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This chapter gives us a sad and sorrowful account of the high priest's conspiracy against the life of our blessed Saviour in which we have observable, The persons that made this conspiracy, the manner of the conspiracy, and the time when this conspiracy was made.
1. The persons conspiring are the chief priests, scribes, and elders; that is, the whole Jewish sanhedrin, or general council; they lay their malicious heads together, to contrive the destruction of the innocent Jesus.
Thence learn, That general councils have erred and may err fundamentally in matters of doctrine; so did this general council at Jerusalem, consisting of chief priests, doctors, and elders, with the high priest their president, in not believing Jesus to be the Messias, after all the miracles wrought before their eyes.
Observe, 2. The manner of this conspiracy against our Saviour's life; it was clandestine, secret, and subtile; they consult how they might take him by craft, and put him to death.
Thence note, That Satan makes use of the subtilty of crafty men, and abuseth their parts as well as their power, for his own purposes and designs; the devil sends no fools of his errands.
Observe, 3. The circumstance of time when this conspiracy was managed, at the feast of the passover; it being a custom among the Jews to execute malefactors at their solemn feasts, as at the feast of the passover, the feast of weeks, and the feast of tabernacles; at which times all the Jews came up to Jerusalem to sacrifice, and then they put malefactors to death, that all Israel might see and hear, and not do so wickedly.
Accordingly, this feast of the passover was waited for by the Jews, as a fit opportunity to put our Saviour to death. The only objection was, That it might occasion a tumult amongst the people, there being such a mighty concourse at that time in Jerusalem. But Judas making them a proffer, they readily comply with the motion, and resolve to take the first opportunity to put our Saviour to death.
Several particulars are observable in this piece of history: as, first, the action which this holy woman performed; she pours a box of precious ointment upon our Saviour's head as he sat at meat, according to the custom of the eastern countries at their feasts. Murmuring Judas valued this ointment at three hundred pence, which makes, of our money, nine pounds seven shillings and a sixpence halfpenny. I do not find that any of the apostles were at thus much cost and charge to put honour upon our Saviour, as this poor woman was.
Learn hence, That where strong love prevails in the heart towards Christ, nothing is adjudged too dear for him, neither will it suffer itself to be outshined by any examples; the weakest woman that strongly loves her Saviour, will piously strive with the greatest apostle to expresss the fervour of her affection towards him.
Observe, 2. How this action was resented and reflected upon by Judas, and some other disciples whom he influenced; They had indignation within themselves, and said, To what purpose is this waste?
O! how doth a covetous heart think everything too good for Christ! Happy was it for this poor woman, that she had a more righteous Judge to pass sentence upon her actions than murmuring Judas.
Observe, 3. How readily our holy Lord vindicates this good woman; she says nothing for herself, nor need she, having so good an advocate.
First he rebukes Judas, Let her alone, why trouble ye the woman?
Next he justifies the action, She hath wrought a good work, because it flowed from a principle of love to Christ.
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 enbalmed with odours and sweet perfumes, so, says our Saviour, this woman, to declare her faith in me as her king and Lord, both with this box of ointment, as it were beforehand, 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 saviour of life unto his people.
Observe, 4. Our Saviour doth not only justify and defend the action of this poor woman, but magnifies and extols it; declaring that she should be rewarded for it with an honourable memorial in all ages of the church: Whensoever this gospel is preached, this shall be spoken of as a memorial of her.
Note hence, The care which Christ takes to have the good deeds of his children not buried in the dust with them, but had in everlasting remembrance. Though sin causes men to rot above the ground, and stink alive, and when they are dead, leaves an ignominy upon their graves; yet will the actions of the just smell sweet and blossom in the dust.
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 all the world to be his dearest friends, his family and household; shall we wonder to find friends unfriendly or unfaithful to us, when our Saviour had a traitor in his own family!
Observe, 2. The heinous nature of Judas's sin, he betrayed Jesus; Jesus his Maker, Jesus his Master. 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 occasion that led Judas to the commission of this sin: It was his inordinate love of money. I do not find that Judas had any particular malice, spite, or ill will, against our Saviour, but a base and unworthy spirit of covetousness possessed him, and this made him sell his Master. Covetousness is the root-sin. An eager and insatiable thirst after the world, is a parent of the most monstrous and unnatural sins; for which reason our Saviour doubles his caution, Take heed, and beware of covetousness Luke 12:15. It shews us both the danger of the sin, and great care we ought to take to preserve ourselves from it.
