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Several things are here observable; as, 1. The persons conspiring against our blessed Redeemer's life, namely, the chief priests, and scribes, and elders, that is, the whole sanhedrin, or general council of the Jewish church: these lay their malicious heads together, to contrieve the destruction of the innocent Jesus. Here was a general council of them, consisting of priests, doctors, and elders, with the high priest their president, yet erring in a point of doctrine concerning the Messiah, not believing Jesus to be the Son of God, notwithstanding all the convincing miracles which he had wrought before them.
Observe, 2. The manner of this conspiracy against our Saviour's life; it was clandestine, secret, and subtile: They consulted how they might take him by subtilty and kill him.
Learn hence, That Satan makes use of the subtilty of crafy men, and abuseth their parts as well as their power, for his own purposes. Satan never sends a fool on his errand.
Observe, 3. The time when this conspiracy was managed; at the time of the passover. Indeed at first the chief priests did not incline to that time, fearing a tumult and uproar among the people; but Judas presenting them with a fair opportunity to apprehend him, they changed their purpose, and accordingly at the feast of the passover our Saviour suffered. This was not without a mystery, that Christ the true Lamb of God, whom the paschal lamb typified and represented, should be offered up at the feast of the passover: signifying thereby, that he was the true paschal Lamb, and that the legal shadow ought to cease in the exhibition of him.
Learn hence, That not only the death of Christ in general, but all circumstances relating to it, were fore-ordained by God himself; as the place where, at Jerusalem; the time when, at the feast of the passover; that time did God devise best for this Lamb to be a sacrifice.
This woman, St. John says, was Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who, to show her love to Christ, and put honour upon him, took a precious box of ointment, and poured it upon our Saviour's head, according to the custom of the eastern country, who used so to do at their feasts and banquets; to which David alludes, Psalms 23:5.
Learn hence, 1. That where true love to Christ prevails in the heart, nothing is adjudged too dear for Christ. This box of ointment murmuring Judas valued at three hundred pence which, reckoning the Roman penny at seven pence halfpenny, makes of our money nine pounds seven shillings and sixpence. Love (we see) spares for no cost but where the esteem of Christ is high, the affection will be strong.
Note, 2. That where strong love prevails towards Jesus Christ, will piously strive with the greatest apostle to express the fervour of her love unto him. I do not find any of the apostles at so much cost to put honour upon Christ, as this poor woman was at. Love knows no bounds, no measures.
That is, when Judas, and some other disciples whom he had influenced, saw this action, they murmured; particularly Judas blamed this holy woman for needless prodigality, and did tacitly reflect upon Christ himself, for suffering that wasteful expence. O! how doth a covetous heart think everthing too good for Christ: he that sees a pious action well done, and seeks to undervalue it, show himself possessed with a spirit of envy. Judas's invidious spirit makes him censure an action which Christ highly approved.
Learn thence, That men who know not our hearts, may through ignorance or prejudice, censure and condemn those actions which God doth commend and will graciously reward. Happy for this poor woman that she had a more righteous judge to pass sentence upon her action than wicked Judas!
Observe here, How readily our Lord vindicates this good woman: she says nothing for herself, nor need she having such an advocate.
1. Christ rebukes Judas, Why trouble ye the woman? plainly intimating, that it is so small trouble to a gracious spirit, to find their good works misinterpreted and misrepresented.
Next, He defends the action, calling it a good work; because done out of a principle of love to Christ: she hath wrought a good work upon me
And lastly, He gives the reason of her action; she did it for my burial. As kings and great persons were wont, in those eastern countries, at their funerals to be embalmed with odours and sweet perfumes; so says our Saviour, this woman, to declare her faith in me as her King and Lord, doth with this box of ointment, as it were before-hand, embalm my body for its burial. True faith puts honour upon a crucified, as well as a glorified, Saviour. This holy woman accounts Christ worthy of all honour in his death, believing it would be a sweet smelling sacrifice unto God, and the savour of life unto his people.
Observe farther, From these words, But me ye have not always, the doctrine of transubstantiation is overthrown: for if Christ be, as to soul, body, and divinity, perpetually present in the host amongst those of the church of Rome, then have they Christ always with them: contrary to what our Saviour here declares; though his poor members would be always present with them, yet he himself should not be so; The poor ye have always, but me ye have not always.
Our Saviour having defended this holy woman from the calumny of Judas in the foregoing verses, in this he declares, that she should be rewarded with an honourable memorial in all ages of the church: Wheresoever this gospel is preached, this shall be spoken of her. O what care doth Christ take to have the good deeds of his children not buried in the dust with them, but be had in everlasting remembrance. Though sin causes men to rot above ground, to stink alive, and, when they are dead, leave an inglorious memory upon their graves; yet will the actions of the just smell sweet, and blossom in the dust.
Learn hence, That we may laudably prosecute that which will procure us a good name, and spread our reputation to future ages.
Observe here, 1. The person betraying our blessed Redeemer, Judas: Judas, a professor; Judas, a preacher; Judas, an apostle, and one of the twelve whom Christ had chosen out of the world to be his dearest friends, and his own family and household. Shall we wonder to find friends unfriendly and unfaithful towards us, when our Saviour had a traitor in his own house?
Observe, 2. The heinousness of his sin in betraying Christ; he betrayed Christ Jesus, a Man; Christ Jesus, his Master; Christ Jesus, his Maker; the first was murder, the second treason.
