Flesh in the saint is no better than in any other man. Peter did not know this more than most do now. He did not believe our Lord's warning: if he had, he had not entered into temptation, but would have watched, prayed, and been kept through faith. He must therefore by bitter experience learn what the flesh is, as the word was not mixed with faith in his soul when the Lord warned him so solemnly. He was confident in himself. It was not the vulgar confidence of an unbeliever, no doubt; but still it was confidence built on his own estimate of what his love for Jesus would enable him to do or bear. And this it was which, as it is an illusive and mischievous egoism, grace must expose, as it does pardon, and would turn to profit and blessing, not only to Peter, but to his brethren through him. For now and thus he was humbled and had learnt what man is on the one hand, and what God is on the other. If Peter was to be used of the Lord more than all, it was meet that he should more than any learn experimentally his more than nothingness.
The other disciples forsook the Lord and fled. John slipped in, as an acquaintance of the high priest's. Peter followed afar off. Wherefore this? Asleep when called to watch and pray, he awoke to draw the sword and strike, all-through out of communion with the adorable Master. If, bolder than the rest, he ventured into the circle of those who smote the Lord, it was only to sink lower than any and to dishonour Him by a denial which a few hours before seemed to him impossible, by a repeated denial with imprecations and oaths. Only Judas went farther in iniquity. Jesus alone shone in perfection; yet never was His shame and humiliation more complete, save when He hung on the cross, rejected of His people, despised of men, and forsaken of God. It was sin on man's part, and for sin on God's: what a climax of reality for both, as the believer knows, in Christ the Lord!
There and then it was that Peter heard a cock crow twice immediately after he denied his Master thrice. How insignificant such a sound ordinarily! Then how pregnant with the deepest consequence, not to the penitent apostle only, but to his brethren whom he soon began to strengthen, and to the multitudes whom he was honoured of God in bringing by the word he preached, out of darkness into His marvellous light! But it was the Lord's look upon Peter, and the remembrance of His words, which gave it all the force that wrought in conscience and heart, the look and words of the Saviour brought home by the Holy Spirit where there was life Godward. But alas! flesh had shrouded all and the believer, having slept, had cursed and sworn as if he never knew the Master. Now in bitter grief he learns himself humiliatingly, and what the world is in its highest religious pretensions; yet what would all else have been, had he not learnt the grace of Christ and His moral glory, and God Himself in the cross of Christ and the purpose and ways of redeeming love?
But, in that light grace gave Peter to discern the worthlessness of the flesh alike in its weakness and in its energy, in its unbounded self-confidence and in its dastardly fear and falsehood. Yet was he a saint, thoroughly sincere and most truly loving the Lord; but a saint not yet broken before God, with self but little judged, who slighted really if unwillingly His word and neglected prayer and so entered into temptation, instead of being upheld in the dependence of conscious weakness and the power of faith by grace. But Peter, (brought down in self-judgment to own that, far from boasting of his love for Christ more than any, only omniscience could know that he dearly loved Him) is then fully re-instated in what might otherwise have seemed forfeited for ever, and hears the blessed Lord in the presence of the brethren committing to His care His beloved sheep and lambs, and promising that he should in very deed be enabled at length to go to prison and death, yea the cross itself, for Christ's sake. Grace thus ensured to him when old and weak all that which in his natural vigour he, a saint withal, had failed in so foully, and with every possible aggravation of dishonour to his Lord.
Bible Treasury 15: 35-40
Posted: 28 Mar 2021