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.
And here we have observable, 1. An eminent proof of Christ's divine nature, in telling them all the particulars which they should meet with in the city, as A man bearing a pitcher of water, &c.
2. How readily the heart of this householder was disposed to receive our Saviour and his disciples, and to accommodate them with all things needful upon this occasion. Our blessed Saviour had not a lamb of his own, and peradventure no money wherewith to buy one, yet he finds as excellent accommodations in this poor man's house, as if he had dwelt in Ahad's ivory palace, and had the provision of Solomon's table.
When Christ has a passover to celebrate, he will dispose the heart to a free reception of himself. The room which Christ will enter into, must be a large room, an upper room, furnished and prepared; a large room, is an enlarged heart, enlarged with love and thankfulness; an upper room, is an heart exalted, not puffed up with pride, but lifted up by heavenly-mindedness; a room furnished, is a soul adorned with the graces of the Holy Spirit; into such an heart, and only such, will Christ enter.
Observe here, 1. The unexampled boldness of this impudent traitor Judas; he presumed, as soon as he had sold his Master, to sit down at the table with him, and did eat the passover with the disciples: had the presence of Judas polluted this ordinance to any but himself, doubtless our Saviour would ever have suffered him to approach unto it.
But hence we learn, 1. That nothing is more ordinary than than for unholy persons to press in unto the holy ordinances of God, which they have no right, while such, to partake of.
2. That the presence of such persons doth pollute the ordinance only to themselves; holy persons are not polluted by their sins, therefore ought not to be discouraged from coming by their presence there.
Observe, 2. What a surprising and astonishing word it was which dropt from our Saviour's mouth amongst his disciples; One shall betray me; yea, one of you; shall betray me. Can any church upon earth expect purity in all its members, when Christ's own family of twelve had a traitor and devil in it?
Yet though it was very sad to hear of one, it was matter of joy to understand that there was but one. One hypocrite in a congregation is too much, but there is cause of rejoicing if there be no more.
Observe, 3. Christ did not name Judas, and say, "Thou O perfidious Judas! art the traitor, but one of you shall betray me, " Doubtless it was to draw him to repentance, and to prevent the giving him any provocation.
Lord! how sad is it for any of thy family who pretend friendship to thee, to conspire with thine enemies against thee! for any that eat of thy bread to lift up their heel against thee!
Observe, 4. The disciples sorrow uponn these words of Christ, and the effect of that sorrow. Their sorrow was (as well it might be) 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. But though their sorrow was great, yet was the effect of their sorrow very good, it wrought in them an holy suspicion of themselves, and caused every one to search himself, and say, Master, Is it I?
Learn hence, That it is possible for such secret wickedness to lodge in the heart as we never suspected, till time and temptation draw it forth. None of the disciples suspected, nay, Judas himself never apprehended that depth of iniquity and hypocrisy which was found lodging in him.
Yet note, That though the disciples were jealous and suspicious, yet was it of themselves, not of one another; nay, not of Judas himself: everyone said, Master, Is it I? Not, Master , Is it Judas? True sincerity and Christian charity will make us more suspicious of ourselves than of any other: it hopes the best of others, and fears the worst of ourselves.
Observe, 5. That though Judas sees himself pointed at by our Saviour, and hears the dreadful threatenings denounced against him, that it had been better for him that he had never been born, yet he is no more blanked than innocence itself.
Resolute sinners run on desperately in their evil courses, and with open eyes see and meet their own destruction, without being either dismayed at it, or concerned about it.
This shameless man had the impudence to say to our blessed Saviour, Master, Is it I?
Our blessed Saviour gives him a direct answer. Thou sayest it.
Did not Judas, think we, blush extremely, cast down his guilty eyes, and let fall his drooping head, at so galling an intimation? Nothing less, we read of nothing like it.
Lord! how does obduracy in sin steel the brow, and make it incapable of all relenting impressions!