Learn thence, That it is no strange or uncommon thing for the vilest of sins, and most horrid impieties, to be acted by such persons as make the most eminent profession of holiness and religion.
Observe, 3. What was the sin occasioning and leading Judas to the committing of this horrid sin; it was covetousness. I do not find that Judas had any particular malice against Christ's person, but a base and unworthy spirit of covetousness possessed him; this made him sell his Master. Covetousness is a root-sin; and inordinate desire and love of riches, an eager and unsatiable thirst after the world, is the parent of the most monstrous and unnatural sins: Therefore remember we our Saviour's caution, Take heed and beware of covetousness Luke 12:15; he doubles the caution, to show us both the great danger of the sin, and the great care we ought to take to preserve ourselves from it.
Observe, 4. How small a sum tempted the covetous mind of Judas to betray his Master, thirty pieces of silver; which amounted but to three pounds fifteen shillings of our money. This was the price of a slave or common servant, Exodus 21:32. As Christ took upon him the form of a servant, so his life was valued at the rate of an ordinary servant's life. it may seem a wonder, that the high-priests should offer no more for the life of our Saviour, and that Judas should accept so little; seeing that his covetousness was so great, and their rage so grievous, how comes it to pass that he demands so little, and that they offer no more? Had the reward been proportioned to the greatness of their malice, it had been thirty thousand rather than thirty pieces of silver. But the scripture must be fulfilled; accordingly the wisdom of God overruled this matter, for fulfilling that prophecy, They weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. Zechariah 11:12 Let not any Christian be concerned that he is despised and undervalued; he can never meet with so great a reproach, with so low an abasement, for Christ, as Christ underwent for him.
Observe lastly, Judas's folly, as well as treachery; he that might have demanded what he pleased for this purchase, He says unto the chief priests, What will ye give me? As if he had said, " I am resolved to sell him at any rate, give me what you will for him." Nay, farther, Judas covenanted, and they promised, but whether it was now paid, appeareth not.
Learn, that such a person as has a vile and base esteem of Jesus Christ, will part with him upon any terms. The bare expectation of a few shekels of silver, will make such a one willing to part with a pearl of great price. Wonder not then to see some persons selling their country, their friends, their God, and their religion, for money. Judas did so before them.
The time for the celebration of the passover being now at hand, Christ sends two of his disciples to Jerusalem, to prepare things necessary in order thereunto: accordingly they enter the city, and find the master of an house, whose heart Christ, by his divine power, had so inclined, that he willingly accommodated them upon this occasion. Our blessed Saviour had not a lamb of his own, and possibly no money in his purse to buy one, but he finds as excellent accommodations in this poor man's house, as if he had dwelt in Ahab's ivory palace, and had had the provisions of Solomon's table.
Learn hence, that Christ has such an influence upon, and command over, the spirits of men, that he can incline them to do what service soever he pleaseth for him. When Christ has a passover to celebrate, he will prepare an house, and dispose the heart to a free reception of himself.
Learn, 2. That Christ, being under the law, observes and keeps the law of the passover. Thus he fulfilled all righteousness; and although the ceremonial law was to receive its abolishment in the death of Christ, yet all the time of his life he punctually observes it.
Observe here, The impudent forehead of this bold traitor, Judas, who presumed, as soon as he had sold his Master, to sit down at the table with him, and partake with the other disciples of the solemn ordinance of the passover; had the presence of Judas polluted the ordinance to any besides himself, doubtless our Saviour would never have permitted this bold intrusion.
Learn hence, 1. That nothing is more ordinary than for unholy persons presumptuously to rush in upon the solemn ordinances of God, which they have no right, whilst such, to partake of.
2. That the presence of such persons pollutes the ordinances only to themselves; holy persons are not polluted by the sins of such: for to the pure all things are pure.
What an astonishing word was this! "One of you my disciples shall betray me." Can any church on earth expect purity in all its members, when Christ's own family of twelve had a traitor and a devil in it? Yet though it was very sad to hear that one should betray him, it was matter of joy that it was but one; one hypocrite in a congregation is too much, but their is cause of rejoicing if there be no more. But why did not Christ name Judas, and say, " Thou art he that shall betray me?" Doubtless to draw him to repentance, and to prevent giving Judas any provocation.
Lord, how sad it is for such as pretend friendship to Christ, and call themselves of his family and acquaintance, who eat of his bread, and yet lift up the heel against him!
Observe here, 1. The disciples' sorrow, and next, the effect of that sorrow. Their sorrow was (as well it might) exceeding great. Well might innocent disciples be overwhelmed with sorrow, to hear that their Master should die; that he should die by treason; that the traitor should be one of themselves.
2. But though their sorrow was great, yet was the effect of their sorrow very good; it wrought in them a holy suspicion of themselves, and caused every one to search himself, and say, Master, is it I?
Thence learn, That it is possible for such secret wickedness to lurk in our hearts as we never suspected, which time and temptation may draw forth in such a manner as we could not believe: and therefore it is both wise and holy to suspect ourselves, and to be often saying, Lord, is it I? There is no better preservative from sin, than to be jealous over ourselves with a godly jealousy.
Observe farther, that though the disciples' fear and sorrow made them jealous and suspicious, yet was it of themselves, not of one another, nay, not of Judas himself: every one said, Master, is it I? Not, Master, is it Judas?
