ will prove itself. (D. S. Brunton.)
The Christian’s love for Christ
And why should Christ ask that question? Did not He know whether Simon loved Him or not? Certainly He did, for He knew all things. Then what could be His object in thus catechising Peter? Evidently, He wished to teach him a lesson of some kind or other. He wished to remind him of his former denial, and admonish him never to do the like again. Mark the reply. Peter has learned his weakness by that ignominious fall which he had, and dares not say he loves Jesus more than others; he is not willing to repeat his former assertion, “I will lay down my life for Thy sake;” he can only say, “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” The question being put the second time seems to have this import--“Are you sure, Simon, son of Jonas, that you love Me; for, you remember, you once professed that attachment, and then belied your words.” What bitter recollections of his former treachery must have rushed at that moment over Peter’s mind! No wonder Peter was grieved and humbled.
I. Concerning THE NATURE OF THE BELIEVER’S LOVE TO CHRIST.
1. In the first place, it is of Divine origin. It is a truth which the Christian ought never to forget, that he is indebted to God for everything good that he possesses: for every emotion of penitence, for every ray of hope, for every exercise of faith, for every heavenly aspiration, for every throb of love. Man made man a sinner, but man never made man a saint. That belongs to God. I know there are some who maintain that natural man is not so bad after all. Some say that regeneration is not a new creation, but only the development of an old, inward germ, which was left after the fall. That may be the teaching of pride and reason, but it is not that of Scripture or of human experience. If we had no other argument to prove that regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit, that is sufficient--that man, in his natural state, hates Christ, and yet is brought sometimes to love Him. The power that can produce such a change must be Divine.
2. But, again, the believer’s love to Christ is unquenchable; the same power which creates it, sustains it in existence, just as those same forces in nature, warmth, and sunlight, and gentle showers, which cause the seed to burst, also nourish it, and carry it forward from bursting to budding, from budding to blossoming, and from that to the yielding of the golden fruit. I do not say the believer’s love is never feeble; in some instances, alas! it is never anything more. I do not say it is always in healthful exercise. Even Peter may deny his Lord. I do not say that it never grows dim, for, just as the ancient crown of Scotland once lay so long under ground that it lost its lustre, so all religious graces, by too much contact with sin and worldliness, lose their brightness. Are you mourning, because your love is faint? It is right for you to mourn, but not to despond, for, if the plant be genuine, it will not die, however much it may droop.
3. The Christian’s love for Christ, once more, is superlative. He loves Jesus more than anything else; he loves Him more than he loves all things else. What, then, shall we say of that man who manifestly loves the things of the world more than Christ? Do you call such a man a Christian? Why, he lacks the grandest element of Christianity, which is that love for Jesus which absorbs and controls every other love. Why, Brutus loved justice so much, that he would not spare his own son when he had forfeited his life. The Spartan mother loved bravery so much, that she said to her boys, as they went out to the wars, “Bring back your shields, or be brought upon them;” and shall the believer be unwilling to make a sacrifice for Christ, equally great? A man must love Him, so as to be willing to do that for Him which others can do from a worldly motive, before he can be a true Christian.
II. In the second place, let us notice SOME OF THE REASONS WHY THE BELIEVER LOVES CHRIST.
1. One good reason, I think, is because Christ loves him. Concerning His affection for His people, there can be no mistake; they are so dear to Him, so much a part of Him, that they are said to be the branches of which He is the vine.
2. Again, the Christian loves Christ by reason of His lovely character. The patriarchs and prophets were men of great virtues, but none of them could be said to be perfect. All suns have their spots, except that Sun of Righteousness; we shall find no blemish there. Have you never noticed how Scripture labours to set forth the beauties of Christ’s character; the fairest objects in nature are employed to symbolize it. There is the rose; other flowers are beautiful, but, after all, she is the queen. Could the most cunning workman contrive anything half so beautiful? Why, no artist can paint it, in all its fairness. What tender leaves! What exquisite colour! What variety of tint! What a wealth of fragrance! How it fills the air with perfumes, and fairly charms the senses! Christ is called the Rose of Sharon. Oh, what humility was His. This was His most prominent trait. He never did anything for display; He was not fond of shows. Man must have his jewels, and his glitter, and his trinkets, his gilded equipages, and triumphal processions. Not so with Christ; His palace was a cottage; His royal bed was a manger, His state carriage was an ass’s colt; His body-guard were poor fishermen. If man had been going to make a world, he would have had all the beauties visible to the naked eye. Not so with God. He has concealed much more than He has brought to light. The dew-drop perched upon the morning flower is a fine little gem, but what has it concealed from the naked eye? Put it under the microscope and see. In that single drop, a thousand million living creatures swarm, each one of them as much the object of God’s regard as the largest world that rolls in space. The human frame is wonderful to look at; dissect it, and you find such beauty and harmony in its mechanism, such skill and contrivance, as astonish the philosopher as well as the savage. Let a sunbeam be shot into a dark room, and if, just then, the eyes of a blind man could be opened, the sight of that golden ray of light would fill him with joy. “What a beautiful thing!” he would exclaim. A beautiful thing! So it is; but what do you suppose God has concealed in that sunbeam? Pass it through a prism, and lo! what revelations! Why, you get the seven colours of the rainbow! And thus is it generally in nature: the dross is on the surface; if there are any gems, humility conceals them. In the character of Christ how much is manifest, and yet how much more must be concealed! If His love, His humility, His meekness, His patience, His forbearance, His consistency were such as could call forth the admiration even of His enemies, how much must there be behind these to confirm and strengthen the affection of His friends! And yet we are told the time is coming when we shall see Him as He is. All the seraph tongues in heaven could not describe it, and eternity will not give us half time enough in which to admire and adore it.
3. The last reason why we should love Christ, is because of His sufferings and death, and the blessings procured thereby. And now, as the result of His mediatorial work, what do we have We, who believe, have justification, for one thing; and what does that mean? It means that the sinner is free from the curse of the law. And we have adoption, for another thing; and what does that mean? It means that we can cry, Abba, Father! and feel that God is our Father, and that we are HIS children. We have sanctification, for another thing; and what does that mean? It means that we are free from that which blasted Eden and the world, which ruined man and unchained the forked lightnings of Divine justice, which brought death into the world and every pang of woe. It means that we are dying to sin, and living unto righteousness. Such are some of the blessings procured by Christ for His people. It is not strange, then, that they love Him; but oh, sinner, it is the strangest thing in the world that you do not ]eve Him too.
III. Finally, THE MANIFESTATIONS OF THIS PRINCIPLE OF LOVE.
1. It will show itself, in the first place, by communion with Christ.
2. Love to Christ will manifest itself again, in a desire to be like Him. “O that I were a Wellington, or a Bonaparte!” says the warrior. “O that I were a Praxiteles!” says the sculptor. “O that I were an Angelo, or a Correggio!” says the painter. “O that I were a Homer, or a Milton!” says the poet. But what says the Christian? “O that I could be very unlike myself, and very much like Christ! O that I could put off this old man, and put on the Lord Jesus!”
3. Love to Christ will show itself in a disposition to serve Him.
4. Let me, then, say, in conclusion, that love to Christ will manifest itself in a willingness to suffer for Him. (H. D. Northrop.)
Love to Christ
I. ITS NATURE. It must be
1. Sincere, in opposition to that which is hypocritical, like Joab’s or Judas’s. In many instances, where love to Christ is not feigned it may be only professional. There may be a respect for the religion of Christ where there is no love to its Divine Author.
2. Habitual, in opposition to occasional.
3. Supreme, in opposition to subordinate, and which may be lawfully exercised to the creature. Jesus is to be loved without a rival. “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
II. THE CLAIMS WHICH CHRIST HAS UPON IT. Consider
1. The infinite dignity of His Person. He is the “chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely.”
2. The work He has accomplished, and the sufferings He has endured, on the behalf of sinners.
3. The excellency and importance of the blessings which He has purchased for us.
4. The manner in which the Saviour employs His recovered life. He now pleads for those for whom He once suffered. In answer to His prevailing intercession, spiritual life is communicated unto and maintained in the souls of men.
III. HOW THIS LOVE SHOULD BE EXHIBITED. Show your love to Christ
1. By an entire surrender of yourselves, and all you have, into His hands.
2. By a public profession of His name and devout attendance on His ordinances.
3. By fervent and practical love to His people (1 John 2:14-19).
4. By a patient endurance of opposition for His sake (1 Peter 2:19-20).
5. By unwearied endeavours to advance His cause. (Congregational Remembrancer.)
Love to the Saviour
I. THE NATURE OF TRUE LOVE TO CHRIST. Love is an affection resulting from the perception of excellences in the persons beloved, causing us to desire the most intimate communion with them, and making us enjoy from an intercourse with them the sweetest pleasures. And hence it follows, that love to Christ is that grace whereby, upon a discovery of the Redeemer’s matchless excellences, the souls of believers are caused to thirst after a more intimate union with Him, and they esteem an intercourse with Him their chief joy.
1. What is the foundation of this love? In order that we should love any object, three things are requisite: this object must have certain excellences; these excellences must be perceived by us; and there must be a conformity between these excellences and the inclinations of our hearts.
(1) The Saviour has those excellences which render Him lovely. In Himself, He is the perfection of beauty. Every excellence is concentrated in Him in an infinite degree, so that the eternal Father always beholds Him with delight, and the splendid host of heaven gaze upon Him with wonder and love. He moreover has precisely those graces which fit Him to be the Saviour.
(2) But even these excellences, till they are presented to us, cannot be effectual in moving our love. The diamond may have a dazzling brightness, yet we shall not admire it till it is presented to our view. God has therefore been pleased in the Scriptures to unveil to us the beauties of Immanuel, that so we might perceive how deserving He is of all our love.
(3) Still, however, this is not sufficient to kindle the holy fire. However brightly the sun may shine, yet as long as the eye is distempered, its light will afford, not pleasure, but pain, because there is not a correspondence between these two objects. In like manner, as long as the soul is distempered by sin, the revelation of Christ will excite enmity, not love, because there is no correspondency between it and the corrupt inclinations of the sinner’s heart. It is evident, then, that a correspondency of heart is requisite to produce true love to Christ; and this correspondency can be produced only by the mighty operation of the Holy Ghost renewing our minds.
2. Its properties. It is
(1) Enlightened; it knows and delights in the real character of the Saviour.
(2) Ultimate. It terminates on this Saviour as its end, and does not regard Him merely as a means to further blessedness.
(3) Supreme, and predominates over every attachment to the objects of earth.
(4) Permanent. It is not like those streams in the desert, which sometimes rush forward in an impetuous torrent, and at others, entirely dry up; it resembles rather a mighty stream, steadily rolling its waves along, and growing deeper and wider, till it empties itself in heaven, the ocean of love.
3. Its effects.
(1) A cheerful, constant, and universal obedience to His commandments. “If any man love Me, He will keep My words.”
(2) A love to everything whereby Christ is displayed. If Christ be loved, the Holy Spirit who “takes of the things of Christ,” &c., will be loved also; and His scriptures, His ordinances, His children, His cause and interest.
(3) A longing for His presence.
II. SOME MOTIVES TO THIS LOVE. Love to Christ is
(1) Because He has incomparably greater excellences. Accumulate, heap one upon one another all the qualities that can captivate a feeling heart, they are all perfectly combined in Him. On what article will you institute a comparison between these idols who possess your affection, and the mighty Saviour? On that of power? His arm upholds the universe; upon it universal nature fixedly hangs. On that of wisdom? His eye at one glance pervades all being, and runs through the past, the present, and the future. On that of permanence? “From everlasting to everlasting He is God.” On that of mercy? Angels confess that their faculties are too weak to comprehend His goodness, and their tongues too feeble worthily to celebrate it.
(2) Of what He has done for you in creation, providence and grace.
(3) Of what Christ can and will do, if you give Him your affections? Others can bestow only trifling gratifications whilst you are on earth. While Jesus alone affords a felicity commensurate with the faculties, coeval with the existence of the soul.
2. It is pleasant. In every situation of life the exercise of love to Christ affords the purest satisfaction; but its effects are more especially seen in those seasons when earthly loves can profit us little--in affliction, in death, in judgment. (E. Griffin, D. D.)
Love to Christ
I. LOVEST. The question cleaves down to the very core of Peter’s being. He does not ask after his speculative faith, his conscience, his profession: but, Is thy heart Mine? Is My kingdom enthroned in the soul as its central, governing power? Christ puts the same pointed, radical, searching question to every disciple. Nothing short of the supremacy of the heart will satisfy Him. He has loved us with an infinite love even unto death, and He demands our heart’s best affections in return. The sum and essence of Christianity is love.
II. THOU. Not John, or Matthew, or the disciples collectively; but thou, Peter. Jesus’ eye fastens on him, and again and again, and yet again He presses the question. How the words searched and tested add grieved the disciple! There was no escape for him. It was as if he stood before the burning throne of judgment. So will it be with every disciple. Religion is pre-eminently a personal thing. The faith and virtue of others will save no man. Each for himself must heed, believe, obey, love our Lord Jesus Christ, or die in his sins. “Thou!” How the eye, and voice, and penetrating words of Jesus on the judgment throne will search and test every soul of us!
III. ME. Not My doctrines, only, but My Person, My character--Me, the Divine Son of God, the crucified and risen Jesus, the Way, the Truth, the Life of the world. A speculative faith, orthodoxy, the sacraments and ordinances, and church relations will not save Simon Peter or any other sinner; nothing but faith in and supreme love to a personal Saviour, such as is revealed and proffered to us in the gospel. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Of Zoning Jesus
I. A CHRISTIAN’S LOVE TO CHRIST OUGHT TO BE UNRIVALLED IN CREATION.
1. For closeness, because there is betwixt these twain such an intimacy that the one is everything to the other.
2. For tenderness, because this is not an equal love, but the love of the little for the Great, of the enemy disarmed and won over through the sacrifice of his wronged and offended Lord.
3. For strength. If there is strength in men at all, and love is, as people say, the strongest thing in men’s hearts, then surely this must be the strongest of known loves. For it is the deepest. We love others with a part only, but Christ with the whole heart, &c. We are attached to others only surface-wise; but it is the very inner being which is given to Him in love.
II. BEING CHARACTERISTIC OF THE CHRISTIAN, THIS LOVE FORMS THE MOST DELICATE TEST OF EACH PERSON’S RELATION TO JESUS.
1. Born with the birth of the new creature, it is one of the earliest graces to come to strength. Just as in a little child, long before trust becomes intelligent, or will is disciplined into obedience, or experience has taught patience or self-control, there rushes up the first-born virtue, even love for her who bare and nurseth it: so in very young Christians, we see the flush of first love kindle their early experience. Apply any other test. Their knowledge is rudimentary, their faith untried, their works not yet reduced to orderly holiness, their passions far from subdued. By any other test they seem to fail; but try them with our wise Lord’s own question, and you will see how the eye kindles and the voice deepens with the answer, “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee!”
2. Throughout a Christian’s life this continues to be the most sensitive test. In all, holiness is gradual; in many, slow; in some, fitful, broken by falls and declensions. But this test, if it could be fairly applied, never would fail. No unconverted man can answer that to satisfaction; there is no converted man who cannot. Hence Paul girdles the Church of God with: “Grace be with them all that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” That shuts none out who should be in. Again, he fences off the Church with: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.” That leaves none in who should be out.