Observe lastly, How our Saviour prefers non-entity before damnation; It had been better for that man he had never been born. A temporal, miserable being, is not worse than no being; but eternal misery is much worse than non-entity; better to have no being, than not to have a being in Christ, It had been better for Judas that he had never been born, than to lie under everlasting wrath.
Immediately after the celebration of the passover, our Lord institutes his holy supper; in which institution, we have observable the author, the time, the elements, and ministerial actions.
Observe here, 1. The author of this new sacrament: Jesus took bread.
Note thence, That to institute a sacrament is the sole prerogative of Jesus Christ. The church has no power to make new sacraments: it is only her duty to celebrate those which our Saviour has made.
Observe, 2. The time of the insitution, the night before his passion; The night in which 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 a restorative to our faith.
Observe, 3. The sacramental elements, bread and wine; bread representing the body, and wine the blood, of our dear Redeemer.
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 for the redemption and salvation of a lost world; Do this in remembrance of my death.
As to the cup, Christ having set it apart by prayer and thanksgiving, he commands his disciples to drink all of it; and accordingly they all drank of it, says this evangelist; and our Saviour gives his reason for it, For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for the remission of sins Mark 14:24; that is, the wine in this cup represents the shedding of my blood, by which this new covenant between God and man is ratified and confirmed.
Whence we gather, That every communicant hath as undoubted a right to the cup as to the bread, in the Lord's supper; Drink ye all of this, says Christ; therefore to deny the cup to the common people, is sacrilege, and directly contrary to our Saviour's institution. And Christ calling the cup the fruit of the vine, affords a strong argument against the doctrine of transubstantiation; thus: "That which after consecration remains the fruit of the vine, is not substantially changed into the blood of Christ. But Christ called the wine in the cup the fruit of the vine after consecration; therefore that which Christ gave the apostles to drink, was not substantially changed into his blood. Wine is metaphorically called the blood of the grape; why may it not, by a like metaphor, be styled the blood of Christ?
After the celebration was over, our Saviour and his disciples sung an hymn, as the Jews were wont to do at the passover, the six eucharistical psalms, from the 113th to the 119th psalm.
From Christ's example, we may gather, how suitable it is to sing a psalm after the celebration of the Lord's, supper; how fit it is that God be glorified in his church, by singing of psalms; and in particular when the Lord's supper is celebrated: When they had sung an hymn, they went into the Mount of Olives.
Observe here, 1. The warning that our Saviour gives his disciples of their forsaking of him in the the time of his sufferings; All ye shall be offended because of me this night.
Learn, That Christ's dearest friends forsook and left him alone, in the midst of his greatest distress and danger.
Observe, 2. What was the cause of their flight; it was their fear, the weakness of their faith, and the prevalency of their fear.
O! how sad and dangerous is it for the best of men to be left under the power of their own fears in the day of temptation!
Observe, 3. Notwithstanding our Saviour's prediction, St. Peter's presumption of his own strength and standing; Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I.
Learn thence, That self-confidence, and presumptuous opinion, of their own strength, is a sin very incident to the holiest and best of men. This good man resolved honestly, no doubt; what a feather he should be in the wind of temptation, if once left to the power and prevalency of his own fears. None are so near falling, as those who are the most confident of their own standing; if ever we stand in the day of trail, it is the fear of falling that must enable us to stand.
Our blessed Saviour being now come with his disciples into the garden, he falls there into a bitter bloody agony, in which he prayed with wonderful fervency and importunity to his heavenly Father; his sufferings were now coming 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 befal us.
As to the prayer of our Saviour in the garden, many things are very observable; as first, The place where he prayed, the garden. But why went Christ thither? Not, with our first parents, to hide himself there amongst the trees of the garden, from the notice and observation of his enemies; but as a garden was the place where our misery began, as the first scene of human sin and misery was acted in a garden, so does our Lord choose a garden as the place for his agony and satisfactory pains to begin in.
Again, this garden was a place of privacy and retirement, where our Lord might best attend the offices of devotion preparatory to his passion: That Jesus oft-times resorted to this garden with his disciples, and Judas well knew the place John 18:2. It is evident then that Christ went not into the garden to shun his sufferings, but to prepare himself by prayer to meet his enemies.