Learn hence, That true sincerity and Christian charity will make us more suspicious of ourselves than of any other person whatsoever; it always hopes the best of others, and fears the worst concerning ourselves.
Here our Saviour acquaints his disciples who it was that had designed his death, even he that dipped with him in the dish, or he to whom he gave the sop.
Observe, The traitor, whom Christ less loved, he has the sop given to him; the other disciples, whom Christ loved better, had no such particular boon. Outward good things are not always given to the children of men in love, but are sometimes bestowed in displeasure; there is no measuring Christ's affections by temporal blessings, no concluding either love or hatred by these things.
Observe farther, How Judas could sit still and hear the threats of judgment denounced against himself without concern; he hears Christ say, Woe to the man by whom the Son of man is betrayed, and is no more blanked than innocence itself: resolved sinners run on desperately in their wicked courses, and with open eyes see and meet their own destruction; and are neither dismayed at it, nor concerned about it.
Observe farther, That this shameless man had the impudence to say to Christ, Master, is it I? Our Saviour gives him a direct affirmation, Thou hast said. Did Judas, think ye, blush, and cast down his gulty eyes, and let fall his drooping head, at so galling an intimation. Nothing less.
Lord, how does obduracy in sin steel the brow, and make it incapable of all relenting impressions!
Observe lastly, How Christ prefers nonentity before damnation. It had been better for that man if he had never been born. A temporal miserable being is not worse than no being, but an eternal miserable being is worse than no being at all; eternal misery is much worse than nonentity. It had been better for Judas if he had never been born, than to commit such a sin, and lie under such wrath, and that everlasting. O, better to have no being, than not to have a being in Christ.
Immediately after the celebration of the passover, follows the institution of the Lord's supper.
In which observe, 1. The Author of this new sacrament, Jesus took bread.
Note thence, That to institute a sacrament is Christ's sole prerogative; it is the church's duty to celebrate the sacraments, but she has power to make none. This belongs only to Christ.
Observe, 2. The time of the institution, the night before his passion. The night before he was betrayed, Jesus took bread.
Learn thence, That it is very necessary, when sufferings are approaching, to have recourse to the table of the Lord, which affords both an antidote against fear, and is restorative to faith.
Observe here, 3. The sacramental elements, bread and wine: bread representing his body; and wine his blood.
Observe, 4. The ministerial actions, the breaking of the bread, and the blessing of the cup. As to the bread, Jesus took it; that is, set it apart from common use, and separated it for holy ends and purposes. He blessed it; that is, prayed for a blessing upon it; and brake it, thereby shadowing forth his body broken upon the cross. And he gave it to is disciples, saying, "This broken bread signifies my body suddenly to be broken upon the cross for your redemption and salvation; do this in remembrance of me, and of my death."
Thus the Scriptures constantly speak in sacramental matters. So circumcision is called the covenant, and the lamb the passover. In like manner, here, the bread is called Christ's body, because instituted to represent to all future ages his body broken.
Moreover, how could the disciples think they had eaten Christ's body, when they saw his body whole before them? And besides, to eat human flesh, and drink blood, was not only against the express letter of the law, but abhorred by all mankind. True it is, that the heathens laid it to the Christians' charge, that they ate human flesh; but falsely, as it appears by the apology made for the primitive Christians; which apology had been false, had they daily eaten the flesh of Christ in sacrament. The very heathens owned it a thing more detestable than death to eat human flesh, and more to eat the God they worship, and to devour him whom they adore.
Again, as to the cup; Christ having set it apart by prayer and thanksgiving, he commands his disciples to drink all of it; and subjoins a reasons for it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for the remission of sins; that is, the wine in this cup represents the shedding of my blood, by which the new covenant betwixt God and man was ratified and confirmed.
Whence we learn, That every communicant has as undoubted a right to the cup as to the bread, in the Lord's supper; Drink ye all of it, says Christ; therefore to deny the cup to the laity is contrary to the institution of Christ. After the celebration was over, our Saviour and his disciples sang an hymn, as the Jews were wont to do at the passover the six eucharistical psalms, from the 113th to the 119th psalm.
Learn hence, How fit it is that God be glorified in his church, by singing of psalms, and in particular, when the sacrament of the Lord's supper is celebrated. When they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
Here our Saviour acquaints his disciples, that by reason of his approaching sufferings, they should all of them be so exceedingly offended, that they would certainly forsake and leave him; which accordingly came to pass.
Learn thence, That Christ's dearest friends forsook him, and left him alone in the midst of his greatest distress and danger.
Observe, 2. What was the cause of this their flight, it was the prevalency of their fear.
Thence note, How sad it is for the holiest and best of men to be left under the power of their own fears in a day of temptation.
Observe here, The wonderful lenity of Christ towards his timorous and fearful disciples; notwithstanding their cowardly flight from him, he tells them he would not forsake them, but love them still; and as an evidence of it, would meet them in Galilee: I will go before you into Galilee; there shall you see me. And when they did see him he never upbraided them with their timorousness, but was friends with them, notwithstanding their late cowardice. Christ's love to is disciples is like himself, unchangeable and everlasting. Having loved his own, he loved them to the end.
See here what strong purposes and settled resolutions both Peter and all the apostles had, to keep close to Christ; but how did their self-confidence fail them!
Learn thence, That self-confidence is a sin, too, too incident to the holiest and best of men. Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I. Good man, he resolved honestly; but too, too much in his own strength. Little, little did he think what a feather he should be in the wind of temptation, if once God left him to the power and prevalence of his own fears.