III. A TEST SO PERFECT IS TO BE USED THE MORE DELICATELY IN PROPORTION TO THE DIFFICULTY OF USING IT AT ALL.
1. Outward conduct is tolerably patent to the eye of every outside observer; but this question is to be asked only by the Lord Himself, and only answered before his own truth-compelling presence. We must take care not to judge of ourselves in excited moments, or to depend on the satisfaction with which we turn to religious thoughts when the heart is sad. We must be scrupulously honest, and judge ourselves in solemn hours, when our sins are in our memory, and we feel God’s eye to be on us.
2. Even under such cautions one ought not to institute this examination often. Love is a shy thing, which thrives best when no one thinks about it. It grows up of its own sweet will. It never bears rough handling, and sometimes will bear none at all. Besides, the love that must be questioned cannot be very strong. No man could preserve a deep attachment for any friend who should be for ever taking his heart to pieces and curiously asking if he loved him. When Christ’s Spouse should have come to her perfect state of assured affection, she will hear no more the searching question.
3. Meanwhile, we are both feeble and faithless lovers. We do many unlovely and unloving things to grieve and wrong Him whom we call our Highest, Dearest, Best. It was after three denials that Jesus asked His first apostle three times over, “Lovest thou Me?” Each denial had cast fresh doubt on his oft-repeated protestation of peculiar and invincible affection. The suspected one had to be probed, and deeply, and often, for assurance sake, after such foul wrong done.
IV. FOR THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION, WE ARE SENT, EACH OF US, IN UPON HIMSELF.
1. It is true that, practically, this love works as the motive-power in Christian holiness; that deeds are to be the last test by which our love, like our faith, is to be tested. But our Lord questioned a disciple who had nothing to show but lies, and oaths, and treachery. It is possible, therefore, to know love, not by its doings, but by itself. Put a mother where she shall neither see her infant nor be able to do for it one office of motherly duty, will it be so hard for her to know she loves? Will not the power of her affection betray itself all the more by yearnings to be with her child? Bring her back her babe, and, after the first gush of endearment has spent itself, ask her as she looks down on its sleeping face in the blessed calm of absolute content, ask her if she loves! I know of loved ones who shall never more be seen on earth, whom wide seas have severed; yet love keeps its hold on the long-lost, unforgotten image, and feeds inwardly on itself, and cannot die.
2. Now, why should not a Christian man be as sure that he loves the Lord Jesus? Our feeling towards Him is quite as personal as to any other friend. We never saw Him, and shall not, perhaps, for a few years to come. But what of that? Some of our brothers have seen Him, and their accounts set Him before us in a lively way. We know what He has been and done for us. Besides, no Christian is without experience of Him.
V. OUGHT ONE NOT TO SHRINK FROM SO BOLD A DECLARATION?
1. There are people, and these not the worst, who are too conscious of the weakness of their love and of their falls to allow even within themselves that they love Christ at all. But suppose a man is conscious, to do himself justice, of still really loving Him, whom he grieves to have denied, and to whose blood he looks for pardon; is he not to say so? Must one stifle the heart’s cry of affection, and do violence to one’s own feelings, and deny with the lips what the soul affirms? Yet before we can get the length of saying that truly, there is one thing to be observed, Repentance must have wrought its perfect work. Peter wept bitterly on the night of the denial.
Through penitence is love purged. Spare not the sorrow, therefore. (J. O.Dykes, D. D.)
Love to Christ unique
Among men who are beloved? Among warriors? Is it Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne? Among sages? Aristotle or Plato? Name me one, a single man who has died and left love upon his tomb! Mohammed is venerated by Mussulmans, he is not loved. One man alone has gathered from all ages a love that never fails. Jesus is the sovereign Lord of hearts as He is of minds. (Lacordaire.)
Supreme love for Christ
A Karen woman offered herself for baptism. After the usual examination, I inquired whether she could give up her ornaments for Christ. It was an unexpected blow. I explained the spirit of the gospel; I appealed to her own consciousness of vanity; I read to her the apostle’s prohibition (1 Timothy 2:9). She looked again and again to her handsome necklace; and then, with an air of modest decision that would adorn beyond all ornaments any Christian in the land, she took it off, saying, “I love Christ more than this.” (D. Judson, D. D.)
Conscious love for Christ
Peter gave the best answer when he said, “Thou knowest,” &c. Mere professions of love and devotion amount to but little at any time. Peter had already overdone the business of professing his unfailing affection for Jesus. Yet he was sure that, in spite of his failure under peculiar trial, he was known of Jesus as at heart a loving disciple of Jesus; so he put himself back, as it were, into the care of Jesus, appealing to Jesus to recognize the love which was underneath all his surface-swaying of conduct. A loving heart is always its own best witness. It will speak as no words can speak in its own defence, when doubted. And when a loving heart is pained at being called in question because of some seeming failure, it cannot do better than to trust itself to the consciousness of the one toward it outreaches in love. If, indeed, every human friend should fail to recognize the love of another’s loving heart, Jesus never so fails. The Lord knoweth them that are His--whatever be their shortcomings. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Conscious love for Jesus
When Dr. Waddell was preaching at Portsmouth, Va., a ship came into port of which the master and two of the men were Christians. Learning that the blind preacher was to conduct a service that night, they made their way to the place. The discourse was on these words of Christ to Peter. Towards the close the preacher appealed to the audience repeatedly, “Who of you can say, ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things,’” &c. The deepest silence prevailed; but the heart of one of the sailors was full; he could not restrain himself, and bursting out he exclaimed in thrilling tones, “Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” The congregation was melted to tears. (Dr. Thompson.)
The realm of love the sphere of religion
Some put religion
1. In the realm of sensuousness. The mere excitement of the senses, by paintings, sculpture, music, gorgeous rites, and tragic anecdotes, is regarded as piety; tears of mere animal sympathy are regarded as the expressions of “godly sorrow,” &c.
2. In the sphere of logic. It is in some system of human thought which men call orthodox, and nowhere else.
3. In the realm of external performances. If you attend your place of worship, pay your secular debts, subscribe to charities, you are a religious man. Now, the text suggests, what true reason and the whole Bible teach, that, in the deep moral love of the heart, religion has its seat. Note that this love
I. IS A SUPREME AFFECTION DIRECTED TO CHRIST.
1. Religion is a supreme affection. It is not an ordinary feeling, which flows in the regular current of emotions, and sometimes rises to fervour, and then passes away. It is the master-passion of the soul, or nothing.
2. Religion is supreme affection to Christ. Lovest thou--not merely My ideas, or works, or heaven, but Me. Why should Christ demand this? Because
(1) It is right in itself. Who ought to have the highest gratitude? The greatest Benefactor, who “gave Himself for us.” Who ought to have the highest esteem? The Most Perfect Excellence; Christ is the embodiment of infinite excellence.
(2) It is indispensable to man. Man must love something supremely, and his supreme affection makes him become like the object. If the object is imperfect, unhappy, degraded, he will sink into crime, dishonour, and misery. Hence the necessity of having one like Christ to love.
II. MUST BE A MATTER OF CONSCIOUSNESS. Both the question and answer indicate this. A man cannot be ignorant of the spring of his action, and the central fact of his experience. The object of supreme affection is ever
1. The chief thought in the intellect.
2. The chief theme in the conversation.
3. The chief end in the design.
4. The chief object in the desire. All the laws of mind must be reversed before it can be otherwise.
III. IS THE QUALIFICATION FOR OFFICE IN CHRIST’S EMPIRE. After Peter’s confession--which was sincere, solemn, and thrice repeated--Christ gave Him a commission, which implied
1. That he would meet with the spiritually needy--hungry sheep, and feeble lambs. The world abounds with these young, inexperienced, undisciplined hungry souls.
2. That he would have at his disposal the suitable supplies for the needy--the doctrines he had received from Christ.
3. That he had the capacity so to present the supplies as to feed the needy. Nothing can qualify a man to help souls but love for Christ. Learning, genius, eloquence--all will not avail without this. This is the only true inspiration. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Jesus saith unto him, Feed My sheep
Feed My sheep
This was a sort of ordination of Peter to the pastorate. Note, then
I. THE EXAMINATION.
1. Christ does not admit any without examination, and this should encourage us to examine ourselves.
2. The examination touched the heart of the man and the very heart of religion, for if love be absent all is vain.
3. The examination dealt not with mental or spiritual qualifications, important as they were, but only that which is the supreme endow-merit of the pastor. It was necessary, because
(1) Love keeps us in Christ’s company, and so we work under His immediate supervision.
(2) Love to Christ kindles love for souls, and love gains almost absolute control over them.
(3) Love enables us to bear with the sheep’s infirmities without discouragement. What is it that sustains the mother in her weary watchings?
(4) Feeding the sheep is a proof of love. Peter would have liked a more brilliant proof, and so should we; but this is the real test.
(5) Pastoral work is the craving of love. Loving Christ we want to do something for Him.
(6) It is also the stimulus of love. The more we do at it the more we are loved by Christ and man.
(7) It is a sphere of communion. If we go among Christ’s sheep we shall be with Him.
II. THE PERSON WHO WAS EXAMINED.
1. Christ examined Peter because he wanted re-ordination. Had He not done so doubt would have been cast on his apostleship in after years. What blindness has seized the Church of Rome, which thinks that Christ spoke to Peter because he was the greatest, whereas it is plain that he was the least. The others had not denied Him and therefore were not reordained.
2. Christ took Peter off what might have grown into morbid sorrow. “Peter, My dear fellow, I know you are sincerely penitent; do not fret about it, but go and feed My sheep.”
3. Then was not Peter in danger of getting too big? In the case of some men an early breakdown was the making of them. They began from that time self loathing, and the Master used them.
4. This feeding sheep would benefit Peter. You did not know what a fool you were till you had to deal with fools; how quick tempered till you deal with the quick tempered. It was by feeding Christ’s flock that the Peter of the judgment hall became the Peter of the Epistles.
5. Why “Simon son of Jonas?”
(1) The weak name was used to remind him of his weakness. If you cannot come as Peter, come as Simon.
(2) This was his name when he was converted. Nothing will help you to feed the flock of God like the memory of your conversion.
(3) This was the name that Jesus called him when he made his memorable confession. Recollect in addition to your conversion the seasons in which Christ has manifested Himself to you as He does not to the world.
III. THE WORK. “Feed.”
1. The middle word is “shepherdize,” but the first and last is “feed.” When you preach give a hearty meal: the sheep will put up with many defects if you only feed them. You may dress them, and lead them about, but this will not satisfy them. What a quantity the sheep eat in the clover field! They won’t leave it and wander down the barren road. God’s people hunger and thirst after righteousness, and it is promised that they shall be filled, not have a nib and a bite. Never be afraid of giving them too much doctrine. Some want to drive them, but that won’t do. You say you will lead them, but first feed them. Don’t lead lean sheep. You want to govern them according to the middle word: but give two doses of feeding to one of governing. You have not to invent a new food. God has appointed the proper food; and though you might concoct a new food and get your name up, that is no business of yours. That great shepherd, the Pope, how much does he govern? how much does he feed? how much are the sheep nourished by his hallowed cursings?
2. The work begins with the “little lambkins.” Put the food, therefore, where they can get at it. “Bless the Lord,” said a farmer, after a sermon from a substitute for his minister, a very high, classical gentleman, “the hay was put in a low crib.” Some preach as though the Lord said, “Feed My camelopards.” Nothing but giraffes would be able to reach it from the lofty rack in which they place the food. “Oh,” say you, “I want to get them to work.” Feed them up to it, then. You cannot get much work out of a starving horse. And whatever you do, feed yourself. A lean preacher makes a lean people.
3. What does this involve?
(1) Watchfulness. No shepherd can afford to sleep at certain times. When you have a lambing time on--a blessed revival--you must keep your eyes open. And the devil goes about as a wolf, you must watch lest he devour the flock.
(2) Patience. The sheep are prone to wander. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The flock must be fed, not amused
From the deck of an Austrian gunboat we threw into the Lago Garda a succession of little pieces of bread, and presently small fishes came in shoals, till there seemed to be, as the old proverb puts it, more fish than water. They came to feed, and needed no music. Let the preacher give his people food, and they will flock around him, even if the sounding brass of rhetoric and the tinkling cymbals of oratory are silent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. HOW DID THE APOSTLES GATHER THE SHEEP OF CHRIST? A man must gather a flock before he can feed it. And the apostles, we know, had a very small one at first (Acts 1:15). All men are represented in the Word of God as sheep which have gone astray. Therefore the commission of our Lord to His apostles is, to seek out His sheep (Ezekiel 34:1-31.). And our Lord tells us that His own mission was “to seek and to save that which was lost.” So His commission to His apostles is, “Go ye into all the world,” &c. Now the apostles fulfilled our Lord’s command by the free and full proclamation of the glorious gospel of Christ (Acts 2:1-47.). Now look at Acts 13:1-52. and you will see the same means used by Paul. Look again at Acts 16:1-40. The apostles went to sinners, they proclaimed to them their guilt, and pardon through the blood of a crucified Saviour. You see the effect. Those who “gladly received their word” instantly became the disciples of the Lord, and joined themselves to the flock of Christ.
II. HOW THE APOSTLES FED THE SHEEP OF CHRIST when they had gathered them to the fold. They fed them with Christ Himself. “I am the Bread of Life.”
1. As proclaimed in His salvation.
2. As revealed in His Word. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.”
3. As exhibited in His ordinances.
4. As teaching in His commandments.
5. As coming in glory. (R. J. M’Ghee, M. A.)
Feed My lambs (A Sabbath-school Sermon):--Read the whole chapter, and observe the change of scene. First, they are on the lake fishing, and dragging to land a multitude of fishes. They have all come on shore, and their faces are turned to the pastures on the hillside. Herein lieth a parable. The first work of Christ’s servants is comprised in that commission, “Go ye into all the world,” &c.; or, parabolically, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught.” After this is done, souls converted, and brought up from the depths of sin, the scene changes: we see a flock, “the Church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood.” This shepherd work is so important that three times the Saviour bids us attend to it. We must never so evangelize the outside mass as to forget to fold and feed those within. Concerning this shepherdizing let us note
I. THE SPHERE. To whom does He refer?
1. To such as are little in grace. They have but a grain of mustard seed of faith as yet: their love is not a flame, but a spark apparently in danger of being suddenly blown out, and there-fore needing great care.
2. To the weak in grace. All such as are doubting, slenderly instructed, easily bewildered, cast down in spirit. If our kindness should neglect the strong it would be a sad pity, but it might not entail so much damage as if we neglect the weak. “Comfort the feeble-minded; support the weak.” I think the reason why the weak were committed to Simon Peter was because he had been very weak himself. He who is himself compassed with infirmities knows the heart of the weaklings.
3. To the young in grace. They may be old in years, and yet they may be mere babes as to the length of their spiritual life, and therefore they need to be under a good shepherd. As soon as a person is converted and added to the Church he should become the object of the care and kindness of his fellow members. Young converts are too timid to ask our help, and so our Lord introduces them to us with an emphatic command. This shall be our reward, “Inasmuch as ye have done it,” &c.