Observe, 2. The time when he entered into the garden for prayer, it was in the evening before he suffered; here he spent some hours in pouring forth his soul to God; for about midnight Judas with his black guard came and apprehended him in a praying posture.
Our Lord 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 wrestlings with him.
Observe, 3. The matter of our Lord's prayer: That if possible the cup might pass from him; and he might be kept from the hour of suffering, that his soul might escape that dreadful wrath at which he was so sore amazed.
"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, nothing less; but as he had two natures, being God and man, so he had two distinct wills: as a man, he feared, and shunned death! as a God-man, he willingly submitted to it. The divine nature, and the human spirit of Christ, did now assault each other with disagreeing interests.
Again, this prayer was absolute, but conditional. If it be possible, Father; if it may be; if thou art willing, if it please thee, let this cup pass; if not, I will drink it. The cup of sufferings we see is a very bitter and distasteful cup; a cup which human nature abhors, and cannot desire, but pray against; yet God doth put this cup of affliction into the hands oft-times of those whom he doth sincerely love, and when he doth so, it is their duty to drink it with silence and submission, as here their Lord did before them; Father, let the cup pass; yet not my will but thine be done.
Observe, 4. The manner of our Lord's payer in the garden; and here we may remark,
1. It was a solitary prayer; he went by himself alone, out of the hearing of his disciples. The company of our best and dearest friends is not always seasonable; there is a time to be solitary as well as to be sociable; there are times and cases when a Christian would not be willing that the most intimate friend he has in the world should be with him, to hear what passes in secret between him and his God.
2. It 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, and lower he cannot lie; and his heart was as low as his body.
3. It was a vehement, fervent, and most importunate prayer; such was the fervour of our Lord's spirit, that he prayed himself 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 deadness and drowsiness, what stupidity and formality, what dulness and laziness, is found in our prayers! How often do our lips move, when our hearts stand still!
4. It was a reiterated and repeated prayer; he prayed the first, second, and third time, for the the passing of the cup from him; he returns upon God over and over again, resolving to take no denial.
Let us not be discouraged, though we have sought God often for a particular mercy, and yet no anwer has been given in unto us. A prayer put up in faith, according to the will of God, though it may be delayed it shall not be lost.
Our Saviour prayed the first, second, and third time for passing of the cup; and although he was not heard as to support under suffering.
Observe, 5. The posture the disciples were found in when our Saviour was in this agony, praying to his Father, They were fast asleep.
Good God! Could they possibly sleep at such a time as that was, when Christ's soul was exceeding sorrowful! Could their eyes be thus heavy!
Learn thence, That the best of Christ's disciples may be, and oft-times are, overtaken with infirmities, with great infirmities, when the most important duties are performing; He cometh to his disciples, and finds them sleeping.
Observe, 6. The mild and gentle reproof which he gives his disciples for their sleeping; " Could ye not watch with me one hour? " Could ye not watch when your master was in such danger? Could ye not 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 forceable reason, for though the spirit be 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 frailty of human nature, it is their duty to watch and pray, and thereby guard themselves against temptation; Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: for though the spirit is willing, yet the flesh is weak.
The hour is now almost come, even that hour of sorrow which Christ had so often spoken of, Yet a little while, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners; for while he yet spake, cometh Judas with a band of soldiers to apprehend him: it was the lot and portion of our dear Redeemer, To be betrayed into the hands of his mortal enemies, by the treachery of a false and dissembling friend.
Here we have observable,
1. The traitor. 2. The treason. 3. The manner how. 4. The time when this treasonable design was executed.
Observe, 1. The traitor, Judas. All the evangelists carefully describe him by his name, Judas; by his sirname, Judas Iscariot; lest he should be mistaken for Jude, the brother of James. Almighty God takes great care to preserve the names of his upright-hearted servants. He is further described by his office, one of the twelve. The eminency of his place and station was an high aggravation of his transgression.
Learn hence, That the greatest professors had need be very jealous of themselves, and suspicious of their own hearts, and look well to the grounds and principles of their profession; for a profession begun in hypocrisy, will certainly end in apostacy.
Learn farther, That person are never in such imminent danger, as when they meet with temptations exactly suited to their master-lusts. 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 exactly suited to his temper and inclination; and it constantly overcomes him.