Observe farther, That the rest of the apostles had the like confidence of their own strength with St. Peter. Likewise also said they all.
Note thence, That the holiest of men know not their own strength till it comes to the trial. Little did these good men imagine what a cowardly spirit they had in them, till temptation put it to the proof.
Our blessed Saviour being now come with his disciples into the garden, he falls there into a bitter and bloody agony, in which he prayed with wonderful fervency and importunity to his heavenly Father. His sufferings were now coming on a great pace, and he meets them upon his knees, and would be found in a praying posture.
Learn thence, That prayer is the best preparative for, as well as the most powerful support under, the heaviest sufferings that can befall us. As to this prayer of our Saviour's in the garden, many things are very observable.
As, 1. The place where he prayed, in the garden; but why went Christ thither? Was it to hide or shelter himself from his enemies? Nothing less: for if so, it had been the most improper place, because he was wont to retire thither to pray, Judas knew the place, for Jesus oft-times resorted thither; so that Christ went thither not to shun, but to prepare himself by prayer to meet, his enemies.
Observe, 2. The time when he entered the garden for prayer, it was in the evening: here he spent some hours in pouring out his soul to God: for about midnight Judas and the soldiers came and apprehended him in a praying posture.
Teaching us by his example, that when imminent dangers are before us, especially when death is apprehended by us, to be very much in prayer to God, and very fervent in our wrestling with him.
Observe, 3. The matter of our Lord's prayer, that if possible the cup might pass from him; that is, those bitter sufferings which were then before him; particularly the insupportable burden of his father's wrath. He prays, if possible, that his Father would excuse him from this dreadful wrath, his soul being amazed at it.
But what! Did Christ then begin to repent of his undertaking for sinners? Did he shrink and give back when it came to the pinch? No, no; as Christ had two natures, being God and Man, so he had two distinct wills; as Man, he feared and shunned death; as God-man, he willingly submitted to it; the divine spirit and the human nature of Christ did now assault each other with disagreeing interests, till at last victory was got on the spirit's side.
Again, this prayer was not absolute, but conditional if it be possible. Father, if it may be, if thou art willing, if it please thee, let it pass: if not, I will drink it.
Learn hence, 1. That the cup of suffering is in itself considered as a very bitter and distasteful cup, which human nature abhors, and cannot by desire and pray may pass from it.
2. That yet oft-times the wisdom of God is pleased to put this bitter cup of affliction into the hands of those whom he doth most sincerely love.
3. That when God doth so, it is their duty to drink it with humble submission, and cheerful resignation. Not my will, but thine be done.
Observe, 4. The manner how our Lord prayed; and here we shall find it, 1. A solitary prayer; he went by himself alone, out of the hearing of his disciples; he saith unto them, Tarry ye here, while I go and pray yonder.
Mark, Christ did neither desire his disciples to pray with him, nor to pray for him. No, he must tread the winepress alone; not but that Christ loved and delighted in his disciples' company; but their were occasions when he thought fit to leave them, and to go alone to God in prayer.
Thence learn, That the company of our best friends is not always seasonable. Peter, James, and John, were three good men; but Christ bids them tarry, while he went aside for private prayer. There are times and cases when a Christian would not be willing that the dearest friend he has in the world should be with him, or understand and hear what passes betwixt him and his God.
2. This prayer of Christ was an humble prayer; that is evident by the postures into which he cast himself; sometimes kneeling, sometimes lying prostrate upon his face. He lies in the very dust; lower he cannot fall; and his heart was as low as his body. And such was the fervour of his spirit, that he prayed himslef into an agony. O let us blush to think how unlike we are to Christ in prayer, as to our praying frame of spirit!
Lord, what drowsiness and deadness! what laziness and dulness! what stupidity and formality, is found in our prayers! how often do our lips move, and our hearts stand still!
3. It was a repeated and reiterated prayer. He prayed the first, second, and third time. He returns upon God over and over, plies him again and again, resolving to take no denial.
Learn thence, That Christians ought not to be discouraged, though they have besought God again and again for a particular mercy, and no answer of prayer has come unto them.
Observe also, how our Lord used the same prayer three times over, saying the same words. A person then may pray with and by a form of prayer, and yet not pray formally, but in a very acceptable manner unto God. Christ both gave a form of prayer to his disciples, and also used one himself.
Observe next, The posture in which our holy Lord found his own disciples, when he was in his agony: they were sleeping, when he was praying. O wonderful! that they could sleep at such a time.
Hence we gather, that the best of Christ's disciples may be sometimes overtaken with infirmities, with great infirmities, when the most important duties are performing. He cometh to his disciples and findeth them sleeping.
Observe farther, The gentle reproof he gave the disciples for sleeping: What! could ye not watch with me one hour? Could not you watch, when your Master is in such danger? Could not you watch with me, when I am going to deliver up my life for you? What! not one hour, and that the parting hour too? After this reprehension, he subjoins an exhortation: Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: and superadds a forcible reason, for though the spirit is willing, yet the flesh is weak.
Thence learn, That the holiest and best resolved Christians, who have willing spirits for Christ and his service, yet in regard of the weakness of the flesh, or the frailty of human nature, it is their duty to watch and pray, and thereby guard themselves against temptations. Watch and pray,--for though the spirit is willing, yet the flesh is weak; though you have sincerely resolved rather to die with me than deny me, yet be assured, that when temptation actually assaults you, when fear and shame, pain and suffering, death and danger, are before you, and present to your sense, the weakness of your flesh will prevail over these resolutions, if you do not watch diligently, and pray fervently for divine assistance.