4. To those who have been converted while young in years. How much there is of brightness and trustfulness about children which is not seen in elder converts! Our Lord evidently felt deep sympathy with children, and he is but little like Christ who looks upon them as a trouble, and treats them as if they must needs be either little deceivers or simpletons.
5. These are to be fed because
(1) They need it. The second “feed” means exercise the office of a shepherd, but this means distinctly feed, and it directs teachers to the duty of instructing children in the faith. The lambs do not so much need keeping in order as we do who know so much, and yet know so little. Christian children mainly need to be taught the doctrine, precept, and life of the gospel. If there be any doctrine too difficult for a child, it is rather the fault of the teacher’s conception of it than of the child’s power to receive it. A child has not only to live as you and I have, but also to grow; hence he has double need of food. Whether we teach young Christians truth or not, the devil will be sure to teach them error. The only way to keep chaff out of the child’s little measure is to fill it brimful with good wheat.
(2) They are so likely to be overlooked. Our sermons often go over the heads of the younger folk. Blessed is he that can so speak as to be understanded of a child!
(3) This work is so profitable. Do what we may with persons converted late in life, we can never make much of them. Train up a child, and he may have fifty years of holy service before him. It is also most beneficial work to ourselves. It exercises our humility and trains our patience; let those who doubt this try it.
II. THE MAN. Not Peter only, but those who are like Peter. Christ selected him as
1. A leading man. He was one of the triumvirate that led the van. But though a leading man, he was to feed the lambs, for no man may think himself too great to care for the young. The best of the Church are none too good for this work.
2. A warmhearted man. Simon Peter was not a Welshman, but he had a great deal of what we know as Welsh fire. He was just the sort of man to interest the young. Children delight to gather round a fire, whether it be on the hearth or in the heart. Certain persons appear to be made of ice, and from these children speedily shrink away.
3. An experienced man. He had sinned much and had been much forgiven. We want experienced men and women to talk to children, and to tell them what have been their dangers, their sins, their sorrows, and their comforts. The young are glad to hear the story of those who have been further on the road than they have.
4. A greatly indebted man. He owed much to Jesus Christ, according to that rule of the kingdom--he loveth much to whom much hath been forgiven.
III. THE PREPARATION. Peter was prepared for feeding Christ’s lambs
1. By being fed himself. The Lord gave him a breakfast before giving him a commission. It is quite right for you to be teaching a great part of the Lord’s Day; but I think a teacher is very unwise who does not come to hear the gospel preached and get a meal for his own soul.
2. By being with his Master. I commend the study of instructive books, but above all the study of Christ. An hour’s communion with Jesus is the best preparation for teaching either the young or the old.
3. By self-examination. “Lovest thou Me?” Often the vessel wants scouring with self-examination before the Lord can fitly use it to convey the living water to thirsting ones. Mainly that examination should be exercised concerning our love; for the best preparation for teaching Christ’s lambs is love--love to Jesus and to them. We cannot be priests on their behalf unless like Aaron we wear their names upon our breasts. A shepherd that does not love his sheep is a hireling and not a shepherd. Our subject is the love of God in Christ Jesus. How can we teach this if we have no love ourselves?
IV. THE WORK. Every lesson should be a feeding lesson. It is of little use to thump the Bible and call out, “Believe!” when nobody knows what is to be believed. I see no use in fiddles and tambourines; neither lambs nor sheep can be fed upon brass bands. Feed the lambs; you need not pipe to them, nor put garlands round their necks; but do feed them. This feeding is
1. Humble, lowly, unostentatious work. Shepherds are generally quiet, unobtrusive people. They are never made knights or peers, albeit they do far more useful work than those who are floated into rank upon their own beer barrels. So in the ease of many a faithful teacher of young children; you hear but little about him, yet his Master knows all about him, and we shall hear of him in that day; perhaps not till then.
2. Careful work; for lambs cannot be fed on anything you please. You can soon half poison young believers with bad teaching. It is careful work the feeding of each lamb separately, and the teaching of each child by itself the truth which it is best able to receive.
3. Continuous work. Lambs could not live if the shepherd only fed them once a week; therefore good teachers of the young look after them on week days, and are careful about their souls with prayer and holy example when they are not teaching them by word of mouth.
4. Laborious work. Nothing so exhausts a man as the care of souls; so it is in measure with all who teach--they cannot do good without spending themselves. You must study the lesson, &c.
5. All this has to be done in a singularly choice spirit; the true shepherd spirit is an amalgam of many precious graces. He is hot with zeal, but not fiery with passion; gentle, and yet rules his class; loving, but does not wink at sin; he has power over the lambs, but he is not domineering or sharp; he has cheerfulness, but not levity; freedom, but not license; solemnity, but not gloom. He who cares for lambs should be a lamb himself; and there is a Lamb before the throne who cares for all of us, and does so the more effectually because He is in all things made like unto us.
V. THE MOTIVE.
1. The motive was to be his Master’s self. Had Peter been the first Pope of Rome, surely Christ would have said to him, “Feed your sheep.” The work that you have to do is in no sense for yourselves. Your classes are not your children, but Christ’s.
2. Yet while this is a self-denying occupation, it is one of the noblest forms of service. How wonderful that Jesus should commit them to us! Jesus in effect says, “I love you so that I trust you with that which I purchased with My heart’s blood.”
3. We are to feed Christ’s lambs out of love.
(1) As a proof of love. If ye love Me, feed My lambs.
(2) As an inflowing of love. If you love Christ a little when you begin to do good, you will soon love Him more. Love grows by active exercise.
(3) As an outflow of love. A person may go home and sit down and groan out, “Tis a point I long to know, Oft it causes anxious thought,” &c., but if he will rise up and work for Jesus, the point he longs to know will soon be settled. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Feed My lambs
I. WHY ARE CHILDREN COMPARED TO LAMBS?
1. The first idea suggested is that of innocence. There is something inexpressibly pure and inoffensive in these little creatures. Not in allusion to His sacrifice only, but to His character also, Jesus is described as the “Lamb of God,” “a lamb without blemish and without spot.” And little children are thus lamb-like. We do not forget the sad fact of man’s degeneracy. But we are not to make our theology hideous by violating nature and common sense in regarding children as great sinners. Look at this new born infant. It has no power to exercise repentance, nor has it any guilt of which to repent. The attempt to induce remorse for imaginary faults renders more difficult the task in the ease of faults which are actual. And as regards these, we should treat little children in accordance with fact and not with theory. When they cease to be infants and actually do wrong, it should be borne in mind that they are still necessarily incapable of many kinds of sin. Comparatively they still are “lambs.” Let them not be induced to make confessions which in their lips are absurd; to sing hymns or say prayers which to them are untrue; to profess emotions which it is impossible for them to feel. Let us also keep them ignorant of sin as long as possible. Very injurious are many books, pictures and exhibitions which render children familiar with evil before the time. We should be cautious even in selecting their Bible lessons. Bather let us adapt our teaching to their innocence. Let us not tell them how attractive are the forbidden pastures, and run the risk of impressing them more with the charms than the perils of going astray. Rather let us show them the beauty of the pastures where the Shepherd is now leading them, the security of the fold, the happiness of the flock. Let the positive teaching of goodness fortify them against the evil when it comes.
2. This thought reminds us that they are errant. Lambs venture from their mother’s side, and in playful troops wander hither and thither. However innocent at first, children have within them the seeds of evil which only need favouring circumstances to develop. Inclination within is responded to by opportunity without “A roaring lion” watches for the lambs. Look at these little children to whom robbery and adultery and murder are words without a meaning. Think now of the criminals in our gaols. They were once innocent as lambs. Alas! how thoughtless, or heartless, or both, are some parents. Young girls and boys of the poor rove through the streets as if no danger threatened them; and the children of the wealthier are often sent to schools without any caution respecting associates already old in sin.
3. Lambs are playful. What sight is more pleasant in the spring-time than the merry gambols of a young lamb. How kind is the Creator! He has made all things to be glad! Children, too, are joyous. How quickly they dry their tears! How little delights them! Religious teachers should cultivate this gladness. They will have sadness enough some day. Let them be merry while they can. Let not religion frown on their happiness. God made laughter as surely as He made tears. Joyfulness, too, should characterize their religion. Nature, God’s open book, is full of delight for them. The Bible is stored with amusement for them. Guide the lambs through the green and pleasant pastures, not up craggy rocks too steep for their tiny feet. Especially let Jesus, in all the loveliness of His human character, be the teacher’s constant theme. Let the hymns they sing be joyous like themselves, and let the tunes express their own gladness of heart. Let the public services to which they are taken not be so long and unsuitable to their comprehension as to link ideas of weariness with worship. And let Sunday be a day of special pleasure.
4. A lamb is an emblem of weakness and gentleness. The Good Shepherd was Himself brought “as a lamb to the slaughter;” and He is represented as gathering the lambs into His bosom. He gently leads those that need gentle treatment. Be gentle with the lambs. They cannot run far nor run long. They may be seriously injured “if men should over-drive them one day.” Some good people are not wise in this respect. They may be very conscientious in bringing up their children; but they are very strict. What wonder if such children have been repelled rather than attracted! It is so mysterious that they have gone wrong?
II. THESE LAMBS ARE CHRIST’S.
1. The “Word,” who became “flesh,” created every little lamb. Their Maker who knows all their wants bids us care for them as His own.
2. They are Christ’s because He redeemed them. If Jesus died for the whole world who will venture to exclude those to whom He said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven?” Born into a redeemed world, they are the purchased possession of its Lord.
3. Children are Christ’s peculiar treasure. A large proportion of His own life was spent in childhood. He often showed His love for children. Children loved Him, and sang hosannah to Him when Scribes and Pharisees insulted Him. He took their part and said, “Have ye not read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise.” He said to Peter, “Feed My lambs.” How richly has His grace been often poured forth on children! And in heaven children constitute the greatest portion of its multitude and the brightest jewel in the mediatorial crown. Let us treat them as such. They are not the devil’s, and must not be left to him.
III. CHRIST’S LAMBS ARE TO BE FED.
1. They must be taken to the only true pasture. Jesus is “the Bread of Life.” They will starve on mere ceremonies and Church rules. Even doctrine, however scriptural, is not enough.
2. They are to be fed; not taken to the pasture merely that they may see it; nor driven to it and over it and then from it; but induced to lie down there and make it their home and the habitual nourishment and joy of their souls. They are to be fed, not crammed; but the truth is to be given them in such measure and at such times that they may digest it and grow thereby.
3. They must be fed while they are lambs. The first infant-class should be at home, and the mother the first teacher. The instructions of the church and the school are subsequent and auxiliary. (Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Christ’s sympathy with the lambs of His flock
I. THE OBJECTS OF THE SAVIOUR’S CARE--“My lambs.”
1. Young Christians. By these we mean all, in youth or riper years, who are young in Christianity. Are you such? Then you are wise to salvation, and walking in wisdom’s “ways of pleasantness,” and “paths of peace.” Your knowledge, however, is not perfect, and your faith is not yet confirmed and steadfast.
2. Mourners in Zion. Penitent sinners seeking salvation, with hearts “broken and contrite.” The Good Shepherd loves you, seeks yea saves you. “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.”
3. Little children. How great their number! How important their position! How perilous their circumstances! How lovely, lively, tender, erring, sinful! Think of
(1) Their hereditary guilt and depravity.
(2) Their capacity and need.
(3) Their position and influence.
(4) Their danger and
(5) duty. Their redemption and recover.
(6) Their destiny.
II. THE IMPORT OF THE SAVIOUR’S CHARGE
1. Food is provided and prepared. Are they ignorant, and in a state of intellectual destitution? This is met in the Bible. Are they condemned, and in a state of judicial destitution? This is met by the Atonement. Are they depraved, and in a state of spiritual destitution? This is met in the gift of the Spirit. Are they sinners, and in a state of moral destitution? This is met in the provision of the Gospel. Are they in a state of physical destitution?
This is met in “the resurrection of life.” Are they, in short, in a state of destitution which nothing less than Deity can satisfy? Here is food
(1) Suitable and sufficient.
(2) Exhaustless and free.
(3) Satisfying and sustaining.
(4) Near and necessary.
2. The food provided and prepared is to be given to lambs.
(1) Teach them “the Holy Bible” and all you can of its genuineness and inspiration; its doctrines, duties and institutions; its Author, origin, and end. Here is the School Book, the manual of children, the treasury of young men, and the profound text-book of fathers, the “Encyclopedia” of salvation. The Bible is the oldest, wisest, best book in the world.
(2) Train and tend them
(a) In the regular habit of reading, revering, believing, and loving the Bible.
(b) To believe, and trust, and rest in the atonement of the Saviour.
(c) To receive and obey, to follow and honour, the Spirit of Christ.
(d) In the duty of submission to the gospel law.
(e) To live in reference to the judgment.
3. But how is all this to be accomplished? We venture to propose the following system: Let it be
(1) Various in adaptation.
(2) Uniform in tendency.
(3) Kind, but firm, in application. (J. Mood.)
Tending the lambs
Many years ago, when taking my morning walk along the base of Schiehallion, one of our loftiest Highland mountains, I met a Shepherd, a regular attender at my sabbath meetings. He had his plaid closely wrapped round him, and had evidently something in it that he was carrying with unusual care. After a friendly salutation, I said, “What is this, Malcolm, that you have in your plaid?” He answered, “It is a poor forsaken lamb. When I was going my rounds this morning, I found it lying on the cold ground, its mother had left it, and it would soon have died.” “And what do you intend to do with it?” “I will feed it,” said the kind shepherd, “and it will soon be one of the flock.” He did so. The poor forsaken lamb, revived, grew, and become one of the liveliest and strongest of the fold, while it must have pined and died but for the compassion of the shepherd. (Union Magazine.)
The shepherding of the lambs
I. CHRIST THINKS OF THE CHILDREN AS LAMBS. Of all the flock the Iambs are most carefully kept within the fold. The sheep may be allowed to stray, but not the lambs. In such a land as Palestine a lamb outside the fold would soon fail a prey to wild beasts. Christ ever regarded children as a part of the kingdom. He might say to His disciples, “I will make you fishers of men,” but He never told them to be fishers of children, they were to be shepherds to the children, who were already in the fold. Now, that has a very deep meaning both for the lambs and the shepherds. To the lambs--it means that Christ loves you--that you are in His great fold--He is your Shepherd. If you only knew how much He loved you, you would say, “I love Him because He first loved me.” But it has a meaning for those who feed them. We must treat them as lambs. They are not yet on the dark mountains of unbelief, or in the far country of sin. We have not to bring them home, but to keep them at home. If we are to do this, we must always speak of God as their best friend. If thus they think of Him, then they will never desire to leave the blessed enclosure.