O! pray we, that we may be kept from a strong and suitable temptation; a temptation suited to our inclination and predominant lust and corruption.
Observe, 2. The treason of this traitor Judas: he led on an armed multitude to the place where Christ was, gave them a signal to discover him by, and bids them lay hands upon him, and hold him fast. Some conjecture, that when Judas bade them hold Christ fast, he thought they could not do it; but that as Christ had at other times conveyed himself from the multitude, when they attempted to kill or stone him, so he would have done now: but his hour was now come, and accordingly he suffers himself to be delivered by the treachery of Judas into his enemies' hands. And this his treason is attended with these hellish aggravations; he had been a witness to the miracles which our Saviour had wrought by his divine power, and therefore could not sin out of ignorance: what he did was not at the solicitation and persuasion of others, but he was a volunteer in this service; the high priests did not send to him, but he went to them, offering his assistance; no doubt it was a matter of surprise to the chief priests to find one of Christ's own disciples at the head of a conspiracy against him.
Lord! how dangerous is it to allow ourselves in any one secret or open sin! none can say how far that one sin may in time lead us. Should any have told Judas, that his love of maoney would at last make him sell his Saviour, he would have said with Hazael, Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing? That soul can never be safe that harbours one sin within its breast.
Observe, 3. The manner how this hellish plot was executed; partly by force, and partly by fraud: by force, in the Judas came with a multitude armed with swords and staves; and by fraud, giving a kiss, and saying, Hail Master. Here was honey in the lips, but poison in the heart.
Observe, 4. The time when, the place where, and the work which our Saviour was about, when this treasonable design was executed: he was in the garden with his disciples, exhorting them to prayer and watchfulness, dropping heavenly advice and comfort upon them. While he yet spake, lo! Judas came. Our Saviour was found in the most heavenly and excellent employment when his enemies came to apprehend him.
Lord, how happy is it when our sufferings find us in God's way, engaged in his work, and engaging his assistance by fervent supplication! Thus did our Lord's sufferings meet him: may ours in like manner meet us!
Observe, 5. The endeavours used by the disciples for their Master's rescue; one of them (Saint Matthew says it was Peter) draws his sword and cuts off the ear of Malchus, who probably was one of the forwardest to lay hands on Christ.
But why did not Saint Peter draw upon Judas rather than Malchus?
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 to its Saviour! Yet though St. Peter's heart was sincere, his hand was rash; good intentions are no warrant for irregular actions; and accordingly Christ, who accepted the affection, reproves the action: Put up thy sword; for they that take the sword, shall perish by the sword.
Christ will thank no man to fight for him without warrant and commission from him. To resist a lawful magistrate in Christ's own defence, is rash zeal, and discountenanced by the gospel.
Observe, lastly, The effect which our Saviour's apprehension had upon the apostles; they all forsook him, and fled. They that said to Christ a little before, Though we should die with thee, yet will we not deny thee; do all here desert and cowardly forsake him, when it came to the trial.
Learn hence, That the best and holiest of men know not their own hearts, when great temptations and trials are before them, until such time as they come to grapple with them. No man knows his own strength till temptation puts it to the proof.
Here we have the history of our Saviour's examination before the high-priest and council, who set up all night to arraign and try the holy and innocent Jesus; for, lest his death should look like a downright murder, they allow him a mock-trial, and abuse the law by perverting it to injustice and bloodshed. Accordingly false witnesses are suborned, who depose that they heard him say, he would destroy the temple, and build it again in three days.
It is not in the power of the greatest innocence to protect the most innocent and holy person from slander and false accusation; yea, no person is so innocent and good, whom false witnesses may not condemn.
Observe, 2. Our Lord's meekness and patience, his silence under all these wicked suggestions and false accusations: Jesus held his peace, and answered nothing, Mark 14:61.
Guilt is naturally clamorous and impatient; but innocency 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 judge, and false accusers even as a sheep before the shearer, dumb, and not opening his mouth; even then when 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.
May the same humble mind and forgiving spirit be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus!
Observe, 3. That although our Saviour was silent, and made no reply to the false witnesses; yet now, when the question was solemnly put by the high-priest, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? He answered I am.