Our Saviour having poured out his soul in prayer to God in the garden, he is now ready, and waits for the coming of his enemies; being first in the field: accordingly, while he yet spake, came Judas, one of the twelve, and under his conduct a band of soldiers to apprehend him. It was the lot and portion of our blessed Redeemer to be betrayed into the hands of his mortal enemies, by the treachery of a false and dissembling friend.
Observe here, The traitor, the treason, the manner how, and the time when, this treasonable design was executed.
Observe, 1. The betrayer, Judas; all the evangelists carefully describe him by his name, Judas, by his surname, Iscariot; lest he should be mistaken for Jude, the brother of James. God is tender and careful of the names and reputations of his upright-hearted servants. He is also described by his office, one of the twelve. The eminence of his place of station was an high aggravation of his transgression. Nay, in some respect he was preferred above the rest, having a peculiar trust reposed in him; he bare the bag: that is, he was almoner and steward of Christ's family, to take care for the necessary accommodations of Christ and his apostles; and yet this man, thus called, thus honoured, thus respectfully treated, by Christ, for the lucre of a little money perfidiously betrays him. O whither will not a bad heart, and a busy devil, carry a man!
Learn hence, 1. That the greatest professors had need be jealous of their own hearts, and look well to the grounds and principles of their profession. A profession begun in hypocrisy, will certainly end in apostasy.
Learn, 2. That persons are never in such imminent danger, as when they meet with temptations exactly suited to their master-lust. Covetousness was Judas's master-sin; the love of the world made him a slave to Satan, and the devil lays a temptation before him which suits his temper, hits his humour, and it prevails immediately. O pray, pray that ye may be kept from a strong and suitable temptation, a temptation suited to your predominant lust and inclination.
Observe, 2. As the betrayer Judas, so the treason itself, with its aggravating circumstances: he led an armed multitude to the place where Christ was, gave them a signal to discover him, and encouraged them to lay hands upon him, and hold him fast. This was the hellish design Satan put into his heart, and it has these aggravating circumstances attending it. He had seen the miracles which Christ wrought by the power of God, and could not but know him to be a Divine Person. He could not sin out of ignorance or blind zeal, but the love of money made him do what he did.
Farther, what he did was not done by the persuasions of any, but he was a volunteer in this service. The high priest neither sent to him, nor sent for him, but he offers his service, and no doubt they were very much surprised to find one of Christ's own disciples at the head of a conspiracy against him.
Learn hence, That no man knows where he shall stop or stand when he first enters the ways of sin; should any one have told Judas, that his love of money would at last so far prevail upon him, as to make him sell the blood of Jesus Christ, he would have answered, as Hazael did Elisha, Is thy servant a dog, that I should do this thing? Wickedness, like holiness, doth not presently come to its full strength in the soul, but grows up by insensible degrees. Men do not commence masters in the art of villany in an instant; they begin first with lesser, then with greater sins; first wih secret, then with open sins. Doubtless Judas was an old though secret sinner; surely he could not immediately attain to such an height of impudence, and so great a degree of stupidity.
Hear, ye professors of religion, ye that partake of ordinances, frequent sacraments, take heed of living as Judas did, in the allowed commission of any secret sin, to the wasting of your consciences, and the destroying of your souls.
Observe, 3. The manner how this hellish plot was executed; partly by force, and partly by fraud: by force, in that he came with a multitude armed with swords and staves: and by fraud; he gives him a kiss, and says, Hail, Master. Here was the honey in the tongue, and poison in the heart. This treacherous kiss enhanced his crime beyond expression. O vilest of hypocrites, how durst thou approach so near thy Lord in the exercise of so much baseness and ingratitude! But none sin with so much impudence and abstinacy as apostates.
Learn we hence, To beware of men: when we see too, too glittering appearances, we may suspect the inside. Charity for others is our duty, but too great confidence may be our snare. There is so much hypocrisy in many, and so much corruption in all, that we must not be too confident.
Observe, 4. The time when this treasonable design was executed upon Christ; when he was in the garden with his disciples, exhorting them to prayer and watchfulness, dropping heavenly and most seasonable counsels upon them. While he yet spake, lo, Judas came, and the multitude with him. Judas found Christ in the most heavenly and excellent employment, when he came to apprehend him. O how happy is it, when our sufferings find us in God's way, engaged in his service, and engaging his assistance by fervent supplication? Thus did our Lord's sufferings meet him; may they so meet us!
The rude multitude laying hands upon Christ, the disciples, who had remitted their watch, do resume their courage, and are willing to rescue their Master if they can; particularly Peter draws his sword, and cuts off the ear of Malchus, one of the forwardest to lay hold on Jesus.
Observe here St. Peter's zeal and sincere love for his Lord and Master: it was in great sincerity spoken, Though I die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. But why did not Peter draw his sword upon Judas, rather than Malchus? Perhaps because though Judas was more faulty, yet Malchus was more forward to arrest and carry off our Saviour. How doth a pious breast swell with indignation at the sight of any open affront offered unto Christ!