II. CHRIST SAYS THEY MUST BE FED. Do not think they are too young to be fed. They will soon be sheep. The flocks of the future will be largely determined by the treatment the lambs now receive. We see this clearly enough in other realms. If a child be stinted in food, he will suffer in body all his days. No after plenty will remedy the neglect. If a child be not taught the elements of knowledge, it will be difficult to acquire them afterwards. But we do not see so clearly (would that we did!) the immense importance of providing spiritual food. Neglect of this can never be remedied. Later in life the child may be brought to the knowledge of the truth, but even then the character will not be what it might have been if it had been in early days fed after the manner of Christ. You may take a tree which has grown for some years in one place or direction, and move it to another place or give it another direction; but it will never have the vigour or grace of a young tree planted in the right place, and trained from the first in the direction you wished. “Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God,” &c. It is easy to see why it should be so. The bent of life is determined in early days, then habits are formed, and the general tone and character of the soul are fixed.
III. THEY MUST HAVE FOOD CONVENIENT FOR THEM. Hidden in the word is surely the idea that the food must be simple. Lambs will not thrive on the food of the sheep. They need the milk, and not the hard hay, the tender herb, and not the coarse roots. It is almost as bad to give them what they cannot digest as to give them nothing to digest at all. There is in this book an abundance of provision, but we must see to it that we make a right selection therefrom. Many parts of Holy Scripture are not suited to the capacity or calculated to meet the wants of a child. They will only puzzle and perplex. Our Lord’s words are best suited to the children. He so often spoke in parables that there is nearly always a picture for them to look upon as they read His words. Then, too, our Lord is ever telling of a Father, and His great love; ever revealing Him in words of tenderness and grace. Now, the main thing is for the child to be drawn to God--to know Him in Jesus Christ--to think of Him as the best Friend. If we can fix the young heart upon God, then our work is well-nigh done.
IV. THEY MUST BE FED BY THOSE WHO LOVE THE GOOD SHEPHERD. The naturalist must do his work by keen observation; the philosopher by the dry light of reason; the poet’s chief ally is imagination; but love is the supreme thing in the kingdom of God. Our Lord’s anxiety is all concerning Peter’s love. If his heart be right, Christ knew that all else would come right. (W.
Care for the children
President Harrison taught for several years in a Sabbath school on the banks of the Ohio, and the Sunday before he left home for Washington to assume the duties of chief magistrate of the nation, he met his Bible class as usual; and his last counsel on the subject to his gardener at Washington, it may be hoped, will never be forgotten by his country. When advised to keep a dog to protect his fruit, he replied, “Rather set a Sunday-school teacher to take care of the boys.” (W. Baxendale.)
Care for children
An Englishman, visiting Sweden, noticing the care taken in that country for educating children, who are rescued from the streets and placed in special schools, inquired if it was not costly. “Yes, but not dear. We Swedes are not rich enough to let a child grow up in ignorance, misery, and crime, to become a scourge to society as well as a disgrace to himself.” (Preacher’s Lantern.)
Ministering to children
It was beautifully said of one minister, “With the youth he took great pains, and was a tree of knowledge, with fruit that the children could reach.” (J. Houghton, D. D.)
Claims of children
Edmund Burke once was obliged to oppose in Parliament an unfortunate marriage law. He closed a passage of marvellous eloquence by these words: “Why do I speak of parental feeling? The children are parties to be considered in this legislation. The mover of this Bill has no child.” (Joseph Cook.)
The claims of children
Could I climb to the highest place in Athens, I would lift up my voice and proclaim, “Fellow citizens, why do ye turn and scrape every stone to gather wealth, and take so little care of your children, to whom you must one day relinquish it all.” (Socrates.)
Children a trust from God
The son of a man very eminent in the legal profession was once standing in a felon’s dock awaiting a sentence of transportation. Said the judge, who knew his parentage and history, “Do you remember your father?” “Perfectly,” said the youth. “Whenever I entered his presence he said, ‘Run away, my lad, and don’t trouble me.’” The great lawyer was thus enabled to complete his great work on “The Law of Trusts;” and his son in due time furnished a practical commentary on the way in which a father had discharged the most sacred of all trusts committed to him in the person of his own child. (Dr. Potter.)
Importance of children
A gentleman was walking over his farm with a friend, exhibiting his crops, herds of cattle, and flocks of sheep, with all of which his friend was highly pleased, but with nothing so much as his splendid sheep. He had seen the same breed frequently before, but never such noble specimens, and with great earnestness he asked how he had succeeded in rearing such flocks. His simple answer was: “I take care of my lambs, sir.” (Family Treasury.)
When thou wast young thou girdest thyself
Light on Peter’s way
PETER’S FUTURE DESTINY DISCLOSED (John 21:18-19).
1. The manner of the disclosure.
(1) Solemnly--“Verily, verily.”
(2) Authoritatively. “I,” who know all things, “say unto you.”
(3) Feelingly. There can be small question but that Christ was deeply moved.
2. Its form. Not in literal but in veiled speech.
3. Its import.
(1) Indirectly a promise that Peter would attain a ripe old age, fulfilled in his death in A.D. 64.
(2) Directly a prediction that his career would terminate in martyrdom.
4. The reason for it. Perhaps
(1) To indicate the necessity of maintaining the love he had just professed.
(2) To furnish him with an opportunity of wiping out his disgrace by doing as he declared he was willing to do (John 13:37).
(3) To set before him the highest honour he could win--fellowship with Christ, not only in publishing, but also in dying for the truth (Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 6:22; Acts 5:41; Romans 8:17; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 13:13; 1 Peter 3:14).
II. PETER’S PRESENT DUTY DECLARED (John 21:19).
1. The symbolical action. On saying, “Follow Me,” Christ probably suited the action to the word, by turning and making as if to depart.
2. The spiritual significance. If this suggestion be correct, it is still true that Christ intended more than to invite Peter aside from the company. His summons was a call to follow Him
(1) In official service.
(2) By personal imitation.
(3) As far as to death.
(4) Through the agonies of martyrdom.
(5) Into the world of glory beyond.
III. PETER’S CHARACTERISTIC IMPETUOSITY RESTRAINED (John 21:20-23).
1. Peter’s question, “Lord, and this man! What of him?”
(1) The occasion of it. Seeing John following, attracted, no doubt, by Christ’s love for him (“the disciple whom Jesus loved”), and impelled by his love for Christ (“who also leaned,” &c.).
(2) The motive of it. Not jealousy, perhaps natural curiosity, most likely friendly interest in John.
(3) The wrong of it. Not irreverent towards Christ (“Lord”), or unkind towards John, or sinful in itself (John 14:13); it was irrelevant, having no bearing on the subject in hand, which was Peter’s duty, not John’s destiny; and inquisitive, manifesting a concern in the affairs of others not required by brotherly love, if not bordering on the presumptuous, as seeking to be informed of secret things which belong to God.
2. Jesus’ reply (verse 22).
(1) What it meant to Peter--rebuke. It did not belong to him to arrange, nor ought it to concern him to know (Acts 1:7). All this might be left with Christ. His duty was to follow Christ.
(2) What it signified for John. Not that he should not die; merely that it might be Christ’s will that he should tarry long upon the field of labour till Christ came again, not that it was; and that if it was it was a matter exclusively for John.
1. To Christ alone pertains the prerogative of appointing to His servants their respective spheres and experiences.
2. The future destinies of Christ’s servants, as well as their present duties, are arranged by and known to Christ.
3. For the happiness of Christ’s servants it is enough to apprehend present duty.
4. “Secret things belong to God,” &c.
5. While Christ’s servants may be bold in making known their requests, there are limits to their asking.
6. The strongest propelling power is love to Christ.
7. Christ’s people are not exempt from misinterpreting His words.
8. When Christ’s words are partly dark it is wise to keep to that in them which is plain, and to wait for further light. (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
When thou art old another shall gird thee, and carry thee.--We are none of us to choose how we will serve Christ. We may seem to have the choice, but sooner or later we shall find we cannot go on doing just the work that suits us best. Something will be asked of us we did not expect, something that tries our strength and constancy just where we are weakest.
There are many active, earnest, true-hearted men who are moved with a very real desire to do something to advance their Master’s kingdom on earth. They would like perhaps, to preach and teach at home, or to go out as missionaries to foreign lands; and home duties, their way of life, the circumstances in which God’s providence has placed them, puts it out of their power to serve God in the way of their own choice. And they feel as if they could do nothing high or noble, as if Jesus was holding them back, and letting them have no opportunity of serving Him. But if in no other way they may serve Him as Peter had in the end to do, by patient suffering and self-denial for His sake. Then there are many who, from old age or from sickness and infirmity, are cut off from the life of active usefulness they loved. Instead of girding themselves to wait on others, to lead and guide and help them, they must have others to gird them, wait on them, attend to them. To such people it is the most painful thought possible that they are of no use. When they are told that they must never expect again to go forth to labour, when, perhaps from some bodily affliction, they are so helpless as not to be able even to wait on themselves, they feel that it would be better, easier, to die at once. They do not wish to rest till they reach the rest prepared for the people of God, and they have been accustomed to regard all work for the Lord as active stirring work. Let such remember that for His dear servant and friend the Lord appointed a rest-time, a prison rest-time, before the last rest of all, and that he so ready to do had to learn also quietly to suffer. I remember a good old clergyman, who for more than fifty-six years, first as a curate, and afterwards as a vicar, ministered in the Church of God. In all those years, except for a short rest in summer, his life had been one of constant activity. When a young man he had thrown himself earnestly into the effort then being made to extend to the children of the poor the blessings of Christian training. Busy in his own parish, he had still found time to help forward many a good work in other parts of the country, by his counsel and presence. He had written books that have brought comfort to many a weary heart. When near eighty he was still working in his own parish as of old, visiting the sick, comforting the sorrowing, leading back gently those who had gone out of the way, preaching the gospel to the poor. As he began to feel his strength grow less, his one desire was that he might be able to go on being useful in his day and generation till the Master’s call should come. One day he met with an accident--serious at his time of life--and which would have proved fatal to one of less temperate habit and brave heart. But though he to a certain extent recovered, and lived for nearly a year after, he was never able again to minister in the church, or visit in his parish. At first when he realized that his active life was ended, his bright and cheerful spirit seemed as if it would fail him. He could not bear the thought of being a burden to others, though even in his then feeble state few men of his age required or would receive less attention and waiting on. But soon he recovered his wonted cheerfulness; He found much that he could still do for Him he had served already with the best years of his life. No sermon he ever preached, no book he ever wrote, so clearly bore witness for his Lord as did that last year of patient waiting for the call. Oh, my friends, blessed is that servant whom his Lord when He comes shall find girding himself to work; but no less blessed is he who, patiently enduring sickness, weakness, forced inactivity, shall be found by his Lord--waiting. (S. Hobson, M. A.)
The leading of Peter
The other, who was to lead Peter against his own will, is God with His powerful hand. This leading we trace in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter is forced to give up his ardent desire to gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel into the fold of Christ; Israel becomes not Israel; Peter is obliged to leave the holy city, which has only imprisonment and the sword to give to the servants of their King; to Samaria his sovereign Leader leads him, and into the house of the Gentile Cornelius, and at length to Rome, the new Babylon, from whence he strengthened the elect strangers of the dispersion whom Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, had brought into the fold of Israel, strengthened them in the enduring of persecution, and against the seductions of false prophets. From Jerusalem to Babylon--it went against nature. And this offering up of his own life, this becoming free from all will of his own, was to be crowned and to have its perfecting in the martyr’s death, by which he should glorify God: then would he stretch out those hands which had been so active in his youth, to be bound to the cross; instead of the girdle of his youth, an executioner’s rope would tuck up his garments (cf. Acts 21:11)
; instead of walking whither he would from one Pentecostal harvest to another, he should be lead whither he would not, to the painful and ignominious death of the cross. (R. Besser, D. D.)
The true service of Christianity to man
There is no question so generally discussed as this, and three classes give a wrong answer.
1. Those who maintain that Christianity has injured, rather than benefited, the race. They tell us that it has warped man’s judgments, nurtured morbid sentimentality, sectionized society, and served the ends of superstition, priestcraft, and tyranny.
2. Those who maintain that it is one of the many elevating forces at work in society. They tell us that it is generally of service to man in a low stage of civilization; that, like the theories and superstitions of old times, it has its mission, which it will fulfil and then become obsolete, to be left behind as the race advances in intelligence and manly virtue.
3. Those who maintain that it does everything for man. They say that there is nothing good in the world but Christianity--none in nature, science, and the feelings of man without it; and that if a man has it, he needs nothing more. These conflicting sentiments raise the question, “Of what real use is it?” Let us look at this
I. ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE. This incident suggests
1. That Christianity does not counteract the natural changes to which man’s physical life is subject. “When thou wert young,” &c. Peter was a genuine disciple; but, nevertheless, Christ tells him, in effect, that Christianity in his soul would not prevent time wearing out his body, and that age incapacitates a man from executing his volitions. “When thou wert young thou couldst ply the oar, roam the fields, scale the hills; there was energy and flexibility in thy frame, by which thou couldst readily execute thy desires. But when thou shelf be old, although thy will shall be vigorous, thy executive power will be gone.” Christianity will not prevent the bloom fading from the cheek, the brightness passing from the eye, the strength dying out of the limb. Christianity neither offers resistance to the regular course of nature, nor any atonement for her violations. This fact shows
(1) That physical sufferings are no criterion for individual moral states. Some of the best men are the greatest sufferers, and some of the most useful die in the zenith of life.
(2) That Christianity respects the ordinances of nature. However you drink in the spirit of religion, and however consecrated you may be to its service, if you rebel against nature you must suffer.
(3) That if the disciples of Christ would be physically happy, they must attend, like other men, to physical laws. If you are in want of physical comforts, it is of no use for you to sing, “The Lord will provide,” and sit down in sloth.
2. That Christianity does not guard a man from the social oppressions of life. It is here foretold that Peter should die of crucifixion. His religion rather exposed him to the malice of men. Christianity teaches that if we will live godly, we must suffer persecution. This fact shows
(1) That Christianity can do without the favour of the world. It does not authorize the compromise of its principles to gain worldly patronage; but requires us to carry them out in their fulness and force, even against a world in arms.
(2) That Christianity can do without the lives of its most devoted followers, rather than without their fidelity.
3. That Christianity does not solve the speculative problems of life. “Why am I thus to be dealt with? What is to become of John? Is he to be crucified also? or will he live the natural term of life?” To this Jesus replies, “What is that to thee?” There are many pressing questions to which Christianity offers no response but this, and for good reasons.
(1) The encouragement of the sequestions would strengthen the speculative tendency rather than improve the heart. One answer would lead to another question, and so on interminably.
(2) An answer would create emotions which would paralyze moral action. Supposing we knew what would happen to us and ours!
(3) An answer would multiply the forces that divert us from practical godliness.
4. That Christianity does not invest us with an infallible judgment in this life (verse 23). The disciples fell into a wrong interpretation of the Saviour’s meaning. Christianity does clear and strengthen and guide the judgment, but does not render it infallible. If these “brethren” could make this mistake, much more their successors.
II. THE POSITIVE SIDE.
1. The incident suggests that it enlists Christ’s interest in the history of His disciples. How do the Gospels display this? and it is now displayed in the prophecy of Peter’s future, and his preparation to meet it. Is it nothing to enlist the interest of the Governor of the universe? Nothing that you have the interest of One
(1) Who knows the whole of the past, present, and future of your inner and outer life?
(2) Who has ample power so to control the events of the outward life, and supply the aspirations of the inward as to crown your existence with perfect blessedness. What thought can be more soul inspiring and uplifting than this?