Thence learn, That although we are not obliged by every ensnaring question to make answer, yet we are bound faithfully to own, and freely to confess, the truth, when solemnly called thereunto: when our silence will be interpreted a denial of the truth, a dishonour to God, a reproach and scandal to our brethren, it will be a great sin to hold our peace; and we must not be silent, though our confession of the truth hazards our liberty, yea, our life. Christ knew that his answer would cost him his life, yet he durst not but give it: Art thou the Son of the Blessed? Jesus said, I am.
Observe, 4. The crime which the high-priest pronounces our Saviour to be guilty of that of blasphemy; He hath spoken blasphemy. Hereupon the highpriest rends his clothes: it being usual with the Jews so to do, both to show their sorrow for it, and great detestation of it, and indignation against it.
Observe, 5. The vile affronts and horrid abuses which the enemies of our Saviour put upon him, they spit in his face, they blindfold him, they smite him with their hands, and in contempt and mockery bid him prophesy who it was that smote him. Verily, 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.
Observe, 6. The high priest rends his clothes at Christ's telling him, Ye shall see the Son of man sitting on God's right hand, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Mark 14:62. And well might his clothes and his heart rend also. It was as if our Lord had said, "I that am now your prisoner, shall shortly be your judge. I now stand at your bar; and, ere long, you must stand at my tribunal. Those eyes of yours that now see me in the form of a servant, shall behold me in the clouds, at the right hand of your God, and my Father."
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 repentance. Both are considered distinctly in the notes of Matthew 26:69. that which is here farther to be taken notice of, is as followeth.
Observe, 1. That amongst all the apostles and disciples of Christ, we meet not with any so extraordinary, either for faith or professor, Matthew 4:18 and a glorious confessor, Matthew 16:16. Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Which be the foundation of the gospel church in all ages: and Christ was pleased to put that honour upon Peter, as to use his ministry, in first laying the foundation of a Christian church among the Jews and Gentiles, he being the first preacher to them of that faith which he did here confess.
To the Jews, Acts 2 . where we read of three thousand souls converted and baptized; and to the Gentiles, Acts 10 . in the conversion of Cornelius and his friends, whom God directed to send, not to Jerusalem for James, not to Damascus for St. Paul, but to Joppa for Peter; whom Christ had appointed for that work, that he might tell him words by which he and his household should be saved.
Observe, 2. The great and mighty courage which was found in St. Peter.
1. At the command of Christ he adventures to walk on the waves of the sea, Matthew 14:28. being firmly persuaded, that whatsoever Christ commanded his disciples to do, he would give them strength and ability to perform.
And, 2. It was a noble courage which enabled him to say, Thou I die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. No doubt the good man really resolved to do as he said, little suspecting that he should, with horrid oaths and bitter imprecautions, deny and abjure his dying Master.
"Lord! how prone are we to think our hearts better than they are! our grace stronger than it is! Not all the instances we have of human frailty in ourselves, or all the scars, marks, and wounds, upon some of the best and holiest of men, by reason of their sad and shameful falls, will sufficiently convince us of our wretched impotency, and how unable we are to do good or resist evil, by our own shattered and impaired strength."
3. An undaunted courage, and heroic greatness of mind, appeared in this apostle, when he told the Jews to their faces that they were guilty of murder, and must never expect salvation any other way, than by faith in that Jesus whom they had ignominioiusly crucified, and unjustly slain. Nor did St. Peter say this in a corner, or behind the curtain, but in the sanhedrin, that open court of judicature, which had so lately sentenced and condemned his Lord and Master.
Observe, 3. St. Peter's profound humility and lowliness of mind: it was a mighty honour that Christ put upon him in making use of his ministry, for laying the foundation of a Christian church, both among Jews and Gentiles.
And, accordingly, Cornelius, Acts 10 would have entertained him with expressions of more than ordinary honour and veneration, falling down at his feet, and ready to adore him; but this humble apostle was so afar from complying with it, that he plainly told him that he was no other than such a man as himself. And when our Lord, by a stupendous act of condescension, stooped so low as to wash his disciple's feet, St. Peter could by no means be persuaded to admit of it neither could be introduced personally to accept it, till Christ was in a sort forced to threaten him into obedience, and a compliance with it, John 13:8.