Observe here, That though St. Peter's heart was sincere, yet his hand was rash: good intentions are no warrant for irregular actions; and accordingly Christ, who accepted his affection, reproves him for the action: put up thy sword; for they that take the sword, shall perish by the sword.
Learn hence, That Christ will thank no man to fight for him wihtout a warrant and commission from him. To resist a lawful magistrate, even in Christ's own defence, is rash zeal, and discountenanced by the gospel. To a lawful power lawfully executed, there must be yielded due obedience.
Observe lastly, Our Lord's absolute refusal to be rescued out of his enemies' hands, with the reason of it: "Did I incline to be rescued by force, (as if our Lord had said,) I could demand all the troops of angels in heaven to show themselves upon that occasion, but how can this stand with the decree of my Father, with the declaration of the scripture, with the demonstration of my mercy, and with the salvation of miserable mankind?"
Learn thence, That Christ was infinitely more concerned for the salvation of lost sinners, than for his own death and sufferings; more concerned for our eternal salvation, than for his own temporal preservation. Had he been rescued by the power of angels, we had fallen a prey into the paw of devils.
We had an account of our Lord's apprehension in the former verses; here, the sad effect of it upon his disciples: They all forsook him, and fled. Had this been done by the giddy multitude who followed him for the loaves, it had been no cause of wonder; but for those who had already forsaken all to follow him, who were faithful though fearful friends; what an addition to his sufferings must this be! no doubt, but the ingratitude of his friends made deeper wounds in his soul than the malice of enemies could make in his body. They that said all to Christ, verse 35, Though we should die with thee, yet we will not deny thee, do here all of them desert and forsake him; when it came to the push, not a man of them stands by him.
Learn thence, That the holiest of men know not their own hearts when great temptations and trials are before them, till they come to grapple with them, and to be engaged in them. We know not our own strength till temptation puts us to the proof.
Judas having made good his promise to the high priest, and delivered Jesus a prisoner into their hands, these wolves of the evening no sooner seize the Lamb of God, but they thirst and long to suck his innocent blood. Yet lest it should look like a downright murder, they will allow him a mock-trial, by abusing the law, and perverting it to injustice and bloodshed; accordingly, they industriously suborn false witnesses to take away his life, not sticking at the grossest perjury, so they might destroy him. The chief priests and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death. Abominable wickedness! innocency itself cannot protect from slander and false accusation. No man is so innocent or good whom false witness may not condemn.
Yet observe farther, our Lord's meekness and patience, his submissive silence under all these wicked suggestions and false accusations; Jesus held his peace, verse 63. Guilt is clamorous and impatient; innocence is silent, and careless of misreports.
Learn hence, That to bear the revilings, contradictions, and false accusations of men, with a silent and submissive spirit, is an excellent and Christ-like temper. Our Lord stood before his unjust judges and false accusers, as a sheep before his shearer, dumb, and not opening his mouth. Although a trial for his life was managed most maliciously and illegally against him, when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. O let the same humble mind be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus.
We observed even now that our Lord was silent, and did make no reply to the false witnesses that evidenced against him at his trial; because being so manifestly contradictory, they did fall to the ground of themselves. But now when the question was solemnly put by the high priest, Art thou the Christ? he said, I am.
Thence learn, That although we are not obliged to answer every cavilling or ensnaring question, yet we are bound faithfully to own and freely to confess the truth, when we are solemnly called thereunto. Christ, who in the former verses was silent, and as a deaf man heard not, now witnesses a good confession; teaching us, both by his example and command, to confess and own both him and his truth, when lawfully required; when our silence would be a denying of the truth, a dishonour to God, and a scandal to our brethren. Christ knew that his answer would cost him his life, and yet he durst not but give it. Art thou the Son of the Blessed? Jesus said, I am.
Yea, farther observe, That as Christ answered directly and plainly at his trial, so he did not refuse to answer upon oath; I adjure thee by the living God, says the judge of the court, that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ; that is, I requie thee to answer this question upon oath; for adjuring a person, or requiring him to answer upon oath, was the manner of swearing among the Jews. Now to this adjuration our Saviour answered plainly and directly, I am, Mark 14:61.
Hence learn, That swearing before a magistrate, upon a just and great occasion, is lawful; if Christ in the fifth of St. Matthew forbid all oaths, then here his practice was contrary to his own doctrine; but it is evident that Christ answered the magistrate upon oath, and so may we.
Observe lastly, The sentence of condemnation which the council passed upon him for owning himself to be the Son of God: He hath spoken blasphemy, and is worthy to die. Hereupon the unruly rabble affront him with the vilest abuses, and most horrid indignities; They spit in his face, they blindfolded him, they smote him with their fists and palms of their hands; and in the way of contempt and mockery, they bid him divine or prophesy who it was that smote him.
Learn hence, That there is no degree of contempt, no mark of shame, no kind of suffering, which we ought to decline or stick at for Christ's sake, who hid not his face from shame and spitting upon our account. O monstrous impiety! How do they spit on that awful lovely face! How do they revile and blaspheme his noble office of a Prophet of the most high God! Prophesy, say they, in a mocking derision, who was it that smote thee? To such acts of inhumanity did the barbarous rage of the bloody Jews carry them.
This last paragraph of the chapter gives us an account of the fall and rising of Peter, of his sin in denying Christ, and of his recovery by a speedy and severe repentance. Both must be considered distinctly.
First, As touching his sin and fall, there are four particulars observable, namely, the sin itself, the occasion of that sin, the reiteration and repetition of it, and the aggravating circumstances attending it.
Observe, 1. The sin itself, the denial of Christ, I know not the man; a manifest untruth: next he adds an oath to confirm that untruth; he swore that he knew not the man.
And, last of all, he wished an horrid curse and imprecation upon himself, that is, he wished himself excommunicated and cast out of the church, say some: he wished himself eternally separated from the presence of God, say others: he wished in effect that the devil might take him, if he were acquainted with Jesus. The inordinate love of life, and slavish fear of sufferings and death, may draw the best of men to commit the worst of sins.
Observe, 2. The occasions of this sin, and they were three: his following Christ afar off; his being in bad company, amongst Christ's enemies; and his presumptuouss confidence of his own strength and standing.
1. His following of Christ afar off. To follow Christ is the work of faith, and fruit of love; but to follow him afar off, was the effect of fear and frailty. Woe unto us, when a temptation comes, if we be far off from Christ's presence and assistance.
2. His being in wicked company among Christ's enemies. O Peter, thou hadst better have been a-cold by thyself alone, than sitting by a fire encompassed with the blasphemies of the wicked: where thy conscience, though not seared, was yet made hard. The way to escape prevailing temptations to sin is to shun such places, and to avoid such companions, as in all probability will invite and draw us into sin.
3. Confidence of his own strength and standing was another occasion of Peter's falling. Pride and presumptuous confidence have been ever the fore-runners and occasions of a fall.
O Lord! to presume upon ourselves is the ready way to provoke thee to leave us to ourselves: if ever we stand in the day of trial, it is the fear of falling must enable us to stand. Not only they who go forth in the strength of nature, but also they who go forth in the strength of inherent grace, may quickly fall from their own stedfastness.
Observe, 3. The reiteration and repetition of his sin. He denies him a first, a second, and a third time. He denies him first with a lie, then with an oath, and after all with an anathema and a curse. O how dangerous is it not to resist the first beginnings of sin! If we yield to one temptation, Satan will assault us with more and stronger. Peter proceeded from a bare denial, first to perjury, then to cursing and imprecation.
Observe, 4. The aggravating circumstances attending this sin of Peter, and they are these:
1. The character of the person thus falling: a disciple, an apostle, a chief apostle, a special favourite; who, with James and John, had the special honour to be with Christ upon mount Tabor; Peter, who had preached and prophesied in Christ's name, cast out devils, and wrought miracles by Christ's power, yet he denies him.
2.Consider the person whom he denies: his Master, his Saviour, and Redeemer; he that had washed Peter's feet but a little before; that eat the passover with Peter, and gave the sacrament to Peter; yet this kind and condescending Saviour was denied by Peter.
3. Consider before whom he denies him: in the company and presence of the chief priests, scribes, and elders, and their servants, who rejoiced at it, and were hardened by it; that one disciple should sell him for money, and another disciple deny him through fear.
4. Consider the time when he denied him; verily it was but a few hours after he had received the sacrament of the Lord's supper from Christ's own hand. How unreasonable then is their objection against coming to the Lord's table, because some that go to it dishonour Christ as soon as they come from it! Such examples must not discourage us from coming to the ordinance, but excite and increase our watchfulness after we have been there, to take heed that the future conduct of our lives be suited to the solemnity of a sacramental table.
5. Consider the smallness of his temptation to deny Christ; a damsel only put the question to him, Art thou not one of his disciples? If a band of armed soldiers had appeared to him, and affrighted him, had he been terrified by the high priest's threatenings, bound and led away to judgment, sentenced to an ignominious, painful death, some excuse might have been made for him: but to disown his relation to Christ at the question of a maid-servant that kept the door only, the smallness of the temptation was an aggravation of the crime! "Ah, Peter, how unlike thyself art thou at this time? Not a rock, but a reed; a pillar blown down by a woman's breath! o frail humanity, whose strength is weakness and infirmity!"
Observe here, That in most of the saints' falls recorded in scripture, either the first enticers, or the accidental occasions, were women. Thus in Adam's, Lot's, Samson's, David's Solomon's, and Peter's. A weak creature may be a strong tempter; nothing is too impotent or useless for the devil's service. It was a great aggravation of Peter's sin, that the voice of a maid, a doorkeeper only, should be stronger to overcome him than his faith in Jesus to sustain him. But what shall we say? Small things are sufficient to cast us down, if God doth not hold us up: we sink under any burden, if he sustain us not, and yield to every temptation, if he leave us to ourselves. A temptation, if he leave us to ourselves. A damsel shall then make a disciple shrink, and a doorkeeper is enough to drive an apostle before her. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the words of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out and wept bitterly.
Here we have an account of St. Peter's rising and recovery after his shameful fall, by a renewed act and exercise of repentance.
Where observe, The suddenness of his repentance, the means of his repentance, and the manner of it.
Observe, 1. The suddenness of his repentance: although his sin was great, yet his repentance was speedy and without delay.
From whence note, That sins committed by the surprisal of a sudden temptation, are much sooner repented of, than where the sin is presumptuous and deliberate sins; he continued a long time in them, and lived almost a twelve month without any solemn repentance of them. St. Peter's sin was hasty and sudden, under a violent passion of fear, contrary to his settled purpose and resolution of constancy; and he takes the warning of the second crowing of the cock, and goes forth to express his repentance.
Observe, 2. The means of his repentance, which was twofold. Less principal, the crowing of the cock; more principal, Christ's looking upon Peter, and Peter's remembering the words of Christ.
1. The less principal means of St. Peter's repentance, was the crowing of the cock: as the voice of the maid occasioned him to sin, so the voice of the cock occasioned him to repent.*
That God, who can work without means, doth sometimes work by weak and contemptible means, and when he pleases can open the mouth of a bird or beast for the for the conversion of a man. But why should our Saviour choose the crowing of a cock as a mean to bring St. Peter to repentance? There is ever some mystery in Christ's instruments; the cock was a preacher to call Peter to repentance, there being something of emblem between the cock and a preacher. A true minister must have the wings of a cock to rouse up himself from security, and to awaken others to a sense of their duty. He must have the watchfulness of a cock, to be ever ready to discover and forewarn danger. He must have the voice of a cock, to cry aloud and tell Israel of their sin, and terrify the roaring lion, and make him tremble. In a word, he must observe the hours of the cock, to crow at all seasons of the night, to preach in season and out of season the glad tidings of salvation.
But, 2. The more principal means of St. Peter's recovery, was, 1. Christ's looking upon Peter. Christ first looks upon Peter with an eye of mercy, grace, and pity, before Peter looks upon his sin in order to repentance.
Here take notice of the greatness of Christ's grace, of his wonderful love and mercy to his poor disciple. When our Saviour was upon his trial for his life, a time when our thoughts are wholly taken up about ourselves: even then did Christ find leisure to think upon Peter, remember to turn about, and give him a pitiful but piercing look; a look that melted his heart, and dissolved it into tears. We never begin to lament for sin, till we are first lamented by our Saviour. Jesus looked upon Peter. That is the first more principal means of Peter's repentance.
The second is, Peter's remembering the words of Christ, Before the cock crow twice thou shalt deny me thrice. This remembrance of Christ's words was an applicative and feeling remembrance of them. He remembered the prediction of Christ, and applies it sensibly to himself.
Teaching us, That the efficacy of Christ's word, in order to the bringing of a soul unto repentance, depends not upon the historical remembrance of it, but upon the close application of it to every man's conscience. A sanctified remembrance of Christ's words, and our own sins, is an excellent preparative to repentance.
Observe lastly, The manner of Peter's repentance: it was secret, he went out; it was sincere, he wept bitterly; it was lasting and abiding all the days of his life, and attended with an extraordinary zeal and forwardness for the service of Christ to the end of his life.
1. It was secret, he went out; Vere dolet, qui sine teste dolet. he sought a place of retirement where he might mourn in secret; he cannot well be thought to dissemble his grief, who chooses no other witness but the omnipresent God. Solitariness is most agreeable to an afflicted spirit; and as St. Peter's sorrow caused him to go forth, so might also his shame. Christ looked upon Peter, but how ashamed must Peter be to look upon Christ, considering that he so lately denied to have ever seen him!
2. His repentance was sincere, he wept bitterly; his grief was extraordinary, and his tears abundant. There is ever a weeping that follows sin; sin must cost the soul sorrow, either here or in hell; we must mourn awhile, or lament for ever. Doubtless, with Peter's tears there was joined hearty confession of sin to God, and smart reflections upon himself after this manner: "Lord, what have I done? I that did once acknowledge my master to be Christ the Son of the living God, have since denied him with oaths, curses, and imprecations. I that promised to lay down my life for his sake, have yet disowned and denied him at the voice of a damsel. O what unfaithfulness, what weakness, what wretchedness! O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep all my days for the fault of this one night!"
Blessed, indeed, are the tears of a converted revolter, and happy is the very misery of a mournful offender.
3. This holy man's repentance was lasting and abiding; he had a lively sense and remembrance of this sin upon his soul all his life. Ecclesiastical history reports, that ever after, when St. Peter heard the crowing of a cock, he fell upon his knees and mourned; others say, that he was wont to rise at midnight, and spend the time in penitent devotion between cock-crowing and day-light. And the Papists, who love to turn every thing into superstition, began that practice of setting a cock upon the top of towers, and steeples, and chimneys, to put the people in mind of this sin of Peter, and his repentance, by that signal.
Lastly, St. Peter's repentance was attended with an extraordinary zeal and forwardness for the service of Christ to the end of his life. He had an earnest love towards Christ, Thou that knowest all things, knowest that I love thee: and as an evidence of it, he fed Christ's sheep; for, in the Acts of the Apostles, we read of his extraordinary diligence to spread the gospel, and his travels in order thereunto are computed to be nine hundred and fifty miles: and the wisdom of God thought fit that this apostle should preach the gospel to the Jews, as St. Paul did to the Gentiles; that as he had joined with the Jews in denying and disowning Christ, so he should endeavour to persuade them to join with him in repentance, as he had joined with them in their sin. His sin was in some respect like theirs, therefore he is sent to preach the gospel to them, and his diligence therein is an undoubted proof and evidence of his repentance.
Have any of us fallen with Peter, though not with a formal abjuring, yet by a practical denying of him, let us go forth and weep with him; let us be more vigilant nd watchful over ourselves for the time to come: let us express more extraordinary love unto and zeal for Christ, more diligence in his service, and more concernedness for his honour and glory. This would be an happy improvement of this example. The Lord grant it may have that blessed effect. Amen.
*Reynolds on St. Peter's Fall.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 26". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30