2. The incident suggests that it brings glory to God in the death of His disciples. It illustrates
(1) The mercy of God. Visit the death-bed of the genuine disciple; mark the calmness, resignation, and sometimes the triumphant rapture amidst physical anguish. It is mercy that sustains the spirit amidst the mysterious sufferings of dissolution.
(2) The fidelity of God, who has promised to be with His people in the last hour. Is this nothing? To glorify God, to illustrate His perfections, is the end of creation, the duty and supreme aim of the holy in all worlds. Is it nothing for Christianity to enable poor, depraved men to do in death that which is the highest aim of the highest seraph.
3. The incident suggests that it gives a definite unity and attraction to all the duties of His disciples. What theories of human duty ethical sages have propounded. How voluminous legal codes! But Christianity reduces all duties to “Follow thou Me.” Christianity presents duty, not in dry propositions, but in a fascinating life. In Christ we see it in the most perfect, attractive, and practicable forms. Is this nothing? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The prophecy and its main lesson
In His old age the Apostle was to be crucified--made to stretch forth his hands upon the transverse beams of the cross, and girded (or lashed round the waist) to the instrument of torture by a cord. Tradition says that he was crucified, at his own request, with his head downwards; in that case, the girding, or tying tightly, to the cross would probably be necessary, by way of keeping the body of the sufferer in its right position. This is in all probability the reference of the words, “another shall gird thee,” though perhaps some will prefer to see in them nothing more than an allusion to the binding of the Apostle previously to his being led away to execution. But putting aside their original and literal meaning, the words lend themselves very well to a secondary application. They may be regarded as a striking parable of human life in its two great periods of youth and old age. Youth is full of enterprize, energy, hope, vigour, prompt in forming schemes, and active in carrying them into execution; when emancipated from the restraints of boyhood, it exults in its independence, and feels that it is the master of its own destiny. “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkest whither thou wouldest.” But old age is the season of helplessness and dependence; “another is called in to perform the most necessary offices, and to supply our lack of service towards our own failing frames; the very old have to be led, fed, apparalled by others, and the end is, that they are carried whither (according to the flesh) men cannot but shrink from going.” (Dean Goulburn.)
These words spake He, signifying by what death he should glorify God
God glorified in the Christian’s death
I. DEATH IS INEVITABLY CERTAIN. All men must submit to its destroying stroke; for “it is appointed unto all men once to die.” Christians themselves are not exempted from it. Peter and Paul and John died. Death is certain.
1. In consequence of the original sentence which has been pronounced upon our apostate race.
2. The constant reiteration of this fact demonstrates the certainty of man’s mortality.
3. Constituted as human nature now is, it is impossible that we should enter upon the spiritual employments and blessedness of the heavenly world. The mind in its disembodied state is capable of entering upon the enjoyments and employment of heaven; but the body made up of decaying and material particles, requiring the constant refreshment of sleep and food, and occasionally of medicine, would not be a meet companion for the mind in future bliss, unless it should undergo a previous process of dissolution and resurrection, so that it may become fitted to take its part in the worship, and felicities of a spiritual heaven. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Either then there is the necessity of dying, or there is the necessity of undergoing a change, which is fully tantamount to dying.
4. The certainty of death will appear, if you consider the conformity which must be preserved between Christ the Head, and all the members of His mystical body. Jesus has died, and there is something of especial propriety that where the head has laid, there the members should lay.
II. THE SPECIFIC FORM AND MANNER OF OUR DEATH IS WISELY PREDETERMINED AND ARRANGED BY GOD.
1. There is a great variety of forms and modes in which the life of man is terminated. Some quit the world naturally, and others violently; some suddenly, and others by lingering steps. This depends very much on the particular conformation of the frame, on the habits of life,and a variety of incidental circumstances. Some are called to depart by diseases of the lungs, other by affections of the heart. Amidst all this vast variety of liabilities, it is wonderful that our frame exists as we find it, and that we are so long kept from the grasp of death.
2. This is not left to the choice of the subjects of this great change, nor to the volition of others, nor to mere chance and accident. God knows and God predetermines, not only the event of your death and the time, but the exact form and character. “My times are in thy hand.” He could signify it to you but it is wisely concealed. “We know not at what hour the Son of Man cometh.” Man may talk of certain constitutional predisposing causes, of primary organization, habits of life, accidents of infancy, &c., as all having a bearing and relation to the manner of our removal out of the world. But these are only so many of the minuter links in the great chain of cause and effect; and the first link of that chain is fastened to the throne of Deity.
III. HOW IT IS THAT THE CHRISTIAN DOES GLORIFY GOD IN HIS DEATH, IN WHATEVER PARTICULAR FORM IT MAY OCCUR.
1. He meets the first intimation of approaching dissolution with tranquility and resignation. There is an hour coming when he will observe no equivocal indications of the decay of the outward man; then does he not glorify God when he can say, I have no will of my own; here I am; let the Lord do with me as seemeth good in His sight.
2. By the avowal of a penitent mind. The sentiment of the publican becomes us in our last hour as well as in our initial moments--“God be merciful to me a sinner.”
3. When he is enabled to exemplify a firm and unshaken confidence in the Redeemer as the object of his sole and undivided reliance. “I know whom I have believed,” &c.
4. By their manifest detachment and disengagement of heart from the objects and interests of the present world. “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” &c.
4. When they are enabled to exemplify unwearied patience and submission amidst the pains and the sorrows of declining years.
5. By the devout spirit which he breathes while he lies upon the bed of death, waiting for his great change: for he who has lived much in the air of devotion while active, will carry the same spirit to the bed of death.
6. By the spirit of sweet and fervent charity which he is enabled to exemplify in his departing hours. In conclusion, permit me to ask you, Are you thus prepared to glorify God? In order to answer this let me propound another--Are you concerned to glorify God while you live?--for this is the best pledge and presage that you will glorify him when you come to die. (G. Clayton.)
Glorifying God in death
When dying of consumption the saintly Samuel Pearce of Birmingham remarked to his friends--“It was never till to-day that I got any personal instruction from our Lord’s telling Peter by what death he should glorify God. Oh l what a satisfying thought it is that God appoints those means of dissolution by which He gets most glory to Himself. It was the very thing I needed; for of all the ways of dying, that which I most dreaded was by a consumption. But oh l my dear Lord, if by this death I can most glorify Thee, I prefer it to all others, and thank Thee that by this means Thou art hastening my fuller enjoyment of Thee in a purer world.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
These were Christ’s first words to Peter Matthew 4:19), and His last. They form the beginning and the end of Christian instruction, and on them hang all the law and the prophets. Moreover, the lesson was so continually enforced that when Peter came to write to his brethren he said, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps.” Consider
I. SOME OF THE PREREQUISITES to compliance with this precept.
1. The will must be subjected to the will of Jesus. Many do not follow Christ, and the secret is they do not wish: they want to have their own way. A little relative of mine was being taught the Lord’s prayer, and when he came to “Thy will be done,” he said, “Why cannot I say ‘my will instead,’” and so do many older children. We have a remarkable illustration of this in the case of Saul of Tarsus. Before the Damascus incident it was ever “My will.” But the key-note of his whole after-life was struck when he said, “What wilt Thou?” &c.
2. The eyes must be opened. Blind Bartimaeus could not follow Jesus till He said, “Thy faith hath saved thee,” &c. But “immediately” after he did so. So there are multitudes spiritually blind, who cannot tread in Christ’s footsteps. Christ must open their eyes to see Him and whither He would lead them.
3. The affections must be aroused. “Lovest thou Me?” “Thou knowest that I love Thee.”
II. THE FORCE OF THESE WORDS, especially as connected with the case of Peter. They were words of
1. Solemn admonition.
(1) Peter was a restored backslider; and part of the meaning to him would be, “All thy mistakes arose from not following Me.” So the words have a retrospective use. Who can fail to trace his declensions to the same cause? But Christ would admonish us with regard to the future, “As all thy mistakes arose through not following Me, henceforth, therefore, follow in My steps.” You know how often we have stood at the cross-road of life. Shall we go to the right or to the left? And what have we done? Trusted to our own judgment? Leant on the council of friends? Or thrown the reins on the neck of the steed of circumstances and let him guide us whithersoever he will? Or have we sought counsel of the Lord?
(2) “But,” you say, “how is a man to know the Lord’s will?” Listen: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” Those who fear Him are those who fear to grieve Him by the slightest deviation from the path He has marked out for them. God does not tell His secrets to everybody, nor do you. But there is such a thing as walking with the Lord so that He may direct our steps. “Shall I hide from Abraham, My friend,” &c. Still how? In Isaiah 11:2 it is promised that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon us and make us of a quick understanding--scent or smell, as it is in the margin, just like that hound who can follow the game past this difficulty and that. So with the believer dwelling in close communion with his Lord. You know how the North American Indian can trace the trail of one who has passed through the forest, To us it would be nothing. There is the print of the mocassin upon the tender herb, or a slight displacement of the brushwood, and to the trained eye there is the path that has been trodden. So there is such a thing as having what Paul calls “our senses exercised to discern”--quick of sight to see the way, quick of ear to hear “this is the way, walk ye in it.”
2. Gracious encouragement. They were spoken to a man who had been probed and tested. How many misgivings he must have had till this invitation was given! It was like the father encouraging his child to take the leap having first jumped himself, and then on the hither bank saying, “Follow me.” Thus Jesus speaks through our doubts and fears. So in regard to work. Never mind what the Mrs. Grundy’s say, “Follow Christ.”
3. Faithful warning. One of the most striking evidences of Christianity is its honesty. When the recruiting officer goes into the villages he talks of the glories of a soldier’s life, of the prospect of promotion, but never of the work in the trenches, the marches under a burning sun, and the agonies of the battlefield. But here comes a new religion seeking to win men and promising them persecution, trial, conflict--nothing concealed. So the Lord says to Peter, “Follow Me, but remember that you will die a martyr’s death.” The application to us is--Christ does promise us things inestimably dear, but He bids us count the cost. No cross, no crown. “If any man will come after Me,” &c. (W. P. Lockhart.)
Love the motive f or following Christ
Francis I. of France had not reached his twentieth year when he was present at the celebrated battle of Marignan, which lasted two days. The Marshal de Trivulce, who had been in eighteen pitched battles, said that those were the play of infants; but that this of Marignan was the combat of giants. Francis performed on this occasion prodigies of valour: he fought less as a king than as a soldier. Having perceived his standard-bearer surrounded by the enemy, he precipitated himself to his assistance in the midst of lances and halberts. He was presently surrounded; his horse pierced with several wounds; and his casque despoiled of its plumes. He must have been inevitably overwhelmed, if a body of troops detached from the allies had not hastened to his succour. Francis hazarded this battle against the advice of his general; and cut short all remonstrance by the celebrated expression, which became afterwards proverbial, “Let him that loves me follow me.” (Percy Anecdotes.)
The disciple whom Jesus loved
The beloved disciple
Our Lord loved all His disciples: “I have called you friends.
” And yet within that circle of love there was an innermost place in which the beloved John was favoured to dwell. Those who display an extraordinary love to one are all the more capable of great affection to many; and therefore, because Jesus loved John most, I have an enhanced estimate of His love to the other disciples. John was raised, and they were not lowered, but raised with him. Be thankful to be among the brotherhood who can each say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me,” but strive to rise to the highest point of love. Why should you not ere long be styled like Daniel, a “man greatly beloved”? or like John, “that disciple whom Jesus loved”? Consider
I. THE NAME ITSELF.
1. It is a name which John alone gives to himself. He repeats it five times, and all the early writers recognize him under that title. Do not suspect him, however, of egotism. With a sweet naiveté which makes him quite forget himself, John took the name which he knew most accurately described him. Often there is more pride in not witnessing to what God has done for us than in speaking of it. Everything depends upon the spirit which moves us.
2. It is a name in which John hides himself. He would travel through his own gospel “incognito.” We find him out, however; he wears His Master’s love as a veil, though it turns out to be a veil of light.
3. It is a name in which John felt himself most at home. No other title would so well describe him. Jesus doubtless treasured him, His Jonathan, His John, His “God-gift”; but John does not so much think of his being of any service to his Lord, as of that which his Lord had been to him.
4. This name was very precious to him, because it evoked the sunniest memories of his life. Those years in which he had been with Jesus must have been looked upon by him in his old age as the crown and glory of his earthly existence.
5. That name was a powerful spring of action to him as long as he lived. How could he be false to Him who had loved him so?
6. It was a name which was never disputed. You do not find any one complaining of John for thus describing himself. The apostles tacitly acknowledged that their Lord was perfectly right in His choice. The truly loved one of God generally receives the love of his brethren, ay, and when a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
II. THE CHARACTER WHICH LAY BELOW IT. Let us look at
1. His personality as an individual.
(1) His was a large and warm heart. Perhaps his main force lies in the intensity of his nature. His whole soul was engaged in His Lord’s cause, for he was a deep thinker, a silent student, and then a forceful actor.
(2) He was exceedingly vivid in his beliefs. Read his epistle and see how many times he says “we know.” There are no “ifs” about him.
(3) Putting all together that we know about his personality, we look upon him as a man who was the reverse of your cold, calculating, slow-moving son of diffidence. He was quite the reverse of those dried, juiceless brethren who have no human nature in them--men who do no wrong for they do nothing at all.
2. His relation to his Lord. Jesus loved him as a “disciple.”
(1) If we teach we love teachable people: such was John. He was a man quick to learn; not like Thomas, slow, argumentative, cautious.
(2) He was a disciple of very keen eye, seeing into the soul of his Instructor’s teaching. His emblem in the early Church was the eagle which soars and sees from afar. John saw the spiritual meaning of types and emblems. His first master was the Baptist, and John was so good a follower of the Forerunner that he immediately followed the Lord Himself, to whom the Forerunner introduced him.
(3) He was full of faith to accept what he was taught. He believed it thoroughly. He did not believe as some people do, with the finger-ends of theft” understanding, but gripped the truth with both hands. His faith wrought in him a strong and enduring love, for faith worketh by love.
(4) John had great receptiveness. He drank in what he was taught. He was not a great talker. His only recorded utterance, if we except his mother’s request, and the “Lord, who is it?” which Peter put into his mouth, is “It is the Lord.”
(5) John had intense love for his Teacher; he not only received the truth, but he received the Master Himself. A true heart may as well be seen in its weakness as in its excellence. John’s intolerance with those who cast out devils but followed not Christ, and with the Samaritans only showed his burning love for Jesus. If he gives way to ambition it is an ambition to reign with the despised Galilean. He does not want a throne unless it be at his Leader’s side. Moreover, what faith there was in that request of his mother’s. It reminds one of the courage of the Roman who when Rome was in the hands of the enemy purchased a house within the walls: John heroically asks for a throne at the side of One who was about to die on the cross, for he feels sure that He will triumph.
3. As an instructed person
(1) He grew to know more and more, and doubtless our Lord loved Him because of the tenderness which was produced by grace out of his natural warmth. How tender he was to Peter after that apostle’s grievous fall, for early in the morning John goes with him to the sepulchre.