Observe, How admirable was his love unto, and how burning his zeal for, his Lord and Master, insomuch that he could and did appeal to his omnisciency for the truth and sincerity of it; Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.
It was love that caused him to draw his sword in his Master's defence against a band of soldiers, and an armed multitude.
It was love that caused him to adventure on the greatest difficulties, and to expose his life to the greatest hazards.
It was love that caused him to engage so deep, as to suffer and die, rather than deny him.
These were his exemplary virtues. His failings were these:
First, too great a confidence of his own strength, notwithstanding Christ had particularly told him that Satan had desired to winnow him as wheat. None are so likely to be overcome by a temptation, as those who are least afraid of it; none so ready to fall, as those that think it impossible to fall. It is a dangerous thing to believe, that because we have long kept our innocence, we can never lose it; and to conclude, because we have been once or twice victorious over temptations, we must be ever conquerors, Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall 1 Corinthians 10:12: that is, let him keep a jealous eye upon the weakness and inconstancy of his nature, and with a believing eye look up to the power and promise of God, that he may be preserved from falling, and presented faultless in the day of Christ.
Secondly, His fears overcame his faith. The insolent affronts offered to his injured Master caused him to forget his former resolutions, and instead of being a valiant confessor, he turns a shameful renegado, renouncing him for whom a little before he resolved to die.
Learn hence, That slavish fear is a most tumultuous and ungovernable passion; its powerful assaults not only vanquish the strongest reason, but sometimes overcome the strongest faith. It is a weapon which the tempter uses, to the discomfort of some, and destruction of others, and therefore ought to be guarded against by those who set any value on the peace and comfort of their souls.
Thirdly, One sin drew on another; his sinful equivocation in saying, I know not the man, prepared him for a downright denial, and that for an abjuration of him, with an imprecation and an anathema, swearing that he knew not the man.
"Ah Peter! is this thy owning thy Lord? Is this thy not being offended, though all should be offended? Is this thy dying with him, rather than deny him? What! hast thou forgot all thy promises and engagements to him, and all the dear and sweet pledges of his love, so lately shown to thee? Surely I have learnt from thy example, that it is as dangerous to trust an heart of flesh, as to rely upon an arm of flesh; for had not thy denied and forsaken Master prayed for thee, and timely succoured thee, Satan would not only have winnowed thee like wheat, but ground thee to powder."
Fourthly, Observe how many complicated sins were included in this sin of Peter's. The highest ingratitude to his Master; unpardonable rashness, in venturing into such company, tarrying there so long, and without a call, making bold with a temptation; and for a time there was impenitence and hardness of heart.
It is holy and safe to resist the beginnings of sin; if we yield to Satan in one temptation, he will certainly assault us with more and stronger.
Peter proceeded here from a denial to a lie, from a lie to an oath, from an oath to a curse. Let us resist sin at first: for then have we most power, and sin has least. And the Lord looked on Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, and went out, and wept bitterly.
Observe, If Christ had not looked towards Peter, Peter would never more have looked after Christ; nor was it barely the turn of Christ's bodily eye that wrought this disciple to a sorrowful remembrance of his sin; had not this outward look been accompanied with the inward and secret influences of his Spirit, it had certainly proved ineffectual.
Christ looked on Judas after his treason; aye, and reproved him too: but neither that look nor that reproof did break his heart. As the sun with the same beams softens wax and hardens clay, so a look from the same Christ leaves Judas hard and impenitent, and melts down Peter to tears.
Though none can say, that tears are always a sign of true repentance, yet certainly when they flow from a heart duly sensible of sin, and deeply affected with sorrow, it administers matter of hope that there is sincere repentance. Peter, after he had wept bitterly for sin, never more returned to the after-commission of sin; but he that was before timorous as an hare became afterward bold as a lion. He that once so shamefully denied, nay, abjured, his Master, afterwards openly confessed with his blood.
It is usually observed, that a broken bone once well set, never more breaks again in the same place; a returning backslider, when once restored, contracts such an hatred of former sins, as never more to run into the commission of them.
Let St. Peter;s fall then be a warning to all professors against presumptuous confidence, and his restoration be an encouragement to all backsliders to renew their faith and repentance. Amen.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Mark 14". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany