“When Jesus had spoken of his death, declaring that all his disciples would be offended because of him, Peter had said, ‘Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.’ He assured his Lord that he would go with him both to prison and to death; but Jesus knew Peter much better than the disciple knew himself, and he said to him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.’
“At the very first trial, Peter failed. When Jesus bowed in agony in the garden of Gethsemane, Peter was sleeping with the other disciples, and could not watch with his suffering Lord one hour. The thrice-repeated prayer was uttered that the bitter cup of woe might pass from the Saviour. Borne down with superhuman agony, Jesus staggered to his disciples, longing for human sympathy; but he found that instead of watching they were sleeping. From his quivering lips came the mild rebuke to Peter, ‘What, could ye not watch with me one hour?’ Then he framed this tender excuse: ‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
“Jesus had said many things concerning the hour of trial that was to come upon his disciples when he should be made the object of mockery and reproach. He had told them, ‘All ye shall be offended because of me.’ But the disciples could not believe that they would manifest such unfaithfulness, and Peter especially had assured the Master that he would never leave him, but would be true to him even if it should lead him to prison and to death. When Jesus was actually in the hands of the armed men, where were the boastful disciples?—They had fled. Even Peter was in the rear, far from his suffering Lord. When the cruel trial began in the judgment hall, had Jesus a defender in the ardent Peter? Was he then by the side of his deserted Lord?—No, but with those who were mocking and reviling. It is true that Peter had a deep interest in the trial, and he did desire to be at the side of his Lord; but he could not endure the scorn, the reproach, that would fall upon him if he should take his place as a disciple of Christ. When one of the women of the palace said to Peter, ‘Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee,’ he denied before all the company, saying, ‘I know not what thou sayest.’ He who had made so confident a statement of his fidelity to Christ, now denied his Lord at the question of a maid in the palace. Did he now move nearer to his Lord?—No, he pushed his way out to the porch, seeking to escape the prying eyes of the enemies of his Lord; but again he was recognized, and another said to him, ‘This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.’ And again he denied with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’ Peter was irritated that he could not find an escape from the eyes of his enemies; he returned again to the hall, where he could better view the trial, but he stood among the mockers and revilers of Christ, and the third time he was recognized, and they said to him, ‘Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee.’ Peter had been ready to take up arms in defense of Christ, but to acknowledge the Lord when he was the object of scorn and derision, was more than he had courage to do. He was a moral coward, and with curses and oaths he denied that he knew his Master.
“Peter had been warned of this temptation; but he did not realize his danger, and therefore had not prepared himself for the trial. He had been filled with self-confidence, and deemed that he was able to withstand any temptation, assuring the Lord that though all others should be offended, he would be ready to go with him to prison and to death. When he took his stand with the revilers of Christ, he placed himself on the enemy’s ground, and he fell. At his third denial of his Lord the cock crew, and Jesus turned his eyes upon Peter with a look of peculiar sadness, and the words that Christ had spoken to him came quickly to his mind. All through his life the memory of that look was with Peter. His sinful boasting, his Lord’s warning, his denial of the Saviour, all came to him like a flash of lightning; and casting one pitiful look upon his suffering, insulted Lord, he hurried away from the sound of false accusation and reproach, rushed from the palace, plunged into the darkness, and weeping bitterly, hurried to Gethsemane. He began to see himself as he really was. Memory was alive, and his sins were pictured before him in all their heinous light. Peter threw himself on the spot where a few hours before, Jesus had prayed and wept in agony, and there the disciple prayed as he never before had prayed. With deep repentance and terrible remorse he pleaded for forgiveness, and he rose a converted man; but he felt that although Jesus would forgive him, he could never forgive himself.
“Jesus knew all the sorrow and remorse of his erring disciple, and when the heavenly messengers appeared to the women at the sepulcher, they told them of Christ’s resurrection, and bade them tell the disciples and Peter, that he went before them into Galilee. How eagerly did Peter receive this word of love and compassion! He knew that his Lord still thought of him, still loved him, and he took this message as a sign of forgiveness.”1
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“ ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’ It is most difficult, even for those who claim to be followers of Jesus, to forgive as Christ forgives us. The true spirit of forgiveness is so little practiced, and so many interpretations are placed upon Christ’s requirement, that its force and beauty are lost sight of. We have very uncertain views of the great mercy and loving-kindness of God. He is full of compassion and forgiveness, and freely pardons when we truly repent and confess our sins. But when the message of God’s pardoning love comes from a heart that has an experimental knowledge thereof, to those who have not experienced it for themselves it is like speaking in parables. We must bring into our characters the love and sympathy expressed in Christ’s life.
“Peter, when brought to the test, sinned greatly. In denying the Master he had loved and served, he became a cowardly apostate. But his Lord did not cast him off; he freely forgave him. After the resurrection, the angel told the women who had brought spices to the tomb, to carry the glad news of a risen Lord to the ‘disciples and Peter.’ And when afterward Christ thrice repeated the question, ‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?’ Peter cast himself upon the tender mercy of the Master he had so wronged, and said, ‘Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.’ And when our Lord intrusted to him the care of the sheep and lambs of the heavenly fold, Peter knew that he was taken back into divine confidence and affection. To fulfill this charge, he would need to have that mind which was in Jesus Christ; and if he was converted, he would copy the Pattern. Henceforth, remembering his own weakness and failures, he would be patient with his brethren in their mistakes and errors; remembering the patient love of Christ toward him, affording him another opportunity to bring forth the fruit of good works, he would be more conciliatory toward erring ones.
“If we have received the gift of God, and have a knowledge of Jesus Christ, we have a work to do for others. We must imitate the long-suffering of God toward us. The Lord requires of us the same treatment toward his followers that we receive of him. We are to exercise patience, to be kind, even though they do not meet our expectations in every particular. The Lord expects us to be pitiful and loving, to have sympathetic hearts. The fruits of the grace of God will be shown in our deportment to one another. We should keep always before us that, while claiming to be commandment-keepers, we must not be found to be commandment-breakers. The last six commandments specify man’s duty to man. Christ did not say, You may tolerate your neighbor, but, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ This means a great deal more than professing Christians carry out in their daily life. While they claim to be doers of God’s word, they fail to make sure work by earnest practice.”2