(2) He was a man who under the tutorship of Christ grew to be very spiritual and deep. The words he uses in his Epistles are mostly monosyllables, but what mighty meanings they contain! The other evangelists give us Christ’s miracles, and certain of His sermons, but His profound discourses, and His matchless prayer, are reserved for that disciple whom Jesus loved.
(3) Of all the disciples John was most Christlike. Jesus loved John for what He saw of Himself in him, created by His grace.
III. THE LIFE WHICH GREW OUT OF THIS EXTRAORDINARY LOVE OF CHRIST. It was a life of
1. Intimate communion. John was wherever Christ was. When all the disciples sit at the table, even Peter is not nearest the Lord, but John leans his head upon His bosom. If you are a man greatly beloved, your fellowship will be with Christ from day to day.
2. Special instruction. He was taught things which no others knew, for they could not bear them. They shall see most who love most.
3. Amazing depth. If he did not say much he was taking it all in for future use. He was a son of thunder, because, as a thunder-cloud is charged with electricity, so had he gathered up the mysterious force of his Lord’s life, love, and truth. When he did break out there was a voice like the voice of God. What a flash of lightning is the Apocalypse! What awful thunders sleep within the vials and the trumpets!
4. Special usefulness. He was entrusted with choice commissions involving high honour--the care of Christ’s mother, e.g. When you love Jesus much He will trust His mother to you; I mean His Church and the poorest people in it, such as widows and orphans, and poor ministers.
5. Extraordinary heavenliness. They call him John the Divine, and he was so. His eagle wings bore him aloft into the heavenly places. The Lord’s Day found him in the Spirit, waiting for Him that cometh with clouds--so waiting that He who is the Alpha and Omega hastened to reveal Himself to him. He had lovingly followed the “Lamb of God,” and therefore he was made meet to see Him as the Lamb in the midst of the throne.
1. You who are young begin soon. John was converted when quite a young man. Youthful piety has the most profitable opportunity of becoming eminent piety.
2. Let us give our heart’s best thoughts to spiritual things. The Lord takes no delight in broad phylacteries and superstitious observances. The Father seeketh those to worship Him who worship Him in spirit and in truth. Be spiritual, and you are among those who are likely to be men greatly beloved.
3. Cherish a holy warmth. Do not repress your emotions and freeze your souls. Some brethren are gifted with refrigerating power. When you shake hands with them, you would think that you had hold of a fish. These chilly mortals have never traversed the sunny regions of heavenly love. Pray for earnest, eager, intense affection.
4. Let your nature be tender and kind. The man who is habitually cross and frequently angry cannot walk with God. A pitiful, compassionate, unselfish, generous heart is that which our Lord approves.
5. Rise to heavenliness. Do not be miserable money-grubbers, or sordid earth-worms; do not be pleasure hunters and novelty seekers. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Peter seeing John saith to Jesus, Lord, what shall this man do?
The individuality of Christian life
Christ had just foretold to Peter that he should in his old age die a martyr, and with that before him, the apostle left the thought of his own suffering and inquired respecting the destiny of John.
1. It is not easy to determine the spirit of the question. Some suppose that Peter argued from Christ’s silence that John’s course would be free from fierce trouble, and inquired with a kind of envious dissatisfaction. Not so.
Peter’s generous nature would prompt him to forget his own troubles in devotion to his friend, and remembering the recent incident it is hard to infer discontent here. Most probably the question sprang from earnest anxiety. Having learned the glory of his Saviour’s cross, he was concerned lest John should lose the honour. It is easier for such impetuous souls to trust their own lot to God than their brother’s.
2. It is not easy to explain the reply. Some have emptied the words of all their meaning by referring them to the moment of death. But Christ would “come” as truly to Peter as to John. Rather are the words to be referred to the coming of Christ at the fall of Jerusalem, when His kingdom began its world-wide supremacy. And that day in Patmos John saw visions of Christ’s future dominion. Learn that
I. GOD APPOINTS A COURSE OF LIFE FOR EACH INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN. No words could mark the difference which was now to mark the paths of those two men who had as yet followed Christ side by side.
1. Taking their characters we find the Divine meaning of their separate courses. Peter, the man of impulse and energy--first everywhere--his training was to be labour crowned with suffering. Unless he worked, he would fall into depression. John, calm, loving, profound--his discipline yeas patient waiting--a course not less hard, but how different.
2. Look at their work. Each was wanted in Christ’s kingdom. Peter is the apostle to the doubter, the sufferer; the earnest preacher of fidelity and supporter of the distressed. Would not the prospect of his own suffering deepen his sympathy and kindle his zeal? John’s mission was to declare Christ the Eternal King, the foundation of the new earth and the new heaven. Therefore he waited till the Temple was destroyed and the Jews scattered; then amid the ruins of the old he saw the unchanging One.
3. So each of us has our appointed course, and both experience of life and faith in providence teach it. Our sorrows, temptations, work, are peculiarly our own. We are each of us souls to be trained--the practical like Peter, the contemplative like John. To one God sends action and often crowns it with suffering; to another God says, “Wait and watch!” Let not the one despise the other.
II. BY WHAT LAW IS THAT COURSE FULFILLED? The answer is, “Follow thou Me.” Like Him, obey whenever God’s will is clear and be patient when it is dark. There are circumstances to which no other law applies, under which no experiences of other men can help us. Do the duty that is nearest you, and challenge results: “Although another shall gird thee, &c., follow thou Me.”
III. THE STRENGTH THAT WILL HELD US TO FULFIL OUR COURSE. “If I will.” It is the will of Christ which gives us power, for it implies knowledge and sympathy. Our deepest nature is only won by individual sympathy. There are depths of power in every soul which are unknown until it is made to feel that someone understands its joys and cares for its sorrows. Hence one great purpose of the Incarnation. Christ’s life abounds with proofs that His love was personal. He has chosen our path and that fact alone is a mighty impulse to obedience. Conclusion: Herein lies the grandeur of Our Christian life. We are in a world of mystery. We dare not choose for ourselves. The merest trifles affect our destiny. But the thought that Christ has bidden us follow Him, and that by His grace we can do so clothes us with power sublime. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
Each one must answer for himself. The account is kept between God and each individual. There must be no impertinent curiosity as to God’s dealings with others--the heathen, children--those possessing few privileges. In a sense we are not our brother’s keeper. God communicates direct, seldom by the way of other souls. He did not convey His message to John through Peter. Christ wished to hold Peter’s mind to his own sin and responsibility. See that you follow Me, whatever John or others do. Yet this he was to do in a way that did not prevent his seeking the welfare of others. The thrice-repeated command of Christ was still ringing in his ears--“Feed My sheep;” “Feed My lambs.” Observe
1. What this individual responsibility is.
2. The sin of neglecting it.
3. Our only escape if we have neglected it in the past, immediate repentance and acceptance of the proffered pardon.
It is good to know the principles of Christianity, it is better to practise them. One of these is that the conduct of ethers towards Christ ought not to govern our own. Peter felt a great interest in John, and was anxious to know what department he was to occupy in the new kingdom. Peter meant no wrong: but Christ said, What is that to thee? Thy work is to echo My doctrine, to tread in My steps. By “If I will” Christ intimates that we are not to be or do what we like, but what Christ wills. The doctrine is, that it is important to think more about Christ Himself than about any fellow-agents in spreading His religion. Because
I. CHRIST HAS A PERSONAL AND ESSENTIAL PRE-EMINENCE.
1. He is what others are not and cannot be. If we want to come in contact with the most agreeable truths, let us rise above the agitation of the Church in its present state of imperfection, and fix our minds on the Redeemer Himself.
2. He is the Revealer of God to man, and I look at Him to see all I need.
3. He has a peculiar relation to me--Brother, Teacher, Priest, King. My all depends on Him. My fellow-man may be very valuable, but I can and must do without him; but I cannot live without Christ.
II. OUR ENGAGEMENTS TO CHRIST ARE INDEPENDENT OF OUR FELLOWBEINGS. Anything they may or may not do cannot affect our individual obligation to Him. We perceive this if we consider that every one has his own work. The Church has its work, and it cannot be done by schools of philosophy; and each member has his, and if he neglects it he will be rebuked in the presence of the universe. But, you say, my ability is small and my sphere contracted. Never mind; God has called you to that; be faithful in the least, and He will make you ruler over many things. Does the scholar or business man say, Because such a man is indolent I may be? I can love many of my fellow agents, but I would not stand before the love of God in the place of any one. “Each must give an account to God,” and “bear his own burden.”
III. BY THINKING OF JESUS WE CAN MAINTAIN AN EMINENT STANDARD OF MORAL ACTION. There is a tendency in individuals and churches to imitate one another, but since none is perfect this may be injurious. It is right and safe, however, to imitate the perfect Redeemer. Then imitate
1. His cordiality in religion. Whatever Christ did He did with all His heart.
2. His wonderful triumphs over obstacles. It would be useful to be acquainted with Christ’s methods with His enemies as well as His friends.
3. His devotion. (Caleb Morris.)
Our Master encouraged His followers to come to Him with all their difficulties. But He exercised a Divine discretion in the answers which He gave. Sometimes, as in the case of the blind man, He gave a direct reply, which removed error. Sometime, as after the parables, He entered into the fullest explanation. But when their questions sprang out of curiosity, He turned them aside either with quiet reproof or practical admonition, as when they asked Him, “Are there few that be saved?” and “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Beneath all this class of answers is the principle that we should not allow the difficulty of questions, for the solution of which we are not responsible, to keep us from doing the plain duty that is at our hands. In my student days I had a friend who was pro-eminently successful in gaining prizes by written competition. In general work he did not appear to be any better than his neighbours. I asked him to explain this, and he said, “You take the questions in the paper as they come; hence, if the first question is a very hard one, you spend, perhaps, the whole time upon that; but I pick out those that I can answer at once, and then having disposed of them, I go on to the harder ones.” There was great wisdom in the plan, and in the college of life more of us would come out prizemen if we were to let speculation alone until we have performed plain duties. Much more does this hold of those things which are insoluble by mere human reason. Take
I. THE MYSTERIES THAT LIE OUTSIDE OF REVELATION ALTOGETHER. Many of those things in revelation which perplex men have already emerged in another form in nature and providence. There is
1. That great enigma, the existence of evil under the government of a wise, holy, and loving God. Revelation did not make that; it found it; and while it shows us a way of escape from evil, it does not attempt to solve the mystery of its existence. Neither can we solve it. But then we are not asked to do so, and we are not responsible for it. How it came is not our affair; but how we may rid ourselves of its defilement, that is for us the question of questions. Just there, however, the Lord Jesus comes with His salvation. What madness, then, to turn away from the remedy to find out the origin of the disease! When you have extinguished the fire, inquire the cause; but while it is blazing, “All hands to the fire-engines!” When we have rescued the drowning man, we may examine how he came to be in the water; but our present duty is to throw him a rope.
2. Akin to that great difficulty is the perplexity occasioned by the anomalies presented by God’s providence--the prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the good. That old debate which waxed so hot between Job and his friends has emerged in every successive generation. Yet virtually they left it where they found it. Jehovah appeared to them at the close, asking them to leave the matter in His hands. And what farther can we get than that? We are not responsible for the government of the world. God will take care of His own honour. Meanwhile for us there is the lowlier province of working out our own salvation, under the assurance that “it is God who worketh in us, to will and to do of His good pleasure.” To us the Saviour has said, “Follow Me,” and for the answer we give to that we shall be responsible. We cannot unravel the perplexities of providence, but we can see the way of life. Let us work in the light we have, and as we follow it we shall be led to the fountain of light.
3. Very dark many occurrences around us seem to be. The vessel goes to pieces, and hundreds are hurried to a watery grave; the little child is battered to death by a brutal ruffian; the devout worshippers in a crowded church are burned or trampled to death. “These things happen,” we say, “under a God of mercy and love and justice! Why do they occur?” And then there comes the answer, “What is that to thee?” In the long run God will be “His own interpreter, and He will make it plain”; meanwhile follow Christ.
II. THE MYSTERIES WHICH SPRING OUT OF REVELATION.
1. To the superficial thinker it seems anomalous that in a communication from God there shall be any difficulties. But when we go deeper it will appear that mystery is inseparable from a revelation given by a higher to a lower intelligence. Your child asks you for an explanation of something, and you give him an answer suited to his comprehension; but your reply, perfectly intelligible from your stand-point, starts in his mind a whole crop of new perplexities. Now something like that occurs in our reception of the revelation which God has given us. The cry of our humanity was, “How shall man be just with God?” and in reply God has pointed us to Him whom He “hath set forth to be a propitiation,” &c. This is a precious declaration; but how many new difficulties it has started! It brings us face to face with the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the innocent suffering for the guilty, and so working out their redemption, &c.; and many caught in the meshes of the perplexities which they have occasioned are to-day where they were years ago. They have not “followed Christ,” they have not joined His Church, they have not begun to grow in nobility and holiness of character, because they have not been able to thread their way through the labyrinth in which such questionings have involved them.
2. Now, how shall we deal with such? In the spirit of the principle before us. These questionings are not in our department. They have reference to matters which belong to God. We are not responsible for them. It may be that it is just as impossible for God to make them plain to us, as it is for us to render something which is incomprehensible to our child intelligible to him. It is not required of us to understand the infinite. Only God can comprehend God. What we are commanded to do is to follow Christ. That is within our power. There is but one way out of a labyrinth, when we have become hopelessly involved, and that is to put our hand in that of a guide, and follow his leading. And there is only one way out of these spiritual perplexities, viz., taking all that Christ says in childlike faith.
III. THE CONTINGENCIES OF THE FUTURE. We are all prone to pry into the years to come. Sometimes we are solicitous about ourselves. We cannot see what is to become of us; and if we have no cause for apprehension, we torment ourselves about our children, or our friends, or the Church, or the nation. Now to all our misgivings we have but one answer. The future is not ours. The present is. We are responsible for the present and not for the future, except only as it shall be affected by the present. Nay, we shall best serve the future, and secure it from those evils which we fear, by doing with our might the work of the present, and leaving the issue with God. “Follow Christ.” In your business “follow Christ,” by conducting it on His maxims, and leave the result with Him. In your household “follow Christ,” by setting before them an example of faith and charity. In the Church let your endeavour be to adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour, and do not distress yourselves about things that have not yet occurred. The Philistines will not carry off God’s ark, or if they do, they will soon be made as eager to send it back as they were to take it away. So with national affairs. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Our own duty and our brethren’s welfare
1. This is the last recorded dialogue between Peter and Christ, and it has therefore a touching interest. How many and how varied these dialogues had been! Had we no other fragments of Christ’s life, we would still have a tolerably full indication both of Christian doctrine and duty. And now the interviews were to cease. Could there be a more fitting and consistent close to the whole? “Follow Me,” Christ said three years before by the lakeside, and now at the self-same spot He reminds him that the omega of his life is the same as its alpha, even the duty of personal discipleship, the word “Follow me.”
2. Peter’s question about John is a common one, and the answer Christ gave is fitting and final. There is nothing in it to discourage feeling for a brother’s welfare. Yet mark, it may be one thing to say, “What shall I do for this man?” and another to ask, “What shall this man do?” Take the question as that of
I. LOVING BUT OVER-ANXIOUS SOLICITUDE.
1. Perhaps, as in this case, the relation is that of friendship. You stand with a neighbour at the outset of life. Your own track is laid down, be it attractive or difficult. And no sooner have you faced the disclosure than your thoughts revert to your friend, and the question starts up, “How shall life shape itself for him?” You may fear for that future, or you may envy it. But if your forecast of your friend be such as to affect your own present, deranging its plans or obscuring its claims, it is plain that you ask amiss. It is met with the rebuke, “What is that unto thee? Follow thou Me.”
2. Or the tie may be the closer one of family. What shall that future yield for them? Some may be sick; shall it bring them health and long life? Some may be thoughtless and easily led; shall it give them wisdom and stability? Once more comes the message, “Leave their future in My hands; and for your own part, follow Me!”
3. Or, again, this question is asked by those who are burdened with the state and the prospects of the Church. And no doubt an interest in the Church is the token of a thriving Christian life. But there is a morbid apprehensiveness which is totally different, unbefitting belief in the Church’s destiny and loyalty to its head. Most certainly these forebodings are amiss, if they are permitted to interfere with attention to the Church’s claims, and lead to the toleration of a present evil on the score that a worse evil may follow its removal. Christ answers, Leave the future of the Church with Another, and do thou follow Me. And surely, if each took the lesson home, the problem of the Church’s future would soon solve itself. For the Church will be just what its members are.
4. The question involves indirectly a care for oneself. It really meant much to Peter what was to become of his partner. If John was about to depart, his heart would be emptier, his life weaker, his path lonelier. And just so still. John’s track in due time did diverge. But Peter found a better and a stronger by his side than his own loved John--even the Shepherd and the Bishop of his soul. The future hides many paths to-day, but whatever the paths, the guidance and example are the same.
II. VAIN SPECULATION, which may sometimes be stirred by affection to a person, but often is curiosity towards facts. There are those whose present state and future prospects, religiously speaking, are matters of curious and perplexing interest. They have so much of the practical religious spirit, while, in point of saving religious doctrine, they diverge. May there not be fruitless and unwarranted guessing here. One dare not lay down the amount of light needed to make them Christians, and one cannot decide what light they possess. “What is that,” says the Saviour, “unto thee? You who have attained to a clearer perception, are you acting up to it? You who have listened to a richer gospel, are you communicating and adorning it?” Pray for those of whose destiny you are doubtful; enlighten them as God gives you opportunity; above all, make it plain that the more tenacious your hold is on doctrine, the richer is your outcome in practice.
III. SELFISH DISCONTENT. Your own post in life seems a hard one; and, as you brood on its burdens, you compare yourselves with others with whom God has dealt otherwise. “Lord,” is the question, “what shall this man do? Is he always to succeed while I must fail? If so, ‘verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency, for how cloth God know, and is there knowledge in the Most High?’” The only answer is, “If I will that it be so, what is that unto thee? Trust the God of the earth to do right. Follow thou Me!”
IV. INTENDED CONFORMITY. What many are keenest to settle is the mode of their neighbour’s service, the extent of his sacrifices, not the question, “What do my own opportunities make possible, my own indebtedness impose, my Master require?” But if the question, “What shall this man do?” is to intrude on the sphere of our Christian principles, then farewell to the spirit of true consecration. For He who presides in the Church, by whose will your responsibilities are imposed, at whose bar your account must be rendered, is saying, “What is that unto thee?” and what really is it? Art thou scanning thy neighbour’s conduct, waiting thy neighbour’s lead? Nay, judge apart m these matters, as apart thou shalt yet be judged. Be true to the light of thine individual conscience and thine individual commands. Follow thou Christ. Conclusion:
1. In matters of religious life--all the duties that pertain to discipleship--one’s own things come first. And to give them anything else than the first place is to become practical idolaters by the preference of a neighbour’s claim to God’s.
2. This order is the best one for the interests of your neighbour himself. It is just this care for your personal salvation and duty that will further his prosperity, affording him the stimulus and allowing him the freedom he may happen to require. For the building of the city of God is like the building of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time. They who wrought wrought each at the portion of the wall that was opposite himself, and the issue was the steady growth of the whole. And had any slackened his efforts to ask what his neighbour was doing, he might have been answered in the spirit of the text: “What is that unto thee? See that thine own task is done!” Or the Church is like a battalion of soldiers, as they swarm a height, while the voice of their captain is calling them and his figure is leading the way. One may ascend by one path, another may ascend by another. Only let all hear the same ringing summons, and push steadily toward the same goal. And as all do the best for themselves, they will do the best for the troop, the success of its enterprise, the glory of its leader. Say not, therefore, “Lord, what shall this man do?” From the far heights above floats the answer of our Forerunner and King, “What is that unto thee? Follow thou Me.” (W.
Not to suffer a busybody
It is noteworthy that the apostle so reproved here should afterwards write for the instruction of the Church that excellent sentence, “Let none of you suffer … as a busybody in other men’s matters.” (G. J. Brown, M. A.)
The proper attitude towards Divine mysteries
“Well,” says one, “it is very important to know about predestination and free will, you know.” Yes, yes, and if you do not do anything good till you perfectly understand that, you have plenty of time to wait. “Yes, but how do those two things meet? Or is one true and not the other?” Well, I really do not know, and cannot tell you for the life of me whether I am predestinated to go to bed to-night or not; but I will tell you to-morrow morning. I am of the mind of poor Malachi down in Cornwall. A Wesleyan brother owed him some rent, and he said, “Malachi, I owe you five pounds, but I shall not pay you till you tell me if I am predestinated to pay it.” “Oh,” said Malachi, “put the money down there.” With that Malachi put it in his pocket, and replied, “Yes, you are.” I believe that the way to answer these questions is just to bring them to some practical test or other. But if any brother dwell upon that which angels cannot fathom, I say to him--in the words of my text I say to him--“What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Curiosity and neglect of knowledge
There are two great varieties in men with reference to knowledge. The one is a neglect to know what it is our duty to know. The other is a curiosity to know what it doth not belong to us to know. (W. Burkitt.)
An Old Testament parallel
I cannot help seeing a latent resemblance between this place and the well-known passage at the end of Daniel’s prophecy. “Then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And He said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” “Go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.” (Dan_12:8-9; Dan_12:13). (Bp. Ryle.)
1. Our children sometimes sing that they wish that they had seen Jesus and heard His gentle voice; and perhaps you and I have said “Amen!” But it appears that the words of Jesus were not very impressive upon Peter. He had said to him, “Follow Me,” and one would have thought Peter would have done nothing else; for there was a day in which his Master had to say to him, “Thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt do so hereafter.” But now we find Peter forgetting the following, and turning round to indulge his curiosity. Do not wonder that our people forget what we say, for even when Christ is the sower all the seed does not fall on good soil, and all good soil does not receive the seed.
2. How easily people are diverted from the best of things. Peter at once began to follow Christ; but he turned his head and caught a sight of John, and he began to ask questions. Our people do not attend when we preach as they should. We are telling them a story which ought to hold them spellbound, and yet some one faints in the gallery, and everybody looks round, and it takes a long time to get them back again. Now, we must not be vexed, for it was so even with the Saviour.
3. Since people are taken off from serious thought by little things, do not you be the cause of little things. Among the rest, never come in late and make people turn round to see who is coming up the aisle.
4. Whatever distractions there may be in worship, nothing must be allowed to draw us off from duty. John was a great friend of Peter’s, and it was most natural that Peter should want to know what was to become of his friend. But no love of friends may ever come in the way to prevent our doing what Christ bids us.
I. THE MAIN BUSINESS OF OUR LIFE IS TO FOLLOW JESUS. We must follow Christ
1. By seeking from Him salvation. If you depart from Christ that is destruction. I hear it said that to tell men to be earnest about their own salvation is practically to make them selfish; but if I had to save a man from drowning, I should be selfish enough to learn to swim. If I had to be a soldier, I should be selfish enough to wish to be strong, that I might fight the battle well. I was present once at a street accident, and I fetched the doctor, and I noticed how very quietly and coolly he came. I was running and out of breath, I wanted to quicken his pace, but he said to me, “Why, if I put myself in a bluster, as you have done, I could not do any good at all.” Was that selfishness?
2. That done, the next thing is the fashioning of the character according to the mode of Christ. There is no following Christ except by endeavouring to be like Him. Christ, though absolutely perfect, is an imitable character. You could not tell me what special phase of character Christ has. He is so good all round. It is all there, and nothing too much and nothing too little. Lives of Christ--they are in the market everywhere. Write one yourselves in your own life. The Church ought to be like those rooms where the whole of the walls are lined with looking-glass. Stand in the centre, and you see yourself there, there, there, there. Christ is the centre, and all the saints so many looking-glasses, showing Him from different points of view. Each will be different, yet all will be the same, and Christ will be glorified. I saw a little motto hung up in our infant school-room, “What would Jesus do?” Now, in every case, whatever Jesus would do in that case is what you and I should do.
3. Then the man saved and endeavouring to be conformed to Christ, must follow in His life service. We are committed to the Lord. You do not belong to yourselves, not a hair of your head. There is not one minute of your time that you have a right to call your own. A person of New York when baptised turned all the money he had into a certain form of scrip and had it all in his pocket, for he wanted to dedicate the whole of his substance, as well as himself. I never receive a member without asking him, “What are you going to do for the Saviour?” If he says he cannot do anything, I say, “Here is one who belongs to Christ, and Christ cannot make anything of him. He is dead stock.” So the man begins to think, and, as a result, he finds there is something or other that he ought to do. Wherever Cook, the circumnavigator, landed he was seen to take little packets out of his pockets, throwing them out of his hand and circulating them. He belted the whole world with English flowers. That is how we ought to do--get some of the precious seed into your own soul, and carry it with you wherever you go. Have it with you on the trip to the seaside, for in this you will be following Christ, who “went about doing good.”
4. We are to follow Christ by exhibiting an intense love to Him. This is the way to show that love--attentively listening to everything He has to say.
5. We must do all this
(1) Unreservedly. But some people have got one little reserve--some favourite sin, or thing.
(2) Constantly--not sometimes. The enlistment in the army of Christ is not for a time long or short. You are called to eternal life. Not to the kind of life which, having lived six months or years, you then go on furlough to serve yourself. I heard of one who said that he did such and such a thing when he was off duty. Aye, a policeman may be off duty; but never a Christian.
(3) Heartily. I hate the miserable way in which some people serve Jesus. I illustrate it sometimes by the mumbler at the prayer-meeting. I called at his shop and heard him say, in loud tones, “John, bring up that half hundred.” I thought, “This is the man I cannot hear when he prays.” I stepped into a shop the other day, and I noticed the ledger. Oh my! what a ledger! I thought of my own little pocket Bible. Dear me, when the ledger gets on the top of that, what a crush it is.
6. We must follow Christ in the vocation to which He has called us. Some think that if they follow Christ they must give up the shop. No--follow Him there. Another says, “I shall go to a nunnery, and I shall follow Christ there.” You are better at hems with your children. Another thinks that to follow Christ he must give up his employment and become a city missionary. It is a great pity to spoil a good carpenter to make a bad preacher. When Christ rode the ass through Jerusalem, the ass did its best to carry Him, and it succeeded. It did not take to flying. No, it was not such an ass as that.
II. TO EFFECT THIS WE MUST AVOID ALL DISTRACTION, AND IF WE ARE GOING TO FOLLOW CHRIST, WE MUST GO IN FOR IT. A child was asked by a Sunday-school teacher, “Is your father a Christian?” The girl said, “Yes, but he has not worked much at it lately.” Often the reason is because they have turned aside to do something else. Then
1. Do not let distractions come in the form of reflections upon others. Peter wants to know about John.
(1) He might have said, “Perhaps John is going to have a much easier post than I am.” In working for Christ have you ever said, “Ah, ah, it is fine to be him. I wish I had his place; I could do something there.” “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” Art thou the poorer because he is the richer? Leave the Lord as He pleases to deal with John, and let John escape the edge of the sword, even if thou go to the cross.
(2) But some will say, as Peter might have said, though he did not, “Now look at that John. He is all contemplation,” “I cannot bear those mystics. They are no use.” Martha says of Mary, “Bid her come and help me.” Oh, these Marys, what is to become of them, always sitting there at Jesus’ feet? Now, Martha, what is that to thee--follow thou Me. What if one brother serve God one way and one in another? You follow Christ, and let him follow Him in his own way.
(3) I heard say of a certain good sister, who does a good deal of work for Christ, by one who never did anything to my knowledge, “She is such a crotchetty woman.” Yes, and I never met with anybody who did nothing that was not crotchetty. And if some of the crochets iv God’s people were taken away it would take away from them their power. God has fashioned them for His use. Now, the next time you see a friend who is not made quite so perfect as yourself, do you hear the Master say, “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.”
(4) “Well,” says one, “but I know a man that I am sure is very much overvalued.” So do I, but what is that to thee? If the Lord is pleased to use him, pray God to use thee too.
(5) “Still,” says one, “we must correct the mistakes of some Christians.” By all means; and whenever you see a crooked stick in the Lord’s bundle, tell it it is crooked by being perfectly straight yourself. Get close alongside in loving fellowship, and the thing is done directly. I pray that you and I may not be so occupied with washing everybody else’s doorstep that we may allow filth to accumulate in front of our own house.
2. Do not let us occupy our own minds about deep theological problems.
(1) Some friends cannot save souls, because they do not know the origin of evil. When a thief comes into your house at night, do not ring the bell for the policeman--let him do exactly what he likes till you find out where he came in. And if you are a drowning man, and the life-buoy is thrown to you, do not touch it till you know who made it, and what it is made of.
(2) “Well,” says one, “it is very important to know about predestination and free will.” Yes, and if you do not do anything good till you understand that, you have plenty of time to wait. Let your servant-maid refuse tomorrow to get up to prepare your meals, and say, “My dear sir, I cannot do it, for I cannot make out the doctrine of election.” You would say, “Mary, I never engaged you for that.”
(3) And do not let prophecy lead you astray. There are some who make the coming of Christ an excuse for spending their time in speculation rather than in holy active service for Christ. I dropped in upon a member of my church some time ago, and I saw her upon the steps scrubbing the doorstep. She blushed all manner of colours, and said, “Sir, if I had known you were coming you would not have found me like this.” I said, “But if my Lord was coming to-morrow that is just how I should like Him to find me, at my work.” Follow thou me, whatever you have to do tomorrow.
(4) There are certain terrible facts which I pray you never unduly to consider so as to be taken off from the service of Christ--e.g., the condition of lost spirits, of the world and of the Church--and what is to become of it. Now look, if you are in a storm, and are set to pull a rope, if you begin to take the whole state and condition of the ship into consideration, all about the crew, the cargo, the compass, the currents, the winds, and do not pull your rope, I tell you, you would do better to know nothing about these things, and to go to your work. And I believe some of God’s servants need to be talked to about this. You get fretting about the times being so bad. Well, you get and make them better. You were never meant to do everything, and God never constructed you to clean the world up. It went on pretty well before you were born, and it is just possible that it may after you are dead.
(5) And sometimes the way of the Christian is so narrow, so dark, that his only safety lies in the clutching the hand of his great leader, as with trembling he says, “Master, the abyss, the darkness, the horror of the way!” He says, “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.”
(6) Oh God, says a poor soul, my own child, I am afraid he will be lost.” The Saviour says in reply, “Follow thou Me.” Try to win him, bus look not at the dire possibilities, so as to have thy mouth shut and thy tongue silent within thee.
(7) “We ought all to weep for Jerusalem,” say you. Yes, but even Christ that did it did not do it every day.
3. Do not let us distract ourselves from our work with anything out of the line of practical religion. You remember Carey’s words about Eustace, his son. “Poor Eustace has drivelled into an ambassador.” When everybody else thought it high promotion, he thought it degradation for him to turn aside from the one work of the ministry. Now, you who love the Lord, are all called to some form of ministry, Stick to it. Better be poor and serve Christ than to grow rich and give it up.
III. THE REASONS FOR THIS CONCENTRATION OF OUR LIFE. We are to do one thing and not twenty things.
1. We have not any too much power, and if we do not use what we have for the one thing we shall waste strength. When the miller has got only a certain stream let him pour that all over one wheel and he will grind. But let him not divert his water into many meandering streams, or else he will certainly waste his power.
2. It is only by taking one object that you can ever become eminent in it.
3. We have not much time in which to do the little we are going to do; let us pack it tight, get all into it that we can. Dr. Chalmers one night spent a very happy evening with some friends. Among the rest a Gallic chieftain was present, who was much amused with Chalmers’ anecdotes and stories. They went to bed, and in the middle of the night the chieftain was suddenly taken ill and died; and Chalmers, writing of it afterwards, says, “How differently they would have talked if they had been aware of what was about to happpen.” Let us live as though we knew that we might this evening finish our life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Then went this saying abroad among the brethren that that disciple should not die.
The tradition of St. John’s immortality
The earliest recorded tradition respecting St. John had apparently sprung up, not like most of them after the Apostle’s death, but during his lifetime, and professed to be founded on an express prediction of our Lord that “St. John should never die.” In this case it was possible to confront the traditionary statement with the historical, and this chapter was added to the Gospel, apparently, to state the true fact that “Jesus said not unto him,” &c. Whether a misunderstanding of our Lord’s words was the sole origin of the tradition may be questioned; it is, perhaps, most likely to have been in the first instance occasioned partly by the Apostle’s great age, and partly by the general expectation that our Lord’s coming was near. Nor was the opinion without some ground of truth if we consider that the language in which our Lord’s coming is identified, or at least blended with the images which equally describe the fall of Jerusalem. This last feeling, however, had evidently passed away before the time when the tradition assumed the particular shape specified in the text, and it now therefore took its ground on the supposed saying there referred to. The “coming of the Lord” was now to them, what it is to us, another expression for the end of all things; the next and natural process consequently was to limit the words to the new view. Yet neither the express caution of the Evangelist, nor the contradiction of the story by his death was sufficient entirely to eradicate it. The story of his being not dead but asleep in his grave at Ephesus was related to Augustine by persons who professed to have witnessed the motion of the dust by the supposed breath of the sleeper, and the notion that he was still living not only became a fixed article of popular belief in the Middle Ages, but has been revived from time to time by later enthusiasts, and is still partially commemorated in the Greek Church in the Feast of the Translation of the Body of St. John. Compare, amongst other instances the well-known story of the apparition of St. John to Edward the Confessor and the Ludlow pilgrims, and again to James IV., at Linlithgow, before the Battle of Flodden, the belief in Prester John in Central Asia, and the ancient legendary representations of the search for the body in the empty tomb. (Dean Stanley.)
This is the disciple which testifieth of these things
The Gospel of St.
I. ITS TRANSCENDENT THEME.
“The things which Jesus did.”
1. Their number--“many.”
2. Their variety--“other.”
3. Their importance. So deep had been the impression made by them that they were even then remembered and could have been written down.
4. Their significance. “The world would not contain,” &c.
II. ITS UNAMED AUTHOR--the disciple whom Jesus loved. That this was John
1. The Gospel indirectly attests.
2. Ecclesiastical tradition confirms.
III. ITS VERACIOUS CHARACTER.
1. The testimony of the author’s consciousness, if verse 24 be authentic.
2. The testimony of his contemporaries, probably the Ephesian
Elders, if verse 24 be non-Johannine.
1. To God for His Son, Jesus Christ.
2. To Jesus Christ for the things which He did.
3. To the Holy Spirit for this sublime Gospel (T. Whitelaw, D. D.)
The revealed and the unrevealed in Christ’s biography
I. VERY MUCH HAS BEEN REVEALED. His four biographers have said very much about Christ, and each has presented Him in some fresh aspect.
II. MUCH MORE MIGHT HAVE BEEN REVEALED (John 21:25). What volumes it would have taken to record the deeds and words of Him who never spent an idle hour, but “went about doing good!” Conclusion:
1. We should fully appreciate the amount revealed. It teems with truths, and pulsates with inspiration. A larger amount, perchance, would have been obtrusive rather than helpful.
2. We may anticipate wonderful studies. All the unrevealed will be brought under our observation. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The authentic and apocryphal Gospels
There are very many things written concerning Christ which are believed by others, but which I do not believe. The evidence from without I care little for, regarding only the evidence from within. Therefore it is that the reading of the uncanonical Gospels is useful in showing what a fine instinct, what a spirit of good taste, what a divinely inspired knowledge of what Christ was, the men who wrote our Four Gospels had. Between the two there is that singular difference which strikes a man of fine taste between the consummate work of a true artist and the work of a dauber, between a work of art wrought in love and one wrought only for bread. For the spirit of an artist creeps into every stroke of his brush; and in the writing of the Gospels, in settling which are canonical, every stroke is a betrayal. The apocryphal Gospels are not only a curious picture of the floating traditions of the Church; they are earthen vessels full of earthly dregs. They gather about Christ the stains of human stupidity and ignorance. Just as a man of fine taste has no difficulty in judging in a moment between a Raphael and what a coarse picture dealer declares to be one; just as one accustomed to the fine aromas of the wine of Hamburg can distinguish it from the spurious rubbish that is brought to imitate it; just as those who know the ring of true gold are proof against being deceived by the counterfeit, so there need be no difficulty in judging of these writings, as compared with the four Gospels now in use. (George Dawson, M. A.)
There are also many other things
The magnitude of Christ’s life
Such words as these are called “strong language” and “exaggeration.” But strong language is always true to the poet, natural to the passionate, truthful to the large-minded; and only obnoxious to the small, feeble, chill-blooded, to those who find human language big enough to live in. Human language is often felt to be like that bed of old, which was so short that a man could not stretch himself on it; and in trying to cover himself with the coverlid, found it to be too narrow. So as the next thing to having an adequate spoken language, men do what they can by extravagance to make it up. A great poet like Shakespeare presses the universe into his passion. He tells the woman he adores that her eyes outvie the brightness of the rising morning. One great ancient wished he was a star that he might look down always on her he loved. So these souls, feeling deeply, in order to say what they wish to say, since words won’t do it, call upon all things to help them--the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley--all things are called in, that the beloved may be set forth in glory. Strong language is objectionable, is it? Yes, when it is but the emphasis of emptiness; when little people make a great noise, using language stronger than the occasion requires, the sin and shame of it is that they have no feeling adequate to it. But when the heart is all aglow, and the thing to be said infinite, then the most extravagant language is poverty stricken. To hear some commentations over the phrase is charming--“This passage must not be taken literally; of course the Apostle meant--“Oh, thank you for nothing! I want not your dry bread of sand.’” What John meant was that there were so many things that might be told about Christ, that the world could not contain it all. Beautiful expression! And how adequate! Now, what does it teach? If any man’s biography were to be daily written down it would make a big book. One of the most charming books was written by a man on a tour round his chamber. Put some people in a room and they behold no more than a blind horse would. But not so with the instructed man. He would pause at every part of the room, and tell tales about the woodwork, tales of the trees from which the wood came, and or the climate in which they grew--tales that would run back to Adam. Franklin tells us that he “rose at six and washed.” But if he had stopped to tell us all about “rose,” what a volume would be wanted, and so on with “washed” and “dressed.” And so one might come to think with the great poet, that the best portion of a man’s life lies in the little nameless, unrecorded acts of kindness. It is the unwritten things of life that uphold the great things. So, when we think of Christ’s life, and of the little that is said about Him, we know there must have been much that might have been written. (George Dawson, M. A.)
The many things which Jesus did
Does St. John end his Gospel with an exaggeration? What shaft we say?
I. THERE ARE SEVERAL SOLUTIONS.
1. That the passage has been interpolated. But this view has no foundation. The verse is only wanting in one MS.
2. That it is only St. John’s way of expressing his sense of the immense diligence of Christ’s life, and the unparalleled number of His good works; and that, to convey that idea, he uses language which is, indeed, after the Eastern language, hyperbolical; but which could not mislead.
3. That St. John is speaking of all which Christ had done, and is doing, and will do to all eternity--in which acceptation the words would be strictly true--for then we should be dealing with the Everlasting and the Infinite--which, of course, exceeds the compass of the universe. But thecomment is strained and far-fetched.
4. That the word “contain” is ambiguous, and that it might be translated, “the world,” i.e., the ungodly world, “would not receive the whole of what Jesus did.”
5. That St. John is speaking not of the mere outward actions, but of what they represented and involved. And this is none other than a literal truth that “if all these” were “written,” seriatim, “the world itself could not contain the account which should be written.”
II. The last seems to be the only true understanding of St. John’s words: THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE FULNESS THAT THERE IS IN THE MINUTEST PORTION OF CHRIST’S MINISTRY.
(1) It is the life of the Son of God who came to this earth for about thirty-three years, of which we have the history of only three, and in those three only a few leading, salient features.
(2) That the object of this short visit was the salvation of the whole world.
(3) That infinite love, wisdom, and power met in His every word and act.
(4) That the record, which has been given us, has been left for His Church to read, and live upon for ever. There is enough to satisfy the whole intellect and affection of the race. And if the gospel be such as this--what a weight, what an infinity, there must be in every iota. If we waste a crumb, it must be at our peril, and with great damage! Here is our duty, and here is the great work of the Holy Ghost, to find the latent senses of each fraction of that portentous narrative. “The secret of the Lord,”--covered thoughts, intentions sealed except to the initiated--“the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.”
2. You must consider also
(l) Every action of Christ was first a great beautiful fact, standing out to be admired.
(2) It was an illustration of His character, in which we are to read out His sympathy, wisdom, power, faithfulness, &c.
(3) We are to read, through Him, God--the only real delineation we have of the Invisible Father.
(4) It is the illustration and the pledge of what Christ is and does now He is in glory.
(5) It is our pattern and example that we may copy.
(6) It is an allegory--a parable of spiritual things which always lie underneath it.
3. Now, take any one event in our Lord’s ministry, and divide it into all these parts: see it in all its lights; and what a volume will be there! Regard, in this way, His baptism, or His temptation, or His transfiguration, or His death, &c., or any one of His miracles; or a prayer, a touch, a look; and into what masses and mountains of thought it all swells! What piles upon piles might be said and written!
4. Think of all that, for nearly nineteen centuries, has been said and written by the Church on those four Gospels; and yet it is not exhausted. New thoughts, new beauties, new comforts are coming up every day. And were the world to last nineteen thousand centuries more, it would be just the same! And will not these things be the themes of faculties infinitely higher, than now, throughout eternity? Do not “the angels” still “desire to look” on them?
5. Then, we must add to the account that there were “many things which Jesus did” which St. John knew but did not record; many more, which none knew, or could know. But all would bear the same development.
6. Then, when, for a moment, we try to draw these together and conceive the total of such an aggregate, is the language one whir too strong?
III. LET ME GATHER SOME INFERENCES.
1. When we have to do with the life of Christ, we are dealing with the most solemn immensities. The more we study it, the more we shall feel with St. John--that we are standing on the shore of a boundless ocean; that what we see is nothing compared to what lies beyond the horizon. That all human intellect put together, and all the largest hearts of men of love, if that love could go on for ever, could not contain the half of what Christ did, and what Christ was. Is that too much to say? You will not think so if you love Him and know Him.
2. Therefore you must come to the contemplation of every part of Christ’s life very modestly. There is much more than you have any idea of. If you think you know any verse of the Bible, you have yet a great deal to learn. You will never empty it. And, seeing it so exceeds all our proportions, you must pray for the enlargement of your own soul, that you may be able to contain it.
3. For a heart enlarged by the Holy Ghost has a greater capacity than the universe. The universe could not contain it; but, by the working of the Holy Ghost, it is promised you shall be “able to comprehend with all saints, what is the length, and breadth, and depth, and height, and know that love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The unwritten sayings of Jesus
When I see how much has been written of those who have lived; how the Greeks preserved every saying of Plato’s; how Boswell followed Johnson, gathering up every leaf that fell from that rugged old oak, and pasting it away, I almost regret that one of the disciples had not been a recording angel, to preserve the odour and richness of every word of Christ. When John says, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written,” it affects me more profoundly than when I think of the destruction of the Alexandrian Library, or the perishing of Grecian art in Athens or Byzantium. The creations of Phidias were cold stone, overlaid by warm thought; but Christ described His own creations when He said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are life.” The leaving out of these things from the New Testament, though divinely wise, seems, to my yearning, not so much the unaccomplishment of noble things, as the destruction of great treasures, which had already had oral life, but failed of incarnation in literature. (H. W. Beecher.)
The sufficiency of the Gospels
Supposing a complete biography of Christ to have been written, let us consider
I. ITS MAGNITUDE. In every life there are many transactions which would add nothing to the completeness of a biography. There are many things in the experience of us all which are like blades of grass. To distinguish them in a picture would be to impair it and give us not the field but the grass. But things were otherwise with Christ. Every miracle, prayer, look, &c., was worthy of a picture by itself. And suppose instead of our present summary we had all the details what a library there would be. And then there are many things which it takes a longer time to describe than to do.
II. ITS CUMBROUSNESS.
1. What life would be long enough to produce it.
2. What means could be adequate to disperse it.
3. What man could read, let alone remember it. Conclusion: Let us see the impossibility of making any improvement in God’s Word. There is wisdom as well in its limits as in its matter and form. (Mathematicus.)
St. John’s Gospel a collection of specimens
The materials which he has actually made use of are few in number compared with the store from which he might have drawn; he omitted many things, the record of which might have over-filled the world with books; with only a few selections from his rich treasury, he shows us the glory of the Incarnate Word--as if a painter should take a bit of grey rock, a tuft of maidenhair fern growing in a crevice, some patches of grass and heather, a tree or two, a human figure, a dim-seen mountain range, the infinite blue sky, and putting these into a picture should show us the glory of God in nature. (J. Culross, D. D.)
Christ an inexhaustable treasure
Treasures many are contained in the Bible, but not all. There are more treasures in Christ than even in the Bible. He could not transfer all the treasures of His person into a book, “for if they should be written,” &c. Blessed be God for the treasures contained in this precious volume before me, but the day will arrive when they shall be all exhausted. But after exhausting the treasures of the Book, the treasures of the Person will still remain. Blessed be His name for the treasures which have come through Christ, thrice blessed for the treasures that are in Christ. Dwelling in Him are treasures enough to make a dozen new Bibles, the Bibles of eternity. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "John 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany